Friday, December 31, 2004

Better than well

An article on Worldchanging (which recently won Utne's award for Best Online Cultural Coverage) asks the simple question: "What if relief and reconstruction efforts aimed not just to save, but to improve the lives of the victims of this week's disaster?"

A Fairy Tale for the Future

Atop the tallest plateau in the land there bustled a village, self-sufficient and modern. The villagers worked mere minutes of the day and reaped the benefits of independence and relaxation. They knew that down on the arid plains below there were other villages, but they paid them no mind. To them, the plains were useful only as a place to let their garbage fall.

A woman lived in the village, and lived the village life. She spent her days watching performances in the village theater, or enjoying meals at the many fine restaurants. But at night, she would stand on the edge of the plateau and look out among the plains. She couldn't see the people there, but she knew they existed. She wondered how they lived.

One evening, as the woman was making her way to her usual looking spot, she stumbled and fell straight off the edge of the cliff. Down she fell, and was sure to perish at the bottom. But then she landed on something soft. If was garbage from her village, piled high up the slopes of the plateau!

As she began to climb back up the cliff, the woman heard voices.

"Please, don't leave us," they said. "We want you to stay with us!"

"Who is there?" the woman asked, making her way down the pile. "Are you the people of the plains?"

As she came further down, the woman saw the source of the voices. Half-buried in the refuse were the people of the plains, each weak and dirty. The plains people were almost invisible in the mound of trash they inhabited.

"How can you live like this?" the woman asked.

"We have always lived like this," came the reply. "For as long as your village has sent its waste to our plains, we have had no choice but to live in it. Now the pile has grown almost up the side of the plateau, and we can almost reach your village, but we are weak. We cannot climb the cliff walls. We can only drink the rain and eat the scraps that fall upon us."

The woman felt tears pouring down her face as she marvelled at the sadness of these people. She knew that she must help them.

"You will reach the village yet," she told them.

And so the woman climbed back up the cliffs to the plateau, and into her village, and straight to the village council chambers. The councillors were there, working late on their usual mix of making laws and enjoying relaxation. She told them what she had seen.

"Of course there are people on the plains below," said the chief councillor. "Our ancestors, who built this village, once lived on the plains. But they were smart enough to climb the plateau and sow the fertile soil. Our ancestors were men of greatness. The people on the plains are stupid, and lazy. They feed off our scraps, but lack the intelligence to see that if they merely climbed the cliff wall, they could pull themselves up to a new life."

"But they know that! They are weak and sick from our garbage, and they don't think they can make it."

"Dear girl," replied the councillor, "now you're making stories. Let the council attend to the real business of the village." Her turned and the chamber guards escorted the woman out into the street.

She wandered the village for days, trying to figure out the best way to help the people of the plains. She could steal food and water from the village, and send it down to them. But she would surely get caught, and the villagers wouldn't believe her intentions. They all agreed with the chief councillor, for none of them had ever ventured down the cliff.

One night she sat, nearly defeated, staring off her looking spot into the blackness of night, when she heard an eagle flying over head. As she watched the eagle soar, a revelation came to her, and she knew then how to help the people below: she studied the eagle, and from the eagle she learned the secret of flight. And after many weeks of toil, she brought the secret down to the plains.

The woman shared the eagle's secret of flight with the people of the plains, and they spread their wings and launched from the garbage, freeing themselves from the bondage that had encased them for generations. "Oh thank you, kind woman!" they cried, and soared upward to the village. The woman spread her own wings and joined them, and together they flew.

The villagers could not believe what they saw, that the people of the plains could fly, that they people of the plains were better then they were. But the people of the plains were not vindictive, and they shared the secret of flight with the villagers, too. And forever after, the people of the village and the people of the plains soared together in the skies above the plateau.

Thursday, December 30, 2004


It appears I am not the only person to have been recently thinking about the problem with the transhumanist label.

I think that with religious adherents making up majorities in America, it will be a long time before they can be sold on the idea that transcending one's humanity in ways other than dying and going to Heaven might possibly be good. It's not that religious people are stupid; many progressives are religious or spiritual. The problem is one that the Republican Party learned in the 1970s: framing the issue. Most people like being human, and in fact use human as a synonym for person. In that mindset, anything that makes us non-human -- genetic engineering, cyborgization, mind uploading -- makes us non-persons as well. Combine that with a "God's creation" view of nature and the fact that most outspoken transhumanists are radical individualist free-market types, and transhumanism is seen as a negative.

For that matter, it alienates many people who might be allies. While I think there will be some radical changes to humanity in the future, transcendence is not a goal I particularly look towards. Transcendence implies something almost magical, a freeing from bonds, a rising to a new level of existence. I don't care about that, and doubt the possibility. I just want to free people -- myself included -- from disease and poverty while ensuring them the freedom to live their lives as they wish. People who I agree with politically call themselves liberals, leftists, and progressives. People who I agree with as far as how to achieve goals call themselves transhumanists, but many of them don't agree with me on the goals themselves.

In the above column, Dale Carrico suggests the term tech-progressive as a more acceptable alternative to transhumanist; coincidentally, I recently pondered the word technoprogressive. I think it's clear that a technoprogressive seeks progress through technology, and progressive has long been associated with the political left. Incidentally, Mr. Carrico has now adopted my version after I suggested it to him. If it catches on, I'd better be in the OED, damnit! What greater thrill for a former English major?

What I would really like to see is a technoprogressive movement that would actively lobby for increased federal funding of science education, research, and technological development to counter the rapidly expanding bioconservative movement, in addition to the usual liberal values of equity and choice. If I had the means, I would organize such a movement.


And counting.

At times like these I am glad I live where I do. It might get hot in the summers being right in the middle of Texas, but I'm not on the coast, so no hurricanes or tsunamis. I'm not near any fault lines, so no earthquakes or volcanoes. About the worst I have to deal with are tornadoes, but we're just on the fringe of "tornado alley" so those aren't that common, and usually aren't lethal.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

My God

I had no idea it was this bad.

"The Party understands that the Ten Commandments are the basis of our basic freedoms and the cornerstone of our Western legal tradition. We therefore oppose any governmental action to restrict, prohibit, or remove public display of the Decalogue or other religious symbols."

I already covered that one.

"The Republican Party of Texas affirms that the United States of America is a Christian nation, and the public acknowledgement of God is undeniable in our history. Our nation was founded on fundamental Judeo-Christian principles based on the Holy Bible."

I wonder why the Treaty of Tripoli, ratified by the Senate without argument and signed by President John Adams states, "[T]he Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion . . ."? It's also funny how "God" and "Christianity" are never mentioned in the Constitution, the only document that actually "founded" the nation.

"The Party believes that forcible rape is a heinous crime [. . .]"

As opposed to that non-forcible rape, of course.

"The Party recognizes that addictive drug, alcohol, and pornography use is dangerous and affects all sectors of society."

Okay, drugs and alcohol can kill, but pornography? Come on.

"The Party believes that the practice of sodomy tears at the fabric of society [. . .]"

Yes, oral and anal sex in private have something to do with the fabric of society. That something is called "nothing." Unless they meant cotton, "the fabric of our lives," which does tend to stain rather easily. It tears rather easily as well. Maybe that is what they meant!

"We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values."

Imagine if you replaced "homosexuality" with "niggers."

"The Party affirms its support for a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse making clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection applies to unborn children."

The balls of undifferentiated cells inhabiting the nation's uteruses will no doubt be joyous at their expanded freedoms. They would probably throw a big party, if they were capable of thought, emotion, sensation, or movement.

"The Party urges the Legislature to act in 2005 to give the State Board of Education authority to establish textbook adoption standards that allow rejection of textbooks that undermine belief in America and our Constitutional Republic, promulgate anti-American propaganda, and contain unchallenged biased viewpoints."

Just imagine the horror of unchallenged biased viewpoints like unquestioning support of America or promulgating pro-American propaganda. Oh. You say those are good biased viewpoints? Well, nevermind then.

"We therefore recommend that local school boards and classroom teachers be given more authority to deal with disciplinary problems. Corporal punishment should be used when appropriate, and we encourage the legislature to strengthen existing immunity laws respecting corporal punishment."

If there's one thing that history has shown us, it is that beating people when you don't like what they're doing is always a good idea.

"We support the return of Bibles and other religious books to the shelves of all public schools and libraries."

What do you know, I support that, too! They should be filed under "fiction." Unless, of course, there is a dedicated "fantasy" shelf.

"The Party urges that the IRS be abolished and the Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution be repealed. We further urge that the personal income tax, inheritance (death) tax, gift tax, capital gains, corporate income tax, and payroll tax be eliminated."

In other words, no money for anything.

"We further support the abolition of federal agencies [. . .] including, but not limited to, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; the position of Surgeon General; the Environmental Protection Agency; the Departments of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Education, Commerce, and Labor. These authorities should be eliminated or, where needed, transferred to the state or local governments. We also call for the de–funding and abolition of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Public Broadcasting System."

Ah, I guess you don't need those taxes after all.

"The Party opposes any foreign or international military base on American soil."

Something tells me the Party supports American military bases on foreign soil . . .

"The Party believes it is in the best interest of the citizens of the United States that we immediately rescind our membership in, as well as all financial and military contributions to, the United Nations."

Fuck off, world!

I am reminded of that bumper sticker: If you aren't completely appalled you haven't been paying attention!

Monday, December 27, 2004


We had a great time in Houston visiting with family and friends. I got to see Scott, back for the time being from Navy OCS, for the first time in months, and it was cool to hang out with him. The Navy hasn't changed him much, other than being in good shape. No sudden right-wing conversion or anything. The cat didn't seem to enjoy travel much, and was scared shitless of my parents' dog, but he did all right. Nothing much is new, all things considered, but it was fun!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Beastles

If you thought the "Gray Album" mash-up of Jay-Z and the Beatles was good, this set by dj BC makes that one look like a hack job. Beastie Boys + Beatles = really good music. I was going to list my favorite tracks, but I like them all!

Monday, December 20, 2004

Short takes

Bought and watched the Return of the King extended edition DVD yesterday. Although there was 50 minutes of new scenes, it didn't really seem like there was as much added as to the previous DVDs. I think that's a good thing. The two scenes that really stood out as improving the film were Saruman's appearance and fitting death and Aragorn's communication with Sauron.

Visited Rachel's family and Kate on Saturday, drove back from Dallas at night. Kate's fiancee is indefinitely deployed in Iraq on a top secret mission of some kind. I'm sure it will quickly bring peace and freedom to the Iraqis. Fucking war.

Time off is fun.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Last night

Every now and then it's nice to go out, have a beer or two, and watch somebody you don't know make an ass of themselves.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

School's out!

Today was the last day of school until January 5. That's 20 days vacation. Unpaid, unfortunately. I am going to try to make up for it by writing a short story to sell next year. If I can just get started . . .

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Annalee Newitz

I don't know how AlterNet columnist Annalee Newitz has managed to mostly slip under my radar -- I've heard the name, but had no idea how cool her columns were. She is worth checking out. Anybody who has the balls to write a nationally syndicated column titled "Fuck God" is probably OK in my book, even if AlterNet censored the title.

Her rant against extropians (AKA, "libertarian transhumanists") is great. A recent NeoFiles interview clarified that she is basically a democratic transhumanist in outlook who doggedly refuses to use the word because she thinks telling people they might live forever would be bad; it would just replace the idiotic dogma of heaven with another unachievable goal. I can see her point, and I've thought a little about the "branding" problem of transhumanism, since that word is mostly associated with the extropians and their nutty ideas -- libertarian economics (crap), cryonics (probably crap, definitely cultish), and transcending humanity (pseudospiritual crap).

I kind of like the ring of "technoprogressive" or "technoradical." It puts the emphasis on the politics of technology, and makes it clear where in the political spectrum it lies. And as far as Google knows, the terms are virtually unused for anything else.

Fresh Air

I heard a hilarious exchange on Fresh Air a few minuters ago. Terry Gross was interviewing Richard Viguerie, the pioneer of conservative direct mail and one of the big names in the Moral Majority. Anyway, he was talking about "the homosexuals" and how they are mean-spirited. I am going to paraphrase; I'll replace it with the transcript when it's up. I transcribed it myself.

VIGUERIE: Americans are enormously tolerant, and the homosexual agenda -- everything that I read in the liberal press acknowledges that the homosexuals have made enormous progress that nobody could have predicted just years ago much less decades ago how much progress they have made. But what has happened recently is that homosexuals, the activists, have really gotten much of America's attention. That -- they have an agenda and they're coming forward to promote that agenda, and it's an anti-religious agenda, and in many ways they're mean-spirited. They're -- they have some really . . . just tough, agressive tactics. They try to demonize people who disagree with them and say they're homophobic, bigoted. They're -- many people feel that the homosexuals are not being honest, that their agenda is not whatever it is that they're talking about today because every time that they've had a victory they have now gone on to push the envelope even more, and many of us feel that their goal is not to marry. They don't really want that. Very few homosexuals really want to marry. What they really want is the destruction of marriage, some of us feel, and they'd really -- they feel that there is a moral equivalency between homosexuals and heterosexuals, and we reject that.

GROSS: So let me see if I understand correctly. What you're saying is that Americans who oppose homosexual rights are very tolerant people; it's the homosexuals who are intolerant, mean-spirited, and want to destroy marriage as --

V: Well, Terry, I think you said "homosexual rights." I don't know if you think they have a right to marriage. I disagree that they have a right to marriage. We -- Americans are enormously tolerant, we just don't feel that the homosexuals should be out there trying to re-order society. We have lived a certain way for thousands of years and we don't feel that we're bigoted and mean-spirited because we want to continue practicing our religion, our faith. They're saying if we believe the Bible, if we believe what our religious leaders have taught us for thousands of years, that we're bigoted and prejudiced and must be taken out of the political process and must not have a role in politics. Well, we just reject that mean-spirited approach.

G: So, again, you're saying it is the homosexuals who are mean-spirited and the people who oppose homosexuals having certain jobs, or marrying, or having civil unions -- they're tolerant, it's the homosexuals that are mean-spirited?

V: Well, there has been a great deal of mean-spirited homosexual activity in the recent years. They go into our churches, desecrate -- I'm a Catholic, and they desecrate the holy eucharist, and disrupt our services --

G: I'm sorry, how do they desecrate the holy eucharist?

V: They go into St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, and take communion and throw it on the floor and stomp on it --

G: I'm sorry -- I'm not familiar with -- that that was part of the homsexual movement.

V: Well, it's part of the -- homosexual activist leaders act up and others have desecrated the holy eucharist --

G: You were talking about maybe one political protest that happened, but it makes it --

V: Well, I'd say --

G: -- sound as if all gays go into churches and desecrate communion.

V: No, all gays don't go in and -- but there is leadership, too many times, a mean-spirited approach.
I couldn't decide if I wanted to laugh or cry.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Ocean's Twelve

It's funny: unless I think about it I don't really even remember going to see Ocean's Twelve last weekend. I think that pretty much sums it up. It was well made, of course. Steven Soderbergh continues to make nice looking pictures. The acting is what you would expect from the enormous amount of talent assembled. The writing was snappy. The plot, on the other hand, didn't impress me. If it had been "Terry Benedict wants his money back with interest so they have to pull another big job," it would have been fine. But they had to throw in a cop love interest for Brad Pitt, a hubristic and way over-the-top French thief, and a long-lost-father subplot. The ending was fairly anticlimactic for me as well. It was something of a deus ex machina, in that I didn't feel like the cool characters I came to watch really had anything to do with it.

And for the nitpickers (highlight text below for spoilers) . . .

So Julia Roberts' character looks like Julia Roberts. Great. We know that in the real world that is because they are the same person. But in the Ocean's Twelve world, does she look so identical to Julia Roberts that the allegedly close friend of Bruce Willis can't tell the difference from inches away? Nobody unrelated looks that similar without cosmetic surgery. It made for some good tension, but totally took away my otherwise willing suspension of disbelief.

So overall it's an OK movie. It's something to do. It's worth seeing for shits and giggles. But it's not the original. In fact, it's kind of forgettable.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Cellular phone

Guess who has a groovy new Motorola v551?

Now to try and get a Bluetooth headset for as cheap as possible . . . the lowest I've seen is $37 (which is really pretty low) but I want to try for $30.

Friday, December 10, 2004


A new adaptation of Shirow Masamune's manga, this film is entirely CG, but doesn't look it. They cel shaded motion-capture data, so it's kind of like Final Fantasy with anime drawn over all of the people. In other words, it is way better than Final Fantasy because the chartacters get the super-realistic movement of motion-capture without having to convince us they're human. This isn't your grandmother's anime!

And as a bonus, check out the teaser trailer for the Speilberg/Cruise modern-day adaptation of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds.

Thursday, December 9, 2004

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I somehow managed to see the wonderfully twisted original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory twice this week -- once in a 2nd grade class and once on HBO -- and really enjoyed it. Gene Wilder is so perfectly off in that movie that he cracks me up. "Oh, no, please stop." Anyway, Tim Burton looks like he will be just as brillianly fucked-up as ever in the remake (or readaptation of the Roald Dahl book, more accurately). I'm glad he's not going for a carbon-copy, either.

Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Digital girl

It's still missing something. It's just off enough to distract you. But if you turn the sound off, it works much better. I think that's the biggest problem with CG people; it's not their look, it's that we as humans are so accustomed to exactly how the mouth moves that when it's off by even a fraction of a second, we catch it. Better lighting would probably make Kaya more believable, too.

What's weird is that this video was made in 2001, but it's still pretty state-of-the art. Is the progress curve slowing?

Sunday, December 5, 2004

Batman Begins

Hell yeah.

Sammy sleeping

Here is our new cat, Sammy. It sure is hard to get a good picture of a moving, curious kitten. Sleeping is much easier.

Saturday, December 4, 2004

A little over the top

Yesterday I saw an SUV decked out in advertizing for a bird-feeder installation company. This thing was covered in slogans, banners, and phone numbers. "We install bird-feeders!" "Give the gift that keeps on giving!" It had a big birdfeeder sticking up from the roof. Something about putting so much advertizing effort 1.) on a single car, and 2.) to sell bird-feeders, struck me as being just a bit absurd.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Interview with Dr. James Hughes

The always excellent Worldchanging posted a fantastic interview with leading democratic transhumanist Dr. James Hughes, who I was just blogging about. Some highlights from part one:

The basic argument between transhumanists and human-racists is a debate about what is really important and valuable in the human condition, self-aware existence, consciousness, emotionally rich experience and rational thought, on the one hand, or having the modal genome and body type of human beings circa 2000 (which is very different from what it was even 20 years ago, but never mind that)? The transhumanist position is known in bioethics as "personhood theory": you can be a self-aware person and not be human (great apes for instance) and you can be "human" and not be a person (such as fetuses and the brain dead). Rights are for persons, not humans. [. . .]

I understand that people do get frightened by the idea of a transhuman society, with increasing diversity of persons. People were frightened that the end of slavery and Jim Crow would unleash anarchy and race-mixing, and people are still scared that legal gay marriage will destroy Western civilization. We need to try to convince those who are afraid of human enhancement that we can still have peace, prosperity and tolerance of diversity in that future. And at the same time we need to remember that the transhumanist claim is that people should control their own bodies and minds, and other people don't get to tell us to go to the back of the bus because of their vague anxieties and yuck reactions to our choices. [. . .]

Libertarian individualism is completely self-defeating for the human enhancement movement. You want to make yourself and your kids smarter? You can take a smart pill and do your mental gymnastics, but you still need good books, stimulating friends, a solid education, a free and independent press, and a stable, well-regulated economy so your PDA keeps beaming Google searches and email chat into your eyeball through that laser display. And it might be nice to have a strong, independent Food and Drug Administration to make sure that your smart pill doesn't cause dementia in five years, and that that laser display doesn't blind you.
I'll add links to the other two parts in this post as they become available.

Monday, November 29, 2004

New addition

There is a new member of the McReynolds household, a 15-week-old kitten named Sammy. We got him from the Georgetown Animal Shelter (via Petsmart), and he's already had all of his shots and been neutered. He's loads of fun and very playful. So far he and the guinea pigs are getting along well, though he does like to stick his paws through their cage. We never leave them alone together, just in case. Pictures soon!

Thursday, November 25, 2004


Rachel and I are heading up to Dallas to visit with her family today. Should be a fun little trip, and I always enjoy eating lots of side dishes. No, seriously, I realized when I became a vegetarian that it's only culture that says that potatoes or corn or cranberry sauce are merely accessories to the dead animal that everyone else is eating. Your side dish is my main course.

Battle Angel Alita

James Cameron is directing a live-action adaptation of Yukito Kishiro's manga Gunnm, known in the United States as Battle Angel Alita. The anime adaptation was one of my first exposures to Japanese animation, so it is still one of my favorites. One unique feature of the film is that it will be shot in 3D using the gear developed for Cameron's Titanic IMAX documentary, but here's the really interesting part: Alita will be CG. For years Cameron has said he wanted to make the first film that used truly photorealistic CG characters, and a superhuman anime android is probably a good place to start.

[via Coming Soon!]

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


You may have noticed that one of the "-isms" that describes my philosophical outlook is transhumanism.* Unless you're big-time into geek culture, you probably have no idea what this is. For a while, I've wanted to write a post explaining just what transhumanism means, and why I ascribe to it.

Transhumanism, simply put, is the position that it is desirable to improve the human condition through technology. This is above and beyond medical treatment; transhumanists want people to be better than well. Don't just cure illness: cure death. Don't simply maximize our natural capacities: exceed them. The technologies used to enable such developments include genetic engineering, robotics, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology.

But transhumanism is also about freedom of choice, and I choose those words deliberately. Transhumanists support procreative liberty: the right to have an abortion, but also the right to clone yourself, or to combine your DNA with that of a same-sex partner for children. The right to genetically modify your offspring in any beneficial way. Legal or not, these technologies will exist within our lifetimes; we can embrace them or cower from them.

The freedom of choice extends beyond reproduction. Transhumanists support body modification of any kind as a right. At the moment we have tattoos, piercings, and oft-maligned cosmetic surgery. One day we might have gene therapy, bionics, grafts, implants, and other technologies, and it is the individual's right to control their body as they see fit. This is also known as "morphological freedom." The transgendered are unknowing allies of the transhumanist movement.

Transhumanists also believe in cognitive freedom. Mind-altering substances today are crude, but they are voluntary and it should not be criminal to use them. Transhumanists support the right to use any future mind-alterations, including memory enhancement, brain-computer interfaces, and mind uploading.

Finally, transhumanists believe that "human" is not the only possible definition for "person," and that personhood should include any being capable of self-awareness. That would include radically modified humans, uploaded minds, artificial intelligence, and advanced robots. Some would also lower the standard to include the great apes and possibly dolphins and whales.

Here is where there is a schism. The original transhumanists were also right-libertarians, and believed that these ideas should be brought about through the free market. These libertarian transhumanists are also often referred to as "extropians." They believe that government regulation and intervention is always bad, so the market will provide access to all of these developments. In their version of the future, the market ensures that anybody can do anything to themselves and everybody wins.

Unfortunately, libertarianism is bullshit. Recently, however, some on the left have also embraced transhumanism, and the idea of democratic transhumanism was developed. It is this branch of transhumanism that I ascribe to. We believe that government regulation is essential to ensure safety and access. We support government funding of transhuman technology development. Strong investment in research and technology to repair the environment and eliminate risks to survival. Equal access to reproductive and medical technologies. Increased development of robotics and a guaranteed basic income, leading to the end of work as we know it. All of the usual progressive ideas, plus the hardware to back it up.

Dr. James Hughes is one of the leading democratic transhumanists, and his "11-point program" is a good overview of the sorts of policies we would like to see.

(1) Build the transhumanist movement, (2) Guarantee morphological freedom and bodily autonomy, (3) Defend scientific research from Luddite bans, while embracing legitimate safety and efficacy regulations, (4) Protect scientific access to knowledge from overly aggressive intellectual property law, (5) Expand federal funding for research into transhuman technologies, (6) Create national health plans which include transhuman tech, (7) Expand federal support to education, (8) Provide job retraining and an income to the structurally unemployed, (9) Solidarize with sexual, cultural, and racial minorities, especially with morphological minorities such as the disabled and transgendered, (10) Support rights for Great Apes, dolphins and whales, (11) Strengthen democratic world government.

I strongly recommend reading the expanded version of the program in Dr. Hughes' Democratic Transhumanism, and indeed the entire essay if you have the time. Other resources:

* For the record, other "-isms" I ascribe to include activism, atheism, civil libertarianism, Darwinism, empiricism, environmentalism, evolutionism, feminism, humanism, internationalism, leftism, liberalism, moral relativism, optimism, passivism, progressivism, rationalism, skepticism, socialism, utilitarianism, and vegetarianism.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Or not

But there's no school tomorrow, so I'll really be back at it.

Stayin' Alive

I'm still here. Will post after work today.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


I swear, some of these columnists have been channeling my subconscious lately.

[via Common Dreams]

Howard Dean on Jerry Falwell

In the course of the above story, Dean said:

"Most Americans are decent people -- not all. I mean, there are those hate-mongers. I wouldn't call Jerry Falwell a decent person."

I'm impressed that Dean had the balls as an elected official to say that about someone a lot of people --mostly fools -- respect. I hope he becomes head of the DNC, because it would be a move in the "right" direction.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Best. Car commercial. Ever.

To see some really cool CG animation, and incidentally a preview of how the live action Transformers movie from Dreamworks will probably turn out, click above.

Too bad you have to be in Europe to buy one. Oh wait, that's the ad talking.

Hopefully Transformers will have a bit less dancing.

[via Gizmodo]

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Wedding Photos

This is a preview gallery, for everyone who couldn't make it . . . and for those who could, of course.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Brings a tear to your eye

Check out these galleries. Seriously, like all 191 of them, as of today.

John Sayles in the Austin Chronicle

Filmmaker John Sayles wrote what I think is the best "what do we do now?" piece to hit the progressive media after the election. Some highlights . . .

"Forget the postelection excrement about how the Democratic Party needs to reach out to fundamentalist voters and find a "moral position" people can identify with. What? Let's become less tolerant? More homophobic, more racist?"

"Complacency and distance do not help. Why are gay people marching in San Francisco? Instead, they should go en masse and meet people in those states who want to ostracize them (where many of them actually come from) and see if anything human can happen."

"The religious right took over the Republicans. Why don't the progressives take over the Democratic Party and make a real fight of this thing? If that leads to more regionalism and divisiveness, so be it. You either think these things are worth fighting for, or you don't."
This guy writes what I feel. Read the whole thing on the Chronicle website, above.

Good weather

Today was the most beautiful day I've seen in a long time. Temperature in the mid-60s, not a cloud in the sky. I bought Tom Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons for Rachel at Barnes & Noble, but after reading the first bit I'll probably end up reading the rest of it, too. Something about a man in his sixties so perfectly capturing modern college life is interesting. Later I met up with Rachel on her lunch break and had some good pizza at Double Dave's. If only every day were a school holiday!

Tuesday, November 9, 2004


Mozilla has released Firefox 1.0, and I've made the switch. After the minute it takes to get used to, you don't even miss Internet Explorer . . . in fact, you wonder why you waited and didn't just download the beta last year.

Sunday, November 7, 2004

The Incredibles

We went to go see The Incredibles yesterday. What a great film! The digital animation was superb - from a geek standpoint I really enjoyed the hair effects -- the writing was snappy, the plot was original, and the music was fun. The whole thing had a nifty retro-modern feel, combining James Bond villianry with superheroics. I definitely recommend this one!

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Purple: The Color of America

Sick of the misleading red state/blue state maps?

Here is one colored by county as well as by strength. Still scary, but there are far more liberal strongholds in the south than one might have thought.

Welcome to Jesusland

Is this the future?

[via BoingBoing]

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

A Dark Day

Words cannot describe the sorrow I feel for America, and indeed the world. Just as we learn that over a hundred thousand civillians have died in Iraq as a result of President Bush's military adventurism, we learn that he'll have opportunity to spread the destruction and continue to erode the crumbling credibility of America on the global stage.

I heard Senator Kerry saying we need to work with the Republicans and heal the wounds. I heard President Bush saying now that the American people have spoken (read: barely half of the fraction that voted), he needs our support. People on both sides of the aisle are calling for reconciliation.

There is a word for those feelings: bullshit. In reality, now is the time to redouble our efforts. They've got us bloodied and they want us to surrender. I want to be more active in opposing the neoconservative control of the country, not less. We've got sanity in the northeast and the west surrounding a sea of religious, bloodthirsty ignorance.* There are pockets of goodness; Travis County (my own Austin, Texas) was 56% for Kerry and only 42% for Bush. We as voices of progressivism need to make our voices heard through direct action and by example.

I seriously think I'm going to go protest January 20 up in D.C. I don't question the legitimacy of Bush's election, I question the righteousness of his cause and that smirk on his face. Who's with me?

* I am giving them the benefit of the doubt and suggesting that Bush's supporters just don't know any better.

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

I Just Voted

Did you?

Kerry Fever

It's hard not to catch the Kerry fever, isn't it? I'm still not voting for him, but gosh-darnit, he had better win! I find myself getting all excited about the next four years if Kerry is elected president, but then I remember it's only because Bush won't be. Because what, really, will President John Kerry give the nation?

No invasions and no hyper-conservative judges.

It is sad that these two things even have to be debated in this country. It is sad that the election is between one person who will send the nation even deeper into the dark pit of Hell it has been thrown into, and one person who will just keep us on the craggy outcropping we've presently landed on. It's sad that an election has to be not a vote on the merits of the candidates, but a referendum on the incumbent's performance. Because here's what we won't get from President John Kerry.

  • A shift away from militarization. He's still going to "strengthen" America's military . . . you know, that sad, weak military that has a budget larger than the budgets of almost every other national military combined? Because the best way to solve problems is to shoot them.
  • A living minimum wage. We'll get an increase in the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.00 by 2007. So don't worry, urban single mother, you'll only need two jobs under Kerry instead of the three you need under Bush.
  • Universal health care. You'll save money on your premiums! That's all you need, because you don't have a right to health anyway, just a right to toss a few bucks into a crapshoot of services offered by various companies for whom profit is the most important factor. You don't want to have that horrible, failing Commie healthcare like they have in Europe or Canada, eh?
  • Universal higher education. The $4,000 of tax credit the Kerry team proposes is going to make it possible for you, two $7.00 an hour job mom, to send your child to the exemplary institution known as community college. Be happy!
  • Equality. Come on, Adam and Steve, you know that whole "marriage" thing only applies if you put those in women, right? A civil union is almost a marriage, except of course you don't get the enormous psychological benefit of calling it one.

Kerry will also, as far as I can tell, maintain the status quo in the "war" on drugs, our involvement with NAFTA and the WTO, the ridiculous fiction of corporate personhood, media concentration, and other issues of interest to progressives. To be fair, I think John Kerry is largely a good person, and I think he really is about as good a candidate as could be expected in our two-party, winner-takes-all "democracy." I would even venture a guess that Kerry would support many of the ideas mentioned above, if he knew they were important to people. The Democratic Party as a whole, like any other major political group, goes where the votes are.

We need to tell them that these issues are important to us. Write your senator or representative. If you're not in a swing state, vote for Nader or Cobb. There is a real progressive movement out there, it's just apathetic and lazy. Stop that!

Monday, November 1, 2004

I'm married!

Everything went so well on Friday night. Thank you to everyone who was involved and everyone who came -- some from far away -- to be a part of the festivities! I didn't think it would feel different to be married, since we've lived together for three years. It doesn't, really, but there is something about the whole thing that changes you. It's a feeling of completion, that it is official, that there can no longer be any doubt in anyone's mind.

I like that.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Eleven hours . . .

. . . until go time.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


I'm thinking of participating in the National Novel Writing Month challenge this year. In brief, you write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, from November 1 to November 30. Naturally, the result is pretty rough, but it's allegedly a good way to force yourself to write everyday, and if there's one thing I need, that's it. I doubt if I'll write anything salvageable, but they do say your first million words are practice . . . I've got six days to decide.

And four days until the wedding! It's insane how fast the last month has flown by.


Eminem has a video out on GNN of his new anti-Bush song "Mosh." It's actually a cool video with some unique animation and, of course, a message I agree with!

[via Oliver Willis]

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Instant runoff voting

There is actually a bill in the House right now, H.R. 5293, that if passed would require instant runoff voting in federal elections by 2008.

Thursday, October 21, 2004


It's funny, I'm strangely nervous about my family. Not my immediate family, but the family I don't see that often. For instance, my Aunt Janie who lives here in Austin. I used to see her all the time when I was a kid, but I called her just now and it actually felt strange enough that I was glad to get an answering machine and put the ball in her court. Maybe it's because all of my communication with anybody but my parents has always been mediated by them. I have nothing to base interaction with aunts and uncles on besides family get-togethers. It's so silly, really, when you consider that we're related and I've talked to them dozens of times. And being twenty-four years old and afraid to call someone is pretty lame, anyway.

Update: We ended up talking for an hour and a half. Phew!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

John Kerry

While I know I'm not going to vote for John Kerry on Election Day, Matt's blog has me thinking about reasons why one would. My reasons why not are simply that I disagree with his positions on most issues: he's too conservative for me! In Texas, Geroge W. Bush will get all of the electoral votes regardless of what my ballot says.

That said, I think I would face a fundamental difficulty if I lived in a swing state. You see, I don't believe in ethics for ethics sake, or karma, or anything like that. As a result, I think the only honest way to judge actions is by their consequences, not by emotion. If I were rating Bush's value to humanity were he reelected, I might give him a -8 on a scale of -10 to +10. As utterly horrible it is to even comprehend, there could be worse than Bush. Pat Robertson (-9) or Adolf Hitler's reanimated corpse (-10) are two that spring to mind. John Kerry would be around a +2 in my book, along with almost all Democrats. Howard Dean might be a +4, Dennis Kucinich a +6. David Cobb and Ralph Nader are probably in the +8 range. A thus-far mythical technology-friendly socialist-leaning progressive would get a +10.

By this sort of calculus, it is easy to see that a vote for Kerry with even a 50% chance at winning is much better for humanity than a vote for Nader with a 0% chance. Bush is simply That BadTM. This is nothing new, we all understand this reasoning whether we agree with it or not. However, most of us who would vote for a third-party or independent candidate are torn between the obvious need to remove Bush from office and the interior feeling that we voted our conscience. Most Nader voters, for instance, would suggest that Nader won't cost Kerry the election, Kerry will cost himself the election by not appealing to those voters who chose Nader.

Let me be clear: I agree.

That said, I am at my core utilitarian. I think the only reasonable standard by which we can measure the "rightness" of a decision is by determining if we maximized utility for all involved; that is, we achieved the greatest good for the greatest number. The ends do justify the means.* I think that if I were in a swing state, even if I didn't agree with all of John Kerry's policies, voting for him would be voting my conscience because my conscience tells me that Bush is detrimental to our nation and indeed the world. Kerry may get into office and not change a single thing . . . and this would be better than Bush staying in office and making things worse. It seems to me that the only ethical choice to make is to choose the lesser of two evils when that choice has actual, tangible consequences. The evil of leaving Bush in office really does outweight the good of voting for a candidate without a fighting chance, and in our flawed system, no third-party or independent candidate has such a chance. Although I wouldn't go quite this far, a compelling argument could be made that in a two-party system efforts to reform the party you are closest to from the inside are more more worthwhile than efforts to defeat them both from the outside. People like Kucinich and the Congressional Progressive Caucus share this view.

Of course, we could change all that by using instant runoff voting, in which people rank their choices. If Joe Swingstater voted for Nader and neither Kerry nor Bush received more than 50% of the vote (highly likely), the system would go Joe's second choice, which might be Kerry. In this way, the winner will always be the first person to receive more than 50% of the vote, and will be the candidate who actually is the closest fit to a majority, rather than being the most electable by a plurality. Everyone could vote their conscience while also voting for the lesser of two evils if their conscience lost. This would make third-party and independent candidates far more attractive to mainstream voters, allowing them to compete and gain support. In a perfect world, we would also get proportional representation so that our legislature would actually reflect the views of the people, but I'm not holding my breath.

So, as much as I wish things could be otherwise, I encourage anyone who lives in a highly contested state to vote for John Kerry. Everyone else: vote for Nader or Cobb so they get more support and national attention!

* This is a much-maligned phrase, because it implies that any good end (say, removing Saddam Hussein from power) justifies any evil means (say, invasion and war). That simplistic analysis doesn't calculate that such evil means will result in evil ends (thousands dead) along with the good ends, and more often than not, those evil ends just won't be worth it. A truly utilitarian consideration includes all of the ends, not only the good ones.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

In solidarity

I have disabled anonymous comments. Crazy.

Another day in paradise

I subbed for an elementary-school music teacher today.

In other words, I watched Fantasia 2000 seven times. At least it's good. Ottorino Respighi's The Pines of Rome and Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird are two of my favorie pieces, and they were both extremely well animated.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Defensive driving

I'm taking an online defensive driving course right now. It's pretty ridiculous. When you take section quizzes, there's this studious little cartoon man with a mustache and suit. Instead of saying "Correct!" or "Excellent job!" as his appearance would suggest, he says "Yeah!" and draws a check mark on a dry-erase board.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

And it was good

They had some great chili at the cookoff, and we had a fun time sampling and checking out the animals. Given the zoo's humble beginnings and limited funds, I was really impressed with what they're accomplishing out there. Sure, a few million dollars could give the animals more breathing room, but they're safe, loved, and well taken care of. It's a lot better than the other alternatives for most of them.

Mmm, Chili

We're planning on going to the Vegetarian Network of Austin's 16th Annual Lone-Star Vegetarian Chili Cook-Off today at the Austin Zoo. Should be fun.

The Austin Zoo, unknown even to many Austinites, is a rescue and rehabilitation sanctuary that takes in abandoned exotic animals. So, when John Q. Millionaire gets sick of his pet Bengal tiger, the Austin zoo will take it instead of it being hunted our outright killed. They don't capture wild animals, yet they have over 400 animals.

I hope the weather doesn't get worse, because it looks a little crappy right now.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Two weeks . . .

. . . and counting! I'm excited.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Brain-computer interface

A quandraplegic was implanted with a pill-sized chip (the "BrainGate" system) that allows him to check email, play video games, and control the television by thought alone, even while doing other things such as talking. It's not science fiction anymore, people.

[via BoingBoing]

Scott McReynolds, Naval officer

Wednesday, October 13, 2004


I blogged a while back about how caloric restriction -- eating a third fewer calories than you "should" while maintaining adequate nutrition -- extends maximum life spans in every species it's tried on. Now a biologist has found the gene responsible in mice. When food is scarce, as during caloric restriction, the gene produces a protein that turns off other genes that help store fat. The fat moves into the bloodstream and gets burned. This keeps the mice lean, youthful, and healthy into old age. Mysteriously, it also makes them less succeptible to a host of age-related illnesses such as diabetes.

Humans have the same gene.

If one could activate it without actually restricting calories, there is no reason people couldn't avoid significant aging for forty or fifty years beyond middle age. Diseases, accidents, and murder would still kill people, but you're talking about an average life expectancy of 100 or so . . . on top of the steady increase that better medicine has been providing for the last century. If one could tackle the cancer problem, we just might live to be 150.

The biologist, Leonard Guarente, believes medicine to stimulate the gene will be available in a decade. Twenty-second century, here I come! Hopefully.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


Rachel took this picture while we were driving home from Houston.

I like it.

Long day: random shit

I wasn't able to get a job scheduled last night, so I had to get up at 5:00 to search for one. Unfortunately, it seems everybody else was doing the same thing, so I couldn't get work today. Luckily, Rachel and I took the opportunity to get our marriage license before she went to work. We then continued our multi-day few-minutes-here-and-there screening of the Star Wars trilogy DVDs. She's only seen the movies once each. Once! Even for a civillian (read: non-dork), that's an abnormally low number of times, isn't it? I'm not that big of a Star Wars fan, all things considered, but they sure are fun to watch.

Now I'm hanging around doing nothing. I might have to continue my neverending tour of the Austin used book stores and find something to read. Maybe tour is an exaggeration, since I've only been to the two nearest Half Price Books, but whatever. A lot of the books I'm interested in buying are, while not more than a decade or two old, not currently in print. I haven't had luck finding any so far. I might have to turn to Amazon if I can't.

I have grown increasingly annoyed with radio music, and increasingly bored with the music I already own. I want to get into some less mainstream stuff, but I feel a little intimidated because I wouldn't know where to begin looking. I'm in the mood for true alternative, experimental, indie rock, trip-hop, electronica, literate hip-hop, etc. Nothing too angry, unless it's political. If anybody has any suggestions, fire them my way.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Mrs. Renfro's

I am trying Mrs. Renfro's Habanero Salsa for the first time. My review: fantastic! My advice: a little goes a long way! I like it hot, luckily.


Yesterday we went to DFW to pick up Rachel's wedding dress. We had lunch with Kate and dinner with Rachel's mom, grandmother, and grandfather. All in all, it was a good trip. It seems like every weekend we're either leaving town or somebody is coming into town. Something tells me this will not change anytime soon.

You know what was an underrated movie? Gattaca. I think it was one of the best science fiction films of the 1990s.

Columbus Day means I don't have to work on Monday. Good for me. Not so good for the American Indians.

Friday, October 8, 2004

Trey Parker on elections and puppets

Xeni Jardin interviews Trey Parker and Matt Stone about their upcoming marionette film Team America: World Police on NPR's Day to Day.

"People assume we're trying to affect the election. But if you're going to change your vote based on what you see in a puppet movie, honestly -- you really should not be voting in the first place."

[via BoingBoing]

Thursday, October 7, 2004

My mind is wide open . . .

I have had "Oh My Love" by John Lennon stuck in my head nearly without pause since about 8:00 pm on Friday, October 1. Not that it's a bad song, in fact it's quite nice, but six days is pushing it. Thanks, Luke and Jamie. It's all your fault!

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

No Iraqi WMDs

Is anybody really surprised by this? Did you hear some of the Senate debate? Republicans are still trying to claim the Iraqis snuck the weapons out. Here's what I don't understand: war supporters believe wholeheartedly the intelligence that suggested Iraq had weapons. They clearly think that the United States intelligence community is accurate. Why does that accuracy suddenly disappear when the data suggests that Iraq didn't have weapons? Do you really think the United States chief weapons inspector is incompetent?

Google browser

I must have been out of the loop, because I had no idea that Google was planning on launching a web browser. Apparently, it'll be based on Mozilla, which has been sorely temping me to leave Internet Explorer for months, thanks to nifty features like automatic pop-up blocking, great security, and tabbed browsing.

Damn you, memory!

Believe it or not, I actually think of things I want to blog about when I'm at work.

Then I forget them.

Monday, October 4, 2004

Such a good weekend

I had a fabulous time this weekend. Luke and Jamie had one of the coolest weddings ever and I am so happy that Rachel and I were able to be a part of it. I can't think of anything that would have made the event any more perfectly them.

On Sunday my mom and aunt hosted a family shower for Rachel and me. It was good to have some of my family and her family get together and mingle a little. There was the one awkward moment when everybody talked politics . . . let's just say everyone from both families agrees that George W. Bush is a good president. Which means Rachel and I feel like we're in Bizarro World when they talk about it. I can't comprehend how even someone who supports a rootin'-tootin' war on terror could possibly think he's doing it the right way by invading a country with no ties to terrorists and that poses no significant threat. Ah, but luckily that moment passed quickly.

On top of all of the comraderie, Rachel and I got our diplomas in the mail and she even got a job. Now it's smooth sailing for a few weeks, we get married, and then . . . oh yeah, the rest of our lives!

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Presidential debate

I'm not a fan of John Kerry. I don't agree with him on all of his policies, maybe not even most. I definitely disagree with him on many. Depending on who is on what ballot in November, I will almost certainly vote for Cobb (Green Party) or Nader.

But damn, Kerry absolutely wiped the floor with George W. Bush in the first debate.

"I mean, this is the president who said 'There were weapons of mass destruction,' said 'Mission accomplished,' said we could fight the war on the cheap -- none of which were true."

"I made a mistake in how I talk about the war, but the president made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is worse?"

When Bush declared Iraq the central front of the war on terror, Kerry replied: "Iraq was not even close to the center of the war on terror before the president invaded it."

Bush, awkward and bumbling, could just repeat the same tired statements. Kerry is a flip-flopper without a clear position, the world is safer without Saddam Hussein, and so on. If elected, at least Kerry would be a foot in the door for the good guys, simply by defeating Bush.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

"You're fired!"

I was watching The Apprentice and thinking that it's weird how a show that is so compelling and entertaining can at the same time be strangely abhorrent. These people basically represent the worst of unchecked capitalist society: bloodthirsty and willing to do anything to get to the top, schmoozing on caviar while a few blocks away some homeless guy asks for a quarter. Maybe that's part of what is so fascinating about it.

I will never be those people, not only because I will never have the opportunity, but because I would never take it. I don't want to be rich. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would take what I need to live and ensure that my family will live, and donate every remaining cent to a variety of charities. Sure, I'd live comfortably, but not extravagantly. Maybe the equivalent of $100,000 a year income in today's dollars at most. Certainly no more. Possibly less. If I had two kids, that would be $25,000 per capita per year.

In the meantime, it's great fun to watch these people bicker and fight, but also pull off some crazy stuff in two days time.

Monday, September 27, 2004


We were watching a Law and Order: SVU rerun tonight, and it had one of the most convoluted plots ever. A girl is murdered and there is evidence of sex. Everyone says she didn't have a boyfriend, and her choir teacher left his previous job for seducing a minor so he's the suspect. They catch the teacher screwing her best friend and his prints are on condoms that the victim had. The friend says the victim used the teacher's apartment to sleep with her boyfriend. The examiner finds out that the victim was pregnant and the DNA test shows that the father was closely related. Her dad was out of town, she has no uncles or cousins, and the test comes back negative on the brother. Then her boyfriend's father is murdered. They put the pieces together: the boyfriend's father is also her father, so her boyfriend was her brother. The father had lived two lives. Nearly ever person in both families is a suspect at one point or another, and ultimately we learn that she died by slipping accidentally, and the boyfriend's "mom" killed the father when she learned the whole story.


Sunday, September 26, 2004


The Turkey City writer's workshop is going to be on October 30, the day after my wedding. This isn't a problem; we're not going on a honeymoon immediately. The problem is that, unbeknownst to me, there is limited space, and I RSVP'd too late. In other words, I didn't get in. I can still rub elbows and hang out at the after party, but I missed my shot at the critiques. Worse still, Bruce Sterling is moving to California. I can get in on the next Turkey City, but he won't be there. There are plenty of other good writers there to work with, but it would have been neat to have one of my favorite authors critique my work!

Ah, well . . .

Krispy Kreme

I want some.

Funny thing, time

I am amazed at how fast the days are flying by. I'm finding that my old ways have stopped being enough to organize myself. It used to be I would work whenever it came up and have little bits of time scattered throughout the week to take care of all of the other things I wanted to do. Blogging, for instance. I'd recognize that I have, say, two hours break and I'd better write or something.

But now I have a regular job, and it's weird that with a regular schedule it seems easier for me to just come home and vegetate for five hours and go to sleep. Without the "deadline" of work, I feel like I can put things off, and then I never get around to them because my sleeping patterns are changed as well.

So, I'm trying to come up with a regular schedule for the rest of my life, too, not just work. I want to do so many things, and I've just got to find a slot for them. I need at least a good hour a day to write, probably another hour for "recreational" web-surfing and blogging, I'd like to start working out a solid three times a week, plus the usual eating, sleeping, and whatnot. Not counting my continued interest in reading and watching the many recorded shows that accumulate while I'm away.

Just thinking out loud here, I know everyone else has all these same things, or their own. Actually, a lot of people probably have a lot more on their plates to juggle. I guess the one thing I really want to make time for is the writing . . . whatever the odds, I can't let that slip away because of other things. Writing is my career, even if it hasn't started yet. Anything else can't be more than a day job.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004


In the week and a half I've substituted, I've noticed something. At least half of every class I've taught has been Hispanic, usually more like 80%. This doesn't particularly bother me, but I do wonder why.

Is it that Austin really has such a large Hispanic population? Possibly, but certainly not in every neighborhood. My own daily experience suggests that the students are overrepresented. Perhaps there are proportionally more wealthy white students who are sent to private schools, but this trend applies all over the country and there were plenty of white kids in my public schools.

I think the answer is slightly more sinister. I think that some teachers (who are generally white) don't particularly like teaching poor Hispanic kids that act up and feel that they need a break every now and then. Meanwhile, the teachers in the classrooms full of middle-class white kids aren't under as much perceived stress and tend to be absent less frequently. As a result, my comrades and I are more often called into the Hispanic classes. If this weren't Texas, I might notice a similar majority of black students.

It is true, in my limited experience, that the lower a student's apparent socioeconomic status the more prone they are to cause trouble, and the literature is rife with explanations for that phenomenon. I guess the real problem is that in our laissez faire society these Hispanic families have to remain poor and thus breed the behavior.

Monday, September 20, 2004


Not much more to say.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Now playing

We went to see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow last night. It was every bit the visual spectacle one would imagine. Fine acting, too. I wouldn't call it the best movie ever made, but it was a good one.

That leaves four movies in theaters that I want to see: Hero, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Collateral, and Code 46. I am particularly interested in Innocence and Code 46, being the dork that I am.

The latter, if you aren't familiar with it, is a British film starring Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton. It is the near future, where cloning and in-vitro and other reproductive technologies have necessitated a law--Code 46--requiring genetic compatibility testing for romantic partners. Robbins is a detective who, while away on a case, falls in love with a woman and inevitably gets tangled in a cyberpunk quagmire centered around the aforementioned law.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004


When I don't have a substitute job pre-arranged in the morning, I have to get up at 5:00 to check what's available. When my alarm went off this morning, I turned it off and promptly returned to sleep until 7:45. Instant accidental vacation!

In other news, our old printer died and forced us to buy a new one. We got an HP PSC 1315, an all-in-one printer-scanner-copier that only costs $100. It's working fine and so far the copy function has already proven useful. As with having a DVR, you quickly wonder how you ever got by without one.

Monday, September 13, 2004

First day of class

Well, I was a substitute teacher for the first time today. It was simultaneously easier and harder than I expected. Easier because as the teacher school just goes by pretty quickly. The teacher had two "off" periods, so I worked from 8:30-4:00, but had two and a half hours off throughout the day. I brought a book with me. But the day was harder because I underestimated the lack of respect the students would have. The problem was, I had no teeth. Because of an administrative mix-up, I was sent to a school that didn't need me, so then I was shuffled over to another school that did. I didn't get to ask what the disciplinary procedures were or anything. So I just took down names to give to the regular teacher, but I don't think the kids even believed I was doing it. One period in particular was full of "thugs" (granted, these were only eighth graders) and they just didn't do anything. Hopefully, the teacher will punish them tomorrow, because she definitely got a list.

I also quit Olive Garden. If I would have gone in there today, I would have probably earned about half what I made teaching, based on past experience. Working there is costing me money any day I could be teaching instead. The good news is: I now have complete control of my schedule. I have weekends off, and if I need a day off during the week, I just don't pick up a substitute position that day. Aside from the actual work, it's a dream.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Good time

Rachel and I had a good time sitting on the outdoor deck of Mozart's coffeehouse and watching the ducks and turtles swim by in Lake Austin during sunset last night. It's not the best coffee in town, but it's good enough and you can't beat the view. Nice canolis, too.

I wish we had brought our camera.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Pet peeve

Badly is an adverb. It describes the verb it follows. If somebody had a personal tragedy, don't say, "Well, I know everybody feels badly for you."* This means that everybody is feeling emotions incorrectly. If how you feel is bad, you feel bad, not badly.

Yes, I have a degree in English.

* Overheard at work today.


I just joined Critters, an online writer's workshop for science fiction, fantasy, and horror. As long as you critique other people's work that comes through, when you submit a story, it will get critiqued as well. 4,000 members. Should be fun and helpful!

In other writing news, I've developed a few more story ideas, and I'm retooling my current work-in-progress from a whole new angle. I think I chose the wrong protagonist for the story I wanted to tell. I needed someone with more to lose.

Thursday, September 9, 2004

The Demon-Haunted World

Last night, on a whim, I started rereading Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World. It's been about four years since I first read the book, and I have matured as a reader since that time. While before I thought it was a good book, I now think it is a great book. Quite possibly one of the best non-fiction books I've ever read. I would strongly encourage anyone who hasn't read it to do so.

The Demon-Haunted World is a book about skepticim and wonder, the two central components of science. More importantly, the book is about moving forward as a culture in an honest way. To paraphrase the author, I'd rather know the painful truth than a pleasant lie. The book's subtitle, Science as a Candle in the Dark, puts it quite nicely.

Carl Sagan was one of the greatest popularizers of science, and I can't recommend his work enough. The Demon-Haunted World is certainly the most in-the-moment relevant, but all his books are fantastic.

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Um, yeah

You might notice I have a generic Blogger template for my blog now. That wasn't my plan, I am just an idiot and screwed around with things without backing up the original.

My bad.

Woe is me

Blogger had a simultaneous failure across multiple machines responsible for publishing blogs; hence, my post from yesterday only now shows up. Woo.

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Labor Day

Well, Labor Day was yesterday, and I wonder how many of the people who enjoyed their day off even gave a second's thought the the reason it is celebrated: labor unions and the socioeconomic achievements of the working class. It is essentially a socialist holiday, about all of the things the left stands for. How many right-wing ideologues realize that?

Sunday, September 5, 2004


Somehow working for six hours seems like working for twelve hours when you expect to be out in four. Standing, walking, running, lifting, and trying to be polite doesn't make it any easier.

Friday, September 3, 2004

World citizenship

I just had an interesting and educational IM chat with a man from Turkey. It is so fun to get an outside perspective. He is a deist and a socialist, which was cool, and he described how everyone in Turkey hates socialists and calls them the devil, and how the police hit them but leave everyone else alone. And they hit people who wear Che Guevara t-shirts. We hit Fahrenehit 9/11, the crisis in Chechnya, and mandatory military service.

p****: please be help this world dont forget your past when you be in work future

p****: you are realy human bro

ryanmcreynolds: thank you

p****: this world need guys like you

Thursday, September 2, 2004

Dangerous minds

I had my orientation/training for substitute teaching with Austin ISD today. Everything went well. It's about what you would expect. I should be able to start actually working in about two weeks, but--and this is fantastic news for people planning a wedding--because we're paid monthly and my first day will be after the September pay period ends, I won't get my first check until October 29! I think there is going to have to be some creative financial sleight-of-hand going on in the near future.


Wednesday, September 1, 2004


I can't say I'm really surprised that the Republicans are still going on about the war and how gosh-darned great it was, and how much safer we all are because of it. What does surprise me is that they continue to portray the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq as if it were a logical extension of the war on terror. To hear Republicans tell it, Iraq was simply another front in a neverending war. I heard a woman on NPR still repeating the tired lie that Iraq and Al Qaeda were strongly connected, and that we were in imminent danger. Do they still believe? Idiots.


I enjoy anime. I'm not really "into" it, and really I haven't seen that much of it. I know that I don't usually like the fantasy-themed anime, but I definitely dig the science fiction. One of my favorites was Ghost in the Shell, and now Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is set to come out in theatres this month, so I'm pretty excited about that. What I find interesting (and not unusual in anime, if I understand things correctly) is the relationship between the movies, the Stand Alone Complex series (which will be airing on Cartoon Network), and the manga (comic books). There are two manga series, one a sequel to the first. The first anime film is a partial adaption of the first manga, but the second film has nothing to do with the second manga. Meanwhile, Stand Alone Complex is basically another sequel to the events of the first manga/anime, but assumes that the actual main plot never happened, so as to leave the characters as they were when the whole thing started. So there are three different versions of what happens to everyone.

On second thought, I guess it's really not that different from adaptions of American comic books. For example, there have been a handful of animated Batman series, the Adam West live-action series, the Burton movies, the Schumacher movies, and now the Nolan movie, none of which really fit together.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

A New Age of Unreason

Yep. We live in a theocratic oligarchy with strong despotic tendencies, I'd say. A president who believes that God told him to run, God told him to fight Al Qaeda, God told him to occupy Iraq. A government comprised primarily of the elite, people with no connection to or understanding of the people they allegedly represent. Talk of postponing elections. Silencing of the opposition, strangling the mass media. "We're turning the corner," Bush says. Yes, we are.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Geekiest protest sign ever

Pretty neat, eh?

In other RNC protest news, there is a 10-minute mass panty flash scheduled for Wednesday, with over 100 women flashing underwear with slogans such as "give Bush the finger," "cream Bush", "drill Bush, not oil", "Ballot Box," "My Cherry For Kerry," etc.

[via BoingBoing]

And here we are again

Same room. Clearly.

Check out the new pad

Here's the living room of the new apartment.

Sunday, August 29, 2004


OK, ladies and gents, I am settled in Austin, and ready to get on with the blogging. Unfortunately, work is intervening tonight. Let's just say I had a fantastic trip to Houston visiting plenty of wonderful people, and I will be back later!

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Sorry, loyal legions

Needless to say, I haven't been blogging much during our hiatus in Houston. Don't worry, I will be back and better than ever come August 27, when our Internet service will be activated in the new apartment. Until then, it might just be one of these "checking in" posts.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Ten Commandments

Can you believe that people are still going on about the Ten Commandments monument that was removed from an Alabama courthouse last year? In fact, it's going on tour! Somewhat sane supporters say that the Ten Commandments are the foundation of our laws, and are appropriate symbols of legal history. Insane supporters say that the United States is or should be an overtly Christian nation and the Ten Commandments should be in court rooms as a moral guide.

The opposition have always considered the case from the point of view of legality. Legally, they argue, the Ten Commandments are an endorsement of Christianity and unconstitutional. Imagine being a Muslim or (shudder) an atheist standing trial with a two-ton Judeo-Christian rulebook guiding the decisions of the judge and jurors. It simply isn't fair, and the opposition to the Ten Commandments is entirely justified.

However, the news rarely gets into whether, even if it were legal to have the Ten Commandments in a courthouse, they should be there in the first place. Proponents argue that they are the basis of modern laws. But are they?


Then God spoke all these words: I am Yahweh, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, Yahweh, your God, am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of Yahweh, your God, for Yahweh will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to Yahweh, your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore Yahweh blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that Yahweh, your God, is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Exodus 20:1-17]

In other words . . .

I. Don't worship anther god: not a law.

II. Don't make idols: not a law.

III. Don't say God's name in vain: not a law.

IV. Keep the Sabbath holy: not a law.

V. Honor your parents: not a law.

VI. Don't kill: a law!

VII. Don't commit adultery: not a law.

VII. Don't steal: a law!

IX. Don't lie: sometimes a law.

X. Don't covet: not a law.

So, at best, two and a half of the Ten Commandments are even related to our laws, and I don't think anyone could seriously propose that they are the origin of these ideas, since they are pretty much always illegal everywhere. Ironically, Yahweh approves of people both killing and stealing in many places in the Bible.

What's really funny is that there are two sets of ten commandments that Yahweh gives to Moses. The set listed above, and generally supported by the fanatics, is never called "The Ten Commandments" in the Bible. In Exodus 20, Yahweh tells them to Moses and then tells him a whole bunch of other laws. In Exodus 31, Yahweh puts the ten on two stone tablets. However, Moses gets mad and breaks them before ordering the Levite priests to slaughter 3,000 people. So, Moses makes two new tablets and Yahweh writes twn commandments on them in Exodus 34. This time, they are called the Ten Commandments by name, the ten that everyone should remember. And this time, they read like this.

I. Don't worship any other gods.

II. Do not make idols.

III. Celebrate the festival of unleavened bread.

IV. Sacrifice the firstborn of every cow and sheep.

V. Rest every seventh day.

VI. Celebrate the festival of weeks.

VII. All males must appear before Yahweh three times a year.

VIII. Don't offer sacrificial blood with leaven.

IX. Bring the best of the "firstfruits" to the house of Yahweh.

X. Don't boil a baby goat in its mother's milk.

Yeah. I don't see the fanatics clammoring to get those ten posted, the only ten actually called the Ten Commandments!

Monday, August 9, 2004

Prudes versus nudes

During the Cold War, East Germany didn't care if people wore clothing to their beaches. After all, the human body is nothing to be ashamed of. Then, the wall crumbled.

"'In the communist era, about 90 percent of the people here were nude. [. . .] Now, only about 30 percent are. It's not fair. We're being pushed off our own beach into a crummy little zone on the edge. Being nude is not a crime.' [. . .] Easterners, raised in the atheist communist state, say the influence of the Catholic and Protestant churches are responsible for the comparatively prudish western attitudes. [. . .] 'And now I've got this white stripe around my midriff as a result. [. . .] Fabric swim suits are so terribly uncomfortable. How can anyone want to wear them?'"
Why the big hang up about the naked body? I have to admit, I have been influenced by these same attitudes, and I would probably be uncomfortable at a nude beach, at least at first, but that doesn't mean that my logical brain thinks that perpetual shame about the body is healthy.

Friday, August 6, 2004

The Pet Goat

I don't particularly love John Kerry, but this is a great quote:

"Had I been reading to children and had my top aide whisper in my ear that

America is under attack, I would have told those kids very nicely and politely

that the president of the United States has something that he needs to attend


If you've seen Fahrenheit 9/11, you know that Bush's reaction was quite different.

[via Oliver Willis]

Tricky times

Here's where it gets interesting. Tomorrow we move out, officially homeless for two weeks. At least one of those will be spent with my parents in Houston but after that, who knows?