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.