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.