Saturday, December 24, 2005

Sweet baby Jesus

It being Christmastime and all, and remembering the reason for the season, I figured it was about time for a God post. I was reading a random lengthy message board conversation about proving and disproving God's existence, and it made me reflect on my own opinions on the matter. Sometimes people want to challenge their faith, sometimes people want to challenge my lack. I end up talking about such things from time to time. For what it's worth, I would advise that anyone who wants to have such a discussion with me first consider the following, because if you understand my point here, you understand essentially my entire argument for believers. If you would rather argue evidence, that is a different and much simpler beast to tackle, but this is my argument against faith.

Why don't you believe in Zeus? Thor? Mithra? Find a reason to disbelieve in these popular gods of the past that isn't equally valid for your god of choice and we'll talk.

Tags: ,

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Old Negro Space Program

The Old Negro Space Program

The completely false story of America's first blackstronauts, Ken Burns style.

[via SFSignal]

Sunday, December 18, 2005


I just finished transferring my Bloglines feed list to the Sage extension for Firefox. If you're still reading blogs by manually browsing each one rather than simply aggregating feeds, and you want to get with the program, Firefox with Sage is a good way to go. Check it out.

Friday, December 9, 2005

Things I Hate 1

I am not a very angry person. I don't yell much, and it takes a lot to upset me. But there are a few things that get to me. And so I present an installment of my ongoing series: Things I Hate.

System of a Down: Look, I don't expect much from popular music these days. I'm not one of those elitists, I just think that Sturgeon's Law is universal: 90% of everything is crap. But if I'm going to enjoy some music, I require at the very least a modicum of talent. System, you guys suck more than a drunk cheerleader in the locker room on homecoming weekend. Seriously, horribly bad. I would go so far as to say you are the worst band ever, even worse than Nickelback. At least Nickelback has the skill to blatantly rip off Pearl Jam, Creed, Staind, and the other seven hundred identical bands around. You thought you'd be clever and try something new, but forgot that such things require innovation and vision, not utter shittiness. That was your mistake, and now my ears are paying the price every five minutes that I am foolish enough to listen to the radio.

Dirty Bohemian Hippies: I think every college campus has these types hanging around the fringes. Most have dreadlocks, there's usually a dog clinging to life on a chain nearby, one of the guys is wearing a skirt, they smell like the bowel contents of a three-week-old corpse, and they're probably going to bust out a hacky-sack or perhaps a fucking fifth-grade recorder if you stick around long enough. They will inevitably ask for money. I am a socialist, okay, I'm not down on the poor, or the homeless. It is hard to get and keep a job when you couldn't get a decent education, and you got raped at fifteen and couldn't get an abortion because the fundies keep fucking up the system, and you have a name like Shanikwa or Muhammed that turns the rather fair-skinned employers away. But you dirty folk aren't poor out of necessity, you're poor because you just decided you wanted to stand around all day instead of learning or working or creating. And maybe that's a valid choice. But would a shower every now and then kill you?

Christian Fundamentalists: I've got no real beef with Christianity. Honest. If you want to believe that an invisible man created the universe, then raped a virgin and the bastard child needed to die to somehow forgive all of humanity for the invisible man's original mistake of creating faulty humans in the first place, by all means. If it makes you feel better to think that if a plane crashes and somebody survived, it is because the arrogant invisible man heard them babbling to him and punished the other two hundred people because they didn't, no problem. If you believe that when the aforementioned faulty humans got all uppity, the invisible man told a guy to build a boat and then retrieve two of all untold millions of species -- including every disease-causing bacteria and virus -- who then fit on this boat and had enough food to survive for forty days without the carnivores eating the herbivores so that a flood greater than the total water capacity of the planet could wipe the slate clean, knock yourself out. If you think that in the near future, dragons and plagues and falling stars are going to show up before the bastard child of the invisible man appears in the sky with a sword in his mouth and rotting corpses are going to fly out of graves, who am I to argue? But I do have to ask: are you fucking insane?

Until next time...

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Incompetent Design

The Other I.D.
No self-respecting engineering student would make the kinds of dumb mistakes that are built into us.

All of our pelvises slope forward for convenient knuckle-dragging, like all the other great apes. And the only reason you stand erect is because of this incredible sharp bend at the base of your spine, which is either evolution's way of modifying something or else it's just a design that would flunk a first-year engineering student.

Look at the teeth in your mouth. Basically, most of us have too many teeth for the size of our mouth. Well, is this evolution flattening a mammalian muzzle and jamming it into a face or is it a design that couldn't count accurately above 20?

Look at the bones in your face. They're the same as the other mammals' but they're just squashed and contorted by jamming the jaw into a face with your brain expanding over it, so the potential drainage system in there is so convoluted that no plumber would admit to having done it!

So is this evolution or is this plain stupid design?
Now this guy has the right idea.

[via Daily Kos]

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

X-Men 3

The teaser trailer.

What can I say? I am a comic book movie whore.

I am very ambivalent about this film, though. As you may be aware, Bryan Singer left the X-Men franchise to direct Superman Returns, leading to a very rough development cycle for this third installment, compounded by studio refusal to push back the opening. Matthew Vaughn was brought in to direct, and worked on a script the leaked details of which are highly troubling. The good news is that it introduces Angel and the Beast in compelling ways, and it deals with Jean Grey's return as the evil Phoenix. The bad news is that [MAJOR SPOILERS] Cyclops, Magneto, and Professor X are killed by her. Seriously!

But Vaughn departed the X-Men 3 project and Rush Hour director Brett Ratner was brought in for a last-minute, well, rush job. There was some question as to whether Ratner would be forced to use the Vaughn-era script, as there seemed to be little time for substantial rewrites. By way of comparison, Superman Returns opens a month later than X-Men 3 but was essentially finishing shooting when X-Men 3 began. The trailer makes it clear that the story is in fact the same script, or a variation thereof.

Now, Brett Ratner is a competent director. He's not a visionary, he's probably not going to rock the boat, but he knows his way around the camera. He is also good friends with Bryan Singer, and it is clear from the trailer that he is keeping the visual style Singer established for the franchise. But I have serious doubts about the quality of the story that is going to be told, and the fact that Fox registered the domain name combined with the spoilers above strongly suggest to me that this will be the final installment in the series. I only hope it is a good one.

All that said, the trailer itself makes the film look quite awesome.

Saturday, December 3, 2005


Brokeback Mountain and The 'Yuck' Factor

Jared Wilson writes on the wingut website WorldViews about his belief that everyone in the country shares his bigotry:
For all of our modern cultural "enlightenment," and despite the pervasiveness of gay characters and stories all over American media, and regardless of the success of shows like "Will & Grace" and "Queer Eye," by and large Americans -- blue state, red state, Christian and non -- innately find homosexuality repulsive. [...] To be blunt, we know anal sex is gross, and we especially know anal sex between men is repulsive. Even for most of those who have no basis for which to call it a sin find the act itself "gross." [...] Like Homer Simpson, we like our homosexuals flaming. So they can joke about sex and they can swish their way from the silver screen to the TV screen, they can even pontificate about their rights and move us to tears with their experienced repression and persecution. We'll sympathize with them on "Oprah" and laugh at them on "Will & Grace" and appreciate their good fashion sense on "Queer Eye" and nod our heads with the "Seinfeld" gang that there's not anything wrong with that. [...] Brokeback Mountain may win awards, but it will not have an audience who is not attending either out of perverse curiosity or some sense of liberal duty. [...] America likes her gay cowboys standing on stage with others in costume, singing "YMCA." Beyond kitsch, beyond sentimentality, the reality is yucky.
Wilson defines homosexuality as an activity: anal sex between men. It seems to me that millions of lesbians would be surprised to learn that they aren't in fact gay as they had been led to believe. I am confident that Wilson would be a strong supporter of female same-sex marriage, since there is no homosexuality involved. And as long as two men never have anal sex, countless hours of kissing and and blowjobs would be completely heterosexual. It's also rather amusing that he says that "we" know anal sex is gross, when 40% of men and 35% of women aged 25-40 have had anal sex. It is also routinely featured in pornography enjoyed by countless straight people. There are large numbers of people who don't find it gross at all.

What Wilson and other bigots social conservatives always forget is that lesbians and gay men are people and subject to human emotion. Regardless of its origin, homosexuality only orients where love and attraction are directed. It does not proscribe a certain activity. Gay men have anal sex because it can feel good, the same reason every third person you see walking down the street has had it. They happen to have it with other men because those are the people they are attracted to. But it does not define them any more than saying that a heterosexual is one who has vaginal sex, excluding all virgins from being straight.

[via Pandagon]

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Me and This Army

Radiohead - Me and This Army

Radiohead remixed with Jurassic 5, Ghostface, De La Soul, MF Doom, Gift of Gab, Kool Keith, and more. I haven't listened yet, but man that sounds good.

[via Boing Boing]

Friday, November 18, 2005

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Voter fraud

In the bookstore I read bits and pieces of Censored 2006, featuring the top censored news stories of the past year, as well as updates from previous years. It was a great read, and very interesting. Among the topics covered was the 2004 presidential election.
In order to believe that George Bush won the November 2, 2004 presidential election, you must also believe all of the following extremely improbable or outright impossible things.

1) A big turnout and a highly energized and motivated electorate favored the GOP instead of the Democrats for the first time in history.

2) Even though first-time voters, lapsed voters (those who didn’t vote in 2000), and undecideds went for John Kerry by big margins, and Bush lost people who voted for him in the cliffhanger 2000 election, Bush still received a 3.5 million vote surplus nationally.

3) The fact that Bush far exceeded the 85% of registered Florida Republicans’ votes that he got in 2000, receiving in 2004 more than 100% of the registered Republican votes in 47 out of 67 Florida counties, 200% of registered Republicans in 15 counties, and over 300% of registered Republicans in 4 counties, merely shows Floridians’ enthusiasm for Bush. He managed to do this despite the fact that his share of the crossover votes by registered Democrats in Florida did not increase over 2000 and he lost ground among registered Independents, dropping 15 points.

4) The fact that Bush got more votes than registered voters, and the fact that by stark contrast participation rates in many Democratic strongholds in Ohio and Florida fell to as low as 8%, do not indicate a rigged election.

5) Bush won re-election despite approval ratings below 50% - the first time in history this has happened. Truman has been cited as having also done this, but Truman’s polling numbers were trailing so much behind his challenger, Thomas Dewey, pollsters stopped surveying two months before the 1948 elections, thus missing the late surge of support for Truman. Unlike Truman, Bush’s support was clearly eroding on the eve of the election.

6) Harris' last-minute polling indicating a Kerry victory was wrong (even though Harris was exactly on the mark in their 2000 election final poll).

7) The “challenger rule” - an incumbent’s final results won’t be better than his final polling - was wrong.

8) On election day the early-day voters picked up by early exit polls (showing Kerry with a wide lead) were heavily Democratic instead of the traditional pattern of early voters being mainly Republican.

9) The fact that Bush “won” Ohio by 51-48%, but this was not matched by the court-supervised hand count of the 147,400 absentee and provisional ballots in which Kerry received 54.46% of the vote doesn’t cast any suspicion upon the official tally.

10) Florida computer programmer Clinton Curtis (a life-long registered Republican) must be lying when he said in a sworn affidavit that his employers at Yang Enterprises, Inc. (YEI) and Tom Feeney (general counsel and lobbyist for YEI, GOP state legislator and Jeb Bush’s 1994 running mate for Florida Lt. Governor) asked him in 2000 to create a computer program to undetectably alter vote totals. Curtis, under the initial impression that he was creating this software in order to forestall possible fraud, handed over the program to his employer Mrs. Li Woan Yang, and was told: “You don’t understand, in order to get the contract we have to hide the manipulation in the source code. This program is needed to control the vote in south Florida."

11) Diebold CEO Walden O’Dell’s declaration in a August 14, 2003 letter to GOP fundraisers that he was "committed to helping Ohio to deliver its electoral votes to the president next year" and the fact that Diebold is one of the three major suppliers of the electronic voting machines in Ohio and nationally, didn’t result in any fraud by Diebold.

12) There was no fraud in Cuyahoga County Ohio where they admitted counting the votes in secret before bringing them out in public to count.

13) CNN reported at 9 p.m. EST on election evening that Kerry was leading by 3 points in the national exit polls based on well over 13,000 respondents. Several hours later at 1:36 a.m. CNN reported that the exit polls, now based on a few hundred more - 13,531 respondents - were showing Bush leading by 2 points, a 5-point swing. In other words, a swing of 5 percentage points from a tiny increase in the number of respondents somehow occurred despite it being mathematically impossible.

14) Exit polls in the November 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections, paid for in part by the Bush administration, were right, but exit polls in the U.S., where exit polling was invented, were very wrong.

15) The National Election Pool’s exit polls were so far off that since their inception twenty years ago, they have never been this wrong, more wrong than statistical probability indicates is possible.

16) In every single instance where exit polls were wrong the discrepancy favored Bush, even though statistical probability tells us that any survey errors should show up in both directions. Half a century of polling and centuries of mathematics must be wrong.
The full chapter is available online here. The rest of the site is similarly useful.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

'Chemical weapons' vs. chemical weapons

White phosphorus burns skin and kills whatever it comes in contact with. It is classified as an incendiary rather than a chemical weapon, and thus technically not forbidden from use under international treaty. However, it is nasty, nasty stuff that leaves victims melted and mangled, and it was used in the siege on Fallujah.

The Army first claimed the rounds were used only for illumination, but after an article (PDF) describing their use appeared in Field Artillery magazine recanted, saying the rounds were used as psychological weapons to scare out insurgents who were then killed by the usual means.

According to one embedded journalist:
[Troops were ordered] to fire round after round of high explosives and white phosphorus charges into the city Friday and Saturday, never knowing what the targets were or what damage the resulting explosions caused. ...

They say they have never seen what they've hit, nor did they talk about it....
Sound psychological? Sounds a lot more like indiscriminately firing rounds of ultra-hot phosphorus onto unseen targets. A reporter for the UK's Independent says:
Phosphorus burns bodies, in fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone ... I saw the burned bodies of women and children. Phosphorus explodes and forms a cloud. Anyone within a radius of 150 metres is done for.
The Army may not have broken any laws, but that's a hell of a way to win hearts and minds.

[via Daily Kos]

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Same-sex marriage ban

Not that I thought it would get shot down - though I held out hope - but Proposition 2 is passing in the state of Texas today. An amendment to the state constitution will now define marriage as between one man and one woman, as well as refusing to deny same-sex marraiges from any other states. It makes me sick.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Department of Greenhouse Security

Bruce Sterling: The planet *is* an ark
I don't want to be a big cynic about this, but really, at this point, who WANTS George W. Bush to get all interested in climate change? Sooner or later, that guy poisons everything he touches. He'd probably start a highly secretive and utterly disorganized "Department of Greenhouse Security," where Bechtel apparatchiks took over abandoned army bases to install leaky nuclear power plants in dead of night with extraordinarily-rendered, off-the-books, union-busting labor. Would that help? If he fought the Greenhouse in utter sincerity and with all his might, would he win?
More at the always excellent Worldchanging.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Monday, October 17, 2005

The SF Canon

First a quick note: comment spam should be mostly taken care of since I turned on word verification for new comments. Sorry for the hassle.


SF writer John Scalzi, as part of his Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies, has compiled a list of the fifty definitive and essential science fiction movies. It's a really great list, and I thought I'd quote it here with my own quick notes about each.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension! Never seen it...

Akira. Mindblowing visuals, groundbreaking anime.

Alien. One of the best films ever made, equal parts SF and horror. Brilliantly designed and shot, and utterly gripping.

Aliens. The definitive action SF film that every subsequent movie has tried to emulate.

Alphaville. Never seen it...

Back to the Future. While I suppose it belongs on the list for cultural impact, I generally consider this to be a comedy first and SF a distant second. But I do love it!

Blade Runner. What this film lacks in snappy pacing it more than makes up in sheer atmosphere. Simply beautiful.

Brazil. Never seen it...

Bride of Frankenstein. Never seen it...

Brother From Another Planet. Never seen it...

A Clockwork Orange. A masterpiece.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Of Spielberg's genre films, this is one of my favorites, by virtue of his making the aliens both benevolent and incomprehensible.

Contact. With the exception of 2001, this is the closest thing to a true "hard SF" movie.

The Damned. Never seen it...

Destination Moon. Never seen it...

The Day The Earth Stood Still. I maintain that this is the best SF film ever made, and long one of my favorites.

Delicatessen. Never seen it....

Escape From New York. Never seen it...

ET: The Extraterrestrial. This had to be on the list, I know, but while I find it entertaining, it has never been a particular favorite of mine.

Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers (serial). Never seen it...

The Fly (1985 version). I love this movie, it a way. Certainly it is my favorite film starring Jeff Goldblum, who is perfect in this particular role.

Forbidden Planet. This was a movie so ahead of its time it would have still been cutting edge in 1970. A little slow, but worth seeing.

Ghost in the Shell. I'm starting to wish I hadn't sold my DVD of this, probably my favorite anime. The alternate-universe spin-off series is golden as well.

Gojira/Godzilla. Classic camp.

The Incredibles. While clearly a parody, still one of the best comic book movies ever made.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 version). It has been a long, long time since I saw this, but I remember it being quite good.

Jurassic Park. This movie broke such visual effects ground, I nearly cried with delight the first time I saw that brachiosaur placidly grazing in the treetops.

Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior. Never seen it...

The Matrix. I actually liked the sequels, but they really did distract from the brilliance of the original. Seeing Neo awaken in the pod having no idea it would go there was a true mindfuck.

Metropolis. Sorry, I recognize why this film is so loved, but I honestly couldn't get through it.

On the Beach. Never seen it...

Planet of the Apes (1968 version). So entertaining you can forgive the cheese.

Robocop. Didn't care for it.

Sleeper. Never seen it...

Solaris (1972 version). Never seen it...

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. KKhhhaaaannnnn!!!!!!

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Corny good-time fun, and clearly revolutionary.

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. The best of the six, no doubt.

The Stepford Wives. Never seen it...

Superman. First half: the best comic book origin story ever told. Second half: almost unwatchable by today's standards.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day. I believe this is the ultimate action movie, with all the right ingredients in just the right proportions.

The Thing From Another World. Never seen it...

Things to Come. Never seen it...

Tron. Never seen it...

12 Monkeys. In my opinion, the best time-travel movie, and possibly Brad Pitt's most underrated performance.

28 Days Later. Never seen it...

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Never seen it...

2001: A Space Odyssey. I'm not saying you'll be on the edge of your seat, but even after the title year has passed, this is still what it will be like out there and it is the definitive SF film.

La Voyage Dans la Lune. Never seen it...

War of the Worlds (1953 version). I haven't seen this in so long I feel unqualified to comment.

The only film that I believe deserves to be on this list that isn't is Gattaca. I also think for SF purposes the first Star Trek picture is more relevant than Wrath of Khan, though the latter is the more entertaining film to be sure.

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Everywhere democracy

I've said this before, but it's on my mind.

Why do we demand political democracy while accepting economic dictatorships? Why don't we demand economic democracy as well? We elect our political leaders, but our business leaders are appointed from on high. Despite its best efforts to the contrary, the government is still of, for, and by the people, and what power it has is granted by us. Buisness is of and by the workers, but for the bosses and the shareholders. They have the ability to hire, fire, promote, demote, and increase or decrease pay, all without democratic input from the people who actually make the goods and services that are ultimately sold.

I'm with David Schweickart when it comes to economics. A market is an efficient means of distributing goods and services, but business as it exists today is fundamentally wrong and serves to benefit the few to the detriment of the many. A company should be owned by the people who make it up: the workers. Managers should be elected by the workers, not appointed by those with even more absolute power. Profits from the company's success should be destributed equally among the workers, not hoarded by the bosses and paid out to already wealthy investors. In fact, investment should come from public banks funded by corporate capital taxation.

Economics of, for, and by the people.

A basic income guarantee and universal health care wouldn't hurt, either.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Illegal procreation

Unauthorized Reproduction bill has been drafted
Republican lawmakers are drafting new legislation that will make marriage a requirement for motherhood in the state of Indiana, including specific criminal penalties for unmarried women who do become pregnant “by means other than sexual intercourse.”


Only women who are married will be considered for the "gestational certificate" that must be presented to any doctor who facilitates the pregnancy. Further, the "gestational certificate" will only be given to married couples that successfully complete the same screening process currently required by law of adoptive parents.
This truly sickens me.

First you've got the misogynist woman-control brigade penalizing women who get pregnant outside of marriage, while as far as I can tell there is no penalty for the men who impregnate women outside of marriage. It is the same age-old tradition of forcing women to deny their own sexuality by refraining from extramarital sex while making no comment on men doing the same thing.

Then there is the whole issue of marriage even being relevant to having children, which is isn't. There are certain economic benefits to marriage, but there is no fundamental reason why two unwed partners can't raise a child identically to those who said a few words in front of an officiant.

On top of that is the ridiculous "natural is better" argument that implies that sexual intercourse is the only appropriate means of procreation.

[via Feministe]

Monday, September 19, 2005

Tim Wise is awesome

A God with Whom I am Not Familiar

Tim Wise says everything I would have said about New Orleans and Katrina in this essay, and far better than I could have.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Just for laughs

I went to the local Barnes and Noble today and perused the science section. To my delight, there was only a single dumbfuck creationism "intelligent design" book mixed in on the evolution shelf.

I moved it back to humor, of course.

Friday, September 9, 2005

Pastor Bush

President Bush has declared September 16 a national day of prayer for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Leaving aside my usual objection to the president of the country making theological declarations from the White House, my question is, "Why?"

Are there any religious people in the country who aren't already praying for the hurricane victims? Are there any churches that, this past Sunday, didn't encourage their members to pray? More to the point, is God waiting for a certain threshold of prayers to be received before he will take pity on the victims or allow those already deceased into Heaven?

It's the problem I always have with prayer. God is omniscient, he knows what's going on. He knows exactly who is where and what they need. It's all part of his plan! So there is absolutely no need to tell him to do anything. If he's going to help people get through this, he'll do it whether they ask him to or not. And if he doesn't, he's a collossal douche bag. Do the religious really think that God is hanging around, biding his time, letting people suffer, and won't lift an omnipotent finger to help anybody in need unless they beg for it?

What bullshit.

Monday, September 5, 2005

With nacho cheese

I was at Taco Bell (I know, I know, but I can't argue with an $0.89 burrito) and as I waited for my food to be assembled I caught the people behind me placing their order. It was a man and his wife, and I choose to phrase it that way deliberately. See, the wife appeared to believe she was invisible to all but her husband. She would say, "I'll take a number six," and then her man would repeat to the gentleman behind the counter, "She'll take a number six." "With nacho cheese." "She'll have nacho cheese." At one point she was asked directly if she wanted some modification or the other, and she looked at her husband and nodded, after which the husband said, "Yes, she'll have that." At no point was the wife speaking too quietly for anyone to hear.

What is wrong with these people? Is the wife so emotionally beaten down that she has to filter her entire output to the world through her husband? Is the man so utterly full of masculine vigor that he wouldn't dare allow his wife to be in communication with another y-chromo that might try to plant his seed in her? Or do they really believe that she is invisible, a woman in a man's world? I can understand if one partner told the other what they wanted before hand, so as to save time, but this was real-time instant replay action.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Home sweet home

MESSENGER captures Earth's rotation

As the MESSENGER probe headed off to Mercury, it turned its camera on Earth and took a series of photos. Combined into a video, these show the dwindling Earth through a full day's rotation. The result looks like something from a science fiction movie, but it is absolutely real and absolutely stunning.

[via somewhere, but I forgot!]

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Google Talk

I don't know if Google's new chat client is going to catch on like wildfire but if you decide to give it a whirl I've added it to my Adium buddy list along with all the other usual services. If you want to add me as a buddy, my email address is rmcreynolds (at) And in the interest of completeness, you could also use AIM (RLMcRey), ICQ (291510719), MSN Messenger (, or Yahoo! (ryanmcreynolds). I'm polymessageable.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Watch this space


There's a new mailing list for progressive-minded techies who are tired of the uncritical libertarian political economy that tends to dominate discussions of a radical technological future. For people who think that advanced technology is only as good as the use it is put to, and recognize that it has the potential for reducing suffering and empowering individuals on a vast scale--but only if it is under distributed democratic control. For people who believe in peace and social justice and environmental protection, but who reject the notion that there is anything free about the free market; people who don't believe that the natural is always and inherently the best.

From the home page:
Using technology to deepen democracy, using democracy to ensure technology benefits us all.

The technoliberation list is a welcoming space for conversation, collaboration, organization, and debate among liberal, social, and radical democrats from around the world all of whom share the sense that emerging, converging, disruptive global technological developments threaten unprecedented harm while they promise unprecedented emancipation for humanity. We want to think about the ways in which technology provokes us to rethink and reimagine the left wing of the possible.
Dale Carrico describes the list as a "cyborg feminist, post-natural Green, post-humanist humanitarian, prostheticized queer, morphological freedom fighting, global fair trade and sustainable development advocating, democratic world federalist technoprogressive salon and incitement to activism and organizing."

Sounds like fun to me.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

It's funny . . .

Now that I've given my blog address to a bunch of people at Armadillocon, I'm actually feeling a certain obligation to post more than once a week. I think I'm about to be back in the habit. With a vengeance. But what other way is there?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


How Not to Make Me Ex-Gay

Jason at Positive Liberty gives the perfect response to homophobia. Touching.

[via Pandagon]

Friday, August 12, 2005

Thursday, August 4, 2005


If there are two people whose writing inspires me the most, they are Bertrand Russell . . .
Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth--more than ruin--more even than death . . . . Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.
. . . and Carl Sagan.
But for us, it's different. Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Could it be?

Astronomers to decide what makes a planet

Apparently the great planet controversy will officially come to an end this week. The International Astronomical Union has been discussing the issue for a year and planned to make an official statement next summer. However, the announcement of three potential planets in one day, one of which is larger than Pluto, was enough to inspire them to make a decision just a little bit quicker. It does make me wonder just what the IAU folks needed two full years to discuss; it's a controversy, but there aren't that many different choices to choose from. Review the facts, take a vote, and then we have an official definition.

I have a feeling that while officially there will be word, unofficially this debate isn't going to end any time soon.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Yet another conglomerate

This weekend was fun. Alliances were forged, nations crumbled, and we saved the future without leaving justice behind. All this and more without mind-altering substances.

Six Feet Under. I totally called that [SPOILER] despite the apparent recovery Nate would die at the end, but I didn't tell Rachel because if it didn't happen I would look like a fool, and now I look like a poser for claiming to have called it. But really, I did. And wow. No wonder it's one of the best three shows on television.*

How 'bout that tenth planet? As someone who actually follows these things, I know that depending on your definitions, there are probably eight or 30-ish or a thousand planets** in our Solar System, but it's always nice to find a reason to revise the science textbooks.

* For the record, the other two are Lost and Battlestar Galactica. If you aren't watching all three of these shows, you are denying yourself what few shreds of intelligent and artfully-produced visual fiction exist amidst the flotsam and jetsam of the ravaging sea of molten feces known as "television." Sure, there are other programs worth watching, but those three stand apart.

** See, there's no formal definition of "planet." Pluto was pronounced a planet somewhat prematurely, before we knew of its small size and relative insignificance; if Pluto were discovered today, we would not call it a planet. One could arbitrarily declare that a planet is any object larger than Pluto, in which case the new 2003 UB313 is the tenth known planet. But there is really no fundamental reason to declare Pluto as the size limit, and both Pluto and 2003 UB313 are part of the Kuiper Belt, meaning that they don't dominate their orbits, something all other planets do. So some astronomers say that a planet must orbit alone, and there are only eight planets. Other astronomers accept Pluto for historical reasons, use it as an arbitrary size limit, and say planets can exist as part of a population. So by that standard, there are probably around 30 objects in the Solar System larger than Pluto, we just haven't discovered them yet. So there are 10 known of 30-ish planets. Finally, some astronomers say, "Look, a planet is any non-stellar object rounded by gravity, regardless of circumstance," which is basically the definition used for centuries, before we realized there were a bunch of small planet-like objects in addition to the eight big ones. This is the criterion that is the most physically-based and least arbitrary, but it also means that there are possibly around a thousand planets in our Solar System, most lurking in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud. Some already-discovered asteroids and Kuiper Belt Objects would be planets, too. Personally, I like this one the best, since it seems the most rational and avoids just randomly choosing a dividing line. There are eight major planets that dominate their orbits, and a whole bunch of minor planets that don't. It's really a lot more complicated than any of this.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

But parking's a bitch

I'm blogging from Spider House, where I ended up after deciding that I couldn't bear to sit around the apartment any more. I figured I'd find some place to get coffee and hang out to write. I didn't want Starbucks. I usually go to Mozart's, but the only reason is the view, which requires sitting outside and it's hot. I had heard about a place called Pacha that specializes in South American, but when I drove by it was pretty small and empty and I didn't want to be the only jackass in there typing away.

So I meandered down to Spider House, a place I haven't been since I left UT five years ago. A poorly-lit, converted old house (as all good Austin restaurants are) with pretty good coffee and pastries, music ranging from Beastie Boys to Beatles, and filled with a combination of college students and occasional older folks. It's the coffee equivalent of Kerby Lane.

Also, they have a cat.

I want to take a grand tour of Austin's coffee houses one of these days. Atmosphere gets bonus points, but good coffee wins.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I promise I'm good for it

Russia's great leap for tourism - a $100m trip to the moon

Roskosmos (Russia's NASA) is offering a trip to the Moon for $100,000,000. Eighteen months after coughing up the dough, the tourist would spend a week at the luxurious International Space Station resort before blasting toward the Moon with a cosmonaut escort, enjoying gourmet biscuits and tube food. No landing or Moon golf, but you get to fly around the far side and take in the scenery.

So who's going to loan me the cash?

[via Slashdot]

Monday, July 25, 2005

Cat fancy

Did Sammy just knock my (thankfully closed) bottle of Dr. Pepper off the coffee table three times in a row to get my attention since it was getting close to feeding time, or merely to piss me off?

Either way, he succeeded. Not that I can stay mad at the lovable little furball for long.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Turkey City

So, I attended my first Turkey City Writer's Workshop yesterday.

The workshop was held at Lawrence Person's house. I live about ten minutes away, but I ran a little late and showed up at around 9:20 . . . which isn't that big of a deal, since 9:00-12:30 was officially reading and note-taking time. I, being the wide-eyed and bushy-tailed new meat of the workshop--and conveniently jobless for the summer months--had already read every story that would be critiqued at the workshop save Howard Waldrop's non-emailed, typewriter-produced, horrific, and utterly brilliant little fairy tale. It being the shortest piece at the workshop meant I had plenty of free time, so I ducked out to get a large coffee from a convenience store to power myself for what I imagined would be a grueling session to follow.

The rest of the morning was largely spent marveling at Lawrence's library--of which he is justifiably, and often vocally, proud. I'm a layman when it comes to book collecting, but even if these weren't largely first editions and signed copies, we're still talking about something in the ballpark of $50,000 worth of books in one room. I can't imagine their true value.

So who else was there? In addition to Lawrence and Howard (and myself), we had Chris Nakashima-Brown, Lou Antonelli, Mikal Trimm, Richard Butner, Steve Wilson, Stina Leicht, Jessica Reisman, Don Webb, and the special guest, Ted Chiang. I was not only the newest participant, but also wuite possibly the only one who has never sold a story. This shouldn't be surprising, given that I've only recently started taking writing seriously.

I am now taking it much more seriously.

The stories gone over at the workshop ranged from relatively hard science fiction through elf-magic fantasy through slipstream through mediapunk through vaudeville space opera. No two stories were even remotely alike, nor their styles, so there was a remarkably diverse cross section of genre writing represented. I am glad that I was "forced" to read them all, because I was exposed to a lot of things that I would generally skip over if I saw them in a magazine or anthology.

So how did my story go over? About like I expected. Most people seemed to think that I had a good idea going, and a relatively unique one. Ted said it seemed like I was trying to write a Greg Egan story, an "admirable goal," and I consider the comparison to be a compliment since Egan is a brilliant and creative writer. I know he was talking entirely about concept and certainly not execution, but at least that means my head is in the right place for what I'm trying to do. Lawrence said the story was very "Brucean" (appropriate, since it sprouted from a line in Sterling's Tomorrow Now) and that I should send it to him to get "ten deeper ways to think about the idea," which is something I'll do after a rewrite. Howard managed in one sentence to completely revolutionize the way I thought about the story and instantly transform it into something infinitely more complex, compelling, and moving. The rest of the commentary was equally valid and worthwhile, mostly dealing with how I handled (perhaps more accurately, mishandled) the characters.

I loved every minute of it. I am glad that most of the problems they pointed out were problems that I expected to be pointed out. It was a question of just how serious they were, and I'm glad that I know the answer. More importantly, I got suggestions that I would have never thought of, and inspiration for where to go from here. I hope I am able to attend many more Turkey City workshops in the future.

Now to keep writing.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

OK, my bad

I'm not going to be writing movie reviews until next week. I'm reading and critiquing the 6 Turkey City stories that have come in for Saturday, and after some time spent doing that, the last thing I feel like doing is more critiquing. I'm also in one of those blogging lulls, which doesn't help. Expect more action soon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

One of those catch-up posts

I'm not sure why I haven't made even a cursory post in almost a week. I always intend to, but never get around to it.

We saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Saturday. It was good, especially if you don't try to compare it to the classic Gene Wilder version. I'll review it (along with the other movies I haven't caught up with) tomorrow, I hope.

I'm gearing up for Turkey City on Saturday. It's been so long since I've workshopped, and this one is going to be pretty grueling. There are thirteen of us to be read and critiqued in one day. Four people so far have sent out stories via email so we can get a head start. I finished my story today, but I really want to go over it a little more. With luck, I'll send it out tomorrow. I hope it isn't entirely crap, though compared to the others who are going to be there--multiple Hugo and Nebula Award-winner Ted Chiang, for instance--it will probably be one of the weaker pieces, if not the weakest. Hey, that's OK, I'm just getting started here.

You should check out the Guns, Germs, and Steel miniseries on PBS. And the book, for that matter.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Quite the storm

Today was not the best time for one's power windows to get jammed in a down position.

I need to review THX-1138, The Professional, and Forbidden Planet.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Return to flight

If you know me, you know that I am an unabashed supporter of space exploration. And while I think that the space shuttle and International Space Station aren't the most efficient and useful manifestations of the explorer spirit, I still get a little excited when I see one of these things go up.

It's simple, really: I'm not in it for the science, I'm in it for getting our eggs out of this fragile and rapidly deteriorating basket they're in. The more decentralized humanity becomes, the better its chances for continuing to be around. I say, let robots do the science if you want, but still send people up there and get experienced at it so that others can follow and found a multitude of branches of civilization. If we say, "Robots are cheaper," and never send people up, then eventually those probes are all that will remain.

And for my progressive comrades who may argue that the money is better spent down here, I would remind them that:
  1. NASA gets a truly miniscule fraction of the budget and far less than social programs.
  2. The money doesn't disappear into orbit, it pays the salaries to thousands of workers and gets taxed and redistributed.
  3. The long-term survival of humanity is just as noble a goal as the short-term survival of individuals.
It isn't necessary to pick one over the other when both are achievable.

UPDATE: So it won't happen today, but still.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Test tube hotdogs

One of the standard props of science fiction is the vat-grown meat product, usually necessitated by the near-extinction of most livestock making real meat tremendously expensive. Or perhaps the story is set on a spacecraft with a long mission. Whatever the case may be, in "The Future" meat could be made artificially.

Now someone is planning to do just that. New Harvest is a nonprofit research organization that intends to develop cultured meat within a few years. The method is relatively simple: grow muscle cell cultures on nutrient-rich scaffolding. No animals required. At first, the products would only be useful for processed meats like chicken nuggets, hot dogs, or sausages. Eventually, it should be possible to achieve more realistic "natural" effects, making steaks and roasts, but that is probably a decade or more away.

As a vegetarian who can certainly remember how good meat tastes, I would love to get my hands on some of this stuff. Humans are evolved to enjoy meat (though far less of it that most omnivores consume nowadays) and if there were no cruelty involved, I'd gladly have some. I enjoy all of the meat substitutes, but it's not quite the same. And for the anti-GMO crowd, nothing about this plan requires genetic modification at all. The meat is all-natural, just grown in an unnatural place.

Saturday, July 9, 2005

Friday, July 8, 2005

Right on!

Advanced technology

I turned on CNN for a bit today and caught a segment that asked the question, "Where's Osama bin Laden?" They had an interview with a general in Afghanistan and a recap of bin Laden's apparent Tora Bora escape in 2001. Then the voiceover said something about how we're using the most advanced and top-secret technology to track down bin Laden. Naturally, they didn't have an image of this super-technology, so they put in a filler graphic--of a hand using a computer mouse with a scrolling circuit-board pattern overlaid.

Yes, you heard it on CNN. We're going to find Osama bin Laden with a mouse.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Good thing we invaded Iraq

London Attacks (BBC News)

London has been attacked by terrorists, coordinated attacks in the subway system and on a double-decker bus. Dozens dead, hundreds wounded. Every time something like this happens, I am astounded yet again by the human capacity to do harm. It is unfathomable to me the desperation that must drive someone to act out in violence due to anger. I sympathize with the mistreatment of people around the world at the economic and millitary hands of the United States and our allies, but killing people--especially in the political climate of today--is only going to make things worse.

So I'm glad we are waging war on Iraq, rather than focusing our efforts on actually finding terrorists. That seems to be working out well for the Londoners.

I have nothing to base this belief on, but I have a feeling that the people of the United Kingdom are not going to rally behind their Prime Minister in a chest-thumping display of juvenile machismo and military adventurism. If anything I hope this will increase anti-war sentiment in the UK, as people realize that it was probably their government's mindless following of America's mission of vengeance that made them a target.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005


We had a great time in Houston, as always. Good to visit the family, good to visit friends. Austin is a great city to live in, but nobody else is here.* If only all of our loved ones could be here, too. We need 350 mph maglev trains connecting all the cities, so the trip to Houston or Dallas would only take half an hour.

* Sure, there are new people we've met in Austin, but they can only supplement and never replace one's old friends. Unless they're super-awesome. Naturally.

Oh geez...

Astrologer Sues NASA Over Comet Probe

How much does mucking with the heavens cost? $300 million. Yes, apparently the slight deflection of Comet Tempel 1 by the Deep Impact probe will ruin poor Marina Bai's horoscope, and we all know that will actually have an effect on something. I can't wait to see the terror in astrologers' eyes when we start moving and mining the asteroids. And really, would she still complain if Tempel 1 had been on a direct course to hit her hometown and now will not? And how does she know that the comet's new location won't make her horoscope better?

Incidentally, NASA says the probe's impact had a negligible effect on Tempel 1's orbit.

[via Majikthise]

Friday, July 1, 2005

It's all downhill from here

Sandra Day O'Connor is retiring from the Supreme Court. Emperor Chancellor President Bush gets his first opportunity to appoint a justice.

Things could get really ugly.

We all knew this day would come. Things would be bad enough if Bush got to appoint a replacement for William Rehnquist, but at least Rehnquist was already known as a conservative justice. Anyone Bush would put up would retain the balance. O'Connor, while moderately conservative overall, was also a key "swing judge" on important issues such as abortion.

Now, I think the Democrats have gotten some of their spunk back when it comes to challenging Bush nominees, between the filibuster debate and John Bolton. I think that Bush knows this. Hopefully, he won't try to push anybody too radical through, but if he does, I have no doubt that it will be a contentious battle. And by "no doubt" I mean "for the sake of humanity, please." It's a given that we are going to get a conservative justice regardless of Democratic opposition. The question is how bad it will be.

And I have a feeling Ruth Bader Ginsberg will be the only woman on the court when this is over. There should be a requirement that the court alternates between five men and four women, and five women and four men, every time a position opens up. Realistically, I don't expect to see more than three women on the court at any time in my life, and I'm not betting on more than two.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Spreading memes like peanut butter

This seems like a nifty and potentially useful blog meme, so I'm joining in.


Overview: This post is a community experiment with two broad purposes. The first is to create publicly accessible data about bloggers' personalities, which may have sociological value in addition to being just plain fun. The second is to track the propagation of this meme through blogspace. Full details and explanation can be found on the original posting:

Instructions (to join in the experiment):

1) Take the IPIP-NEO personality test and the Political Compass quiz, if you have not done so already.

2) Copy to the clipboard that section of this post that is between the double lines, and paste it into your blog editor. (Blogger users may wish to use 'compose' mode to preserve formatting and hyperlinks. Otherwise, be sure to add hyperlinks as necessary.)

3) Replace the answers in the "survey" section below with your own.

4) Add your blog information to the "track list", in the form: "Linked title - URL - optional GUID".

5) Any additional comments should go outside of the double lines, including the (optional) nomination of bloggers you wish to pass this experimental meme on to.

6) Post it to your blog!


Age: 25
Gender: Male
Location: Austin, TX, USA
Religion: None
Occupation: Writer/Teacher
Began blogging (dd/mm/yy): 15/09/02

Political Compass results
Left/Right: -8.13
Libertarian/Authoritarian: -7.13

IPIP-NEO results

EXTRAVERSION: 38 (average)
Friendliness 37
Gregariousness 55
Assertiveness 17
Activity Level 27
Excitement-Seeking 17
Cheerfulness 90

Trust 79
Morality 72
Altruism 80
Co-operation 63
Modesty 65
Sympathy 73

Self-Efficacy 13
Orderliness 41
Dutifulness 66
Achievement-Striving 26
Self-Discipline 26
Cautiousness 64

Anxiety 12
Anger 14
Depression 9
Self-Consciousness 48
Immoderation 12
Vulnerability 12

Imagination 81
Artistic Interests 60
Emotionality 22
Adventurousness 78
Intellect 79
Liberalism 97

Track List:
1. Philosophy, et cetera - - pixnaps97a2
2. Majikthise - - 6ea37d10-e9b9-11d9-8cd6-0800200c9a66
3. Ryan McReynolds - - r123y123a123n123


And that's that. Don't use this information against me!

Does anyone still use AIM?

Not while I'm on, apparently.

I am a professional crastinator

I am big-time procrastinating when it comes to writing today. This whole week, really. Granted, I have actually had some things to do that were legitimate, such as typing and sending off letters of interest and certification coursework, but even so I am avoiding working on fiction like the plague. I'm not sure why, either, because I'm having a good time with it. Just not in the mood, I guess. Sucks. If 3:00 rolls around and I haven't done anything, I'm gonna have to get serious.

War of the Worlds

My review of War of the Worlds is up. Go read it, and then go to the next showing of this movie and be amazed. Yes, I know you have to work, but just call in sick. You'll thank me.

Incidentally, War of the Worlds has made me realize that at some point I stopped caring whether a movie and the book it is based on are the same. They're two different media. While I want a certain similarity to justify the term "based on," I don't really have a problem with changes to adapt to a new medium. I'm not saying it's not fair to compare the two at all, but I can do a pretty good job of judging things on their own merits and enjoying them for their own reasons, which may or may not overlap. I'm definitely not saying that movies should be off the hook for weak writing under the guise of "adapting." But in the case of War of the Worlds, for example, there are significant departures from the novel in terms of details while the actual story is very much the same. More importantly, anything lost from an imprecise adaption was compensated for by the good original features of the film that weren't in the novel, something many adaptations can't claim to have done. Most cut important things without adding anything new and worthwhile to make up for it.

But enough about that here, I've got a whole review of it elsewhere.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Et cetera

My review of Pi is now up. I'll be seeing War of the Worlds tonight. The job hunt has shifted into high gear. And so on.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Better late than never

My reviews of Code 46 and Saved! are posted.

Is anybody else looking forward to War of the Worlds as much as I am? I've been reading some of the early reviews and things are looking very, very good.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Are people waking up?

49% Say Bush Responsible for Provoking Iraq War
Forty-nine percent (49%) of Americans say that President Bush is more responsible for starting the War with Iraq than Saddam Hussein. A Rasmussen Reports survey found that 44% take the opposite view and believe Hussein shoulders most of the responsibility.

[...] 78% of all Democrats say that Bush is more responsible for starting the War than Hussein. Just 18% take the opposite view.

Republicans, by a 76% to 17% margin, say that Hussein is responsible.

Among those not affiliated with either major party, 52% name Bush and 34% Hussein.
I never thought Americans were stupid, only gullible. Maybe our intellectual prowess is slowly, painfully emerging from beneath the tangle of deceptions and misdirections that hoodwinked people into thinking that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the security of the United States.

I actually think gullible is a term that is quite underused when referring to people, particularly those in this country who seem to swallow everything the Bush administration fires at them. There is a word for people who always question what they're told and want evidence to back up claims: skeptics. But when people say you should blindly support the President, or that you need to have faith, or that you don't need to ask so many questions, what they are telling you is that you need to be gullible.

Gullibility is not something to be proud of, but it is not necessarily something to be ashamed of. It is a trait that is encouraged in conservative, religious society. The gullible majority of Americans aren't gullible out of stupidity or even ignorance, but because it is taught and promoted. Trust those with authority. The pastor studied the Bible a lot more than you did, so he knows best. President Bush has the CIA and information that we aren't privy to, so he knows best.

But the best thing about gullibility is that it can be unlearned. Even the most devout fundamentalist will often say that it is important to question your faith, but when he says that he means that if you pray enough you will blind yourself to objections. In politics, you rarely see this concession to skepticism. But both cases of chronic gullibility can be cured by reason, a talent all of us possess.

There will always be differences of opinion. Many of the most skeptical people around are libertarians, while others tend towards socialism. In utterly different fashions, both of these political/economic philosophies are based around the idea of not blindly following the status quo. The difference between libertarians and socialists is one of goals and effectiveness. Obviously, I think the libertarians are utterly wrong in their goals, but I would much prefer a world of libertarians and socialists arguing about balancing self-interest against social-interest than a world in which people simply looked to their leaders and said, "Yes."

[via The Regular]

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Mad, mad I tell you!

Tests Confirm 2nd Case of Mad Cow Disease in U.S.

Now, this is two out of 1.3 billion cows in the world, so we're not talking about epidemics here. But still, there's a crazy idea out there that will eliminate any need for fear or worry: don't eat cows.

The cows will have less to fear and worry about, too.

Friday, June 24, 2005


I have set up a separate blog for my book and movie reviews, so as not to clutter this one up too much. I will post links to new reviews here. I have already duplicated all of my prior reviews on the new blog. Reviews for Code 46 and Saved! will be up soon. Click the image above.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

From the mouths of babes

It's a writer's job to eavesdrop, yes?

This is a true story. Two preschool age kids standing in line with their mothers at McDonalds...
Little boy #1: Hey! You get McDonald's for breakfast too!
Little boy #2: Yeah! I'm getting pancakes! I thought I was never going to get pancakes again.
Little boy #1: How come? Your mom doesn't make pancakes at home?
Little boy #2: No. I only get them here. And I didn't think I was ever going to taste them ever again.
Little boy #1: How come?
Little boy #2: Because after my little brother's birthday party, my Mom said she'd rather take it up the ass than eat here anymore.
I nearly pooped myself when I read this.

[via Warren Ellis]

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

More religious nuttery

City of God: Tom Monaghan's coming Catholic utopia

Tom Monaghan founded Domino's Pizza. He is also fucking insane. You see, he wants to build a simple college town centered on his Ave Maria University project:
Ave Maria won't be just a university, he continues. It will also be a new town, built from scratch, in which the wickedness of the world will be kept at bay. "We've already had about 3500 people inquire on our Web site about buying a home there--you know, they're all Catholic," Monaghan says excitedly. "We're going to control all the commercial real estate, so there's not going to be any pornography sold in this town. We're controlling the cable system. The pharmacies are not going to be able to sell condoms or dispense contraceptives." A private chapel will be located within walking distance of each home. At the stunning church in the center of town, Mass will be said hourly, seven days a week, from 6 a.m. on. "So," Monaghan concludes, with just a hint of understatement, "it'll be a unique town."
I think that since the planned town will be built on private land, it's entirely possible that it will be built and inhabited without legal interference. It might not technically be a "town" at all. The interesting question, briefly raised in the article, is what the consequences would be for any residents who break the ridiculous rules. Excommunication? Exile? Stoning in the public square? There's something ominous about how "they" will be controlling everything.

[via Pandagon]

Doing my part

Bible verses of the day:
Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, "I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof." (Genesis 19:7-8)
And later:
Now Lot went up out of Zoar and settled in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; so he lived in a cave with his two daughters. And the firstborn said to the younger, "Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the world. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, so that we may preserve offspring through our father." So they made their father drink wine that night; and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; he did not know when she lay down or when she rose. On the next day, the firstborn said to the younger, "Look, I lay last night with my father; let us make him drink wine tonight also; then you go in and lie with him, so that we may preserve offspring through our father." So they made their father drink wine that night also; and the younger rose, and lay with him; and he did not know when she lay down or when she rose. Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. (Genesis 19:30-36)
Remember, children, that Lot was one of the most righteous and holy of men!

Monday, June 20, 2005

I think you'd understand

My web-surfing time (which I shall call "writing research") has been dominated by radical politics lately. I need some political books to read. I've got a ton of fiction, a bunch of science, and all the major works of philosophy, but very little politics. Particularly the type of politics I'm into.

Stay the course

I'm reaching the point in the current work-in-progress where I'm tempted to go back and start over again from an entirely different point in the story. I've already radically altered the planned ending. But I think it would be a big mistake to start over now. I think I've got something good going, and I would hate to ruin it because I second-guessed myself. Better to finish what I have and then change anything that needs to be changed in editing.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Social networking

So first there was Friendster. Hey, cool, put all your friends on here and find new ones and so on and so forth. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Friendster was neat for a while, but it wasn't very useful. The only time I ever actually did any "social networking" there was after I blogged about it here. It seems to do little more than simply list the people you know. I log on from time to time to update my profile and see if anyone's around. Nothing ever happens.

Along came This place was jumping from the minute I signed up. So many tribes to join, people buying and selling, job listings, notices of cool goings on. But this time, they must have done a bad job of advertising, because not a single person I know offline is on Tribe, aside from my wife--who only got on because I did. And, as with Friendster before I blogged about it, did precisely nothing in so far as "networking" me with anyone. It also quickly became a pain in the ass to read any of the tribe messages, and with the sheer volume--as I'd joined a billion tribes that seemed interesting--made it impossible to keep up with them all. I abandoned, and only came back to update my profile recently. It seems to be just as active, but I still know nobody.

The other big social networking service I joined was MySpace, as mentioned in my last post. MySpace was a more useful than either Friendster or, but uglier than both. But I actually do get new people who share my interests messaging me and wanting to be my friend. I've added a few that seemed sincere. I was a "cool new person" on the front page a little while back and got well over 200 friend-whores wanting to add me to their 450-person lists. I denied them all, because that seems pretty pointless. A lot of people I know offline are on MySpace, which helps flesh out the network. So MySpace wins for utility so far.

I'm wondering, though, how do other people use any of these you're on? Do you just add the people you already know and use it as a substitute for actual live contact? Do you search for people with similar interests or in your area and chat them up? Have you ever actually met someone you'd call a "friend" in the traditional context of the word? Do you think the whole idea is bankrupt and stay out of it all together? I'm curious.

There's not really a point to be found in this post. I just remember that when Friendster came around people thought it was some great revolution in meeting new people. I'm not so sure anything revolutionary has happened yet.

If you're on any of the three above and want to do a little networking in my direction, just click on the links to your right . . . no, lower. Yeah, there, under "connections" and before "syndication."


Saturday, June 18, 2005

The clone wars

I don't know why I found this amusing, but I was on MySpace and decided to get me a personalized URL. So, naturally, I put in "ryanmcreynolds." But no, that was already taken, by this guy. So now I'm stuck with "rmcreynolds" as I was when I signed up for Gmail. I wonder if he's got the Gmail address, too? Anyway, anybody whose profile begins with "Ryan McReynolds is a Christian . . ." is about as diametrically opposed from my personality as humanly possible.

Actually, he's like my opposite in a lot of ways, it seems. I have short hair, he has long hair. I am quite skinny, he's a big guy. I live in Texas (the South) he lives in Michigan (the North). I am an atheist, he is a believer. I am rabidly optimistic, he writes songs about "depression issues." I found school too easy, he has a learning disability. I'm mellow, he's hyperactive. Wait . . . is he from the Mirror Universe? Or am I?

I like using my real name online. I want people to be able to find me with as little difficulty as possible. I have nothing to hide.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

No spoilers

I just wanted to mention--on the off chance that anyone actually reads my reviews and furthermore that they might read those of movies they haven't seen in the hopes of deciding whether or not to watch them--that my reviews are spoiler free. I will never give away the ending or any significant details, and if I mention them it will be hidden [highlight the following to read] like this. Just in case somebody out there has been dying to see what I thought of Mean Girls but hasn't looked because they don't want to know if Lindsay Lohan dies at the end or not.

Review: Batman Begins

That's right . . .

Batman Begins

Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes
Year: 2005

I have been waiting to see Batman Begins for two years. I stumbled across a Batman fan site right around the time that Chris Nolan was signed to direct, and from the moment I heard the news, I knew this was going to be one to watch for. Then the news kept getting better. I liked American Psycho for one reason: Christian Bale. Look at that cast list above and pretend Katie Holmes isn't on it. Can you say "perfect?" I followed the news about the film all the way until today. And now I am going to say it:

Batman Begins is the best comic book movie ever made.

It tells the story of . . . who am I kidding? If you don't know the story of Batman you don't need to be reading.

That said, I can assure you that you have never seen the story of Batman told like this, and this is the way it should be told. First of all, the movie is dark, and not only because scenes are often set at night. The movie is about anger and revenge and the struggle to stop evil without becoming evil in the process. It is also frightening. Instead of ice-skating around and riding surfboards (if you never saw Batman and Robin and missed these gems, count yourself lucky), this Batman operates like a horror movie villain, snatching people unseen, knocking out lights, always in the shadows. The Scarecrow's fear gas is seen in first-person, and it's not at all pretty. Especially when you're under the influence and Batman's nearby.

I think it is also important to mention that Batman doesn't appear throughout the first half of the film. This allows Nolan ample opportunity to explore his background through direct narrative in training with Neeson's Ducard and flashbacks to earlier periods, the atemporal style reminiscent of his brilliant work in Memento. The delay also gives the audience opportunity to see Bruce Wayne, making his transformations both into Public Bruce the Asshole and Batman the Avenger all the more striking when they occur. Christian Bale's Batman is a creature possessed, speaking an unexpectedly angry growl of a voice and moving like something between a stealthy puma and a pissed-off lion.

With a cast like this, it is hard to name a standout, but I am going to anyway. Gary Oldman was the most unexpectedly inspired choice as Jim Gordon, and in my opinion gave an incredible if lamentably brief performance. He was the audience's link to the world of the film: the one good cop in a corrupt Gotham City, the unbelieving witness and accomplice to Batman's rise. And when he gets behind the wheel of the urban tank batmobile, Oldman exudes a combination of glee and terror that you can't help but feel with him.

Was there anything wrong with Batman Begins? Of course. No film is perfect. The dialogue at times got a little speech-heavy. While I wouldn't echo some critics in saying that Katie Holmes is "unwatchable," she's certainly the weakest link in the cast and barely believable as an assistant district attorney. But otherwise, I have no complaints. I've read that some didn't care for the fights being shot close-in, so it was hard to tell what was happening. I didn't mind, and in fact I liked that it didn't devolve into a series of wire-worked kung-fu stunts.

I have to keep comparing this to other great comic book films. Both X-Mens, the original Superman, Spider Man 2. And while it's certainly arguable, I have to admit that Batman Begins has them beat. The reason is depth. With these other films, you might get good writing and good acting. You'll get more than just guys in tights and choreographed fights. You'll have meaningful characters. But Batman Begins does such a tremendous job of distilling the pure essence of more than sixty years of history into two-and-a-half hours that it makes these other films seem almost shallow in comparison. You really know why Bruce Wayne transforms himself, you feel the drive that he has. Batman and Spider-Man have essentially the same origin, with a dead family member and the need for revenge. But look at the character arc and emotional content of the Spider-Man films and then watch Batman Begins. Batman is a little more grounded in reality since he has no superpowers, but the idea of a masked man in a bat-suit is pretty ridiculous. But in Batman Begins you believe it in a way that no other comic book movie has achieved. And I say that as a huge fan of all of them! It's not at all that they did a bad job, it's that Christopher Nolan did even better.

And if you've seen the ending of the film, you know the best is surely yet to come.


Review: Mean Girls

Mean Girls

Director: Mark Waters
Cast: Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Lizzy Caplan
Year: 2004

Don't tell anyone, but I kinda wanted to see Mean Girls when it came out in theaters. It looked fairly funny, and I knew it was written by Tina Fey, whose work on Saturday Night Live has generally been good. But there were other things to do and other movies to see, so I never got around to it.

Lohan's Cady Heron is going to public school for the first time after growing up in Africa. She is immediately thrust into the world of cliques; there are the varsity jocks, the Asian nerds, the promiscuous band geeks, the (insert clique here)s, and the plastics--the stuck-up bitches. Cady befriends some art dorks of indeterminate sexuality while infiltrating the plastics but finds herself rapidly becoming just the kind of stuck-up bitch she hated.

Mean Girls is actually a lot more clever than it looks, and surprisingly the humor comes from this cleverness rather than exclusively from simple pranks and gags, although there are some of those as well. Most importantly, it doesn't have most of the usual contrivances these movies seem to have. There's no secret bet to make an ugly duckling into a swan, there's no "true beauty is on the inside" sappiness, and there's no "she liked the hot guy and in the end falls for the nerd with the heart of gold" redirect, either. It's just a story of the perils of trying too hard and caring too much.

Compared to other "teen comedies," Mean Girls is brilliant. If I rated movies only against others of their genre, this would be a five-star review. I'm tempted to give it four stars since it is significantly better than similar fare. But ultimately it's not groundbreaking, it's not great art, and I'm not rushing out to buy it on DVD, so three it is.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Oh, governor of mine

Governor Rick Perry on the right of lesbians and gay men to marry:
Texas has made a decision on marriage, and if there's a state with more lenient views than Texas, then maybe that's where they should live.
You hear that? You want the same basic rights as us straight folk and you can just get the hell out! Your elected leader done told you not to do any of that butt-stuff in these here parts.

Christ on a crutch, these Republicans are gonna be the death of me. Literally, at the rate they're going.

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I'm stuffed

You ever go until 4:00 without eating anything because the pantry/refrigerator is bare, then go to the grocery store and come home and gorge yourself on the things you bought? Yeah, me too.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Reviews: The Royal Tenenbaums, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Magnolia

The Royal Tenenbaums

Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Gene Hackman, Angelica Houston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover, Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin
Year: 2001

Hot on the trail of Rushmore, I was looking forward to The Royal Tenenbaums as more of the same. I was not disappointed, though the tone struck me as quite different from the previous film. Less wackiness, more sanguinity.

The Royal Tenenbaums is many stories held together by family ties. Most obvious is Royal Tenenbaum's effort to return to his family's good graces by faking an illness. But the film also tells the tale of Richie and adopted Margot Tenenbaum's secret love, of Etheline Tenenbaum's romance with Henry Sherman, of Chas Tenenbaum's inability to cope with his wife's death.

The film was definitely funny, with an incredibly dry wit, and unafraid to find humor in what would otherwise be sad situations. The cast worked well together, with no major characters getting short shrift. The same goes for the storylines mentioned above; they are all given roughly equal time but none slipped through the cracks.

However, the somber subject matter and tone detracted from the film. Yes, it was funny--laugh-out-loud funny, at times--but it may have been too dry after all. We don't need Farelly brothers slapstick and fart jokes, but there wasn't that sense of ridiculousness that pervaded Rushmore. There were two exceptions, perhaps the best parts of the film: the opening family history montage, and the car-wreck finale.
The Royal Tenenbaums was a fine and funny film, and I'm glad I saw it.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Vince Vaughn
Year: 2005

I wasn't sure what to expect from Mr. and Mrs. Smith. A ludicrously attractive pair of married assassins out to get each other, sure; that much was obvious from the trailers. But I had no idea if it would be played for camp or straightforward.

It is somewhere in between. First of all, the film is far funnier than I would have thought it to be, with Pitt and Jolie playing off of each other perfectly. But the humor comes from their relationship, both before and after the revelation that they are mortal enemies. It is not the one-liner insult-fest that the trailer might portray it as, either. The humor could best be described as ironic, as lie after lie falls away from the farce that was their marriage.

But there is a certain seriousness to the movie as well, and given that the body count numbers in the hundreds, I am a little surprised that it was rated PG-13. The action sequences are competent. The direction as a whole is quite good; Doug Liman is a pro at the raw right-there hand-held camera style of filmmaking.

But it isn't perfect. There are a few more one-liners than I would have liked, Vince Vaughn (playing the same character he always plays) is a little annoying, though usually amusing. It stretches credibility that the Smiths' relationship can take the directions it takes so rapidly [SPOILER: highlight to read] in that they go from having fallen out of love to hating each other to falling madly back in love in a matter of days. But it is handled as well as it could be.

All in all, Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a fun, well-made action movie with plenty of laughs.


Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Tom Cruise, Pat Healy, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Year: 1999

I don't remember people liking Magnolia very much when it came out. That's probably why I never bothered to see it, although I thought Boogie Nights was brilliant.

Magnolia is another three-hour string of seemingly unconnected stories that all share a common thread. I wouldn't dare try to describe every storyline that the movie follows, but suffice it to say that there are a variety of people in a variety of situations. The big story would seem to be Cruise's hypersexist Frank Mackey coming to terms with his dying father.

Cruise does seem to steal the show every time he is on screen, but then his character is over-the-top in his disgusting objectification of women. Even having never seen the film, I knew the line, "Respect the cock, tame the cunt." The entire cast is phenomenal and so numerous that the above list is extremely partial.

Magnolia is dense, and shot artfully. This is both its brilliance and its downfall. Anderson can make a single ten-minute follow-through-a-crowd shot seem effortless, he can follow ten different characters over fifteen minutes with the same musical cue overlaid, tying it all together. But does he have to do it constantly, for three hours? Really, even with all of the characters and storylines, Magnolia was a two-hour movie with an extra hour of slow zooms and pans and stedicam shots adding another hour. I hate to presume, but it almost feels like Anderson is trying to show off just how many artistic shots he can cram into a film.

Rachel and I had to stop the movie after about two and a half hours to take a break. This might seem damning, but it wasn't because the movie was bad, only that there was so much of it that, like when eating a large meal, it seemed wise to unbutton the pants and let the gut hang out for a while.

Magnolia is good, but be sure you sit in a comfortable chair.