Monday, February 28, 2005

The Frobots

The Frobots

Check out my high school homies Luke and Nibu keeping it fresh down in the 281.

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Blogging philosophy

We all know there are many different types of bloggers. There are the people who write online diaries (usually the Xanga and LiveJournal crowds). There are the linkers who regurgitate their browser history in every post. Then there are the commentators, the true community of "bloggers" the media has caught wind of. Of course, the most famous are the political commentators, but there are entertainment bloggers, science bloggers, and bloggers for any interest.

I think for most of us non-celebrity bloggers, we're something of a mixture. I talk about my job and things in my life, though not to the extent of the diary-keepers. I link to new and fun things I find online. I try to form intelligent comments about things that are happening in the news. In the last few days, I found myself thinking that I should become more like those "real" bloggers. But now I wonder why.

It's that I wanted people to hear what I have to say. I want to be a part of the social discourse, the fabric of society that shapes opinion. I never intended for my blog to do any of those things when I started it. I just wanted to keep people up to date on my life. And honestly, with less than 25 "regular" readers, I don't know who I was kidding.

Some of you find my thoughts interesting, and so I will continue to share them. Just don't let me forget that this is for fun. It's not that I shouldn't write about the economy or politics; on the contrary, those are two very important things to me and things I love to discuss. But I want people to read what I write because they enjoy hearing about my experiences and my opinions and sharing their own. There are plenty of other people reporting the news.

Social Security and the economy

What a Rich Nation Should Really Be Doing About Social Security
Listening to the debate between the Administration and even its most adventurous critics one would imagine that only an extremely limited range of Social Security options are even conceivable. One would also imagine that we live in an extremely poor society which is ultimately going to have to find ways to squeeze its seniors financially or somehow we will all perish. The truth is radically different.

Gar Alperovitz summarizes a number of progressive proposals for Social Security, all of them worth consideration. President Bush would have you believe that there is a crisis, and that in the future retirees will not be able to receive as much money as they do today because of this crisis. This is patently false. However, he is right that Social Security should be reformed--not to save it from doom, but to make it even better. If we could reduce the disparity between rich and poor by taxing the rich--the inevitable winners as the economy grows--we would have money enough to make Social Security true security for all.

Until the 1980s, the upper tax rate was 70%. Now the rich would stage a coup if anyone dared raise it to 30%. All jobs should not pay equally, but the idea that anyone can live in good conscience knowing that they make so much more than some people with two full-time jobs do is astonishing.

One more fair proposal is setting a minimum living wage ($13 an hour, say) and a maximum wage of ten times that. The money lost by paying the lowest employees more would easily be made up by the money saved by paying the highest employees less. There is no reason why anyone could be legitimately dissatisfied with a salary of $250,000 a year.

Combined with a heavily progressive income tax, Social Security and all other social welfare programs could easily be accommodated. We could even finally get our hands on that socialized healthcare they have in more civilized nations.


Sunday, February 27, 2005

Counting the Dead

When America Kills....
The reason the English-language news media have not paid attention to The Lancet study of Iraqi deaths--much less made the scale of the slaughter a theme of their coverage--is that the killing happens to be part of the mission the major English-speaking countries have undertaken in Iraq. Far safer, therefore, to fret over the world?s inaction with respect to the government in Khartoum, than the world?s inaction with respect to the governments in Washington, London, and elsewhere.

David Peterson has written an excellent article about the utter lack of attention paid to the 100,000+ deaths that have resulted from the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. Unfortunately, I often find myself disagreeing with the way my allies on the Left choose to spin things. Yes, the invasion of Iraq was a violation of international law. Yes, there has been an abhorrent loss of innocent life. However, it is unfair to suggest that the mass-murder of civilians is "part of the mission" America has undertaken. America may be in Iraq for oil, or power, or revenge, but neither the government or the military desires the death of civilians--their deaths just don't bother them as much as they should.

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77th Annual Academy Awards

I was going to make a post about my Oscar picks when I realized something . . . I haven't seen any of these movies. Of the big awards, I have seen precisely two of the nominees: Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Jamie Foxx in Collateral. The Aviator? Nope. Sideways? No. Hotel Rwanda? Sorry. No Million Dollar Baby, no Finding Neverland.

How did I manage to miss all of what are ostensibly the best films of the year? In fairness, I always intended to see The Aviator and Hotel Rwanda when they came out, but intentions count for little.


Saturday, February 26, 2005


The blog is a-changing. As you can clearly see, I've chosen a new template, and I will customize it in the next day or two. Until then, things might look a little funny from time to time. Please ignore. I am an amateur.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The queer unborn

Maine State Representative Brian Duprey, a Republican, submitted a bill to make it a crime to abort an unborn child if that child has a hypothetical "gay gene." His motivation? "I heard Rush saying that the day the 'gay gene' is determined to be real, that overnight gays would become pro-life." What kind of twisted shit is this? Technoprogressive prosthetic-queer secular post-humanist radical social democratic advocate of rights-culture and morphological freedom Dale Carrico put it nicely:
If you thought the vile "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy of the American military was nonsensical, Duprey's proposal pretzels the paranoid conservative discernment of queerness into unprecedented convolutions. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has the effect of turning the declaration "I am gay" into the quintessential "act" of homosexuality itself, an act for which a soldier is queered and expelled dishonorably even if they haven't had a chance yet to engage in such key homosexual acts (to my mind) as buttfucking, giving a blowjob, or even watching an episode of Strangers With Candy and getting the jokes. But in this latest efflorescence from the conservative mindset a fetus can already manage to "come out" in the womb by exhibiting a genetic marker that predisposes it to develop into a homosexual should it be lucky enough to grow to such an age as to get dishonorably discharged for saying "I am gay" to the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Trying to sneak in anti-choice propaganda disguised as gay rights legislation is a bizaare tactic for a Republican. And it wouldn't exactly be great for the unaborted homosexuals who get to grow up with parents who hated the idea of their sexuality enough to wish them never to live.

[via Amor Mundi]


American education

Today I taught a science class. The students watched a 25-minute National Geographic video titled Stars and Constellations. Their assignment was simply to take notes about anything interesting or important and turn them in. One student had his name at the top of the page, a title, and then wrote a giant "GOD" filling the entire page. At the bottom, he wrote, "Mark that wrong, I dare you!" I don't think any additional commentary is required.

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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Nobody Cares

Did you know that there are now an estimated 275,950 dead from the Indian Ocean tsunami? Funny how it stopped being reported right around 150,000. I guess the other 125,950 people don't really count, now that our attention has been diverted. Maybe that was needlessly sarcastic. They can't report on every additional death indefinately. But the occasional update would be nice. I think people deserve to know when something was almost twice as bad as they thought.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Modernism vs. Romanticism

SF writer David Brin has been running a multi-part essay on his blog about the conflict of modernism (which he defines "an over-arching dream of ambitiously making a better world through human creativity and will") against romanticism (reverence for stability, the status quo, or even the past). I like his use of those terms, and as a political moderate he rightly criticizes both the Right and the Left for their romantic leanings.

I am, of course, much further to the left than Brin, but I recognize the contrast as well. I think that it is one of the oft-ignored "other axes" to the political specturm. Economics and social issues are the two major axes, of course. There is also the authority-anarchy axis that the libertarians love to point out. But this modernism-romaticism axis I think is a crucial one. Modernism was the essential distilled philosophy of the Enlightenment, and by extention the foundation of American political society.

It used to be that self-described progressives were not only social progressives but scientific progressives; i.e., modernists. Then the Left turned away from science. Scientists now fear reporting even minor discoveries concerning race or gender for fear of accusations of racism and sexism from the Left. The promise of genetic engineering to help provide nutrition for the millions suffering from malnutrition may not be fulfilled because of leftist anti-GM hysteria in Europe.

Conservatives are almost by definition romanticists. However, their suppression of scientific progress ususally comes with a statement about God's intentions or corporate-sponsored propaganda.

In the twenty-first century, with the convergence of the information and biotech revolutions, the divide between modernism and romanticism is going to grow much deeper. You will have romantic liberals (most of the current left), modernist liberals (Hughes's "democratic transhumanists" and technoprogressives), romantic conservatives (most of the current right), and modernist conservatives (the Extropians and classical transhumanists). This doesn't even get into the issue of economic versus social liberalism and conservatism, or globalism versus nationalism. The future is going to be complicated.

But really, when hasn't it been?


Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin and Hobbes

Every strip archived. This was by far my favorite comic, and I read it pretty much the whole run, other than the first few years.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

On the Simpsons gay marriage episode

L. Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council, says, "At a time when the public mood is overwhelmingly against gay marriage, any show that promotes gay marriage is deliberately bucking the public mood."

No shit, Sherlock. The show is trying to help change the public mood. I know you'd like for everything to remain exactly as it is now -- or maybe as it was for middle class white folks circa 1955 -- but in the real world there is a concept called progress, in which society improves the lives of all of its members through reformation and, on occasion, revolution.

Really, I can't for the life of me understand a culture that cares on a policy level about the private lives of other people. Please, Mr. Conservative, demonstrate an instance in which gay marriage in any way affected even one straight marriage. Spouses coming out of the closet don't count. Let's pretend for a moment that homosexuality is a sin and/or biologically wrong. What does that have to do with anything on the level of civil rights? Should we not allow the disabled to marry, because they aren't biologically fit? Should we not allow felons to marry, because they have sinned? And aren't conservatives always going on about how the poor are lazy? Those aren't the kinds of people we want to tarnish the institution of marriage.


An idea is nothing more than a pattern of information that has replicated throughout the minds of those who think it. "Marriage" as a concept is not damaged by anything. Unless it has anything to do with your own marriage, stop trying to tell other consenting adults what they can and cannot do.

[via BBC News]

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Sunday, February 20, 2005

Socialists and space

I was thinking about something.

Until the mid 1980s, science fiction seemed to be largely dominated by political conservatives and libertarians. Sure, there were notable exceptions, but most of the big names wrote from a right-leaning political and economic perspective. Your Larry Nivens and Poul Andersons and Robert Heinleins were always throwing in dialogue about how the government is a plodding bureaucracy and how private enterprise would get the job done so much better. Writers would write fanciful future histories in which plucky capitalists did what the evil governments couldn't and privatized space travel, leading to a golden age of exploration and exploitation. They found ways to make profit and that drove an outward expansion. You'd also often get some commentary about how the environmentalists were stupid and nuclear power would save us. In sf disaster novels, there would usually be a group of rugged "survivalists" (read: gun nuts) who had their heads on straight while everyone else got killed. This was the reality of "hard sf" for decades.

Now things have changed. There are still plenty of libertarian writers doing their thing, but there are also a large number of moderate, liberal, and even socialist writers who have added a new dimension to the mix. Most come from the United Kingdom or Australia, but there are also some Americans. The active, vibrant core of hard and space sf is leaning to the left today.

I only mention this because I was reading a diatribe online about how there would never be any large-scale settlement of space simply because there are no real opportunities for profit there, at least not in the next few centuries. The logic goes that no government or private corporation is just going to send people to live up there without getting something back in return. The return from the investment isn't worth it. While libertarian sf writers argue differently, the interesting thing is that both of these ideas presuppose that the only motive for doing anything is profit. There is occasionally lip service to basic science and putting some of our eggs in another basket for when the asteroid/war strikes, but what is really needed to get people Out There is a chance to make some money. Because you know the conservative line: a growing economy is good for everyone.

Even if this were true, of course, I imagine the scenario would play out differently than the sf writers imagined. The plucky capitalists would stay at home in their robot-tended mansions while they sent out foreign labor to mine the asteroids and pay them just enough to have to keep mining while sending all of the profit back to Earth. Oh, and the medical insurance wouldn't pay their gene-resequencing bills when their bones deteriorated from microgravity. But I digress.

My idea is that if we accept that there are few profitable enterprises in space, that doesn't mean there will never be space settlement. It merely means there won't be space settlement by those who seek only profit: the capitalists. In a truly socialist society, the whole point is the good of all people. Assuming there are existential risks to humanity such as climate change, wars of annihilation, asteroid strikes, etc., it only makes sense that eventually you'd want to have people as decentralized as possible. If Earth doesn't make it, maybe Mars will. If the solar system doesn't make it, there's always Alpha Centauri. And if the venture doesn't make gobs of money for the people back home, so what?

In a real stretch of plausibility -- though in my opinion, a highly desirable stretch -- the bio-, info-, and nanotechnolgical revolutions yield a leisure economy in which nobody has to work and everyone had the resources to do essentially whatever they want. Making money is simply not a priority because it is unnecessary and social status is measured by your contributions to society rather than how many things you can buy. In this anarchosocialist world people would settle space simply for something novel to do, because everyone could afford it.

It's something to think more about.

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Well . . .

I've been really lazy in the last few days. The trend continues today. I was going to just put up a bunch of links to intersting things other people had to say, but everyone is pretty boring at 9:30 Sunday morning.

I saw Constantine yesterday. It wasn't bad at all, though I have no idea how (un-)faithful it was to the comic book series. Parts were really good. The scenes in Hell were particularly well-done, and Keanu Reeves had some decent acting moments on the occasions in which he was slighly less than wooden. All of the special effects were good. I'd give it a solid B. Of course, I did see it at the Alamo Drafthouse, which I imagine enhances the experience of watching any movie. They make a mean garden burger.

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Thursday, February 17, 2005

Life on Mars

I've said for a while that it's only a matter of time before life is found on Mars. I know most of you aren't space geeks like me, so I want to issue the disclaimer that I am not talking about animals or plants here, just bacteria. The evidence is always present in minute amounts that, when taken together, add up to more than coincidence.

First there is the fabled Martian meteorite ALH84001 that made headlines in 1996. This meteorite was found to have carbonate globules consistent with biological activity, organic molecules associated with the globules that are also consistent with biological activity, and controversial structures that resemble fossilized nanobacteria similar to bacteria recently discovered on Earth. None of these can't be explained by geological processes, but the odds of all three occurring at identical locations in a specific piece of rock are slim.

NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers have confirmed the past flow of water on the surface of Mars, giving life opportunity to arise in the first place. Then there was the discovery of higher concentrations of methane in the Martian atmosphere than predicted by ESA's Mars Express orbiter. Methane can be produced by geological processes, but can also be the product of methanogenic bacteria. Most interestingly, when mapped, the atmospheric regions with the highest concentration of methane also have the highest concentration of water vapor, and are over ground that is believed to have subsurface ice and possibly liquid water. Water is neccessary for life. Again, we have a remarkable congruence of evidence that is unlikely to be purely coincidental.

Now NASA scientists have discovered a new form of underground microbial ecosystem on Earth in an area that closlely matches Martian conditions in the regions that exhibit the signature of methane. Among the similarities is the presence of the sulfate jarosite, known to exist on Mars in comparatively wet regions. On Earth, this sulfate is associated with underground ecosystems in acidic bodies of water. Once more, the evidence supports the existence of life.

It will probably be decades before the question of life on Mars is definitively answered. Even the most capable robotic mission projected would be unable to explore the sheer diversity of possible niches to rule out life, and for that matter, human missions may be limited by time constraints. But eventually we will know.

My money is on yes.

Update, February 20: Turns out fabricated the above story. The people involved are real, they've really discovered some cool stuff, but they didn't discover any hard evidence nor are they publishing a paper in Nature about it. None of that changes my belief -- and I could always be wrong -- about bacterial life being present due to the other evidence. But it is just another example of people doing stupid things.

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Barbara Ehrenreich

Luke gave me Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed for my birthday last week and I read it on the plane to Las Vegas. It is a fantastic piece about the struggle to make even the most paltry of wages in America. I could easily relate to the chapter in which Ehrenreich served at a restaurant, having until last September been in the employ of Olive Garden myself. Her observations about restaurant management are right on the money; I had quite nice managers, but their entire ideology was built around a bottom line of wrenching money from customers rather than serving them. And the chapter on Wal-Mart, in which one employee keeps visiting the women's clothing department to see if a certain polo shirt is marked down so that she can afford it on her Wal-Mart wage was moving while reaffirming my commitment to social justice.

In a column from The Progressive linked to above, Ehrenreich -- an atheist -- tackles theodicy, the reconciliation of God's goodness with the existence of evil. I think she does a good job of it.

[via CommonDreams]

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Sixty-three Seconds

Red light flashing and buzzer blaring like an air raid, the fire alarm forces you awake. In that first instant of consciousness, your body stiffens as your brain tries to determine the correct response. Fight, flight? Just shock for a moment, and then clarity as you recognize the fire alarm for what it is and what it means. Couldn't they have made that thing just as conspicuous but with a more calming tone? Maybe one of the female computer voices you hear on sci-fi shows, some girl with a hint of a British accent calmly saying, "Alert: your house is on fire, please proceed to the nearest exit. Thank you."

Now you hear another sound, and you realize it's your own heartbeat. Funny how you don't normally hear your heart, even when it's working hard, aside from when you're laying there in bed and your ear is pressed against the pillow so its own little pulse echoes in the auditory canals. Even when the elevator at work is out and you have to climb a flight of stairs and your heart pumps like it will burst from driving your obese frame upward, you never actually hear the sound. You feel the pounding through the bone and fat and you vow to get back in shape, as if you were ever in it to begin with.

But then your house catches on fire and suddenly it's there: the sound of blood roaring like a rhythmic freight train in your head, as loud as the fire alarm but marginally less annoying.

False alarm? No . . . that's definitely smoke you smell and through the din of the alarm there is a crackling sound like crumpling paper and you know it is the death of your faux oak dining room table, or maybe one of your overstuffed blue Ikea chairs. Did you leave something on the stove? You don't think so. Maybe it's just a freak electrical fire.

This is an emergency, isn't it? A hot, flaming emergency is eating its way through your home and the heat is already making you sweat. Beads are forming across the corrugated expanse of your forehead and slipping down your fleshy jowls. Stop thinking about that irrelevant crap and get out of bed! You can't let your mind wander again, not now, when you need it most.

Remember second grade? Social studies class. Miss Clarion was at the overhead projector with a transparency of . . . what was it? Your mind was wandering at the time, of course, so you can't recall. You were looking at Jennifer Hind's hair. It was the color of a new penny and it smelled like flowers, and that reminded you of your grandmother's garden. Grandma planted all kinds of flowers in her backyard, but you always liked the sunflowers. Some of them stood as tall as you, when you were five, with their thick green stalks and yellow petals. You would sit back there in that warm, dewy garden, and you'd stare at the sunflowers. For some inexplicable reason those sunflowers held your attention in a way that nothing else could match. But even the flowers couldn't beguile you forever and eventually you'd pick up a stick and poke the anthills that dotted the yard.

And then you were back in the classroom, jolted into what was then the present by a pencil poke in the back and a halfheartedly suppressed giggle from your peers. Miss Clarion had stopped her lecture and she was staring at you. Had she asked a question? She was pointing to the picture of Alexander Graham Bell being projected on the white screen that hung at the classroom's forward wall. You asked her what she had said.

Miss Clarion shook her head and sighed. "Never mind," she said. "You'll have to pay attention one of these days, or you'll get--"

Killed! You knew it then and you know it now. You'll be driving one day and get distracted and drive off an overpass; the car will collide with a supporting pole and shear into halves, your fat body driven through the shattered windshield by the force of the impact. Or maybe you'll lean over the rail of a thirteenth-floor hotel balcony and lose yourself in the twinkling cityscape before you, not feeling the lack of equilibrium in your ears, and you'll fall in front of eleven identical balconies and then through an old-fashioned green awning to crush the hood of a white Cadillac.

"--into trouble," finished Miss Clarion.

You never guessed it might be fire. You've now been daydreaming long enough for the flames to blacken your bedroom door; you can smell burning wood and plastic and the acrid smoke makes your eyes water and your nose run. Why haven't you escaped? You've had more than ample time. You finally drag yourself out of bed and the sweat dribbles from your thinning fringe of hair, down your back, and continues unimpeded over the prominent curve of your butt. You've been trying the sleeping-in-the-nude thing for the last few days and it's right, what they say. It really does feel kind of refreshing to have nothing between your skin and the cool cotton sheets, especially on a nice summer night.

But now you're naked and flame is encroaching into your cozy bedroom and you're going to be rescued by a burly fireman while bare-assed. That won't do at all, but the only article of clothing you find in your immediate field of vision is a pair of blue cotton shorts. They're encrusted with salt from the sweat of a half-mile jog. You have to wear them, though. Your mom keeps teasing you about that copious layer of blubber you have jiggling around your midsection. It's not your fault she fed you like a linebacker when you were eight and now you can't go to McDonalds without super-sizing your double cheeseburger with extra pickles. Damn it, you're not fat! You're not, really, you just got in the habit of eating a lot.

Consuming twenty-five hundred calories a day has nothing to do with the raging inferno that has by this time consumed most of your worldly possessions. Your bedroom television is little more than a smoldering mass of curdling plastic that smells like burning tires. With no fanfare, the alarm stops its buzzing chatter and sputters a few times before it too is engulfed by the fire. Your heart beats faster still. It looks like it's going to be the window for you and a climb down the fence outside but you're still as naked as a Sphynx. Are brittle, putrescent shorts better or worse than a naked ass? No, there! By the nightstand, it's your charcoal gray dress pants. They still lay in a pile where you discarded them last week after your date, the only date you've had in recent memory. At least this time she left you with the unspoken hint that there might be another, and you attribute that to your skillfully managing not to dribble some form of sauce on any article of clothing.

You can only marginally see those gray pants in the gray smoke that has you coughing in a hacking fit. Shouldn't you be more panicked? You'll die here if you don't get those pants on and crawl out that window. You start to pull them on, left leg first, and you're back in the locker room at the South Hampton Park soccer field.

You were twelve, a pudgy, freckled little thing, and you were putting on your shorts for practice. The proverbial big game was coming up, the District 5 Championship against the Brighton Badgers. You slid the red-striped socks on, laced up your cleated black shoes, and hurried out the door onto the field. You were late arriving, and the team was out there going through drills while you scampered up the steps and out into the heat. And there across the field were sunflowers. Tall, majestic sunflowers, swaying in the breeze, and you lost yourself in their golden petals.

You don't even feel the flames.


The above was the first story I wrote in my first creative writing class. As I have no real intention of publishing any of them, I may post some more of them as time goes on. Needless to say, they're not all as experimental as the above -- nor are they anywhere near as short -- but I managed to never get lower than an A in any writing class I took.

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Sunday, February 13, 2005

Why the future needs us

Dale Carrico really outdid himself with this one! No comment neccessary, read it for yourself.

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Return of the king

The king being me, of course. Or not.

We had a great time in Las Vegas these past few days. I didn't do a whole lot of gambling, partially to do other things and partially because it was plenty fun watching Rachel do it for both of us. She loves the roulette, as we discovered.

We went to see Penn & Teller on Wednesday night, and that was really fun. What's great about those two is that they don't have that pretentious "magic" schtick. They tell you up front that they are lying to you, and that everything they do will be a trick. They don't take themselves so seriously, like your Lance Burtons or your David Copperfields. And in two cases, they just plain demonstrated how the trick was done. While their libertarian politics -- thankfully not present in the show -- can be occasionally grating to progressives, it is refreshing to see entertainers, magicians at that, promoting skepticism and rationality rather than mysticism and bunk. That's also why I usually enjoy their Showtime program Bullshit! After the show the audience got to meet them, and I asked Teller when Bullshit! would have new episodes. March, in case you were wondering.

Thursday night we saw Blue Man Group, who put on an incredible show. They were a lot better than the Intel ads of a few years ago would suggest. The special effects were nifty, but what I really enjoyed was the music, which ranged from psychadelic rock through techno/house/dance, all usually including bombastic drum beats played on various pieces of plumbing.

In a moment of "serious" art, I definitely liked the Monet exhibit at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. I think impressionists like Monet and especially Renoir do some of the art I appreciate the most. It's not hyper-realistc, which takes a great deal of talent but often lacks style. It's not abstract, which exudes style but in many cases requires neither skill nor talent. I don't really like the post-modern idea of art being entirely subjective, as if it didn't matter what the artist wanted to say, only what you feel about it. Impressionism and similar styles are all about communication in the way that good art should be. It is indeed about what you feel, but it is directed feeling. It is hard to look at an impressionistic painting and not get what the artist was trying to say with it. Monet speaks across the century since his work was created. I have a feeling that in a hundred years most people will look at twentieth-century "modern" art and say the same thing most people say today: "So it's a red square/splatter/line, what's the point?"

Anyway, it was a nice trip, and we didn't waste nearly as much money as we could have. When you're talking about Las Vegas, that's the most one could possible ask for.

Monday, February 7, 2005

Gone fishin' . . . er, gamblin'

I'll be back late Saturday night. Since I am neither cool nor wealthy enough to have the wifi-enabled notebook I want -- nay, deserve -- there will be no updates regaling you with tales of wickedness and debauchery.

Sunday, February 6, 2005

Ryan McReynolds, elsewhere

  • (link sharing, eclectic interesting things I've found)
  • Flickr (photo sharing, I don't have much up)
  • Friendster (social networking, people I know)
  • ICQ (chat program, I'm on via Trillian but nobody I talk to uses it)
  • (social networking, I rarely visit)
  • viva el dork (collaborative blog, hopefully more active soon)
  • Yahoo! (profile, not that it's ever been of any use)
I signed up for and figured I would blog about it so that anyone who reads this can see what random things I'm checking out on the Web. I ended up making this post about all my other "homepages," places where someone could conceivably find me if they looked. Since one of the reasons I have a blog is to meet both new people and old friends, I thought that it would be useful to make that as easy as possible. Somehow they ended up in alphabetical order, though I thought of them at random. I'm probably forgetting some, anyway.

As for, it is great fun to just follow random tags and people to find new sites to check out. I plan on mostly putting up things that are particularly quirky or interesting (to me), not just every Web site I like. That's what the links to the right are for. There might occasionally be some overlap, but that's OK.


Friday, February 4, 2005

Meatshakes [tm]

Holy shit.

Just when I thought BoingBoing had already given me enough humor to last me for the day, I catch their link here. Yes, I'm a vegetarian, but I'm not going to even go there in favor of enjoying the sheer hilarity of this guy's culinary adventurism. A preview:

I think a more accurate description of the substance that had just besmirched my taste buds would be "it tastes like a toned-down version of shit". Not only that, but shit with bits. I can't fucking stand bits.

The rest of the commentary is even more priceless.


Baby Got Book

This would be funny if it were done purely as a parody by some nontheist. It is actually more hilarious because it is sincere! This guy is a Christian hip-hopper in Washington, D.C. I wonder how many times he had to corrupt himself by watching the real Sir Mix-a-lot video to nail this performance . . .

[via BoingBoing]

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Viva Las Vegas

I'm going to Las Vegas next week. Rachel and I will be heading over with my mother and brother. We're staying five days. It's strange that the last two "vacations" I've had have been to Vegas. My parents have a thing for it and they invite us along . . . who am I to turn down a free trip?

It's weird how Vegas is like a synthesis of bad and good. It's fun, there is no denying it. I love the thrill of gambling, even if I rarely have the spare cash to do it. I certainly don't think there is anything inherently wrong with gambling. It's like drugs or prostitution: as long as you're not hurting anyone else (like blowing your family's grocery money) then do what you want. I'm a modernist, not a romantic, and I think the idea that Vegas represents some erosion of values is a little absurd. It's Disneyworld for adults, pure and simple.

At the same time, it shares with Disney that certain unrestrained capitalist sensibility that gives me pause. I have these swings of economic values; sometimes I am essentially American "liberal," sometimes I am Chomsky-style anarcho-socialist, but mostly I hover right around where the European social democrats stand: strongly regulated capitalism for day-to-day life with a generous safety net for the hard times and public ownership of certain common goods. So I don't necessarily think that corporations -- such as those that own casinos -- by virtue of being successful are in and of themselves evil, I just think when they are unchecked they can be.

Which is kind of silly to think about constantly. There is a point of obsession that some people reach, as if buying anything ever touched by a corporation is equivalent to killing children. Responsible corporations (which does almost sound like an oxymoron) can be positive forces with the right leadership. Encourage such leadership through support of government regulation. Make sweatshops illegal, because as long as it's cheap they're gonna keep doing it no matter how much you boycott. Support green taxes, because as long as it's cheap they're gonna keep polluting no matter how much you boycott. Relax.

Which is a long and not-at-all-relevant way of saying that Vegas doesn't really bother me.

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Wednesday, February 2, 2005

A new decalogue

Despite the title, this really has nothing to do with religion or the Christian Ten Commandments. Writer and futurist Joseph Coates comes up with a list of ten values that would serve as a guide for the ethical situations faced by people in the modern world. I think he does a pretty good job of it. The link provides more discussion, but in brief:

1. Realize that our own actions or failures to act will determine our future.

2. Honor future generations' rights, obligations, and needs.

3. Recognize our societal and genetic histories and work to mend their flaws.

4. Do not destroy; only improve.

5. Expand our knowledge and develop our understanding of all things.

6. Covet only what we have earned as a reward for use of our mental and/or physical abilities.

7. Honor all routes to truth, but never specious beliefs in infallability.

8. Be moderate in all things.

9. Recognize our limitiations as individuals and as societies.

10. Do not treat organizations and institutions as entities with intrensic rights.

To me the last one seemed out of place until I realized that it is about more than corporate personhood and the like. The government does not have a right to privacy; the process must be transparent to avoid quagmires like Iraq.


Tuesday, February 1, 2005

The Daily Show

I really liked the segment about Social Security . . . and I loved that the communist was portrayed as the sensible good guy!

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Rather than taking the time to make a real live post of my own, I thought I'd steal a bunch of quotes from Positive Atheism's Big List of Quotations. Most of them are naturally regarding religion. They are chosen pretty randomly given the sheer number of options I could have chosen from, but they all struck a chord with me for good or ill.

George W. Bush:

"This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while."

"I appreciate that question because I, in the state of Texas, had heard a lot of discussion about a faith-based initiative eroding the important bridge between church and state."

"They want the federal government controlling Social Security like it's some kind of federal program."

"There ought to be limits to freedom."

"We waited for Congress to act. They couldn't act on the issue. So I just went ahead and signed an executive order which will unleash -- which says the federal agencies will not discriminate against faith-based programs. They ought to welcome the armies of compassion as opposed to turning them away."

"Our priorities is our faith."

"To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say, well done. And to the C students, I say to you: you, too, can be president of the United States."

George Carlin:

"I've begun worshipping the Sun for a number of reasons. First of all, unlike some other gods I could mention, I can see the Sun. It's there for me every day. And the things it brings me are quite apparent all the time: heat, light, food, a lovely day. There's no mystery, no one asks for money, I don't have to dress up, and there's no boring pageantry. And interestingly enough, I have found that the prayers I offer to the sun and the prayers I formerly offered to God are all answered at about the same 50-percent rate."

"I have as much authority as the Pope, I just don't have as many people who believe it."

"In the Bullshit Department, a businessman can't hold a candle to a clergyman. 'Cause I gotta tell you the truth, folks. When it comes to bullshit, big-time, major league bullshit, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims: religion. No contest. No contest. Religion. Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man -- living in the sky -- who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He's all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can't handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, you talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!"

Richard Dawkins:

"By all means let's be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out."

" Faith is powerful enough to immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings. It even immunizes them against fear, if they honestly believe that a martyr's death will send them straight to heaven."

"My last vestige of 'hands off religion' respect disappeared in the smoke and choking dust of September 11th 2001, followed by the 'National Day of Prayer,' when prelates and pastors did their tremulous Martin Luther King impersonations and urged people of mutually incompatible faiths to hold hands, united in homage to the very force that caused the problem in the first place."

"To describe religions as mind viruses is sometimes interpreted as contemptuous or even hostile. It is both."

"Society bends over backward to be accommodating to religious sensibilities but not to other kinds of sensibilities. If I say something offensive to religious people, I'll be universally censured, including by many atheists. But if I say something insulting about Democrats or Republicans or the Green Party, one is allowed to get away with that. Hiding behind the smoke screen of untouchability is something religions have been allowed to get away with for too long."

Mohandas Gandhi:

"Do you think I am superstitious? I am a super-atheist."

"The concepts of truth may differ. But all admit and respect truth. That truth I call God. For sometime I was saying, 'God is Truth,' but that did not satisfy me. So now I say, 'Truth is God.'"

Robert G. Ingersoll:

"Who can over estimate the progress of the world if all the money wasted in superstition could be used to enlighten, elevate and civilize mankind?"

Thomas Jefferson:

"The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter."

George Orwell:

"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."

Pat Robertson:

"Individual Christians are the only ones really -- and Jewish people, those who trust God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob -- are the only ones that are qualified to have the reign, because hopefully, they will be governed by God and submit to Him."

"The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians."

"I am absolutely persuaded one of the reasons so many lesbians are at the forefront of the pro-choice movement is because being a mother is the unique characteristic of womanhood, and these lesbians will never be mothers naturally, so they don't want anybody else to have that privilege either."

"How can there be peace when drunkards, drug dealers, communists, atheists, New Age worshipers of Satan, secular humanists, oppressive dictators, greedy money changers, revolutionary assassins, adulterers, and homosexuals are on top?"

Bertrand Russell:

"I mean by intellectual integrity the habit of deciding vexed questions in accordance with the evidence, or of leaving them undecided where the evidence is inconclusive. This virtue, though it is underestimated by almost all adherents of any system of dogma, is to my mind of the very greatest social importance and far more likely to benefit the world than Christianity or any other system of organized beliefs."

"One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous. So I am told; I have not noticed it."

"Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cosy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigor, and the great spaces have a splendor all their own."

"My whole religion is this: do every duty, and expect no reward for it, either here or hereafter."

"What makes a free thinker is not his beliefs, but the way in which he holds them. If he holds them because his elders told him they were true when he was young, or if he holds them because if he did not he would be unhappy, his thought is not free; but if he holds them because, after careful thought, he finds a balance in their favor, then his thought is free, however odd his conclusions may seem."

"There is no excuse for deceiving children. And when, as must happen in conventional families, they find that their parents have lied, they lose confidence in them and feel justified in lying to them."

"The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence that it is not utterly absurd; indeed, in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible."

Carl Sagan:

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

"The cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the supression of ideas."

"If you want to save your child from polio, you can pray or you can inoculate."

"If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal."

"If we can't think for ourselves, if we're unwilling to question authority, then we're just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness."

"There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong. That's perfectly all right; they're the aperture to finding out what's right. Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted, new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny."

"The world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better, it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look Death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides."

George Bernard Shaw:

"The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality."

"All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship."

Mark Twain:

"A God who could make good children as easily a bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave is angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice, and invented hell -- mouths mercy, and invented hell -- mouths Golden Rules and foregiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people, and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites his poor abused slave to worship him!"

Personally, Carl Sagan is the one that is closest to saying what I wish I could say as well. The man did not write a word that I didn't love. Read his books.