Thursday, March 31, 2005

Religion revisited

The End of Reason

Really great column on AlterNet by David Morris. He makes an interesting suggestion: imagine every time someone says the word faith they're saying superstition, since the definition of both is "belief without evidence." He paraphrases a statement from George W. Bush:
I believe in the power of superstition in people's lives. Our government should not fear programs that exist because a church or a synagogue or a mosque has decided to start one. We should not discriminate against programs based upon superstition in America. We should enable them to access federal money, because superstition-based programs can change people's lives, and America will be better off for it.

Let's be honest: it's called faith when you believe it and superstition when it's someone else. That doesn't make faith any more legitimate. You're allowed to make fun of the Reagans for consulting psychics; that's just silly superstition. You're even allowed to think they were stupid for doing it. Come on? Psychics? But the instant you suggest that a person's faith in God is just as ridiculous, you somehow cross a line, despite the fact that there is actually more evidence for the psychic—at least the psychic talked to them in person. But God is different. After all, faith is their personal belief! Religion is a deeply private thing and important to people and it gives them strength and hope.

Fine. If you believe that religious faith is off-limits for debate, discussion, and indeed ridicule, then to be consistent you should take those same reverent tones when somebody discusses tarot cards or telepathy or talking to the dead or palm-reading or faith healing. They all give people comfort when they need it by feigning certainty in the face of doubt. There is no difference between superstition and faith. None.

We all try to avoid laughing in someone's face when they are superstitious. I usually pull the, "Yeah, that's great," kind of half-smile thing and get out of there. So it would be counter-productive to suggest that people go up to an obviously religious person and start giving them shit for it. Everyone is entitled to believe whatever they want.

But we have an obligation to speak out when superstition organizes and tries to change our lives. Faith—in God or the local psychic—at least gives people hope. In contrast, organized religion has always been a force of division and control. It exists for no reason other than the imposition of the will of the few upon the many. First the will of the hypothetical God on the leaders, then the leaders on the followers, and ultimately the followers on the skeptics. It is the very basis of division and hierarchy and false authority.

The Quakers aren't hurting anybody! The Buddhists keep to themselves! There aren't a lot of evangelical Jews nowadays! Same goes for Taoism and Shinto! Agreed. These religions don't currently pose a threat to nonbelievers. That doesn't mean that they are true. It doesn't mean that their leaders have legitimate reasons to lead. And it definitely doesn't mean that they shouldn't be examined critically just like every other institution.

If there's one thing I agree with the anarchists about, it is this: question all hierarchy and authority for necessity. Any authority which is not essential is illegitimate. Unless there is evidence for the existence of a worship-demanding God there is no necessity for worship and therefore no necessity for institutions of worship. So it's your choice. If you want to spend your private time, effort, and money empowering other people to tell you what you should think, who am I to stop you?

The idea that faith is not a special category of belief and that it can in fact be examined critically is a paradigm shift that society is not prepared to accept. We have firmly entrenched the notion that faith is a taboo topic. Any belief a person can have is fair game for discussion, argument, and parody, unless that belief has to do with God. The culture has even deluded itself into thinking faith is a virtue! Believing things without evidence is apparently a sign of strength and conviction.

In truth, believing things without evidence is a sign of gullibility.

Great timing

Anarchist website logs demanded by FBI

If I get abducted by the FBI and taken to a secret prison cell and interrogated and stacked in a nude pyramid with a bunch of unshaven black-wearing dreadlocked hippies, you'll know why.

Remember my post about anarchism? Well, among the places I'd "been reading a lot" about it was the excellent Anarchism FAQ, located at Now, a week later, the FBI has requested the IP logs from a number of "dissident" webservers, including, which hosts and the FAQ. Over the course of a few days, I probably visited pages on that server fifty or sixty times. That might seem suspicious to some.

They requested the logs in connection to a person who was apparently involved in some terror-related government overthrow activity, or something like that. And the Anarchism FAQ probably gets many, many people visiting for a variety of reasons. But still, I thought you should know.


Wednesday, March 30, 2005


I went to Half-Price Books to see if I could get rid of the $5 or so I have left on a giftcard. When I paid, I forgot about the card and used my own money.

Oh well, it was only $3.

If you're interested, I bought Rattling the Cage by Steven M. Wise, an exploration of the argument for giving chimpanzees and bonobos legal rights. Funnily enough, I thought I was buying the book that is actually titled Drawing the Line, but that's OK. I'll find that one some other time.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A post about junk and stuff

Easy work day combined with sleepiness and headache makes for delirium and nap time upon home arrival.

I don't like us-them mentalities, even when they're fighting for things I believe in. We're individuals, people, a spectrum of ideas and beliefs and permutations thereof so complex and convoluted that it is entirely unfair and simplistic to ever refer to the attributes of a group or class or race or sex in any but the broadest of terms. I am a progressive because I believe that each individual's interests have equal value and should therefore receive equal consideration, not because I believe that when you group individuals together they magically become "society" with inherent interests of its own. Society is just a fancy way of saying "all of us."

I ate a lot of quesadillas in the last few days. Homemade, just tortillas and cheese in a skillet. Cheddar and pepperjack. On corn tortillas. Melty. In other food news, I'm hungry. Freebird, here I come.

Sammy (our cat, for the uninitiated) has some balls. Not literally; he's neutered. But he has a scratching post that he knows how to use, yet he still tries to claw our office sofa. Every single time he gets removed to the scratching post, which he then dutifully claws. Luckily, the office sofa is pretty immune to cat scratching. If he did it to any other furniture—he doesn't—there would be real problems.

I didn't realize that Sin City was entirely filmed on a 20-by-30-foot greenscreen stage (plus one actual set) here in Austin, and the effects were done locally, too. That is, I didn't realize until I read such information in an interview with co-director Robert Rodriguez in today's paper. I'll see how well it turned out come Friday.

If anybody gets my post title, let me know.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Hairstyles for boys

I get a pretty high percentage of my traffic from people searching for "gay mens hairstyles" and "boys hairstyles" and "mens hairstyles" after my post some time ago concerning a certain student's computer activities. Now, if you take the time to actually search for any of these things, you will quickly see that the preview text makes it obvious that there is no hairstyle advice on my blog. What does show up are the other queries the student in question entered, generally regarding hot man-on-man action.

My blog is apparently a potential source of gay porn.

This is not a short-lived phenomenon, either, like people searching for Elixxir when I mentioned that on my blog last year. I get a steady stream of people, presumably gay men and the occasional boy, who search for fierce new hairstyling tips, see that my site has the words gay and fuck on it, and then come on over to see what they can see.

I am sorry I have to disappoint them, but I have no gay porn to offer. Nothing particularly gay at all, other than my continued support of their human rights, which won't get anybody off. I am also sorry that my blog isn't interesting enough for any of them to visit more than once after they realize I don't have what they're looking for.

I guess there just aren't that many people competing for the top-ranked site in gay hairstyles these days.

Something tells me my repeated use of the words gay and hairstyle in this post will only increase my hits. I don't care for hits, I want people to read.

Is this a learning disability?

I have a hard time finishing a novel in a short period of time.

It's not that I don't want to read it, because I do. It's that I find myself reading so many other things that it takes me forever to get through any one of them.

For example, I started reading Linda Nagata's The Bohr Maker several months ago. I enjoyed it, but I am about a third of the way through and haven't picked it up in weeks. I started David Brin's Earth about three weeks ago, and it is on my nightstand with about ten other books. I read Ramez Naam's More Than Human in one sitting, but that doesn't count--it's not fiction. Yesterday I picked up Ken MacLeod's The Stone Canal and read only the alternating chapters set near the present. When I got up today I read the first two chapters of The Cassini Division. Oh, and last night, I read the chapters in Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate that deal with hot-button issues.

I also go to Barnes and Noble about once a week and read every new science or progressive political magazine on the shelf.

Clearly, something is wrong with me.

The question also becomes, well, I've got The Bohr Maker and Earth both in progress, so which should I finish first? I've enjoyed them both about equally. Earth is longer, but The Bohr Maker has more eyeball kicks. I think I'll pick up Peter Singer's Practical Ethics and refresh myself on the preference utilitarian position on environmental protection. Oh, and what was that thing I read in--

But you get the idea.

So sad. And yet so wonderful.


Sunday, March 27, 2005

Anarchist States of America

I've been doing a lot of reading about anarchism lately. Since not all of the people who may read this are as up on their radical politics, perhaps a brief explanation is in order. Classical anarchism is sometimes described as "libertarian socialism." It is not "chaos and violence." In fact, it is a social order as structured, if not more, than that which exists in states today.

The difference between anarchy and states is that of government. In a state, government has power and imposes its decisions on the people through force. This isn't always "bad" by our present standards, for instance in preventing crime or taxation for social programs, but it is an imposition through threat of force.

In an anarchy, there would be no real government, but there would be councils of various kinds for various reasons. At the local level, there would be assemblies of all members of the community operating through direct democracy. When an issue was larger in scale, it would be sent to a council of the communities. Obviously, it would be impractical for direct democracy to function for large-scale purposes, and so committees would be organized. Each community would send a delegate. What's this? Delegates in a committee? How is that different from representatives in a legislature? Well, in a few ways. A representative can do essentially whatever they want once elected, with only the fear of losing the next election to prevent them from making choices their constituents disagree with. Other officers of the government are appointed and have no direct accountability at all. Anarchist delegates, however, would be charged only with passing the decisions of the local assemblies upward. They would not be making independent decisions. Furthermore, they could be instantly recalled if they strayed from the agreed-upon message. The committee itself would be dissolved as soon as the issue was settled.

In other words, anarchists want there to be no archy: rule. There would be no people or groups of people with power over other people. At most, there would be delegates from communities discharging the collective will of those communities. This extends to economics, of course, with the abolition of hierarchy in business. All means of production would be owned by the workers (unions, essentially) and products would be distributed through a variety of potential systems, usually involving people simply requesting them.

So, anyway, I think libertarian socialism would be nice as something to work towards, though I wouldn't hold my breath on it happening anytime soon. What does strike me as interesting is that (as much as most anarchists despise the idea) it really could evolve naturally from a continual push to the left of every issue.

Right now, in the United States, we have what could be considered a conservative government and economy by global standards. Let's say that we progressives continually work towards our own goals, whatever they may be. In twenty years, we've got a European-style social democratic system, with a strong welfare safety net and universal health care and education. But the whole capitalism thing is still keeping some people in poverty, so the progressive goals shift toward more democratic workplaces. Next thing you know, we have a democratic socialist system. The "conservatives" are pushing for social democracy now, but the progressives still see inequality pervading society, and so we push for more democratic reforms to government. We get the right to recall representatives and executives in every state, we get the right to initiatives and referenda, we abolish the electoral college, and so on. We keep pushing. Wait a century, and next thing you know we have the same basic organization we have now, but it is in fact a fully functional, naturally evolved anarchy.

To me this scenario, though unlikely in the next hundred years or so, is far more plausible than the idea that anarchism will grow beyond a minority movement and cause a quick revolution. Some anarchists don't vote so as not to participate in illegitimate government, but this isn't bringing their goals any closer unless everyone stops voting. I think I am more in line with Noam Chomsky, who favors working within the system and using the system to achieve equity in an inequitable world until there is no longer a need for the system at all. As long as there is a world with a vast majority of people who aren't anarchists, there will need to be states to ensure that anarchist values can be protected. The last thing we need is to overthrow the state with the curent capitalist system intact. Yikes.

So, I guess you could call me an anarchist, or a libertarian socialist, but only in theory. In terms of what I'm shooting for right now in the political system, I am a good old social democrat. Once we have our social democracy, maybe we can move on.

An Anarchism FAQ (more than you ever wanted to know)
ZNet (libertarian socialist commentary)

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Saturday, March 26, 2005

Biotechnology run amok!

The GMO Menace
There is conventional wisdom that genetic engineering will tremendously affect life in the 21st century. This technology, in fact, carries implications and impacts that are unprecedented in human history. It will permeate more and more aspects of human life, from reproduction and the cure of diseases, to solutions for the environment, to name but a few. Yet genetic engineering does not only comprise benefits, such as the opportunity to combat incurable illnesses, but also threats that, perhaps with the exception of nuclear energy, are unparalleled within today's society.

This is a perfect example of what I mean when I say that some on the left are "anti-science." The article goes on to cite several examples of genetically modified plants that proved harmful when consumed or spread inappropriately in the wild. That these things happened is not in dispute. Their significance implies three things:
  1. We need to continue to do the sorts of experiments that discover these problems to prevent them in the future.
  2. We need a robust international regulation system to prevent hasty release of bioengineered organisms into the wild.
  3. We need to not use the specific GM crops mentioned in the article.
It does not mean that genetically-modified crops are all dangerous simply by virtue of being genetically modified! The entire article is part of a consistent trend of environmentalist scare tactics, from the headline down--and I say this as an ardent environemtnalist. "The GMO menace" indeed!

Naturally, the authors raise the specter of "nuclear energy" as the most dangerous threat to society and the environment. Are they kidding? I am opposed to nuclear energy for environmental reasons, but the idea that it is more dangerous than the amount of carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere, or the potential destruction of ozone, or even the degradation of soil and destruction of rainforests is a dramatic distortion of reality. It is a buzzword; everyone knows that "nuclear energy" is a big bad thing so if we compare genetic engineering to it people will fear that, too.

The danger of genetically-modified organisms comes from the corporations that control them and who will always seek the modifications that can maximize profit rather than those which can maximize benefits to the world.

We revere nature for its wonder, but in truth natural selection is a poor designer. This is because there is no design: all of the beauty and marvel of the natural world is the result of countless miniscule mistakes and errors in reproduction, some of which happened to benefit the organism through sheer serendipity. However, these mistakes and errors have given rise to an organism that, finally, is capable of applying intelligence to nature itself and making stronger, better, and more viable organisms to fit the needs of a world that is ever-changing.

The environment, in the short term (the next century or two, a geological eyeblink), is going to get worse, not better. I wish it could be otherwise, but we have already reached the point of no return. Everything we do from this point forward is damage control, lessening the impact but not yet reversing it. We are in the middle of a mass extinction on a scale previously reserved for natural catastrophe.

Nature can't work fast enough to save itself. We can, if we don't kill ourselves in the process. Be an optimist.


Thursday, March 24, 2005

Reviving Terri Schiavo

I didn't think I had much more to say about this one, but these people are going fucking nuts. Oliver Willis has some quotes from right-wingers. Ann Coulter (the craziest woman alive) wants Bush to send in an armed force to reinsert the feeding tube into Schiavo's mindless body. Pat Buchanan agrees, wanting federal marshalls to keep it alive.

William J. Bennett and Brian T. Kennedy (The Claremont Instutute):
It is time . . . for Governor Bush to execute the law and protect her rights, and, in turn, he should take responsibility for his actions. Using the state police powers, Governor Bush can order the feeding tube reinserted.

John Gibson (FOX News):
I think Jeb Bush should give serious thought to storming the Bastille.

By that I mean he should think about telling his cops to go over to Terri Schiavo's hospice, go inside, put her on a gurney and load her into an ambulance. They could take her to a hospital, revive her, and reattach her feeding tube.

Excuse me, revive her? Did lacking a cerebral cortex suddently become something one could be revived out of? Smelling salts, maybe? Her mindless body can't be revived, dumbass, that's why her husband doesn't want it sitting around in a hospital bed anymore.

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Kettle Chips

Jalapeño with tequila and lime. Buy them. Live them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Air America

Now that it is available in Austin I find myself listening to Air America on my commutes. NPR isn't on all the time and I rarely hear anything worth listening to on the music stations. What's interesting about Air America is that it's a hybrid between good and evil. On the one hand, it is definitely promoting liberal and often progressive values, which is always a good thing. Another plus is that the format probably attracts a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't care about politics. On the other hand, there are as many ads as your average Clear Channel station and you have to put up with the usual radio "personality" bits. It's just like right-wing hate radio, only they're not lying about the bad things the other side is doing.

I wish there was a station that would combine the overt liberal bias of Air America with a toned-down presentation. I don't need the fancy sound effects, or the producer who occasionally chimes in with playful banter, or the three-minute intro and exit music. A radio equivalent of a political opinion magazine like The Nation would make my day.


Monday, March 21, 2005

Terri Schiavo

I just want to reiterate what anyone with a brain--more than Mrs. Schiavo has, at least--should be able to figure out on their own.

There is no Terri Schiavo anymore.

Her cerebral cortex is gone. Liquefied, in fact. What you and I think of as "consciousness" or "mind" is, as Jeff Hawkins put it, what it feels like to have a cortex. If the news media wanted to capture the reality of the situation, they would say, "Her parents want to reinsert the feeding tube into Terri Schiavo's mindless body."

The Republicans don't have a problem sending people to be killed in war, they don't have a problem killing people convicted of crimes, they don't have a problem indirectly killing people by cutting Medicaid, but somehow when it comes to mindless fetuses and vegetative bodies Life Is Sacred.

The dead cow whose ground-up thigh muscle you ate in your last hamburger had a far greater interest in staying alive than fetuses and vegetables.


Sunday, March 20, 2005

You have more than you think

Global Rich List

I know, I know. You're broke. You get paid far less than you deserve for the amount of work you do. I mean, really, who can survive like this?

Click on the above. Follow the directions. Stop whining.

[via Responsible Nanotechnology]

Friday, March 18, 2005

Never stop asking the hard questions

13 things that do not make sense

This article from New Scientist overviews several of the things which we haven't been able to explain. None of these questions are unanswerable, but a few probably require experiments so complex and expensive that it will be centuries before we get to the bottom of things. Others we might figure out in a decade. But that's science: it never stops.
  1. The placebo effect: how can you trick the brain into relieving pain?
  2. The horizon problem: why is the universe so uniform in temperature over billions of light-years?
  3. Ultra-energetic cosmic rays: some are more powerful than theory predicts unless they come from nearby, but there are no known sources.
  4. Belfast homeopathy results: related to the placebo effect?
  5. Dark matter: what the hell is it?
  6. Viking's methane: a positive but unconfirmed test for life on Mars from 1976.
  7. Tetraneutrons: they should be impossible, but have been observed.
  8. The Pioneer anomaly: something is subtly tugging two of our most distant spacecraft off course.
  9. Dark energy: again, what the hell is it?
  10. The Kuiper cliff: is there a tenth planet?
  11. The Wow signal: there's either something unexplained happening in space or we picked up an alien transmission in 1977.
  12. Not-so-constant constants: the laws of physics themselves may have changed over time.
  13. Cold fusion: can we do it or not?
Needless to say, the article more fully explains the problems. They're fun to think about, and keep us from getting too cocky.

Sometimes people say that science requires faith just like religion. These people are full of shit. The faith required to believe in God is the faith that you don't need evidence to know things. One might say that is in fact the definition of faith. Science is based on the opposite premise: there must be evidence to base any belief upon. More importantly, scientists admit when they don't have the answers.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Nested ethics

Just two nights ago I was talking with Luke about my idea for a "nested" system of ethical consideration. Today, I looked through James Hughes' Citizen Cyborg and discovered a chart for pretty much the same idea. I figured I'd throw it out there for you.

The idea is that there are different categories of rights, with each higher category including all the rights of those below.

Citizen. Definition: a person capable of advanced reasoning. Rights: consent, contracts, voting. Examples: adult humans.

Person. Definition: a sentient capable of self-awareness. Rights: "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Examples: children, great apes, dolphins, some other animals.

Sentient. Definition: a being capable of feeling pain. Rights: freedom from unnecessary cruelty. Examples: most animals, late-term fetuses.

Embryos, the brain-dead, plants, microbes, and some invertebrates are below the bottom of the scale and possess no rights at all as they have no interests to consider. Hughes calls these "property," but I wouldn't exactly say that a random bacteria is owned by anyone. The idea is simply that these things can be done with as one wishes without any particular moral qualms. The categories also line up fairly well with what are commonly called "civil rights," "human rights," and "animal rights," though where the lines are drawn differ from the traditional definitions of those terms.


Insectoid foresting machine

Plustech Walking technology

Never let it be said the future isn't here. Watch the videos.

[via Gizmodo]

Court case of the future

  1. Jack was not hired in favor of Jill.
  2. Jack had a superior education to Jill.
  3. Jill was hired by virtue of greater intelligence than Jack.
  4. DNA tests show that Jack lacks an allele of the XYZ gene associated with higher intelligence that Jill has.
  5. It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of one's genome.
  6. It is illegal for Jill to be hired for, in essence, having a gene that Jack lacks.
  7. Because genetic advantages may not be used as the basis for hiring, only education can be considered.
  8. Jack should have been hired.

The obvious question is how a employer determines if the advantage in intelligence was due to the XYZ gene or other factors. I tried to muddy the issue by giving Jack the better education.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

On why we fight

I have no great desire to fight and rebel. If "the establishment" didn't consistently promote injustice and inequity I would be quite happy with it. As long as there are people being trodden upon it is the obligation of any compassionate person to help them up by the means available to them. I am not a wealthy man, and so speaking out is really the only means I have to effect change, however small.

It is sometimes suggested that as we mature, we grow more conservative. What I believe happens is that as we mature, the world moves on without us. What we felt was important to achieve in our youth is often achieved, and so as we find ourselves confronted with new challenges, we shy from them. "We've done all we can," we say, and hope that it has been enough.

Perhaps we also have children, and feel that they need to be protected from anger and fear. We want them to respect our own authority as their parents and this is twisted into a desire that they should respect all authority. We all know the only way to lead is by example, and we worry that if we speak out, loudly and proudly, against what we see as threats to the well-being of humanity, our children will speak out against us, or against out beliefs when they gain the voice and the means to use it. We fear change. We think that for all the problems in the world, it's our world, goddamnit, and the young are not going to rip it from our hands. We have become what we always fought against: the establishment.

If I ever become complacent with racism, sexism, exploitation, environmental destruction, homophobia, and war simply by virtue of one day having a child, I urge all who know me to give me a good slap back to reality. In truth, I have every desire to become less complacent with such things, because as a parent I will have all the more reason to want the world to be the best it can be.

(I originally wrote part of the above in a comment to this post. I liked it, so here it is, all grown up into a real live post of its own.)


Modest Mouse

Despite "Float On" being a hit song for months, I'm just now discovering Modest Mouse and the fact that they have been around for ten years under my radar.

I've got a surprisingly large amount on my plate given that I'm not working this week. I'm writing, working on a few other projects, hanging out with Luke who's in town, catching up on my DVR'd Battlestar Galactica episodes, three novels in the reading queue . . . you get the idea.

As long as I'm on the topic of Modest Mouse, here's a few great quotes from the Onion AV Club interview with frontman Isaac Brock.

On being an atheist:
I don't think I'm living wrong in the first place, so when the lights go out on me, and brighter ones come on and I have to talk to some guy with a big, bushy beard, or some big glowing blob, I think I'm going to be fine. I'm 100 percent on the whole Christianity thing being a crock of shit, pretty much, but I don't give a fuck if other people are religious. Believe what you want. Whatever makes the day easier for you.

On political songwriting:
I'm not going to write the "Bush is a fucking lying sack of shit" song—I don't think I need to. I think everyone knows.

On licensing songs for commercials:
Figuring out ways to pay the rent isn't really a tough decision. Around the time we did the beer commercial and the shoe commercial, I thought, "Am I compromising my music by doing this?" And I think not. I like keeping the lights on in my house. People who don't have to make their living playing music can bitch about my principles while they spend their parents' money or wash dishes for some asshole.


Saturday, March 12, 2005

More Than Human

I just read Ramez Naam's More Than Human in one sitting. It's not a long book, but it is one of the best introductions to "the future of humanity" that I have read. Naam reviews current work in bio- and neurotechnology, from genetic engineering to brain-computer interfaces, and extrapolates them to give the reader a glimpse of what may lay ahead. The book does not go off on wild fantasy, however; it is grounded in the recognition that both politics and the limits of the technology itself will shape the exact course people choose to take. The tone is sober and honest but you still sense the potential in what is described.

Typical of the discussion within is the section on mental genetic enhancement, in which Naam uses a splendid example to put away the myths of a world of eugenically-identical minds. If you gave 1,000 children Einstein's DNA, you would not get 1,000 Einsteins. In fact, you would only get 4! The average human has an IQ of 100; Einstein is believed to have been around 160, a difference of 60 points. Studies show that roughly half of IQ is the result of genes, so the children would have a "starting" IQ of 130. Those with similar environments to Einstein's would be higher, those with worse environments would be lower. Sure, the average would be higher than the average for other people, but there would still be a dramatic variation in the outcome. When you consider that personality traits only show a 20-30% genetic correlation, the idea that people would all think or act like some ideal model is ludicrous. Naam then notes that it is the bioconservatives who favor a eugenic standard for what people can be like: their natural condition.

I would highly recommend More Than Human to anyone who is at all curious about where the current trends are leading us. Even critics of the developments described therein must admit that Naam does a fine job of explaining them.

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Star Wars

There's a lot of talk lately about how Episode III is "not suitable for children" and will be the first Star Wars movie not to receive a PG rating. I'm a Star Wars fan, but not a Star Wars fanatic (I know the words are etymologically related, cut me some slack). I thought Episode I and Episode II were pretty weak in terms of the writing, though not as horrible as some made them out to be. One of the chief criticisms of Episode I in particular was that it seemed like a movie for children. I can't help but think that all of this Episode III hype is something of a clever marketing scheme to convince people disappointed with the first two prequels that this one will be different. "It's darker, it will be pure blood-and-guts Jedi-versus-Sith genocidal fanwank, trust us, you'll love it!"

Here's my problem: the Star Wars movies have always been suitable for children, even geared towards them. They are light-hearted popcorn flicks. Even The Empire Strikes Back, for all its life-threatening drama, was never what I would call a "dark" film. When I was a kid, I liked Return of the Jedi best because it was the most fun. Now that I'm adult, I prefer the fun-but-less-silly and tightly-plotted Empire Strikes Back; Jedi has plot holes you could fly an X-wing through. If Episode III is indeed a "dark" movie it just might be off-putting to the children all of the other movies cater too. In fact, parents are being warned that they might not want to take their kids at all! What, the kids have to keep a hole in their DVD rack until they're 14?

I guess I'm worried that promoting Episode III as "dark," whether it is or isn't, might be a little like President Bush raising taxes for the rich: alienating the base.


Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Reading and writing

It's all I've been doing today, and somehow I am exhausted.

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people

It Will Take All Our Energy to Stand Still

Today is International Women's Day. The above article described the war being waged on women's rights by the Bush administration. Thanks to Luke for posting about the occasion. It says something about how little attention is paid to women's issues that even a relatively well-connected progressive such as myself didn't realize that it was today until I read his blog.

Frankly, I am appalled that things such as race and sex are still an issue today. I guess I grew up in an era (the 1980s-90s)in which the rights of women were largely taken for granted after the big "women's lib" pushes of the 1960s and 70s. It still amazes me to think that just four generations ago women couldn't vote in the United States! And yet women are still paid about 20% less than men, women are still being told what they can and can't do with their bodies, women are still characterized as bitches when they are strong and sluts when they embrace their sexuality.

What is wrong with my fellow men that prevents them from treating women as they treat each other? And sadly, I must also ask what is wrong with so many women who have grown complacent with their gains thus far when there is so much more to be achieved? Why are women's rights not at the top of the national agenda with all other forms of inequity, where they belong?

For my part, I will continue to be a proud male feminist.


Monday, March 7, 2005

Catching up

We had a nice weekend, considering the circumstances, and are back in Austin. Today I arrived at school to discover that the teacher who had called in my job was a fool: there is no school today. Technically, the school is open because it is a parent conference day, but there are no students and, hence, no need for me. It was a long drive, too.

Yesterday we attended a service at First Baptist Church in Dallas with Rachel's family. This is one of those huge churches that gets televised every Sunday with studio-quality lighting and cameras at strategic locations. Naturally, I could go into horrific detail about the rampant intellectual dishonesty that surrounded us, but instead I will only point out that the sermon was on giving, and how we all have something to give the world. Flashed on the four plasma-screen HDTVs ringing the pews and the two large projection displays up top was a reminder that they needed $48 million for their new building and only had $27 million in cash.

Later those same screens showed Kevin Carter's Pulitzer-winning photograph of a malnourished Sudanese girl crawling to food with a vulture nearby, waiting. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Saturday, March 5, 2005

Out of town

Rachel lost her father one year ago tomorrow. We'll be spending time with her family this weekend.

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Larry Summers

Techsploitation: Larry's Taste

I was prepared to write off Harvard University president Larry Summers's apparently misogynist comments about women and academic tenure as misunderstood or at least a merely unpopular speculation. After all, the president of Harvard has to have some modicum of sanity, right?

Apparently not.

It seems that Summers is insane. This is the only possible explanation for how anybody could think that we should export pollution to Africa because the people there die early enough to not suffer many of the ill effects. The idea of not having pollution to begin with, or of trying to increase the life expectancy in Africa, apparently isn't worth the effort.

Now that the full transcript of his speech is available, Annalee Newitz summarizes Summers's argument against women:
Women, he asserts, simply don't have a "taste" for scientific work; often they just seem to prefer childrearing to high-powered jobs. . . . Summers [explains] that if it were true that discrimination keeps women out of the sciences, there should be examples of institutions whose nondiscriminatory policies have allowed them to create powerhouse departments packed with all the hyper-brilliant women passed over by the discriminating institutions. The absence of such departments allows him to argue, in effect, that the tiny number of existing smart women have already been hired and that the women passed over by allegedly discriminating hiring committees weren't very smart to begin with. Even better, he says discrimination isn't really about institutionalized sexism; it simply reflects the "tastes" of hiring committees who naturally gravitate to their own kind.

Isn't "gravitating to your own kind" in hiring pretty much the definition of sexism or racism, even if it isn't formally institutionalized? And nowhere in the neuropsychological studies I've seen is there any indication that women don't like high-powered jobs. The only thing remotely like this I know of is the suggestion that women have slightly higher verbal abilities while men have slightly higher spatial-recognition abilities--a suggestion that doesn't imply anything about job preference or even performance, since both of these abilities can be honed through practice, negating any biological disadvantages.

In other words, Larry Summers is nuts.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Office Space + Superfriends

This Place Sucks

Combine audio track of Office Space with footage of the horrid 1970s Superfriends cartoon. Shake well. Enjoy.

[via Boing Boing]


Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Gay men hairstyles

Today there was a seventh grade student who, apparently like most students in this era, was using the computer during some free time. I heard one of the other students say, "He's looking at it again," and they all laughed. I was pretty far from the two computers they have set up in the back of the classroom for student use, so I didn't know what they were talking about. However, once when I got up to throw something in the trash can, I thought I saw some skin.

During a conference period, I thought I'd check the browser history just out of curiosity. I noticed several entries under, so I expanded the history tree and found about 30 searches. There were boys+fuck+boys, gay+boy+sex, boy+sex+with+boy, and my favorite, gay+men+hairstyles. I didn't mention any of this in my note to the regular teacher, of course. While looking at porn is forbidden in the schools, the last thing I want to do is give some kid grief for what is probably the only avenue he has to explore his sexuality.

Just thought I would share.