Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Work in progress

now twelve chapters into what is turning out to be something like Borges for tweens. it's been slow going. i rarely have time and energy to spend on the writing, but when it comes it flows. this is a story that knows where it's going, even though i do not.

Predictions for 2009

There will be a calm before a storm

The darkest hour will be just before the dawn

Things will get worse before they get better

Supply and demand

The better to see you with, my dear

A job will be taken and shoved

Five-letter words will be spoken often

Cause and effect

Heavens to Mergatroid

and finally ...

Somewhere a butterfly will flap its wings and it won't make a damn bit of difference to anything anywhere

Stupidity Knows No Creed

Or Non-Creed. Idiot Atheists sue to get God out of Obama's inauguration, as if we don't have actual real problems in this world. Just giving us normal, reasonable, open-minded, accepting and affirming atheists a bad name again :}

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Babies Blood, Cannibalism, and The Other

Watched an interesting documentary on contemporary life in Tehran on Link TV - I especially enjoyed just seeing the city and the people in everyday-life-mode, and it made me want to ask all the people who so glibly talk about war, whether they even know what the place looks like, what it sounds like, what it is like to walk the streets, talk to people, get to know them - but of course not. i don't know what it will take for people to learn that other people are the same as them. It goes for the Iranians too, in their opinions of Israelis, for example.

I'm no fan of any ethnicity- or religion-based government, Israel included. One of the great disasters of anti-semitism in the world has been the creation of that state as it is today. The anti-semites don't hold themselves responsible, of course. They continue to blame the Jews and them alone, of course, but there would be no Jewish state were it not for the crimes of the Europeans against those people.

On which subject, recently a Near Eastern friend of ours started riffing about how his mother always told him that jews drink babies' blood. They're not the only ones to be accused of that, of course. Even us mild-mannered atheists are in the group, along with Wiccans, Mormons, and probably even Scientologists (is Scientology a logical descendant of Mormonism? A thought) ...

This reminded me of one of my all time favorite anthropology books, 'The Man-Eating Myth' by William Arens. He sets out to document how groups of people have, throughout history, accused their enemies of cannibalism, with no actual proof of any society actually practicing it as a matter of course. Chances are, there never were such cultures, just as the whole babies' blood thing is obviously ridiculous.

People will go to any lengths to demonize their enemies, and again, so much of the problems of people in this world stems from the inability to distinguish fantasy from reality, or fact from fiction. It's like when you listen to people speaking a foreign language you don't understand - in your ignorance you imagine they are saying all sorts of wild stuff, while in reality they are probably discussing the merits of different laundry detergents, or some such mundane topic.

The waxy buildup of ignorance and fear of The Other reaches laughable extremes - just now in America you hear people talk about how President Obama is going to be "all for the black", and now "the black has taken over". They can't even see the human in The Other. I wonder how we can even see the human in ourselves sometimes - and there are so many people who have the deep conviction that people are not even an animal species of this planet!

But we all come from the same small family that wandered out of Africa in search of something - maybe someday we'll figure out how to have a proper family reunion.

Korocu - The Final Toa

a video story

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Scent Communicators

If dogs can "smell fear", can they also smell joy, sorrow, indifference, et cetera?

But why would we evolve to evince a scent for each of our emotions, anyway?

(but then again, to quote one of our evangelical friends, "you don't really believe in that Darwin stuff, do you?")

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Meaning of Christmas

Depends on how you look at it - for example, if you're The Daily Kos, it can mean whining about Caroline Kennedy. There's no day off for obsessive-compulsives

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fine Lines and How To Cross Them

On a morning talk show (Ronn Owens) the topic was a recent story about a local psychic who was arrested, convicted and sentenced to two months in jail for getting more than a hundred thousand dollars and a sports car from a lady in return for promising to cleanse her of evil spirits. In the county where this occurred, the psychic needed a license (it wasn't clear from the talk show whether she had one) and therefore the first question was, why was it a crime? She was operating her business, a business the county sanctions with licensing - fortune-telling. The second question was, if the customer was so stupid as to hand over that much money (and the car) for the evil-spirit-cleansing guarantee, why should they be protected by law from their own stupidity. Owens used the word 'stupid' over and over again, and compared the psychic's activities to televangelists who ask for money over the TV in return for getting you into heaven.

The fine line that Owens would not cross (and he's a fine one for never crossing those fine lines): isn't he saying that anyone who believes in heaven or hell - and gives money to anyone who offers them salvation - is 'stupid'? Of course, he wouldn't go that far. He's a "moderate" in all things. Why is a televangelist different from any local priest, preacher, church, etc ... to whom you give money in return for what they provide you, which usually, in Christianity, comes down to eternal salvation. Which is probably worth more than a hundred thousand dollars, come to think of it, especially when you amortize the money across an infinite number of years (eternity is forever, right?).

Hucksters and those who prey on them ....

Speaking of which, the pope today compared saving humanity from homosexuality to saving the rainforests!

Repeat after me: the pope is a fucking moron.

Then again, that's his tradition, and you have to respect that :}

When (Apple-Centric == Apple-Censored)

Apple's AppStore banning a novel because it contains the word 'fuck'? What the fuck? Guess you'll never be downloading any of my books from an I-Store I-nytime soon :}

(Yes, we're re-inventing the English language to begin every noun with 'I' - if the Rastafarians can do it, why not Apple Computer?)

Censorship is the inevitable result of too-concentrated decision making. Some asshole at the top is bound to determine what passes his or her 'standards'.

When the asshole at the top is a corporation, the old-fashioned term for that is Fascism. The new-fashioned term for that is "vertical integration" :}

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Logical Fallacies

This article is about the proposition that 'religion equals fertility', that people who are more religious have bigger families, and conversely, that atheists have smaller families. As evidence they examine a few select populations from the 20th century - as if these are representative of the whole of human history. The article, and especially the comments, are an exercise in logical fallacy.

statistics taken from a very short (and quite unique) period of human history are meaningless in any overall context.

There is no more meaningful evidence to support the hypothesis that "religion and fertility are linked" than the correlation between the number of pirates in the world and global warming.

All of the explanations in the article and comments in fact explain nothing.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Chris Cornell - Fell on black days

Still sounds like the perfect Bionicle song to me!

No Losing Allowed

My son (7) beats me at chess lately - he does this by turning the board around right when I'm about to checkmate him! Some call it cheating. Proud parents call it "thinking outside the box" :}

He also invented a new Rochambeau maneuver - just the index finger, for "laser", which beats everything else.

The kid hates to lose

Fundamental

"There are certain rights that are not to be subject to popular votes, otherwise they are not fundamental rights," [California State Attorney General, Jerry] Brown said in an interview. "If every fundamental liberty can be stripped away by a majority vote, then it's not a fundamental liberty."

Is 'marriage' one of those rights? If not, then who decides who is allowed to get married? The same people who only recently decided that inter-racial marriage should be prohibited? The people who rely on ancient scrolls to tell them what to do? The Taliban?

Deciding who you want to live with and make a family with seems pretty damn fundamental to me.

Thank you, Jerry Brown.

And on the other side, representing the forces of intolerance, ignorance and discrimination ... Ken Starr, a.k.a. Mr. Tawdry, who would probably argue in support of a ban on blow jobs, given his track record

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Doll House Christmas

The pageantry surrounding the Christian holiday has always seemed to me like playing dolls. The dollhouse is the manger set, populated with a heavenly host of imaginary friends. They swaddle the little baby Jesus, and play mommy and daddy with Mary and Joseph. It's got pets (sheep, goats, etc ...), and friends (the three wise men who come with presents. yay!). The people playing with these sets are playing God themselves, and it often reminds me of Philip K. Dick's 'The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch', where adult survivors of nuclear holocaust take drugs (Chew-Z) in order to hallucinogenically inhabit the world of their favorite doll, Perky Pat (while their children pity and ignore them).

It's not much of a stretch. "Faith" is the drug people use to identify with their own personal Lord and imaginary friend. Even the crucifixion models are dolls, and rosary beads, the bleeding heart. These are all toys. Christmas trees and ornaments are nice little pagan additions to the set (Christianity could never do without its pagan add-ons, from the Easter Bunny to Jolly Saint Nick). More and more toys - and stockings - for the doll house Christmas.

Enjoy! After all, it's playtime ...

Online you can find a selection of Baby Jesus Dolls, but so far I haven't seen one where you pull a string in the back and it forgives you for all your sins, or anything like that. Perhaps a marketing opportunity? Or maybe just asking for trouble. I especially liked these "high-quality huggable biblical characters"



Jesus



Mary

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Sustainable Economy

Sustainable: Retool, Renovate, Retrofit, Recycle, Re-use

Our economy is in trouble, and policy makers are scrambling to kick start it back into yet another cycle of unsustainable boom and bust, but this might be an historic opportunity to re-orient in a fundamentally more sound direction. We can have mass production and mass consumption in a more purposeful and meaningful way. A sustainable way.

I have a few proposals to illustrate this direction.

Vehicles: The Big Three automakers could be incentivized - not just to build a huge new fleet of hybrid vehicles, but to come up with a way to retrofit existing vehicles with new hybrid technologies. Owners of current vehicles would be able to take those cars and trucks in to their dealers and automaker factories and have those internals retrofitted. In this fashion we could overhaul the entire fleet within a few years, and not have to wait until everyone has purchased a new vehicle and thrown away their old one. Innovation is required here. Production is required. Labor is required. Issues of climate change and pollution are engaged head-on.


Housing and Urban Development
: An industry based on more and more new homes built and purchased all the time is not sustainable, and at the same time we have cities big and small deteriorating all the time. The housing industry could be re-focused on renovation and retrofit. Cities could be rebuilt one house at a time. People could be put to work doing this, and incentivized towards production (and against shoddy work and corruption )by being offered the possibility of purchasing these renovated homes at good prices and mortgage rates. This is not a one-time deal. This is a way of building and rebuilding that can carry forward into the future.

Waste Disposal: The economics of mass production and mass consumption have brought with it a history of pollution and waste, but the same economics has also brought technologies of recycling and putting waste to use as energy. We need a lot more innovation and focus on this area. All future products should be recyclable, convertible into dirt or energy. Cleanup technologies are critical for a cleaner and more sustainable world.

The concept of sustainability is not hippie tree-hugging feel-goodness; it is sound economics. I live in a part of the country (the Coastside region of the San Francisco Bay Area) where previously a stable civilization had maintained itself for thousands of years. Maybe someday we could say the same about our own.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Old is New, Again!

This post about an Atheist Christmas amused me in that I've been celebrating Atheist Christmases for all of my fifty one years. It's not the end of the world, yo people of little faith!

Experts are on TV right now trying to explain how the inherent failure of their much-beloved capitalist economy is not inherent or even a failure. This "mental recession" of theirs has left millions of people without jobs. That these experts don't have any solutions is no surprise. The experts are divided between "temporary socialism" (let-the-feds-be-your-sugar-daddy) members of the Socialist Banker's Party and "call of the wild" (dog-eat-dog-let-everybody-fail) Far-Right Libertarian Know-Nothings. Screw these experts. They're useless.

At the same time the collapse of the auto industry is being blamed on everything under the sun except the fact that people are broke and not buying new cars. What?

I've been wondering for years how an economy based on new new new all the time (new houses, new cars, new everything) could be sustainable. Answer? It's not and it can't be. That's a real problem there. I don't hear a lot of people talking about the changes this culture needs to make from a disposable society to one that emphasizes re-use, repair, remodeling, renovation, upgrading, etc ... Not that I expect us to return to any craftsman-type days, but a new model focused less on "new-and-shiny" and more on "old-and-shiny".

People lived in a "sustainable" way in my neighborhood for more than five thousand years - we're the opposite of that nowadays.

Crap. Now I overhear another expert (Thomas Friedman) saying that Pakistan is "a failing state" and telling them what they should be doing. Someone please tell him to shut the fuck up. He IS the cartoon character he's talking about. Telling Muslims they ought to be ought protesting terrorists blah blah blah - as if they're going to suddenly get up and say, "hey everybody, let's listen to the Jew!!"

And anyway, failed states begin at home. Who owes who eight trillions dollars anyway? Pakistan? not.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sapphire and Alex

Sapphire was tall for her age, and strong. She was the terror of her fifth grade dodge ball class, but the star of their volleyball team. The thing you noticed first about Sapphire was her boldness. Her expression was always one of readiness. She was always in motion. At night she tossed and turned in her sleep and often wound up on the floor in the morning along with all of her blankets. Life for this girl was constant adventure, which is why Alex always wanted to be around her, even if she didn't know when to stop, which could be a problem sometimes. You never knew what it was going to be next, but it was going to be something. That was for sure.

Alex was the same age and in the same class. It seemed like they'd been friends forever. They made an odd looking couple - he was the shorter one, the thinner one, the one with the long blond hair. From a distance he looked to be the girl and she the boy, with her height and her jet black hair cut short in bangs. He even spoke more softly and was by far the more cautious of the two. Alex liked to study things first, puzzle them out, come to an understanding and then mess around. With Sapphire it was jumping in with both feet first and only then considering the consequences.

Together they'd progressed from sandbox to mud puddles, to creek walking and ice skating, to tree climbing and skate boarding, and every good thing like those along the way. Now at ten years old they were ready to branch out, see the world, get out there and be life size, even if they weren't quite yet.

"Now's the time", Sapphire declared, and Alex agreed. They'd already decided on their code names. She was to be from now on Cipher, and he was now to be Aleph. It was perfect. Code names first and then disguises and masks. Or maybe not. Cipher was still deciding about that. As for Aleph, he was poring over his collection of official city bus maps, one from each of the past nine years. Something told him that if you're out to discover the world, a bus map is a decent place to start.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008