Tuesday, December 22, 2009

10 Things Christians and Atheists Can (And Must) Agree On

In the spirit of the holidays and of religious tolerance, I thought I'd post a link to a pretty good list I found at cracked.com called 10 Things Christians and Atheists Can (And Must) Agree On. It's a long article that I won't fully post here but will list the 10 items with highlights from a few:

Can Christians and atheists both agree that...

1. You Can Do Terrible Things in the Name of Either One

... All I need from you is agreement that it's entirely possible for either an atheist or theist world to devolve into a screaming murder festival. The religious leader sends his people into battle because he thinks God commanded it, the Stalins and Maos of the world do the same because they see their people as nothing more than meaty fuel to be ground up to feed the machinery of The State. In both cases, the people are equally dead.

2. Both Sides Really Do Believe What They're Saying

... if there is a God, it appears that some good people honestly don't perceive him. For whatever reason. And there has to be some tolerance in God's rules for the Honest Mistake. Has to be. Otherwise we're all going to get screwed by that thing with the Sabbath being on Saturday instead of Sunday.

So, we've agreed that the other guy, no matter how irritating he or she is, is likely making an honest mistake.

3. In Everyday Life, You're Not That Different

... Well, at the very worst, the atheists are just applying the same common sense, real-world troubleshooting to the God question. At the creation of the universe and in the heart of mankind, they expect to find the same physical, tangible answers they'd find inside a burnt transmission. If they're wrong about God, they're only wrong in that they've taken the tried-and-true troubleshooting we all practice one step too far ...

Well, at the very worst, the Christians are just taking that same moral impulse and applying it to the God question. At the creation of the universe, they expect to find the same invisible hand that pushes us to be fair and loyal and kind. If they're wrong about God, they're only wrong in that they've taken that absolute morality and put a face on it, made an idol out of it. Taken it one step too far.

You think of it that way, and the amount of overlap between the two of us is actually pretty striking.

4. There Are Good People on Both Sides (fairly self-explanatory)

5. Your Point of View is Legitimately Offensive to Them

... So Christians, knowing what we just said about how it is possible to be a true, honest atheist, that people walk around every day and truly see no evidence of God, can you understand why it's offensive to them to hear that they, and their family, and their children, and their friends, are going to burn for eternity for it?

6. We Tend to Exaggerate About the Other Guy

Anybody can memorize facts. But you remain a clumsy, intellectual oaf of a person as long as you keep looking for sheer black and white in every situation ...

... when we get into these atheist vs. Christian arguments, can the atheists stop acting like Christians want to abolish all science and live in grass huts? Just because some Christians reject the science on evolution, doesn't mean they reject all science.

... America has been full of Christians since the day we invaded it, and has been a scientific and technological freaking superpower. So please stop waving your arms and warning that if Christians get their way, we'll all be sacrificing virgins on altars and replacing surgeons with priests.

And Christians, ... stop implying that the atheist lifestyle is one long drug-riddled blood orgy? You take a country like Japan, where just 12% of the people say religion is important to their lives and yet have some of the lowest crime rates in the world.

... we only need to agree that rejecting science on one subject doesn't mean you reject all science on all subjects, and that rejecting Christian morality doesn't mean rejecting all morality.

7. We Tend to Exaggerate About Ourselves, Too

8. Focusing on Negative Examples Makes You Stupid

9. Both Sides Have Brought Good to the Table

... rationalism ... the philosophy that started saying, centuries ago, that it's not demons that cause disease. It's microbes, and genetic defects, and chemistry. And that we can find those causes and we can find cures. Cures in the physical world, without consulting the priest, without going through a ceremony.

... If atheism is wrong, it's only wrong in that it takes rationalism too far, beyond the edges of the universe. But you don't have a problem with the rationalism itself. There are people you love who would not be alive without it. You can pray that grandpa's heart holds out for another year, but rational thinking invented the pacemaker.

So even if you detest atheism, you can at least agree that it grew out of something good.

... In the middle of a religious debate, you may say that religion and superstition are the prime evil in human society. But you look behind it, and you'll find that other monster is bigger. Humans doing the opposite, acting like animals. Treating other humans as nothing but engines for their own pleasure.

Religion - whether it was handed down by God or just invented by a bunch of guys- serves mainly to fight that. It makes humanity sacred, and the moral law moreso. You can hate the methods it uses, you can say that there are other ways, you can say that it only replaces one cancer with another. But most of what it's trying to get you to do - treat other humans as sacred and put morality above your own impulses - you already do ...

10. You'll Never Harass the Other Side Out of Existence

Remember when I said that, when somebody comes on too strong, no matter what they're selling, we tend to run the other way?

... People are not convinced that way. The sarcasm, the disdain, the laughter. It makes you feel better, and rallies your friends, but it does exactly nothing to change minds on the other side. Conservatives may like to read Ann Coulter, but nobody else does.

No, in reality, if changing minds is your thing, there's only one way to do it:

Lead by Example.

... if you want to criticize the Christians' intolerance, then be tolerant. Show them how it's done. Shame them with your tolerance. You won't have to say they're awful. They'll look awful by sheer comparison to you.

And don't show up in a room full of Christians and start making fun of their taboos, immediately talking about boobs or whatever, as if the only reason people adhere to a rule is out of fear of experiencing the awesomeness of breaking it. You've got taboos, too. All of you. ...

Be tolerant. Lead by example.

Both of you.

And don't think of it as a tactic to win converts. Think of it as common courtesy.

Be tolerant and lead by example. Couldn't have said it better myself. Have a great holiday everybody.

"The difference between stupid and intelligent people - and this is true whether or not they are well-educated - is that intelligent people can handle subtlety." -- Neal Stephenson

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Chomsky on Imperialism

I'm not going to speak too much on the decision of Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan. Those that know me know my views on American imperialism. Just because it is a Democratic President signing the orders doesn't make it any more right. Famous linguist and progressive Noam Chomsky spoke Thursday at Columbia University. His subject - "hypocrisy and "schizophrenia" in American foreign policy":

Chomsky Speaks on US Imperialism

by Claire Luchette

According to Noam Chomsky, all U.S. leaders are schizophrenic.

... Chomsky, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, came to Columbia on Thursday to discuss hypocrisy and "schizophrenia" in American foreign policy from the early settlers to George W. Bush.

Chomsky, often considered one of the fathers of modern linguistics, is also well known for his controversial criticism of the United States' actions in international politics.

... Discussing the United States as an international player, he said, "To this day, the U.S. is reverentially admired as a city on a hill." Chomsky characterized this as an imperialist policy, "a conception that we are carrying out God's will in mysterious ways."

He argued that the U.S. sacrifices democratic principles for its own self-interest, and tends to "focus a laser light on the crimes of enemies, but crucially we make sure to never look at ourselves."

Democracy, he said, is "supported if it defends the strategic and economic objectives of the United States."

The U.S. is losing its status as the "city on a hill". We cannot engender change in the world when we seem mired in the past at home. Flat-earthers, xenophobes, the military and corporations hold sway instead of individuals and ideas.

"In the United States, the political system is a very marginal affair. There are two parties, so-called, but they're really factions of the same party, the Business Party." -- Noam Chomsky

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black as your Soul Friday

"Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends.... Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts." -- Henry David Thoreau

Our local paper has a Black Friday blog page where they post all the best deals in the Valley.  They posted this one this morning: Botox special - "Get your first 25 units of Botox for $5.99 per unit (regularly $7.99) 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday (Nov. 27) at Derma Health Institute in Ahwatukee ..."

I shit you not. If that doesn't just about sum up this pointless day, nothing does. What perfect symbolism: Botox/Black Friday - vacuous, materialistic, and more about looks than substance.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Book Review - The Lovely Bones

I thought I'd seek out Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones as a lead-up to the release of the movie of the same name by Peter Jackson early next year. While most people know Jackson for the bigger budget and admittedly bigger scale Lord of the Ring movies and King Kong, he is actually very deft at the smaller stories also, as in Heavenly Creatures with Kate Winslet. So, without knowing a lot about the story, I thought it'd be worth a read.

The Lovely Bones is a ghost story of sorts. The main character of the story, Susie Salmons, is, in fact, dead and the story is told first-person by her. She is a high-school girl in a suburb of Philadelphia. She was brutally murdered and the story follows the lives of her classmates, her family, her neighbors, the police and the killer. Each passes through stages of grief and acceptance. How each copes varies and ultimately affects everyone else. Her death breaks up her parents marriage and changes her sister in many ways. Susie appears to have some interactions with those people even after her death.

While I don't think it is absolutely necessary to believe in God to appreciate the story, I think it undoubtedly helps. The exploration of heaven goes beyond what would be necessary if you were only talking about it in a metaphorical sense. By that I mean that perhaps heaven may have just represented a manifestation of the grief process that each person was going through. But I don't think that is the case for the author. Heaven is representing something for Susie herself, not just for her family. At that point, it's not just a metaphor. Sebold is literally talking about "heaven".

But I also think that Christians might not fully accept the book either. The heaven of Susie is godless. She has interaction with other victims of her murderer and other people that she knew had died but at no point is there an indication of a God.

I get that The Lovely Bones is largely an exploration of how people handle grief and how it can make them stronger. I'm just not sure how effective it is. I've also read that the story is also a study in suburban life and women's gender roles (specifically the mother's). But, again, if you have to be told by someone that these themes are there, you have to wonder how effective the writer was in conveying them.

The prose is pleasing enough and the characters are well-developed, but I just didn't accept the premise enough to fully buy into what the author was trying to say. I still want to see the movie because, duh, it's Peter Jackson, but I don't have as high of expectations as I did prior to reading the book.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Movie Reviews

Where the Wild Things Are - I think the best appraisal I've read of Where the Wild Things Are was by Jonathan Durbin in Interview Magazine. About the movie, he said the "warped but tenable sense of reality allows Where the Wild Things Are to play less like a movie for kids and more like a film about what it's like to be a kid". That subtle distinction is where the film has ran into problems with some parents.

Art is about truth, not pandering, though. It's the job of parents, not the filmmaker to decide what is and is not appropriate for children of different ages. Personally, I choose to trust the intelligence of our children. I'd much rather they explored the complex feelings of a movie like this than crap like G.I. Joe.

I think this movie does a great job of making tangible and visual those difficult emotions that kids have. We see kids and how cute and precious they are, but what they feel is not always "cute and precious". Spike Jonze, the director, understands that.

The kid, played by Max Records, and his mom, played by the fantastic Catherine Keener, are pitch perfect. All the voice talent for the monsters are great too. This is one of the best movies I've seen this year and I would be surprised if it is not in my year-end top 10. Grade: A

Amelia - Directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake), starring Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, and Ewan McGregor, one would expect Amelia to be fantastic. Unfortunately, it wasn't. It looks great. I think all the actors do fine jobs. But the writing is cliched and has just too much of the hopeful Hollywood sheen to it.

There are classic movies that are hopeful yet not maudlin. Say, for example, The Shawshank Redemption. But Shawshank takes the time to earn its hopefulness. In Amelia, the lack of depth in the characterization never allows you to invest in the characters. By the time Amelia and her navigator take a header into the ocean at the end of the movie, I was like, "meh". I wasn't really actively hostile towards the movie, so much as completely apathetic.

If you want to see truly sublime Hilary Swank, check out Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby, but skip Amelia. Grade: C-

The Men Who Stare at Goats - Just saw this one tonight. It has not had the best reviews, so I went in with lowered expectations. But with George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey, I was inclined to give it a shot. From IMDb:

A reporter, trying to lose himself in the romance of war after his marriage fails, gets more than he bargains for when he meets a special forces agent who reveals the existence of a secret, psychic military unit whose goal is to end war as we know it. The founder of the unit has gone missing and the trail leads to another psychic soldier who has distorted the mission to serve his own ends.

McGregor plays the reporter, Clooney the special forces agent. They are the main focus of the movie. The past of the military unit is told through flashbacks with narration by McGregor's character.  The movie is based on a true story told in the book of the same name by author Jon Ronson.

The banter between McGregor and Clooney is funny. The dubious claims of the various soldiers are initially met with skepticism by McGregor but he is slowly drawn in. That's the basic narrative. Not a complex plot but more a vehicle to allow the great actors to interact.

I liked it. Not great, but good. Grade: B-

In the case of the following films, I was either highly medicated when I chose to attend or my son made me see them. In either event, I can't be blamed. I'm going to use the Twitterature method to review them as they are not worth wasting over 140 characters on:

Fourth Kind: Aliens? Is it a documentary? Is it fiction? Who cares? Insipid. Close Encounters of the 4th kind ... waste of my time of the 1st kind.

Whiteout: Kate Beckinsale ... gratuitous butt shot. Bad treasure & murder mystery plot set in the cold of Antarctica. Should have stayed there.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: Megan Fox ... gratuitious. Forgiving conceit of talking robots, plot is unnecessarily complex and idiotic. Someone get Michael Bay a decaf.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Patriotic Morons

Sorry if I don't fall all over myself honoring our veterans today. It's not that I don't value their sacrifice. It's that I've already given at the office. You can only draw from the well so many times. Every single major holiday has been co-opted to honor our military. Our ballgames have been co-opted to honor the military. I can't go to the corner convenience store without having to wade through flags and be asked to donate to some vaguely military organization.

Of course, none of it really has anything to do with honoring our military. It has to do with easing our collective guilt. Deep down, we know we have sent them off to fight in unjust wars. Deep down, we know we don't really take care of them when they get back - no jobs, no healthcare for the psychological problems they get from fighting these wars.

One of my Facebook "friends" ... using the term loosely ... actually posted this about the shootings this week at Fort Hood: "WTF is going on in this country? Shootings everywhere." Really? You have no idea? That's the problem. You have no idea why men come back from war and blow their own brains out or kill their families. It's more important for most people to spout patriotic cliches than to really think about what we are doing to our country and to our young men and women.

As I've said before, this is not an abstraction for me. I come from a military family. My brother and dad would certainly qualify as "patriotic morons". My brother was in a "war" that was a glorified police exercise (Desert Storm), yet still hasn't adjusted to the real world over 15 years later. Imagine those that have actually had to kill someone.

You think if you keep gushing about our veterans at every chance that it will actually help the veterans? Honestly people, get a clue. Let's have a Veteran's Day where none of our men were on foreign soil. If we honored our soldiers, we'd bring them back.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Good w/o God

"It is not what they profess but what they practice that makes them good" -- Greek proverb

I'd be curious if my Chicago blog friends (Laura, Scott, Crystal, etc.) had a chance to see that billboard recently. And what do you think of it? Is it appropriate to have this discussion writ large? I say yes. There isn't a city that I've ever been in that does not make a statement about faith publicly. The mere existence of churches with their adornments of crosses and other religious imagery is a public proclamation. So, should agnostic and atheists be afforded the same chance? Of course they should. No one can honestly say that the message on the billboard (or similar ones in other cities) is offensive.

Obviously, not even my Christian friends could intimate that it is exclusively God that makes one good. Right?

What makes one good? If it is God, then does it have to be conscious? Meaning, if an atheist is, by all accounts, a good person, then is it because God made him so and he just won't admit it? Or, does a person have to make a conscious acknowledgement of God? I say no. Admittedly, I don't believe in God, but if there was, I don't think it is in the acceptance of God that makes one better than anyone else.

And when I see one of my friends that is a Christian, I don't have the belief that it is because they believe in God that they are good. If they lost their faith, I wouldn't believe they lost their "goodness". Conversely, deathbed and prison conversions of wicked people do not absolve them of their past or their wickedness.

I believe the origins of being good are familial and by extension societal. The survival of our species has depended on reliance on our immediate families and our clans. Positive behavior by and towards them presented the best opportunity for survival. Groups that demonstrated those tendencies survived and passed on those tendencies. This only speaks to the aggregate. Any individual, depending on physiological and environmental influences, can be good or bad.

I've heard from some Christians that being atheist means that you don't have to play by any rules, that without some strict taskmaster on high, they will not do right. That is a specious and disappointing argument. I would be afraid to be around the type of person that was just one Sunday church visit away from being a criminal. I would hope that a responsibility to self and society would guide their actions ... an innate moral instinct, if you will. But what do I know? I'm just winging it, flying by the seat of my pants. Every day I go out, I will take advantage of anyone, be cruel and sadistic, because God is not in my life. Somebody please save society from me and my "badness". Or not.

"The ideals which have always shone before me and filled me with the joy of living are goodness, beauty, and truth. To make a goal of comfort or happiness has never appealed to me; a system of ethics built on this basis would be sufficient only for a herd of cattle." -- Albert Einstein

Saturday, November 07, 2009


I'm a complete slacker on posting to my blog. Spreading myself a bit thin with writing here, on Facebook and examiner.com. Here are a couple of my latest articles at the latter:

How kids affect the environment - I talk a bit about how perhaps the best thing that a couple can do for the environment is to make the courageous decision NOT to have kids.

"Green" Book recommendations - I'm reading a great book right now called Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed that analyzes the failures of societies in the past due to societal and environmental pressures.

I'm working on a whole bunch of movie and book reviews that I will post here. I haven't been slacking on watching and reading ... just on posting about it. I saw both Amelia and The Fourth Kind this weekend. Neither is that special and won't probably be worthy of a whole post. I may be forced to go the Twitterature route and dedicate a whole 140 characters to my appraisal of them. It will lend some brevity and levity that was sorely lacking in the films themselves.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Community pumpkinfest ... or something

In the last day, I have seen all of the following on signs for parties to be held at local churches tomorrow night:

Block Party
Harvest Festival
Fall Festival
Family Fall Festival
Harvest Kidz

and my personal favorite: Community Pumpkinfest

It's H*A*L*L*O*W*E*E*N! Stop the madness. Own it or don't do it. Just do away with the silly euphemisms. What's the deal? Is the word HALLOWEEN too scary? Too evil? Too pagan? Ah, that's probably it.

"One need not be a chamber to be haunted;
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place."

Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Why our 'amazing' science fiction future fizzled"

I grew up as a sci-fi kid. I imagined I'd grow up to a world with Asimov's robots, Clarke's trips to Jupiter and Heinlein's moon bases. The truth is not quite so glamorous, having the gritty mixture of high and low tech of something like Blade Runner and avatar-based personas of Neuromancer. Where are technology and our society going? Technology that should be freeing us is tying us down. Innovation that can bring people from all over the world closer together is pushing us apart in many cases. Instead of the world of the Jetson's with jet cars, I see us moving towards The Road and I am Legend - alone, apocalyptic.

A recent article on CNN's website, "Why our 'amazing science fiction future fizzled" talks about this:

(CNN) -- ... Why isn't the future what it used to be?

... "Scientists are OK at predicting what technology is going to happen in the future," Wilson says. "They're really bad at predicting how it's going to affect us."

...People's fascination with technology's imprint on the future didn't start, however, in the mid-20th century with shows like "The Jetsons" or "Star Trek."

Joseph Corn, co-author of "Yesterday's Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future," found an inflated optimism about technology's impact on the future as far back as the 19th century, when writers like Jules Verne ("Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea") were creating wondrous versions of the future.

Even then, people had a misplaced faith in the power of inventions to make life easier, Corn says.

For example, the typical 19th-century American city was crowded and smelly. The problem was horses. They created traffic jams, filled the streets with their droppings and, when they died, their carcasses.

But around the turn of the 20th century, Americans were predicting that another miraculous invention would deliver them from the burden of the horse and hurried urban life -- the automobile, Corn says.

"There were a lot of predictions associated with early automobiles," Corn says. "They would help eliminate congestion in the city and the messy, unsanitary streets of the city."

Corn says Americans' faith in the power of technology to reshape the future is due in part to their history. Americans have never accepted a radical political transformation that would change their future. They prefer technology, not radical politics, to propel social change.

"Technology has been seen by many Americans as a way to get a better tomorrow without having to deal with revolutionary change," Corn says.

Today, however, a more sober view of technology has sneaked into the nation's popular culture. In dystopian sci-fi films like "Blade Runner," and "Terminator," technology creates more problems than it solves.

"Battlestar Galactica,'' the recent television series, is a prime example. It depicts a world where human beings have created amazing technology that has brought them to the precipice of extinction. There's no Buck Rogers zooming blissfully through the sky.

The show follows the journey of a group of humans who created a race of robots called Cylons. The Cylons rebel, virtually wipe out humanity with nuclear weapons, and pursue the survivors through space.

Mark Verheiden, a Battlestar writer, says the show's writers pay attention to current events when plotting their story lines. The contemporary world is filled with the unintended consequences of technology, he says.

"There are so many things you can't anticipate when you create a new technology," he says. "Who would have predicted that the Internet would be taking down shopping malls and wiping out newspapers?''

In Battlestar's finale, human beings abandon their faith in technology's ability to improve the future. They destroy their fancy machines and start again as simple hunter-gatherers.

"At some point, you can't expect a miracle to come in the form of technology to save us," Verheiden says. "At some point, the miracle has to come from a change in attitude and a new outlook." ...

Faith is the problem. And I'm not only talking about religious faith. We can't rely on God coming in to fix our problems. We can't rely on technology fixing our disconnect with the earth and with each other. We can't rely on the past. Just because we haven't destroyed ourselves yet doesn't mean that we won't in the future.

Maybe BSG had it right, maybe we need to get rid of it all. You can certainly see some of the signs of this now: No Impact Man, urban farming. But the true answer is somewhere in between. Innovate, but not just for the sake of innovation. As Google would say, "don't be evil".

"I just read this great science fiction story. It's about how machines take control of humans and turn them into zombie slaves! . . . HEY! What time is it?? My TV show is on!" -- Bill Watterson, author of Calvin and Hobbes

Friday, October 23, 2009

Atheist/Philosphy Song of the Day: Free Will by Rush

Words by neil peart, music by geddy lee and alex lifeson

There are those who think that life
Has nothing left to chance
With a host of holy horrors
To direct our aimless dance

A planet of playthings
We dance on the strings
Of powers we cannot perceive
The stars arent aligned ---
Or the gods are malign
Blame is better to give than receive

You can choose a ready guide
In some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice

You can choose from phantom fears
And kindness that can kill
I will choose a path thats clear
I will choose free will

There are those who think that theyve been dealt a losing hand
The cards were stacked against them ---
They werent born in lotus-land

All preordained
A prisoner in chains
A victim of venomous fate
Kicked in the face
You cant pray for a place
In heavens unearthly estate

Each of us
A cell of awareness
Imperfect and incomplete
Genetic blends
With uncertain ends
On a fortune hunt
Thats far too fleet...

"Man is a being with free will; therefore, each man is potentially good or evil, and it's up to him and only him (through his reasoning mind) to decide which he wants to be." -- Ayn Rand

Am a big fan of Rush (the band, that is), not so much of Rand. But she was undeniably smart and, for better or worse, an atheist.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Have a Blessed Day

Some phrases that originally had a religious meaning have been made largely neutral by years of use. For example, "God bless you" when sneezing and "Baptism of fire". "Merry Christmas" has become part of the vernacular. Years of use have rendered the greeting largely secular. I know some Christians will take offense at that, but I don't intend that. I mean that for non-Christians, it doesn't necessarily have a religious connotation. I'm not offended when people tell me Merry Christmas. I will even tell others Merry Christmas without even the slightest bit of religious intent.

But recently, I've been hearing "Have a Blessed Day" entirely too much. I've heard it twice at Target just in the last week. It DOES have a religious connotation. Its use bothers me because of its intent. It's more about making the giver of the greeting feel righteous than it is about caring about the recipient.

I don't want to oversell this and ultimately the greeting is not a huge deal with me. It's more of an observation than anything. I'm not going to go call someone out for saying, "have a blessed day" to me. I just want to figure out what is behind the new trend.

Maybe it is just making a statement, like i do with some of my provocative t-shirts. Am I evangelizing when I wear a t-shirt with a political or environmental message? Is my intent more about me feeling righteous than about caring about the recipient? Believe me, I see the possible dichotomy and hypocrisy here.

Hunting around for some background on the phrase on the 'net, I found someone that had written about it and made the statement, "It signals that you are a Christian to another stranger out there who may be a Christian—like a secret handshake. It is not overbearingly evangelical to those who are not Christians, and yet opens the door for further discussion if they so choose." I disagree. I think it IS evangelical, but it is up for discussion on whether it is "overbearingly" so.

There are several dictionary meanings of "blessed", but the most likely intended one is, "divinely or supremely favored". People that say the statement are not meaning it in a generic sense of having a contented day. I've asked people this and everything I've read indicates that the people saying it intend it in a religious sense. The very definition of evangelize is to preach that you are a Christian and to try and convert someone else to Christianity. I believe that people that say HABD are evangelizing.

I don't really care about the political correctness of the statement, but from a business standpoint, is it wise to have your workers say a statement that may offend non-Christians? As an owner, you really need to come off as vanilla because your goal is to sell, not to evangelize. If this lady said HABD in a non-work environment, I'd have a lot less problem with it. The topic of affiliation of ownership (political, religious, etc.) has been in the news lately because of the possible purchasing of the St. Louis Rams by Rush Limbaugh. It's at least tangentially related to this post but I think it's a big enough subject to be a post of itself and I won't discuss it here.

I guess my point is that we should all be free to make a statement, but maybe the workplace is not the place for it. The statements I make with my t-shirts are when I'm off work. I do not make any overt political or religious statements either vocally or otherwise when I'm with clients. Some clients may know my leanings, but that is because they ask or because they know me socially outside of work.

I'm shopping at Target to save, not to get "saved".

"And you stare at me
In your jesus christ pose
Arms held out
Like youve been carrying a load
And you swear to me
You dont want to be my slave
But youre staring at me
Like I need to be saved ..."

Jesus Christ Pose by Soundgarden

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Audubon Research Ranch - Elgin, AZ

I just got back from a fantastic "vacation". Some people might not consider it a vacation because we did work every day, but not me. Being isolated from the computer, from the TV, from my cellphone to a large part ... I truly had a vacation from the real world.

The Sierra Club service trip that I went on was the same trip that I made 4 years ago to the Audubon Research Ranch near Elgin in southeastern Arizona. This area of high elevation grasslands is a very unique area of the world called a "sky island". "Sky islands are mountains in ranges isolated by valleys in which other ecosystems are located. As a result, the mountain ecosystems are isolated from each other, and species can develop in parallel, as on island groups such as the Galápagos Islands." (from wikipedia). The animals and plants within that area are largely unique to that area. This particular sky island is one of the top 3 such areas in the world.

The particular work they do on this ranch:

"The Research Ranch is a cooperative partnership among the National Audubon Society, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, The Nature Conservancy, Swift Current Land & Cattle and The Research Ranch Foundation. The Research Ranch lies three miles south of Elgin, and 65 miles southeast of Tucson Arizona. It is surrounded by 5 million acres of semi-desert grassland and forested mountains covering southeastern Arizona and adjacent portions of Mexico and New Mexico. For more than 30 years, the Research Ranch has protected grassland ecosystems through conservation, research, and education ..."

How the Sierra Club comes into play is through providing volunteers to assist with various projects on the ranch. The permanent staff of the ranch is only two people with several part-timers that perform office and maintenance duties. College researchers will stay on the ranch for different periods of time to conduct studies.

The last time I did this trip, our primary duty was replacing barbed fences with pronghorn-friendly wire. Pronghorn are smaller animals, similar to an antelope, that would go under fences on the property. They would get hurt on the barbed wire. Our job on that trip was to replace old fence posts and to put barbless wire on the top and the bottom runs. Normal barbed wire would be in the middle. This would still keep the cattle out but would be harmless to the pronghorn.

That trip was great and I made several friends that I still keep in touch with. 4 of them came on this trip also, in addition to the fact that we had the same Sierra Club service trip leader.

On this trip, we did several things. Most notably, we replaced a damaged pipe from a solar-powered well that was providing water to a watering hole for wildlife.

On another day, we adjusted a fence around a natural spring so as to keep invasive bullfrogs out. Originally the fence had an overhang bent inward, so as to keep the bullfrogs in from getting out (so that they could be gathered and relocated). Once the frogs were gone, we changed the fence to hang outward to keep any more from getting in. This ranch is a working experiment to get back to all-native and non-invasive species, both plant and animal.

Other days were spent with the more mundane, painting of the main building. But even in that, you felt you were doing something that benefited the ranch and their mission as a whole.

We did get an off-day and traveled through Tombstone:

and Bisbee:

There were some cool artist galleries in Bisbee and we had a nice lunch at the historic Copper Queen hotel. Though it was a fun trip, we still saw things that reminded us why were on the trip.

Outside Bisbee is a large gaping hole caused by strip-mining of copper over the last 50 years. It's a blight that is both beautiful and scary. Water quality is diminished and waste from the mining is strewn about Bisbee, to the dismay of residents and tourists alike. The are of the strip-mining itself is unusable and is a danger to wildlife and a place where nothing will grow. Sadie had a great movie quote about this that she posted on Facebook:

Remember that quote in Jurassic Park by the Jeff Goldblum character? "Scientists were so excited that they could, they didn't wonder if they SHOULD."
Strip mining is the same thing. We discovered a cheap, easy way to get copper-but didn't ask ourselves if we should use it--what are the long term effects?

The trip wasn't all work and environmental guilt, however. We did our part to support the wineries of Elgin and Sonoita and drank entirely too much beer. If you ever get a chance to do a service trip or if you just want to volunteer locally, by all means, I highly recommend it.

Some links with more info about the places I was at:

Sky Island Alliance

Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch

Kief-Joshua Vineyards

Bisbee Chamber of Commerce - Arts

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Age of Stupid

I saw an interesting documentary/drama a few weeks ago called The Age of Stupid.

It's not quite a documentary because it is told through the eyes of a digital librarian of the future, played by Pete Postlethwaite (In the Name of the Father). From IMDb:

"This ambitious documentary/drama/animation hybrid stars Pete Postlethwaite as an archivist in the devastated world of the future, asking the question: "Why didn't we stop climate change when we still had the chance?" He looks back on footage of real people around the world in the years leading up to 2055 before runaway climate change took place."

He's the last person on earth and is preserving the record of our demise so as to warn future civilizations. The story is told through him viewing documentary footage from 2008 of people affected by climate change at that time. That footage is real footage ... hence the "documentary" designation. The method of storytelling is effective because it is both intimidating and encouraging. Intimidating in that the means of our destruction has already shown itself and there is some question as to whether we can stop it. Encouraging in that there are a lot of people that realize what is happening and are doing things to fix it.

There are some cool animations and the storytelling conceit helps to break up what could have been fairly boring documentary footage. Additionally, it helps to give the different footage a common thread.

The particular viewing of The Age of Stupid that I went to was the opening night premiere that was live broadcast to 440 theaters worldwide with live footage from New York and around the world. I talk about it a bit here.

If you are looking for something just a little bit different that will educate you but also entertain you, I recommend the Age of Stupid. It's still playing in some theaters but will be out on DVD in a few weeks.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sierra Club Service Trip

I just finished Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food this week and watched a couple of great documentaries: Food, Inc. and The Age of Stupid. I wrote about the first two of those here and will have something on The Age of Stupid in a week or so.

I'm going to be off the grid (maybe) for about the next week, though you would scarcely be able to tell since my blog posts have been so infrequent anyway. I'm going on a Sierra Club service trip to the Audubon Research Ranch in southeastern Arizona. This is the same place I went 4 years ago and talked about here:

I had a blast on that trip and am going this time with 3 friends I made then. Lest you think it was all work, we were drinking every night.

If I remember correctly, the cell phone coverage was a bit spotty. But if I can, I'm going to twitter and post some stuff to my Facebook page while I'm there. If not, I'll have some pics and a story when I get back.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Blog Roundup

Some of my favorite blogs and their recent posts:

I saw Inglorious Basterds a few weeks ago, liked it, but was confused on how to review it. Wunelle allayed my doubts:

Cyberkitten found this great graphic of Charles Darwin. I've decided I have to get the t-shirt of this:

Fellow movie lover Sadie has a couple of nice reviews (old and new):

Laura with some nice pics of Chi-town and life there:

That's it for now. This is what I do when I'm not clever enough to write something for myself. Thankfully you guys are.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ignorant boisterous free speech is OK, but silence is not?

You'll have to forgive me, I'm confused. It's OK to for an elected official to yell at the President during a speech, and it's OK to carry guns, be rude and yell at town hall meetings, but it's not OK to exercise your free speech by not saying anything and by merely staying seated? What kind of bizarro country are we? I didn't sign up for this.

TRENTON, N.J. — Three teenagers who say they were tossed from a New Jersey ballpark over their refusal to stand during the song "God Bless America" are suing the minor league Newark Bears.

The boys argue that their constitutional rights were violated when they were asked to leave Newark's Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium on June 29 by Bears' president and co-owner Thomas Cetnar.

Cetnar acknowledged the boys were asked to leave but declined to say why. He also has denied making some statements attributed to him in the lawsuit.

The boys — Millburn High seniors Bryce Gadye and Nilkumar Patel, both 17, and junior Shaan Mohammad Khan, 16 — sued in federal court on Friday seeking unspecified damages.

According to the lawsuit, the boys were seated behind home plate when the song began playing. Once it ended, they say Cetnar approached them yelling.

"Nobody sits during the singing of 'God Bless America' in my stadium," the lawsuit quotes Cetnar as saying. "Now the get the (expletive) out of here."

... "The boys weren't trying to make any political statements, they just didn't get up," he said. "No one gave them an ultimatum. The song was sung, it was finished, then they were thrown out."

..."I think what makes it so horrible is that they were publicly humiliated for exercising a right that was guaranteed to them by the United States Constitution," Gadye said ...

And don't tell me it's the national anthem. God Bless America is not our anthem. I do stand during the Star Spangled Banner. I've got no problem with that. It's a matter of civic participation, rooted in ritual and has been performed at least semi-regularly at ballgames since the 1890's. God Bless America, however, is overtly religious and has only been played with any type of regularity at ballgames since 9/11.

If you ask me, Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land is a much more fitting anthem. Let's see ... on the one hand, we have a couple of "anthems" that glorify religion (specifically Christianity) and war. On the other hand, we have a song that talks about the natural beauty of our country and of brotherhood. The last couple of verses of This Land is Your Land are even oddly prescient (considering they were written in 1956):

"... As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!


In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me."

I'm grumblin' and wonderin' indeed.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Charles Darwin film 'too controversial for religious America'

"The difference between science and religion is the difference between a willingness to dispassionately consider new evidence and new arguments, and a passionate unwillingness to do so." -- Sam Harris

Creation, starring Paul Bettany, details Darwin's "struggle between faith and reason" as he wrote On The Origin of Species. It depicts him as a man who loses faith in God following the death of his beloved 10-year-old daughter, Annie.

The film was chosen to open the Toronto Film Festival and has its British premiere on Sunday. It has been sold in almost every territory around the world, from Australia to Scandinavia.

However, US distributors have resolutely passed on a film which will prove hugely divisive in a country where, according to a Gallup poll conducted in February, only 39 per cent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution.

Movieguide.org, an influential site which reviews films from a Christian perspective, described Darwin as the father of eugenics and denounced him as "a racist, a bigot and an 1800s naturalist whose legacy is mass murder". His "half-baked theory" directly influenced Adolf Hitler and led to "atrocities, crimes against humanity, cloning and genetic engineering", the site stated.

The film has sparked fierce debate on US Christian websites, with a typical comment dismissing evolution as "a silly theory with a serious lack of evidence to support it despite over a century of trying".

Jeremy Thomas, the Oscar-winning producer of Creation, said he was astonished that such attitudes exist 150 years after On The Origin of Species was published.

"That's what we're up against. In 2009. It's amazing," he said.

"The film has no distributor in America. It has got a deal everywhere else in the world but in the US, and it's because of what the film is about. People have been saying this is the best film they've seen all year, yet nobody in the US has picked it up.

"It is unbelievable to us that this is still a really hot potato in America. There's still a great belief that He made the world in six days. It's quite difficult for we in the UK to imagine religion in America. We live in a country which is no longer so religious. But in the US, outside of New York and LA, religion rules.

"Charles Darwin is, I suppose, the hero of the film. But we tried to make the film in a very even-handed way. Darwin wasn't saying 'kill all religion', he never said such a thing, but he is a totem for people."

Creation was developed by BBC Films and the UK Film Council, and stars Bettany's real-life wife Jennifer Connelly as Darwin's deeply religious wife, Emma. It is based on the book, Annie's Box, by Darwin's great-great-grandson, Randal Keynes, and portrays the naturalist as a family man tormented by the death in 1851 of Annie, his favourite child. She is played in the film by 10-year-old newcomer Martha West, the daughter of The Wire star Dominic West.

Early reviews have raved about the film. The Hollywood Reporter said: "It would be a great shame if those with religious convictions spurned the film out of hand as they will find it even-handed and wise."

Mr Thomas, whose previous films include The Last Emperor and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, said he hoped the reviews would help to secure a distributor. In the UK, special screenings have been set up for Christian groups.

Movieguide.org is a site that gave GI Joe 4 stars because, as they put it, it gives "A very strong moral, light Christian worldview of good vs evil, honor vs treachery, etc., with a very strong patriotic presentation of the military as it protects civilization from violent evil forces". Not content with just reviewing that movie, they had to preach, "America is unlikely to fall to a military strike. What Hitler and Stalin could not impose on us with their armies we are accepting peacefully because we are morally weak. More than super-troops in accelerator suits, America needs Christians willing to defend the right to life, the true meaning of marriage and the moral values that make our civilization civil. " That is perhaps the most unintentionally funny review I have ever read.

More unintential levity on their site is the link to donate: Link to donate: "Donate: Help us bring God's light to an industry with much darkness."

Movieguide.org worries about protecting against the forces of darkness, but darkness is exactly what it is breeding. It promotes ignorance over openness, misunderstanding over insight, mysticism over enlightenment. The worse kind of stupidity ... ignorance couched in righteousness.

It'd be easy to write off this site and those that sponsor and use it as the fringe or "fundamentalists". But they're not. This is mainstream Christianity. That's the scary thing. God bless America.

"Only 28 percent of Americans believe in evolution; 68 percent believe in Satan." -- Sam Harris

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Book Review: The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker

I FINALLY finished a book that I've been reading for awhile, Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct. Pinker is a popular scientist who spoke at the Origins Symposium that I went this last year (though I didn't get to see him). His particular field of expertise is experimental psychology. This particular book delves into how humans developed the capacity for language.

It's an exhaustive book and hits on the common forms of all languages regardless of the supposed level of sophistication of the speakers. It's very interesting in that he demonstrates how many forms of slang are actually more internally consistent forms of communication than the supposed arbitrary rules of style that all languages try to stick to. But these styles are really moving targets and are no more right than the slang. Many things that start out as slang eventually end up in the language. He really rails against the intellectual snobbery of supposed language experts that have no more claim to what "proper" English is than anyone else does.

The Language Instinct is most engaging when it compares different languages and when it talks about how children progressively pick up language. When it lost me was actually earlier in the book when it talks a bit too much about "phonemes" and "word structures" and so on. It's basically equations for linguists. Just a little too close to feeling like I was back in college.

Another part of the book I like is how he describes that the development of language was just another biological process in humans created by natural selection:

" ... the pains that have been taken to portray language as innate, complex, and useful but not a product of the one force in nature than can make innate complex useful things"

He is, of course, referring to natural selection. Pinker's assertions are in marked contrast to some linguists, like Noam Chomsky, who believe that there is a hard-wired universal grammar among all languages that is a by-product of other adaptations instead of an adaptation in and of itself.

"Since biological systems with signs of complex engineering are unlikely to have arisen from accidents or coincidences, their organization must come from natural selection, and hence should have functions useful for survival and reproduction in the environments in which humans evolved (This does not mean, however, that all aspects of mind are adaptations, or that the mind's adaptations are necessarily beneficial in evolutionarily novel environments like twentieth-century cities)."

So language, and other things that humans do, were processes that in our evolutionary past were useful for our survival. Pinker even speculates about others:

"I would guess that most other human "cultural" practices (competitive sports, narrative literature, landscape design, ballet), no matter how much they seem like arbitrary outcomes of a Borgesian lottery, are clever technologies we have invented to exercise and stimulate mental modules that were originally designed for specific adaptive functions."

All very heady stuff. If you want an introduction to Pinker's work and a little different take on evolution, you could do worse than The Language Instinct. I recommend this book.

"Language is not an abstract construction of the learned, or of dictionary makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground." -- Noah Webster

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Zombie health care

The people that are perpetuating these fabrications don't want to admit who the real zombies are ... themselves. It's an echo chamber with the Grover Norquists of the world at the top, with the Frank Luntz's as framers of the message, and Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh as the snake-oil salesmen.

I know every generation thinks that it was better before when they were younger, that there is a reduction in civility in the current generation. Maybe I'm getting old, but I'm starting to think that now also. I hope I'm wrong.

The very technology that I'm trying to embrace (Facebook, blogging, Twitter, smartphones) is also the technology that is enabling astro-turfing and manufactured discontent. I mean, this indignation about Obama's speech to children this week is the most ludicrous thing I've ever heard. Every President that has ever existed has spoken to students and told them the virtues of staying in schools and setting goals. If I have one person come up to me, e-mail me, or post something on their Facebook page about boycotting the speech, I swear I'm going to go Evil Dead on their ass because I will be convinced they are the very incarnation of the walking dead.

"But I don't care darling, because I love you, and you've got to let me eat your brains." -- Return of the Living Dead

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Facebook/Accidental Billionaire's book review

As many of you already know, I've been indoctrinated into the world of Facebook. I've been on there for about a year have seen all the good and the bad. Before I get into it, though, I wanted to give a quick review of a book I just read, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal by Ben Mezrich. This is the same guy that wrote Bringing Down the House, the book that the movie 21 was based on. That book and movie were pretty good. Accidental Billionaires ..., not so much. The problem is that Mezrich plays fast and loose with the narrative. Ostensibly, both Bringing Down the House and Accidental Billionaires are non-fiction, but he creates situations and conversations out of thin-air when he doesn't actually know what was said. He just infers it from the situation and from second-hand knowledge. It makes for an entertaining read (it really reads like fiction) but it makes you question it's veracity.

This particular book is the about the several founders of Facebook, most notably Mark Zuckerberg, and their humble beginnings in a dorm room at Harvard. It's definitely an interesting story because as big as Facebook is, its CEO Zuckerberg is only 25 years old. Facebook's background involves Harvard's clique system, competing social network sites, disgruntled co-founders, etc.. Knowing the background is nice, but I just question how accurate the account can be when Mezrich didn't really to talk to the majority of the founders. Another problem I have with the book is that it seems like Mezrich was writing for the screen from the get-go. I believe the book was optioned to Kevin Spacey's production company (the same that did 21) before it was even written. And the book really plays more like a screenplay than a book. Not enough details, superficial, and with stereotypical characters -- the kind of stuff that may play on the screen, but not necessarily on the page. I wouldn't really recommend this book. Hopefully the movie will be better.

On to Facebook in real life. Now, I don't have a huge friend list (60+) and don't necessarily want one. I think I've got a good mix right now with local friends, friends I've made through blogging, family, some clients, and some of the kids I graduated from high school with. Especially with the high school friends, it has been very interesting in re-catching up with them.

The problems I am running into relate to content. With my friends that I see all the time and my blog friends, I don't really worry about self-editing. That doesn't mean I'm going to be mean or discourteous but rather that very few subjects are off limits. And anything said is said in the interest of getting to the truth of something or at the very least getting to the humor of it. So, I try to keep these topics on my blog and don't really talk about religion or politics on Facebook.

My friend group in Facebook encompasses more casual friends and family members that either don't know my leanings or whose leanings could not be more opposite than mine. For example, I'm very close to my recently deceased grandfather's step-grandkids. Grandpa was the only grandfather they ever knew and I very much consider them my cousins. Hell, I've seen them more and like them more than my real cousins. But, they are all fervent Assembly of God Christians. Several of them are pastors. They are good people and are never really pushy about it. They don't really judge us and we have never gotten into a down-and-dirty discussion on exactly what my religious beliefs are. Just as I don't like Christians proselytizing, I don't feel it is necessary for me to say what my beliefs are unless I'm specifically asked, in which case, I'd be more than happy to say.

In any event, about a half dozen of them are Facebook friends. I wouldn't dream of saying anything that would denigrate them in any manner. I'm sure several of them wouldn't mind my views and might even find them interesting. But, I'm not prepared to test that theory yet.

All of that is not a big deal to me. Blogging is for one side of me, Facebook for another. My problem is with a specific former work friend of mine (and a guy that is some fantasy sports leagues with me) who doesn't have a similar demarcation. I've always known we had opposite political views but it just didn't apply in our social interactions before. He's a nice enough guy and has a wife we've known for 10 years plus. He posts wretched stuff clipped from Glenn Beck shows or Rush Limbaugh and just today, he chose the passing of Edward Kennedy as an appropriate time to post this:

"Well that's one way to stop a filibuster proof majority in the Senate. Delayed for five months anyway until the special election in MA."

It's a comment that just begs me to respond, but I won't. He's the worse kind of ideologue ... one who thinks he knows what he believes but actually just believes what he is told to repeat. And he doesn't realize the inconsistencies in his beliefs. I don't mind if you have a different viewpoint, just make sure that it is at least internally consistent. For example, he says he's an atheist but he's against gay marriage. In my book, if you don't believe in God but still hate gays, then you are just a straight-up bigot. I borderline think that even if you do believe in God, but at least I'm more likely to understand where you are coming from. Secondly, he says he's a Libertarian but he's for a strong military around the world. My buddy Scott (who does know what he believes )will be more than happy to point out the problem with that.

My point is this: I want to jettison him from my friends list but I'd have to bear the questions of why when I'd see him at baseball games or when I drop by my old work or when we're chatting during fantasy sports seasons. I have figured out how to suppress his posts from showing in my Feed, but it's not perfect solution. He'll still feel compelled to chime in when I might post something of an environmental nature, which I don't consider political, but he does.

I know Laura pruned her friends list awhile ago. How did you do it Laura? Having friends used to be so much easier before online social networking. :-)

RIP: Senator Edward Kennedy 1932 - 2009

"For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

District 9

... When I try to sleep at night
I can only dream in red
The outside world is black and white
With only one colour dead
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko

You can blow out a candle
But you can't blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will blow it higher

...And the eyes of the world are
watching now
watching now

Biko by Peter Gabriel

From the opening scenes of squalor and poverty in Johannesburg, you know that District 9 is not going to be some sanitized and overly clean piece of Hollywood sci-fi. Actually, my first thoughts when I saw these scenes was not of science fiction, but rather of another movie based in South Africa, Cry Freedom, about the friendship formed between a South African journalist, Donald Woods, and freedom fighter Steve Biko. Cry Freedom, from 1987, is one of my favorite movies and it was very important at the time internationally. The movie, and the book written by Donald Woods that it was based on, did a lot to awaken the world to the plight of the blacks in South Africa under apartheid.

District 9, which chronicles the oppression of a stranded alien race in Johannesburg, is an obvious allegory for apartheid South Africa in the 80's. At least it's obvious for anyone that cracks a book occasionally. I'm sure there will be a large contingent, perhaps of younger people, that doesn't understand the symbolism, but that's OK. The movie works on a visceral level also. You can understand the transformation of the main character regardless of whether you know what the movie represents.

The parallels with Cry Freedom are extensive, at least to me:

- the apartheid angle

- a white Anglo protagonist who is initially critical of the resistance but comes around to being sympathetic to them

- that protagonist is not only critical of the resistance at the start but also active in it's suppression. Donald Woods writes editorials critical of Steve Biko in Cry Freedom. In District 9, a corporate operative under orders, Wikus Van De Merwe, seeks to relocate the stranded aliens.

- each performs a selfless act that endangers himself so that the resistance can escape in some manner ... whether it is literally in District 9 or through words in Cry Freedom.

- the character of Stephen Biko and the main alien in District 9, Christopher Johnson, seem initially like cruel and arbitrary terrorists but are actually brave advocates for their people.

- the resistance is dehumanized by their containment, their abuse, and the derogatory manner in which they are talked about. They are made to seem as though they were less than a person.

In every case District 9 does a great job of driving the symbolism home. It's cast is of no-name actors, though I recognized a few from Peter Jackson movies. Peter Jackson produced District 9 for his protege, Neill Blomkamp. They were initially going to work on a big-screen adaption of Halo, but that fell through and Jackson offered Blomkamp $30 million to make a movie on whatever subject he wanted. District 9 is the result. Considering it made back it's investment in the very first weekend, Jackson seems to be continuing his artistic lucky streak.

Now District 9 is not going to be everyone's cup of tea. I've heard some people complain about the extensive use of hand-held cameras. It can be nauseating at times if you are not prepared.

Others have complained that the apartheid symbolism is too obvious. If this movie was made in the 80's, I'd maybe agree with them. But it's made 25 years later. Sure, you could have set it in a different part of the world, but the director is from South Africa. He is making a movie that tells of his personal experience. You cannot criticize him for that.

The violence, gore, and moral ambiguity of some of the characters are sticking points for yet others. We've gotten into this discussion on another blog that I participate in, here. I won't belabor the points I made there, but my main point is that true art should be a reflection of the real world. It should represent some kind of truth. Not necessarily a pleasant truth, but one we should hear. Life isn't black and white and nobody is "pure". District 9 is just a representation of that fact. But District 9 is not a history lesson. It's still entertainment.

The movie may seem hard for some people to watch. How could humans possibly treat an alien species this way? You know how ... the same way in which they treat people of a different skin color or of a different religion. We've done it throughout history. We continue to do it. If you can't stomach this, then how can you stomach Gitmo, the Iraq war, Afghanistan? The point of good art is to get you to look at something in a different way, from a different perspective. By showing how we treat an alien race, hopefully this will show how we treat each other. But that's just my two-cents worth. Go see this movie, you won't come out of it apathetic. And while you're at it, check out Cry Freedom. Grade: A

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Book Review: The Road

Father and son walking The Road in a post-apocalyptic world. We don't know the cause of the devastation. We can infer from the telling of the story that it has been many years since it happened (maybe 5 or more). All plant and animal life (save humans) are dead. The landscape is permeated with ash. The blocking of the sun's rays by the ash has rendered the planet cold.

The goal of their trek along "the road" -- getting to the coast. What awaits them, they don't know. But it is a goal. They live on scavenged cans of fruit from abandoned houses. They spend their days hiding from fellow travelers on the road. Some may be good ... others they know are bad.

It's a the story of a man's love for his son. What are you willing to do to save your son? And not just in the sense of life and death. How do you save his soul from the horrors he sees and has to endure?

You could call this a science fiction story, though many have tried to say it is not. It is not an environmental book, but it's not hard to take an environmental message from it. They're basically living on borrowed time in a world where the rest of the ecosystem has vanished. Though not inhabited with the zombies of another similar world's end tale, I Am Legend, the cannibals of this world are just as scary.

Written by Cormac McCarthy of No Country for Old Men and All the Pretty Horses fame, the author says more with less. He's effective with creating terror from the silences between events instead of the events themselves. Behind every shuttered window or blocked door, you steel yourself for the monster behind it. When it isn't there, you know you should feel relieved but like the characters in the story you know that they are only prolonging the inevitable. They almost crave the end because it will cease the agony of not knowing.

This is not a pleasant book to read, though it is not a hard read. The pleasures are fleeting and abstract. But it is well-written and The Road will stick with you. McCarthy has an odd writing style without quotes, apostrophes, or even most punctuation. It is dry but will go into highly poetic and symbolic flourishes, most of which I can't even pretend to understand. One of my favorites:

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one’s heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes. So, he whispered to the sleeping boy, I have you.”

That's the type of writing that we all aspire to, but few attain.

Like other McCarthy stories, The Road doesn't have a tidy ending. But, life doesn't really have a tidy ending. A movie of the book is coming out this fall, starring Viggo Mortensen. Hopefully, they won't Hollywoodize it. The power of the story comes from it's bleakness. I recommend this book.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


Please ignore this. Just me exploring my posting options. This is mobile posting of images from the phone through e-mail.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Saturday, August 08, 2009

My first mobile blog post ... Yay! There was much rejoicing ... or not.


"Once a new technology rolls over you, if you're not part of the steamroller, you're part of the road." -- Stewart Brand

In one fell swoop, I've indoctrinated myself into the world of Blackberry, mobile e-mail, Twitter, and Twittering to Facebook. I know ... not really a big deal. Most of you are already there. And I'm a computer tech who does this stuff for clients all the time. But, I'm usually the last to adopt the technology for myself. Mostly because of cost.

Having mobile access to my e-mail has become a necessity for my business and will actually make my work easier and could get me more clients. That was reason enough for me to get the Blackberry. All the rest of the stuff (Pandora, much better camera, web access, Facebook and Twitter access, etc.) is just a bonus. Plus, we are now getting a fat 17% discount off the top of every month's bill because Michelle's employer subsidizes anything you spend at certain vendors (in this case, Verizon). So, we got rid of an outdated plan, got a new phone (Blackberry Tour 9630) for about $100, added a new plan with better features, and we will still spend less than we had been each month.

Ultimately, though, the new phone will be just another way for me to waste time and not concentrate on posting to the blog. Perhaps I need to look into mobile blogging. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 31, 2009

My Favorite Movies: Sid and Nancy

"There are seeds of self-destruction in all of us that will bear only unhappiness if allowed to grow." -- Dorothea Brande (American Writer and Editor, 1893-1948)

With a nod to Cyberkitten and his very entertaining series of "Favourite Movies ...", I'm going to take a wack at a few of my faves. Much as Gary Oldman was first up in my series of favorite actors, the first movie I saw him in, Sid and Nancy, is what I'll kick off my favorite movies with.

Sid and Nancy is the story of the destructive 22 month love affair between Sex Pistols' bassist Sid Vicious and American groupie Nancy Spungen that broke up the band, led to her murder, and later, Sid's death by overdose.


I've seen this movie so many times (at least 50), that I'm pretty sure I could recite the entire script from memory. And as far as random quotes that I say on a daily basis, it surely rivals the Holy Grail. The script, written by director Alex Cox, is alternatively funny and dramatic.


It's not presented as straight reality. There are scenes where Sex Pistols' manager Malcolm McClaren shoots the ground with a pretend gun, where Sid and Nancy walk away from a crime-scene unscathed, and another where Nancy comes back from the dead. Obviously none of them really happened, but like most other things with Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, they may present more truth than the actual occurrence. Truth is all relative.

The cinematography by the famous Roger Deakins (Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, O' Brother Where Art Thou, No Country for Old Men) is gritty and fits the subject matter and setting.


Gary Oldman is the obvious star here. I think it is his finest performance. Chloe Webb's Nancy Spungen is annoying, but that is pretty much the point. By every account, Nancy was violent, drug-addled, and verbally abusive.

The rest of the cast was largely unknown actors but included cameos by other punk notables such as Iggy Pop and the Circle Jerks. Courtney Love also has a small role.


It's evocative of a time in my life that I'm very fond of ... my college years. You have to consider that these were the pre-Nirvana wasteland days of music. All pop-metal and pop-garbage. We were hungry for anything that went against that and thus immersed ourselves in punk, especially the Sex Pistols. So when we saw this movie, we just ate it up. Full of pop-culture references from late 70's London (Rod Stewart, Gary Glitter, Dr. Who) and with a great soundtrack (Joe Strummer, The Pogues), Sid and Nancy was permanently near our VCR. We watched it pretty much every weekend for about a year and a half.

There is a sick beauty in observing wanton self-destruction. It reminds me a lot of the similar death spiral of Nic Cage's character in Leaving Las Vegas. It's obvious that the person is intent on somehow killing themselves and you have a front-row seat. People say that movies like these glorify drug-use, but I think they do the exact opposite. If you can watch what happens to Sid and Nancy and still want to do drugs, then you are truly a sick puppy.

Definitely one of my top 5 favorite movies of all time, Sid and Nancy has stood the test of time. It came out in 1986 but I watched it again last night and it had the same power.

"Well, love is insanity. The ancient Greeks knew that. It is the taking over of a rational and lucid mind by delusion and self-destruction. You lose yourself, you have no power over yourself, you can't even think straight." -- Marilyn French (American Writer, b.1929)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Poll: Just six percent of scientists are Republican

"I do not feel obligated to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reasons, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." -- Galileo Galilei

This may be the least shocking news ever:

A full 87 percent of American scientists see their political alignment as Democrat or Independent, according to a new Pew Research poll.

Surprisingly or not, just six percent declared themselves Republican, and only nine percent overall expressed support of conservative ideology.

From the data summary:

Most Americans do not see scientists as a group as particularly liberal or conservative. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) say they think of scientists as “neither in particular”; 20% see them as politically liberal and 9% say they are politically conservative.

In contrast, most scientists (56%) perceive the scientific community as politically liberal; just 2% think scientists are politically conservative. About four-in-ten scientists (42%) concur with the majority public view that scientists, as a group, are neither in particular.

The scientists’ belief that the scientific community is politically liberal is largely accurate. Slightly more than half of scientists (52%) describe their own political views as liberal, including 14% who describe themselves as very liberal. Among the general public, 20% describe themselves as liberal, with just 5% calling themselves very liberal.

These figures should only be surprising to someone who neglected current events during the Bush administration, which was accused of censoring and intimidating scientists on matters from global warming to medical research and nuclear weapons.

It's safe to say that being treated like an unwanted step-child, along with continued, eye-widening nonsense like this, has not engendered much love of Republicanism in the scientific community.

-- Stephen C. Webster

The aw-shucks anti-intellectualism of the past 8 years has done incredible damage that will take years to recover from. The thing is, it doesn't have to be this way. And it hasn't always been that way. Teddy Roosevelt was one of our most environmental presidents, promoting conservation of natural resources. Dwight Eisenhower started the space race.

If the goal of your poltical party is to stick your head in the ground and to keep people stupid, then I can't believe you will have a lot of staying power. If you have a valid idealogy, you defeat arguments with better arguments, not by suppressing facts.

The mistakes that Republicans are making now will haunt them for a generation. And those so-called Blue Dog Democrats, DINO's (Democrat in Name Only) will face the same problem.

You can't ignore the scientific facts that are slapping you in the face when you are making laws that affect all of us. Republicans and a large percentage of the public think there is scientific debate over evolution or global warming, when there is not.

We are never going to solve the world's problems by denying they exist.

"Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error." -- Thomas Jefferson