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.