Saturday, December 18, 2010

'Happy Holidays' ... there, I said it


I swore to myself that I wasn't going to talk about Christmas on my blog this year. I respect the fact that it means different stuff to different people. And that's OK. What I don't appreciate is the fact that all people don't have such an understanding attitude. Exhibit 1: one of my Facebook "friends":

"Please don't tell me 'Happy Holidays'. There is only on reason that I celebrate right now and it is because of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. 'Merry Christmas' is appropriate:)"

Hey, I celebrate Christmas because I like seeing family and friends, having good food and maybe just a little drink. I enjoy seeing the magic of Christmas in my son's eyes. And 99% of that magic has nothing to do with Christ, even though my son is currently a Christian. But if your enjoyment of Christmas relies on others kissing your sanctimonious ass, then you can kindly kiss my heathen ass.

It's not about being politically correct for me. I don't care if you say 'Merry Christmas' to me. I won't be offended. I've been known to say it myself on occasion. But don't tell me what to say or to think.

I'm beginning to really hate Facebook and if this continues, I will hate 90% of my friends and my family. But, then, maybe they are really not my friends. The people that I know really care about me and that I respect in turn would never post something like that. Maybe my friends list just needs some housecleaning.

Some other atheist takes on Christmas:

Richard Dawkins on Christmas

Christopher Hitchens on Christmas

Friday, December 17, 2010

Political Song of the Day - Annihilation by A Perfect Circle



From dehumanization to arms production,
For the benefit of the nation or its destruction
Power is power, the law of the land,
Those living for death will die by their own hand,

Life's no ordeal if you come to terms,
Reject the system dictating the norms

From dehumanization to arms production,
To hasten the nation towards its destruction
Power is power, the law of the land,
Those living for death will die by their own hand,

Life's no ordeal if you come to terms,
Reject the system dictating the norms

From dehumanization to arms production,
To hasten the nation towards its destruction
Power is power, the law of the land,
Those living for death will die by their own hand,

Life's no ordeal if you come to terms,
Reject the system dictating the norms

From dehumanization to arms production,
To hasten this nation towards its destruction,

It's your choice, your choice, your choice, your choice,
Peace or annihilation


Song originally by the American hardcore band Crucifix. Movie clip is Lord of War.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Movie Review: 127 Hours


I saw a great movie this last weekend ... sure to be one of my year end Top 10, Danny Boyle's 127 Hours about adventurer Aron Ralston. For those that don't know, Ralston is the climber/hiker that found himself between a "rock and a hard place", literally, a few years ago and made a decision, to save his life, that most of us could not do in a million years.  Hiking in a remote canyon in Utah, he becomes trapped in a crevice with his arm pinned between a large rock and the side of the crevice.  "127 hours" is the amount of time that he spent in that position with minimal food and water and no warm clothing.  Resourceful and with a sense of theatricality, he had both a still camera and video camera to document his trials.

127 Hours appealed to me because of the aesthetic of the subject of the film, much like one of my favorite films, Into The Wild. That aesthetic of the beauty and harshness of nature without sentimentality.

The comparisons to Into the Wild are inevitable and appropriate. Both Ralston and Chris McCandless (of Into the Wild) were intelligent loners who escaped civilization willingly even though they would have been successful in the business world. They both took a perverse pride in their independence. On many occasions, each would disappear without even telling their family or friends. During their last moments of despair, they came to appreciate others more than they had before. That crisis-caused clarity also revealed to them that their predicaments were culminations of the paths that they had set for themselves.

Ralston is played by the great young actor, James Franco. Franco's acting is largely solo with one encounter with some attractive female hikers.  A lesser actor could make this film unwatchable but Franco manages to add levity and depth to a performance that will be compared to Hank's in Castaway or maybe this year's Buried with Ryan Reynolds. I haven't seen Buried yet, but I think Franco is much better than Hanks, at least for these two performances.

The scenery is gorgeous, shot on location in Utah. Boyle, as is his wont, is a bit unconventional and used two different cinematographers.  The scenes in the crevice have even more realism to them largely because Franco and Boyle were privy to Ralston's own video diary.  Prior to them viewing it, only family and friends had seen the video and, to the best of my knowledge, the Ralston family has no intention of ever releasing it.

Like a lot of Boyle's movies, most notably Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours sometimes plays like a music video with flashy editing and jumpin' music. 127 shares Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman with Slumdog, and he does a great job in this movie as well.

Now, if you don't know the climax of the real-life story and have not seen the movie yet, then stop reading as I'm going to discuss the "money" scene, as it were.

-----------------------------------------

In real life, Ralston, to save his own life, cut off his own arm. How to portray that on screen had to have been an interesting problem for Boyle, but I believe he did it perfectly. It has both technical fidelity and emotional fidelity. Considering the graphic nature of the dismemberment, you would think it was gratuitous. But, because you are so invested in the story and Ralston's fight for life, you not only want to see him do it, you NEED to see him do it. That's a a remarkable achievement by Boyle and Franco.

127 Hours is not a depressing movie, despite what has to happen. It is funny, sad, and uplifting without being a Hollywood "happy ending" cliché. I love the effect that the most successful foreign directors have had on the film industry (Boyle, Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Greengrass, etc.). Grade: A

Also, check out Reel Fanatic's great review and discussion: Review: Danny Boyle's exhilarating "127 Hours"

Thursday, December 09, 2010

In Her Defense, I'm Sure the Moose Had It Coming


By screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The West Wing) at the Huffington Post

"Unless you've never worn leather shoes, sat upon a leather chair or eaten meat, save your condemnation."

You're right, Sarah, we'll all just go fuck ourselves now.

The snotty quote was posted by Sarah Palin on (like all the great frontier women who've come before her) her Facebook page to respond to the criticism she knew and hoped would be coming after she hunted, killed and carved up a Caribou during a segment of her truly awful reality show, Sarah Palin's Alaska, broadcast on The-Now-Hilariously-Titled Learning Channel.

I eat meat, chicken and fish, have shoes and furniture made of leather, and PETA is not ever going to put me on the cover of their brochure and for these reasons Palin thinks it's hypocritical of me to find what she did heart-stoppingly disgusting. I don't think it is, and here's why.

Like 95% of the people I know, I don't have a visceral (look it up) problem eating meat or wearing a belt. But like absolutely everybody I know, I don't relish the idea of torturing animals. I don't enjoy the fact that they're dead and I certainly don't want to volunteer to be the one to kill them and if I were picked to be the one to kill them in some kind of Lottery-from-Hell, I wouldn't do a little dance of joy while I was slicing the animal apart.

I'm able to make a distinction between you and me without feeling the least bit hypocritical. I don't watch snuff films and you make them. You weren't killing that animal for food or shelter or even fashion, you were killing it for fun. You enjoy killing animals. I can make the distinction between the two of us but I've tried and tried and for the life of me, I can't make a distinction between what you get paid to do and what Michael Vick went to prison for doing. I'm able to make the distinction with no pangs of hypocrisy even though I get happy every time one of you faux-macho shitheads accidentally shoots another one of you in the face.

So I don't think I will save my condemnation, you phony pioneer girl. (I'm in film and television, Cruella, and there was an insert close-up of your manicure while you were roughing it in God's country. I know exactly how many feet off camera your hair and make-up trailer was.)

And you didn't just do it for fun and you didn't just do it for money. That was the first moose ever murdered for political gain. You knew there'd be a protest from PETA and you knew that would be an opportunity to hate on some people, you witless bully. What a uniter you'd be -- bringing the right together with the far right.

(Let me be the first to say that I abused cocaine and was arrested for it in April 2001. I want to be the first to say it so that when Palin's Army of Arrogant Assholes, bereft of any reasonable rebuttal, write it all over the internet tomorrow they will at best be the second.)

I eat meat, there are leather chairs in my office, Sarah Palin is deranged and The Learning Channel should be ashamed of itself.

The language is a bit harsh, but so is the offense. I'd go even further and say that the comparison to Michael Vick is unfair ... to Michael Vick! Michael Vick served his time and by all accounts is remorseful, humbled and genuinely apologetic. Sarah Palin will never be remorseful, humble or apologetic about anything. And instead of going to jail (or at least back to obscurity), she makes us serve time by having to witness her tired and disingenuous act daily.

"Cruelty and fear shake hands together." -- Honore de Balzac

"One of the ill effects of cruelty is that it makes the bystanders cruel." -- Thomas Fowell Buxton

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Papers Please ...



"All the problems we face in the United States today can be traced to an unenlightened immigration policy on the part of the American Indian." -- Pat Paulsen


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Witchcraft?


A relative of mine posted the following comment in passing on their Facebook page last week -- "excuse me but isnt't Harry Potter all about witchcraft? The bible says in deutoromy not to have anything to do with that or does it?" -- Classic. It's flippant, condescending and passive-aggressive all at the same time. And the spelling error of Deuteronomy is hers, not mine. All this lends credence to the recent study showing that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than the pious. That's the beauty of family ... most of the time you really can't tell them how unbelievably clueless they are.

Well, despite the fact that it may damn me to Hell and that I'm endorsing the forces of darkness, we saw Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 this past weekend. It was very good. Easily the darkest of the series ... not a surprise if you have read the books. By the movie's very nature, it leaves you hanging. After all, you are splitting the very long book into two movies.

It's gratifying to see the acting progression of the young actors in the series. We've seen them from their debuts 10 years ago through 7 movies. It's no wonder that they have improved considering they have acted alongside just about every great British actor of the last 20 years. Consider who they have co-starred with:

Gary Oldman
Richard Harris
Michael Gambon
Maggie Smith
David Thewlis
Robbie Coltrane
John Hurt
John Cleese
Alan Rickman
Kenneth Branagh
Emma Thompson
Helena Bonham Carter
Jason Isaacs
Brendan Gleeson
David Tennant
Ralph Fiennes
Imelda Staunton
Jim Broadbent

That's ridiculous! There isn't an acting school in existence that would give you that kind of talent to work with.

I've liked all the movies, to varying degrees, with The Prisoner of Azkaban being my favorite for several reasons: 1. The debut of my favorite actor Gary Oldman in the series (also Emma Thompson) 2. Alfonso Cuaron directing (Children of Men) and lastly 3. Incorporating the concept of time travel (one of my favorite sci-fi concepts).

Deathly Hallows is significant for the arc of the characters in that it's the first movie that is not set at Hogwarts at all (at least for the 3 main characters). That fact informs their sense of isolation and, at times, hopelessness.

The Harry Potter stories are mostly kids' stories but have themes (death, sacrifice, friendship, relationships, free will, choice, evil) that are universal and that entertain adults as well. My son and I have both read all the books and regularly re-watch the movies. I realize there are a lot of people that could care less about the movies and books ... and that is fine. To each his own. To a large part, that is my take on the Twilight series. But, if you have been following the books and movies of Harry Potter, you will not be disappointed by this one.

Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a worthy successor and a nice appetizer for the finale that will come out in July. Grade: B+

Now, you know me, I can't leave well enough alone and I'm going to get back to the relative's reference to Deuteronomy and witchcraft. The verse that is commonly taken to criticize witchcraft is Deuteronomy 18: 10-11

There shall not be found among you anyone ....that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.

It is seen as idolatry and "spiritual prostitution".

And, it's all a load of bunk. Equating reading or watching a movie about sorcerers to actually being one is a stretch. That's like saying that you are a murderer or adulterer because you watched a story that had people committing those acts.

Don't even get me started how one finds it more important to criticize a franchise that has encouraged a whole generation of children to read and to value friendship and loyalty than to criticize a church that regularly protects pedophiles and promotes hate.

I'm not trying to give philosophical significance to something that is basically just entertainment but when you start down that road, you best be ready to turn that high-powered moral analysis on your own beliefs. In what significant way is one religion different than another ... or even witchcraft? Your God is someone else's false idol. Your pastor is another's sorcerer. Your spirituality is another's magic. "Potato, potahto, Tomato, tomahto, Let's call the whole thing off". Indeed. Let's.

Friday, November 19, 2010


We went to the grand opening of the new White Tank Mountain Library/Visitor Center. Very nice. A lot of environmentally friendly features (solar, low flow water, etc.). But, par for the course for Arizonans, there's always someone that is either painfully clueless or blatantly contradictory (or both):


It's a dual-use facility serving both the library and the park itself as a visitor center. We hike at the White Tank Mountains all the time and will make use of the facility just about every time we go out there.


It's always nice to see a lot of people in a library. Gives one hope that there are actually people that read.

Speaking of reading ... I couldn't resist showing the following picture. We dropped into a used bookstore after going out to eat on Saturday and I saw this sign. Insert your own joke as I will sound snarky and disrespectful if I inject mine. But I think you know where I'm going with this (my Christian friends ... and wife ... need to forgive me):


"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." -- Mark Twain


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Carl Sagan -- Happy Belated Birthday (11-9-1934)


I meant to put something up on his birthday but better late than never. For a curious child growing up in the Midwest, Carl Sagan was a rational breath of fresh air. He gave voice to that feeling inside me that things I heard were not quite right and that it was OK to question. Some of his better quotes:

"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

"Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense."

"We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology."

"The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what's true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth — never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key."

"Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever the universe has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved?"

"We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it's forever."

"The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion and politics, but it is not the path to knowledge; it has no place in the endeavor of science."

"Those afraid of the universe as it really is, those who pretend to nonexistent knowledge and envision a Cosmos centered on human beings will prefer the fleeting comforts of superstition. They avoid rather than confront the world. But those with the courage to explore the weave and structure of the Cosmos, even where it differs profoundly from their wishes and prejudices, will penetrate its deepest mysteries."

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Jumping the Tea Party Shark


Do you get the feeling that the Tea Party is starting to "jump the shark"? I got that feeling about 5 minutes after it started but it might take others longer. Exhibit 1:

A Valley community's decision to change the way trash is picked up provided further proof of how deeply the nation's anti-government, "tea party"-fueled sentiment is running.

A decision by the Fountain Hills Town Council to hire a single trash hauler and begin a curbside recycling program has been met with angry protests from residents who accuse town leaders of overstepping their bounds and taking a leap toward socialism.

Some even likened it to "Obamacare" for garbage, calling it "trashcare."

An Arizona website affiliated with the Alexandria, Va.,-based Campaign for Liberty, azc4l.com, features an intimidating, cigar-chomping man standing in front of the town's famous fountain next to a story about the issue.

And last week, a flier was circulated around Fountain Hills with an ominous icon and the phrase, "The Hills Will Have Eyes," and that claimed the "Fountain Hills Green Police" checked residents' garbage and recyclables, and as a result, "you are wanted for questioning."

On Thursday, a divided council approved a five-year contract with Allied Waste Services to be the single hauler and begin a recycling program. Residents currently can choose among five haulers and the town has no curbside recycling.

That single issue generated a nearly five-hour public hearing and council debate that went past midnight ...


Come on! Anyone of any kind of conscience would have to be thinking that these guys are seriously off their nut. Right?  Socialist garbage collection.  You have got to be kidding me.  If this is the kind of substantive work they will be doing, progressives have nothing to worry about.

I'm almost looking forward to the next couple of years for entertainment value alone.  Here's hoping that Michele Bachmann gets a leadership position in the new Republican Congress.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

A Perfect Circle concert in Tempe, AZ


Photos courtesy of SPIN magazine.

For those that don't know who A Perfect Circle is, it is the side band of Maynerd James Keenan, lead singer of the band Tool.

They have not played live in 6 years and the 3-day stop in Tempe is the beginning of a warm-up tour. Each night sees them playing, in its entirety, each of their three albums. I went the first 2 nights at the Marquee Theatre, a small venue ... a glorified club that might have held about 1,000 people. It's quite a change from having seen Tool several times in arenas. But the smaller venue plays well to the strengths of APC, atmospheric music and vocals. Not to say that APC won't "rock out" but a lot of their songs are more about evoking a mood than banging your head.

These shows were mostly for the benefit of the band and re-associating themselves with each other. Everybody in the band has quite a pedigree and numerous other projects: lead singer Keenan (Tool, Puscifer), lead guitarist Billy Howerdel (Ashes Divide, plus has been guitar tech for NIN, GNR, David Bowie, etc.), guitarist James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins), drummer Josh Freese (Vandals, Devo and has played with NIN), and bassist Matt McJunkins (Ashes Divide, Puscifer).

Their tour was started in Tempe because Keenan lives near Sedona and has an award-winning winery there.

Because of the cult following for Tool/APC and the small venue, the tickets sold out quickly and I was lucky to get them. I can't deny the coolness factor of being there on their first show back. As Maynerd commented on Thursday night, because they were performing these albums completely, there were several songs that they had never played in concert before.

APC played probably their most popular album, Mer de Noms, on Thursday (review in SPIN magazine) and their second album, Thirtheenth Step, on Friday (review at AZ Central). For not having played in awhile, I thought they sounded as great as the limitations of the venue would allow (big open cement-floored room with questionable acoustics).

The crowd was about what you would expect, mostly 25 - 35 in age, with some youngsters and oldsters (ahem, myself included) sprinkled in. As having been reviewed in SPIN would indicate, there was a large trendy hipster contingent with ironic t-shirts and disaffected attitudes. I'm neither cool or clever enough to be a hipster, so I played the aging 90's grunge/industrial elitist who regaled people with stories of how cool it was to see Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam open for the Red Hot Chili Peppers ... as if anyone would care.

Highlights for me were Judith off Mer de Noms and a cover of John Lennon's Imagine on Thursday and The Outsider on Friday. The video for Judith (click the title) was directed by David Fincher. The lyrics are fairly harsh towards religion, and rightly so, came out of bitterness by Keenan at the passing of his very devout mother Judith at the age of 59 from an aneurysm. She was left paralyzed in an accident prior to her death and Keenan could not understand how her faith was strengthened during this period:

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never ever choose to be
Oh so many ways for me to show you how your savior has abandoned you

Fuck your god
Your lord, your Christ
He did this
Took all you had and
Left you this way
Still you pray, never stray, never
Taste of the fruit
Never thought to question why

It's not like you killed someone
It's not like you drove a hateful spear into his side
Praise the one who left you broken down and paralyzed
He did it all for you
He did it all for you

Oh so many ways for me to show you how your dogma has abandoned you

Pray
To your Christ, to your god
Never taste of the fruit
Never stray, never break, never
Choke on a lie
Even though he's the one who
Did this to you
Never thought to question why

It's not like you killed someone
It's not like you drove a spiteful spear into his side
Talk to Jesus Christ as if He knows the reasons why
He did it all for you
He did it all for you
Did it all for you

Thursday's Setlist:
The Hollow
Magdalena
Rose
Judith
Orestes
3 Libras
Sleeping Beauty
Thomas
Renholder
Thinking Of You
Brena
Over


Encore:
Diary of a Lovesong
Ashes to Ashes
Imagine


Friday's Set List:
The Package
Weak and Powerless
The Noose
Blue
Vanishing
A Stranger
The Outsider
Crimes
The Nurse Who Loved Me
Pet
Lullaby
Gravity
Imagine


Movie Review -- Waiting for "Superman"



I saw a thoughtful documentary tonight on the subject of education in America called Waiting for "Superman" by documentarian Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth, It Might Get Loud).

The movie follows several low income students in different parts of the country and what they have to go through to get a decent education. The families are faced with the choice of putting their kids in substandard public schools or applying to excellent charter schools that often can only take less than 10% of the kids that apply.

Waiting for "Superman" is kind of an odd film in that Guggenheim is generally viewed as liberal for obvious reasons but is receiving kudos from conservatives for this film because it takes on teachers' unions pretty hard. We shouldn't be so entrenched in our views that we become above criticism. I wholeheartedly believe in unions but if the ultimate goal of the teachers' unions is not the quality education of our children then they need to examine what they are doing.

The movie lists some of the biggest impediments to improving our public education system:

- intractable teacher unions that won't allow excellent teachers to be rewarded and deficient teachers to be fired
- a bureaucracy that makes system-wide change almost impossible
- parents either being uninvolved or taking their kids out of public schools and putting them into private ones

Instead of bad schools being a byproduct of bad neighborhoods, they are often one of the contributing causes of bad neighborhoods. When you are graduating 50% or less of the kids that come into your system, you are creating a pipeline to unemployment, poverty and crime.

Several innovative charter schools located in some of the roughest areas of the country have had fantastic results with these same kids and should be a model for how the system can be improved. They worked because they didn't assume anything. They weren't afraid to be innovative. They expected a lot out of their teacher and their students.

Now, my son goes to a charter school and I honestly can say that I don't know how I feel about charter schools as a whole. There are good ones, there are bad ones ... just like with public schools. But it seems to me that we have to make it easier for school systems to innovate and charter schools may be a way.

Our "track" method of education is straight out of the 50's and a time where maybe 20% of high school went on to college and the rest were either factory workers, farmers, or skilled office workers (accountants, etc.). The track system worked then but it doesn't work now where it's almost a requirement for students to have a college degree to even have a decent job, let alone a professional one. We have to rethink a system that makes assumptions about kids early and locks them into a path that they will never advance from.

We are not helping our kids by not caring and by putting them in schools that are no good. But we are also not helping our society as a whole by opting out and putting them in private schools or teaching them at home. We spend way more on housing criminals in prisons where over 2/3 of them are high school dropouts. I'm not talking about throwing more money at bad schools. But we can't keep cutting education funding and expect it to get better. Get rid of a lot of the bureaucracy and competing school boards at every level. Reward schools and teachers that are doing a good job. Quit cutting programs like music and art that help our students in other subjects.

I don't think charter schools are the complete answer but I do think that they might provide us a clue into how we might improve our public schools. There has been some justifiable criticism of the movie in that it highlights some charter schools that get a lot of private funding. But that doesn't necessarily detract from the fact that those schools are succeeding in areas that most would never have imagined possible. There has to be some way of scaling those methods up to a larger system.

Some will criticize the film for having an agenda. But, personally, I'd be more afraid of a film that wasn't try to say anything. Of course it has an agenda. You may not agree with the conclusions or solutions but you would have to be blind to say that there isn't anything wrong with our current system.

Obviously I want my son to have a great education but it helps our whole community if his friend down the street also gets a good education. Check this movie out. It makes you think. Grade: A-

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Having or Being?

"You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world." -- Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) in Fight Club


Network television is usually not too deep, but occassionally you get a little tidbit that has some insight, some deeper meaning. Just a week or so ago I saw this on C.S.I:



I've read bits and pieces of Erich Fromm but I think I'll have to pick up a book or two of his.

Consumerism and the religion of consumption are some of my favorite topics. Why do we measure the success of our country by how much the economy grows when we should be valuing the conservation and longevity of products?

We're all about "getting mine" instead of thinking about how that affects others. The whole concept of ownership is kinda bullshit anyway. We don't "own" anything. We're mere blips in the timeline of this planet and the universe. It's kinda odd ... atheists are usually portrayed as nihilists that don't care about anything because they don't have to answer to some "higher power". But, you have to wonder if the most harmful outlook to have is to believe that the Earth was just put here for our use and it will provide endlessly regardless of what we do to it. Or that we're just barreling towards "end of days" anyway and it doesn't matter how we damage the planet. Granted, my evidence may be largely anecdotal, but the atheists, agnostics, skeptics, Buddhists, etc. that I know have a lot more concern for the planet and the collective good than your typical "good" Christian.

Tyler Durden: "We're consumers. We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty, these things don't concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy's name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra."

Narrator: "Martha Stewart."

Tyler Durden: "Fuck Martha Stewart. Martha's polishing the brass on the Titanic. It's all going down, man. So fuck off with your sofa units and Strinne green stripe patterns." -- Fight Club


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Going Green Update ... Fail

"Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for - in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it." -- Ellen DeGeneres

This is me stuck in nightmare traffic coming home this evening from a client. An hour and a half of my life that I will never get back ... spent in a tin can on wheels.


I am singlehandedly doing my part to speed up global warming. I think I have put on about 300 or 400 miles on the car this week going to clients. Ugh. I'm making some nice coin ... but that's so not the point. It's just a weak rationalization that postpones the decision staring me in the face.

"The new American finds his challenge and his love in the traffic-choked streets, skies nested in smog, choking with the acids of industry, the screech of rubber and houses leashed in against one another while the town lets wither a time and die." -- John Steinbeck

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Education

"Education... has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading." -- G.M. Trevelyan, English historian



"Education, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding." -- Ambrose Bierce, American journalist and satirist


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Movie Review: The Social Network


I wanted my review of The Social Network to sit for a bit. It just seems like there is too much static both ways about this film. For those that have been hiding under a rock for the last few months, The Social Network is about the founding of Internet social networking website Facebook. It's largely based on the book, The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, that I reviewed last year.

I think the best way to go into this movie is to not attach significance that was not intended, but also don't ignore its implications. Linda Holmes at NPR has a nice review, encouraging viewers to not "overload the allegory". Just enjoy the movie as a character study. There's crisp dialog by Aaron Sorkin (West Wing) and a distinct visual style by director David Fincher (Fight Club).

The movie may or may not be true ... or something in-between.

The movie may or may not be about society's increasing narcissism that's been encouraged by social networking. But, it doesn't really matter.

I mean ... are we really debating whether Facebook has altered the dynamic of relationships? It'd be stupid to try and claim that it hasn't, at least for a certain segment of society.

There seems to be a lot of talk of the veracity of the info, but none of the affected parties are really saying there's anything libelous in it.

As Frank Rich put it in the New York Times: " ... From the noisy debate over its harsh portrait of Zuckerberg, you’d think it’s a documentary. It’s not. Its genre is historical fiction — with a sardonic undertow ..."

I think some believe that Zuckerberg is portrayed as a thoughtless sociopath who left a string of people in his wake. I don't see that at all. Both the portrayal and Eisenberg's performance are nuanced. Andrew Garfield as Zuckerberg best friend Eduardo Saverin is very good. Justin Timberlake is fantastic as Napster founder Sean Parker, playing it with flashy zeal.

The Social Network is just good clean fun. It moves. Obviously Sorkin has shown his ability in the past to make simple legal proceedings dynamic and entertaining. And The Social Network is no exception, with depositions given humor and tension every bit as exciting as A Few Good Men.  Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails scores the movie effectively.

It's kinda hard to understand what all the fuss is about? Did Zuckerberg make huge out-of-court payoffs to business associates that had made claims of intellectual property infringement? Yes. Obviously they had some beef or they wouldn't be ridiculously rich now (Saverin, for example). Is the story told from the perspective of some of these associates? Yes. Does it push one perspective over another? No. Fincher and Sorkin intertwine them in an entertaining manner that allows you to make your own conclusions.

I heard on the radio some poll that said that older viewers of the movie came out of it less inclined to use Facebook whereas younger viewers were more likely. That's pretty illustrative of social networking and our generation in general. The older generation is more put off by the ethical implications of Zuckerberg's rise, whereas twenty-somethings, in true reality-TV style, don't see anything as bad publicity. Celebrity is its own end.

Like real life, social interactions are often about constructing an idealized version of you for public consumption. There is the person we want to be and the person we are. Too often there is a great divide between the two and Facebook and Twitter certainly magnify that. But, social networks are just a tool and not the cause. You get out what you put in. Maybe they even help people to see a side of us closer to what we really are. Some people are a lot wittier, more social and cogent in writing than in person.   Some that seam reasonably intelligent face-to-face could not string a simple sentence together on a page.  Whatever the case is, we shouldn't be judging people solely by superficial and limited interactions.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Scale of Universe - Interactive Scale of the Universe Tool

Saw this in a tweet from Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium:

@neiltyson: MUST SEE: Zoomable graphic of observable universe. Accurate enough. http://bit.ly/cw5MwT



Fascinating and intimidating at the same time.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

America's Non-Decline

"America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between." -- Oscar Wilde

From Kevin Drum in Mother Jones Magazine, America's Non-Decline:

David Bell on the common theme of America's decline:

Twenty-two years ago, in a refreshingly clear-sighted article for Foreign Affairs, Harvard’s Samuel P. Huntington noted that the theme of “America’s decline” had in fact been a constant in American culture and politics since at least the late 1950s. It had come, he wrote, in several distinct waves: in reaction to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik; to the Vietnam war; to the oil shock of 1973; to Soviet aggression in the late 1970s; and to the general unease that accompanied the end of the Cold War. Since Huntington wrote, we can add at least two more waves: in reaction to 9/11, and to the current “Great Recession.”

....What is particularly fascinating about these older predictions is that so many of their themes remain constant. What did our past Cassandras see as the causes of America’s decline? On the one hand, internal weaknesses — spiraling budget and trade deficits, the poor performance of our primary and secondary educational systems; political paralysis — coupled with an arrogant tendency toward “imperial overstretch.” And on the other hand, the rise of tougher, better-disciplined rivals elsewhere: the Soviet Union through the mid-'80s; Japan until the early '90s; China today.

My guess is that this is a bit more of a conservative impulse than a liberal one, since conservatives tend toward both an over-rosy view of the near past and a religious temperament that views man as a fallen creature. Still, that doesn't mean they're wrong. After all, in relative terms America has declined since World War II. How could it not? There's simply no possible world in which a single country could retain the kind of power and influence that America held over a shattered world in 1945. As other countries rebuilt and grew, the inevitable consequence was that their power would grow relatively faster than ours.

But what's remarkable, really, is how little America has declined. We are perpetually astounded that our military might doesn't guarantee us instant victory anywhere we go and that other countries are routinely able to make trouble for us, but that says more about our national psyche than about our actual global influence or military power. If anything, our ability to project power may be greater today than it's ever been, and it's certainly greater relative to other countries than it was 50 years ago. Economically, our share of GDP fell surprisingly little in the postwar era, from 28% to about 22%, and has stayed very nearly flat since 1980. And political idiocy aside, our ability to lead the world in a rebound from a world historical financial crash has actually been pretty impressive ...

The quote, " ... conservatives tend toward both an over-rosy view of the near past and a religious temperament that views man as a fallen creature ..." is the one that I take the most from because it points to the two things that are the biggest causes of our stagnation as a society. One, an unrealistic view of our past accomplishments and a complete disregard of our failures. How else could Ronald Reagan be given near-Godlike status? Secondly, religion informing policy.

Like the article says, it's not that we are not declining as a society in certain ways ... we are. It's that we are not declining in the ways that they think. Conservatives believe our society is going to hell in a handbasket because of gay marriage and "socialism". But our actual decline is because of the shortsightedness and arrogance of previous (and current) generations. Imperial hubris in our dealings with the Muslim world going back a hundred years has caused us to repeat the same mistakes over and over. A belief that oil is never-ending and that the Earth will recover regardless of how we damage it has caused us to permanently destroy thousands of species and, perhaps, eventually destroy our own species. Religion, besides influencing the previous items, also has adversely guided family and societal planning. The Church's consistent and strident criticism of contraception and abortion has caused the world's population to increase to unsustainable levels. There will be days in the not-so-distant future where fresh water is more valuable than oil.

It's an arrogance borne of moral certitude. More atrocities have been done by groups that believe they have the moral high ground and thus can do no wrong. That religious "get-out-of-jail-free" card expunges its adherents of their guilt and their doubt. But doubt is a powerful and good thing. And it's in short supply.

"Mankind is not likely to salvage civilization unless he can evolve a system of good and evil which is independent of heaven and hell." -- George Orwell

Friday, October 08, 2010

Maybe there's hope for us yet ...

Occasionally, I do see something that gives me reason to believe that we are not lost as a civilization yet:



(via Common Dreams and civil eats)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

NRA

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dark Ages


Having Netflix Instant, I've been working through some programs and movies that I might not have watched otherwise. One of those programs is Stargate SG-1. I had seen random episodes through the years but had not watched a whole season. I liked the show but just didn't take the time to follow it. Anyway, I saw an episode (called Enigma in season 1 that had a line that I found interesting:

We'd be colonizing space right now if it hadn't been for the Dark Ages. There was a period of over eight hundred years where science was heresy and anathema. Maybe they didn't have that set-back.” – Daniel Jackson on the reason for the Tollan’s superior tech.

The SG-1 team had found a human society that appeared to be at least 500 years advanced of ours despite the fact that their humans had originated on Earth (and thus should be no more advanced). Dr. Jackson was commenting on the reason for Earth society's stunted scientific growth. The quote is interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, is it true? I believe so. Given an additional 500 or 600 more years, imagine the advancements in propulsion, computing, physics, etc. (assuming we haven't destroyed ourselves).

That's the fascinating thing about science fiction. Sci-fi poses questions about life in an entertaining way and broaches subjects that would seem controversial or preachy in another context. Stargate is by no means on the level of Battlestar Gallactica as far as relevance is concerned. But, in its own way, it didn't do too bad in that department.

The quote is interesting for another reason. Does it say something about the current state of science and religion? Are we working towards a modern Dark Age? There is rampant anti-intellectualism. Anyone that dares to to doubt the existence of God is pilloried. Science that doesn't agree with someone's worldview is dismissed. People of influence and power in our government and media make quotes such as these:

Rush Limbaugh: "Despite the hysterics of a few pseudo-scientists, there is no reason to believe in global warming."

Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell on Bill Maher's show:

O’DONNELL: You know what, evolution is a myth. And even Darwin himself –

MAHER: Evolution is a myth?!? Have you ever looked at a monkey!

O’DONNELL: Well then, why they — why aren’t monkeys still evolving into humans?


And on FOX News: "They are — they are doing that here in the United States. American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains. So they're already into this experiment."

And the always entertaining James Inhofe, global-warming denier par excellence:

" ... much of the debate over global warming is predicated on fear, rather than science. I called the threat of catastrophic global warming the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,""

"I don't have to tell you about reading the Scriptures, but one of mine that I’ve always enjoyed is Romans 1, 22 and 23. You quit worshipping God and start worshipping the creation -- the creeping things, the four-legged beasts, the birds and all that. That’s their (the environmentalists') god. That’s what they worship. If you read Romans 1:25, it says, ‘and they gave up their God and started worshipping the creation.’ That's what we are looking at now, that’s what’s going on. And we can’t let it happen."


As Cincinnati columnist Ben L. Kaufman put it,

"In a nation accustomed to seeking simple answers to complex questions and a culture increasingly driven by belief rather than evidence, scientists today often are trying to communicate with the willfully deaf."

Something to think about. If rationality and reason are constantly subverted while belief and mysticism are elevated, are we diving headlong into another age of stifled development? Can our society survive another dark age?

"Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look around for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a fit place to live in, instead." -- Bertrand Russell


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Reason

"I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect." -- Oscar Wilde


From Roger Ebert's Journal at the Chicago Sun Times, concerning Christopher Hitchens:

... The man can write. He has lived a life. He has seen for himself, making it a point to travel regularly to dangerous and wretched nations. He has been a man of political passion ... He takes his positions after a great deal of thought and he makes his reasons clear.

... shows himself as a man temperamentally driven to test his own opinions. He reasons instead of proselytizing. He exists as that most daring of writers, a freelance intellectual. He's a good speaker, can be funny, ... is passably good-looking, and is at no pains to be a charmer. He's popular because he's smart. He says nothing merely to be politic, although in some situations he may keep his meaning coiled well within.

We would all be lucky to be described in such a manner and to live in such a manner as to be deserving of the description.

"All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason." -- Immanuel Kant


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Political Song of the Day - We Shall Be Free by Garth Brooks




When the last child cries for a crust of bread,
When the last man dies for just words that he said,
When there's shelter over the poorest head,
We shall be free,

When the last thing we notice is the color of skin,
And the first thing we look for is the beauty within,
When the skies and the oceans are clean again,
Then we shall be free,

We shall be free ...

When we're free to love anyone we choose,
When this worlds big enough for all different views,
When we're all free to worship from our own kind of pew,
Then we shall be free,

We shall be free ...

And when money talks for the very last time,
And nobody walks a step behind,
When there's only one race and that's mankind,
Then we shall be free,

We shall be free ...


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Movie Review: The Town


I checked out The Town this past weekend. I won't get too much into the plot, but to summarize: Lifelong friends rob banks in Boston -- One friend unexpectedly falls in love, sees a world outside his own limited world -- He wants to get out, but his past and his acquaintances seek to prevent it. As someone once said, "You can join the Firm, but you can never leave". We all kinda feel locked into our boring jobs and stale lives, but our impediments to change don't usually involve death.

The Town, written and directed by Ben Affleck and also starring, is without the artifice and sheen of a lot of the Affleck movies of the past (anything by Michael Bay). Like Wunelle said in his review, Affleck directorial style seems to have been influenced by Clint Eastwood. Strong praise indeed but not without merit. Eastwood films are not overly talkative, letting the setting speak. Eastwood films generally do not have your classic "hero", but more of an anti-hero. This film is no different. You are put in the odd position of rooting for sociopathic and violent thieves.

While the Eastwood comparisons are apt, I sense a bit of Scorsese influence as well. Affleck in his writing, in his choice of setting, and in his understanding of the dynamic between classes is very much evocative of how Scorsese is with New York/New Jersey and specifically the Italian-American community. Affleck's setting is obviously south-side Boston and has been used in all three movies that he's had creative input in (Good Will Hunting, Gone Baby Gone, The Town).

After having seen Gone Baby Gone and knowing that Affleck is a competent director, I wasn't surprised by his effort here. But I was pleasantly surprised by his acting. Not that he hasn't shown talent there in the past, but it's certainly harder to find those few nuggets in a sea of bad material. He IS the lead actor in this one and has to hold his own among a bevy of talented actors including Pete Postlethwaite, Jon Hamm, Chris Cooper and most notably, Jeremy Renner. Renner explores some of the same off-the-rails type personality of his character in The Hurt Locker. He's undeniably talented, but I would be curious to see him in a more subtle drama just to see different parts of his talent. Not to shortchange the female talent, but Rebecca Hall is very good and Blake Lively (The Gossip Girl) is practically unrecognizable as a drugged up barfly.

The best scenes in the movie are the interactions between these great actors: Affleck and Cooper during a visitation of Affleck's character (Doug MacRay) to his father (Cooper) in prison; Affleck and Renner in a tense scene where MacRay tells his friend and partner James Coughlin (Renner) that he intends on leaving both his profession (robbing banks) and Boston; and the several scenes between MacRay and gangster Fergie Colm (Postlethwaite) in the latter's flower shop.

Is it the first heist movie ever? No. Has the premise been used before? Yes. But is it good? Undeniably. There is obvious craft used here. It's well-written, acted and directed with outstanding action scenes. It's gritty. It's not Hollywood. It's a story of revenge and a story of redemption. And it's one of the best movies I've seen this year. Grade: A-

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Political Songs of the Day: American Jesus by Bad Religion

American Jesus by Bad Religion


I don't need to be a global citizen,
'Cause I'm blessed by nationality,
I'm a member of a growing populace,
We enforce our popularity
There are things that seem to pull us under and
There are things that drag us down,
But there's a power and a vital presence
That's lurking all around

We've got the American Jesus
See him on the interstate,
We've got the American Jesus
He helped build the president's estate

I feel sorry for the earth's population
'Cause so few live in the U.S.A,
At least the foreigners can copy our morality,
They can visit but they cannot stay,
Only precious few can counter the barbarity,
It makes us walk with renewed confidence,
We've got a place to go when we die
And the architect resides right here

We've got the American Jesus
Bolstering national faith
We've got the American Jesus
Overwhelming millions every day

He's the farmers' barren fields, (In God)
He's the force the army wields, (We trust)
He's the expression on the faces of the starving millions, (Because he's one of us)
The power of the man. (Break down)
He's the fuel that drives the Klan, (Cave in)
He's the motive and the conscience of the murderer (He can redeem your sin)
He's the preacher on TV, (Strong heart)
He's the false sincerity, (Clear mind)
He's the form letter that's written by the big computer, (And infinitely kind)
He's the nuclear bombs, (You lose)
He's the kids with no moms (We win)
And I'm fearful that he's inside ME (He is our champion)

We've got the American Jesus
See him on the interstate
We've got the American Jesus
Exercising his authority
We've got the American Jesus
Bolstering National faith
We've got the American Jesus
Overwhelming millions every day

One nation under God(x10)


Theocracy

What are the characteristics of a theocracy?

"A nation or state in which the clergy exercise political power and in which religious law is dominant over civil law."

Now, I'm not going to use hyperbole and try to say we ARE a theocracy. But, don't you get the feeling sometimes that there is a large part of the country that wants us to move in that direction and are actively supporting leaders and candidates that believe exactly that?

You have nutters like Terry Jones threatening to burn Qurans, that some Republicans took their time to criticize:


Pastor Jones was a high school classmate of Rush Limbaugh in Missouri. Interesting.

And most recently, you have what any sane person would consider an absolute religious zealot, Christine O'Donnell, win the Republican primary for US Senate in Delaware. Someone who I have no love for and can't ever remember agreeing with, Karl Rove, called her for what she was and has been systematically criticized by every other prominent Republican (including the aforementioned Limbaugh). It's become a wacky world where George Bush looks like a moderate.

O'Donnell is a long-time religious activist with laughable beliefs on masturbation and sexuality in general. Here are just some of her greatest hits:

- 90s video of Christine O'Donnell explaining her crusade against the scourge of masturbation

- and O'Donnell on several of Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect programs

The weirdest thing is that a lot of Christians don't even consider her a zealot. That's you know when there is a problem with the direction of our country.

Vjack on Twitter put it this way:

In our political climate, I bet a Christian extremist who publicly advocated bombing medical clinics could win a GOP nomination.

And Josh Marshall from Talking Points Memo (joshtpm on Twitter)

US policy needs to empower moderate/peaceful elements within Republican party to isolate the radicals

If we are not a theocracy and there is separation of church and state, why does our President feel compelled to mention his Christian faith? What would the problem be if he WAS a Muslim or ... perish the thought ... an ATHEIST? Gasp!! The religious beliefs of one person should never inform the laws of everyone. We are going to become a backward, Creation-believing, science-denying, fundamentalist country no better than Iran if we don't start understanding this.

Woody Allen on masturbation: "it's sex with someone I love."


Saturday, September 04, 2010

Prayer, Deathbed Conversions, Cowardice


Very interesting commentary by the great writer, noted atheist and dying Christopher Hitchens in the newest Vanity Fair.

Hitchens has terminal throat cancer and Christians (and other religious sorts) have predictably different reactions to the news. Some see it as a punishment for his ungodly and profane ways. Others pray for his recovery, but not necessarily out of concern for his physical well-being ... or maybe I should say not as their first concern. They pray for the salvation of his soul.

Perhaps they are hoping for the frequent deathbed conversions that you hear of. He would denounce his life of impiety and irreverence. God truly IS good. But what worth is this kind of conversion? Why do sinners find God in prison? The same reason people do a lot of things ... fear. The thought of being alone and the fear that their life didn't mean anything scares people. And it should. But that should influence how you live your life, not what you do as the door is closing on your life. Those gestures are useless, meaningless, and cowardly.

"... Suppose I ditch the principles I have held for a lifetime, in the hope of gaining favor at the last minute? I hope and trust that no serious person would be at all impressed by such a hucksterish choice. Meanwhile, the god who would reward cowardice and dishonesty and punish irreconcilable doubt is among the many gods in which (whom?) I do not believe. I don’t mean to be churlish about any kind intentions, but when September 20 comes, please do not trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries. Unless, of course, it makes you feel better." -- Hitchens

Some of the most famous conversions are complete fabrications, most notably Charles Darwin's. It may be comforting to think that Darwin would renounce all that he believed before meeting his maker, but it simply wouldn't be true. Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins professing their faith at the end would make good press, but it should provide comfort to none. They themselves say it won't happen (Dawkins on Maher).

Pray for him if it suits you. He might even appreciate it:

"I think that prayer and holy water, and things like that are all fine. They don’t do any good, but they don’t necessarily do any harm. It’s touching to be thought of in that way. It makes up for those who tell me that I’ve got my just desserts … I wish it was more consoling. But I have to say there’s some extremely nice people, including people known to you, have said that I’m in their prayers, and I can only say that I’m touched by the thought."

I am not offended by someone saying they pray for me if something ill has befallen me. You mean well. But let that prayer be its own reward. Hoping for a conversion by Hitchens, me, or anyone is not really about us ... it's about you.

Talking about praying for someone publicly and even parading one's piety around like a badge of honor is something Jesus would not agree with:

… And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

But you see it all the time. I don't believe in God, but I do know that hypocrites and self-aggrandizers like Sarah Palin, Pat Robertson, and Glenn Beck don't know the mind of God any more than I do. And the surest proof that God doesn't exist is that these type of people haven't been struck down by Him.

So, in those last days, if you hear of Christopher Hitchens accepting God, don't believe it, or at the very least question his sanity. He'll "continue to write polemics against religious delusions, at least until it's hello darkness my old friend.":

"As a terrified, half-aware imbecile, I might even scream for a priest at the close of business, though I hereby state while I am still lucid that the entity thus humiliating itself would not in fact be 'me.' (Bear this in mind, in case of any later rumors or fabrications.)"

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Arizonans get what they deserve

Cars I snapped pics of in the last week:






I have no problem with bumper stickers that might say something negative about a sitting president (I may have had one of my own in the past).  But the Kenya bumper sticker turns something that might just have been making fun of a president's intelligence into something racist.  Would a white president get similar treatment if their ancestors were from England or Ireland?  I don't think so.  At the very least, even if the sticker isn't racist, it indicates the owner is a "birther".  And that's a whole different kind of bat-shit crazy.

With constituents like this, is it any wonder we have idiots like this (incumbent governor Jan Brewer)?



It's not too much of a surprise that Sarah Palin is a big supporter and has stumped for Brewer.

"The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity." -- Harlan Ellison


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The *BIG* Book Meme

Copied from This Week @ the Library….. (by way of CK at Seeking a Little Truth)

1. Favorite childhood book?

Cannot really remember before about age 10. Early teens is when I got heavily into sci-fi (Heinlein, Herbert, Clarke, Asimov). So, probably Dune, but did not read that until I was about 15. I guess that's not really a "childhood book".

2. What are you reading right now?

The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Briane Greene and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

I'm a book hoarder, not a book borrower. The wife and kid use the library all the time.

4. Bad book habit?

Like CK, it's buying more than I can read.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library

Nada.

6. Do you have an e-reader?

Nope. Have tried out several (Kindle, iPad).

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?

One fiction, one or two non-fiction

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

Not frequency, but certainly in what I read. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't influenced at least a little bit by what some of my blog friends are reading and recommending.

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)

Pull Up a Chair by Curt Smith. It's a biography of Vin Scully, who I love. But Smith seemed to be more in love with his own writing than in Scully.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?

Probably The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?

I'll try a few a year that I wouldn't normally read if someone recommends them.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?

Sci-Fi

13. Can you read on the bus?

Sure, but haven't rode the bus in awhile.

14. Favorite place to read?

Living room near several of my bookcases.

15. What is your policy on book lending?

I have no problem with it as long I know the person and I know they are serious about reading the book they are borrowing.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?

Definitely not.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

Duh, no.

18. Even in college textbooks?

I did not, though I certainly had used books that were plenty marked up.

19. What is your favorite language to read in?

English. I wish I knew other languages.

20. What makes you love a book?

Detail and the sense that you are not just part of some formulaic book.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?

If a book inspires me to do something or change something, then I usually feel that it will do the same for someone else.

22. Favorite genre?

Sci-Fi

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)

I used to read a lot more history books, but have gotten out of the habit. I read books that talk about history indirectly, but not specifically.

24. Favorite biography?

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer or Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?

I know these books are helpful to some people and would not want to minimize that. But, I can't ever imagine reading one. If you are motivated enough to buy one, then you probably don't need it in the first place.

26. Favorite cookbook?

A couple of vegetarian ones I picked up.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?

Oddly, Collapse by Jared Diamond

28. Favorite reading snack?

Trail mix.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.

Can't remember any.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?

I generally don't read book reviews. The exception is those by my blog friends. And I generally agree with them.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?

If you are willing to recommend a book, then you should be willing to criticize another.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?

Right now, Swedish. It would be cool to read ... Dragon Tattoo in its native language.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?

I hope I'm a little intimidated by most books. I need the challenge.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?

Believe it or not, I've never read On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. I just expect it to be a little dated and too detailed to be enjoyable.

35. Favorite Poet?

I never really read poetry.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?

When I was checking out books, probably just 1 at a time.

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?

A few.

38. Favorite fictional character?

Aragorn in Lord of the Rings

39. Favorite fictional villain?

I like books where the villain is really internal. The main character is fighting against his/her own demons.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?

I don't think I really read anything different than I normally would.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.

Probably about 6 months in college.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.

The previously mentioned Vin Scully biography.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?

TV.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?

Probably the Golden Compass. I didn't out-and-out hate it, and I liked the casting. But there was way too much of characters explaining the story.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?

I think $70 or $80.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?

Non-fiction to get an idea of the scope of the book. Never with fiction.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?

I usually feel compelled to read books I've started. But if I know I'm really not going to like it, I'll stop in the first chapter. I won't wait till I'm halfway through it.

49. How do you keep your books organized?

Sections by subject and alphabetically within them. But, of course, I buy so many that at any one time, there are a bunch of random books sitting around the house.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?

I keep 'em.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?

I'm pretty sure I'll never read a romance novel.

52. Name a book that made you angry.

I can't think of one off the top of my head.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?

The Language Instinct by Stephen Pinker

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?

Sci-Fi

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Political Song of the Day: War Pigs by Black Sabbath (covered by Faith No More)





Obviously I know this was written and first performed by Black Sabbath ... and theirs is a great version. But, my first exposure to War Pigs was by Faith No More in college. And theirs is the best cover of the song I've ever heard.

Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers of death's construction
In the fields the bodies burning
As the war machine keeps turning
Death and hatred to mankind
Poisoning their brainwashed minds
Oh lord yeah!

Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that role to the poor

Time will tell on their power minds
Making war just for fun
Treating people just like pawns in chess
Wait 'til their judgement day comes
Yeah!

Now in darkness world stops turning
Ashes where the bodies burning
No more war pigs have the power
Hand of God has struck the hour
Day of judgement, God is calling
On their knees the war pig's crawling
Begging mercy for their sins
Satan laughing spreads his wings
Oh lord yeah!


Friday, August 27, 2010

Stupidity Sells


I was at Costco today and was perusing the books and came upon the political section. These were the books I saw ... the only political books I saw:
No books by liberal or even moderate authors to be found. Is this a switch to the dark side by the traditionally progressive company? Probably not. More likely an admission that the Right is more likely to shell out $ for blatantly biased writing. It's why conservative talk radio and FOX News make money. For all the talk about "freedom" and "independence", Republicans don't want to form their own opinion. They want to be told what to think. They don't want an exchange of ideas. They want a chorus of sycophants.

So-called "liberal" authors have never sold a lot of books because most liberals don't want an echo-chamber. The few that have done moderately well did so because they were also humorists (Al Franken and Molly Ivins). But we've lost both of them in one way or another ... Franken, thankfully, to the Senate, and Ivins, unfortunately, passed away a few years ago.

Most liberals are far more likely to read scholarly works analyzing society in general (Jared Diamond, Malcolm Gladwell, Thomas Friedman, etc.) than anything partisan. This makes for better rounded people, but it doesn't necessarily help Costco sell more books. So, I guess it doesn't bother me that they sell the books. They are certainly not changing anyone's mind with them. In Arizona, if agreeing philosophically with one's customers was a prerequisite for a transaction, then I would be out of business.

"SYCOPHANT, n. One who approaches Greatness on his belly so that he may not be commanded to turn and be kicked. He is sometimes an editor." -- Ambrose Bierce (American Writer, Journalist)


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Freedom

"I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another" -- Thomas Jefferson



Hmm. They say we are fighting for freedom, but I'm suspicious that they don't actually know what that is. The mosque issue in NYC is certainly bringing this to the forefront.

I don't think a lot of them realize that they might be shooting themselves in the foot. By limiting Muslims' freedom of religion, it could hurt their own. vjack at Atheist Revolution put it well:

I cannot help but wonder how this might impact public attitudes toward separation of church and state. Will America's Christian majority finally gain some perspective as they realize what it is like to have another religion asking for the same freedoms they enjoy? Might the threat of Islam lead even Christian extremists to rethink their opposition to church-state separation? Will more Christians begin to understand that church-state separation actually protects their religion?

... Yes, Islam is a problem ... and so is Christianity. Maybe there should be fewer mosques, and maybe there should be fewer Christian churches.

Are we fighting for "freedom of religion" or just freedom to be exactly what we want you to be ... a Christian. Even those who are supposedly fighting for our "freedom" are not given that freedom: Troops: Skipping Christian Concert Got Us Punished:

RICHMOND, Va. — The Army said Friday it was investigating a claim that dozens of soldiers who refused to attend a Christian band's concert at a Virginia military base were banished to their barracks and told to clean them up ...

Also, are we fighting for "freedom of speech" or freedom from criticism when we say something stupid and racist? ('Dr. Laura' Is No Free Speech Victim):

I watched on Tuesday as "Dr. Laura" Schlessinger told Larry King she'd be leaving her radio program after 30 years on the air and more than a decade and a half of national syndication. Schlessinger told King -- in her own words -- "I want to regain my First Amendment rights." I watched again on Wednesday as she told John Roberts that her freedom of speech had been taken away ...

See, "Dr. Laura" was upset that she received criticism when she sprinkled the n-word throughout her broadcast. I think most conservatives don't actually understand what freedom of speech is. She has every right to say what she wants and I would go to the mat for her right to say whatever stupid thing she wants. But that freedom is not a freedom from other people exerting their right of freedom of speech. She wasn't even fired. She chose to step down because she couldn't handle people using their freedom of speech. Hypocrisy, thy name is Dr. Laura.

"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use." -- Soren Kierkegaard (Danish Philosopher and Theologian)