Tuesday, June 29, 2010


dbackdad: Weird, but not scary, feeling being only white person on train back from downtown LA. More whites need to step outside their "safe" cocoons.
2:23 PM Jun 25th via Twitter for BlackBerry®

W.M.A. by Pearl Jam

he won the lottery when he was born
took his mothers white breast to his tongue
trained like dogs, color and smell
walks by me to get to him
police man
police man
he won the lottery by being born
big hand slapped a white male american
do no wrong, so clean cut...
dirty his hands, it comes right off

police man
police man
police stopped my brother again ...
jesus greets me...looks just like me...

"He pointed at me and said, 'that one won't stand up.' The two policemen came near me and only one spoke to me. He asked me if the driver had asked me to stand up? I said, 'yes.' He asked me why I didn't stand up, ... I told him I didn't think I should have to stand up. So I asked him: 'Why do you push us around?' And he told me, 'I don't know, but the law is the law and you are under arrest.'" -- Rosa Parks

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Book Review: Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende

I'm going to do my best to dispel the rumor that I never blog. Sure, it took getting out of Arizona and away from work a few days to do it.

I just finished the book Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende. Brende, graduate of Yale, Washburn University and MIT, took the drastic step of putting his money (and his life) where his mouth was. For 18 months, Brende and his wife lived among a pseudo-Amish community and eschewed the so-called modern conveniences (electricity, automobile, TV, telephone) so as to better understand our motivations as a society. They grew their own food, or bartered their labor with others to get the things they needed.

I like Brende's book. If there is one small criticism, it would be that attachment of a spiritual significance to his experience. This is most likely a product of his own religious background and the obvious religious nature of the type of community he was living in. But, I believe, it definitely does not take a Christian mind-set to appreciate the benefits of simpler living.

What they found was that technology, instead of making things easier, "Besides often depriving their users of skills and physical exercise, they created new and artificial demands - for fuel, space, money, and time. These in turn crowded out other important human pursuits, like involvement in family and community, or even the process of thinking itself. The very act of accepting the machine was becoming automatic."

By removing most of these tools, those things that we work so hard to make time for (recreation, exercise, education, socialization) become part of an integrated lifestyle. And instead of having to work harder and longer, we have more time for true leisure and reflection. Our current society barely leaves us enough time to think. "By speeding through life with technology, you reduce what any given moment can hold.  By slowing down, you expand it."

Another byproduct of our reliance on technology is the isolation that it encourages. This isolation is, perhaps, one of the biggest contributors to our partisanship in politics and human interaction. "Modern technology .. far from being neutral in its effects, has more than one underlying purpose ... besides reducing the need for physical effort, ... it helps us avoid the need for cooperation or social flexibility ..." If, in the course of a normal day, we had to rely on the help of others and, in turn, helping others, we might be more likely to find common ground.

I read a quote once, and I'm paraphrasing, "You first shape a tool to fit your needs, but as you become more dependent on it, the tools shapes you." We change our behaviors to accommodate those things we first created to make life easier. As Brende says,

"... The changes I have made to live less technologically are easy compared with the contortions most people go through to maintain technology. Their beloved machinery does not so much save labor as separate it out in time and place and thereby make it harder to obtain-physical exercise in the gym, moneymaking in the office, education in the school, and "quality time" with the family in the national park. Rather than an integrated whole, life become a temporal and geographical obstacle course."

Believe me, I'm not a Luddite. Anything but. Michelle has a valid criticism of me that I have too much technology. Technology is not inherently bad. But just think about whether it is really making your life easier and allowing you to spend more time with those things that really matter - your family, friends, and the acquiring of knowledge. And when evaluating the costs of your technology, don't just consider the price you paid, but also the costs on our environment and our society. One of the biggest problems with our modern culture is that we only consider the price that is on the sticker. People will go to Wal-Mart to buy cheap crap because they think they are getting a good deal. But they have no concept of the slave-labor it took or the sub-standard and environmentally harmful elements that comprise it. We like our cheap food, yet don't understand that it's because it is made up of nothing but government subsidized corn products made by huge corporations. Those fresh vegetables you get at the local farmers' market may have the higher sticker price, but the effective price is much lower. And people need to start thinking that way. Do more things yourself. When buying important things, think more about craftsmanship and the skill it took to make them. Barter. Volunteer. Ask for help and give help freely. Turn off the TV. Read a book. Grow a garden. Turn off the computer ..........


Note: I'd also suggest reading "Nothing grows forever. Why do we keep pretending the economy will?" by Clive Thompson in May '10 Mother Jones Magazine. It examines how a growth-based economy is not necessarily the best thing for the future of our society.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

A(nother) Book Meme

Inspired by CK at Seeking a Little Truth, my take on this book meme:

Do you snack while reading?

Unfortunately, I snack when doing just about anything.

What is your favourite drink while reading?

Diet Mt. Dew

Do you tend to mark your books while you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?

Not in a million years. The fact that I have a hard time even getting rid of a book would indicate that I would not dream of defacing one.

How do you keep your place? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book open flat?

Usually bookmarks, but a ticket will do also. My main book that I am reading always has my gym pass in it, as I take it every time I go to the gym to read while on the stationary bike.

Fiction, non-fiction or both?

Both, usually at the same time. Reading two non-fiction books or one non-fiction and one fiction are fine. But reading two fiction books at once screws me up on characters a little bit.

Do you tend to read to the end of a chapter or can you stop anywhere?

I prefer stopping at a break indicated by the author, which may be the end of the chapter or just some other break within a chapter.

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you?

Nope. As they say, the opposite of love is not hate ... it is apathy. If I disagree with the author, I'm more likely to just stop reading the book.

What are you currently reading?

Best Seat in the House: A Basketball Memoir -- Spike Lee
Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology -- Eric Brende
I Am Legend -- Richard Matheson

What is the last book you bought?

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal -- Eric Schlosser

Do you have a favourite time/place to read?

Saturday and Sunday mornings on the couch near where most of my bookcases are.

Do you prefer series books or stand-alones?

Probably stand-alones, but some of my favorite books have been part of series (Dune, LOTR)

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?

The book I've recommended the most in the last couple of years would be The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?

Definitely. I have a dictionary.com app on my Blackberry that I use all the time.

How do you organize your books (by genre, title, author's last name, etc.)?

Yes (all of the above). I try to split them up by genre and within each genre, they are ordered by author and title.

Background noise or silence?

Generally silence but can read with something mellow.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Framing ignorant vs. educated as a debate

Great New Rules segment by Bill Maher a few days ago.  The good stuff is at about the 2:20 point on in the clip.

Watch New Rules 6/4/10 in Entertainment  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

"That's the problem with our obsession with always seeing two sides of every issue equally -- especially when one side has a lot of money. It means we have to pretend there are always two truths, and the side that doesn't know anything has something to say. On this side of the debate: Every scientist in the world. On the other: Mr. Potato Head.

There is no debate here -- just scientists vs. non-scientists, and since the topic is science, the non-scientists don't get a vote. We shouldn't decide everything by polling the masses. Just because most people believe something doesn't make it true. This is the fallacy called argumentum ad numeram: the idea that something is true because great numbers believe it ...

... Media, could you please stop pitting the ignorant vs. the educated and framing it as a "debate." The other day, I saw a professor from the Union of Concerned Scientists face off against a distinguished expert on Tea Partying, whose brilliant analysis, recently published in the New England Journal of Grasping at Straws, was that we shouldn't teach climate science in schools because kids find it scary. As they should. I hope they're peeing in their pants.

The last decade, year, and month are all the hottest on record. Then there's the killing of the oceans, floods, Category 5 hurricanes, heat waves, giant wild fires, and the vanishing water supply. You know, the little things. And yet deniers say, it's just a theory. As is gravity. For progress to happen, certain things have to become not an issue anymore, so we can go on to the next issue. Evolution was an issue until overwhelming consensus among scientists made it not an issue ..."

"I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses." -- German astronmer Johannes Kepler

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Protest Art

3 posters by Californian poet and artist Xico Gonzalez that I was given this last weekend at the Alto Arizona SB 1070 protest march: