Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Political Song of the Day -- Melt the Guns by XTC

Programmes of violence,
As entertainment,
Brings the disease into your room.
We know the germ,
Which is man-made in metal,
Is really a key to your own tomb.

Prevention is better than cure,
Bad apples affecting the pure,
You'll gather your senses I'm sure
Then agree to,

Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
And never more to fire them.

Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
And never more desire them.

Children will want them,
Mothers supply them,
As long as your killers are heroes.
And all the media
Will fiddle while Rome burns,
Acting like modern-time Neros.

Prevention is better than cure,
Bad apples affecting the pure,
You'll gather your senses I'm sure
Then agree to,

Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
And never more to fire them.

Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
And never more desire them.

I'm speaking to the Justice League of America.
The U S of A,
Hey you,
Yes you in particular!
When it comes to the judgement day and you're standing at the gates with your weaponry,
You dead go down on one knee,
Clasp your hands in prayer and start quoting me,
'Cos we say...
Our father we've managed to contain the epidemic in one place, now,
Let's hope they shoot themselves instead of others,
Help to civilize the race now.
We've trapped the cause of the plague,
In the land of the free and the home of the brave.
If we listen quietly we can hear them shooting from grave to grave.
You ought to,

Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
And never more to fire them.

Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
And never more desire them. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012


To co-opt a phrase from The Princess Bride:  Freedom ... "I don't think that word means what you think it means."

People need to stop using the word "freedom" to justify a political agenda. Using the word to justify one (right to bear arms) while forgetting another (freedom of religion) is disingenuous at best, heartless and calculating at worst.

There are people who are virtuous and helpful:

Conn. shooting: Principal died lunging at gunman

And then there are Christian blowhards:

Mike Huckabee: Newtown Shooting No Surprise, We've 'Systematically Removed God' From Schools

AFA: God Did Not Protect Connecticut Shooting Victims Because Prayer Banned In Schools

"There is in every village a torch: The schoolteacher. And an extinguisher: The priest" -- Victor Hugo

And don't tell me this is a time for praying. It doesn't bring those children back. Praying is one of the most selfish acts there is. It makes YOU feel good while doing absolutely nothing for anyone else.

Thursday, November 08, 2012


In Greek mythology, Argo was the ship that Jason sailed on in search of the Golden Fleece. Metaphorically, that prize usually represents legitimacy or economic reward. In Ben Affleck's movie of the same name, Argo represents freedom.

Ironically, and unintentionally, I saw the movie on November 4th, the 23rd anniversary of the start of the Iran Hostage Crisis.

From Wikipedia:

"Militants storm the U.S. embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979 in retaliation for sheltering the recently deposed Shah. More than 50 of the embassy staff are taken as hostages, but six escaped and hide in the home of the Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor. With the escapees' situation kept secret, the US State Department begins to explore options for "exfiltrating" them from Iran. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a CIA specialist brought in for consultation, criticizes the proposals. He too is at a loss for an alternative until inspired at home by watching Battle for the Planet of the Apes on TV with his son: he plans to create a cover story that the escapees are Canadian filmmakers, scouting "exotic" locations in Iran for a similar sci-fi film ..."

I remember the days of the Hostage Crisis. The speed in which events moved in an age of a few TV networks and some newspapers is distinctly different than what they would be in today's constantly changing, instant update, Twitter world. Affleck in his direction and his setting the scene does a good job of focusing on those differences. It's obvious that a mission like theirs, that relied on the limits of data acquisition, could probably not be carried out today. I find it hard to imagine that 6 Americans could successfully hide out for 79 days and then escape in plain sight.

Argo is the telling of the Canadian Caper, as it was called at the time, but with much more of a focus on the CIA involvement. This involvement wasn't even admitted until the declassification of it in 1997. Canada was largely, and deservedly, given most of the credit at the time. They were risking much by harboring the Americans. Despite the way in which Canadians are portrayed in American popular culture, especially by conservatives, their willingness to do what is difficult and what is right should not be questioned.

One of the major reasons why this movie works is because the seriousness of the subject matter is leavened by irony and gallows's humor, usually by John Goodman, portraying a special effects man, and Alan Arkin, a producer. You would not think that levity would work here but, as is often the case, sometimes when things are particularly dire or hopeless, humor gives focus and hope.

The recurring refrain by the fake movie crew is "Argo fuck yourself", to great comic effect.

It's nice to see that Ben Affleck has transitioned from a mediocre, if lucrative, leading role acting career to a directing and character actor one. As I've written before, his previous work in The Town and Gone, Baby, Gone show that this isn't just some vanity project or passing fad. He's serious about making gritty and real dramas.

There are several scenes that are fictionalized so as to add drama, most notably the chase scene at the airport at the end. In addition, the path that led them to stay at the Canadian ambassador is not quite as focused as the film would lead you to believe. Canada was not the only embassy that aided them, with New Zealand, Sweden and England playing large parts. But that aid is diminished in the movie so as to accentuate the isolation of the group of Americans.

The strength of Affleck in Argo is in his direction, not his acting. And I'm not diminishing his acting in the movie as he plays Mendez appropriately. But, rather a showy acting performance in this role is not called for. He's playing a CIA agent who has to largely not call attention to himself. And, functionally, he's playing the straight man to Goodman and Arkin. Both of their roles as Hollywood movie types in the 70's are showy by the very nature of the period.

I highly recommend the movie as both pure entertainment and as a historical perspective on a time in our not so distant past. For those that lived through the times, we understand the tensions. But for those younger, Argo gives some insight to the nature of our continuing philosophical struggle with Iran. Grade: A-

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Vote for Rationality

"Becoming atheist isn't a decision to turn your back on God. It's just awakening to the fact that there isn't anything to turn your back on." -- Sue at @TwstdFishy

Let's get beyond all the practical economic, social and environmental reasons that you might not vote for Mitt Romney. From a simple, common sense, rational approach, how can you possibly vote for a man that, with all his heart, believes the following:

  • Jesus visited America
  • Eden is in Missouri
  • Joseph Smith could translate ancient texts (the texts and translations are both provable falsifications)
  • Native Americans are Jews
  • God lives on the planet Kolob
And I didn't even bring up the magic underpants things.  It's simply a question of judgment.  How can one trust in his ability to make decisions that affect people of all beliefs when his own beliefs are batshit crazy.  Why one's religious beliefs are beyond criticism or scrutiny, I'll never know.  The media walks on eggshells about these things.  If a non-Christian running for President had similar tinfoil hat type beliefs, it would most certainly be an issue.

There will be a day where candidates won't have to be afraid of admitting they are atheists.  A day when science, and evolution, and climate change can be openly discussed without fear of reprisal.  That day cannot come soon enough.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The warp drive could be come science fact

From Space.com (Clara Moskowitz) and Discovery News:

"A warp drive to achieve faster-than-light travel -- a concept popularized in television's Star Trek -- may not be as unrealistic as once thought, scientists say. A warp drive would manipulate space-time itself to move a starship, taking advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics that prevent anything from moving faster than light. A concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, however subsequent calculations found that such a device would require prohibitive amounts of energy. Now physicists say that adjustments can be made to the proposed warp drive that would enable it to run on significantly less energy, potentially bringing the idea back from the realm of science fiction into science ..."

See more of the story here.

That's part of the wonder of science ... when the line between science and science fiction starts to blur.  I love the closing quote of the article:

"If we're ever going to become a true spacefaring civilization, we're going to have to think outside the box a little bit, we're going to have to be a little bit audacious,"

It's that lack of audacity that is preventing us from solving the world's problems.  We have possible solutions to things like hunger, global warming, energy and space travel but small, superstitious minds rule the day.  Respecting other people's right to their own belief systems is fine and dandy, but not at the expense of progress.  And the argument that religion is useful for promoting morality is laughable.  You cannot go a day without hearing of religion encouraging killing and hate and bigotry.

Let's be audacious and use rationality and reason.

Calvin and Hobbes was always one of my favorites because of its irreverence, sarcasm and willingness to take on "touchy subjects".  CK just posted another great one on his blog:  Seeking a Little Truth

Monday, September 10, 2012

Richard Dawkins - Playboy Interview

This is a really good and funny interview with Richard Dawkins here:

PLAYBOY: You often hear evolution described as “just a theory.” Is it?

DAWKINS: The word theory can mean a hypothesis. But the word is also used in a more serious sense as a body of knowledge. It’s better to use the word fact. Evolution is a fact in the same sense that the earth orbits the sun.


PLAYBOY: What will happen when you die?

DAWKINS: Well, I shall either be buried or be cremated.

PLAYBOY: Funny. But without faith in an afterlife, in what do you take comfort in times of despair?

DAWKINS: Human love and companionship. But in more thoughtful, cerebral moments, I take—comfort is not quite the right word, but I draw strength from reflecting on what a privilege it is to be alive and what a privilege it is to have a brain that’s capable in its limited way of understanding why I exist and of reveling in the beauty of the world and the beauty of the products of evolution. The magnificence of the universe and the sense of smallness that gives us in space and in geologically deep time is humbling but in a strangely comforting way. It’s nice to feel you’re part of a hugely bigger picture.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Nothing the God of biomechanics wouldn't let you into heaven for ...

I watched Blade Runner the other night, for perhaps the dozenth time.  A brilliant movie, obviously, with deep musings on the nature of life and consciousness.  It mostly relates to how other things besides humans can have that spark of life.  But not just that, Blade Runner is also a study in what it means to be a human ... for humans.

What I've been struggling with lately is what it means for me to be human.

Gaff: [voiceover] "It's too bad she won't live! But then again, who does?"

Tonight, it got me thinking that all too often it seems like I'm just sleep-walking through life. Especially lately.

Batty: "Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave."

Fear of failing. Fear of succeeding. Fear of change. A slave to conformity.

Is this really what I'm meant to do? Does it matter what we do each day to pay the bills? I think it does ... and I always have. I've quit jobs that paid better because I do not like others controlling what I do. I like having the responsibility, good and bad, for the choices I make and the actions I take.

I'm doing a job where I have all the control, but am I happy? This is not what I see myself doing for another 10 or 20 years.

I jump in and out of the lives of those friends I consider close. With those friends I've been lucky enough to encounter on the internets, my output and interaction is sporadic.

As a person of 43, should I have this all figured out?

What does it mean to be alive for me? I think it means to be constantly learning, to be intellectually engaged, to try and make my little corner of the world better than I found it, and to be someone my son would be proud of.

I don't really know if I'm succeeding on any of those counts. I guess it says something that I'm asking the question.

"... All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die"

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Political/Religious Song of the Day - BU2B by Rush

I was brought up to believe
The universe has a plan
We are only human
It's not ours to understand

The universe has a plan
All is for the best
Some will be rewarded
And the devil will take the rest

All is for the best
Believe in what we're told
Blind man in the market
Buying what we're sold
Believe in what we're told
Until our final breath
While our loving Watchmaker
Loves us all to death

In a world of cut and thrust
I was always taught to trust
In a world where all must fail
Heaven's justice will prevail

The joy and pain that we receive
Each comes with its own cost
The price of what we're winning
Is the same as what we've lost

Until our final breath
The joy and pain that we receive
Must be what we deserve
I was brought up to believe

RUSH - BU2B (Brought Up to Believe)

I just bought the new Rush album in mp3 form on Amazon. Good classic Rush sound and their always thoughtful lyrics on the nature of religion. I don't believe any other reasonably popular band has written as many songs from an atheistic/agnostic point of view as Rush has.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Thanks to @vjack and @AtheistQOTD for the quote.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Higgs Boson, AKA the God Particle, Explained with Animation

Yeah, that clears it all up for me. Now I understand perfectly. Or not. The animation does help, though. I'm no brain surgeon but I have taken quite a bit of college calculus, chemistry and calculus-based physics. I've read Brian Greene and Feynman. I'm not a complete moron, but still it is a little tough to picture things that make electrons look huge in comparison.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Monday, June 04, 2012

Hitchens Tribute

I was not lucky enough to have met Christopher Hitchens, but have, on a couple of occasions, met and spoken to the great Lawrence Krauss. Krauss was lucky (as he would admit himself) to be considered a friend of Hitchens. Here is a remarkable tribute to Hitchens that Krauss gave at the 2012 Global Atheist Convention:

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Gay Marriage

Kudos to Obama for finally not riding the fence on gay marriage:

Obama supports gay marriage, taking a risky stand

As Bill Maher said on twitter (@billmaher):

I predict Obama coming out for will help his re-election cuz it will make Repubs defend bigotry which will energize Dem's base

People will support a candidate that stands for something.  Do you think LBJ's advisors were telling him to support the Civil Rights Act?  I doubt it.  It was a political risk but a stance that had to be taken ... as is this one.  History will not look kindly upon those on the wrong side.

This is perfect because it forces the Right to defend the indefensible. At best
they appear as religious zealots. At worst ... out-of-touch bigots.  And I don't believe that this is going to cost the votes that some people think it will.  Those strongest in opposition of gay marriage were the type of voters that would not have voted for Obama anyway.  And despite the tendency of Black and Hispanic voters to generally be against gay marriage, this is hardly the issue that would push them into the "reed-in-the-wind" Romney camp.  Romney ... who has never had an opinion on anything.

Taking a principled stand is what the base of the Democratic Party has been looking for Obama to do.  Everything doesn't have to be politically calculated.  Take a stand, goddamn it!  People want to be inspired, not lulled to sleep.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Podcast(s) of the Week

I've always enjoyed Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo's work, partly for their own aesthetic but also for the undeniable real life drama that encompassed the artists themselves. Politics and Mexican culture are integral to their art and probably the reasons that I'm drawn to them. The Phoenix Art Museum, where we are members, is lucky enough to have several paintings by both artists.

These 2 recent podcasts do a great job of talking about the tragedies and experiences that influenced Kahlo as an artist and a person.  Interestingly, her marriage to Rivera could be construed as both ... a tragedy and a positive experience.

Frida Kahlo podcast from Stuff You Missed in History Class:

Part 1
Part 2

They've both been portrayed on-screen very well, most notably in Frida with Salma Hayek in the title role and Alfred Molina as Rivera.  I also like Ruben Blades as Rivera in Tim Robbin's Cradle Will Rock, a very good movie on art and politics in 1930's America.


I will listen to Neil deGrasse Tyson in whatever capacity he speaks.  He is the most vocal American proponent of an active space program and one of our best spokesman for the popularization of science and a reality-based world.  Here he is on a recent NPR Science Friday with Ira Flatow speaking on both of those things:

NPR's Science Friday - March 24, 2012


Earl Scruggs, who just recently passed away at the age of 88, was one of the pioneers of bluegrass music and a true innovator of banjo playing, creating a completely new way of picking.  Most people think they don't know of him, but if you have ever heard the getaway music in Bonnie and Clyde or the theme to the Beverly Hillbillies, then you have heard his playing.  He was greatly influential and touched musicians in completely different genres.

Terry Gross interviewed him in 2003 and after his passing, NPR re-aired the interview:

Earl Scruggs: The 2003 Fresh Air Interview

This NY Times article of his passing has a short video of some of the people that he influenced:

Earl Scruggs, Bluegrass Pioneer, Dies at 88

Monday, April 30, 2012

Environmental/Political Song of the Day

Subdivisions by Rush

Sprawling on the fringes of the city
In geometric order
An insulated border
In between the bright lights
And the far unlit unknown

Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass production zone

Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone
Subdivisions --
In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
Subdivisions --
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out
Any escape might help to smooth
The unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
The restless dreams of youth

Drawn like moths we drift into the city
The timeless old attraction
Cruising for the action
Lit up like a firefly
Just to feel the living night

Some will sell their dreams for small desires
Or lose the race to rats
Get caught in ticking traps
And start to dream of somewhere
To relax their restless flight

Somewhere out of a memory of lighted streets on quiet nights...

Oh, the delicious irony. I knowingly live in the suburbs and curse my existence. Sadly, it's mostly out of financial necessity. But even that necessity is becoming less and less so. In the suburbs, you have less access to mass transit and less access to the things we actually like to do. As you've seen from this blog, we're always downtown anyway: protest marches, art museum, ballgames, farmer's market, the Audubon Society, etc.

Rush (the band that is) kicks ass. This song sounds awesome but has great lyrics. I particularly like,

Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass production zone

The organization of living is just a metaphor for people's opinions. This song is from 1982, but just as relevant today.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


In a surprising, and probably unintended, bit of candor, a local church tells us what they are really doing with today's children.

The dictionary.com definition of "programming":

to cause to absorb or incorporate automatic responses, attitudes ...

“There is no such thing as a Christian child: only a child of Christian parents.” ― Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff.” ― Steven Moffat (Doctor Who writer)

One of the merits of good science fiction is that it's not all about the special effects. It's about the ideas. Of course, there are directors that don't understand this. Michael Bay comes to mind. However, director Shane Carruth does.

Carruth made the sci-fi film, Primer, for $7000 in 2004. Hell, Michael Bay's hair stylist made more than that. We're talking Robert Rodriguez, El Mariachi, Rebel Without a Crew territory. Sleeping in your parents' basement, McDonald's catering style.

When you are making a movie for that amount, you have to wear a lot of hats. Carruth wrote, directed and starred in the movie. His parents catered the movie ... for real.

I've had the DVD for a year or two. I had heard a good review of it on NPR or some podcast. I can't remember exactly. But, I'm glad I finally watched Primer.

There are no special effects. The shooting locations are a garage and a U-Haul storage location. The technical dialogue is intentionally complicated, perhaps to obfuscate, but not in a bad way. More just to confuse enough to make the story plausible.

Primer is about 4 engineers making some kind of device in their garage in their free time. The way they talk about it, it is some type of device that will be market-changing once it is perfected. Two of the engineers think that that is all the device is ... something industrial and useful. The other two engineers, through extensive experimentation and fine-tuning without the other two, discover that it is much more: a time machine.

They refine enough that each can travel ahead in time a day or so. They use this to obtain stock information that will allow them to make short term investments and make money. The complications arise out of the fact that each time they travel, they are creating multiple timelines and iterations of themselves. These iterations encounter each other and confusion ensues. Add on to that the fact that the story is told in a style that is either non-linear (a la Memento) or such that you don't know whose timeline you are following. The ambiguity and causal confusion is what makes Primer, and these types of stories in general, interesting.

I can't get enough of time-travel/multiple timeline/causation stories. No one can honestly say that they haven't thought about what they would do or how they would change things if given the ability to travel in time. Or as the tagline says,

"If you always want what you can't have, what do you want when you can have anything?"

I can't honestly tell you where to find this movie. I think I picked it up used at a Blockbuster Video. As far as I can tell, it is not on Netflix Instant. Anyway, if you want to see it, and can't find it, I'd be more than happy to mail you my copy.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012

... and yet it moves

"Eppur Si Muove" -- "And yet it moves" -- words often attributed to Galileo when he was forced to recant prior to the Inquisition. He may or may not have actually said them, but the point is salient regardless. He was describing the movement of the Earth around the Sun, a configuration that the Church did not want to concede as it would shatter their world view. Whether the Church wanted the Earth to be the center of the universe or not, it doesn't really change the facts. Maybe Galileo wouldn't have been so quick with a comeback if he had been given the "comfy chair" torture:

As is often the case, history repeats itself, and we have reached a point (at least in America) where a segment of the country feels their belief system crumbling and lashes out at those things that call it into question. Whether it is fighting the teaching of evolution in our classrooms(by putting creationism on equal footing, like in Tennessee) or the denial of climate change, some (and you know who you are) are exerting an all-out assault on science and reason.

Evolution and climate change may not be convenient to your idealogy, but it doesn't lessen their validity. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson once said,

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."

It's not a fair fight. Scientific progress, by its very nature, works on the assumption that all involved parties that are in disagreement are still respectful and are desirous of using reason to resolve that disagreement. Deniers, however, do not. Innuendo, out of context cherry picking of data and ad hominem attacks are all tools that they will use. Scientists will not and cannot use these same tools. It's like carrying a knife to a gun fight, as it were. Climatologist Michael Mann, on a recent NPR Science Friday broadcast (March 2, 2012) explores this issue.

Wunelle shared a great video from this last weekend's Reason Rally. In the video Adam Savage (of MythBusters) gives a short, straightforward account of what reason means in our daily lives. To simply drive a car, fly on a plane, use a computer ... you are relying on hundreds of years of theory, research and experimentation by scientists, mathematicians and engineers. It's not magic. The very people that rail against scientists, that stunt our children by fighting against real science and promoting religion and pseudo-science -- these people have no problem taking advantage of those technologies that are utterly dependent on science.

I propose that all that have a problem with the teaching of science and with the use of reason stop using the fruits of those things. The way I see it, unless you are living in some Quaker or Amana colony driving around in a horse-drawn carriage and spurning the use of technology, you are a fucking hypocrite.

Earlier I said that "some" were against science. That "some" is obviously largely conservatives and most notably the the religious among them. Why this group, that I believe is more vocal than actually large, gets such a prominent place in public discourse - I will never know. But, it is our responsibility as thinking beings to challenge the superstitious and ignorant. As Lawrence Krauss recently said,

" ... Choosing to censor or distort knowledge rather than risk the possibility that such knowledge, or the technologies that result from it, might challenge faith or confront preexisting ideological biases is a something that should better characterize the Taliban or al Qaeda rather than the Republican Party.

As we head into the home stretch of a too-long presidential primary season, it is not too late for the public to turn their back on candidates that turn their back on empirical reality and scientific progress."

When seeing a speech by Rick Santorum, one feels that some elaborate joke is being played on us. This is all just a modern day Monty Python sketch. But it's not and the gravity of the situation takes some of the fun out of it. If we don't fight against this revisited Inquisition, then we will have no one to blame but ourselves for what will become of our society.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Podcast(s) of the Week

This week, I'm highligting two podcasts, one from This Week in Science and the second from Philosophy Bites:

This Week in Science, Feb 02, 2012:

An interview with Shawn Lawrence Otto, author of Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America is the highlight of this podcast. In contrast with a similar recent book by Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science, Otto's book gets into how politicians, in general, seems unwilling to debate issues of science openly. When it is less controversial to hold a public debate on religion than one on science, you know something is fucked up with society.

I have not read either of Otto's or Mooney's books, but they're on my want list. It seems to me that Otto's would be the better for a general audience.

During the interview, Otto also mentioned The Debunking Handbook. This is a 7 page PDF file that you can download here. The Handbook is a good read and is a nice tool when you are debating with purveyors of pseudo-science (Creationists, climate change deniers, etc.).

Beyond Otto's interview, the podcasts has some interesting discussions on the psychology of Facebook posts and the nature of contagious yawns. The podcast runs about an hour.


From Philosophy Bites, Ronald Dworkin, American philosopher and constitutional law scholar, on the "Unity of Value -- Is liberty compatible with equality?"

This is a very good discussion on the practical applicability of philosophical concepts like liberty and equality. Dworkin contends there is a "right answer" to societal problems. Despite what politicians lead you to believe, liberty and social equality are not mutually exclusive.

He says that you can't look in the dictionary for a philosophical definition. You have to be able to apply your concept to the people that are affected by it. We have to "justify what we do in their name" and there can't be a disconnect between theory and action.

The discussion is about 19 minutes.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


A bit overdue, here's my review of how we've done on gas mileage with our Prius that we got last May:

This model is rated 50 mpg city, 48 hwy by Toyota and 48/45 by the government's official ratings.

Even in the worse conditions ... fully loaded, on trips to Flagstaff or California climbing a mountain (the dips you see in the graph) ... we have consistently been well above all the ratings. In the summer, when I have the A/C on, I'll have tanks in the 52 or 53 range, but this time of year, I get between 55 and 58. The car is just perfectly suited for how I drive: 30 to 100 miles per day, mostly city driving.

And because of the constant feedback, I've drastically changed how I drive. I rarely speed. I coast to stops as much as I can. I accelerate slower. It's not that I can't do any of those things - the Prius has plenty of power, accelerates quickly and climbs mountains with ease. It's that I can see how doing those behaviors affects gas mileage. Manufacturers should put the MPG rating devices in all cars, hybrid or not. People would get better gas mileage just because they would change how they drive.

All in all, we both love the car. Rides great and has more room than any of the cars we've had before. It's nice that you can drive 600 miles on an 11 gallon tank of gas. I don't like that I have to drive for my business. But as long as I am, I might as well do the best I can.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Podcast of the week

"It is the province of knowledge to speak, and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen." -- Oliver Wendell Holmes

I'm in the car a lot. Honestly, a ridiculous amount of time. And I've ran the course on sports talk radio. You can only listen to local sports meatballs complaining about stuff they have absolutely no knowledge of for so long. Ideally, I'd listen to NPR all the time but a lot of the shows I like aren't on when I'm driving around. So, for the last year I've been on a huge podcast listening kick. My car stereo has an auxiliary port so that I can plug my Blackberry into it. Plus, I've gotten in the habit of walking 3 or 4 miles each night, so I'll put a bunch of podcasts on the Blackberry and tool around the neighborhood in bliss.

Since I don't have near the amount of time I'd like to read, I've found listening to the podcasts gives me an opportunity to still learn and keep up on films, music, history, science, philosophy, etc. This week, I'm just going to the give you the general sites for the podcasts that I most often download. But, in future weeks (and every week, I hope), I will highlight 3 or 4 specific podcasts that I've listened to that I thought might be of interest to my few readers.

Anyway, here we go:

Filmspotting -- Put on by a couple of Chicago film geeks, these podcasts are frequently over an hour long. They review new movies, but maybe not the blockbusters that most other reviewers waste time on. These are actual good movies that may not get pub from mainstream reviewers. Plus, their shows have themed topics, such as Top 5 Action Thespians, which I just listened to a couple of days ago. Michael Phillips makes frequent appearances as do many indie filmmakers. While they get into a bit of film theory, it's not necessarily all high-brow and a casual film watcher can still get something out of it.

The Naked Scientists -- I like listening to this with my son. It's a British show that explores current science topics in-depth, often interviewing leading scientists. But, it doesn't get too overly technical, so is good for an audience of all ages. Plus, they bring some humor into it.

Nerdist - Hosted by comedian Chris Hardwick. Very irreverent and often off-color, but Hardwick has channelled many years in the entertainment business and his natural inquisitiveness and nerdiness into relationships with a lot of science and sci-fi talent. This is just a sampling of the guests on his podcasts in the past year: Conan O'Brien, David Tennant (Doctor Who), J.J. Abrams, Neil deGrasse Tyson, the cast of Big Bang Theory, Sir Patrick Stewart, etc.

NPR's Fresh Air -- This is probably my favorite NPR show. Terry Gross is arguably the best interviewer in any medium and has been doing it for over 30 years. She'll interview people from just about any area: politicians, actors, scientists, authors, etc.

NPR's All Songs Considered -- I'm relatively new to this podcast but have been very impressed. As their website says, "All Songs Considered is a great place to discover new music that doesn't get a lot of airplay anywhere else.". They will focus on a specific genre each broadcast and give some play to musicians that you may not have heard of but that are fantastic. One week it might be electonic music, another week punk, and yet another week might be themed.

Philosophy Bites -- If you like philosophy, this is really good. They highlight a specific philosophical concept on each podcast and will talk to a philosopher well-versed in that particular topic. The shows are not too long, frequently about 15 minutes. A few topics from the last year: meaning of life, moral relativism, atheism, Hume on design, humanism, free will. Good stuff.

NPR's Science Friday -- If you listen to NPR, most of you will know what this is. Ira Flatow has hosted this couple hour program on current science topics on every Friday (obviously) for as long as I can remember. I was lucky enough to see Ira Flatow in person a few years back at one of the ASU Origins Symposiums that I attended. He's very knowledgeable and understands the relevance and for science and reason in our everyday lives.

Sierra Club Radio - As you would guess, this highlights current environment topics, often speaking with authors and activists. About a half long episodes.

Sound on Sight - Another in-depth movie analysis program of about an hour an episode.

Star Talk Radio -- One of my favorites. This is hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. I believe he is one of the best science popularizers out there and a tireless advocate for science education and space exploration.

These are just a few of the podcasts available. There are zillions of other smart people making great podcasts. All of these can be found through Itunes or the pages I linked to above. Itunes is probably the best place for searching for podcasts of a specific topic.

The best stuff, the most informative talk, the most intelligent insights ... are not on your TV's. What you see on most television is what someone is paying for you to see or that is trying to sell something. Obviously reading books is probably the best way of getting information, but sometimes that verbal interaction between smart people is great way of learning. And I still want to be learning even when I can't be sitting down reading a book. Listening to something of substance makes me feel like that dead time in a car wasn't a complete waste of my time.

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen." -- Ernest Hemingway

Friday, March 02, 2012

... of my youth

Doing a semi-annual purge of my garage, I came upon a box of my paperback books from my late teens, early 20's. Taking a look at pictures I took of them, you get a window into the mind of a shy, but ambitious young man.

It's not just about content of the books, which were great and informed my outlook, but also the cover art. The books are bright, abstract, inventive. All the things that my upbringing in podunk Iowa was not. Escaping into these books gave me the hope that I would not always be where I was then and the impetus to escape once I was able.

I was able to escape, but just not to where I thought I'd end up. Naive me, I thought I'd somehow venture beyond Earth's confines (all sci-fi geeks do) ... or at least save the free world from bad guys and bed the hot Russian spy. Oh well. I may not have done those things, but at least part of me went there - my imagination.

"It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves."
-- William Shakespeare

Monday, February 20, 2012

Top 10 Movies of 2011

I've put it off too long. I was trying to get a lot of the critically acclaimed movies released late in 2011 watched before making up my list. But, it's already February and I need to go with what I have. I have to admit that I did not see as many movies in 2011 as I normally do. 2011 seemed like a bad combination of a not great year for movies and a rather pathetic attempt by myself to see the movies there were. So, to get 10, I might have dug a bit deeper than normal:

(10) The Muppets - This does a really good job of being both nostalgic and modern at the same time without being cynical or sarcastic (thanks to Jason Segel). My son had never seen the Muppet Show and loved the movie. I grew up on the show and loved it as well.

(9) Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol - I think this movie works, and most critic agreed, because of the combination of director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) translating cartoon action to live action, and some levity by Simon Pegg. I think this movie doesn't take itself too seriously like too much Tom Cruise stuff usually does. For a different take, I highly recommend Wunelle's review: "Recombinist ..."

(8) Hanna - I think this was an underrated movie and it was quite awhile ago that I saw it. The cinematography, sparse dialogue and nice performance by Saoirse Ronan all work to great effect. Click the title to see a nice review by Wunelle.

(7) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 - Pt. 2 very nicely ties up both Deathly Hallows and the series as a whole. An especially good performance by the always great Alan Rickman as Snape.

(6) Rise of the Planet of the Apes - I was expecting just a decent popcorn movie and was pleasantly surprised to get a bit more. It should be no surprise that the unexpected bonus is the remarkable performance by motion capture actor Andy Serkis (of LOTR fame) in the role of the chimp Caesar. This performance was deserving of an Oscar nomination.

(5) The Ides of March - Great cast - Paul Giamati, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Clooney and Gosling. Timely subject matter - political intrigue and influence.

(4) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - I guess I'm one of the people that likes both versions of this film equally well. While I believe that Noomi Rapace's performance in the Swedish version of the movie is the defining one, I think Rooney Mara does a good job of not mimicking her and makes this her own. The pacing of the American movie is better and does not rely on having read the book as much.

(3) Haywire - Very distinctly Soderbergh in a dialogue and visual sense.

(2) Meek's Cutoff - Subtle, quiet, yet still powerful. Nice performance by Michelle Williams.

(1) Moneyball - If you think this movie is about baseball, you are largely missing the point. it is more about how we value things and how important it is to believe in what you are doing, even when nobody else does. This is probably Brad Pitt's defining performance of his career and one that a younger and more naive Brad Pitt could not have pulled off. It's a naturalistic, nuanced performance. Jonah Hill also does a great job in an understated performance.

Honorable Mention: X-Men: First Class, Super 8, Contagion, Rango, Limitless, Pearl Jam Twenty, Bobby Fischer Against the World

I would like to have seen the following (and surely will this year):
The Descendants
The Artist
A Dangerous Method
Take Shelter
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The Iron Lady
The Tree of Life
A Separation
J. Edgar
Adventures of Tintin

I have a feeling that if I'd seen any of these, they would have made my top 10.