Saturday, March 25, 2006

Friday, March 24, 2006

NPR : Finding Happiness in a Harvard Classroom

NPR : Finding Happiness in a Harvard Classroom:
"Six Tips for Happiness

Advice from Tal Ben-Shahar.

1. Give yourself permission to be human. When we accept emotions -- such as fear, sadness, or anxiety -- as natural, we are more likely to overcome them. Rejecting our emotions, positive or negative, leads to frustration and unhappiness.

2. Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Whether at work or at home, the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable. When this is not feasible, make sure you have happiness boosters, moments throughout the week that provide you with both pleasure and meaning.

3. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account. Barring extreme circumstances, our level of well being is determined by what we choose to focus on (the full or the empty part of the glass) and by our interpretation of external events. For example, do we view failure as catastrophic, or do we see it as a learning opportunity?

4. Simplify! We are, generally, too busy, trying to squeeze in more and more activities into less and less time. Quantity influences quality, and we compromise on our happiness by trying to do too much.

5. Remember the mind-body connection. What we do -- or don't do -- with our bodies influences our mind. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating habits lead to both physical and mental health.

6. Express gratitude, whenever possible. We too often take our lives for granted. Learn to appreciate and savor the wonderful things in life, from people to food, from nature to a smile."

Against the odds...

The Dilbert Blog: Winning:
"If you don’t follow the game, let me give you some background. Blake is the son of an African-American dad and an English mom. He was raised in Connecticut and had to wear a back brace for years when he was a kid. He took up tennis, excelled, and went to Harvard for two years before going pro. He looked promising, along with a number of other young Americans, but not top 10 material. He was most noted for his sex appeal and great personality.

...Then in 2004 he had the year from Hell. He ran into a tennis net post and broke his neck. Then he got a shingles virus in his face that paralyzed it on one side. Then his dad died.

...I don’t know what kind of training he did, but oh-my-god. I watched him play in person during the first week of the Indian Wells tournament and thought it couldn’t be the same guy. There was ferocity to his strokes. He wasn’t just hitting the ball, he was punishing it. His court speed was breathtaking. His shot selection was brilliant. His backhand, previously a weakness, had become a rocket.

...Blake blasted through the field of world-class tennis players and found himself in an unlikely semi-final with a Spanish force of nature named Rafael Nadal. Nadal is the #2 player in the world. He hits with brutal topspin. It’s a relentless attack that less than a handful of elite players have been able to withstand in the past year.

Nadal brought his best, but Blake blew past with a combination of game and gamesmanship that surprised almost everyone, not the least Nadal himself.

Now it was time for the championship match against Roger Federer, the best player in the world. Correction – make that the best tennis player who has ever lived. That’s not just my opinion. He already has seven Grand Slam wins. If he stays healthy, many people expect him to hold every important record in tennis.

Against all odds, Blake blazed to a 4-1 first set advantage against the all-time greatest player on earth. It seemed as though nothing could stop him.

And then something happened. The momentum shifted. The rest of the match was all Federer. Blake seemed to fade away, settling for runner-up, but his effort that week was enough to put him in the top ten in the world.

At the trophy ceremony, Blake spoke to the crowd. He said that in 2004, when he was in the hospital with a broken neck, only one tennis player sent him a note to wish him well. It was Roger Federer.

I wanted Blake to win that match, yet somehow, by losing he found perfection. "

"Security is mostly a superstition..."

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.

Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.

- Helen Keller

The brain... a pattern recognition system. An evolutionary biogical survival tool that is highly useful.


That being the case, as a pattern recognition system, the brain will sometimes make connections and linkages where none actually exist.

[Which is how optical illusions sometimes work... the brain "fills in" information that's missing.]

So, is what you know real, or a connection made in the absence of information?

You don't create your own reality...

But you do create your own representation of reality...

There is a distinction, but in most cases it doesn't matter.

Wake Up.

Musings on Reality, the Scientific Method, and the Cure for Dandruff:
"When I look around at how most people are living, they look like walking zombies. They get up, go to work, eat unhealthy food, watch TV, argue about politics, and repeat the cycle until retirement. After retirement they preoccupy themselves with equally pointless activities as they wait for death. They spend their lives thinking nothing that’s real, doing nothing that’s real, and talking about nothing that’s real. But every once in a while, some experience happens to them that temporarily wakes them up… ever so briefly. Maybe it’s getting fired, suffering the death of someone close to them, or enjoying a mental breakthrough. For that moment they are awake, but too often they panic when this happens and resubscribe to the old mass hypnosis."

Assumptions of the scientific method...

Musings on Reality, the Scientific Method, and the Cure for Dandruff:
"The Scientific Method pre-supposes that we live in an objective universe, where observer and observed are separate entities. This is the common model of reality we share in the West.

However, I feel it’s best not to make that assumption because I strongly suspect it may be incorrect. And I do not want to make all the decisions of my life based on an inaccurate model of reality. For one, that would mean making some really, really big mistakes… the kind that human beings have been making all throughout history. I have no interest in repeating that pattern.

I can only be “scientific” to the degree that I subscribe to the objective reality model of the universe. Now don’t get me wrong. This model certainly has its advantages. Nothing can take the place of the Scientific Method in the area in which it works. But if reality is not entirely objective, then there is an area in which the Scientific Method won’t work. And that area may be hugely significant.

Very few people in the West are aware that the Scientific Method begins with an unprovable assumption about reality. Even experienced scientists will admit that science begins with an assumption, and in fact, many scientists are running right up against this limitation when studying quantum physics and are seriously questioning the validity of that assumption. Some scientists are already uprooting it… and suffering the slings and arrows of their peers as they do so.

...Instead of matter and energy being the fundamental building blocks of everything that exists, I think it’s more likely that consciousness itself is the fundamental structure. In my current “best guess” model of reality, I see the world as a collective co-creation by conscious beings. The world remains relatively stable (i.e. seemingly objective) because we keep recreating it in the same pattern (past, present, and future). But if every human being were to shift their beliefs about reality, then I suspect reality would change to accommodate our beliefs (including the past, present, and future).

Furthermore, I suspect there is in fact only one consciousness, and we all share it. We have separate minds and bodies, and therefore our own individual thoughts, but consciousness itself is an underlying field that we’re all connected to. One of the freaky things I did a few months ago was to shift my identification of self away from my own body-mind and into this field. Imagine regarding your self identity not as an individual person with a body and a mind but rather as all of consciousness itself. Then from that vantage point, you regard your body and your mind merely as parts of you but not the whole you. Your body and mind are merely limbs in a larger body. But then in this larger identity, you also have access to other limbs, like the ability to manifest synchronicities out of thin air or to manipulate reality through intention."

Achievement and Fulfillment

Don’t Die With Your Music Still In You:
"To abandon a comfortable lifestyle that isn’t deeply fulfilling is to abandon nothing. There’s nothing of real substance there to protect. An income, a car, a house, or a lifestyle are not worth protecting if the cost of such protection is your own fulfillment and happiness. People who achieve some of the external trappings of success without internal fulfillment are only living an illusion when they tell themselves they have something of value to protect. In most cases the feeling that there’s something to protect is just an excuse used to avoid facing the real fear — that maybe all this stuff isn’t really worth anything compared to what’s being lost… that maybe I should be living more boldly and not be so concerned about what happens to all my stuff."

Wanna know your future? Look around.

Are Your Friends An Elevator or a Cage?:
"Think for a moment about the 5-10 people with whom you spend the most time. Even include online communities if you spend a lot of time reading them — which individuals are having the most influence over your thinking right now? Actually write out the list — it should only take a minute. And this includes family members.

Now look at the list. It’s been said that this list will give you a glimpse into your future.

Do you want to become more like these people? Yes or no?

...Now have you ever thought about consciously changing this list? Do you realize that you have the ability to populate this list by choice instead of by chance? You’re free to say no to having certain people in your life, and you’re also free to make the effort to introduce new people you want in your life. Sometimes there are serious consequences, such as with family members and bosses, but it’s still a choice."

Like when your family still treats you like you're 17.

Or when you, hypothetically speaking of course, switch over to a vegetarian diet.

Social Drag:
"Social drag is what happens when you undergo a significant personal shift, yet everyone around you still treats you the same. Suppose you’ve decided to switch careers. Even though you’re still working in your old career, mentally you’ve already made the leap to the new one, and it’s only a matter of time before your external reality reflects that. But the people around you haven’t yet internalized your shift. It isn’t real to them yet, so they keep interacting with you as if you haven’t made the shift at all. Has this ever happened to you?"

Your problems don't mean anything. Not really. It's just your ego tricking you...

Steve Pavlina’s Personal Development Blog:
"When you encounter a seemingly serious (but very common) human problem, it’s tempting to blow it all out of proportion and turn it into a major stumbling block that paralyzes you from moving forward. Social conditioning teaches us that losing someone close to you, getting a divorce, or being diagnosed with cancer are huge, life-wrenching issues. But that’s merely the ego’s perspective. In the grand scheme of human existence, such problems are about as common as dirt."

The Lazy Way to Success: Profiting From Your Passions

The Lazy Way to Success: Profiting From Your Passions:
"I have frequently maintained that the key to wealth, health, fame, power, love, happiness, and personal fulfillment is simple. All you have to do is do what you feel passionate about. In fact, it seems to me that doing anything other than what you love is a total waste of time.

Whenever I write (or say) something like that I am deluged with questions and rebuttals. Folks inevitably point to the innumerable starving artists, musicians, writers, and actors who are, well, starving, even though they are following their passions.

I also hear from guys who tell me the sole reason they were put on earth is to run an animal rescue operation or some such low-paying/no-paying occupation. And then they challenge me by asking how are they going to get rich/famous/successful doing those things?

On the other side of the bell curve, I hear from people who say they are passionate about a bazillion things. They ask how can they possibly decide which one to pursue.

Here is what I tell all these folks:

I believe that it is not enough to begin your journey by following a path characterized by only one passion. I have noticed that success comes when you incorporate several passions at once. It seems that an activity that combines several passions is a more complete reflection of who you are. Not only do the possibilities seem greater when more passions intersect, but the joy of doing is fuller."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

I've gotta re-watch this movie.

Rigorous Intuition: Name that tune:
"Remember Magnolia? Most people who do probably still don't know what they saw. Those frogs - where'd that come from? Even The Guardian could say, 'This scene does successfully manage to shock the audience, but possibly only because it makes no sense whatsoever.' But of course it did: an audience member had earlier disrupted the gameshow What Do Kids Know? by holding up a sign that read simply 'Exodus 8:2.' Of course it took looking up the reference to get it: 'If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs.' So it required some work, and interest, to find the sense. And if you didn't get the frogs, you'd likely have also missed The History of Freemasonry on contestant Stanley's bookshelf, the Masonic symbols adorning the television studio, the conspicuous Masonic ring on the finger of the producer who consoles his paedophilic host Jimmy Gator, or the significance of Gator's farewell, 'We met upon the level and we're parting on the square.' Far from being meaningless, Magnolia is one of the most meaningful of American films, for those with the semiotic skillset to decode it."

Spreading some of that freedom.

KRT Wire | 03/19/2006 | Iraqi police report details civilians' deaths at hands of U.S. troops:
"According to the U.S. account, the house collapsed because of the heavy fire. When U.S. forces searched the rubble they found one man, the al-Qaida suspect, alive. He was arrested. They also found a dead man they believed to be connected to al-Qaida, two dead women and a dead child.

But the report filed by the Joint Coordination Center, which was based on a report filed by local police, said U.S. forces entered the house while it was still standing.

'The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 persons, including five children, four women and two men,' the report said. 'Then they bombed the house, burned three vehicles and killed their animals.'

The report identified the dead by name, giving their ages. The two men killed were 22 and 28. Of the women, one was 22, another was 23, a third was 30 and the fourth was 75. Two of the children were 5 years old, two were 3, and the fifth was 6 months old, the document said.

The report was signed by Col. Fadhil Muhammed Khalaf, who was described in the document as the assistant chief of the Joint Coordination Center.

A local police commander, Lt. Col. Farooq Hussain, interviewed by a Knight Ridder special correspondent in Ishaqi, said autopsies at the hospital in Tikrit 'revealed that all the victims had bullet shots in the head and all bodies were handcuffed.' Efforts to reach hospital spokesmen Sunday were unsuccessful."

Intellectual Property Run Amok

Intellectual Property Run Amok:
"IN 1982, Motion Picture Association of America head Jack Valenti told Congress that “the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston Strangler is to the woman home alone.”

A DAY AFTER Senator Orrin Hatch said “destroying their machines” might be the only way to stop illegal downloaders, unlicensed software was discovered on his website.

BILL GATES had the 11-million-image Bettmann Archive buried 220 feet underground. Archivists can access only the 2% that was first digitized.

AMONG THE 16,000 people thus far sued for sharing music files was a 65-year-old woman who, though she didn’t own downloading software, was accused of sharing 2,000 songs, including Trick Daddy’s “I’m a Thug.” She was sued for up to $150,000 per song.

MICROSOFT UK held a contest for the best film on “intellectual property theft”; finalists had to sign away “all intellectual property rights” on “terms acceptable to Microsoft.”

...IN 2002, Valenti described Hollywood’s antipiracy campaign as “our own terrorist war.”

...“SENSORY TRADEMARKS” include a duck quacking (AFLAC), a lion roaring (MGM), yodelling (Yahoo!), giggling (Pillsbury), and a “pre-programmed rotating sequence of a plurality of high intensity columns of light projected into the sky to locate a source at the base thereof” (Ballantyne of Omaha).

FOR INCLUDING a 60-second piece of silence on their album, the Planets were threatened with a lawsuit by the estate of composer John Cage, which said they’d ripped off his silent work 4’33”. The Planets countered that the estate failed to specify which 60 of the 273 seconds in Cage’s piece had been pilfered.

...THE PUBLISHER of Super Hero Happy Hour removed “Super” from the comic book title after Marvel and DC Comics stated they own the phrase “super heroes and variations thereof.”

42% OF ALL VIDEO files shared online are pornographic. No porn-sharing cases have yet been tried in the U.S.

...RENTAMARK.COM makes money by claiming ownership of 10,000 phrases, including “chutzpah,” “casual Fridays,” “.com,” “fraud investigation,” and “big breasts.”

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.’s estate charges academic authors $50 for each sentence of the “I Have a Dream” speech that they reprint.

THE VILLAGE PEOPLE refused to let their songs be used for a documentary called Gay Sex in the ’70s because they want to be thought of as “mainstream.”"

Reality Tunnels

Thornton's Guerilla_Blog: Reality Tunnels. . . .:
"Reality tunnels are the myopic thoughts that we repeat often enough to use as stories of self identification.

And reality tunnels create the way we percieve the world at any given time."

"I am an optimist because people die."

Thornton's Guerilla_Blog: Either - Or & Other. . . .:
"I am an optimist because people die.

The bitter old men who argued for slavery didn't change their minds. They eventually all died off. The bigots in the South who argued for segregation didnt wake up one day and realize that we are all equal in Gods eyes. Nope, most of them just died off.

And currently?

Sure we have some lunatic fundamentalists that conclude that two women, or two men, who love each other and wish to have all the rights that come with a full legal commitment, should never be allowed to do so. . .and some how they also feel its their business to tell them no. In their twisted logic, they fear it will affect their own marriage. Bizarre but true.

Besides the obvious stupidity that says someone "chooses" to be gay, or straight, there is the reality that many of these people already raise children. Many of these couples are families, and are raising healthy, happy, beautiful kids. And yet we would deny our brothers and sisters the right to legally make this relationship official?

Why? Because we have taken seriously the ramblings of a few loud mouth simpletons who believe that a rapture is going to come take them out of their SUV's sometime soon, and homosexuality is a choice. After all it must be in order to be a sin to God right?

But here is my reason for optimism again. . . .when polled as to whether gay marriage should remain illegal, 80% of the youths under the age of 25 stated flatly, absolutely no.

So no, the current generation of bigots probably wont come around. A few might, and there is always that hope for the individual. But in large number no, they wont change their opinion.

But, they will all die eventually. And that is how our system betters itself.

..."just like when members of our generation look back on our great grandfathers generation, and they cannot understand why mixed race couples dating was considered 'immoral' and illegal by the majority at the time. . .there will be a time when our grandkids will look back on our generation with a certain wonderment at how so much of our population could be so backwards, on so many things.

One of the main conservative myths is that are ancestors (even our grandfathers generation) where some how 'more' moral.

This idea is of course completely backwards factually speaking. And yet it is always a side belief of conservatives. A poorly thought out assumption based in ignorance and supported by fear. But one that they absolutely need in order to preserve the terror of the unknown future. . .something that is key to the whole paradigm."

Ah, yes...

Thornton's Guerilla_Blog: Either - Or & Other. . . .:
"Have we figured out yet that being in the 'majority' isnt usually a good thing? And that being 'radical' is rarely a bad thing?"


Thornton's Guerilla_Blog: Either - Or & Other. . . .:
"There is an assumption that if their is no 'free will' as it is thought of by most people, then everything must therefore be fate. And that is not factual.

One does not automatically imply the other."

Conservatism, fear, rational thought...

Thornton's Guerilla_Blog: Either - Or & Other. . . .:
"I think it is fairly obvious that ALL conservatism is based on fear, always. And fundamentalists in all forms, are extreme versions of this phenomenon.

...In the context of an Administration that out sources people to other Countries so they can tortured, such as Uzbekistan where they like to boil people alive, has just been caught wire tapping its own people, and too many other things to write at the moment. . . .what can you really say? These people not only belong out of public office, they belong behind bars.

It will take decades to sort out all the damage these War profiteers have done to our Nation. Sadly, their right wing familiars will distract their own voter base with meaningless issues, and superficial ploys to elicit emotional reactions, such as the "war on Christmas" and other such nonsense, and so it goes. And people consistently fall for it. In that sense, we get the government we deserve.

But here is the thing, the really silly ploys like 'wars on Christmas', will fall apart completely on their own. Witness Bill O'Reilly who went on the David Letterman show and when cornered by Letterman to produce some evidence of this nonsense trotted out one of three stories he offers. The one related to a school play.

The problem was of course that O'Reilly is completely dishonest. The play was actually a Christmas play, one that goes from church to church in that area. And Letterman, having Millions of times the viewers that O'Reilly has, allows O'Reilly to make his point for him.

For those willing to pay attention this is a daily affair, as these simplistic reactionaries make up the facts as they go. But it's only a matter of time before even the people who tend to fall for these slogans begin to realize they have been duped. And that the O'Reillys, Hannitys, and Limbaughs of the world consistently lie to them on a daily basis.

This shows an unbelievable amount of disdain for the intellect of their own fan base. As for now they simply take it for granted that their "folks" wont ever fact check. But that will change.

...The problem is attachment to a simplistic model of 'who' we are. This seems to exist in its strongest form when juxtaposed against 'an-other' that is not you. And if this image is threatened in anyway it always tends to turn violent.

This is a necessity because, like all forms of fundamentalism, it cannot be backed by rational thought.

And we will call this above stated problem, 'Loyalists'.

For their side it really doesn't seem to run any deeper then 'We are - (insert nation/race here) - and we will stay that way!' The simple minded evil of Nationalism."

Teach the Children

The answer to the question, btw, is "fuck no".

Thornton's Guerilla_Blog: Either - Or & Other. . . .:
"The question he asked was simply this:

'Do you think its ethical to teach children this mythology, under the guise of being factual?

Do you think its a healthy, and moral thing to do to teach children nonsense, like the idea that they will burn in eternal hellfire if they don't believe as you do?'

The principle was clearly taken back by the line of questioning. And that is what really caught my senses the most. . .he was not used to being asked questions like this. And that is because we as a society don't ask these questions of these types of people.

And the thing is this. . .they are damn good questions."

How fucking depressing.

PlanetSave - Babies Found Toxic While Still in the Womb!:
" the New York Times, by Florence Williams dated January 9, 2005 published the toxicity of breast milk found to contain “paint thinners, dry-cleaning fluids, wood preservatives, toilet deodorizers, cosmetic additives, gasoline byproducts, rocket fuel, termite poisons, fungicides and flame retardants”. Want to hear the worst part? These chemicals will remain in human tissue for decades long enough for these babies to pass the PCB’s and chemical onto their own children.

If that is not enough to rattle you take a look at Maggie Fox, Reuters article dated July 14, 2005. The article is based on a study made by testing the umbilical cords of 10 unborn babies. These results will surprise you. 'Of the 287 chemicals we detected in umbilical cord blood, we know that 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests,' the report said."

The New Quiet Desperation

Rossignol » I Woke Up Too Early:
"I’m more concerned by the way all this stuff (from the bright shiny geek theory to the starving refugee story) slides off the suburbs and backwaters of the developed world. I can’t help thinking the strongest aphorisms of the 21st century aren’t to be found in Sterling’s ‘nation borders are like speedbumps’ and ‘I’m living out of my laptop’, or any of the grim analysis about disease and prejudicial madness in the poorest regions. Instead I find myself catching the occasional observations made about a rather more mundane future faced by millions – the Ballardian future of local boredom and widespread repetition. It’s The New Quiet Desperation, these masses. They’re working in the offices and commuting home to a hillside development near Canterbury. It’s a small suburban home. Hermitic and yet engulfed. Fish out the mobile phone and order three types of vegetarian pizza (illusion of comparative health value judgement in junkfood) to eat while watching Lost, or Invasion or some other sophisticated entertainment. And these middling classes need to be distracted, so they’re all getting good at filter feeding: we’re bottom dwellers, down in the cultural silt – rapidly getting sensitive enough to root out the most nutritious, the most interesting sediment, the most worthwhile jetsam that floats down from the higher strata. And it doesn’t have to have a jot of intellectual bulk, we can live on spectacle alone. As long as the flow is steady." » Americans Like Torture, And Catholic Americans Fucking Love It

Catholics lead the way. » Americans Like Torture, And Catholic Americans Fucking Love It:
"A majority of Americans actually approve of the use of torture under some circumstances. What’s more, according to one survey, Catholics approve of its use by a wider margin than the general public.

...A survey by the Pew Research Center in October showed that 15 percent of Americans believe torture is “often” justified, and another 31 percent believe it is “sometimes” justified. Add to that another 17 percent who said it is “rarely” justified, and you have two out of three Americans justifying torture under certain circumstances. Only 32 percent said it is “never” justified, while another 5 percent didn’t know or refused to answer.

But the portion of Catholics who justify torture is even higher, according to the survey. Twenty-one percent of Catholics surveyed said it is “often” justified and 35 percent said it is “sometimes” justified. Another 16 percent said it is “rarely” justified, meaning that nearly three of four Catholics justify it under some circumstances. Four percent of Catholics “didn’t know” or refused to answer and only 26 percent said it is “never” justified, which is the official teaching of the church." » Sioux President To Establish Planned Parenthood Clinic On South Dakota Reservation Land

Nicely done. » Sioux President To Establish Planned Parenthood Clinic On South Dakota Reservation Land:
"The President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, Cecilia Fire Thunder, was incensed (by the signing into law of HB 1215, effectively banning all abortions in the state, and the comments of State Senators like Bill Napoli). A former nurse and healthcare giver she was very angry that a state body made up mostly of white males, would make such a stupid law against women.

“To me, it is now a question of sovereignty,” she said… “I will personally establish a Planned Parenthood clinic on my own land which is within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Reservation where the State of South Dakota has absolutely no jurisdiction.”"

Senient, immersive fiction. WARREN ELLIS' THE MINISTRY 5: Comics & Ideas:
"...for early Marvel, when there was a single writer, Stan Lee, guiding all the books. And he wanted you to read all the books. He didn't want Avengers fans or Spider-Man fans, after all. He had to make the entire line culturally sticky. Due to the nature of Marvel's distribution at the time, which was run through National Periodicals -- DC! -- Marvel could only release a limited number of books per month. So he needed Marvel fans, full stop, so that every book in the line paid off. He couldn't afford any slack. That was the brilliance of the man -- that he created, from scratch, the Marvel fan.

The above is, in part, what Grant Morrison's talking about when he starts declaiming about the DC Universe as a live thing. Since it grows and makes connections while under the command of forces almost totally invisible to the populations within the comics, it fulfills one of the conditions for life inside a creationist universe. This is one of the reasons why people think Grant is mad."

Worthless Airport Security

Schneier on Security: Airport Passenger Screening:
"It seems like every time someone tests airport security, airport security fails. In tests between November 2001 and February 2002, screeners missed 70 percent of knives, 30 percent of guns and 60 percent of (fake) bombs. And recently testers were able to smuggle bomb-making parts through airport security in 21 of 21 attempts. It makes you wonder why we're all putting our laptops in a separate bin and taking off our shoes.

...And, as has been pointed out again and again in essays on the ludicrousness of post-9/11 airport security, improvised weapons are a huge problem. A rock, a battery for a laptop, a belt, the extension handle off a wheeled suitcase, fishing line, the bare hands of someone who knows karate ... the list goes on and on.

...The terrorists' goals have nothing to do with airplanes; their goals are to cause terror. Blowing up an airplane is just a particular attack designed to achieve that goal. Airplanes deserve some additional security because they have catastrophic failure properties: If there's even a small explosion, everyone on the plane dies. But there's a diminishing return on investments in airplane security. If the terrorists switch targets from airplanes to shopping malls, we haven't really solved the problem.

What that means is that a basic cursory screening is good enough. If I were investing in security, I would fund significant research into computer-assisted screening equipment for both checked and carry-on bags, but wouldn't spend a lot of money on invasive screening procedures and secondary screening. I would much rather have well-trained security personnel wandering around the airport, both in and out of uniform, looking for suspicious actions.

When I travel in Europe, I never have to take my laptop out of its case or my shoes off my feet. Those governments have had far more experience with terrorism than the U.S. government, and they know when passenger screening has reached the point of diminishing returns. (They also implemented checked-baggage security measures decades before the United States did -- again recognizing the real threat.)"

I don't care how un-P.C. it is, this is a typical teenage boy's dream come true.

Leastways woulda been mine at 14.

Charges dropped in teacher sex scandal - Crime & Punishment -
"State prosecutors decided Tuesday to drop charges against a former Tampa teacher accused of having sex with a 14-year-old middle school student.

The decision means Debra Lafave won’t go to trial and the victim won’t have to testify.

Prosecutors announced the decision hours after a judge rejected a plea deal that would have meant no prison time for Lafave.

...Lafave, 25, will spend three years under house arrest and seven years on probation under the Hillsborough County sentence, where she was charged with having sex with the same boy in a classroom and her home. She pleaded guilty Nov. 22 to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery under a plea deal there."

I don't gift wrap.

The Dilbert Blog: Are Men Just Defective Women?:
"I’ve noticed that men generally believe they are “different” from women, whereas women generally believe men are “defective” women. You can see that perspective in the comments to my last post.

90% of the gender difference seems to be the male preference for compartmentalizing thoughts while women think everything is somehow connected. Here are some phrases you rarely hear from women:

“I didn’t wrap your present because you’d just throw away the wrapping anyway.”

“Let’s skip Valentine’s Day this year so we don’t miss CSI.”

“Your personality is grating, but I’d do you in a heartbeat.”

“Bob died? Huh. What’s for dinner?”"

"Do you want me to yell at you?"

Overheard in the Office: The Voice of the Cubicle - 4PM Monitor Calls:
"4PM Monitor Calls

CSR on phone: Excuse me, I'm not a woman I am a man and you are being very nasty...I'm not yelling at you; do you want me to yell at you?

1650 Broadway
New York, NY"

Terrorists! And Communists!

Overheard in the Office: The Voice of the Cubicle - 9AM Back to Work:
"9AM Back to Work

Engineer: I'm against Google Earth! The terrorists are using it! And the communists!

700 West Capitol Avenue
Little Rock, Arkansas"

"...the Constitution doesn't allow for arresting people for what they might potentially do."

WorkingForChange-Police state files:
"As the released documents make clear, that, and only that, was why they became targets: because they opposed the war in Iraq. An FBI document from 2002 notes that the center is 'a left-wing organization advocating, among many political causes, pacifism.' Pacifism! Egads! Aside from the fact that pacifism is a set of personal moral beliefs -- not a 'political cause' -- is pacifism, in our militarized 21st Century America, the new Red Scare? Seems so. Just ask the Quakers.

Or maybe, instead, pacifism is simply terrorism. Because the outfit investigating the Thomas Merton Center wasn't the Pentagon TALON program, which was the tool used to go after the Lake Worth (Florida) Quakers and hundreds (at least) of other domestic peace groups. It wasn't even an NSA monitoring program. The Merton Center caught the attention of the Pittsburgh version of a Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force, a program set up in dozens of cities across the U.S. to combine the efforts of the FBI and other federal, state, county, and local law enforcement agencies to combat the alleged threat of 'domestic terrorism.' With only so many domestic terrorists to go around, there's got to be something handy to keep all those task forces busy and their budget dollars flowing. Now, we have a better idea of what that 'something' might be: investigating ordinary, law-abiding citizens who oppose Bush administration policies. That's now considered terrorism. Of course, it's the far right that has engaged in 'domestic terrorism' in our recent history (remember Oklahoma City), but for some reason that's not who these task forces are concerned about.

Apparently, in nearly three years of probing, the terrorism most frequently engaged in by the Mertonites was the handing out of leaflets. A February 2003 FBI report titled 'International Terrorism Matters' detailed a schedule that the center posted on its web site of anti-war rallies in Pittsburgh, New York, and elsewhere.

...The second set of documents came from yet another source: the court-ordered release, as part of an ongoing lawsuit, of five internal NYPD memos detailing and analyzing -- mostly with gleeful satisfaction -- steps taken to disrupt and minimize New York City demonstrations in 2002, particularly the World Economic Forum protest that was the first, and virtually the last, major anti-summit demonstration after 9-11.

What the memos for the first time detail are police tactics that have been used widely across the U.S. against such demonstrations ever since law enforcement was embarrassed by the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle. Anyone who has been to these demonstrations knows the playbook: massive presence of police in riot gear, heavily armed mostly with chemical weapons and batons; tanks, visible police vans and buses, and a widespread use of undercover cops; corralling protesters into tightly controlled spaces with no access available for the public to enter or leave; a constant shifting of police lines, including provocative forays into the crowd; and the preemptive arrests of any protestors the police don't happen to like or find inconvenient, with the understanding that they'll be held until the summit or convention or whatever leaves town and then released, with charges (if any) later dropped or dismissed. One of the NYPD memos notes, for example, the arrest of about 30 masked demonstrators (doubtless black bloc anarchists) for the "crime" of being "obvious potential rioters."

The last I checked, the Constitution doesn't allow for arresting people for what they might potentially do. But that, along with the rest of these tactics, with minor variations, is pretty much what's happened at every major post-Seattle U.S. protest of the war or the international corporate regime, in New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Miami, and so on."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

American Theocracy

Crooks and Liars:
"Dobbs: Former Republican Party strategist Kevin Phillips joins us here tonight. His new book is called 'American Theocracy.' It is a provocative indictment of the administration's foreign and economic policy, and examines, among other things, how the religious right is driving this administration's policy. Kevin, it is going good to have you with us.

Phillips: Ah. 1969 is when it was published. It started before the election. But what's happened to the Republican coalition in the last 10 years especially is it's been moved more and more towards religious yardsticks. People who go to church. People who favor religion defining government. People who have just a whole set of concerns that go beyond economics.

One of the reasons I think we have kind of screwed up economic politician in some ways is that a lot of Americans have stopped worrying about the economy because they're waiting for the second coming.

Dobbs: And you mean this quite literally?

Phillips: I mean it quite literally."

Expats and Thailand

Fred On Everything:
"A lot of westerners marry in Thailand and live contented lives. Others have been that route and aren’t about to do it again. Others are just happier unattached. Do you want to eat in the same restaurant the rest of your life, they ask? You see the latter two groups in the bars.

The men who patronize these places are easily described as a bunch of drunks guzzling their pensions. Many call them pathetic, hopeless, shiftless, and contemptible. This misses much that is essential. Most I think are not drunks, though they drink. There are men and men. Each has a story to tell. Usually the expats have more stories than the respectable people back in the world. Some are veterans of Vietnam, some worked the oil rigs, or for the big international contractors. Others bailed out after a nasty divorce, or got sick of the tightening laws back home. The older among them often carry Viagra in their pockets. You can call this absurd. I’m not sure it is.

In judging them, if you regard yourself as competent to do so, it helps to ponder their stage of life. Young expats may have businesses or jobs, but many really are in Bangkok to die. They might not put it that way, but after sixty-five that’s the way to bet. You die young, or you get old and then die. Those are the available options. You have to do it somewhere. Bangkok is somewhere.

Their choice was to age in some boring suburb back home, perhaps with a wife who has grown boring through too-long exposure (though one never, ever says so); or to age in the bars in the company of lovely lasses with cameo skin and glossy black hair and a certain carnal availability, while drinking with their buddies and telling war stories. The decision for many is a no-brainer. Crump we do and crump we will. Might as well do it in a place you enjoy.

It is a mistake to think that such men necessarily lack intelligence, education, or culture. Dean certainly doesn’t. They have simply made another choice.

...Depending on your point of view, the expats are exploiting the girls, or the girls are exploiting the expats, or the gals are just providing a service, but it isn’t an unfriendly thing. Sometimes it is like the British pub. You have your favorite bars where you know the mama-san and the girls.

I’m not idealizing it... The girls age and have to move on, not always having anywhere to move on to. They have a kid, maybe were working in a fruit-juice stall and decided that they would make more in a bar. It is not always pretty, but then neither are lots of things. The hookers too are people, and they too have their stories...

It all comes down to the age-old bargain: Women exchange sex for whatever they want. Men exchange whatever they have for sex. Call it prostitution, or call it marriage, which is just prostitution with compulsory brand-loyalty. It’s how God made us, probably in a moment of ill humor. Some things just are."

America's Moral Superiority

America's Blinders:
"Now that most Americans no longer believe in the war, now that they no longer trust Bush and his Administration, now that the evidence of deception has become overwhelming (so overwhelming that even the major media, always late, have begun to register indignation), we might ask: How come so many people were so easily fooled?

...It seems to me there are two reasons, which go deep into our national culture, and which help explain the vulnerability of the press and of the citizenry to outrageous lies whose consequences bring death to tens of thousands of people...

One is in the dimension of time, that is, an absence of historical perspective. The other is in the dimension of space, that is, an inability to think outside the boundaries of nationalism. We are penned in by the arrogant idea that this country is the center of the universe, exceptionally virtuous, admirable, superior.

...But if we know some history, if we know how many times Presidents have made similar declarations to the country, and how they turned out to be lies, we will not be fooled.

We would remind whoever we can that President Polk lied to the nation about the reason for going to war with Mexico in 1846. It wasn’t that Mexico “shed American blood upon the American soil,” but that Polk, and the slave-owning aristocracy, coveted half of Mexico.

We would point out that President McKinley lied in 1898 about the reason for invading Cuba, saying we wanted to liberate the Cubans from Spanish control, but the truth is that we really wanted Spain out of Cuba so that the island could be open to United Fruit and other American corporations. He also lied about the reasons for our war in the Philippines, claiming we only wanted to “civilize” the Filipinos, while the real reason was to own a valuable piece of real estate in the far Pacific, even if we had to kill hundreds of thousands of Filipinos to accomplish that.

President Woodrow Wilson—so often characterized in our history books as an “idealist”—lied about the reasons for entering the First World War, saying it was a war to “make the world safe for democracy,” when it was really a war to make the world safe for the Western imperial powers.

Harry Truman lied when he said the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima because it was “a military target.”

Everyone lied about Vietnam—Kennedy about the extent of our involvement, Johnson about the Gulf of Tonkin, Nixon about the secret bombing of Cambodia, all of them claiming it was to keep South Vietnam free of communism, but really wanting to keep South Vietnam as an American outpost at the edge of the Asian continent.

Reagan lied about the invasion of Grenada, claiming falsely that it was a threat to the United States.

The elder Bush lied about the invasion of Panama, leading to the death of thousands of ordinary citizens in that country.

And he lied again about the reason for attacking Iraq in 1991—hardly to defend the integrity of Kuwait (can one imagine Bush heartstricken over Iraq’s taking of
Kuwait?), rather to assert U.S. power in the oil-rich Middle East.

Given the overwhelming record of lies told to justify wars, how could anyone listening to the younger Bush believe him as he laid out the reasons for invading Iraq? Would we not instinctively rebel against the sacrifice of lives for oil?

A careful reading of history might give us another safeguard against being deceived. It would make clear that there has always been, and is today, a profound conflict of interest between the government and the people of the United States. This thought startles most people, because it goes against everything we have been taught.

...Our culture demands, in its very language, that we accept a commonality of interest binding all of us to one another. We mustn’t talk about classes. Only Marxists do that, although James Madison, “Father of the Constitution,” said, thirty years before Marx was born that there was an inevitable conflict in society between those who had property and those who did not.

Our present leaders are not so candid. They bombard us with phrases like “national interest,” “national security,” and “national defense” as if all of these concepts applied equally to all of us, colored or white, rich or poor, as if General Motors and Halliburton have the same interests as the rest of us, as if George Bush has the same interest as the young man or woman he sends to war.

Surely, in the history of lies told to the population, this is the biggest lie. In the history of secrets, withheld from the American people, this is the biggest secret: that there are classes with different interests in this country. To ignore that—not to know that the history of our country is a history of slaveowner against slave, landlord against tenant, corporation against worker, rich against poor—is to render us helpless before all the lesser lies told to us by people in power.

...It becomes necessary then, if we are going to protect ourselves and our fellow citizens against policies that will be disastrous not only for other people but for Americans too, that we face some facts that disturb the idea of a uniquely virtuous nation.

These facts are embarrassing, but must be faced if we are to be honest. We must face our long history of ethnic cleansing, in which millions of Indians were driven off their land by means of massacres and forced evacuations. And our long history, still not behind us, of slavery, segregation, and racism. We must face our record of imperial conquest, in the Caribbean and in the Pacific, our shameful wars against small countries a tenth our size: Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq. And the lingering memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is not a history of which we can be proud.

Our leaders have taken it for granted, and planted that belief in the minds of many people, that we are entitled, because of our moral superiority, to dominate the world...

...What is the idea of our moral superiority based on? Surely not on our behavior toward people in other parts of the world. Is it based on how well people in the United States live? The World Health Organization in 2000 ranked countries in terms of overall health performance, and the United States was thirty-seventh on the list, though it spends more per capita for health care than any other nation. One of five children in this, the richest country in the world, is born in poverty. There are more than forty countries that have better records on infant mortality. Cuba does better. And there is a sure sign of sickness in society when we lead the world in the number of people in prison—more than two million."

“chaos always defeats order because it is better organized”

'V for Vendetta' by Butler Shaffer:
"Any kind of resistance to tyranny is bound to strike terror into the hearts of members of the established order. Thus were the American colonials and Mohandas Gandhi “terrorists” to the British; the Warsaw ghetto uprisings and the French underground movements “terrorist” actions to the German government; and the organized resistance of Algerians acts of “terrorism” to the French. Even today, the Iraqi resistance to the destruction and domination of their country is regarded as “terrorism” by the invading American state!

...“V” reminds us, early on, of the social application of Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In a political context, it is as childish to posit the violence engaged in by one group as “peacekeeping” and the opposing group as “terrorism,” as it is to regard one side as “good” and the other as “evil.” It is the interdependent violence inherent in all political systems that is made evident in this film.

There is one poignant scene in this movie in which thousands of unarmed, peaceful individuals confront the well-armed military forces of the state. This scene, more than any other, may provide insight into how society might evolve in a world in which vertically-structured institutions are collapsing. The transformations of thinking that are arising from the study of “chaos,” or “complexity,” are producing changes in social behavior that make state systems obsolete. The predictability the statists imagine inheres in their structured apparatuses has been rendered illusory. Terry Pratchett’s observation that “chaos always defeats order because it is better organized,” reflects a world in flux. Perhaps a film such a V for Vendetta will provide us an opportunity to begin exploring the orderly nature of anarchistic systems."

Greg Palast, GWB and Big Oil

"Get off it. All the carping, belly-aching and complaining about George Bush's incompetence in Iraq, from both the Left and now the Right, is just dead wrong.

...don't kid yourself -- Bush and his co-conspirator, Dick Cheney, accomplished exactly what they set out to do.

...And what did the USA want Iraq to do with Iraq's oil? The answer will surprise many of you: and it is uglier, more twisted, devilish and devious than anything imagined by the most conspiracy-addicted blogger. The answer can be found in a 323-page plan for Iraq's oil secretly drafted by the State Department. Our team got a hold of a copy; how, doesn't matter. The key thing is what's inside this thick Bush diktat: a directive to Iraqis to maintain a state oil company that will "enhance its relationship with OPEC."

Enhance its relationship with OPEC??? How strange: the government of the United States ordering Iraq to support the very OPEC oil cartel which is strangling our nation with outrageously high prices for crude.

Specifically, the system ordered up by the Bush cabal would keep a lid on Iraq's oil production -- limiting Iraq's oil pumping to the tight quota set by Saudi Arabia and the OPEC cartel.

There you have it. Yes, Bush went in for the oil -- not to get MORE of Iraq's oil, but to prevent Iraq producing TOO MUCH of it.

You must keep in mind who paid for George's ranch and Dick's bunker: Big Oil. And Big Oil -- and their buck-buddies, the Saudis -- don't make money from pumping more oil, but from pumping LESS of it. The lower the supply, the higher the price.

It's Economics 101. The oil industry is run by a cartel, OPEC, and what economists call an "oligopoly" -- a tiny handful of operators who make more money when there's less oil, not more of it. So, every time the "insurgents" blow up a pipeline in Basra, every time Mad Mahmoud in Tehran threatens to cut supply, the price of oil leaps. And Dick and George just LOVE it.

Dick and George didn't want more oil from Iraq, they wanted less. I know some of you, no matter what I write, insist that our President and his Veep are on the hunt for more crude so you can cheaply fill your family Hummer; that somehow, these two oil-patch babies are concerned that the price of gas in the USA is bumping up to $3 a gallon.

No so, gentle souls. Three bucks a gallon in the States (and a quid a litre in Britain) means colossal profits for Big Oil, and that makes Dick's ticker go pitty-pat with joy. The top oily-gopolists, the five largest oil companies, pulled in $113 billion in profit in 2005 -- compared to a piddly $34 billion in 2002 before Operation Iraqi Liberation. In other words, it's been a good war for Big Oil."

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November...

Rigorous Intuition: A Post-November 5th World:
"The first chapters of Alan Moore and David Lloyd's V for Vendetta were published in 1982. Today, Moore's introduction from the series' first DC Comics run invites thoughts of you think you've got it bad:

It's 1988 now. Margaret Thatcher is entering her third term of office and talking confidently of an unbroken Conservative leadership well into the next century. My youngest daughter is seven and the tabloid press are circulating the idea of concentration camps for persons with AIDS. The new riot police wear black visors, as do their horses, and their vans have rotating video cameras on top.

But Moore knew his dystopic vision had already undershot reality: 'Naivete can also be detected in my supposition that it would take something as melodramatic as a near-miss nuclear conflict to nudge England towards fascism.' And here's where the post-9/11 adaptation honours Moore's work by departing from it: the backstory of medical experimentation to which V had been subject is extended to a black ops bio-weapons attack on schools and public transit, leading to the deaths of 100,000 people. Foreign patsies are framed and executed, and the government rewarded with limitless authority in exchange for the promise of security."

Ah, that healing power of religion...

... and you can follow the link to find out why Catholics eat fish on Fridays... unsurprisingly, it has to do with $$...

d r i f t g l a s s: Save your soul:
"...this is filed under: “Why Catholicism cracks me up.”

OK, first appalls, and then amuses.

The Catholic faith has always struck me as, well, ridiculous.

Completely arbitrary. A Semitic faith, 100% inverted away from its original intent. “Repurposed” for a pagan audience, its basic O/S rewritten to make marketing it to its enemies easier, and then screwed on top of the hardware of the Roman Empire for reasons that were almost entirely about political expedience.

The particulars of Christ’s “divinity” and that of his family, and which books -- each contradicting the other about the basic Jebus facts, history and tenets -- written long after his death would constitute the Owner’s Manual of the Faithful...dogmatized by the show of hands of politicians and bureaucrats centuries after He died.

And we shall skip lightly over the whole 1,700 years of persecution, paranoia, forced conversion, Inquisition, corruption, warfare, looting, assassination, the Pope’s Ghettos and the breeding of anti-Semitism into bones of Western Civilization where it is still harvested like winter wheat whenever somebody needs a scapegoat.

And we shall elide gracefully past the whole notion of creepy, celibate men in dresses and funny hats telling human beings how to live, premised on the perverse notion that our most humane impulses are all screwy and we burn in Hell for ever and ever if we ever dared to lay the burdens of their bigotries down and live and love each other freely.

A Church that shelters child molesters while literally beating into its children the mantra that the Holy Writ of the Church are the inviolate Laws of God, and transgression against even the most trivial of them will be a cause for eternal suffering.

Except, of course, when they don’t."

I'm really kind of a geek. Yes.

During our visit to Nagasaki with Bachan, my Geek-Sense [TM] was firing on all cylinders. My Geek-Laser-Vision [Patent Pending] picked out these two fine examples of geekitude. A flyer of a color blind and badly attired Superman posted on a community announcement board... A more rational mind would intuit it's some kind of fire safety posting. I prefer to think of it as an announcement for the annual OKAMA fireman's ball, featuring a surprise guest appearance by the Superman from Earth-Gay [soon to be added to the multiverse pending the outcome of Infinite Crisis].

And the Angelus street sign makes the geek checklist as Angel's [of Buffy/Angel/Joss Whedon fame] real name is Angelus.

I now both hang my head in shame and fly my geek flag proudly. I am a paradox wrapped in an enigma encased by a puzzle.

Sandy's Taiwan Trip

About a week and a half ago Sandy did a 3 1/2 day trip to Taiwan to meet up with a friend of hers who was visiting...

Taiwan survived.

[But it was close.]

Sandy's Birthday

Things were relatively calm for Sandy's birthday. We spent the previous night out with Kathy for her birthday, so we'd done the traditional celebratory shenanigans already.

Presents had been purchased well in advance, so for her birthday actual, I picked up some posies, we went out to eat dinner and then stopped by the patisserie for an assortment of cakey goodness.

Kathy's Birthday

Kathy, fellow Fukutsu JET and all around good soul, celebrated her birthday on March 16th. An assortment of JETs and related folk gathered at Enak Bagus for tasty food and nourishing alcoholic beverages, including the mainstay of twentysomething birthdays - forced shots.

Following that we enacted that classic of Japanese afterparty activities - karaoke until early morn.

Well done, one and all.