Saturday, January 06, 2007

"The Great Afterlife Debate" - Michael Shermer and Deepak Chopra

Fascinating, if lengthy, debate on evidence for the existence of life after death. It's couched in a "science V religion" or a "science V magic" paradigm, but that's a faulty presupposition, imo. Chopra uses scientific studies as evidence as much as Shermer.

What I found revealing was how it showed how science can be as susceptible to bias as religion is. Science can become it's own religion of 'scientific materialism'.

It's all reality tunnels, and what you are, or aren't, willing to let into yours...

The essays are long, but well worth reading, at the link...

Skeptic: Reading Room: Debates: The Great Afterlife: Michael Shermer v. Deepak Chopra
The following debate between Deepak Chopra and Michael Shermer came about after the widely read and referenced debate the two had last year on the virtues and value of skepticism. Deepak has a new book out on the subject, Life After Death: The Burden of Proof and Michael has written extensively about claims of evidence for the afterlife, so the two of them thought it would be stimulating to have a debate on the topic. Michael read Deepak’s book and goes first in the debate, offering his assessment of the “proofs” presented in Deepak’s book, then Deepak responds...

"Humans and human relationships are much more complex than any media can portray (although some of us do try)."

Great essay... should be read in full at the link.
Wired News: Where I Come From
Yet I also understand where people are coming from when they're freaked out by how other people express their sexuality. I don't agree with homophobia, with narrow definitions of love, with declaring that it is OK for some people and not for others, with abstinence or with defining "right ways" and "wrong ways" to have sex. But I know if you grow up in a family that doesn't talk about sex at all, or that teaches you to be disgusted by other people's sexual choices or passes along bias, it can be a long road to realizing that your prejudices are wrong.

I still believe the internet will help us create a more tolerant society, and provide time for people to explore and bring their new understandings into the rest of their lives. It does not surprise me that we leap into virtual worlds to explore what we aren't encouraged to do elsewhere. Sex is a force that can't be held back for long.

Yeah, my Jr High kids love this movie/manga/anime series...

The article makes it sound so cool I want to join in with my students.

Boing Boing: Deathnote, cheerfully immoral Japanese comics serial
Deathnote is a long-running Japanese suspense comic about a bored demon who gives a gifted teenager control over a Death Note, a notebook that kills anyone whose name is inscribed on its pages. There are many rules governing the Death Note -- the owner has to picture the face of his victim when he writes the name -- and an imaginative Death Note owner can even specify the way that his victims die, in lavish detail.

...The pacing is very tight, with surprising twists and turns. Light is a great, cheerfully amoral killer, a teenaged megalomaniac who delights in using his prodigious smarts to test the limits of the Death Note, approaching it like a Royal Society natural philosopher devising a series of tests to determine its parameters, to the delight of his demon companion.

The total absence of any disapprobation for Light's deeds is what sets this apart from American vigilante comics. In those books, there's always someone there to wag a finger at the crimefighter, even if it's just the crimefighter's own tortured

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Scribbler by Daniel Schaffer

Read a brilliant graphic novel called The Scribbler by Daniel Schaffer recently. It's about a girl who uses an experimental device that burns through her alters/personalities in her dissociative identity disorder [formerly known as multiple personality disorder.] Great book, and interviews with the author were fascinating.

Interview with Dan Schaffer (Dogwitch, Indigo Vertigo) - The Comics Review Forums
...Being allowed to be creative to your fullest potential is the most important thing in the world for me. Being trapped in offices, following other people’s routines and rules is, it makes my brain sweat like a caged tiger. It’s not that my body wants to get out and run around, but my mind does. Chaining my head down to solving someone else’s problems is slow death. I did that for long enough to appreciate where I am now.

Broken Frontier | The Portal for Quality Comics Coverage!
I'm an individualist, I suppose. I see a lot of interesting and imaginative people being reduced to a series of ticks and crosses in their everyday working lives by uninteresting and unimaginative people. Corporate drones with a hive mind mentality. There are probably lots of benefits to having a business running like a well-oiled machine, but the side-effect of that is the destruction of individuality. And that slowly becomes the criminalization of individuality. Individual technique isn't allowed to develop anywhere because everyone has to do the job the same way to get the right amount of ticks in the right boxes. SCHAFFER: A SCRIBBLER AT IMAGE
Modern society denies most of us the right to develop identity and original character traits in our everyday working lives because now everyone has to do the job the same way to get the right amount of ticks in the right boxes. Personality traits, identity markers, style, ability, it's all pigeon-holed and scrutinized and usually frowned upon unless it fits a pattern some guy you never met made up for you. THE SCRIBBLER came from the question, if someone invented a machine that could make us act just like everybody else, how would we react to it? The optimistic answer is that our individuality would rise to the challenge and fight back - it would tweak the machine for its own ends and use it against its creators.

...The story of THE SCRIBBLER isn’t about the mental disorders; it’s about he creation of archetypes, and the human tendency to view things in black and white. It challenges the acceptance of “good” and “evil” as accepted universal truths. If you’re going to suggest that there is no such thing as “good” and “evil” then you really have to offer up some kind of alternative. So my alternative here is psychological and neuropsychological understanding. A scope that’s at least as big as your mind, obviously, and probably as big as the universe! It’s an area where you have to take time to figure out the difference between sociopathic disorders and dysfunctional behaviour. You can’t just point and say, “That’s the bad guy!” It’s about remembering the details. One line of dialogue in the book reads, “They say madness is culturally relative” and the book tries to stay close to that observation. It denies any black and white answer to its questions and aims straight for the grey areas.

...because understanding psychology may possibly be the only sensible way forward for the human race. I’m not talking therapy or padded cells or self help groups, I’m talking about neuropsychology, angles of perception, cognitive behavioural patterns, synaptic biology. That stuff. I’m sure that’s where the truth is hiding, just under the surface. We’re so quick to point blame or demonise people, whether it’s Marilyn Manson’s fault, or Brett Easton Ellis’s, or whoever, but the real reasons are more complicated. In fact, they're insanely complicated. I’m looking for genuine understanding of human nature.

Damn Libruls!

Damn Liberals Cost Us The War!
...The hate mail, I tell him, goes something like this: Yes, we have probably lost the war, you freak hippie commie punk. But do you know why we lost? You know why the terrorists hate us even more? I'll tell you why: Because of the goddamn liberal media! Because of the liberal agenda, the one that wouldn't give Bush a chance to really unleash the dogs of war, to quash our evil Islamic enemies, to really make America into a strong and ruthless machine of brutal moral justice.

We lost the war (my hate mail sneers), in short, because of people like you (that is, me), who so obviously hate America and hate our president and won't allow our fine and manly military to take whatever actions necessary to bring terrorism down because of some stupid ethics rules and anti-torture laws and hippie-dippy Geneva Conventions and silly pagan notions about saving innocent lives and examining true causes. Goddamn you liberals!

Something was wrong. There was a decided lack of laughter and incredulity on the part of my tablemate. There was no knowing nod, no chuckle, no shake of the head at the absurdity and intellectual despair of it all. I had the distinct feeling, in fact, that nearly everything I had just said came out in Greek and I'd just hurled a whole pile of words at a large and uncomprehending sweater.

Perhaps, I think to myself, he did not understand the humor? The rich and sickening irony? I decide to reiterate: Isn't that hilarious? Isn't it amazing how, despite nearly six full years of unchecked Republican power, despite a brutal and scandal-ridden rule over both houses of Congress, despite a stunning gutting of the treasury and a war that is costing us $100,000 per second, despite a lapdog media that was terrified as a Chihuahua in a hurricane of Karl Rove's appalling disinformation machine -- a supposedly liberal media that, for more than five years, didn't dare question anything about Dubya's rush to war for fear of upsetting the wailing evangelical neocon "majority" that ruled the schoolyard with a bloody iron Bible, is it not amazing that the GOP's historic national disgrace is, of course, all the liberal's fault?

Nothing. No response. Just a narrowing of the eyes, a slight shift in the seat. And finally the words that sound like fingernails on the chalkboard of truth: "You know what bothers me?" he said. "The feeling I get that I'm never really told the truth about Iraq and all the good things that are happening there."

Wait wait wait. What?...

Apocalyptically Stupid Governmental Regs

The very definition of a nanny-state.

BBC NEWS | UK | England | Tyne | Tidy tape exercise 'is madness'
Black tape has been put on civil servants' desks to show them where to put their pens.

The pilot exercise at National Insurance offices in Longbenton, North Tyneside, is part of a UK-drive to encourage staff to tidy their desks.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union claimed the scheme was costing £7.4m nationally......

..."The scheme is demoralising and demeaning. Staff know how to order their desks themselves.

"We had a situation in some offices in Scotland where staff were asked 'Is that banana on your desk active or inactive?', meaning were they going to eat it?

"If not, it had to be cleared away."

Ah, Texans... [Hi Spence!]

4PM Call Me When the Atmosphere Ignites

Coworker #1: It's too hot for this time of year. It should not be 80 in November.

Coworker #2: Yeah, I know. It's almost enough to make you believe in that global warming myth.

Downtown Fort Worth, Texas

via Overheard in the Office, Jan 5, 2007

Most Awesomest Catch Ever.

C'mon, how cool is this?

Passers-by catch tumbling toddler -

Two passers-by rescued a toddler who fell four stories, scrambling to catch him as he tumbled from a fire escape, police said...

...Hearing people in the building scream for help as the boy's grip weakened, the men rushed over to position themselves under the fireescape to catch him.

"No one came," Nevarez said. "We knew it was up to us."

The boy tumbled and hit Nevarez in the chest so hard he knocked him off balance, but he bounced into Gonzalez' arms.

Timothy was treated at the hospital for a cut on his forehead.

The kid HIT him in the chest and BOUNCED off, then his buddy provided the assist! You can't write a better story than that.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


But It's Thomas Jefferson's Koran! -

Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, found himself under attack last month when he announced he'd take his oath of office on the Koran -- especially from Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode, who called it a threat to American values.

Yet the holy book at tomorrow's ceremony has an unassailably all-American provenance. We've learned that the new congressman -- in a savvy bit of political symbolism -- will hold the personal copy once owned by Thomas Jefferson.

New Year's with [parts of] the Adachi clan - Imori Jinja

The day after we headed over to Imori jinja, near grandma's house, for the full on, "big" shrine experience, what with all the food stalls and what-not. Made more New Year's wishes and people watched. Well, I did anyways...

Kiko wanted to win a much bigger prize... her fake crying is sooooo sad.

...and this, btw, is Uncle Takeshi's new DVD player. Shusaku won it in a contest. How geektastic is that?

Couple pics that weren't posted on the blog are at this link here.

New Year's with the Adachi clan - Odo Jinja

After eating we headed over to Odo jinja to pay respects and make New Year's wishes, but check out Uncle Takeshi rockin' the traditional Japanese clothes with the ghetto fab Burberry scarf.

Toss a coin in... ring the bell... bow twice... clap twice... make a prayer request... bow... do the hokey-pokey... and you're done!

Okay, I made up the the hokey-pokey part.

Best pic of the day. And believe me, catching everybody acting up, and still getting a great photo... that takes talent. Who was the wonderful photographer of this photo, I wonder?

New Year's with the Adachi clan - Eating

New Year's Day, and the couple days after, are the big, family style holidays here in Japan. So the family gets together for much food, drink, merriment and the like. Here we all are, minus photog Sandy, pre-gettin' our grub on.

Boy, I don't stand out at all, huh?

The Adachi clan in eating mode. Notice that focus! That intensity!

Watch your fingers... you could lose some.

Lamest. New Year's Eve. Ever.

Lame as in - "lame 1 Pronunciation (lm) 1. Disabled so that movement, especially walking, is difficult or impossible."

Somehow, while sleeping [how very, very sad] I managed to twist my mid/upper back so that it hurts quite a bit. Did you realize the muscles of the neck are intricately tied into the muscles of the upper back? I do. Now, that is. When turning your head = OWWW, you're in for a quiet night indeed.

Anyways, since Japan doesn't have a readily accessible medical style heating pad at the convenience store, Sandy actually picked up a heating element for carpets, which I am Macguyer-ishly using here as a heating pad.

Of course, this being Japan, it wasn't all bad, as New Year's Eve is fight night, with K-1 on live, free TV. My kinda country.

And the pain was ameliorated by Sandy's tasty Mac N' Cheese...

Her oddly shaped, yet delectable, biscuits...

And her apple crisp, who's leftovers were so enjoyed by the Adachi clan the next day, Kiko wants the recipe.

My contribution was my deviled eggs, one of only two dishes I can regularly make with any degree of success.

The other? My kick ass guacamole, thanks for asking.

First snow of the year...

Didn't stick and didn't stay... but still, I curse the gods.

Winter, you are my sworn enemy.

Greatest. Snack. Food. Ever.

Wasabi flavored macadamia nuts.

Surprisingly, not a product of Japan.

Imported from Australia, those crafty Aussie bastards.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ah, minimum wage jobs...

12PM It's a Temporary Chemical Imbalance

Manager: Why are your eyes so red?
Waiter: I'm just really tired. Also, when I don't get a lot of sleep, sometimes I smell like pot.

Haynes Bridge Road
Alpharetta, Georgia

via Overheard in the Office, Jan 2, 2007

Rushkoff on the purpose of [most] media. And a bit of post-post revelatory.

Rushkoff Interview:

"I'm concerned that we are being fed messages. People should know is most media is designed to make you feel bad, so that you regress to a childlike state and transfer parental authority onto the sponsor. You are more vulnerable to messages when you feel really bad or when you feel artificially high (like at a Promisekeepers or Amway rally). The main message of the mainstream media is: The world is dangerous and mean; you are not worthy. You are alone. Nobody loves you and nobody will, unless you do what we tell you."
You know what's weird, is that as I just re-read this, I didn't realize at first that that "main message of the mainstream media" is the exact same message I learned growing up in church. Same message, different message delivery system. Not entirely dissimilar, when you think about it. Well... at least "the media" learned from the best and most experienced mindfuckers around. Twenty centuries and counting! Go Catholics!

"If we want to change things, we’ve got to look at the underlying structures and learn how to alter them. " - Douglas Rushkoff

Interview excerpt with Douglas Rushkoff, via the PopOcculture Blog:
I’ve read that you don’t believe in God, but have you had any transformative personal spiritual experiences which you might be able to share with us? Where did these experiences come from? Where did they bring you?

Rushkoff - I have them all the time. I mean, there were certainly biggies. Times when I felt there was *meaning*, or at least a connection between everything. But I never really felt the need to personify it. There were times I believed in something I called God - enough to drop a girlfriend because she said she could never believe in such a thing. I thought that was such a dry way of moving through existence.

But now that I don’t believe in a character God, I feel I’m much more open to less predetermined manifestations of order and connection. I can see beauty, deep beauty, in kind acts, coordinated efforts, self-sacrifice, even dogs playing.

As for my own super transformative experiences, well, I suppose I had very typical ones. The psychedelic experience. Poets and writers like Wordsworth, James Joyce, Milton. A few experiences of nature. Sex. Yoga. Doing a particular talk in Croatia.

I’ve come to regard the more dramatic experiences of spiritual awakening with a great deal of suspicion, however. The more dramatic the experience, the more likely it is or will soon be a manifestation of ego. I’ve taken the opposite tack: looking for the sublime in the small. Feeling a sense of connection in the littlest things...

...You’ve said that reality is “up for grabs” and elsewhere that “our realities are designed and can be redesigned.” But might it be that this relentless search for slicker designs, improved systems and updated source-codes is what makes our current situation so complex, tenuous and sometimes cut off from “real life” in the first place? What I am asking I guess is this: who knows more about a building – the person who designed it or the people who live and work there every day?

Rushkoff - Well, I don’t know that there should be such a disconnection between the designers and the people who use things. That’s really my whole point. It’s one thing not to know how your car works, since driving it is not necessarily connected to your intention (of getting somewhere). But media is different. Unless you understand the underlying biases of the media you’re using, you’re not really using the media - it’s using you.

I’m not arguing for updated designs and source codes. I’m arguing that people need to understand that THE REALITY WE ARE LIVING IN DIDN’T JUST TURN OUT THIS WAY. There were real people with real intentions who designed our cities, our education system, our religions, and our money.

Our schools were designed, intentionally, to create docile workers. That’s what Carnegie and Rockefeller were paying for. Our money - centralized currency - was designed to increase the power of the central authorities at the expense of the periphery. It was designed to make it hard for individuals to create value for themselves and one another.

I’m not talking about slick cell phones, here. That’s just nonsense. I’m pushing people - as a very first baby step towards regaining a bit of agency - to consider whether everything around them really is a pre-existing condition ordained by God, or whether people planned things to be this way. I want people to stop assuming everything around them is fixed, and start realizing that there were many decisions made. That much more of our world is software than hardware. That it can be learned, that it’s underlying codes can be changed.

It’s not about the codes in your cell phone or your pager. It’s about the underlying codes that determine how a neighborhood is valued. The ones that lead to black kids getting shot by cops for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The ones that lead to Darfur. The starvation and murder there is not just “the way things are.” It’s the way we *made* them.

If we want to change things, we’ve got to look at the underlying structures and learn how to alter them. This doesn’t take you away from real life at all. It releases you from the artificial barriers to getting involved in the real work of making the world a less cruel place.