17 September, 2009

1337arts

This is so cool! A trio of MIT students built and launched a camera equipped helium balloon that ended up rising over 17 miles into the outer atmosphere. The camera was loaded with software that directed it to take pictures at five-second intervals and recorded the near 4 hour ascent and approximately 40 minute descent (after the balloon popped at about 93,000 ft.).

Read the story and see the time-lapse photo show at: 1337arts

Posted using ShareThis

21 July, 2009

TED

Technology. Entertainment. Design. Those are the words/concepts that comprise the acronym TED. From philosophers to activists, from actors to politicians, from Nobel laureates to great chefs, TED conferences bring together and present some of the world's most amazing people. TEDGlobal 2009 is currently underway in Britain and some of the talks should be online within the next few days (including what's sure to be an amusing/informative one by Stephen Fry), but you can always find something interesting or entertaining in the TED archives of past conferences. Case in point: the video embedded below of a charming humorous anecdote related at TED 2008 by the incomparable John Hodgman.

10 July, 2009

Math Humor

Found on the 'net. Will be humorous to anyone with a mathematical bent, but they made me think specifically of a certain math geek I know...

From XKCD (an awesome webcomic):



And another I found on Atheist Nexus:

12 June, 2009

Must See TV

This aired back in March, but I had forgotten all about it until I found it again at The Dreaming. Two of my very favorite people, Neil Gaiman and Stephen Colbert discuss Neil's Newberry Award-winning The Graveyard Book. Gaiman is infected with the same sort of dark humor as Colbert and it makes for quite the amusing interview:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Neil Gaiman
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorStephen Colbert in Iraq


About The Graveyard Book I can't say enough good things. I bought it the week it was released, read it in a couple of days and it's one of the best things Mr. Gaiman has written (and that's saying something). Although intended for children (ages 9-12), the book has deep meanings and morals that are just as applicable for adults. This is the sort of book that parents should read aloud to their kids because both will profit as a result.

Speaking of reading aloud, the audiobook version (read by Gaiman) also won two Audie awards, including book of the year. I bought that too and look forward to listening to it on the way to the beach next week. But you don't have to purchase the audiobook to experience this; you can watch & hear Neil read the book in its entirety at Mouse Circus.

25 May, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

For citizens of the United States of America, today is the day we set aside specifically to remember the men and women who have throughout our history fought and died to earn and preserve the freedoms we enjoy today. May their courage and bravery never be forgotten and may all of us strive to be worthy of the heavy price with which our liberty has been purchased.


Graphic is by Cox and Forkum

22 May, 2009

Tim Burton's "9"

If you're a Tim Burton fan, as I am, you'll probably be as excited as I to see this trailer of his newest film, a computer-animated movie titled simply "9", slated for release on September 9th (09.09.2009, as it happens). It is a feature-length adaptation of a 2005 academy-award-nominated short film, of the same title, by student director Shane Acker. It tells the story of 9, a sentient rag doll in a post-apocalyptic, post-human world struggling to survive and "protect the future" (in the words of the trailer). The animation looks superb and the story one to which Burton could certainly do justice. I'm certainly looking forward to it!

19 May, 2009

VIP/Loyalty Card Overload?

I've got perhaps a dozen or so of those loyalty program or membership cards that retail establishments give out. Harris Teeter, Food Lion, Office Depot, Best Buy, Jos. A. Banks, Brooks Brothers, Dick's Sporting Goods....the list goes on. And if I want the discounts or perks that go along with those programs, I need to present the cards whenever I make a purchase. That means, of course, that I've got to either carry them all with me OR remember to put the relevant card in my wallet before leaving. The first option leaves me with either a bulging wallet or an overloaded keyring and the second often leaves me without the discount (as I'll likely forget to take along the card). ARGH! What to do?

Lifehacker to the rescue! KeyRingThing provides a free web-based service whereby you can enter up to six of your membership/barcode numbers and it will allow you to download and print out ONE card with all of them on it. You can use that card just as it is, take it to your local Kinko's and have it laminated or for about $3, KeyRingThing will mail you a higher quality plastic credit-card-sized version. You could conceivably reduce 12 loyalty cards to 2 thus saving a great deal of wallet space (no version for keyrings, but you would ostensibly be removing 12 from your keyring and saving space there).

The website also provides a means of downloading the generated barcode for each program as an image to a cell or smartphone. That means that you should be able to simply use the image on your phone screen as you would the card so you wouldn't have to carry the card at all!

I think that's an even better option. I always carry my cellphone, so I would always have my loyalty/membership info with me. In fact, someone else thought of this as well:

CardStar (via Crave) is an application for the iPhone that allows you to enter the membership/barcode numbers of all of your cards and it will generate bar code images that can then be used in place of the cards. You can select from dozens of pre-loaded merchants and the company logo will appear as part of the display. If your merchant/company doesn't appear it's not a problem; you can simply enter the name and store the data under that. The app also provides a means of "fine-tuning" the displayed barcode image to ensure that the code displayed matches the one on the original card (as there are several different encoding methods actually in use). Normally the app sells for $0.99, but right now it's free at the iTunes store, so hurry out and download it if you're an iPhone user. Unfortunately, there currently isn't a version for Blackberry or any other smartphone, but the company is working on one so keep checking their website if you're interested.

I've downloaded this app and have entered several of my card numbers in it, but haven't yet had a chance to test it out so I've no idea how readable the image is to barcode scanners. It looks pretty clear to me on my screen, but those scanners can often seem pretty particular as to their requirements. I'll try to remember to post a follow-up after I've tried it out.

14 May, 2009

God On Trial



The embedded video above is the first of nine parts of a BBC-produced movie titled "God On Trial". Released in 2008, the film tells the story of a group of Auschwitz inmates who decide to put God on trial for breach of the covenant he made with his "chosen" people.

The film is a fascinating and moving exploration of various familiar themes in the philosophy of religion: the problem of evil, theodicy, divine hiddenness, and the Euthyphro dilemma (among others), but in the context of a real-life drama rather than in dry academic papers.

The film opens with the prisoners being divided into two groups (left & right), one of which will be taken to the gas chamber on the following day. This is being done in order to make room for new arrivals (who, as it happens, arrive earlier than planned and thus become part of the drama as it unfolds). The action of the film takes place during the night while the prisoners wait sleeplessly to learn their fate in the morning.

The film's most powerful sequence comes toward the end when a learned rabbi, who has been praised by another prisoner as a living saint due to his knowledge of Torah and Law (he is said to have memorized all of the scripture) delivers a powerful speech in which he concludes that "God is not good".

The film is a moving indictment of the rather naive view of God held by a great many modern people. As the philosopher Wes Morriston recounts, the writer very nearly lost his faith during the research and writing of the script. For myself, the contextual perspective on philosophical issues with which I am more than passingly familiar provided me with fresh insight; a more personalized way of seeing some of these problems. More importantly, however, the arguments employed by the inmates who serve as God's "defenders" show a more nuanced and balanced view than that generally employed by religious (read "Christian") apologists. Indeed, this "inside look" at the Jewish apologetic approach reveals a more humanistic, deeply conflicted view than the "false bravado" one generally sees from the neo-Calvinists so ubiquitous on the internet. They realize the deep inconsistencies in their faith, yet still they persist. Indeed, when some of the men are being led off to the gas chambers, one of those who had been most virulent in his condemnation of God, and who before learning his fate spoke bravely of the ultimate meaninglessness of life, asks another, "what do we do now?". The second man replies, "we pray". And in the face of death, the defenders and accusers alike are united in prayer; not because they believe they will be saved (for they have, after all, found God guilty of breaking the covenant), but because they realize that for them, their identity as Jews is one of the things that gives their lives meaning. There is a great truth to be found here, beyond prayer, beyond the question of God's existence or his character: that there is meaning to be found in life regardless.

Understandably, this is not an "action-packed" film. The drama proceeds through character exposition and development accomplished through dialogue and speeches. But beyond the philosophical wisdom, there is a good film filled with great writing and wonderful performances (the great Stellan Skarsgård among them). I don't know how long it will be up on YouTube, so watch now or order a copy from Amazon. This is a "don't miss" for lovers of Philosophy AND cinema.

07 May, 2009

Mmmm...business cards...om nom nom?

"Wow, it was great talking to you, but I'd like to consider your offer carefully. May I call you later?"

"Sure, here's my card."

"But...but...that's a piece of beef jerky!"

"No, it's business card made by laser-engraving my contact info into a piece of beef jerky."

"Oh...I see what you did there!"


We start with 100% beef jerky, and SEAR your contact information into it with a 150 WATT CO2 LASER.

Screw die-cutting. Forget about foil, popups, or UV spot lamination. THESE business cards have two ingredients: MEAT AND LASERS.
'Cause that's just what this world needs more of...meat and lasers...

via Uncrate

Weapons of Music Distortion

Who knew that iTunes was so versatile?

via FailBlog

01 May, 2009

The Amazing Dr. Howser?

I've always enjoyed watching close-up and card magic tricks. I've found a couple of interesting sites on the web, but videos (either on YouTube or elsewhere) remain a good resource for tips and tricks by both professional and amateur magicians. It's always interesting to watch someone perform a trick and then try to figure out how they might have done it.

To wit, witness the video below of Neil Patrick Harris (who's apparently an accomplished amateur) on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon:



It seems to me that Harris must be employing a card force, but exactly how does he do it? He fans the deck beforehand so he doesn't have a deck comprised of Aces. Is he taking from the bottom or top to give to Fallon? It's not obvious, but I don't see any other possibility.

This, to me, is the real fun in watching magic: driving yourself nuts trying to figure out how it's done!

30 April, 2009

Mmmm......bacon?


What is it with bacon?

I mean, I seem to be seeing bacon-flavored this and bacon-flavored that all over the place lately. From bacon-flavored salt and mayo, to chocolate, to jellybeans, and now...

Vodka

Yes, bacon-flavored vodka, incredible as that may seem. Here's the description from the website:
Bakon Vodka is a superior quality potato vodka with a savory bacon flavor. It’s clean, crisp, and delicious. This is the only vodka you’ll ever want to use to make a Bloody Mary, and it's a complementary element of both sweet and savory drinks.
They have a section with recipes that includes that Bloody Mary (that doesn't sound too bad) as well as a couple of other drinks and a bacon-vodka marinade for steak (which actually sounds pretty tasty).

I imagine most of us are familiar with citrus and other fruit-infused vodkas as well as some other flavors (like vanilla, or sweet tea), but bacon just strikes me as an odd pairing for vodka (interesting recipes notwithstanding). I mean, look at this other little marketing tidbit from the website:
No tinge or burn on the tongue, no obnoxious smoky or chemical flavors, just a clean refreshing potato vodka with delicious savory bacon flavor.

Pure. Refreshing. Bacon.

Refreshing? Bacon? While bacon may be many things (mmmmmm), I don't usually think of "refreshing" as an adjective that applies to the cured and crispy-fried belly meat and fat of a dead animal...

I love crispy-fried bacon with breakfast (occasionally...got to watch the fat!), I enjoy bacony Bac-Os on salads (they make very bite better!), I've tried the bacon-flavored chocolate (not bad) and I think the bacon salt and mayo are probably pretty good too. But I'm going to draw the line at bacon-flavored vodka.

Bicycling

As I believe just about everyone who knows me is aware, one of the few outdoor activities I enjoy is bicycling. My wife and I both own Trek 4300 Mountain Hardtail bikes and we get to ride just about every weekend. Additionally, as I work from home I will often take my bike to a nearby trail on my lunch hour. Great break from the work day as well as a good way to exercise. Occasionally I'll take pictures with my camera phone to upload...it's just such a beautiful ride (see example above).

This is a portion of Greensboro's NW Greenway, a popular spot for walkers, runners, bikers, etc. It runs roughly from the intersection of Strawberry Rd. and 220N to Guilford Courthouse National Military Park (ca. 6-7 miles).

I've only been biking for a little over a year and I'm still not 100% comfortable in the saddle. I probably use my brakes more than necessary and I've only recently begun to feel comfortable removing one or both hands from the grips while riding. So, contrast my inexperience with the incredible display in the following video:



I'd break my freakin' neck if I ever tried any of that stuff, but boy does it look like fun!

23 April, 2009

The coming storm...

By now, most of us have probably seen the deceitful anti-gay marriage video created by NOM, the National Organization for Marriage (how an organization that actually opposes marriage has the balls to style itself "for" marriage is beyond me). If not, here it is:



Pretty stupid, no? Well given such excellent material to work with, there have been parodies popping up all over the 'net. One of the very best I've seen so far is the one Stephen Colbert put together:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Colbert Coalition's Anti-Gay Marriage Ad
colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorGay Marriage Commercial


Hilarious. And I love the tagline: "paid for by generous donations from an anonymous group that may or may not be the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints". BWAHAHA!! Totally epic win...

09 April, 2009

Funny O' The Day


No comment...

Roger Ebert: thoughts on Billo

Roger Ebert is not only a great film critic, he also provides excellent social commentary. In this week's comment, he takes on Bill O'Reilly with this simply superb "open letter". Opening paragraph:
Dear Bill: Thanks for including the Chicago Sun-Times on your exclusive list of newspapers on your "Hall of Shame." To be in an O'Reilly Hall of Fame would be a cruel blow to any newspaper. It would place us in the favor of a man who turns red and starts screaming when anyone disagrees with him. My grade-school teacher, wise Sister Nathan, would have called in your parents and recommended counseling with Father Hogben.
PWNED.

Read the whole thing at the link...

01 April, 2009

GM on the road to recovery!

According to CNN, in a bold and exciting move the GM board of directors announced earlier today that they are appointing Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the hosts of NPR's "Car Talk" radio program, to be the restructuring "czars" in charge of overseeing the giant firm's recovery from its current economic woes.
What may have convinced GM's Board of Directors to turn to the Magliozzi brothers is their bold plan for reviving the manufacturing giant. "Cuba," said Tom Magliozzi, his teeth clenched around a fat, smoldering Romeo y Julietta, while GM PR folks ponder whether to enforce the company-wide no-smoking policy.

"We've got an enormous number of GM cars we can't sell, right? And who needs an enormous number of GM cars? Cuba! Their GM cars are from, like, the 1950s!"

"In contrast, the cars we have sitting on dealership lots now are all 2007s, 2008s, and 2009s," adds Ray, "and they have all their original parts! The Cubans are gonna love these things."

"Plus, " says Tom, "they get 10% better mileage than those 1959 Bel Airs!"


Read the whole incredible (truly) story at the link...

27 March, 2009

YOUR handwriting on the wall!

Have you ever seen a font that looks like someone's handwriting? How about one that looks like yours? Via Lifehacker, I found a tool that allows you to create a font from your own handwriting. Oh, and it's free. How cool is that?!

You need to have access to a scanner (obviously), but the process is quite simple. Download a handwriting sample template from their site. Complete and scan to a jpeg image. Upload the scanned image and voila! - font created! You can then download the font and install it. Takes all of about 10 minutes. The site will create a True-Type font that can be used on either Windows, Mac, or Linux computers.

Here's a sample of the font I created from my own handwriting:

It's a little pixelated 'cause I don't gotz no mad photoshop skillz, but you get the general idea.

Cool and free*: a winning combination!

HT: Lifehacker

* Free for the time being...they're planning on beginning to charge when they've hit the 250k mark on free fonts, so get yours while the getting is good!

Where The Wild Things Are

I wasn't even aware of it until I saw a post on The Awesomer, but there's a live action movie being made of Maurice Sendak's popular children's book "Where The Wild Things Are".

I'm aware of a couple of previous attempts to create an animated version of this beloved book (one by Disney and John Lasseter), but nothing ever came of them. I also remember that Sendak wrote the libretto for an opera (premiered in 1980) composed by Scottish composer Oliver Knussen based on the book. According to Wikipedia, there was also a ballet and a musical.

Obviously Sendak's story and illustrations make for stimulating artistic inspiration. But the illustrations are so imaginative and fantastic that it's kind of hard to imagine them translated into "live action". I imagine that's why Disney considered an animated version. I seem to recall that in addition to the libretto, Knussen's opera also had set & costume design overseen by Sendak in an effort to ensure their faithfulness to his original vision. I do recall seeing the sets and some of the costumes and thinking that a reasonably good job was done there.

Upon hearing that a live-action film was in the works, I was hopeful that, whether or not Sendak was involved (he's in his 80's now), the producers and director (Spike Jonze) would pay careful attention to ensuring that the design kept pace with the original. The trailer posted at Apple certainly looks promising. Although the "sets" are actual locations, the costuming looks marvelous and a particularly good rendition of Sendak's drawings. I think I'm looking forward to the October 2009 release.

26 March, 2009

World's most alienating airport...

From the Onion News Network:


Prague's Franz Kafka International Named World's Most Alienating Airport

HT: Neil Gaiman

Beginner's luck?!?

For David J. and Matt D. and any other avid golfers:
A 62-year-old Norwegian woman decided to take up golf as a sport/hobby. After some lessons she went to the first tee, swung, and got a hole in one. First day, first hole, first swing. "I didn't know it was that big of a deal,'' she told the St. Petersburg Times. "I thought all golfers do this.''

HT: TYWKIWDBI

24 March, 2009

For when the metal ones decide to come for you...

Quick! Call your insurance agent now!



HT: The Awesomer

Where the hell is Matt?

I noticed this on Hemant's site in July of last year, but somehow never got around to posting about it.

Matt Harding is a young man with a perhaps odd, but nevertheless amazing story. He traveled the world videotaping himself dancing.

I know, it sounds kind of freaky. But the reality is far from it. He didn't just stand in front of a camera and dance (although that's what he actually did on his first trip around Asia), he invited locals to dance with him. And the results are simply amazing.



If you can make it through that video without getting a little emotional, there's something wrong with you. As members of the species homo sapiens, we share a commonality greater than all of our differences. Laughter, art, music, and dance are a few of the ways we express this commonality and Matt's projects highlight all of these in a particularly compelling manner.

I found three "locations" (in this particular video) especially interesting:

Solomon Islands: because the children dancing with him appear to be enjoying themselves so much and Matt is apparently laughing too hard to continue dancing.

DMZ, N. Korea: because Matt is dancing alone in front of a motionless, expressionless N. Korean guard. Kind of says it all...

Gurgaon, India: Music and dance as a universal language. Beautiful.

There are more videos and stories both from Matt and some of the other dancers available at Matt's website. This is a unique story, but it deals with a part of human nature that we all share...

23 March, 2009

Is that a phaser in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?

The perfect scent for the Sci-Fi obsessed geek...Star Trek perfume! For sale soon from GenkiWear.

Yes, now you too can wear the signature scent of James Tiberius Kirk, or don the fear-tinged aroma of the hapless red shirt guy:

There will be three different fragrances. Tiberius is described as "difficult to define and impossible to refuse," according to Genki. It smells of sweet citron zest, black pepper, cedar, warm vanilla, white musk, and sandalwood. The hell? OK, scratch this one. Not nearly manly enough.

Next up is "Red Shirt," with the tagline "Because Tomorrow May Never Come" (LOL! Get it? Cause they always get killed...ahem). This one has base notes of leather and gray musk. Now we're talking. Although, what the hell does gray musk smell like exactly? Might want to research that before you buy.

Lastly is "Pon Farr." This one is actually for the ladies and is said to "drive him wild." Hmmm, you probably won't want to use this on any guys dressed as Klingons. Or maybe you do, if you're into that sorta thing.

Just the thing for the love-starved Trekkie. 'Cause nothing says, "Man, I am so gonna get lucky tonight!" like Star Trek cologne...

That's right, thumbsucker. I see you--

What if Sin City's Frank Miller also wrote Peanuts?


See more at the link...

12 March, 2009

06 March, 2009

The Moral Bankruptcy of the Catholic Church

As if the pedophile priest cover-ups didn't already expose the Church for the evil fraud it has become, this disgusting scenario should make it plain:

In Brazil, a 9-year-old girl was raped and, improbably enough for her age, became pregnant as a consequence (with twins, no less). Abortion is illegal in Brazil, but judges can order them if certain circumstances obtain (life of the mother in danger, etc). In this circumstance, doctors at the hospital confirmed that her uterus was too small to carry the children to term safely and so an abortion was approved.

But the Catholic Church, quite influential in a country where the majority of citizens profess to be Roman Catholic, objected. The Church, in the person of the local Archbishop, actually attempted legal action to intervene and prevent the abortion. The Catholic Church attempted to force a nine-year-old girl to carry and deliver the children of her rapist. In a win for decency, if nothing else, they lost and the young girl was allowed to terminate the pregnancies.

The lawyer for the Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife had the utter gall to state that the girl should have carried the twins to term and then they could have been delivered by cesarean section. As if this insane statement weren't bad enough, when the Church failed and the abortion went through as planned, the archbishop of the diocese actually excommunicated the girl, her family, and the medical staff that assisted.

This is nothing less than utter madness and unconscionable moral degeneracy. One is forced to wonder, upon reading of such an horror, if these....things....can even be called human, so little humanity is present in their words and actions. How does the thinking of a man become so twisted, so detached from common moral decency that he could even for a nanosecond consider forcing a nine-year-old child to carry a pregnancy to term? How is it possible for a man to consider a clump of cells the moral equivalent of a living, breathing innocent? If the rape weren't enough of an ordeal for this poor child, these evil, evil men would have forced her to risk her life and health for the nine-month duration of pregnancy, and then force her again to submit to life and health-threatening surgery so that she could be...what? a baby-making machine? She would certainly be unable to mother the children, being literally only a child herself? Didn't their "Christ" preach compassion? What in hell were these monsters thinking?

As I've said before, these are the natural consequences of death-worship. The Church likes to style itself as pro-life, but as these types of situations reveal, they are anything but. This is nothing less than anti-life. In their rejection of reason, they have rejected humanity and human values and thus any possibility of morality. As a result, they blunder towards the abyss, dragging their fellow travelers and luckless innocents along with them.

I feel sorry for the girl, her family, and their medical caregivers as they will likely have to endure some stigma attached to the (in reality) vacuous label of excommunicant. Hopefully the experience will be enough to reveal to them the truly evil nature of the ideology that could lead men to attempt to enslave and inflict horrific violence upon an innocent child, and empower them to reject it and embrace their own human nature as the only real source of true moral value.

05 March, 2009

The Whiner Generation

From Late Night with Conan O'Brien, a hilarious take on our blasé acceptance of all things technological.



HT: Hit & Run

02 March, 2009

19 February, 2009

Always trust Google maps!

Google Maps result for driving directions from Seattle, WA to Honolulu, HI:

2,804 mi – about 14 days 6 hours

Seattle, WA‎
1. Head northeast on Broad St toward Taylor Ave N
About 1 min - 0.5 mi
2. Turn left at Westlake Ave N
About 4 mins - 1.6 mi
3. Turn right at 4th Ave N
go 489 ft
4. Continue on Fremont Bridge
go 0.2 mi
5. Turn right at N 34th St
About 1 min - 0.3 mi
6. Turn right at Stone Way N
go 128 ft
7. Turn left at N Northlake Way
About 1 min - 0.2 mi

8. Kayak across the Pacific Ocean
Entering Hawaii
About 14 days 5 hours - 2,756 mi
9. Slight right at Turtle Bay Hilton
go 0.1 mi
10. Turn left at Kuilima Dr
About 2 mins - 0.5 mi
11. Turn right at HI-83
About 19 mins - 10.5 mi
12. Continue on Joseph P Leong Hwy
About 3 mins - 1.9 mi
13. Slight right at HI-99/N Kamehameha Hwy
Continue to follow N Kamehameha Hwy
About 14 mins - 8.6 mi
14. Merge onto I-H2 S via the ramp to Honolulu
About 9 mins - 8.2 mi
15. Merge onto I-H1 E
About 5 mins - 4.5 mi
16. Take exit 13B to merge onto I-H201 E
About 6 mins - 4.7 mi
17. Continue on I-H1 E
About 6 mins - 5.2 mi
18. Take exit 25A for King St
go 0.2 mi
19. Turn right at Waialae Ave
go 98 ft
20. Continue on S King St
About 1 min - 0.2 mi
21. Continue on S Beretania St
go 20 ft

Honolulu, HI‎


HT: The Agitator

02 February, 2009

An Open Letter to Michael Phelps

Radley Balko's suggestion on how Phelps ought to respond to the ridiculous media kerfuffle over an old photo of him showing him allegedly smoking pot. Beautiful!

Dear America,

I take it back. I don’t apologize.

Because you know what? It’s none of your goddamned business. I work my ass off 10 months per year. It’s that hard work that gave you all those gooey feelings of patriotism last summer. If during my brief window of down time I want to relax, enjoy myself, and partake of a substance that’s a hell of a lot less bad for me than alcohol, tobacco, or, frankly, most of the prescription drugs most of you are taking, well, you can spare me the lecture.

Read the rest at The Agitator.

21 January, 2009

Bailout humor

No further comment needed...

HT: My[confined]Space

Inauguration Invocation

There was a great deal of hubbub in the media regarding Obama's selection of the Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, to deliver the opening invocation at his inauguration yesterday. Most of the outcry came from members of the GLBT community who perceived the selection of Warren, whose anti-gay stance is well known, as a slight against them; particularly as Obama has made a point of playing himself up as being "gay-friendly". There was also some concern from non-theists that the choice of an evangelical might lead to an overtly, even offensively, sectarian prayer. While I don't think religious prayer should play any legitimate part in the pomp and circumstance of secular government rituals, the invocation is a long-standing tradition (although not as old as Christian Nationalists would have you think! Prayers weren't a part of the inauguration until 1937.) and I don't think it's going away any time soon. The least we can hope for is that the minister chosen will attempt to be as non-sectarian and inclusive as possible. Many evangelicals however, care little for the societal benefits of such occasions and refuse to take a more inclusive or ecumenical approach. Would Warren's address follow this divisive path?

Well, the inauguration has now come and gone and for the most part, Warren did a pretty good job. The prayer was directed to "God our father", rather than "Jesus Christ", and while that's undeniably theistic, it does at least have the benefit of comporting with so-called "ceremonial Deism" and thus not being overly sectarian. And while Warren did include a personal reference to Jesus toward the end and concluded his prayer with the Christian "Lord's Prayer" (and Protestant Christian at that), he did NOT pray "in the name of Jesus" or conclude his prayer "in Jesus name", or anything overtly Christian like that. In addition, he obviously made what seemed to me a more or less good-faith attempt to be inclusive of at least the other Abrahamic faiths: the opening of his prayer included the following: "The Scripture tells us, ‘Hear, oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one’ and you are the compassionate and merciful one and you are loving to everyone you have made." This statement incorporates both the Hebrew Shema and the opening sentence of the Islamic Quran.

All in all, not a bad attempt at inclusion at what must necessarily be a divisive, pointless, and ultimately irrelevant exercise at an allegedly secular governmental function. The only negative that struck me, and it's a pretty big one, is when Warren said the following:
Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans. United not by race or religion or by blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all. When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us.
Huh? Freedom and justice for all? You mean like gay Californians recently stripped of their civil rights by you and your fellow travelers? Of course, for Warren and people like him, "for all" doesn't really mean ALL, it just means "all of those with whose choices I agree". No freedom and justice for gays. No freedom and justice for religious skeptics. No freedom and justice for women.

The immense irony in this statement, to which Warren is no doubt oblivious, is that evangelical Christianity, as a movement, is fundamentally in opposition to freedom. Freedom requires autonomy, both metaphysical and concrete. Moral agents possess, by definition, the right of self-determination and to deny that right is to deny both freedom and any real possibility of justice (or, indeed, of any moral value whatsoever...but that's another post). But evangelical Christians reject autonomy and declare that the right of self-determination does not exist; that the goal of Man's life has been decided for him and the rejection of this imposed purpose is not only sinful, but should be prevented by force of law.

The slavish devotion to imposed purpose is harmful enough, but at least it only harms those who believe in it. But when they attempt to impose this alleged "purpose" on the rest of us by legal fiat, they strike at the heart of freedom itself. Those who would use the power of the state to strip citizens of rights and privileges they enjoy by virtue of their humanity have no love for freedom or justice; they are in fact haters of them.

Americans, at least insofar as an "American" is defined as a citizen of the United States of America, should hold the values enshrined in the Constitution as common principles of both citizenship and social action. Former president Bush once infamously (and stupidly) said of the Constitution, "it's just a goddamned piece of paper!" There is a sense of course in which this is true (in that it is written on paper), but there is a greater sense in which it is absolutely false. The Constitution is the United States of America in a way nothing else can be. Freedom is paramount in its design and the protection of liberty its primary goal. Evangelical Christianity, in its denial of moral autonomy (freedom), stands in opposition to this most basic of American values.

And therefore, I found it somewhat ironic that Warren should wax poetic about American's "commitment to freedom and justice for all". He no doubt considers himself an American, but he and others like him most certainly do not share such a commitment.

14 January, 2009

All I Want For Xmas Is My Two Front Tenori-On

I wish I had seen these in time for Xmas. As the title implies, I think the "Tenori-On" sounds pretty cool...

Your name is FANTASTIC!

A little old news, but still pretty funny. From the BBC:

A teenager has changed his birth name by deed poll to incorporate several comic book superheroes.

George Garratt from Glastonbury has become Captain Fantastic Faster Than Superman Spiderman Batman Wolverine The Hulk And The Flash Combined.

The 19-year-old music student made the change "for a bit of a laugh", through a legally-recognised website.

He said: "I decided on a superheroes theme and whenever my friends offered up suggestions to me, I added them."

He added: "My family have begun to expect these sorts of things from me, and although my friends thought it was ridiculous most people do call me Captain and it's been a great conversation starter."

A spokesman from The Legal Deed Poll Service, said: "We get so many outrageous name changes that these days it barely fazes us, but when this one was brought to my attention I knew there was something special about it."

What a great idea! I'm thinking of changing my name to Super Spider Killer Monkey Doo-Wap-Diddy Purple People Eater Flying Wallenda Peter Griffin Armchair Mangrove Throat Warbler Spelt Luxury Yacht Jones.

But you can call me "Ted"...

12 January, 2009

Intelligent Design vs. Invisible Hand?

Over at Reason magazine's blog Hit and Run, I noticed a post by Ronald Bailey in which he touches on something I've noted here in the past: the apparent cognitive dissonance present in conservative Christians who accept almost as a matter of faith the idea of emergent order in financial markets (Adam Smith's "invisible hand") yet reject the exact same idea in the realm of biological science (Charles Darwin's "natural selection"). So called "intelligent design" proponents argue that biological complexity simply must be the product of an "intelligent designer" yet they and many others who would agree with them have no difficulty eschewing said designer in the case of market equilibria. But there's really no difference between the two in terms of the salient result: emergent order.

Bailey quips, "Intelligent design is to evolutionary biology what socialism is to free-market economics." (although I think he meant "command economics", rather than "socialism" which is rather broad), which echoes what I wrote previously:
Of course, this is not to say that ID theorists ARE Marxists, merely that they seem to be, at the very least, intellectual fellow-travelers. Their rejection of emergent order seems to me to necessitate it. Therefore, it seems to me that ID theorists who desire to remain intellectually consistent must abandon all support for capitalism and support instead a theory of planned economy. For if order is not emergent, then capitalism cannot hope for success.
Bailey also includes a link to Matt Ridley's Spectator essay that prompted his post as well as a couple of other interesting links at his post (linked in the title). Enjoy.