The Importance of Being Earnest

Note: This post is about egalitarianism and transparency. In other words, it's about democracy.

A friend of mine once said to me, "I hate it when I go home to visit my parents and they automatically start treating me like I'm twelve. But I hate it even more when I start acting like it." I laughed because I once thought the exact same thing. It's easy to fall into these absurd power structures and childish roles, and we regularly give up our hard-earned independence because it's comfortable. Don't think; just do. Don't act; react. How many times have we been told "because I said so"? And when we use the few tools we have available to us to resist what we perceive to be injustice, we're told we're being "childish." So, when we're young, we're taught that to get along, we should go along. And only the childish resist injustice.

Soon after, we learn that adopting a completely cynical world-view is the quickest and simplest path to the cool kids table. It's very easy to succeed and make friends through mocking others--they're all a bunch of nerds, dweebs, and geeks anyway, so it's only reasonable. We can all just sit around winking at each other with our code words and secret handshakes because we're the real grown ups in a world full of children. We convince ourselves that we are surrounded by simplistic minds that need us to tell them what's right and what's wrong. What's good and what's bad. And in order to be above the fray, we first need to act like we're above the fray. This is called adolescence.

And then, sometimes, we grow up. Contrary to popular opinion, growing up isn't about concerning ourselves with how much time someone puts into their hair--that's adolescence. Actual growing up involves understanding that we all have our own idiosyncrasies that others will disparage. Sometimes these idiosyncrasies are superficial and other times they show us who we are. Real grown-ups can appreciate the difference. Growing up means understanding the fact that liberty requires responsibility just as responsibility requires liberty, but grown-ups are also painfully aware that one of the ways we learn is by making mistakes. Besides all this, growing up is finally realizing that the models for success that may have been dictated to us in our youth aren't as firmly embedded in our DNA as we once might have thought. In fact, smart grown-ups generally find that real success exchanges domination for equality and cynical secrecy for earnest openness.

From Save the Internet, John Edwards on the internet and democracy:

"There’s a debate going in America right now about something called Net Neutrality, which goes to this very issue,” he said. “I am a strong believer in Net Neutrality. I believe it is enormously important.”

"This goes to the heart and soul of democracy. Because, if Democracy is going to work in this country, then we want people to be well informed and we want a wide variety of diverse voices to be heard. And that’s what is at issue with these media conglomerates … We really have to stay on top of this because what we see flourishing at the grassroots can be stomped on if we’re not careful." [emphasis mine]

The internet is the most recent area where geeks and politics collide. And I've been pondering the reasons why geekiness and politics go so well together. In my mind, it really comes down to the fact that true geeks, serious geeks, hardcore geeks are the creators of new worlds. Either they live every day deconstructing things either mentally or physically and putting them back together again in an entirely new way, or they work every day creating something altogether new. This is a very radical way to live. Also, real geeks share their vision--they create and document. In building a world, they are building an ecosystem that absolutely requires participation, care, and management from others in order to survive and flourish. And what is more political than working with others to create a better world?

Through all this vision and passion, the most extreme geeks are incredibly earnest. Because they're always on the cutting edge, they're always working and bringing others along with them. Extreme geeks don't rest and vest in chat rooms speaking leet and calling each other n00bs. They might hang there from time to time, but they know there's more work to be done. So, they forge ahead: developing, sharing, contributing to the ecosystem. Always critical, geeks don't feign perfection as they are keenly aware that human perspective has limitations. Injustice and secret code words are their demons because those things hinder access to the new world they're trying to build. These demons are unnecessary barriers to what may be a wellspring of new ideas.

Throughout history, geeks have been emancipating themselves from old rules. They have analyzed, researched, deconstructed, and most importantly, participated, in order to create something new. And the geekiest geeks have done all this out in the open, breaking down barriers and inviting challenge. Living for both today and tomorrow, geeks have documented their ideas, their processes, their successes, and their failures for others to learn from. And in America, they've been doing it intermittently since like 1776.

Viva la geek! And go Edwards (again):

And it's time for the American people to take responsibility for our government -- for in our democracy it is truly ours. If we have come to mistrust and question it, it is because we were not vigilant against the forces that have taken it from us. That their game has played on for so long is the fault of each of us -- ending the game and returning government of the people to the people is the responsibility of all of us.

But cleaning up Washington isn't enough. If we are going to meet the challenges we face and prevail over them, two principles must guide us -- yes, we must end the Washington game, but we must also think as big as the challenges we face. Our ideas must be bold enough to succeed and our government must be free to enact them without compromising principle or sacrificing results.

One without the other isn't good enough. All the big ideas in the world won't make a difference if they have to go through this broken system that remains controlled by big business and their lobbyists. And if we fix the system, but aren't honest with the American people about the scope of our challenges and what's required of each of us to meet them, then we'll be left with the baby steps and incremental measures that are Washington's poor excuse for progress.


Nothing New byslag at 8:10 AM 0 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

Jonah Goldberg is Dracula

Now, I know what you're thinking, but hear me out.

Dracula and Jonah Goldberg differ in many ways. I don't deny this. Indeed, it is my central point (and the very reason you should keep reading this post). Evil villains differ from each other because they grow out of different soil. Dracula is a fictional, yet complexly nuanced, character that grew out of this evil person while Jonah is a real, yet simple, character that grew out of this evil person. What unites them are their emotional or instinctual impulses for...well...evil. And these other things too:Plus, have you ever seen Dracula and Jonah Goldberg in the same room at the same time?

QED, baby! Bring on the book deal!

UPDATE: In case you didn't catch it, the entire first paragraph of this post was lifted straight from Goldberg's book (with a few minor adjustments). As Sadly, No! points out: what kind of dumbass writes a book titled Liberal Fascism and then claims his "central point" is that Liberalism and Fascism "differ in many ways"? And even worse. What kind of dumbass publishes it? And what kind of dumbass admires it? So much dumbassery, so little time.

And while it's true we can't take the time to beat down every dumbass that comes our way, simply ignoring dumbassery allows it to fester and grow until it becomes the Bush Administration, or the 700 Club, or both.

Nothing New byslag at 8:03 AM 4 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

The Meta Position (shakes head and sighs)

Hey-You know what'd be great? If at least SOME of "The Most Controversial Ads in Fashion History" offered something more meaningful than the straight up objectification of women.

Yes. Challenging the fashion industry's (ridiculously high) tolerance level for whoring is quite a feat, but I feel we can do better.

file under: why hell won't be so bad.

Nothing New byslag at 4:29 PM 4 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

Other People's Genius

It's been a short week, but there's always time for some other people's genius.

Sharon Schmickle at the MinnPost addresses an issue that I've been pondering for some time--intellectual honesty--by invoking Charles Darwin:

Schooled by clerics, Darwin wrestled with faith in an omniscient creator even while he stretched his mental horizons to ponder evidence that mysteries of Earth's intricate life could be explained by a scientific theory.

"I am in an utterly hopeless muddle," Darwin wrote to his friend Asa Gray in November, 1860. "I cannot think that the world, as we see it is the result of chance; & yet I cannot look at each separate thing as the result of Design."

That muddle is central to my wish. It isn't easy to open the mind and think creatively about America 2008, its urgent needs and its role in the world. Such thinking requires the humility to drop partisan defenses and listen to the other side. It demands attention to the details of national policy at a time when the overwhelming preferences are entertainment and shopping.

The problem, as I've come to see it, with seriously advocating intellectual honesty is that it seems to require all sides of an argument to drop their defenses at the same time. Because when one side does it first, that side gets pounced on, denigrated, and trounced in elections. Quite often, I wish for this muddle myself but am not yet enough of a leader to envision a plausible strategy for making it happen. Practical suggestions?

Wired Blog cites a study that suggests that the Wii doesn't burn as many calories as traditional exercise:
The study, which was funded by Nintendo's marketing arm, had six boys and five girls aged 13-15 play four different games for 15 minutes each on both a Wii and an Xbox 360. While playing on the Wii did burn 2% more calories than playing on the 360, that's still not enough to replace a more traditional workout routine.
While this news gets filed under "no duh," I give major props to Wired Blog for stating who funded the study. While I'm too lazy to check out every single story written about the Wii calorie count, Wired was one of the very few I saw that actually indicated the study's funding source (googling news for "wii exercise"). In fact, none of those I saw that indicated funding source were from US mainstream news. Someone should do a study!

Anecdotally, Four Tower and I Wii'd it up this holiday break, and I found that boxing, in particular, made me painfully sore. This is because I was punching my heart out, and the only resistance I had to my punches was my own muscles (and air, which I don't really count). Consequently, in order to keep up punching speed, I had to rapidly apply muscle resistance at the end of each punch. So, while I only looked cursorily at the study cited by the Wired Blog, I'm thinking that caloric burn isn't the only possible benefit that should be looked into.
BTW-I believe that Four Tower would agree that I was the overall winner of our boxing tourney, a fact which indicates that there is definitely a big difference between Wii boxing and boxing boxing.

Finally, as we can't go on about Wii brutality forever, here is Glenn Greenwald living by the pen (mightier than the sword) while taking down Peggy Noonan's idea of what it means to be a "grown up":
In her Wall St. Journal column today, Peggy Noonan offers up a Santa-like checklist of which presidential candidates are "reasonable" and which ones aren't. In describing the attributes that Americans want in a President, she says: "I claim here to speak for thousands, millions." On behalf of the throngs for whom she fantasizes she speaks, Noonan proclaims: "We are grown-ups . . . We'd like knowledge, judgment, a prudent understanding of the world and of the ways and histories of the men and women in it."

This grown-up then proceeds to pronounce that Romney, McCain, Giuliani, Thompson and Duncan Hunter are all "reasonable" -- as are Biden, Dodd, Richardson and Obama (though too young and inexperienced to be President) -- but this is what she says about John Edwards:
John Edwards is not reasonable. . . . .[W]e can't have a president who spent two minutes on YouTube staring in a mirror and poofing his hair. Really, we just can't.
Really? Because I think we can. And apparently, so does John Edwards:

And it's time for the American people to take responsibility for our government -- for in our democracy it is truly ours. If we have come to mistrust and question it, it is because we were not vigilant against the forces that have taken it from us. That their game has played on for so long is the fault of each of us -- ending the game and returning government of the people to the people is the responsibility of all of us.

But cleaning up Washington isn't enough. If we are going to meet the challenges we face and prevail over them, two principles must guide us -- yes, we must end the Washington game, but we must also think as big as the challenges we face. Our ideas must be bold enough to succeed and our government must be free to enact them without compromising principle or sacrificing results.

One without the other isn't good enough. All the big ideas in the world won't make a difference if they have to go through this broken system that remains controlled by big business and their lobbyists. And if we fix the system, but aren't honest with the American people about the scope of our challenges and what's required of each of us to meet them, then we'll be left with the baby steps and incremental measures that are Washington's poor excuse for progress.

Based on Noonan's assessment, we can infer that it's the nancy boys who encourage us to live up to our responsibilities and fearlessly take on the challenges we face. Well, if that's true, then bring on the nancy boys because we need a lot more of them!

Happy other people's genius Friday!

Nothing New byslag at 9:20 AM 2 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

John Edwards Knows the Devil

If Americans had a clue, one recent foreign event would very much benefit John Edwards' campaign. This event is not the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto, because no matter how much Republicans want to believe it is, tragedy isn't good for Democrats. The event I'm referring to is the recent agreement between the EU and Microsoft that hands all of the Red Devil's (aka Microsoft's) network protocols that work with Windows Server over to an organization that enables competing companies to develop software for it. In this case, SUN Microsystems wants to develop their own software that works with Windows Server, thus allowing for the possibility of something we capitalistic Americans refer to as "competition." Now, I know that "free" marketers abhor any governmental intrusion that inhibits monopolistic tyranny, but for us sane people, there is a lesson here.

According to iTWire:

Some craven American commentators are seeing the Samba deal as evidence that "that there are groups within Microsoft who are willing to work in good faith with the free software world.."

(I think it does rankle a bit with our American friends that it was the EU that managed to whip Microsoft into some kind of compliance.)

I've got some news for this bunch of brown-nosers - Microsoft only negotiates when it has no other way out. If it can wriggle out any other way, it will. It's a good idea to do some holiday reading and research the history of this convicted monopolist.
While he doesn't quite use the same language, John Edwards also has been trying to learn us this very same lesson (via TPM):
Why on earth would we expect the corporate powers and their lobbyists -- who make billions by selling out the middle-class -- to just give up just because we ask nicely? Nobody who takes their money and defends the broken system is going to bring change. And, unfortunately, nobody who thinks we can just sit down and talk them into compromise is going to bring change either.

Compromise and conciliation is the academic theory of change. It just doesn’t work in the real world. Fighting for conviction is the historic reality of change.

Now, it's true that I don't think you can bomb a country into democracy, but it does seem like a comprehensive approach combining harsh sanctions with a tiny bit of coerced diplomacy would do a lot. I know we tried that with Saddam Hussein and he still had his Weapons of Mass Destruction programs all good and ready to tear us a new one, but with Microsoft, the EU has proven that it really does work. And this is exactly the kind of hard-nosed approach that Edwards has been advocating:

We cannot triangulate our way to real change. We cannot compromise our way to real change. But we can lead to real change. And we can start today.

Nearly ten years ago, I made the decision that I would never take a dime from a Washington lobbyist -- I wasn't going to work for them, and I didn't want their money.

Because in the courtroom, when you present your case to the jury, you can offer facts and evidence, you can argue your heart out -- and I have -- but the one thing you can't do, is pay the jury. We call that a bribe. But in Washington when an oil lobbyist gives money to office holders to influence our energy policy, they call it politics. That's exactly what's wrong with this system.

Money flies like lightning between corporations, lobbyists, and politicians. We need full public financing to reform the system once and for all. But we don't need to wait to reform our party. Two weeks ago, I called on all Democrats to reject contributions from federal lobbyists. To tell them -- we know that you give money to influence politicians on behalf of your corporate clients. Well, we're not going to take it anymore. Your money's no good here.

The EU told the Devil that their money's no good there. And the Devil anted up. And go Edwards!

Oh yeah. I lied about that whole Saddam having Weapons of Mass Destruction thing. Apparently, the strict sanctions and coerced diplomacy worked there too. Who knew?

Nothing New byslag at 3:17 PM 0 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

Republicans LOVE States' Rights*

From the Guardian:

The US vice-president, Dick Cheney, was behind a controversial decision to block California's attempt to impose tough emission limits on car manufacturers, according to insiders at the government Environmental Protection Agency.

Staff at the agency, which announced last week that California's proposed limits were redundant, said the agency's chief went against their expert advice after car executives met Cheney, and a Chrysler executive delivered a letter to the EPA saying why the state should not be allowed to regulate greenhouse gases.

So, let's see...States' rights arguments apply when it comes to discriminating against blacks, homosexuals, and women, but don't apply when it comes to conserving resources and protecting the air that every single person breathes. I'm starting to think that, with all their caveats and qualifiers, Republicans are actually smarter than I give them credit for. Nuances, nuances. Although it seems like it'd be so much easier just to have a few principles because remembering all these little idiosyncrasies takes some serious braincell action. No wonder they don't have the energy to win a war...for oil...which is used in cars...which Californians are trying to restrict...oh! I get it now.

Nothing New byslag at 9:42 AM 2 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

Just Fatigued

We liberals need to live up to our name and start paying much more attention to the underlying causes of social problems. This change would include shifting our ire away from the Bush Administration and putting it where it belongs--on the elements of the system that enable the Bush Administration. I mean: how the hell did this man get into office in the first place? Personally, I've placed much of the blame on a follow-the-leader culture that idealizes superheroes and undervalues cooperation, critical thought, and communication. But then, there are the structural elements of the system that were supposedly intended to compensate for a superficial culture. We used to refer to these elements as the articles and amendments of the United States Constitution. Now, we call them fuel for Dick Cheney's fire. Either way, with the 2008 election coming up, we're finally taking stock of the pros and cons of the Neocon agenda and coming to some frightening conclusions.

The Boston Globe surveyed the presidential candidates on their attitudes toward the scope of executive power and found that:

Of the nine candidates who answered, Romney expressed the most positive view of Bush's approach to presidential power.

"The Bush administration has kept the American people safe since 9/11," Romney said. "The administration's strong view on executive power may well have contributed to that fact."

By contrast, the other two Republicans who responded - McCain and Paul - both expressed reservations about legal claims Bush has made. For example, both rejected the idea that a president, as commander-in-chief, has "inherent" power to wiretap Americans without warrants, regardless of federal statutes, as the administration has argued.

"I don't think the president has the right to disobey any law," said McCain, an Arizona senator.

Am I the only one who finds myself in amazement that someone saying they don't think the president "has the right to disobey any law" is actually a huge improvement? Next, the Globe will send out a survey on candidate attitudes toward dogs, and if you haven't tortured one lately, you might as well be endorsed by PETA as far as I'm concerned. But then again, this is all part of the strategery: set the bar low enough so we don't actually have any real civil servants in the White House--just some more frat boys and a few hundred members of their staff. Well, that notion (along with the flu-like symptoms I'm experiencing) is making me tired...of many things:

And my personal favorite:

This is why breaks are bad...they give you just enough time to actually realize how exhausted you really are, and then, it's back to work.

Nothing New byslag at 11:05 AM 1 dispenses karmic justice! (or just comments here)

Filibuster, Filibuster, Filibuster, Filibuster, Filibuster

From Glenn Greenwald on Republican use of the Filibuster:

The 62nd cloture vote of the session is more than any single session of Congress since at least 1973, the earliest year cloture votes are available online from the Senate. Republicans are on pace to force 134 cloture votes to cut off a filibuster, according to the Campaign for America's Future analysis, more than double the historical average of the last 35 years.
As Benen notes, the GOP has used the filibuster as a common tool on virtually every piece of significant legislation, all part of what Trent Lott described as their strategy: "The strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail . . . and so far it's working for us."

But this extraordinary obstructionist behavior has hardly been highlighted at all by most journalists covering Congress. Part of the reason for that is the fault of Senate Democrats, who have, in essence, allowed Republicans to filibuster without forcing them actually to filibuster, thus removing the theatrical display of the obstructionism. But the obstructionism is the same, and it ought to be reported as such. But it isn't.

Throughout his post, Greenwald makes a pretty damning case against the propensity journalists have to focus on "balance" instead of truth in their reporting. But to me, one of the more interesting elements of his argument was this one:
UPDATE: Steven Greene of North Carolina State University's Department of Political Science emails as follows:
A quick and dirty Lexis/Nexis search reveals that in 2007 the Times had 83 stories with the term "filibuster" and the Post had 187. Over the same period in 2005 (seemed like the first year of a Congressional session was the fair comparison), the term "filibuster" appeared in 358 Times stories and 407 Post stories. The data therefore totally back you up on this.
Those facts are, of course, just "the liberal version."
There's an old trite, yet true, saying about the squeaky wheel getting the oil that seems especially appropriate here. Republicans have been whining about and strong-arming journalists for many years now, and as a consequence, they appear to be getting their way. And as we've seen time and again, their way isn't about striving to understand reality and its underlying forces in order to make the best possible decisions for the betterment of everyone. Their way is about getting what they want--making themselves seem smarter, more competent, more responsible, and, at times, even richer than they actually are. And this is all because they do understand one thing better than liberals do: in our corrupt culture, seeming is almost as good as being. So, making journalists part of the coalition of the willing in the war on truth is just another way of being successful, regardless of the actual consequences to the rest of us.

Nothing New byslag at 9:55 AM 0 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

Huckabee Wisdom

I first heard this bit of Huckabee wisdom on Sam Seder's show but had to go straight to the YouTubes to believe it:

Partial transcription courtesy of Huffpo:

...there are those who say, "How can you be pro-life and believe in the death penalty?"
Because there's a real difference between the process of adjudication, where a person is deemed guilty after a thorough judicial process and is put to death by all of us, as citizens, under a law, as opposed to an individual making a decision to terminate a life that has never been deemed guilty because the life never was given a chance to even exist.
Let's dissect this, shall we?
1. "the process of adjudication": Huckabee would be in favor of abortion if it involved a thorough judicial process that includes "all of us, as citizens"? An interesting, if not disturbing, thought. May go to that third way solution people seem to be searching for.
2. "under a law": So, Huckabee thinks that a law should govern whether we live or die? Gosh...If only we had some judges who would help us out and determine whether or not abortion is ok "under a law". Maybe a Constitutional law, even. What would we call those people who would determine that? Oh yeah! The Supreme Court.
3. "a life that has never been deemed guilty because the life never was given a chance to even exist": So, Huckabee says, "the life never was given a chance to even exist." Do I really have to dissect this one?

In summary, to make abortion ok with the Huckster, we need a new law (maybe an even BIGGER Constitutional law with like MORE Supreme Court judges interpreting it) and some type of citizen-included adjudication process in order to determine whether something lives or dies before it has a chance to even exist. And obviously, none of this would apply to dogs (or at least mangy dogs?).

I'm clearly no legal expert, but something tells me that Huckabee's world isn't somewhere I'd want to live--or even exist.

Here's the deal. We kill stuff every day whether we want to or not. We kill germs, bacteria, human cells, plants, and animals just through the act of living. You want to be truly PRO-life, you're going to have to kill yourself (and ignore the paradox in the process). This is not to imply that there aren't any boundaries--qualifiers, if you will--to living and killing because there obviously are. In fact, we just got through outlining the Huckster's contorted boundaries/qualifiers. But seriously. When we start any discussion with "thy shall not kill" or whatever it is that people are saying these days, we've already failed to recognize that our very existence depends on killing. Can't get around it. And until we truly understand, appreciate, and start every one of these discussions with that fundamental reality--a scientific fact--we'll never ever agree on those ever important life-death boundaries. And without those boundaries firmly in place, there's no path to finding a solution. At which point, we are at an impasse.

Long story, short: It seems to me that we all should just start being intellectually honest about something for a change, and stop undermining our own credibility by basing it on the ignorance of others. Especially in matters as important as life and death appear to be.

UPDATE: Going all visual. Hmmm....

Nothing New byslag at 8:11 PM 3 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

Other People's Genius

xkcd brilliantly exposes the real damage done by AMPTP's abject failure to solve the problems creating the writers strike:
The internets have been lacking Jon Stewart for some time now, but it was good of xkcd to avoid wallowing until a remedy were near at hand.

Speaking of TV and writers, Wil Wheaton at WWdN says this about Star Trek:

Even though Star Trek frequently looks silly and cheesy, I think it says a lot about the writing and the stories that audiences have not just overlooked that, but embraced it, for the last 40 years. I've seen movies that spent more on special effects for one shot than Star Trek spent in an entire season's worth, but I didn't care about the characters, and the story didn't stay with me for one minute after it was over. We know it's just a guy in a silly rubber suit, but when Kirk empathizes with him and doesn't kill him, it's still a powerful moment, and the message it sends about compassion and empathy is a powerful one that's just as relevant now as it was then.
Whenever Four-Tower breaks out the original series, we talk about this very thing. Well, not necessarily the Gorn, but the social messages and leadership lessons we learned from Star Trek. Good stuff!

The Gaping Void talks about the good stuff and, essentially, living deliberately:

The other day, someone fifteen years younger than me asked me what I wanted to be "One Day".

I answered, "Doing exactly what I'm doing now, just with more money. And if the money doesn't come, well, that's a shame, but it's not the end of the world, either."

No more dreaming of "One Day". I am here and now. This is it. I can highly recommend it. But I had to kill a lot of dreams, a lot of beautiful dreams, in order to get there.

I know I've always wanted to dispense karmic justice for what, at some point, will be a living. And there are big plans in the works for more direct karmic justice dispensing in the near future (Xtreme Karmic Justice?). Stay on target....staaaaaay on target....

Happy (relatively politics-free) other people's genius Friday!

PS Unabashed admiration of the genius in Glenn Greenwald's latest smackdown of the balance v. truth conundrum in journalism will receive its own post.

Nothing New byslag at 9:41 AM 1 dispenses karmic justice! (or just comments here)

Don't Phase Me, Bro: Geek Factor 5, Captain

What would a redshirt wear to a John Kerry event? Also, how geeky is too geeky?

We're pretty sure there's some karmic justice in here somewhere. Either way, when you think these things up, how can you not execute them?

Personal note: One time I took one of those "which sci-fi character are you?" tests, and interestingly, the top two characters were from Star Trek. I came out as Jean-Luc Picard at the top, but the very next one (only 5 points fewer) was "disposable redshirt." I always enjoy thinking about that disparity, because it seems like on any given day (depending on mood and circumstances), I could either be the captain of a starship or the person whose job it is to get killed so the important people don't have to. I wonder which I am today.

Nothing New byslag at 8:42 PM 4 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

I'm with Paul Krugman (and John Edwards)

Krugman speaks for me too:

There’s a strong populist tide running in America right now. For example, a recent Democracy Corps survey of voter discontent found that the most commonly chosen phrase explaining what’s wrong with the country was “Big businesses get whatever they want in Washington.”

And there’s every reason to believe that the Democrats can win big next year if they run with that populist tide. The latest evidence came from focus groups run by both Fox News and CNN during last week’s Democratic debate: both declared Mr. Edwards the clear winner.

But the news media recoil from populist appeals. The Des Moines Register, which endorsed Mr. Edwards in 2004, rejected him this time on the grounds that his “harsh anti-corporate rhetoric would make it difficult to work with the business community to forge change.”

Poor Krugman. I can just imagine him sitting all alone at the lunch table in the NYT building, nibbling on his PBJ, while his well-fed colleagues huddle together around their company trough. Sometimes being right is lonely. We'll have lunch with you, Paul!

Nothing New byslag at 12:33 PM 0 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

Spay the Spears (or at least Britney)

There is a time in every person's life when she must choose one of two paths: good or evil. Today, when I found out that Britney Spears' 16-year old sister is contributing to our country's rise in teen pregnancy, I'm afraid I chose evil (as you can see here). In my defense, many, many Spears were born before I resorted to graphic vengeance. I mean, how many addle-brained narcissists can our society handle? Especially when they make idiotic statements such as this one:

Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision that he makes, and we should support that.
What kind of American says stuff like that? I would suggest that Britney head to China where that nonsense is more acceptable, but they wouldn't allow all her kids. So, in the end, I'm afraid the only solution is to:
And I may have chosen evil, but at least I'm self-righteous about it.

Nothing New byslag at 9:13 PM 1 dispenses karmic justice! (or just comments here)

Happy Smarter than a Monkey Day!

Gye Greene once compared the cognitive development of his kid to that of their Corgi dog. This struck me as a more useful tool than a calendar for measuring someone's age. That is, instead of wishing someone a happy birthday on a specific (fairly meaningless) date, it seems to me that we should do so when we notice a particular improvement in their intellectual capabilities. And when someone asks us how old we are, we simply respond with something to the effect of, "I'm smarter than a dog but not quite as smart as a monkey." But because figuring out a larger structure for this kind of measurement required much more knowledge of animal behavior and cognition than I currently have (eg, when are we smarter than a whale?), I opted for this simplified version: smarter than a monkey. And for further simplicity's sake, when I say "monkey," I am referring to all types of non-human primates that we generally think of as being monkey-like (not perfect, but better than meaningless). Happily, monkey smarts appear to be a good point of comparison.

Recently from MSNBC:

Japanese researchers pitted young chimps against human adults in two tests of short-term memory, and overall, the chimps won.

That challenges the belief of many people, including many scientists, that "humans are superior to chimpanzees in all cognitive functions," said researcher Tetsuro Matsuzawa of Kyoto University.

"No one can imagine that chimpanzees — young chimpanzees at the age of 5 — have a better performance in a memory task than humans," he said in a statement.

Also, from MSNBC:
Rhesus macaque monkeys performed nearly as well as college students at quick mental addition, researchers reported Monday, adding to the evidence that non-verbal math skills are not unique to humans.
The researchers said the findings shed light on the shared mathematical abilities in humans and non-human primates and shows the importance of language — which allows for counting and more advanced calculations — in the evolution of math in humans.

"I don't think language is the only thing that differentiates humans from non-human primates, but in terms of math tasks, it is probably the big one," she said.

So, maybe when we see that GW is actually starting to understand and use language appropriately, we can wish him a Happy Birthday? Or a:
We can dream.

Nothing New byslag at 11:24 AM 1 dispenses karmic justice! (or just comments here)

Intelligent Design

Via Dark Roasted Blend. Think Geek sells these amazing finger adapters for light sockets. The beauty of this product isn't that it comes with both US and European style plug options (although that is a plus). The beauty is that it's a product specifically developed to override the protective design of the socket itself. There are probably several reasons why we don't just have two finger-sized holes in the wall that conduct significant amounts of electricity, but I would strongly suspect that safety is one of them. This product literally puts the power back in the hands of the individual. And in political terms, the product is analogous to the Republicans' Unitary Executive Theory, which was specifically developed to override the protective design of the US Constitution. So, would someone mind sending a couple of these suckers to Bush and Dick?

Nothing New byslag at 9:46 PM 1 dispenses karmic justice! (or just comments here)

Oh. My. Dodd. An ACTUAL Democrat!

Yes, Virginia. There are some Democrats in the senate.

Glenn Greenwald has (as always) an excellent summary of the FISA bill situation and how Dodd got more involved:

It was exclusively in response to that blog-based outpouring of citizen passion that Dodd -- within a matter of a few hours -- emphatically vowed that he would do something he has almost never done during his 24-year Senate career: place a "hold" on this bill and, if necessary, lead a filibuster against it on the floor of the Senate. Dodd's responsiveness, and the all-too-rare leadership he displayed, prompted an outpouring of support for his campaign from citizens hungry for any sort of Democratic leadership, as he raised $200,000 in small donations over the next 24 hours alone, exceeding the total he had raised for the preceding many months.

* * * * *

From the beginning, there was pure hostility from numerous Beltway crevices towards Dodd's stance. The Beltway media largely ignored it except to mock it and question its authenticity with their standard lip-curling, jaded pettiness. The very day that Dodd announced his hold, Harry Reid made clear that he was hostile to it, and strongly insinuated that he would not honor it. That led to an outburst of anger directed towards Reid's office which caused them -- falsely as it turns out -- to spend weeks issuing public and private assurances that Reid would treat Dodd's hold the same way he treats other holds.

Greenwald himself has done some serious heavy lifting on this issue (along with the peeps at Firedog Lake and many others). Good on 'em!

But, as pretty much everyone has noted, it ain't over.

UPDATE: Version 2 of this image. Not sure if I like either one.

Nothing New byslag at 10:57 AM 1 dispenses karmic justice! (or just comments here)

I <3 Dogs, Dogs >3 Republicans

With all the stories going around about the Republican presidential candidates killing and torturing dogs, it's obvious that something needs to be done. Here's the lowdown:
1. Romney strapped his dog to the roof of his car while taking a family vacation.
2. "Pro-life" Huckabee defended his son's lynching of a stray dog at Boy Scout camp.
3. Giuliani's wife apparently worked at a place that killed puppies and Giuliani himself proposed harsh anti-dog legislation.
Cruel Republicans--worse than amoebas on fleas on rats (Grease is the word).

Nothing New byslag at 6:43 PM 0 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

Give Harry Hell! No Telecom Amnesty (The Value of Political Pressure)

Well, here we are again. Apparently, we're going to have to keep digging, digging, and digging in our heels against telecom amnesty. We've won the battle on this issue for the day (thanks to Chris Dodd and many others), but it will be back in January. Because they keep behaving like defiant children, we need to keep proving to our senators that we're the ones in charge here. So, if you haven't registered your thoughts on this issue and would like to do so, Firedog Lake makes it easy with this online petition. Until then...Yay!...???

Nothing New byslag at 5:12 PM 0 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

What Does It All Mean?

Sometimes I feel like a printing press girl in a wifi world (either that or like Susan Sontag at a photographers' convention--I'm not sure which). A friend and I were talking over breakfast and, as happens with many of our conversations, the subject of technology arose. He had just returned from Japan a few months ago and was impressed by the major differences in technology between there and the states. No real surprise that many Asian countries are kickin' our boot sectors (did I just say that?) in the high tech arena, but more disturbing to me was the way that people seemed to be engaging with this technology.

Apparently, the real value of having all the bandwidth you can stand is, to many in Japan, having the ability to watch TV pretty much every where you go. In my opinion, that's like primarily using the holodeck to play Asteroids in 3D. While the awesomeness of Asteroids is not to be disputed, my idealistic brain prefers the idea of using amazing new technology for amazing new discovery, such as going back in time to see who would win a gladiator-style grudge match between Picard and Kirk...or just learning in-depth about past cultures and whatnot. Well, I come home from breakfast to find that mass TV watching in Japan isn't the only reason to be pondering the value of technology today.

Via Ars Technica:

Doris Lessing, this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, delivered her acceptance speech last week. It's a powerful plea for reading and for education and for joining in the "great tradition" of books, but Lessing wonders why poor students in southern Africa have a stronger desire for books than do the wealthy students of England. Her answer: TV and the Internet.

"And just as we never once stopped to ask, How are we, our minds, going to change with the new internet, which has seduced a whole generation into its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging and blugging etc." It is now common, she says, for "young men and women who have had years of education, to know nothing about the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers."
While I try to use observations of the rapid design and development of technology to gain some insight into the parts of our lives that develop more slowly, such as culture and politics, I must admit that I quite often find myself asking the question: What does it all mean? How do we contextualize this mass of information we have available to us? What pieces are we holding onto that we shouldn't and what should we be grasping at that we don't even know about? There's no doubt that these problems have been around since the heyday of the printing press, but it seems to me that they have googolplexed (hey-if google can be a verb!) in this high tech "information" age. And with this question of what it all means comes the question of who decides what it all means?

Well, we have Wikipedia and Citizendium--and now Knol, apparently--who are all vying for authority over our information. Does the democratic style of Wikipedia suit our information needs or do we want the credentialed father figures of Citizendium or Knol to step in and tell us what's right? While I have, in the past, placed some much-deserved blame on the well-fed news media for the political situation we find ourselves in, can we assume that a complete lack of preparedness for the chaos that is Al Gore's internet may also deserve some of the flak? Does freedom from Misters Funk and Wagnall and Mister Webster mean freedom from facts? It's hard to say whether Wikipedia, Citizendium, or Knol will eventually rule all or if YouTube will sweep the debate. Perhaps a gladiator-style grudge match will settle this issue? If so, maybe the revolution will, in fact, be televised...but only in Japan.

By the bye, I wonder if I'm the only one who finds this part of Susan Sontag's Wikipedia entry absolutely hilarious:

Nothing New byslag at 4:05 PM 1 dispenses karmic justice! (or just comments here)

Other People's Genius: Dangerous Liberal Edition

I truly love the fact that people such as Rush Limbaugh call liberals "dangerous." Everything that comes out of his and scared-o'-bears OhhhhReilly's mouth indicates that any one dangerous liberal could easily take them both--at the same time. So, this edition of Other People's Genius is dedicated to dangerous liberals everywhere.

First, I don't have Naomi Klein's new book yet, but I just know it's gonna be dangerous. Just like her Nov 30th article in the Nation:

So why is "homeland security," not green energy, the hot new [investment] sector? Perhaps because there are two distinct business models that can respond to our climate and energy crisis. We can develop policies and technologies to get us off this disastrous course. Or we can develop policies and technologies to protect us from those we have enraged through resource wars and displaced through climate change, while simultaneously shielding ourselves from the worst of both war and weather. (The ultimate expression of this second option is Hummer's new TV ads: the gas-guzzler is seen carrying its cargo to safety in various disaster zones, followed by the slogan "HOPE: Hummer Owners Prepared for Emergencies." It's a bit like the Marlboro man doing grief counseling in a cancer ward.) In short, we can choose to fix, or we can choose to fortress. Environmental activists and scientists have been yelling for the fix. The homeland security sector, on the other hand, believes the future lies in fortresses.
Dangerous liberals know that the best way to prepare for calamity is to take reasonable and thoughtful action to prevent it (and appeal to our hatred of Hummers).

And once again, the indefatigable Al Gore tells it like it is:

"Yet, despite a growing number of honourable exceptions, too many of the world's leaders are still best described in the words that Winston Churchill used in 1938, when he described those who were ignoring the threat posed by Adolf Hitler. He said, and I quote, 'They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.'"

Dangerous liberals also know that the way to tear away the mask is to just do it. Calling the self-described Decider "undecided" and "irresolute" is good for him...and we likey!

Un-media-ed thoughtful people defend separation of church and state in letters to the editor, such as this one:
Phillip Pullman's deeply intelligent and engrossing His Dark Materials trilogy that includes The Golden Compass is not anti-Catholic, but serves as a dramatic warning against the misuse of religion for political power and gain -- a much-needed message in a world where wars continue to be waged across the globe by nations poisoned by want and greed.
Dangerous liberals use whatever means they have available to them to take a stand on issues, and inspire some of us lazy, blogging, empire-building liberals (ahem!) to do the same.

And finally, Michael Franti gets the message out his way:

Those who build walls are pretendin'...(Never ever) they can defend them.
Is there anything more dangerous in a liberal than insight, passion, and ability?

Happy Other People's Genius Friday!

Nothing New byslag at 10:10 AM 1 dispenses karmic justice! (or just comments here)

Republicans: The Real "Girlie Men" and Women?

Isn't it interesting how Republicans continually call other people chickens? I mean: beyond Schwartzenegger's idiotic "girlie men" statement, we have Limbaugh's "feminization" or "chickification" of whatever, not to mention Bill OhhhhhhReilly's continual use of the c-word (coward--which is, at least, an improvement). So, not only are we all a bunch of wusses, we're also a bunch of girls, which for most Republicans would seem to be the same thing. Well, according to the Situationist, science may say different:

The reason thoughts of death make people more conservative, Jost says, is that they awaken a deep desire to see the world as fair and just, to believe that people get what they deserve, and to accept the existing social order as valid, rather than in need of change. When these natural desires are primed by thoughts of death and a barrage of mortal fear, people gravitate toward conservatism because it’s more certain about the answers it provides—right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, us vs. them—and because conservative leaders are more likely to advocate a return to traditional values, allowing people to stick with what’s familiar and known. “Conservatism is a more black and white ideology than liberalism,” explains Jost. “It emphasizes tradition and authority, which are reassuring during periods of threat.”

To test the theory, Jost prompted people to think about either pain—by looking at things like an ambulance, a dentist’s chair, and a bee sting—or death, by looking at things like a funeral hearse, the grim reaper, and a dead-end sign. Across the political spectrum, people who had been primed to think about death were more conservative on issues like immigration, affirmative action, and same-sex marriage than those who had merely thought about pain, although the effect size was relatively small. The implication is clear: For liberals, conservatives, and independents alike, thinking about death actually makes people more conservative—at least temporarily.

Now, I honestly don't know how reliable the results of studies such as these are, and they are certainly more complexity-laden in the Situationist's post than they are here. But what seems incredibly obvious is that campaign strategists (the Roves of the world) use them...a lot. As the Situationist notes:

“At least some of the President’s support is the result of constant and relentless reminders of death, some of which is just what’s happening in the world, but much of which is carefully cultivated and calculated as an electoral strategy,” says Solomon. “In politics these days, there’s a dose of reason, and there’s a dose of irrationality driven by psychological terror that may very well be swinging elections.”

Solomon demonstrated that thinking about 9/11 made people go from preferring Kerry to preferring Bush. “Very subtle manipulations of psychological conditions profoundly affect political preferences,” Solomon concludes. “In difficult moments, people don’t want complex, nuanced, John Kerry-like waffling or sophisticated cogitation. They want somebody charismatic to step up and say, ‘I know where our problem is and God has given me the clout to kick those people’s asses.’”

Sure. This is hardly a groundbreaking conclusion. Remember the Fear and Loathing in NYC that was dubbed the 2004 Republican National Convention? How many times did Bush talk about fear and threats in his speech:

We knew Saddam Hussein's record of aggression and support for terror. We knew his long history of pursuing, even using, weapons of mass destruction. And we know that September the 11th requires our country to think differently: We must, and we will, confront threats to America before it is too late. (Applause.)

In Saddam Hussein, we saw a threat.



So, the problem that liberals have is that we don't constantly feel threatened. We're not always under attack. Why is this? Well, the Situationist also cites some possible personality differences:
As kids, liberals had developed close relationships with peers and were rated by their teachers as self-reliant, energetic, impulsive, and resilient. People who were conservative at age 23 had been described by their teachers as easily victimized, easily offended, indecisive, fearful, rigid, inhibited, and vulnerable at age 3. The reason for the difference, the Blocks hypothesized, was that insecure kids most needed the reassurance of tradition and authority, and they found it in conservative politics.
It's hard to say how much of this we can buy. I mean, anecdotally, everything brought up in this study matches my own personal observations of Republicans (and I mean everything), but maybe that's why I'm more likely to believe it. But then, maybe my wondering if I can believe it, in spite of the fact that it matches my observations, is what makes me a liberal. Not only that, I think that I DO feel Republicans. True that I'm not going to go all extracurricular with my fear and start blowing stuff up, but the impact I've seen them make on our world is pretty disgusting. So, maybe I'm not afraid but disgusted? To top it off, I also kind of feel threatened by terrorists, but I'm pretty sure I can take them. It's all so perplexing. Either way, the most pressing question I have in all this is:

Which is worse: the notion that Republicans may be such complete and utter wusses or the notion that their complete and utter wussery may be so easily manipulated?

Well, that, and why are they so afraid of girls? Just askin' (again).

Oh yeah, and to get it on the record: If Bill OhhhhhhhReilly doesn't respond to my blog entry, he's a coward! (but then again, maybe that's up to science to tell us)

Nothing New byslag at 1:51 PM 0 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

Zombies Don't Need to Conspire

(file under: the real reasons monster movies are scary)

Nothing New byslag at 10:14 AM 5 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

What are you reading?

Well, the US National Endowment for the Arts is wasting American tax payer dollars again by telling us how much we don't read. Or rather, how much less we read today than we read yesterday. The gist:

Americans are reading less - teens and young adults read less often and for shorter amounts of time compared with other age groups and with Americans of previous years.

  • Less than one-third of 13-year-olds are daily readers, a 14 percent decline from 20 years earlier. Among 17-year-olds, the percentage of non-readers doubled over a 20-year period, from nine percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004.
  • On average, Americans ages 15 to 24 spend almost two hours a day watching TV, and only seven minutes of their daily leisure time on reading.

Americans are reading less well – reading scores continue to worsen, especially among teenagers and young males. By contrast, the average reading score of 9-year-olds has improved.

  • Reading scores for 12th-grade readers fell significantly from 1992 to 2005, with the sharpest declines among lower-level readers.
  • 2005 reading scores for male 12th-graders are 13 points lower than for female 12th-graders, and that gender gap has widened since 1992.
  • Reading scores for American adults of almost all education levels have deteriorated, notably among the best-educated groups. From 1992 to 2003, the percentage of adults with graduate school experience who were rated proficient in prose reading dropped by 10 points, a 20 percent rate of decline.
Who cares?

The declines in reading have civic, social, and economic implications – Advanced readers accrue personal, professional, and social advantages. Deficient readers run higher risks of failure in all three areas.

  • Nearly two-thirds of employers ranked reading comprehension "very important" for high school graduates. Yet 38 percent consider most high school graduates deficient in this basic skill.
  • American 15-year-olds ranked fifteenth in average reading scores for 31 industrialized nations, behind Poland, Korea, France, and Canada, among others.
  • Literary readers are more likely than non-readers to engage in positive civic and individual activities – such as volunteering, attending sports or cultural events, and exercising.
While the preface of the report takes pains to stress that causality is--as always--not proven, it doesn't shy away from suggesting the importance of reading in our society:
Strictly understood, the data in this report do not necessarily show cause and effect. �The statistics merely indicate correlations. �The habit of daily reading, for instance, overwhelmingly correlates with better reading skills and higher academic achievement. On the other hand, poor reading skills correlate with lower levels of financial and job success. At the risk of being criticized by social scientists, I suggest that since all the data demonstrate consistent and mostly linear relationships between reading and these positive results—and between poor reading and negative results—reading has played a decisive factor.
It's hard for me to imagine trying to convince people who don't seem to mind torture, war, and environmental destruction that this decline in reading is a bad thing. Sadly, it seems to me that all the self-proclaimed culture warriors are actually on the wrong side of the war. But it breaks my brain to think that, in 2002, over 40% of American adults never picked up a book if they didn't have to--let alone the over 50% who didn't pick up a work of literature (novel, short story, play, or poem). So, while recognizing the fact that convincing certain groups of people of reading's importance (let alone the importance of the NEA) is nigh impossible, I thought I'd throw together some images for the cause.

Back when I rode public transportation (as opposed to using pedal transportation, which is my current favorite), I got this question all the time:

but never from William Blake:

And yet, my response was always the same:

It's no wonder people don't talk to me anymore.

What I want most to know now is how to avoid having these look like a cheesy literacy campaign. Tough one.

Oh yeah...and this NEA study is yet another example of why organizations such as 826 are so very important.

Nothing New byslag at 3:07 PM 5 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

Reversal of Fortunes: Why Hell Won't Be So Bad

Played God yesterday and smote people and cows and aliens. Good times! But then I asked myself: "is Earth secular hell?"

(file under: sympathy for the devil)

Nothing New byslag at 10:17 AM 5 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

Other People's Genius

This week seems to have been a lot about breaking down pre-conceived notions and re-framing discussions. Blog Schmog's recent post about Computer Science Prof. Eugene Spafford's questioning what we think we know about information system design fits right in:

The moment we create, adopt and use our designs, we establish a set of constraints befitting only the current context, in the best case. Time shifts all situations, helping things to become more powerful and needs to fade in priority. In their place, new needs emerge from the changed conditions. The objects, though, remain fixed. At what point do we fight the unwillingness of a user base to accept change through re-examination of their needs? Can we anticipate common changes and embed that flexibility into the initial design?
While Blog Schmog's post mostly summarizes Spafford's Computer Science-y talk, it's worth thinking about how observing and participating in the rapid design and development of technology can help us to rethink other aspects of our society that develop more slowly and more obscurely: our laws and political systems, the ways we move around, and even our habits.

And on that note, Crooks and Liars offers a new and interesting perspective from an unlikely source--Bill O'Reilly, talking about progressive bloggers and those who read progressive blogs, said this:
O’Reilly: “I still think they are satanists.”
Well, I guess we've found some of the boundaries for breaking down pre-conceived notions. And we all know what (not) Freud once said: Sometimes a falafel is just a falafel...other times, you're Bill O'Reilly. (that is soooo going on a t-shirt). Although, to be fair and balanced, he may have something here. I once read a comment that said "Christians like [_______] are the reason I worship Satan." I think we can safely insert Bill's name here, so, he may be on to something.

And What Tami Said had this to offer about political correctness:
Political correctness works when it challenges memes based on bias and forces us to think about how our actions and speech affect others. Political correctness goes wrong when it stamps out thoughtful discussion of ideas for fear of offending.
Tami says good stuff--you should check it out! (Luckily, Bill O'Reilly never worries about offending...but if only he would offer thoughtful discussion.)

Finally, Despair pretty much sums up my feelings about tradition:

Being anti-tradition can become a tradition too...problematic.

Happy other people's genius Friday!

Nothing New byslag at 4:01 PM 1 dispenses karmic justice! (or just comments here)

I Wish I Knew How to Love You!

After my previous (100% pure) self-righteous post, it seems all too appropriate to dedicate this post to making a confession. Isn't that how things work? One of us gets angry, harsh words are exchanged, and then, out comes the olive switch--I mean branch. One thing that is important to note here is the fact that this confession is not at all an indication of any guilt for my previous post. I meant every word I said about those oxygen-deprived knuckle draggers. In fact, now that I think about it again.....ok, ok on to the task at hand...

What I have to confess is this: I wish I could be a Nerdfighter.

As faithful readers may be aware, "Nerdfighters" is a community started by a made-straight-from-awesome vlog called Brotherhood 2.0. The awesomeness of said vlog is that it features two fairly cool guys who are doing some fairly cool things: they're demonstrating the importance of intelligence, sincerity, and the ability to make weird hand gestures (we're still working on live long and prosper here); they've created a Foundation to decrease World Suck (suck on that, Friedman!); and they offer entertaining and educational content via healthy, unique perspectives and communication styles. With all of this value, it can be a challenge to avoid getting sucked straight into their pants (what they call their forum).

At this point, you may be wondering: if Nerdfighters are so cool, why not just join them, slag--the membership requirements can't be that hard to meet for someone as ingenious and determined as you? To which I would respond: Aw shucks...and you're right; the only logistical obstacle is really just creating a login at their site, and even I can handle that. But to be honest, there is a more profound impediment that prevents me from becoming a full-fledged Nerdfighter. And that impediment is that joining the Nerdfighters seems a bit like joining a cult (secret handshakes and all).

Now, don't get me wrong. As far as cults go, this one has all the right ingredients. As previously stated, its being made from awesome is a major plus as are its efforts to positively impact life on this planet. But as history has repeatedly demonstrated, cults regularly start out awesome, but then slowly or suddenly, the awesome begins to turn on us. For instance, when Christianity started out, it was all about hanging out with outcasts, smiling on your brother, and talking about peace, love, and economic justice (or something like that). Fast forward 2000 years, it's about starting crusades in foreign countries to take their oil so you can drive around in your 10 mpg SUV that you bought expressly because it sat you high up enough you wouldn't come face-to-face with the homeless person asking for change on the freeway on-ramp. True, that's not really what Christianity is about--as my extremely smart, thoughtful non-neocon Christian friends regularly remind me--it's just that's what it's used for. Fair enough, but since that doesn't really assuage my concerns at all, it is this deep-rooted skepticism that prevents me from joining the awesomeness that is the Brotherhood (or siblinghood, in this case).

With that said, I am intrigued by this clip of one of the brothers talking about a subject near and dear to my heart: the planet-destroying supernova known as Christmas. I like this clip because Brother John has a perspective on the issue that's much different from mine. Which means that the brother very much likes the religious aspects of the holiday and strongly dislikes the consumerism and the secular aspects. I, on the other hand, don't think at all about the religious aspects unless I'm forced to--at which time, I strongly dislike them--as well as strongly dislike the consumerist aspects but am ok with a few lights and stuff. There, now that all sides are clear, let's roll the clip:

This clip, in particular, sparked my interest for two reasons:
1. When something (such as Xmas) takes like over a month per year (>1/12) out of your life, it's good to know why you do it.
2. While we may come from very different places on an issue, that doesn't mean we can't find common ground.

Though there was quite a bit of jokery involved, watching this clip made me totally empathize with John's perspective while not feeling like I had to agree with every part of it. And to me, that's one indication of a good communicator and a good leader. I can accept certain aspects of his belief system without having to accept the whole package. Plus, I get no impression that John would consider me less of a person for not completely agreeing with him--in fact, I get the exact opposite impression. (let's contrast that with someone else who gave a speech recently about religion...oh say...Mitt Romney). However, what the brother and I do agree on is that the way we celebrate certain parts of our culture is destructive. And when we can agree that the result is actually bad, it's much easier to come to some agreement on what can be done about it--as opposed to the challenge of getting people to actually agree that the result is bad, which is often significantly more difficult. Not only that, but the additional upside is that we can learn a little more about each other and ourselves along the way.

While intellectualizing our differences and similarities here may be a nice lesson in what we commonly call tolerance, we also recognize that there are boundaries to tolerance. For instance, inherent in both the similar concepts of "dispensing karmic justice" and "decreasing world suck" is a certain amount of intolerance for things we don't like (things that suck). And part of fixing things we don't like generally means trying to deal with other people who are intolerant of things we do like (and vice versa). Sometimes dealing with these people involves trying to work with them and come to common ground while other times it can involve trying to overpower them to get what we want with the plan of changing their minds later. And it seems to me that, at different times, both strategies may be required to get the job done. But both strategies--especially the latter one--definitely require a basic understanding on everyone's part that we all want the same results. Because without feeling like we're all in this together, and that your individual perspective is just as valid as mine, and that it's not us v. them, we see how hard it is to accomplish things we want, such as peace, love, and economic justice.

In the end, this whole post appears to be just a REALLY long way of me saying: I actually am sorry for calling certain groups of people oxygen-deprived knuckle draggers. Well that, and maybe cults are ok--in moderation.

Nothing New byslag at 7:11 PM 4 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

We're #1! (in teenage pregnancy)

Apologies in advance to those of you who will take offense, but seriously?!?!?

Via the New York Times:

The birth rate among teenagers 15 to 19 in the United States rose 3 percent in 2006, according to a report issued Wednesday, the first such increase since 1991. The finding surprised scholars and fueled a debate about whether the Bush administration’s abstinence-only sexual education efforts are working. [emphasis mine]
OK. I want to know. Which f'in "scholars" are surprised by this? Is it these, these, or these "scholars"? Cuz if so, they have very short memories. Raise your hand if you didn't know back in 2004 that this was going to happen (great! now slap yourself silly with it). I hate to go all inarticulately pissed off here, but seriously?!?! (yeah...I know I already said that, but really?!?!?!)
The federal government spends $176 million annually on such programs. But a landmark study recently failed to demonstrate that they have any effect on delaying sexual activity among teenagers, and some studies suggest that they may actually increase pregnancy rates.
No way! Was this "landmark study" from like 3 years ago? Well, maybe if you're used to only seeing "studies" from the Heritage Foundation, you'd be surprised by this one. From their Senior Research Fellow in 2002:
Real abstinence education is essential to reducing out-of-wedlock childbearing, preventing sexually transmitted diseases, and improving emotional and physical well-being among the nation's youth. True abstinence education programs help young people to develop an understanding of commitment, fidelity, and intimacy that will serve them well as the foundations of healthy marital life in the future...
This is wrong of me, but the anger I have toward these people right now could power an entire inner city block. I know we're regularly the industrialized leader in teen pregnancy, but when we willfully "bring it on" to serve some bass ackwards agenda contrived by a few oxygen-deprived, knuckle-dragging politicians, I just can't contain myself. I mean, these are people's LIVES we're talking about. And I don't mean the lives of the questionably sentient, in utero entities that may or may not survive the next nine months. I'm talking about the LIVES of actual and whole CHILDREN that are being messed up--in generational sequence--by our criminally negligent mis-education of them.

I'm so sick of these Focus on the Family leadership bastards (pun intended) blathering on about their righteousness and moral high ground as if it has nothing whatsoever to do with preserving their place in the social hierarchy. These SOBs see the results of this study as a "mission accomplished." Just another bunch of poor kids to help fill in the low end of the normal economic curve. That's just great if you really think you can build your wall high enough, but some "scholars" think that strategery is complete rubbish. So, I'd like to give those moral high-grounders the same advice that the power-behind-the-throne, Mr. Potty Mouth (again with the puns), Dick Cheney gave on the Senate floor: Go f--- yourselves! (And leave our kids alone!)

More pro-choice propaganda from the vault:

Mental note: Don't read the news just before bedtime.

Nothing New byslag at 11:01 PM 2 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

Holiday Weightloss Tip: Drop Your Cultural Baggage

Tufts University explores some of the psychology behind the Freshman 15 (via the Situationist):

When we were children and young adults, before our life at Tufts, we were taught to eat balanced meals and to eat everything on our plates. While these requirements are not necessarily bad advice, they prompt us to base our eating habits on more than hunger. Students develop eating routines, schedules, and conveniences, and some find it difficult to break that mold.
Whether it's physical weight or mental weight, it seems to be often much ado about molds (is that ever a good word?). Here we are, human-beings--the self-described rulers of the animal kingdom, and the majority of us probably spend much of our time simply following a path that someone else has already hollowed out for us. At the risk of losing my "secular humanist" decoder ring, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that's fairly pathetic. And it may be true that we all can't just pack up and move out to the woods (unless by "woods" we mean "orchard" and we plan to earn $3/day picking fruit). But maybe, instead, we can think of one thing that we did today for reasons beyond our immediate consciousness. Be it a food we ate, a word we said, a purchase we made. And then maybe we can think about it.

Update: "One Thoughtless Thing"--a cool Twitter campaign?

Nothing New byslag at 1:35 PM 3 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

Dress Me Up Sexy (UPDATED)

When one has what can reasonably be seen as approximating a life, one tends not to notice certain little aspects of one's surroundings. It is a time-worn cliche (as well as a redundant one) that we forget to stop and smell the roses, fail to take joy in the little things, never pause to wonder whether or not global warming is still an impending environmental catastrophe. I am as guilty of this as anyone. For instance, back when I had a life, I never stopped to notice that pink Doc Martens are like waaaaaaaay cute, or that the hemline of my blue pants should be different from that of my black ones, or that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are on the ins or on the outs or on the what-have-yous. But one of the most important things I've learned recently that I never knew before is that Matt Damon is the sexiest man alive. And beyond that, I didn't even know that there was a "sexiest man alive."

Having lately learned that People Magazine gives out the "Sexiest Man Alive" award every year, I immediately asked myself: "Who the hell would want this award?". The reason for this question is, in my mind, fairly obvious. Who gets the award next year? Is it better to have been the sexiest man alive today but not tomorrow, or is it better to never have been the sexiest man alive at all? My money's on the latter. And what kind of arrogance does it take to give out a sexiest man ALIVE award? Is there a sexiest dead man award? (hmmm...methinks I'm on to something...) Is there some rule in place that prevents the next in line for the sexiest man alive award from receiving it if he kills the previous awardee? (this would be a big concern.) True, we at Some of Nothing, give out the Sexy Brain award, but we would never dream of giving out the Sexiest Brain Alive award. With so many sexy brains in the world (ones that we've probably never seen!), that's a moniker that even we don't feel qualified to bequeath. And in the end, isn't sexy just sexy--dead or alive?

These may be metaphysical questions (or they may be physical questions), but they are questions. And it seems that before we go flinging these awards around, maybe we should think a little bit about the impact they have on our culture. Is this not a self-perpetuating cycle of pre-determined standards for sexiness? Is the manufacturing of these declarations of who's sexy and who's not just giving People Magazine and Some of Nothing a raison d'etre? I mean, who are these people sitting around asking themselves: "You know, I wonder who the sexiest man alive is. Gosh I can't wait for People Magazine to tell me!"? Or should sexiness be its own reward? What are the costs and benefits of giving and receiving these distinctions? Are we creating a permanent underclass of sexiness? Sadly, I'm afraid these questions are relegated to academia and the blogosphere to hash out. We certainly can't expect the creators of these awards to take responsibility for them. I mean, having the arrogance it takes to initiate some things doesn't exactly mean you have competence to see them through (ooooh...connection between the Bush Administration and People Magazine--the plot thickens!).

But in the end, I guess, what this all boils down to for you men out there...Seize the moment. Because tomorrow, you might be not sexy (or dead).

UPDATE: Trying out different images for this one. The Thinker is a bit used up, but then again, what isn't? Nonetheless, do any of the below images do it for you?

The idea: IMHO, the Thinker is nothing without the contemplative face. So, by covering the face with the Sexy bar, the goal was to show that focusing on superficiality--in this case, "sexy"--we are taking away the Thinker's value. The obvious parallel here is how censorship can be demeaning.

Here it is minimized. I like the minimal aspect, but it then sort of becomes "Sexy Thinker," which is ok, but more easily thrown away, I think.

And then there's the obligatory pathetic irony. Wouldn't it be sad if he were actually thinking this? Of course, this cartoon bubble style has been overdone, so it's not very serious.

Nothing New byslag at 10:42 AM 4 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

Under This Shirt...

Inspired by the recent Onion video, this shirt parodies our cultural stigmas about body image and our bizarre fashion of trying to cover ourselves. (And when wet, it acts as a protective shield against ridicule).

Fat Kid Successfully Avoids Ridicule By Swimming With Shirt On

This is just a first go at these issues. Surprisingly (to me anyway), creating images for t-shirts has made me think about fashion, physicality, and self-image in a whole new way. As a perpetual wearer of cargo pants and hoodies, I'm a bit disturbed by our cultural fash(ion)ism.

Nothing New byslag at 1:25 AM 0 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)


Via Glenn Greenwald (again):

It isn't actually that complicated. When a government official or candidate makes a factually false statement, the role of the reporter is not merely to pass it on, nor is it simply to note that "some" dispute the false statement. The role of the reporter is to state the actual facts, which means stating clearly when someone lies or otherwise makes a false statement.

It's staggering that this most elementary principle of journalism is not merely violated by so many of our establishment journalists, but is explicitly rejected by them. That's the principal reason why our political discourse is so infected with outright falsehoods. The media has largely abdicated their primary responsibility of stating basic facts. One can see how damaging that really is in those all-too-rare instances, such as Cooper's article this morning, when a real reporter fulfills the core function of journalism.

One of my fellow classmates back in 2004 was a journalist by trade. Her background came up in class, and the professor asked her how she selected facts for her stories. She said something to the effect of "we make sure to get both sides of the story." Pressing her, the prof. asked how that process actually conveyed facts: did she just take statements from each side or did she insert a third set of facts? She adamantly stuck to the "both sides of the story" line. And interestingly, the way she discussed her process clearly indicated that getting "both sides" was the standard for maintaining objectivity--it was the height of good journalism. This incident made it obvious to me that, as a citizen and news consumer, I have a much different view of the journalist's job than the journalist has. And as this discussion occurred during the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, my feelings of frustration and impotence were only heightened by it.

While admittedly, in this post-modern world, "facts" can be hard to come by, shouldn't we at least have some basic understanding that they are a good thing? For instance, you'd think that all these rules of language--definitions, sentence structure, even lowly "punctuation"--that we have agreed to within various cultures would serve some purpose. Flawed? Yes. Irrelevant? I hope not. Cuz if so, that would be lots of years of schoolin' down the drain for everyone. Plus, setting up these rules is pretty much the only way we know how to communicate, make decisions, and live our lives.

Nothing New byslag at 11:57 AM 4 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here)

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