Saturday, June 30, 2007

Does this mean we're done with the stupid color code?

(Ok, though late in some happy respects, the post is a tad cleaned up now.)

Following the attack on the terminal in Glasgow today, which authorities believe is linked to the two attempted car bombings on Friday, security alert in the U.K. has been elevated to "critical," their highest level

According to The Washington Post, the U.K. has good reason to expect another attack. With the Wimbledon tournament and the tribute to Princess Diana around the corner, terrorists will have ideal opportunities to cause serious atrocity. However, it appears we in the United States will not be seeing any raise in our own color-coded terrorist alert level.

In response, U.S. authorities announced they were increasing security at Washington area and other airports but left the national threat level unchanged.

But can't the same be said in the U.S. right now? The 4th of July is four days away after all. Wouldn't pulling off attacks on both of the two primary nations engaged in the Iraq War be a pretty significant show of power?

I'm not saying I'm convinced there's going to be any attempts here this 4th. I'm far from it, though that doesn't mean that I doubt all possibility that an attack could occur. I'm just surprised that we aren't raising the alert. Not necessarily unhappy, but still surprised. Having obscure colors fluctuating back and forth always seemed too counter productive if productive at all. They keep people on edge in such a way that strikes me as more to the terrorist's favor than our own. I get the impression that a lot of people are unhappy with it, I've yet to have a single conversation with anybody that actually had something really good to say about it. That it's better than nothing seems to be the strongest argument to pass my ears and that was back when it was just starting to be used.

So is their any significance to this call not to raise it? Has all the criticism finally sunk in? Is the color code fading out of use? What do you think?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

UVA scam

Haven't checked my e-mail in a day or two, so I just found this.

Dear Incoming U.Va. Student:

I am writing to alert you and your parents to an attempt this past weekend to
cheat one of your classmates out of $1500. A man impersonating an official from
the Student Financial Services Office of the University of Virginia called one
of our incoming first-year students and told him that he should provide a credit
card number so that the man could charge $1500 to the student's card for the
next deposit due at the University. Please do not provide your credit card number
to anyone who calls with any similar request for the University. All of our
bills are sent by mail and we do not receive payment by credit card.

If you receive this type of call, please call the police to report it and then
call our Student Financial Services at our toll-free number of 866 391-0063.

John A. Blackburn
Dean of Admission
University of Virginia

Well, that's pretty lame.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Stuck in Bed = Reading Books Again!!!

I've spent the better part of this week in bed thanks to the return of a pinched nerve in my neck. It's kinda sucked (A LOT!) but on the bright side it has meant ample reading time.

I've been bothered by the fact that I don't read books anymore. I've got a ton unopened or unfinished on my shelf, and every birthday I ask for more. College has a way of sucking up all my reading time. Which is strange and cruel since it also gives me the most ready access to good books while I'm there. But all can't be blamed on academia. More than one night has been a showdown between the new Netflix arrivals and The Fall or some other novel, where Camus was defeated by Howard Hawks or Takashi Kitano.

These days my allure to movies has grown lax, as has my desire to write songs, which is a significant one, two, punch for me. With movies my appetite seems to lack a degree of its initial scholarly glee, while songs seem to have grown more derivative as I dance around that 400th song mark that I might even have passed unknowingly. In their place a return to prose has been mustered and fumbles through the summer with notions of a novel, now halted by my neck, distractions (like blogging and, more so till today, commenting) and my efforts to find information on the inner hull of the B17G Flying Fortress before writing the next chapter that will take place in one.

But in the weeks prior and this last week primarily, books have returned to my attention and have been a delight. The last semester or two at Piedmont were less than literary ones, with the exception of writing a book review on John Locke's Second Treatises of Civil Government. I'd filled my Philosophy and English requirements and had now the sciences and other remaining requirements to - not necessarily trudge through, as my teachers were fairly entertaining and kept things interesting, but get through nonetheless.

Now with UVA on the horizon, there has been a pleasant realization that I'm going to be returning now to the areas of primary interest to me. So, back to books I go!

Actually, most of my reading has been more for entertainment at this point, but one should build some momentum before jumping back into the dictionary thumpers. (I swear, any sense of insecurity towards run-on sentences in my writing was definitively humbled my Mr. Locke. I mean Jeez! I wanted to strangle the son of a bitch before I was through!) So, here's been my foray back into reflective light reading:

Neuromancer - William Gibson

To many the birthplace of cyberpunk, it clearly has set the tone for everything from the 80s on, making Gibson the wallpaper to Philip K. Dick's concepts on the big screen. The Matrix trilogy, Ghost in the Shell, it all started here baby.

Loved the style once I got my gears shifted to it. He's great at saying a lot with what he doesn't say and the spaces he leaves. The ending felt deflated in a weird way, but still fully satisfying. It made me want to read more of his work.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency - Douglas Adams

Adams was the first time I had to deal with an artist that I was a huge fan of dying. As a result I never wanted to complete his work. I liked the idea that there was more of it out there. There are a few things out there still, but this would conclude his major literary works for me. It came up in a conversation with my girlfriend where she talked me into it. I borrowed her copy and enjoyed it immensely. I forgot that books can make you laugh out loud the way the bit with the horse in the bathroom did. A great book, series of interwoven chapters that all could have probably worked fine as standalone works. Some bits dark, others funny. Reading it after my grandmother passed made for an interesting experience as ghosts play a major role in the work and Adams describes them with unsettling detail. All around though it was a far better place for a fan to find closer than the unfinished third book in the Dirk series, Salmon of Doubt.

Pattern Recognition - William Gibson

Couldn't leave Gibson alone! Pattern was a delight to read. I love the concept of modern science fiction and how well he captures our world through his own strange literary lens. The way he writes chemistry between characters and his sense of disinterested climax now more realized and shaped. This is not a big explosions spectacle. It's like reading a fashion magazine Vanity Fair or Vogue and it actually being an interesting and engaging experience. (Love the song Sonic Youth did about the book as well!)

Right now, I'm picking things up a bit and reading The Armies of the Night by Norman Mailer. I've been meaning to get into Mailer since my senor year in high school. Rolling stone had a great interview with him for their 40th anniversary edition. I think in some ways that now is exactly the time for me to get into him. Becoming a Mingus head, I paradoxically feel a lot of the sentiments Mailer does about 60s rock and roll and thus the cultures that emerged from it. The Beats were the last of those great intellectual counterculture movements that rose out of post-World War I, and even they were too busy destroying their minds, as Ginsberg lamented in Howl, but I should stop myself before I get going on countercultures. It's been on my mind a lot lately.

So yeah, that's what's been up in my pinched nerve neck of the woods.

High Rotation:

The Traveling Mulberries - Traveling Wilburys I & III

Grinderman - Grinderman

Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero

The Clash - Black Market Clash

Amen Brother!

This felt topical.

'Til all are one.

On the Legalization of Marijuana

I think I'm going to break a rule today I set out when I found political commentary seeping into my blog. Perhaps I've already discussed it before and forgotten (the irony does not escape me) but as a rule I've tried to avoid discussing the legalization of marijuana. Not to be confused with hemp; as I've said before there is a difference. My reasons why shall become apparent, first let's look at my relationship to the issue.

My high school, The Living Education Center For Ecology and the Arts, had a bad reputation for a good portion of the time I was there as a school for stoners. I've always felt this wasn't very fair since it was the behavior of a few reflecting on the whole. LEC did have a tendency of trying to help kids that other schools had given up on, and the results were probably more than one life saved. I think Ernie (Ernie Reed, the director) made some tough calls during that time, and when faced with trying to get a kid out of a self destructive cycle or continuing to be seen as a school for people like Waldo Jaquith and other youths that were on there way to nice colleges and jobs, he chose the kids over reputation. I have to admire him for that.

(For anyone interested in the school, I'm a generation or so separated from the current lot, but talking with the faculty members in privet on several occasions, they sound like a pretty decent group, and most of the troubles I'm referring to, were resolved before I graduated in 04.)

About six or seven years ago I was involved in a legalization group, the name was something like Citizens for Sensible Hemp and Marijuana Laws. I never officially became a member, but acted like one for nearly all extensive purposes. The group was formed on account of the DEA's plan to outlaw all hemp products in America. This would have meant no hemp seed oil, no hemp granola bars, no hemp beauty products at The Body Shop (which were quite popular at the time) and no rope, paper or clothing products. It was one of the most absurd prohibitions I'd ever come across, and effected me personally on two levels. At the time I had less of a handle (pardon the pun) on my allergy to metals and alloys. That hemp hand cream that The Body Shop sold happened to be the best product I'd come across for dealing with my cracking hands. The other reason was that I was reading a lot at the time that Omega-3 fatty acids were shown to help with ADD (which I have) and hemp is the most abundant source.

So I participated in a few activities with the group on the mall. When they talked about also getting involved with the legalizing of medicinal marijuana for cancer patients, I decided I agreed and stuck around, but found I quickly was backing out when the group decided to pursue legalizing recreational pot. Incidentally, this shifted into the primary focus of the group, and shortly after it disintegrated.

Between that rough spot in my school's history, being somewhat of a mall rat for close to six years and trying to form rock bands till about two years ago, I've found myself around a lot of stoners. My attitude around them has shifted over time, gradually declining from a live and let live whatever spirit to more of a polite greeting in social circles with paranoid distancing to general annoyance. I've encountered people that convince me that there is some kind of addictive behavior happening with pot. Perhaps similar to gambling or addictions to sex if not the more traditional chemical addictions of alcohol, opiates and methamphetamines. Call it whatever you will, but I've seen the behavior in heavy pot users, infantile in their need and furious when deprived. I also agree with claims that it can at least agitate some mental problems such as bipolar and manic depressive behavior. These, however, I'm less confident are being caused by THC and perhaps more by the lower quality of pot that urban kids have access to. Polluted soil and pesticides are hard to regulate with something that is illegal to grow in the first place.

More than some risk of addiction or poisoning though (or the fact that even William S. Burroughs discouraged pot use) what has always turned me away from the substance is the clear effect of apathy it casts on some users. That damn lethargic stupidity.

On one particularly conspiracy theorizing night in early 2001, when I was heavily experimenting with free writes and other prose experiments, I wrote a short monologue on how I'd try to control people if I were an evil totalitarian Big Brother dictator. It was horribly simple: I'd destroy a generation of rebellious youths by using their own spite against them. I'd want every one those hippies to be as high as weather balloons and smelling like road kill. I'd want them all to be unintelligent, idealistic couch potatoes, too busy listening to 12-hour Phish songs to actually embark on any really significant political maneuver to elect an official or pass (or stop) a bill. I'd want to point to these vegetables and say to the nation, "you want to side with them? The tree huggers? The dirty pothead hippies?" I'd make them the mascots of my opponents, and cultivate their anarchist pipedreams to divide the Left and guarantee not only that my opponents could not beat me by leaning the same way with two parties against a more organized one, but that half of them wouldn't show up because they were too busy looking at their toes, giggling stupidly.

To me, spite was the key. Turn it against them.

After September 11, protest rallies against the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were being organized. Some would have record-breaking turnouts. And on the TV were anti-drug ads that told us that smoking pot supported terrorism. Few times have I caught myself so sincerely yelling at a television as if it were a real person. The ads were absurd, blatant insults to the intelligence of every rebellious youth in the nation. Afghanistan exported heroin to America, not pot. Pot supported the guy down the street that was growing it behind his mother's azaleas or some Joe out in the county with some crop in the woods. The ads pissed me off so much that they actually made ME want to smoke a joint, just to spite them.

Then I got nervous.

I've never smoked pot and have no plans to. It was never pressured by others to do it because it was clear to them that I was crazy enough without drugs. I had my own built in drip of some sort, which made me able to out weird the most of them. With that in mind, I'd probably be one of the unlucky who go batshit crazy on drugs. My mind's my most valued asset and, to be blunt, I have no plans to fuck it up. People talk about drugs as a doorway to high spiritual plans, but to me it is simply spiritual masturbation. Not that I hold any grand soapboxes against masturbation mind you, but I do believe that some things are healthier to indulge in a simulated form than others. I don't need a televangelist in a capsule swinging on my synapses like a pedophilic Quasimodo, uh thunk-ya bary much.

Returning to the direct matter of pot though, as it would appear that I'm starting to diverge into my opinions of stronger drugs, my stance on them in practice is, like many things, not necessarily the same as my stance on the government's involvement with them. I've known several friends growing up that had abusive fathers, and alcohol was almost a factor in all of their cases. It is hard these days not to know someone that struggles with alcoholism. I shouldn't need to dig out drunk driving statistics. The fact is, alcohol is a bitch of a drug. Yet it is legal, as I think it should be. Still, no one has ever convinced me, despite all I've said, that it is a less dangerous drug than marijuana. Reluctantly, I do find myself in support of its legalization, but in the most passive sense.

For one, if the above would not seem reason enough, I'm troubled by the notion of a world where pot is legal. Sure, it would be a world with less crime, but when we take pot from the woods behind the house and put it in the hands of Phillip Morris, what then might we face? Joints designed to actually be chemically addictive, filled with carcinogens galore? The prospect of pot in the tobacco companies' hands makes my skin crawl.

Beyond trying to face the pros and cons, since my involvement with such a group, few things annoy me more than a pot activist. I look at them and think, this is what you feel is important enough to get off your ass and defend your right to? Smoking a bowl? There are wars going on, bills in legislature. Everyday issues that affect the way we live, breathe and work, and this is it? I guess everyone has to pick their fights though, but it has always struck me as such a petty thing, a matter of principle over necessity, that is best dealt with in a time of social lax. Maybe there never is such a time, only periods when we would rather not read the paper, but the last few years have seemed to me exceptional times to look around at things beyond the futon. That's why I've avoided blogging on the subject. I'm sure some hypocrisy can be drudged up against me, but, aesthetically, these are my feelings on the matter.

That all said, there is a great conversation going down at The Daily Whackjob about legalizing drugs (all drugs). Weather I agree with them or not, I love how they can facilitate civil, intelligent discourses like this. A lot of valid points are popping up that I'm having trouble disagreeing with, particularly the bits on prison and crime in general. Good stuff!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Mr. Wizard

I've always been a night person. My dad worked the late shift and my mom always was (and often still is) up at late hours in her at home office. I remember watching Johnny Carson, then Desert Storm. When we got cable I would stay up and watch MST3K, F Troop, things on Nick at Nite. Some nights, I'd stay up all night. It was usually when I'd watched horror movies on USA or TNT. Flipping through the channels, a sad little TV junkie. Beyond 2000 on the Discovery Channel, same episode they showed three or so hours ago. Here comes F Troop again.

The sun would rise in the background. And after a night of Chucky nightmares there he would be: Mr. Wizard. Bill Nigh had nothing on the Wiz. Mr. Wizard didn't need annoying theme songs. He just had a lab and some kids to educate. It was great. His voice would be the thing that finally made my surrender to sleep, dreaming no more about Puddies with forks for hands led by Fred Kruger, but of Einstine's face in a plaster mold, appearing to be a relief when it was actually reversed, a trick of the eye.

Rest in peace Mr. Wizard, and thanks for many a good day's sleep.

via Blacknell

Thursday, June 14, 2007

On religion within science

Note: The following is a continuation of the discussion that has been going on for the last two days on Waldo’s blog. Since it’s long and I expect his post will soon be buried under new material, I've decided to post my thoughts here.

As I understand it, we are debating strict creationism on this board and not general creationism. General creationism is simply the belief that a god or gods created the universe. It doesn’t really go into the how part, just that at the end of the process there is a supreme being. In this case evolution really doesn’t infringe. It can simply be a part of the how in, as Citizen Tom has put it, “how He did it.”

Strict creationism, on the other hand, is the belief that the book of Genesis is to be taken as a literal and complete account of how the universe was created. Some variation may exist from interest group to interest group, but overall it is not common for you to encounter people demanding that Hindu or Buddhist creation theories be taught in American science classes (even though some aspects do correlate with areas of physics equally if not better than Genesis). Instead, we have two departments where these are covered extensively: Religious Studies and Philosophy (with the later sometimes embodying the former where an anthropology department does not intervene). These are largely college-level classes, but as a result are taken largely by young adults at ages where they are predominantly deemed capable of thinking for themselves.

@ Citizen Tom

It is true that we are never absolutely sure of anything in the physical world? Yes. Of all the sciences, this is best conveyed in statistics. When trying to determine the probability of anything, we can never achieve 100% certainty. Any time someone does say that something, like the non-existence of Santa Claus, is 100% true, what they’ve actually done is round a number like 99.999999999…% to 100%. In truth, there is actually some infinitesimal chance that old Saint Nick does exist! It’s just way too unlikely for any reasonably sane person to believe in.

Now, the problem with accurately estimating the probability of Santa’s existence is pretty difficult. Unlike evolution, evidence of his existence is hard to come by in any creditable form, and there does seem to be a pretty decent amount of research towards the contrary. We could question that research though… we could also argue that the holocaust didn’t occur despite the large amount of evidence that it did. The same logic applies. Just one pesky infinitesimal always keeps us upon the edge of improbability, unable to leap into the impossible… because it is impossible! Unlike fat men in red suits and elaborate hoaxes involving millions of people, theism is a great deal harder to prove… or disprove. We’ll come back to that.

To deem any aspect of a reality, including its whole, as “true” requires belief. As I said and others before me have acknowledged, this is completely accepted. But weather belief requires “faith,” becomes a tad more murky, particularly since definitions of faith come a dime a dozen.

With science, there is a sincere effort to avoid faith. With uncertainty inevitable, science makes every effort to reduce uncertainty of fact to as small an infinitesimal as possible, and then goes back to rigorously review the manner of random sampling and re-test, re-test, re-test! When the probability of one theory loses consistency and is outweighed by another, the older theory eventually is cast aside, only preserved so one can survey the evolution of thought. Religion is not so inclined. In the face of uncertainty, religion is far more inclined to embrace faith as its stave. When a theologian does address uncertainty, with ideas contrary to the norm, ideas of change, more often what will happen is a new sect of the religion will be formed and the old will live on, and not merely for a few generations while the two perspectives of truth are being compared with scrutiny, but till present and on with still no interest in either willfully assimilating into the other. Though we still in elementary physics show ancient illustrations of the sun orbiting the earth, we find few scientists today who actually believe what they imply.

But here comparison fails, for among the many reasons we cannot look at Abraham, Jesus and Mohamed as the equivalent of Newton, Einstein and Hawking (or even Aristotle, Galileo and Newton), is the nature of these two systems. In systems of observation, evidence and reason, keeping one model after another makes more sense in every available way, seems irrational. With systems of faith, where evidence consists of little beyond the existence of scriptures where reason often stands as much at odds with faith as beside, any new model or variation upon the prior does not through probability disprove the prior in its independent form. It becomes purely a debate of authenticity of scripture and faith vs. reason where both are but right and left boxing gloves worn by both combatants. As a result, science becomes more refined in a sense with differing schools of thought still embodied within its whole and purpose, slowly shedding away with the constant inflow of new data while religion diversifies with faith into more and more different beliefs and interpretations, able at times to align by common belief, while only shedding away as contradicting views literally – one way or another – die off.

The systems of science and religion contradict one-another in their approach to uncertainty. Some I am sure will respond now to this argument by saying I have oversimplified religion to my aim, and neglected how many heated divides do exist in science. Nonetheless until extensively proven wrong, I maintain that my underlying point is valid. To any insulted by my use of Santa Claus and the Holocaust, my examples were, as I stated, not comparisons to the existence of god but only used to convey the extents that the logic of faith and infinitesimal uncertainty embody. To which I now return to the discussion of, for the fundamental dividing point that makes strict creationism and even general creationism inappropriate for a science class, as opposed to a philosophy or other classroom, is that it deals with the concept of god.

There is a common misconception (I’m beginning to feel like that is the most used phrase I’ve ever typed) that science is an atheistic school of thought. It isn’t. Though there are many logical arguments that have been made against the existence of god, there is no actual scientific evidence either way. One can produce evidence to challenge areas of specific religious claim, such as strict creationism, but as to weather or not god does or does not exist is impossible to proclaim with 100% certainty. Theism can no more be proven than atheism, solipsism or nihilism. As a result, it is not that science stands against the claim that god exists; it simply is not concerned with the matter. What science attempts to do is understand the space between are presumed consciousness and that unanswerable question.

Others have alluded to the purposes of science as a means of predicting the tangible, and I believe there is a great deal more to be argued as to why the practice of faith should be kept separate from science when taking in the scope of fields it covers that depend on certainty as opposed to gambling, however, I feel the most important point has now been made and will leave it at that for the moment. As for the debate of evolution vs. creationism, I feel there is little more to say beyond what plunge has stated:
If the opposition does have something to contribute, then it must play by the rules: vet their work against peer review, defend it and actually respond to criticism as opposed to dodging it. Once it is well established THEN perhaps we can discuss whether it belongs in science class.