Friday, October 05, 2007


Item from The Economist:

European lawmakers condemned efforts to teach creationism in schools yesterday. In a vote at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, 48 to 25 voted for a resolution stating that creationism was "a radical return to the past".

Thank you, Europe, for calling shenaningans on this.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

David Allen, "Getting Things Done."

Yes, everyone knows about this already. I've known about it for, what, two years now? This long article on Wired about David Allen has got me thinking.

"Allen's practical suggestions on how to turn thoughts into reality sharply distinguish him from his predecessors. His advice is so simple as to appear simpleminded. He insists that nothing should ever appear on a to-do list that is not a specific, concrete action expressed at the most practical level of detail. Do not write "set up a meeting," for instance. Instead, write "call to set up a meeting." "If you just say you are going to set up the meeting," he says, "then that leaves a question open: How are you going to do it? Are you going to call? Are you going to email? It's like having a monkey on your back that won't shut up." Allen's voice shifts into a more taunting register. "How are you going to do it? How are you going to do it? Somebody shut up the monkey!"

"The difference between issuing an invitation by email and issuing it over the phone seems perversely minuscule. But in practice, as Allen points out, the question of how to communicate is often freighted with unarticulated anxieties. His mandate to resolve apparently trivial issues serves as a kind of research tool, bringing to light aspects of work that are otherwise felt only as vague concerns. And when it is difficult to find a simple physical action that can advance a project, it is a sign that the project may be unrealistic or even impossible. This is an excellent thing to know in advance."

This one passage explains a lot. I don't know if I'm thorough enough to do the whole GTD system--write down everything? Yowza. But, "when it is difficult to find a simple physical action that can advance a project," maybe I need to be listening to myself more. I've already been thinking about what my true obligations are versus what I have decided that I want or should do. (Blogging is one of those wants, not an obligation.) Maybe there's more to be investigated with this system.

As it turns out, Allen was a mental patient roughly in the vein of Phaedrus in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Somebody shut up the monkey, indeed.

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Blackwater: Poised for hero status?

My talking $5 bill says that a Hollywood film will be made about the bravery of the Blackwater contractors in Iraq. Here's a snippet from Reuters today:

"A report prepared by the staff of committee chair Rep. Henry Waxman, released details from Blackwater's own reports of multiple incidents involving Iraqi casualties and said in most instances Blackwater fired first.

"The memorandum also slammed the State Department's oversight of Blackwater and said it was often more interested in getting the company to pay off victims' families and 'put the matter behind us' than in investigating what happened.

"It listed 195 shooting incidents from the start of 2005 until September 12 of this year, an average of 1.4 per week. Of those, there were 16 Iraqi casualties and 162 cases with property damage, the California Democrat said. He did not specify if there were fatalities."

I totally expect Blackwater to be lionized as American heroes. Whether they deserve it or not will likely never be known.

Also, kudos to Waxman for pressing the State Department on their policies.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Dyson on biotechnology.

Q: You view [biotechnology] as a creative enterprise?

A: Yes. Film technology became one of the major art forms of the 20th century. I would say that writing genomes will probably be an art form for the 21st century in the same kind of way. We will have all these creative people designing creatures and trying out beautiful arrangements. It's a new form of landscape design where you can design the plants as well as the landscape. With that will probably go biotech games for children, where you give the child some eggs and seeds and a kit for writing the genomes and seeing what comes out. That will certainly be a very messy and sometimes dangerous business, but I think it's on the whole likely to be very good for education. People get a better understanding of the natural world when they can manipulate it themselves. For them it will seem natural, which of course is the way it is with computers. My grandchildren are much more at home with computers than I am. So I think it'll be the same with biotech.


Same interview as previous post; see link below. Dyson's idea makes sense in a Sim, Second Life kind of way. Perhaps simulation games are our way of preparing ourselves for this kind of future.

There's hope for the rest of us, then.

From an interview with Freeman Dyson on Salon:

"Dyson never earned a Ph.D., but in addition to his 18 honorary degrees he has received numerous awards, ranging from the National Book Critics Circle Award for his 1984 book, "Weapons and Hope," about the nuclear threat, to the 2000 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. Among his six children are digital age guru Esther Dyson and science historian George Dyson."

I figured Dyson would've earned a Ph.D. Now I don't feel quite so lost having left my own doctoral program.

I haven't finished the interview yet, but it's been a good one so far. His remarks on Richard Dawkins are pointed, and while I am glad that Dawkins holds the atheist hardline in the face of bad reasoning, I acknowledge that it's sad that someone has to do it. But that's what it takes.

NB: I found this via Sensible Erection. I don't read Salon. Too precious for me.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Old pic

Old pic

Omer, the love of my life. Great photo of him at the summit of Snowbird. I took this one right before I took the one overlooking the other mountains.

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Sunrise, Mon 13/08/2007 06:13

Sunrise, Mon 13/08/2007 06:13

Massena, New York. On the St. Lawrence River. The home of Omer's aunt and uncle. Beautiful place; we stayed there a week. Long drive there and back from DC, but the dogs loved it.

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Crossroads of the world. Indeed.

Crossroads of the world. Indeed.

Crossroads of the world, it says. Perhaps it's right. But at whose world is this crossroads? No bluesman, no Devil. No contracts. How can Disney be its own world without referencing the outer world? Can Disney be the manifestation of the map and the territory being the same?

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Where is it? Taken at Disneyland.

Where is it? Taken at Disneyland.

For my part, I find Disney World creepy in a "Prisoner"-type of way. What I want to know right now, though, is WTF is up with Snow White's face? Did the dwarf steal it, resulting in his glee? Why do dwarves get eyeballs while pretty young women don't?

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Peanut butter cinnamon rolls.

Peanut butter cinnamon rolls.

Furtive photography at the former site of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Who would've thought that a foil-wrapped packet of peanut butter cinnamon rolls could be seen as a potential terrorist threat? I took the photo and hid the camera quickly.

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Sun 29/04/2007 14:29 29042007015

Sun 29/04/2007 14:29 29042007015

From the summit of Snowbird Mountain itself, roughly 11K feet up. It was almost 60F at the summit that day, during the final week of the ski season. Just gorgeous. Not much of a photog, am I?

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Sun 29/04/2007 13:01 29042007014

Sun 29/04/2007 13:01 29042007014

And here is where I realized I dig skier culture. Scary.

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Sat 28/04/2007 18:50 28042007013

Sat 28/04/2007 18:50 28042007013From the Snowbird ski resort in Utah. Gorgeous scenery. I was a little intimidated at the combination of altitude sickness and skiing for the first time.

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The Two Cthulhus

From my office at my old house in Baton Rouge. I'm shutting down my LifeBlog account and transferring the images here.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Blogging with Flock | Flock

Blog This
Blogging with Flock | Flock

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Test post via Flock.

I don't know anyone who's using this right now; I found out about Flock in a seminar on Zotero (blessed with two great website referrals this week). Some problems with lagging when it first opens, but that might have to do with accessing Flickr.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Ahmadinejad's speech at Columbia: transcript.

So I've been puzzled about the position of Islam on scientific inquiry. Well, it appears that Ahmadinejad has some usefulness after all:

"In our culture, the word 'science' has been defined as 'illumination.' In fact, the 'science' means 'brightness' and the real science is a science which rescues the human being from ignorance to his own benefit. In one of the widely accepted definitions of science, it is stated that it is the light which sheds to the hearts of those who have been selected by the Almighty; therefore, according to this definition, science is a divine gift, and the heart is where it resides.

"If we accept that 'science' means 'illumination,' then its scope supersedes the experimental sciences, and it includes every hidden and disclosed reality. One of the main harms inflicted against science is to limit it to experimental and physical sciences; this harm occurs even though it extends far beyond this scope.

"Realities of the world are not limited to physical realities. And the material is just a shadow of supreme realities, and physical creation is just one of the stories of the creation of the world. Human being is just an example of the creation that is a combination of the material and the spirit.

"And another important point is the relationship of science and purity of spirit, life, behavior and ethics of the human being. In the teachings of the divine prophet, one reality shall always be attached to science. The reality of purity of spirit and good behavior, knowledge and wisdom is pure and clear reality. It is -- science is a light. It is a discovery of reality, and only a pure scholar and researcher, free from wrong ideologies, superstitions, selfishness and material trappings, can discover the reality."

It would appear that his version of Islam overgeneralizes the reach of science, thereby rendering it ineffective. If purity and ideology are the defining characteristic of the scientist operating within Islam, then it's the inquiry of the priest-as-scientist. It's contempt prior to investigation.

Having said that, I am not yet done with the transcript, so this post may be edited later.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Scientific investigation, martyrdom, and redemption.

I received the following in an email forward from a friend yesterday:

"In addition to the anger and revenge motives frequently seen in other female suicide bombers, the Muslim concept of martyrdom involves the forgiveness of all sins and immediate entrance into paradise, so suicide bombing often is seen as an avenue to atone...."

This got me wondering how much of scientific investigation is an attempt at atonement, or maybe exoneration. What is it that we are trying to justify by finding the truth? Surely not something as simplistic as original sin. I'd be disappointed if it were only that. And surely we're not still looking for God.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Rugby, and why we play. Even at age 43.

Nice article on a local player who made it to the Eagles and who will play Saturday in the Rugby World Cup pool games. Rugby gets into your blood. People don't understand the intensity of it, and how attractive that is for some. They just see the onfield punishment. What they don't see is that the party is both onfield and off.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

More cartoons, this time in Sweden.

The right to parody, which goes hand in hand with the cultural imperative to investigate all aspects of a topic, has come to the fore again.

quote: "The right to freedom of religion and the right to blaspheme religions go together," [the newspaper] wrote.

It's more than freedom of speech. It's the freedom of inquiry that is the basis of human existence. Radical Islam has no right, no cultural imperative, to block that.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Nerd, Geek or Dork?

I have a serious weakness for some quiz topics. Who would've guessed that I'd score as a pure nerd?

Your Score: Pure Nerd

65 % Nerd, 47% Geek, 43% Dork

For The Record:

A Nerd is someone who is passionate about learning/being smart/academia.

A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.

A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.

You scored better than half in Nerd, earning you the title of: Pure Nerd.

The times, they are a-changing. It used to be that being exceptionally smart led to being unpopular, which would ultimately lead to picking up all of the traits and tendencies associated with the "dork." No longer. Being smart isn't as socially crippling as it once was, and even more so as you get older. Eventually, being a Pure Nerd will likely be replaced with the following label: Purely Successful.


Thanks Again! -- THE NERD? GEEK? OR DORK? TEST

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The merits of genteel poverty.

Nice short article from The Economist about the possible contributing factors to the development of the Industrial Revolution in England. I can see why some would find it inflammatory, but that's a matter of guilt on their part, not error on the part of the writer--or on the part of England.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Everything Sucksism.

I've been looking for a phrase to capture this attitude, and here it is, thanks to The Onion's A.V. Club.

"Another reason I’m pursuing this project is to refute what I like to
call the “Everything Sucksism” afflicting popular culture, a cheap
adolescent nihilism that delights in taking down celebrities and
pop-culture entities that are already walking punchlines."

I would argue that it goes farther than celebrities and popular culture. It may have started there, but it's far afield now.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hack yourself.

This was written by someone else as a rant, sent as an email, then took on a life of its own. It's not mine, and that works for me.

"Hack yourself. You can be happy. You can live the life you want to live. You can become the person you want to be. This is what I've figured out so far."

As my Mensa buddy Leah, from whom I got this, said, "Amen, brother."

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Article in French weekly against Islamic totalitarianism

We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of
being accused of "Islamophobia", a wretched concept that confuses
criticism of Islam as a religion and stigmatisation of those who
believe in it.

We defend the universality of the freedom of expression,
so that a critical spirit can exist in every continent, towards each
and every maltreatment and dogma.

We appeal to democrats and free spirits in every country that our century may be one of light and not dark.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The longevity of neologisms.

This is a nice little rant on the increasingly swift publication of neologisms in dictionaries. I agree that perhaps more time should be taken to see if the words stick in the language; the writer's example of "to handbag," a Thatcherism, is well chosen.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Item from Der Spiegel's "Fishwrap."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Nicolas Sarkozy is a sworn enemy of Turkey's EU membership.
Nonetheless, his election victory has not caused much of a stir on the
Bosporus. The Turks have reconciled themselves to the fact that they
will not make any progress in the direction of Europe within the
foreseeable future. The negotiations have effectively been put on

"The secular demonstrators (will only succeed in reducing the
influence of the military in Turkish politics) through an honest
cooperation with the Europeans. A clear policy is required, even if it
involves Sarkozy and Merkel opting for another form of cooperation
with Turkey other than full membership. That would be something to be
welcomed -- because Europe's previous policy on Turkey has failed."

Monday, April 16, 2007

Art and Culture: The Watchers

Just now in my inbox from the Art and Culture Yahoo group:

"When people complain that they can't get what they want, one of the simple truths and explanations is that they don't really want it. We are all told and have experienced that when you put your mind to doing something you usually get it done, if you see it to the end.

"People who understand this truth are usually getting more done in life, than those who believe in chance and fate. BUT, there is a huge catch, most of those people who are getting things done have not established what they Really want correctly. In today's world, there are so many idols, so many immediate options, some can be grabbed while others just elude us. Deciding on what you want becomes problematic, because the core values in life have been parodied in popular culture so many times, that you would believe the parody and not even recognize the truth when it presents itself to you. The Truth is the same everywhere, the Parodies become cleverer with each season of Fashion.

"The community in the Art and Culture group often refers to itself as 'the Watchers', because we are responsible for seeing beyond what is represented in our daily lives where ever we are on the planet. And to go deeper and beyond what is local to what is fundamentally universal. And to go beyond what is 'shown to us' as universal via Global Media, to what is true and innate inside every human being; the links that tie all together, the values that could hold us in harmony for millenia to come."

--Marco Mann

Monday, February 05, 2007

Another great article on Pope Benedict XVI.

Broadly held assumptions notwithstanding, Joseph Ratzinger did not want this job. For decades, as guardian of the Grail, he had spent "80 percent of [his] time dealing with old women who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary," as he once remarked to a visitor.

What he wanted was to go home to Bavaria and write the three fundamental treatises that only he could write, along with a study of Jesus Christ.

"If Joseph Ratzinger ever has a question, he goes to the library. He clearly doesn't have a friend he turns to for advice," says a priest and church historian who knew this J.R. before his metamorphosis.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Islam and Modern Science

Wow, how to characterize a couple of things. First, this is a lecture by Seyyid Hossein Nasr, given at MIT, no date, claims to be an accurate transcript taken by the Pakistan Study Group. Nasr talks about how Islamic historians of science, the precious few of them, must reorient Western science within an Islamic world view. (He also does the standard leapfrog of "We did it first.") His metaphor is that of digestion: Islamic historians of science must take Western science and "reject" what it doesn't want, just as the human body "rejects" indigestible food.

Anyone have a problem with that?

He also argues that science is not value free, and that's why science has to be reoriented within Islam. Then he claims that science has a deleterious effect on the young, and consequently, it has to be managed carefully or they'll stop saying their prayers.

And I'd so hoped that I'd found a rational, objective Islamic thinker.

Fortunately, there's help via Wikipedia:

Underdetermination (sometimes indeterminacy of data to theory) is a term used in the discussion of theories and their relation to the evidence that is cited to support them. Arguments from underdetermination are used to support epistemic relativism by claiming that there is no good way to certify a theory based on any set of evidence. A theory (or statement or belief) is underdetermined if, given the available evidence, there is a rival theory which is inconsistent with the theory that is at least as consistent with the evidence. Underdetermination is an epistemological issue about the relation of evidence to conclusions.

Looks like Islamic science will claim underdetermination as its rightful entry point into Western scientific thought and practice.

Look no further than the Hadith.

"The old Islamic ban on depictions of the prophet, though frequently ignored as these many paintings show, began to gain increased authority in the 18th century. Handmade books of history, especially those painted to legitimize one or another Islamic dynasty, were seldom commissioned after that.

"'The growing power of conservative faculties in Islamic universities also strengthened the old ban on depictions of the prophet,' As'ad AbuKhalil said. 'So did the rise of the Wahabis in Arabia. Their conservatism went so far that they obliterated the prophet's tomb.' They feared its veneration.

"But theological taboos can evolve. Sometimes they tighten, sometimes they loosen."

And this from the Iconography entry on Wikipedia:

"Icons are strictly forbidden in Islam if they are consecrated. However Islamic art differs in its view of icons ranging from totally forbidding drawings and photography as with the Wahhabis to forbidding only drawings but not photography to allowing both as with the majority of Sunni Muslims. Some Shia allow even the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad and his cousin Ali, a position totally unacceptable to the Sunnis. Muslims view sanctified icons as idols, and strictly forbid the worship of an icon, or worship in front of it."

Friday, January 26, 2007

An apologist with no apologies.

I hoped this article would be illuminating, but instead it's little more than obfuscation. Witness:

"The Muslim world never experienced a Western-style enlightenment, not that this would necessarily guarantee democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights, as European history demonstrates - a fact that cannot be overstressed. Enlightenment is, however, a prerequisite for a more judicious attitude toward the professed superiority of a community's own religion (not, however, as regards its claim to possessing the absolute truth, which the Christian church also asserts) and toward its own history. Most Muslims lack critical detachment when it comes to their heritage. Enlightenment, however, needs to originate from within and reflect its specific context."

Too bad the author refuses to come to the conclusion indicated in his own words: The Muslim world has no reason to experience an enlightenment.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

"Hurray! We're Capitulating!"

Fear may be a poor counselor, but when it comes to educating the masses, there is no more effective tool.,1518,462149-2,00.html

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