Archive for November, 2008

It’s just… not NORMAL!!!

November 19, 2008 6 comments

In my first reading this week of H.G. Wells’ novel, Food Of The Gods, I was impressed by one of his characters’ plea for the moral importance of Normalcy:

“But no doubt if this growth goes on, we shall find grave moral and intellectual deficiencies.  One might almost prophesy that from Max Nordau’s law. A most gifted and celebrated philosopher, Lady Wondershoot.  He discovered that the abnormal is—abnormal, a most valuable discovery, and well worth bearing in mind.  I find it of the utmost help in practice. When I come upon anything abnormal, I say at once, ‘This is abnormal.’”  His eyes became profound, his voice dropped, his manner verged upon the intimately confidential.  He raised one hand stiffly.  “And I treat it in that spirit,” he said.
H.G. Wells, 1904, The Food Of The Gods, pp. 135-136

Wells is amazing at displaying a character’s mind in just a small paragraph.

Max Nordau was a reactionary philosopher, who was highly suspicious of modern arts, urban culture, and too much excitement. 

Shown here is “The Normal Family”, a sculpture in front of city hall in my town.  (Yes, that is the actual title of the sculpture.)  If you were wondering what a ‘normal family’ is, here is your answer. 

But what is “Normal?”  Is it necessarily a good thing?  A bad thing?  Must that which is not ‘normal’ be viewed with suspicion?  How important is it to fit in?

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Hate and anger

November 18, 2008 5 comments

Recently someone said to me; “I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but…”

Here’s a hint.  When a sentence begins; “I don’t want to sound ‘X’, but…” you can be quite certain that what follows will be so revoltingly ‘X’ that you could see it from space with the naked eye.  Except the person saying it, will be completely blind to it.  No one feels the need to deny thoughts they don’t have.

This last campaign season has been one long festival of denial.  NO, of course we don’t hate blacks, or gays, or atheists, but… 

At least Ann Coulter is honest about it.  She doesn’t pretend not to hate. 

Here are some hatreds I make no effort to deny.  I hate Bill O’Reilly and I especially hate Sean Hannity.  I’d love to wipe the whiny-smug douche-baggy looks off both their faces.  (If you don’t know what that kind of look looks like, look at Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity.)

I hate George W. Bush.  I don’t want anything bad to happen to him, other than for him to go back to Crawford, Texas in 63 days (Yes, I have the countdown timer in my web browser) and spend time with crayon and newsprint writing his memoirs.  Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone, jerk; you did more damage to my country than Al Queda could ever dream of doing.  It’s going to take a generation to fix it, if it can be fixed.

Clearly I am also angry at all those individuals.  Neither hate or anger are constructive states of mind.  But they are human.  Tribalism is human, too, but so is taking constructive action, in spite of negative thoughts and feelings.  I admire people who can pull it off, (Barack Obama comes to mind) and I mean to keep trying. 

It is significant when hate (and anger) appear.  If you hate an individual you know nothing about other than their membership in some demographic, that’s prejudice.  They’re gay, or black, or Muslim, or atheist, or whatever.  If you hate someone you do know something about, because they did something bad, that’s anger.  If we try to keep our hatreds down to just individuals, we’ll go a long way toward managing conflict and resolving differences.  The trouble comes when we start hating entire groups.

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A piece of Mister Parker’s Band

November 17, 2008 2 comments

Steely Dan is a musical duo with, so far as I can tell, no equals.  For starters, how many multi platinum-album groups are named after a dildo?  Or rose to fame on songs of historical and mythological themes?  Or even tributes to other musicians?  Here’s something to get your Monday Morning going…  (You might want to minimize the video and just listen)

But if you like Steely Dan, you’re used to people saying; “Who?”  Their music is rigorous – it demands a lot from the listener.  An acquired taste, don’t you know.  At least, every Dan fan has said something like that over the years.  So I totally cracked up at this link sent in by Lucas, The Onion: Donald Fagan defends Steely Dan to friends.

Hey, Don, I know exactly where you’re coming from, man.  Except for all the drugs and stuff.

(And here’s a mythological reference, considerably more laid-back than the previous example)

Categories: music, Reviews

Communication in the Obama White House

November 16, 2008 Comments off

Coturnix has a really worthwhile discussion of communication in the new White House, how it will differ from the previous 43, and the tensions of that evolution.  Here’s a sample:

What is new is that Obama is the first President with that “facebook generation” mindset of constant, open communication, as opposed to a bubble-boy, smoke-filled back-rooms, secretive types that the previous 43 Presidents were. The laws, customs and trappings of his new job are going to be conflicting with his modern instincts towards openness. And people are starting to talk about a potential need to alter these out-dated laws in order to allow Obama to lead a more transparent government.

Obama is used to communicating in the service of getting things done.  Way back when he was a state senator, he had a regular podcast.  He understands technology and uses email, but he’ll have to step carefully due to laws that have been pushed and pulled by forces as diverse as Watergate and the secrecy-obsessed (read: ass-covering) Bush administration.  It will be interesting to see what he comes up with.  He may just decide; “screw it – let Congress find out whatever they want to know.”

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Risking friendship for principle

November 15, 2008 9 comments

We’re used to getting stupid stuff forwarded into our email inboxes, but stupid and racist is a special category.  Yet we’ve all experienced the disappointment of receiving that kind of stuff from our friends.  Like this perennial forward about the EID holiday stamp:

If there is only one thing you forward today…..let it be this!
REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of Pan Am Flight 103!
REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993!
REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the Marine Barracks in Lebanon !…
(and it goes on like that, with ever-increasing font sizes leading to an admonition to forward it to everyone you know.)

Usually when this happens we shake our heads, and momentarily mourn the slight reduction of the esteem in which we hold the friend who clicked “forward” and sent it to us.  But once in a while it’s too much and we hit ‘reply’, as my wife did yesterday.  She had received the EID screed from an old friend, and she replied…

Please note the reason for the Muslim holiday; sacrifice of Ibrahim’s son to Allah (Jehovah God) is also noted in Hebrew and Christian rituals.

Muslims referred to by General Colin Powell in speech as quoted in our Chicago Sun Times.

photo of a mother whose son died in Iraq

The EID postage stamp is displayed right next to one with a picture of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus.  Don’t you think that might cause a Hindu or Muslim to be a bit upset?  The post office just wants to make sure mail gets delivered.

I have too many kind and considerate Muslim friends who live in my town, went to school with my sons, and so I am unwilling to forward on this racist piece of garbage.

Consider for a moment what goes through your mind when you hear the word; “racism”.  Do you think of bad people?  Lynch mobs in Klan outfits?  Or is racism something woven so deeply into the whole idea of human culture, that good people are not aware of it?  Racism hides in the notion that “I am a good person, and only bad people are racist, so I am not racist.”  This is how good people find themselves, before they know it, grabbing torches and sweeping down the street with the angry mob.  Or clicking ‘forward’ without thinking about how the screed dehumanizes everyone it touches.

Long ago I learned that if you really want to make someone angry, humanize their enemies. We don’t yet know if Diane has lost a friend, but I’m damn proud of her!

  • USPS press release on EID stamp

  • City Of Brass on The EID stamp
  • Hungry For Ramadan on The Story Of the EID stamp
    “It is a testament to the character of America that such a stamp could be sold alongside others commemorating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Thanksgiving, despite the political turmoil of the past six years. No such stamp has been issued in the UK, Europe, Canada, or other countries where Muslims are a minority. To top it all off, the House of Representatives has just unanimously passed a resolution (376-0) commemorating this year’s Ramadan.  It is this acceptance and acknowledgement of faith that has, in part, allowed for a healthier integration of Muslims in America and has contributed to a strong spiritual identity that could, inshallah, inspire Muslims elsewhere around the world.”

  • Be sure to visit the photo link in her reply, and scroll down for more photos of American soldier Spc. Kareem R. Khan.
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He’s leavin’ on a jet plane

November 13, 2008 5 comments

My friend Pete and his wife Melissa are getting on a plane in the morning to fly to Ethiopia to meet their adopted daughter, four-month-old Iona

There’s no describing Pete in words.  He’s a philosopher, he’s a network engineer, an evangelical Christian, an urban bicyclist, an Obama supporter, he’s an artist… I don’t know what makes him tick (I don’t know what makes anyone tick).  But they’re not just adopting a child, they’re going all the way to Addis Ababa, a city of 3.5 million people in Ethiopia.

They’ve been studying Ethiopian culture, and ramping up their tolerance for strong coffee.  The bureaucratic complications of an international adoption have been staggering.  Sometimes the courts are closed there because of no electricity in Addis Ababa – but the city keeps working.  Imagine an American city of over 3 million people – roughly the size of Los Angeles – without electricity for a few days.

You would have to anaesthetize me to get me on a plane for a 15,000-mile round trip, and they’ll be doing half half of it with a four-month-old.  When they get back, they’ll be taking family leave time.

You can track their journey here, complete with liner notes, photos, and whatnot.  Drop by and give them a shout.

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Plenty of good stuff happened today, except

November 13, 2008 1 comment

Lots of good stuff happened in the middle part of this day.  But it started about 4:45 am cleaning cat vomit off my shoes, and ended this evening cleaning a spectacularly large, but quite badly crushed opossum off the street next to my house.  The two incidents were not related, but there were similarities.

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On Gay Marriage

November 12, 2008 12 comments

Wow.  I have never heard Keith Olbermann use this tone of voice before.  Usually he’s all breathless and angry and overheated, but now…

If you voted ‘yes’ or supported Prop 8, please explain in the comments.  I mean really try to explain why.  Like Olbermann, I just don’t get it.

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Wonderful story on the Hale telescope

November 11, 2008 6 comments

Last night we watched two engaging PBS specials, great reminders of what television can be when it isn’t constrained by purely commercial limitations.

The first of the two PBS programs I saw was a historical documentary that overlapped Hale’s life… American Experience: The Crash Of 1929.  But that is the subject of another post, which I’ll write tonight – if you want to watch it online in the meantime.

The second was Journey To Palomar; America’s first journey into space, the story of George Edmund Hale and three telescopes that he built.  Hale was fascinated by the sun, and by questions about the universe for which we had no answers.  Our understanding of the cosmos is literally pre-Wilson/Palomar and post-Wilson/Palomar.  It was a break-point in human history.

As a child I was fascinated by the 200-inch reflecting telescope at Mt. Palomar, but this excellent documentary laid out a much deeper back story, including the technological and cultural spinoffs from the Mt. Wilson observatory.  It is available on video, and will surely be broadcast again. I think you can watch it online as well, though I don’t have the right codecs in my Linux machine. (Should be fine on a Mac or PC.) There’s also an excellent downloadable .pdf teacher’s guide. 

I had known little of Hale himself, or the fact that despite his extraordinary achievements he struggled with mental illness all his life.  His greatest creation was interrupted by World War II and he never lived to see its completion.  The ‘perfect machine’ was described as a ‘500-ton Swiss watch’ and literally remade the human conception of the cosmos – and our place in it.

The Mt. Wilson and Hale telescopes pushed human knowledge forward in other ways too, because entirely new technologies had to be invented for them.  There is a progression, and no shortcuts.  You can’t have Hale without Mt. Wilson – intractable problems had to be solved for each one.  You can’t have Keck without Hale, plus the invention of lasers, fiber optics, satellites, and the Internet.  I guess we never know where the next step will take us…

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Best “New Rules” ever

November 9, 2008 5 comments

Just to give you an idea what to expect from the Irrational Right, we already have a high-ranking Republican senator threatening filibuster on Supreme Court nominations and we’re still 72 days out from inauguration. 

“New rule: no “special investigations” over made-up sh*t.  If Republicans want to “look into” something for the next four years, try a mirror.”

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