Your Thoughts Exactly: November 2004

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


The Future of the USA, part 2

I have to confess that this post was inspired in part by a short book written by Marshall Brain, called Manna. It’s available in its entirety by clicking on that link. After thinking about it for a few days, I think he’s pretty well off on a number of issues, but it still was an interesting read, if for no other reason than it is an optimistic view of the future, when all my cynical self can see is death and destruction. So now I come to technology.

And technology is what the future is always about, right? People believe we live in better times, because we can communicate with people more freely because of TV and the internet, because air travel bridges the gap between cultures, and because medical science will continue to improve the quality and length of our lives. This is what we want to believe. And to some degree it is true. Technology has always helped to ease our lives, allowed us to move from hunting and gathering, to agrarian society, to industrial society. What some people believe is that the next step from industrial society is the move to an intellectual society, one where the US outsources much of its industrial labor and lets its citizens focus on tasks which cannot be automated yet-- design, creation, and art. Do we have this to look forward to? It’s impossible to say.

The invention and adoption of robots would be a key factor in this move. While it would be possible for the US to truly outsource its industry to other nations, robots would make this move almost guaranteed for any nation. It would also necessarily create a lot of unemployment. Now why would it create unemployment? The industrial revolution created jobs, not destroyed them. Why would the robotic/intellectual revolution be different? Well, what would be left for everyone to do? Build the robots? No, that would be done by robots. Design the robots? No, there would be a slight increase in the demand for them, but not enough to employ the entire manual labor force of the US. No, the US (or any country) would be left with a large supply of unemployable people. There’s just not enough demand for purely creative endeavors.

And here’s where part 1 comes in. I expressed the view that the move to socialism will be important in the future. Brain’s views clearly embody many of the ideals of communism, and the end society he describes in Manna is that of a communist society. It’s also clear that he indicts American capitalism as being harmful and the reason for its downfall.

I can see where he is coming from: If this large mass of unemployable people were created today, it would create an enormous rift. They would have no way to make money, but they would need jobs the most. In a ruthless capitalist society, they’d be fucked. In a socialist society, they’d be better off, having a bit of money in their pockets, and being able to buy food and goods that are cheaply produced by the robotic labor.

But I give America credit here. Like I said previously, our humanity and compassion also increases with our technology. Usually technology has outpaced our ethics, but in this case I think our humanity is ahead of the curve. The US has countless welfare programs, unemployment, food stamps, graduated tax brackets, and special health care for the elderly and poor. We’re actually doing ok. We could be doing a lot better, but we’re not robbing the poor and giving to the rich, either. And robotic labor is quite a ways off. Artificial intelligence has a long way to go before it can catch up with a human laborer.

So by the time robotic labor is mass produced, people will be able to get money for doing nothing, and perhaps we will be able to move to a more communist society, one where we could focus our time on purely creative endeavors, and not have to worry about working. But this would only work if people got money regardless of employment, and it would only work if these robots made things cheaply enough for the ‘poor’ to buy them. Hence the communist view and Brain’s idea that people only spend 60-70 credits of the 1000 allotted to them.

One minor snag I’d like to point out is that Brain seems to be ignoring the energy part of the equation. Energy would be the one thing that would be in short supply. Is it really true that the population would only use about 6-7% of the total energy production? There would need to be limitations on energy usage. Brain seems to think that you could get a nice car, new clothes every day, food, and spend time playing video games and watching TV, and the robots will do all the work. Well, I think we’d need some sort of new energy source. But that’s a small quibble.

Philosophically, the move from capitalism to socialism is the move away from economic issues and towards humanitarian issues. That’s why socialism would work better in a society where much of the population was unemployed. But don’t get carried away, Brain. America may be capitalist, but it’s not pure laissez-faire cutthroat. Though it sometimes seems that big business holds all the cards, the people still hold at least a measure of power.


The Future of the USA

Apparently there is a survey taken periodically of Americans that asks them whether they think their children will be left with a better America or not. Also apparently, the last time they did this study was the first time that a majority of them thought we were in for dark times ahead. Is this true? Is perception reflective of reality, or have we been brainwashed by the fear campaign?

It’s easy to see why people have historically thought the future looked bright; if you look to the past, rarely has there ever been a time when the later generation had it worse than the previous. And it certainly has never been true for America. I think this general feeling in America goes a long way in explaining the election and current attitudes in America. Bush ran on a campaign of fear and determination; I believe that this fear of terrorism was the primary factor in the results of the survey. People don’t see a good way to defeat terrorism; they feel that the US has been ushered into a new war where we can’t see our enemies. And this scares them, scares them so much that they think their kids will be fighting this fight indefinitely.

Clearly, these people understand that terrorism is a new breed of threat. It’s difficult, almost impossible, to stop determined terrorists from doing harm, especially when you’re dealing with a country as big as the USthat, theoretically at least, protects individual civil liberties and allows free immigration. But I highly doubt terrorism alone will change the course of American policy and America's future. There are some indications that our reaction to terrorism (the Patriot Act comes to mind) might, but so far, so good.

Doomsday scenarios aside, (though I think environmental concerns should not be ignored), there are myriad reasons to be worried about our children’s futures as Americans. We have a massive federal debt, a growing gap between poor and rich, and an increasingly competitive economic threat from the rest of the world. And those are just the economic issues.

Truthfully, there is no reason to panic about the prospects of America in 20-30 years. We won’t be plunging into third-world country status, we’ll still probably be the fattest and richest nation on the planet, and we’ll still probably be pretty technologically advanced. But what about beyond that? Can we expect to be the dominant nation much past those 30 years?

The US has several things going for it. We are the most technologically skilled of any country in the world, and though our infrastructure lags behind that of smaller tech-savvy nations like Denmark or South Korea, our ability to invent, create, and produce new technologies does give a great advantage. Historically, technologically advanced nations have always dominated less advanced ones, and with our land mass and resource advantage to boot, it doesn’t look like we’ll be yielding that advantage anytime soon.

There are several factors going against the US as well. The aforementioned economic issues, the most troubling of which is the growing gap between rich and poor. The enormous middle class has always stopped any friction between the two groups, but will this stay the case? Are we in for a Marxist revolution? With the corporate rich creating monsters like Wal-Mart and Microsoft, will there finally be too much pressure on the poor? Luckily, I think that the humanity of the US is growing, despite what this recent election may have taught us. Hopefully we will always have progressives (yes, that’s right, I called us progressives) working to defend the rights of the people as a whole, and not allow the majority to squash the minority, or the rich to destroy the poor.

That being said, are we in for a move to socialism anyway? Is it really the next step after capitalism? I think in many ways it is. It may not happen by the time our kids are out of college, but I think it will happen. As more and more people think globally, I think the next logical progression is to think more about individuals and less about corporations. In the context of humanity, capitalism’s free market forces lose out to socialism’s equality.

Federal debt and big government issues also need to be resolved. More than likely, the debt will eventually grow so monstrous that it will finally bring the government to its knees. This could be a good thing; a restructuring of the way the US spends its taxpayer’s money. Hopefully this restructuring will result in a lot more efficiency and a lot less bureaucracy. Either that or it will force us to sell California. So there’s definitely some uncertainty there.

Economically, we also have to worry about energy. Oil reserves seem to be dwindling (though they’ve been dwindling for 60 years now), and the hydrogen economy is still a ways off. Solar power doesn’t yet seem to be the answer, and nuclear power is still a no-no. How can we continue to use up as much energy as we do? Eventually our coal will run out. And will water really be the new oil? If so, it bodes well for the nation that has most of the Great Lakes.

End of part 1.

Monday, November 22, 2004


My Thoughts on Half-Life 2

So, I've finally finished it. It took a week, but that's mainly because I played in short bursts and was away from my computer for most of the time. I could have finished this game in 2 sittings. So, it definitely could have been longer. That's the thing about computer games... bad computer games can be too short, but movies are only too short if they're good. I would never say "Pi" was too short. It was too long by about 91 minutes. Anyway, I'm not implying that Half-Life 2 is a bad game. Quite the contrary. Half-Life 2 is a very good game. But it doesn't break into the pantheon of my "Great" games. Of course, mine is a short list: Starcraft, Homeworld, Half-Life, Mario 64, Knights of the Old Republic, Smash Brothers. Which reminds me, I'm definitely going to have to do a top ten list.

Anyhow, let's get to the good stuff: Half-Life 2 is among the most polished games around. Every single piece of technology and level design fits together to create a very convincing universe, much more so than Doom 3 did, which was really just a fancy graphical display so that they could convince people to use their engine. The physics engine used in HL2 brings a sense of realism, and the human characters behave, move, and talk in the most realistic way ever done in a video game. The voice acting is good, the level design is intuitive, and the graphics are incredible. While technically they may fall a half-step short of Doom 3's, they are used to much better effect, with huge levels, colorful backgrounds, and in general, a very good sense of overall realism. In that sense, Half-Life 2 is very immersive. A few times I found myself helping computer characters when in the past, I probably would have just ran right past them to get to the next checkpoint. The weapons are a lot of fun, especially the gravity gun, and the driving missions are a great change of pace. This last part isn't going to get a lot of praise in other publications, but what I found made the game much less frustrating and more rewarding than many other First Person Shooters was the fact that the puzzles were very intuitive (made possible by the game's physics). There wasn't any keycard hunting, thank god. Solving the puzzles is remarkably like what you might try in the real world.

Now comes my fault-finding. The problem with Half-Life 2, Halo 2, Doom 3, Homeworld 2, and almost all sequels is that there's this problem with expectations. Half-Life was such a revolutionary game that I expected HL2 to be equally revolutionary. Same goes for Doom 3 and Homeworld 2. Well, Doom 3 was nothing but a graphical rehash of Doom, and so was Homeworld 2. Half-Life 2 is much more than that, but it still doesn't have the same originality of the first one. Half-Life (1) was the first computer game to take itself seriously, to create a universe. As soon as you started up the game, and you were riding a train to work, while a PA system played in the background, you knew there was something great coming next.

HL2's story also finds itself lacking. You're this voiceless character, Gordon Freeman, running around in a futuristic world, where nothing gets explained at all. Things everywhere are trying to kill you, but you don't know why, and you're trying to get somewhere, but you don't know why you're doing that either. The level design is very linear- it makes for a much less frustrating game, because you almost always know where you're supposed to be going, but it makes for a much less convincing reality. When you play a video game you're always supposed to be making progress, and that's about the only reason that Gordon Freeman keeps going. There's no story behind it. In Half-Life 1, Gordon had an identity--he was that unlucky guy, in the wrong place at the wrong time. In Half-Life 2, he's just a wild card. A wild-card killing machine.

HL2 also relies too much on the old video game cliches, crates full of ammo and health, gas filled barrels that explode when you shoot them, a first person rambo who is basically unstoppable and is charged with eliminating evil, and a bunch of evil underlings who love to get shot. The enemy AI, which was so good at the time of Half-Life, actually seems to have taken a step back. They don't put up much of a fight. Where's the originality? I suppose that if this game wasn't called Half-Life 2 I wouldn't be raising these issues.

But in the end, my main fault with Half-Life 2 is, where's the story? How come I never had any real attachments to any of the characters, or to what was going on in the game? Why didn't I ever know what was going on? How are video games going to make the leap into art? Knights of the Old Republic and Homeworld were great almost solely based on their stories, but Half-Life 2 comes up a bit short. Obviously the creators of Half-Life 2 want to make expansion packs and Half-Life 3, but couldn't they come up with a self-contained episode for their flagship game? I mean, Empire Strikes back was a cliffhanger, but it still had an ending and was a damn fine movie. Now that Half-Life 2 has made the leap technologically, we should demand that games, from now on, come with actual storylines. Hopefully KOTOR 2 and Starcraft 2 can recognize this and break the cycle of bad sequels.

Overall rating: 82/100

Saturday, November 20, 2004


What a Brawl!

Not surprising that these two teams would fight as they are in the same division, played in the Eastern Conference Semis last year, have the ex-coach factor, have the “we are the toughest defensive team” factor, and two of the craziest people in the league in Ron Artest and Rasheed. The brawl between the two teams was fairly average: some light shoving, yelling, and a lot of posturing. Where things went crazy was when the fans became involved.

Most people are blaming Artest and Jackson for going into the stands, saying “under no circumstances can you go into the stands if you are a player.” Well I think that’s kind of crap, especially considering the total failure of the Pistons security staff to control the situation. A cup of beer to the face may not be enough provocation, but what about a coin? Or a beer bottle? At some point, the players have to defend themselves against the mob, especially if the people who are supposed to keep them safe aren’t doing their job.

Of course, I am taking Artest’s side because he is one of my favorite players, and is going to take a lot of heat for this, especially after his rap album controversy earlier this year. I can’t deny that he deserves a suspension, as do Jackson and O’Neal for the simple reason that you can’t go around hitting people. They do not deserve to be sued, although they will be. If I were one of the Pacers players, I would sue the Pistons for damages to cover any lawsuits the fans might throw at the Pacers players.

As for the fans, those who ran on the basketball court deserve to be sued and have their tickets revoked. The problem is that these fans probably thought they were doing their team a favor by showing such loyalty that they would storm the court during such an incident. As fans, you can’t take the game so seriously that you consider yourself a defender of the team, or the other team the actual enemy. I am all for taunting of the opposition as a form of psychological warfare, but there is a fine line between intense rooting and pathetic demented devotion. You can’t throw shit at the players. You most certainly not storm the court, because that turns it into 19,000 on 12.

So what will be the outcome of this brawl? Higher ratings for the NBA the next time the Pacers play the Pistons. Editorializing from the major networks. Probable suspensions for Artest, O’Neal, Jackson, everyone who left the bench. Lawsuits a plenty. The Pistons organization should be punished in some way, as it’s ultimately their responsibility to keep the opposition players safe. We’ll see what happens. Overall, it adds great drama to a budding rivalry. I just hope the teams meet in the playoffs.

Thursday, November 18, 2004


Vioxx and the Drug Controversy

Sounds like a bad band name, huh? I especially like the two X's at the end of the name. Gives it a real edgy sound. Ok, that's enough. In case you didn't know, Vioxx was pulled from the shelves a few weeks ago, when Merck decided that the study condemning Vioxx as a heart attack risk was too much for them to handle. What's interesting is that Merck probably pulled Vioxx not because they were afraid people were going to die, but because the study would now open them up to litigation: anyone who was taking Vioxx and had a heart attack could sue Merck and get a whole bunch of money. The bad press and the stock hit they took were, to them, worth it. Of course, people are already suing them, but that was to be expected. By trying to admit that they knew nothing about it up till the study, they're limiting their liability, I would guess.

I'm not going to take a side on the issue here. It's possible that Merck knew there was a heart attack risk and choose to downplay it. If that's the case, then they deserve whatever bad press and punishment that is handed down to them. But, and I am inclined to believe Merck on this one, they didn't know (many of the execs and the family members were taking Vioxx), then what's the big deal?

Vioxx's rival drug, Celebrex, is one of the hottest selling drugs on the market. It promised athritis pain relief with few side effects, especially compared to taking drugs like Aleve or Advil every day. Celebrex has something like a 1.8% heart attack rate (Don't quote me on that number). Vioxx had something like a 2.7% heart attack rate. Most news sources only bothered to quote "50% GREATER RISK OF HEART ATTACK", when really, the numbers we are dealing with are small to begin with, and small to end with. Like I said, I'm not going to take sides. If Merck knew this, they are obligated to tell the public about something like this.

But here's the reality. All drugs have side effects, and for some people they show up, and for some people they don't. That's why when you hear this commercials for drugs, they say "if you have advanced BLANK disease or a history of BLANK problems, consult your doctor." Because these drugs have detrimental effects on BLANK organ, and they want to make sure that if the side effect shows up, it hopefully won't kill you.

So if Merck had simply said "if you have history of heart disease, please consult your doctor" then we'd probably been in the clear. Doctor's could prescribe Celebrex or Tylenol for those he thought were going to have a heart attack, and Vioxx for those who didn't. And that's what prescribing medicine is about; minimizing risk while maximizing the treatment. There's always going to be a more powerful drug that has more side effects. That's why they don't prescribe morphine for a muscle pull. And if you want to take the safe route, you can always just take no drugs at all, and deal with it.

All said though, people do need the right to know these things. Is an increase of .9% in heart attack risk worth the increased pain relief and reduced stomach ulcers? These are choices that people make anyway, right? Is the increase of .1% of cholesterol worth eating that bacon? Is skipping that 3K run worth the increase of atherosclerosis and increase in ass-sitting time? People and doctors should have the facts, and that's why I'm not going to take a side in this one, because I don't know the facts. I'll just say that Merck has reason to lie and protect their collective ass, and this FDA scientist has a reason to blow the whistle and get on the front pages of the news.

Coming soon: Half-Life 2 review!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


Book Review: The Dark Tower series

Yes, this post is incredibly late in arriving, but I had to wait for SOMEONE to finish the book, and it only took him 2 months! OK, seriously. I wrote in my DT 6 review that I thought it was the best in the series. OK, so I was a little optimistic after I read it. But I left some wiggle room: it all depended on DT7, the final in the series.

For those new to the Dark Tower Universe, it's a 7-book series, started in 1972(?) and ended when DT7 came out in September 2004. It was King's epic, it was supposed to be bold and beautiful. He said that DT7 was supposed to be his art, his masterpiece. After the first 6 books, I believed--I thought it would be his "swan song" (my own words). Well, I was right and I was wrong.

King did convince me that this was his swan song; it doesn't seem like he wants to keep reading in the light of this last book. What this book wasn't was a masterpiece. In fact, this may be the weakest book in the series. And you just don't want to go out with a whimper, not after 3,000+ pages. But he did.

From a literary perspective, King seems to lose his passion for the series, resorting to deus ex machina way too much, and explaining the character's reasoning through thoughts that mysteriously pop into their heads. Of course, they KNOW that these thoughts are right. So there's some supernatural force going on here, but we don't know what. Is it ka? Is it the Beam? Is it the Tower? Hell, it could be anything. But King leaves it all up in the air. Something is driving these characters, we just don't know what. In fact, the only reason we know that our characters are driving for the Tower is that it just feels right to them. We never get any real explanation for it. The character development feels messy, and there are too many peripheral characters and not enough emphasis on our protagonists (or even our antagonists.) We know that the villians are out there, but we don't know why. All we know is that they are mostly gross, horrific, and evil.

But let's say we take this all in stride; after all, it is a fantasy book, and he's allowed some freedom. From a purely storytelling perspective, King also seems to get lost in the breadth of the whole thing. After 30 years and thousands of pages, I can understand that he gets a little lost. And I can understand that the focus of the story has changed, and that the author himself has changed styles. That doesn't make it okay, though. It seems clear to me that King is writing straight from his imagination, something that he could get away with, and even excel at, in his youth, but after so much other fiction, his imagination seems to have wandered into his literary past. That's why he references his old work time and again; it's all he remembers. In my opinion the story always excelled when the characters' immediate wants were clear. I thought that boded well for the final book, but instead the characters went off on tangents. We never really knew why they were doing what they were doing, just that ka willed it. I think King let up because he thought there had to be something other than a fight to the finish. He had to get philosophical on us. And I thought he did so well in action mode. In the end, the story was just too confusing, too unfocused, and too long. King really could have used an outline. If only his 20 year old self would have written down the ending, I think we'd be better off.

Philosophically, many people are going to disagree with King's decision to write himself into the final two books. I thought it was an acceptable thing to do in book 6, mainly because I thought there would be a good reason for it. Turns out there wasn't. King didn't paint himself as god, which would have been absolutely unacceptable, but he does have a little too much fun with it, poking fun of himself, and imagining that outside forces saved his life in a car accident in 1999. It just reeked of what someone would write if they had a near-death experience... at the age of 14. But I didn't get really upset about that; I can take that in stride that he was supposed to be the storyteller in the story itself. But this wasn't the only issue.

And here's the spoiler for those who plan on reading it, despite my bad review. But the Dark Tower is a rewind button for Roland's life? I don't get it. I feel like this is just an attempt at King to leave the ending as open as possible so that the readers can fill in the blanks with our imaginations. Maybe I have a failure of imagination, but I have always been imaginative. Wasn't the Tower supposed to be that which creation was based off? What about the beams? What about all his other tie-ins? What about the other realities? Is the truth of the series that the story was what was important? So what about those of us that think the story was no good? I'm not going to say the ending sucked, because he could have done a thousand worse things. But it just felt a little hollow to me. I'm sure he couldn't have pleased me and also pleased his other fans, but I'm entitled to my opinion.

So here's my final scoring The series gets pulled up on the merits of the even-numbered books, and dragged down by the odd numbers, and especially number 7. (Sounds like the Star Trek movies!) So here's my review of all the books (some of them may be off because I haven't read them in a long time.)
DT1: 7.0
DT2: 9.0
DT3: 6.0
DT4: 8.0
DT5: 4.0
DT6: 8.0
Dark Tower 7 score: 5.0
Dark Tower series: 6.0

So, worth a read? I'd say wait for the TV miniseries. It'll be a lot cleaner, a lot shorter, and lot less time-consuming.

Monday, November 15, 2004


All Things Serve the Blog

Sorry I’ve been away so long, I spent last week in a haze of studying for three finals and starting a new job and was unable to give the people what they wanted: more blogging. However, summer is here, and with my bosses only assigning me 6 hours of work a week thus far, I’m going to have plenty of time to annoy the masses on the internet with my thoughts.

There is much on the blog docket in the next month: including some notes on traveling, Dark Tower VII, investigating the growing apocalyptic instrument of doom that is the United States Government (Condalindus Rice as Secretary of State!), and attempting to sound intelligent about the NFL and NBA without watching any of the games.

I was going to write a special tribute to Sandy Cohen- the Dad from The OC- but the death of an important figure delays that to another day. No I’m not talking about that bum Arafat. I am referring to the death of the Ol’ Dirty Bastard, one of the founding members of the Wu-Tang Clan. He died from a heart attack at the age of 35.

ODB was one of the great characters of the rap industry, more known for getting in trouble and wild antics than contributions to lyricism or specific songs. His biggest popular hit was probably “Got Your Money” a pretty good piece of early Neptunes pop-rap, notable also for featuring Kelis (the “Milkshake,” chick) before she ever hit it big (back when she was fucking Pharell, before she was fucking Nas.) Within the rap culture, Dirty is better remembered for his role on the early Wu-Tang albums, including his own contribution to the Wu canon, 1995’s “Return to the 36 Chambers.”

While much of the album contains ODB ranting incoherently and profanely, it exemplifies that when ODB could get his shit together, he was actually a pretty clever rapper. Combined with his unique delivery, he killed songs like “Brooklyn Zoo,” “Dirty Dancin,” “Hippa to da Hoppa,” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” If you are a fan of rap, or hardcore music in general, check these songs out. Just have an open mind and don’t expect them to sound like anything else you’ve heard. In addition, I recommend the songs: “Da Mystery of Chessboxin,” and “Shame on a Nigga,” to get a glimpse of understanding of the Dirty one’s contribution to Wu-Tang as a group.

The troubled history of ODB is reflected in the inconsistency of his later rap recordings. He only had one appearance on Wu-Tang’s 2000 album “The W,” which was phoned in from prison and in general his ranting became as incoherent and inconsistent as his personality. His life was filled with moments of the ridiculous, the funny, the sad, and the astounding. Some highlights: running out of a recording studio to save a four year old girl who had been hit by a car and lay trapped underneath the auto, appearing at the Grammy’s the next day and interrupting Shawn Colvin’s acceptance speech to complain about Wu-Tang losing the best rap album to Puff Daddy, uttering the now famous “Wu-Tang is for the children,” getting arrested twice in three months in California for making terrorist threats, getting kicked out of a hotel in Berlin for lounging on the balcony of his room in the nude, twice getting arrested for possession of crack, telling the female DA at his drug case that she was a “sperm donor,” taking a nap during the same court hearing as it was going on, fleeing rehab and making a surprise appearance at a Wu-Tang show while on the lam, and bringing an MTV camera crew that was following him around with him as he went to get food stamps.

Sadly, the rap world loses another talented member, and possibly a talented group, as the death of ODB provides another hindrance to the reunification of Wu-Tang. The lack of reaction by fellow group members is disappointing. I guess Rza is too busy designing Wuwear or scoring another movie to get the guys together to make a statement. Hopefully they will release a tribute or something, as Dirty was an important member of the group. He wasn’t the group’s greatest musical contributor, or lyricist, but his character and attitude gave the Clan something no one else had. From me to the Dirty one, Rest In Peace to the moonshine drunken monk.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


The End is Coming!!

Ever heard of the Doomsday Clock? It’s this big clock made by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, made to symbolize how close the world is to nuclear destruction. Right now it's set to 11:53 (seven minutes to midnight). I like it. It’s a bit melodramatic, over-the-top, and almost totally useless, but hey, can’t you just visualize the end of the world so much better with it?
I think these Atomic Scientists are a little too full of themselves to think that Doomsday will be the product of their little creation, so I’ve decided to compile a ranked list of the top reasons to lock yourself in a bomb shelter for eternity. Fun, huh? I’ve taken into account how likely the scenario is, how destructive it could be, and of course, my personal je ne sais pas. I give you the Doomsday List:

6.) Asteroids!
Basically, this would need to be a really large one; bigger than the one that killed the dinosaurs. And it would need to happen soon, because with every passing century, we put better and better telescopes out there and develop better and better weapons, so our chances of dealing with this threat go up as time goes on. In fact, if we found out an asteroid were going to hit the planet in a few weeks, couldn’t we just nuke it a bunch of times, to at least minimize the damage?
Likelihood Factor: Minuscule
Destruction Factor: High

5.) Aliens!
My personal favorite. We have no real good basis on which to judge the hostility of a potential alien race. Would they be like humans of the past, wiping out new cultures when they saw them, because of their valuable land? Or would they be more like humans of the present, sort of pretending to value new cultures while assimilating them and trying to turn them into their own? Or would they be much more advanced than us? History shows us that in warfare, technology makes a huge difference. Even a difference of a few dozen years can spell doom for the inferior-equipped side. In that light, if an alien race came to invade us, there’d be no stopping them. Not with computer viruses, not with good old American know-how, not with water (water, for the love of god), and certainly not with our weapons. I will give H.G. Wells credit in the sense that if there were one chance, it would be our germs. But it’d be unlikely even then, because I would assume an alien race capable of space travel would canvas a planet before invading. So the destruction would be total.
What if we’re lucky and they’re friendly aliens? Well, then perhaps all they would do is take over our planet and force us to do their bidding. If they’re REALLY friendly, then maybe they’d leave us alone, and not even make themselves known. Maybe the really friendly aliens are out there now! Still, even if they simply take over the planet, there’d be no reason for them to let us keep it. So I think that spells the end of human civilization. And the beginning of theirs.
Likelihood Factor: A notch above minuscule
Destruction Factor: High

4.) The machines!
Nanotechnology is the study of machines that can work with matter and energy on the molecular level. While we are nowhere near the level of sophistication require to destroy the planet, I have confidence that we can do it! One of the prime goals of nanotechnology would be to change molecules at the atomic level- being able to turn lead into gold, so to speak, to create any kind of matter from any other kind of matter. And, assuming this is possible, then it would be possible to create self-replicating machines. You can see the problems with this, I’m sure. The famous “grey-goo scenario” has these machines consuming the entire earth while turning it into more machines. Unlikely, but given that it is possible to create this by accident, I’ll give our accident-prone species a boost. Also, this scenario would take an enormous amount of energy, but the machines have time, right?
Secondly, artificial intelligence: if we ever do get to the point where we can create sentient life, it is only a matter of time before they/it is competing with humans, whether it be directly, for resources, or indirectly, for things like jobs and rights. In this scenario, it seems inevitable that the machines would win. While a scenario a la Terminator or the Matrix is unlikely, the machines have advantages that can’t be denied. While humans are left to the slow process of evolution, machines can be upgraded, tweaked, and enhanced. The human body is indeed an incredible machine, but if we’re at the point of creating artificial sentience, then I’d guess we can create some other impressive technology too. There is also the idea that humanity might choose to let the robots take over, in the case of Unabomber Luddism, or the case that we might merge our consciousness with a machine to achieve immortality. Either way, I consider that the fall of humanity.
Likelihood factor: High, but delayed
Destruction factor: Low to Extreme

3.) Nukes!
Ah, that which inspired this list. It does seem inevitable that a nuke is going to go off in the future. But are we really 7 minutes from the proverbial midnight? In terms of a nuke going off, perhaps. In terms of the destruction of humanity? Probably not. The specter of a nuclear holocaust is diminishing, with the cold war over and the other nuclear powers no longer really willing to risk a war that would destroy their nation. Sure, there’s North Korea, almost assuredly getting a hold of nuclear missiles. And there’s the China part of the equation. But we didn’t nuke the USSR, so I think we’re safe from nuclear missile attack in the near future. However, the chances of a nuke going off are increasing, because Russia can’t account for all its own, and the US is not guaranteed to keep a hold of its own hundreds of years down the line, if the US crumbles. That increases the chance that John Q. Public will get his hands on one of his own, and pissed off that some city won the World Series again, blows it up in a fit of rage. And there’s the terrorists, for whom the nuke is the ultimate bargaining chip. Get one, and they’ll be taken seriously. I think, for the nuclear doomsday to happen, there’s going to have to be at least a few hundred, if not thousand, individuals to have their own. Of course, the political climate could change in the coming ages, and with thousands of nukes out there, the optimist in me thinks it’s always possible!
Likelihood factor: Medium-Low
Destruction factor: Medium-Low

2.) The germs!
AIDS! SARS! Ebola! Anthrax! Influenza! Diseases are big news these days, they generate fear and everyone loves a good scare. That’s why you’re reading this, isn’t it? AIDS showed us that some diseases are beyond our technology, and that long lasting diseases can trigger epidemics, regardless of their virulence or preventability. SARS showed us that diseases can become global in a matter of days. Ebola’s kills the victim too quickly to spread, Anthrax isn’t contagious, and the flu has been kind to us so far. With viruses and bacteria mutating more and more, livestock being pumped full of antibiotics to create super-resistant germs, it’s almost inevitable that something awful is being brewed in the blood of our friendly critters. The antibiotic problem is becoming so bad that pharmaceutical experts believe that in 50 years, we’ll be back to where we were before penicillin, when infections were the norm, and when all we had to combat bacteria were sulfa drugs. Still, viruses pose a greater threat than bacteria do, if only because they tend to be more contagious. There have been strides made in the fight against HIV and the flu, leading to antiviral agents being constructed, but HIV is remarkably resistant and remarkably clever. The flu has largely been a nuisance rather than a serious threat to humanity, but this could easily change with a couple key mutations. Couple this with the theory that there might be incredibly small disease causing proteins called prions, and we’re fighting a losing battle against the germs. The germs get bonus points for the inevitability factor, but don’t count out the humans yet either. We have genes as well, and given that some people have genetic resistance to HIV and that there are 6 billion of us running around, and the chances are high that we can survive them too.
Likelihood factor: Medium-High
Destruction factor: High

1.) George W. Bush.
Ok, ok. That was my political throwaway joke for the day. Moving on...

1.) Environmental destruction!
The environment is a sort of misunderstood subject. Much of humanity treats the earth as its slave, as if it were given to us by god and that we are free to do whatever we want with it. Then you have the environmentalists, who think that humanity is destroying the earth and that we are its keepers. We must save the earth, they cry! Interestingly, both of these groups are guilty of the same thing: hubris. The first group thinks humanity can do no wrong to the earth, the second thinks only humanity can save earth.
Well, environmentalists, the earth is going to be around long after humanity dies off, and so will bacteria, insects, and algae. It’s survived asteroid impacts, I think it can survive us. What they should be saying is, “save ourselves!” We need the earth for our own selfish purposes, and in that regard, maybe the industrialists have it right. We just need to take better care of it.
Ok, that’s my rant. Environmental destruction is number one on my list because humanity just doesn’t understand what it’s doing at all. Destruction of the rainforest, global warming, ozone depletion, etc. True, we MAY not be doing any harm, but that’s the whole point. We have no idea, and there are too many people on the planet to change it anytime in the near future. Even if the US passes the strictest environmental laws ever, we’re still only a part of the equation. And in fact, the damage may already be done, and most of it is irreversible. You can’t freeze back part of Antarctica, or replant millions of acres of rainforest, or bring back extinct species. The point is that as a species, we are a lumbering giant, and it’s going to take time for us to change. We also have a tendency to not do things until they smack us in the face. So if we wait until there is a problem with the environment, it will almost definitely be too late. Actual destruction gets a few minus points because even with the worst-case scenarios, it’s almost impossible to destroy civilization as we know it. Though in this case, overpopulation exacerbates the problem, not improves it, like I said for germs. In fact, I’d say overpopulation itself is a subset of this problem. What better way for humanity to kill itself off than through other humans?
Likelihood factor: High
Destruction factor: Medium

If you've got any others, I'd love to hear them. In fact, I feel like I forgot something. So comment away!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


Science and its foibles…

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a science ‘fan’. Subjects like biology, medicine, physics, evolution, and technology all fascinate me. And I think I’ve figured out why. Science makes sense. There’s an internal and external consistency within it, there are rules, and there are results. But I feel like the rest of the world doesn’t share my passion for science. So I think I am going to try and convince you of its merits.

People sometimes shudder when they hear the word ‘science’. To them, it means rote memorization: What happens when you add mix these two chemicals together? What happens in Prophase II? What was the name of Darwin’s ship? And I can understand that. There is no real science in these facts. In fact, I would call what most people learn in school is the history of science. Basically, what we know up to this point is what kids are learning in high school and college. There’s a good chance that a good percentage of what we know now is going to be proven false, or at least tweaked.

That’s why it leads people to say things like “Oh, evolution is just a theory.” And “oh, relativity is just a theory.” Well, yes. That’s the point, and the beauty of science. Things can be proven wrong, and things are always up for testing.

There’s a theory of gravity; I don’t think anyone would say “Gravity is just a theory.” Well, given all the overwhelming evidence for gravity, I think we can say that the existence of gravity is a fact. However, there are even now changes being made to the theory of gravity; modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND), dark matter, etc. That doesn’t invalidate what Newton discovered. It just shows us that our understanding isn’t complete, that we can do things a little better. All the evidence for evolution is in; it’s real. But that’s not to say we’ve gotten it 100% right. In fact, there are many holes in our understanding of evolution, which is why it’s sort of opened the door for creationists to say “well, you haven’t explained this, and this. Creationism does.”

People have criticized science nuts as being blindly faithful in science, just as some are blindly faithful in religion. The difference is, that if the base assumptions are false in science, nothing can make sense in the world at all, because it is all built on a foundation of facts that we have all been learning innately since birth. In fact, many scientists and sociologists believe that human sentience forms as toddlers test the hypothesis that their own mind is separate from their parents, mainly through a variety of very irritating methods to provoke responses. I believe that every person understands the process of hypothesis->test->conclusion, and for someone to say that this could be wrong would be for them to miss the point.

Let’s say that tomorrow, gravity stopped working. Would that mean that science was wrong? No, not necessarily. Our understandings reflect that things can change in science. New information is always appreciated, even if it is contrary to what we know so far. This new non-gravity world would be used as new information, and a new hypothesis would be reformed, one that took into account the gravity and the non-gravity. To say that the scientific method itself was incorrect would be to say that we were wrong in testing our hypotheses; it would be to say that there is no cause and effect in our universe.

That’s what is impressive about science: its ability to evolve and change, all the while keeping its core principles the same. Why? Because those core principles are impossible to deny: That there is cause and effect in the universe, and that by studying the effects, we can learn the causes. If you can conceive of a universe without cause and effect, please tell me all about it.

Sunday, November 07, 2004


Stealing the "Security" Platform: What the Dems need to do

I am such a nice guy, that I am going to give the Democrats my political platform before I can even use it to run for the House, which I am planning on doing by age 30. The biggest issue to people today is security, whether security from evil terrorists who want to kill us while we are driving to Starbucks in our SUV’s or security with regards to future economic welfare. The Democratic Party should focus on fusing the needs of people for security with the positive traditional ideals associated with their history: equal opportunity, championing the cause of the less powerful, and protecting personal freedom. The central message should be one of protecting people’s security for the future. I would run on three main party policy objectives

Objective 1: International Security. The biggest short-term threat to the United States is terrorism, in terms of who is most likely to cause casualties on U.S. soil within the next five years. Moreover the terrorist threat is what resonates most with the American people right now. The Democratic strategy should be two pronged: 1) focusing on Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda as the primary enemy, as they have attacked the U.S. successfully, 2) Reminding everyone that diverting forces to Iraq is diverting forces away from the main threat. If the Democrats are able to get into power before capturing Bin Laden, and then capture him, that would alleviate concerns of their weakness on terrorism.
While attention would have to be paid to terrorist threats, international security for the future requires stricter monitoring of the rest of the world. The Middle East has a lot of oil, but it houses fewer threats to U.S. hegemony than any region of the world besides Africa. We are wasting our time and resources rebuilding two fourth rate countries, and losing focus on more important strategic areas like East Asia. The rise of China is of great importance, and while the Chinese military isn’t even strong enough to take over Taiwan, they will be soon. The Democrats should formulate a world diplomacy plan for each region. I would advocate maintaining relations with Europe as an important, although fading part of the world, taking a more active role in intra-Asia politics to keep Asian regionalism from strengthening, and trying to increase regional ties with the rest of the Americas by championing the rapidly growing Hispanic character of the United States. Overall I would like to see a shift in the perception of the U.S. from a “North Atlantic” state to an “American” state.

Objective 2: Health Security. Tens of millions of people do not have healthcare. The Democrats should focus on providing universal healthcare coverage. Almost every other major Western country has universal healthcare, despite the fact that many of these countries spend less of a total percentage of their GDP on healthcare than we do. More importantly, frame healthcare as a matter of security: security to new parents, security for the uninsured of underinsured, security for those moving into old age, likely to have greater health problems. Say things like “As the Democratic Party in the 21st century, we believe every person should be secure in knowing that we will be there when you have health problems.” What can the Republicans say to that without sounding unconcerned with the needs of populace?

Objective 3: The security of our future. The federal government needs to take a more active role in education, through providing schools with aid to hire teachers, making the job a more attractive position. There also needs to be a revision of the curriculum requirements to be more in line with the 21st century world. In addition, I propose a 2 year Civil Service requirement following completion of high school, which will be rewarded with grants for higher education. The Civil Service would require one year of aid the U.S., in a different part of the country than one’s own. Thus rural farm boys would be sent to help with poor urban development, and rich yuppie children would be sent to works projects in rural Louisiana. This would help bring future generations together by exposing them to different parts of our country. The second year could be spent in the U.S., or preferably, abroad, providing aid in third world countries.

On issues such as the environment, frame Democrats responses within the “security of the future,” value ideal. Environmental protections are important for the security of the future. Fiscal responsibility (raising rich people’s taxes to help pay a giant debt) is important for future economic security.

On social issues, focus on the equal opportunity and the future. Gay Marriage amendments contradict the values of the Democratic Party and are holdovers of the close-mindedness of the past, not the open-mindedness of the future.

So there is your platform Dems. Now get cracking.

Saturday, November 06, 2004


Red and Blue Redux

The headline above links to an NPR piece given by George Lakoff (a linguistic professor) on the differing world-views of conservatives and liberals. I have to credit Josh Langhorne here for linking it up to me. It was aired a month ago, but I think it's just as poignant today in the midst of all this talk of seceding from the rest of the country.

For those of you who don't want to spend 30 minutes listening, I'll sum up quickly:
Lakoff argues that the two sides (liberals and conservatives) both have their own set of moral standards, and the simplest way to view that is through the eyes of a family. Strict father (for conservatives) vs. nurturing parent (for liberals). In light of this, low taxes, harsh punishments, and moral unilateralism all come into focus for conservatives. On the other end of the spectrum, social welfare, environmentalism, and human rights all make sense for liberals.

Of course, like everything else in life, it isn't quite so simple. Lakoff argues that we have both worldviews in us; that we can sometimes use them in different parts of life. Does this mean that we have the ability to understand the other view? Does this mean that we don't always have to fight? Can't we all just get along? Well, also like everything else in life, it's much easier to point out the problems that it is to fix them. There isn't any real explanation about how this will help unite our nation, other than to say that we should respect the other views. Yes, that may help, but it doesn't stop me from thinking they're wrong.

During the segment, a caller calls in who says that conservatives are "equal opportunity" and that liberals are "equal results". As soon as the words were out of his mouth, I thought "equal results? That's not what liberals are about!" Lakoff immediately pounced on this, saying that thinking of it that way was a conservative view and only furthered his point: we don't see eye to eye. In fact, both liberals and conservatives think they are about equal opportunity. We just have different ways of getting to that end.

What troubles me the most is the way that he depicts this as a moral problem. The death penalty may not work: it doesn't deter crime, it costs more, and it often puts innocents to death. That doesn't matter to conservatives: it's morally right to put people to death who murder others, and despite the practical evidence against it, you can't argue against an ideal. And liberals aren't any less guilty of this either; while championing environmental rights, jobs are lost and people lose their livelihoods and futures, exactly what liberals are supposed to be all about. But you can't understand other people's morals if your own are in opposition. That's why, although this is enlightening, merely respecting other people's views isn't going to solve the problem. Conservatives want a world where we all worship the same God, and I want a world where we worship nothing. My middle ground would be where churches and temples do their own thing, separate from the government, not interfering with other people's lives. Their middle ground would be where atheists stayed in the closet and let churches do God's work. After all, my morals were shaped by our society, a predominantly Judao-Christian one, they say. I guess that's where we find ourselves now. Right in the middle.

Back to the topic, though, there are a lot of moderates out there, and like Lakoff said, everybody can at least passively understand both views. There will always be opposition from either side, but if the liberals can capture the middle, they have a chance. And that's what they should have done with Kerry; the strict father role is so appealing when we feel we need to be protected, and Bush plays that better than him. Kerry tried to capture that with his tough talk, but maybe what he should have been doing is pushing the 'kindler, gentler US" rhetoric. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and the next presidential election will be a whole new ball of wax.

The take-home message: These world views may perhaps enlighten how we think, but they don't explain why we think it. I still believe that our nationwide division is as much a product of geography and money as it is anything else, and I think those are the issues we need to address. That being said, we could all probably stand to stop calling each other morons, Jesus-freaks, liberal-hippies, religious wackos, pussies, hicks, and bigots. It may not solve all the problems, but it probably isn't going to make things worse.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004


Mad as Hell, And I Hope We Won't Take it Anymore

Many people today are sad or talking about leaving the country. I on the other hand, am just plain angry in so many ways, at so many groups of people. Thus this post will be venting at these various people.

I am mad at myself. I should have done more to convince overseas American university students to get their vote in. I was planning on posting flyers around campus letting people know where they could register for absentee ballots. I didn’t because I am a lazy bastard. It would have taken me one rainy afternoon of which there have been countless this year. In the next election cycle, I must do better.

I am mad at my generation. The youth vote is age 18-29 and while we voted in greater numbers, this was only motivated by a greater political interest across the board rather than a specific youth vote movement. Gabe told me about a hip-hop event he hosted at The Mansion where several “Fuck Bush,” chants broke out. I wonder how many of those kids actually made it to the polling booths. I can hear all the arguments against voting, and understand their rational merits. Let’s be honest though, the reason much of our generation doesn’t vote is that they couldn’t be bothered to get up off their ass and go to the polling booths. They just don’t care. At some point, we have to take responsibility for our lives and our government, and pay attention to what’s going on. If you didn’t vote this time, and it was simply because you were to lazy too go to the polling place, or spend 30 seconds looking online to find out how to register in your state, you have gotten exactly what you deserve. Please, please, spend 5 minutes a day reading news headlines from now until the next election. 5 minutes, that’s all I ask. When the time comes to register in 2006, do it. No excuses.

I am mad at the Democratic Party. I am glad Daschle lost because it opens the door for new leadership, not that I expect anyone else to do better. What the Democrats need is two-fold. First, a commitment to the principles that attract people to the Democratic Party in the first place: watching out for the little guy, protecting freedom through civil liberties, economic sense and peacemaking, the legacies of FDR, JFK, and Clinton. A great place to start would be a Party wide commitment to blocking any Gay Marriage Amendment. Don’t be afraid to call this legislation what it is: legalized bigotry. Secondly, the Democratic Party needs leadership and unity. They should never have had 9 candidates running in the primaries, sniping at each other and shooting each other down for months on end. That’s how you end up with an unattractive candidate like Kerry. Rather, the liberal base (not to be confused with the leftist side of the party,) should have been scouting candidates in 2002 and thrown their support behind a candidate with broad appeal by late 2003, similar to what the Republicans did with Bush in 2000. Even if this had been Dean, I think the Democratic candidate would have been in a stronger position coming out of the primaries. Instead, Kerry had to worry about preliminary sniping from the Bush camp (being labeled a flip-flopper for the first time,) while fending off Democratic rivals late into May, who then picked up on the same anti-Kerry rhetoric. Democratic lawmakers need to know their roles and shut their mouths…except for when their role calls for them to be liberal muckrakers. For example, I want my Congressmen, Michael Capuano, who ran unopposed, to spend the next two years making as many inflammatory liberal statements as possible. He won’t lose his seat in Boston, and he doesn’t need to worry about his future in politics—he doesn’t have one.

I am mad at those stupid states in the middle of the country. I feel the need to drop what I am doing at school and go live in rural Oklahoma for a year to better understand how out of touch I am from half the population. The way I see it, there is a whole segment of Southern and Midwestern America focused on “moral issues,” which leads to the election of white males such as Jim DeMint from South Carolina, who wants to make all abortions illegal, and doesn't think homosexuals or single mothers should be allowed to vote in public schools. These people vote their religion, a fact that is almost impossible to reverse. To do so requires changing the leadership and rhetoric of institutions like the Christian Coalition and Southern Baptist Church, which I can’t see happening anytime soon. These people vote scared: they fear things different than themselves; they see America as literally “going to hell.” Then there is a whole segment of America focused on the War of Terror. These people also vote scared, only their source of fear isn’t the Bible, but rather the Bush Administration, raising terror alerts, warning that “there will be attacks again, especially if a Democrat is elected,” putting terrorist hotlines on road signs. This I can do something about. I can inform people what an utter load of crap the supposed threat of terrorism is, and use my knowledge of International Relations to show that we are wasting our time and money in Iraq. Whether anyone listens, I can’t say.

In the next four years, I hope the following things don’t occur: A draft, illegalizing abortions, a gay marriage amendment, or another major misguided military conflict. The Democrats still hold enough political weight to stop most of these things, especially if they could ever get their act together enough to take back part of Congress by 2006. To those people considering leaving the country, don’t. Now is when America needs us the most. Take this as a challenge, and don’t back down like we have been trained to do, rather step up. We need to be heard for once.


Sad thoughts from an upset citizen

As promised, I sat in front of the television for most of today, getting my hopes up as voter turnout appeared sky high, a good sign for Kerry, and most exit polls showed Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania all going Kerry by 3-4 points.

It became apparent during the actual returns of Ohio and Florida that it wasn't going to go as the Votemaster said it would. Florida jumped out to a huge lead, and in Ohio the gap just wouldn't get any smaller.

So it looks as though we get another four years. Like I said, I'm not going to live and die with this election. What troubles me, as I look up at the map of the US, is the division of red and blue. Illinois, my state, a lone blue amongst a sea of red, to the west and south. The northeast and the west coast, the bastions of liberalism. Didn't we already fight the civil war? Why can't these be the United States?

Barack Obama desperately wanted us to believe that there is no Red America, there is no Blue America, there is simply America. Well, Mr. Obama, I can't do that. I won't live in the red states. I don't even want to live in a red county. Why? I don't hate conservatives; in fact I agree with much of the practical applications of conservatism, and I could probably be convinced to vote for a Republican candidate as long as it wasn't for President.

But like I said earlier, voting is for the future. Voting conservative is a vote for the present, a vote for things to remain more or less the same. Which is why the republicans came out in droves; they want Bush to provide exactly that. There is a need for conservativism, to make sure we are fiscally responsible, to make sure that taxes are low, to make sure that the rural areas of America are taken care of. I look at the polls and I see that rich America votes pro-bush; they like his tax cuts for the wealthy. It's a vote to keep more money in your wallet, it's a vote for the present. I see white protestant america votes pro-bush, they like how things are now, they think America is the perfect nation and only needs to tweak the formula, not overhaul it.

I appreciate these sentiments, being selfish, and being proud. I understand them. I even condoned them in an earlier post, if for no other reason that it's better than voting scared of terrorism. There are other reasons to vote conservative; I admit, but I am generalizing here. Too much of America thinks with a closed-mind. They can't, or perhaps, don't want to, envision an America where gays are treated with equal rights. Just like 100 years ago, many didn't want to envision an America where blacks and women were treated with equal rights. And they can't envision an America where atheism is a way of life, where people don't go to church, where people don't expect the Bible to be taught in schools. And they can't envision an America where perhaps, we are not the most powerful country on the globe, and where we can't do things unilaterally, where we have to work with the rest of the world. Can't anyone else envision an America where things change, where things progress?

I know it's not as simple as red vs. blue. It's not as simple as red=closed-minded and blue=open-minded. But people in blue counties do have one thing in common. They live in cities, and they live with other people. They don't get to shut their minds off from the rest of the world, exposing themselves to only the kind of people that they deem acceptable. And they take into account the effect that laws can have on other people than themselves.

This isn't meant to be a criticism of conservatives. 20% of city dwellers in chicago voted bush. Are they closed-minded? I doubt that. Are all of the 80% of the kerry supporters open-minded? No, probably not. And I admit I am upset (I wrote it in the title, dammit). And why am I upset?

Because it hurt just as much to see the propositions on defining gay marriage passing as it did to see Bush climbing in the polls. You can like Bush for a variety of reasons: you think that the war in Iraq will contribute to global security in the future or you think tax cuts are necessary, et cetera. But excluding gays from marriage and civil unions is totally indefensible; it's bigotry, and it makes me so angry that I want to smash the keyboard into bits as I write these words. Have we not progressed as a nation, as a people, as a species? Haven't we learned enough from our past mistakes that we can see bigotry when it blatantly rises in front of us? Do we have to take these giant steps backwards? Won't I just be fighting the same fight for atheists' rights when I am old and gray? What will make these people understand that fear of change is totally irrational? That things can be better than they are today, for the good of humanity? That the Bible (or the Constitution, for that matter) is not everyone's moral code? I don't know. I doubt that the next four years will do anything to help that. And that's why I'm sad and upset.

In any case, good luck, George. Prove me wrong. Make this world better.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004


Election Blog

Coming to you live from Sydney Australia, where one of the 5 major TV networks has dedicated the entire day’s coverage to the US election. They even prempted “Passions.” Funny I don’t remember CBS breaking into “The Bold and the Beautiful,” for updates on the 2001 Australian elections.

1148 AM: Ok, so its 34 to 3 Bush, as W takes Indiana, Kentucky, Georgia, and some other Mini-opollis states. Wait, make that 39 to 3 as Bush takes West Virginia. West Virginia went Democrat almost every time up until 2000, but Bush has taken it twice now. West Virginia also represents the beginning of the Wheeling-Jacksonville Mini-opolis, coined by Renaissance Man TJ Smoov. The Mini-opolis represents the smaller cities and country folk that vote Republican because they love their guns, they are evangelical Christians, or they suck at life. Ok, that may have been a slightly partisan comment. I am from the elitist, culturally relevant, Boston-D.C. Megalopolis that keeps the Democratic balance.

1205 PM: New Jersey was supposedly up for grabs, but Kerry held it. I think if Bush had won Jersey, it would have been a bad early sign. I can’t see Kerry winning the Carolinas-- maybe, maybe Virginia. I remember they had problems calling the southern states in 2000 too, and Bush ended up winning comfortably. Kerry’s now in the lead, thanks to great states like Massachusetts and Illinois who produced great people like me and Stuart Lim.

1222 PM: I just realized that I don’t need to write PM anymore. My next entries will be that more efficient! Tim Russert is spouting political bullshit and pointing shiny things at me. I am confused. I need the big board with the red and blue flashing states. I want one in my house actually. Maybe I’ll get a tattoo of the U.S. with corresponding red and blue states. That would be pretty sweet.

1247: I like how they show these nice smiling photographs of Bush and Kerry, while in Ralph Nader’s picture he looks like someone just ran over his puppy. I have also come to the conclusion that while I don’t like George Bush as my president, I would like to go on a float trip with him. “Float Trips with W” would make an excellent reality TV show.

101: Bush takes the 156 to 112 lead by shoring up all the plains states. Blah.

128: The issue of the day is the mutli-hour lines encountered in key states Ohio and Florida. In a country that prides itself as the ultimate champion of the Democratic process, so much so that its commitment shapes its foreign policy philosophy, structural failures of this nature are disgraceful and should not be tolerated. Change in America happens too slowly now, whether due to polarization, over-saturation of biased media, or vast conspiracies of the Freemasons. My sensible solution: move Election day to Veterans Day, November 11th, avoiding the hassle of creating a new holiday while symbolically acknowledging the men and women who served in our armed forces. This, of course, will never happen.

212: Bush keeps creeping up adding Utah and Arkansas, to take a 182 to 112 lead. I should have expected the night to go like this, but I hate how I get the perception that Kerry is coming from behind. I have feelings of doom and gloom with regards to the outcome. Kerry is going to have to win this by squeezing out contested victories in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, likely decided days from now. I dread a repeat of 2000, where litigation dragged on as the American people lost collective interest inthe bureaucratic and legal maneuvers of both sides. The perception that Gore was trying to challenge Bush’s victory was difficult for the Democrats to overcome. Hopefully this time around, the American people will show some patience.

244: The “get out the vote” efforts of America’s youth have been declared a failure by NBC’s Brian Williams, as 18-29 year olds make up the same percentage of the voting electorate as last time. Of course this means more young people voted than last time, since the total amount of voters is higher. Also a higher percentage of this group voted for Kerry than Gore in 2000. Still, I am disappointed in my generation, although I totally understand the apathy and disconnectedness from the political process.

308: Cali, Washington, and Pennsylvania all go to Kerry, making it 207 to 199 W, no margarine of victory apparent. I want Kerry to win the Electoral College and Bush to win the popular vote, so hopefully both sides can realize how stupid the system is.

332: This is taking too long, and they have Tim Russert showing me how to add and subtract again. Let’s face it; he is no John Madden when it comes to using the telestrater. Despite the attempts of NBC to create drama, it is clear to me that the result of this election will not be determined for another 12 hours minimum. Time to surf the net and check other media results.

349: Surprise, surprise. Fox News has Bush ahead 210-144. Meanwhile CNN has it 197-189 Bush. Slate has Kerry winning every key state based on exit polling: Florida, Ohio, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, you name it. After four hours, I already don't care. Please tell me who my leader is.

439: Its a beautiful day in Sydney, but the flies were too much for me sitting outside. I return to find that Bush has won Florida and will likely win Ohio and the election. Crap.

634: Remember when elections were decided in like three hours? Ah the good old days. Various websites (MSNBC, Fox,) have Bush winning Ohio, while others (CNN, NY Times) have yet to declare a winner. I think we all know who is winning. I just hope I don't get drafted. On the plus side, I finished Dark Tower VII, and I'm still in Australia for another year even if (more like when) Bush gets reelected.



vote kerry, vote bush, vote nader, vote martinez (edgar - write-in), just vote.

also, i'm interested to see which way our readership leans - please leave a vote in the comments. feel free to do so anonymously.

Monday, November 01, 2004


Votemaster Revealed!

Over at (see link above, in between the blazing Ichiro), a site analyzing the daily polls and which gets hundreds of thousands of hits a day, the one man show has come out of the closet, and…he’s a Kerry supporter. He’s also an American living abroad, and, as such, has a reason for his support that the media, and in turn voters, largely brush aside as inconsequential, or at least not as important as other issues; he wants people to like America again. Not just for egoistic reasons, but for important pragmatic concerns, as well as a touch of ethics. I’ll just give you a snip of what he says:

Now you might be thinking: Who the hell cares if America is the world's
pariah, along with, say, North Korea and Zimbabwe? Well, I care, for one, and I
think most Americans want to be respected for being a democracy rather than
simply being feared because we have more nuclear weapons than anybody else. You can't make the world love you by running commercials full of snarling wolves on worldwide TV.

I would love to quote nearly the entire thing, but that would serve little purpose – just go check it out. He quotes a respected British newspaper simply berating America and President Bush – and this from our strongest ally. His concern is one that should be important, but usually the President and his supporters make fun of the issue. Who cares what Europe! thinks. Look at Kerry, he looks so French! We are America, and they are Wrong.

Well, it is important. We are not succeeding in Iraq. We need more help from the global community to effectively and efficiently finish the job. As the EU is strengthening and unifying Europe, we are drifting farther and farther away into a new form of imperial isolationism. We don’t want or need help or advice from anyone, yet we are taking unprecedented steps to convert the world to our way of life.

Now, I agree that we should take an active role in the modernization and industrialization of third world countries, as both a humanitarian and a security necessity (both in terms of the homeland, and, yes, I’ll say it, World Peace). But to do so, we must be respected in the world as a legitimate authority, and must respect the customs we are currently trampling to be regarded and welcomed as a genuine friend. This administration has utterly disregarded such cautions, and as a result, a 260 million people have never been so lonely. It is time for a change. You may not believe in the estate tax, you may think owning machine guns is a natural right, but surely you also believe in the America in which we grew up. An America that is a symbol of freedom and leadership around the globe. A nation that, despite its faults, constantly progresses, accepting new challenges and embracing new discoveries, leading the charge into the future.


Why you should vote... Why should I vote?

It's that time of year, and I feel the need to discuss the voting issue again. Look around the web, articles spouting "Why you should vote for Kerry" and "Why you should vote for Bush", and even a few "Why you should vote" articles directed towards young people. But none of them address the real issue of why you should vote, period.

I've argued in the past (check out our archives, I think early july 2004) with marmar that whether an individual votes is insignificant. Thus, to any one person, the actual political power of voting is infinitesimal. I'd like to re-iterate that all these arguments are true and logical. Especially taking into consideration practical issues, such as vote counting, electronic voting machine questionability, outright vote fraud, the electoral system, and the state you live in, voting (for a presidential election) is a powerless gesture.

But no, this isn't a post designed to get you not to vote, I'm trying to convince myself that I should vote. Why? Because though voting may be powerless, it isn't useless.
Well, like I said, for many practical reasons there is no reason for me to vote, not the least one being that Illinois is going to go democratic. In fact, maybe I should vote for Bush, that way I can bitch about the outcome no matter what happens. Ok, no, I won't do that.
But are there other reasons to vote? I have tried to convince people that Bush is bad for the US, and that Kerry would be a step in the right direction. But I've never told anyone that they should vote for Kerry unless I knew they were going to vote anyway.

If I were to ask people to vote for Kerry, wouldn't I then need to vote myself? Well, the answer is no. Me convincing 500 people to vote for Kerry wouldn't make it any more necessary to vote for him myself. In fact it would make it much less necessary. I would have done my part and more. But, if I didn't want to be a hypocrite, I guess I would vote. Is that really a good enough reason to vote? To avoid being a hypocrite? It's never sat right with me that I wasn't going to vote; I knew logically that voting was useless, but yet I thought I should. And then I realized why I thought that.

But, what nobody has considered why the disillusioned (especially young) person should vote, the one who feels that he/she has no control over what happens in politics. Well you know what? These people are right. They don't have control. News sources flaunt statistics saying that young people are the ones who will have to bear the burden of the federal debt, the wreck of social security, the medical insurance costs. RockTheVote says jobs, education, and the war are three reasons you should vote. Well, RockTheVote, those are three reasons we should be concerned about the government, but why would voting change that? This hasn't been adequately explained to me, to them, or anyone, for that matter. Will voting for Kerry get us out of Iraq quicker? Will Bush's plan for social security work better than Kerry's? Will terrorists destroy us if I vote for Kerry?

What these sites lack is the willingness to say "your vote will change things." Because no citizen actually believes this. And many citizens believe that whoever wins, their life will be unaffected. And isn't this true to a large extent? For the vast majority of people, the ability to drive to work, eat lunch, go home, watch TV, and putter around the house on the weekends will be totally unaffected by this election. And so you can't convince people to vote for selfish, practical reasons. The only reason to vote is for an ideal. And it isn't that big of a deal to make that sacrifice out of your day to make an idealistic gesture.

So, I am going to go out on a limb here. Your vote will change things. Not for you, probably, and not for a while, when it does. I believe that when you vote in a national election, you're voting for your children, your children's children, and the future of the country, and even the world, more than you are voting for yourself. You want to be able to look back at your choice of administration and say, that was a good administration.
You want to be able to say:
"They saved Social Security, they made stem cell research possible, they balanced the budget."
You don't want to have to say things like:
"They set us back 15 years fiscally. They went to war on false premises and never admitted they made a mistake. They tried to have gay marriages banned. They let assault weapons become legal again. They promoted an atmosphere that allowed creationism to be taught in schools."
We look back at things like McCarthyism, the Japanese internment camps, and we don't want to have to remember these things. We don't want to have spots on our country's record.
When you view voting in that light, not only does it make more sense for people to vote, it makes more sense for them to vote against Bush, who seems to be mortgaging the future. When we look back at his administration, will we really remember the tax refunds, spent and never to be seen again, or remember the huge federal deficit? Will we remember that we had "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, or the debacle it has become since then? I suspect that we will remember Bush as the guy who was president on 9/11. Not that he saved us from terrorism, not that he made the world safer. He was just there. And I think we expect more from our president than to just show up.

So I guess what I'm saying is that you should vote for the candidate who will help mold the society of the future, so that your kids, history, and humanity, can look back and say, "At least they made progress. At least they did more good than harm." I think that candidate is John Kerry.
So vote. For Kerry.

"Won't somebody PLEASE think of the children?!" - Helen Lovejoy

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