Friday, February 29, 2008

How Come I've Never Heard Of This Dude Before?

Great song.

Lil Fascist Playthings

My dad sent me this. Awesome.
One of the reviewers put it nicely: "This is great learning tool for young brownshirts. I am waiting for a few accessories though, like kid-size jackboots and a toy taser."

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Real Wisdom For Teens

  1. Post these rules before presenting your list.
  2. List 6 actions or achievements you think every person should accomplish before turning 18.
  3. There are no conditions on what can be included on the list.
  4. At the end of your blog, choose 6 people to get tagged and list their names.
  5. People who are tagged write their own blog entry with their 6 suggestions.
  6. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged.
LLTK tagged me with yet another blogging meme. This one is different than others I have seen, however, and I want to try my hand at it. Unfortunately, TK's list on this topic is nearly flawless: a virtuoso distillation of how to grow up in the modern world. I wish I had seen his list when I was 13, and again when my children reached their teen years.

Here is my attempt at formulating a list on the topic.
  1. Make art. Join the school theater, get into the choir, play a musical instrument, start a band, write a story, take a drawing or a painting class. And don't just make it - perform it, put it on display, integrate it into your social life. This involves some risk, which is part of the point. But also it nurtures something better inside of you than the raw competition of academia or athletics. And it's fun as hell.
  2. Learn a language. Sure, I studied Spanish in high school, Finnish in college, and dabbled in French as an adult. But I still haven't become fluent in any second language to my satisfaction. I think my life is poorer because of it. When you can read a book in another tongue at an adult reading level, or converse comfortably with a native speaker, then you have opened up your world immeasurably. So really learn it - do extra credit, put in your time at the language lab, go to a language camp, take that semester abroad, join a club, whatever it takes. This is on my list of things to do before I'm dead.
  3. Start a savings account. Did I really need to spend all that money on the bullshit I paid for? If I had saved just $20 a week throughout my teen years, that would have been $5200 by the time I turned 18. That's enough for a real adventure abroad, a significant investment, or some other substantial purchase. To be able to plan and execute a long term goal, especially a financial one, is truly a life skill worth learning and having. I'm still working on this one too.
  4. Don't worry about what you want to be. I'm almost 39 and I'm on my second career. I don't expect to stay in this career until I retire. Heck, when I was 15, the job I have now did not even exist. There are young people out there who have the singular drive and interest to pursue a particular career as teens, but in my experience most people are not like that. So do not worry about what you're going to be when you grow up! But...
  5. Develop interests and skills. Find something you're passionate about and go for it. It doesn't matter what it is, it is likely to have several, dozens, or even hundreds of facets to explore. The ability to find and develop an interest is itself a valuable skill. Just caring about something other than who kissed so-and-so and where the party is this weekend makes you a better person. It may even turn into something you could get paid to do.
  6. Break clique boundaries. This was one thing I was actually good at. Hang with the jocks. Hang with the clowns. Hang with the partiers. Hang with the nerds. Don't be hidebound by your peer group. Find interesting individuals, don't settle for a group in which you feel comfortable. Getting along with a variety of people isn't a life-skill, it's living.
If you are reading this blog, consider yourself tagged. Or not :-)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Immoral Majority

Sam Harris' tiny volume Letter to a Christian Nation deals a crippling blow to the idea that religion, especially Christianity, is a force for moral good. While Richard Dawkins pursued a broad-based intellectual argument against belief in god, Harris cuts right at the heart of the supposed strength of religion: morality. Using simple examples and clear language, he relentlessly dismantles notions of divine morality.

In one deft passage, he starkly contrasts that which science offers to humanity with that which religion offers. For me, this excerpt so convincingly illustrates the impotence of religion to render aid or comfort in the face of real adversity that I had to read it several times:
...there had been ample warning that a storm of "biblical proportions" would strike New Orleans, and the human response to the ensuing disaster was tragically inept. But it was inept only by the light of science. Religion offered no basis for a response at all. Advance warning of Katrina's path was wrested from mute Nature by meteorological calculations and satellite imagery. God told no one of his plans. Had the residents of New Orleans been content to rely upon the beneficence of God, they wouldn't have known that a killer hurricane was bearing down upon them until they felt the first gusts of wind on their faces. And yet a poll found that 80 percent of Katrina's survivors claim that the event has only strengthened their faith in God.

...It is time we recognized the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved. It is time we acknowledged how disgraceful it is for the survivors of a catastrophe to believe themselves spared by a loving God while this same God drowned infants in their cribs. Once you stop swaddling the reality of the world's suffering in religious fantasies, you will feel in your bones just how precious life is - and, indeed, how unfortunate it is that millions of human beings suffer the most harrowing abridgments of their happiness for no good reason at all.
I have always felt uneasy listening to people carry on about the miracle of their holy deliverance, but I have never been able to articulate so directly and eloquently the madness of such stories.

Not content to call out fundamentalists only, Harris also takes to task liberals and moderates for their religious apologia, and posits that any defense of religion by definition lends credibility to radical fundamentalists, because religion, whether moderate or fundamentalist, asks its adherents to accept facts without evidence. For Harris, this leads to a primacy of dogma at the expense of truth.

I could go on about Harris' little tome. It was a quick, informative, and engaging read. Remarkable, given that was just an impulse buy that I made last Sunday. But I have been thinking about his book all week long - Harris lays a great thumping upon the tired, soft-shell head of theological morality. Instead of rambling, however, I will simply end with Dawkins' jacket quote: "I dare you to read this book... It will not leave you unchanged." Well said.

Shadow on the Moon

The lunar eclipse last night, with Saturn and Regulus to complete the triangle. Nikon D40 with 200mm lens. 165mm zoom @ F/5.3. ISO-200, 2.5 second exposure.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I met my boss's new boss today during a lunchtime mixer. He used words like "gamer" to describe himself and "RPGs" to describe his interests.

I think we're gonna get along just fine.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


I've been seeing commercials for Finding Nemo On Ice, which is coming to the Minneapolis Target Center next month.

Does anyone else find this costume more than a little creepy?

Monday, February 11, 2008

She Was Wide-Eyed, Now She's Street-Wise

There's something about girl-coming-of-age tales that really resonate with me. Ronja the Robber's Daughter, Spirited Away, To Kill A Mockingbird, Whale Rider, Because of Winn-Dixie, Kiki's Delivery Service, Juno... The female character is strong and capable, yet vulnerable and sensitive. The setting is personal and immediate, but often seeks to illuminate a deeper political or social context. I am enthralled by the scope and sentiment of this type of story.

Persepolis is the latest example. The tale is an account of Marjane, an Iranian girl living with her parents in Tehran at the end of the 1970s. She is the quintessential high-spirited youth: inquisitive, intelligent, in love with her parents and the world around her. The film portrays the exuberance of life at her age, an age in which everything is new and exciting. I find that kind of joy almost heartbreaking in its purity.

Though the film depicts the horrifying violence and crippling social control of the fundamentalist regime, it also is touched with gentle humor and the warmth of human kindness. It is a sad tale of the end of innocence, without simple answers or resolutions. But like all coming-of-age tales, it filled me with wonder and a desire to strive for a richer, fuller life.

Friday, February 8, 2008

I Suck!

I suck! You know how I know? Someone on the internet told me so! So it must be true. Thank goodness a faceless, anonymous dork trolling youtube had the courage to tell me so. I could have gone my whole life without knowing! The horror, the horror!

There is something deeply satisfying about being insulted anonymously. It's like, damn, people care enough to watch the shit I put out on the internet (!), and even take the time to complain about it (!!). Does that constitute "making it"? Well, probably not. But it is amusing that some jackass from Phoenix watched the Strummones and felt so strongly about us that he had to reveal to the world his keen insights and issue such a probing, thoughtful critique.

Reverend Zero Speaks...

Reverend Zero is out there having fun lampooning sidewalk preachers. Brilliant.

I'm gonna have to keep my eye out for this Kirby Ferguson as well. His internet show "Goodie Bag" is pretty damn funny.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Far Fucking Out

My cell has resurfaced! How cool is that? I had just given up hope when it turned up in a lost-and-found that I hadn't checked. The attendant must have dug through the contacts today and found my mom. She telephoned my ma just now and left a message giving its location. Thank goodness for good Samaritans!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I ♥ My Phone?

I lost my fucking cell phone. There. I said it. Not a great big deal on the cosmic scale. It's a clumsy slab of metal and plastic, not flesh and bone. It can be replaced. And it was a Motorola Razr, which is a hokey piece of shit. So good riddance in that regard - now I can replace it with something that actually works.

But I do love the ideas that I exchanged with that phone. It kept me connected over the last five months, when things were pretty grim for me. And I had some good stuff on there. Personal stuff. Some pictures, some text messages. Those things meant a lot to me. I mourn the loss of those things. I still don't really give a fig for the device itself. But as a chronicle of my communications, I miss it badly.

Monday, February 4, 2008

I Watched It

I hate football, I find it to be pretty dull on the whole: an anemic twelve minutes of action, dotting the landscape of a sixty-minute contest, drawn out over an interminable three-and-a-half-hour broadcast. And my a-hole stepdad, an ex-Marine, was a huge fan, even played at Michigan. Yes, that Michigan. He was a recovering alcoholic and a habitual gambler. That pretty much guaranteed my lasting distaste for the sport.

Needless to say, I haven't watched a Super Bowl in many, many years. But for some reason I did tune in last night, and saw the better part of the game, including all of the final quarter. I must admit, last night's fourth quarter was exciting by any measure of any sport: lots of action, plenty of lead changes, some big plays, and a dramatic finish. Even some douchebaggery! But the dude who caught the fuckin ball with his fuckin head is the fucking man. Tip o' the hat to you, Tyree! You and Eli are kings for a day.

I suppose Super Bowl XLII defined what makes football exciting to fans.

Friday, February 1, 2008

That's a Lot of Effing Tater-Tot Hot Dish

I read today that Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire - an elite high school - spends $63,500 per student per year housing and educating their pupils. That's almost two times what they charge for tuition. They make up the difference by being one of the most well-endowed preparatory schools in the U.S. Talk about penis envy!

Exeter spends eight times what an average public school kid is alloted. According to the principal, in 1980, about 40% of American families could afford such a school. By 2004 that number had dwindled to 6%. So as the income gap between the rich and poor grows, it in turn widens the education gap, which doubtless perpetuates and exacerbates the already large gulf between the wealthy and the shrinking middle class.

I wonder if they teach creationism in that school?