Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Space Is The Place

NASA turns 50 today! They've had their share of failures and cock-ups and shortcomings, but you have to love an organization whose motto is "for the benefit of all." And I just love space. Reflecting upon space is akin to nothing less than contemplating the nature of existence itself.

A quote from the classic film The Right Stuff once admonished, "No bucks, no Buck Rogers." But do we need 'Buck Rogers' anymore? There's a lot to be learned from space exploration. But do we need astronauts to do it? The manned space program is exciting and inspiring, and I don't want to give it up. But it is so expensive relative to the unmanned space program, and the science that is done benefits few.

What should a society pay for in this age of nearly half-trillion dollar deficits? Should NASA pursue the best, most cost-effective scientific research? Or should it protect itself by funding "politically sensitive" projects? NASA isn't done wrestling with these questions. I hope they come up with a good answer.

Happy Birthday, NASA.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Spirit Is Willing But The Flesh Is Weak

My life will never be the same. I just discovered that downstairs in the cafeteria here at work, there stands a refrigerated vending machine stocked with frozen dairy treats. How can I resist the temptation of an M&M ice cream sandwich? Or a classic drumstick? And there are other choices too! I think the folks over at Aramak must be mocking me.

No! I must be strong. I need to watch what I eat and take better care of myself. I refuse to cave in to their demands that I buy and consume their delicious sundries. But still the treats sit silently in their frozen case, waiting... waiting... waiting.

Anyone got a quarter?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Coolest Summer Movie

Last night my ma and I cruised down to Riverview to beat the heat. Iron Man was playing! That is the summer superhero movie to beat. It totally rocks! But my guess is that The Dark Knight is gonna take a run at it this weekend. Let the games begin!

Ya know, I need to go to more cheap movies at the 'View. For less than the price of admission at a first-run theater, I can get a ticket, a medium popcorn, and a medium soda - more than I can drink and eat. Go value!

Monday, July 14, 2008

If God Wasn't Dead I'd Have To Kill Him Myself

A friend of mine is getting a divorce. Nevermind the details. But he is a fairly religious man, and his wife is a very religious woman. And for all of my friend's faith and hope, and all of his soon-to-be-ex-wife's faith and prayers to God, their marriage cannot be saved.

They are both in a great deal of pain right now. And when I step back from my duty as a friend, all I can think is, "what a base, capricious creature God is. That is, if He existed." If "god" did exist, he would surely come to the aid of these two people, who are at bottom excellent human beings and wonderful parents.

Some prayers answered, some thrown by the board. And if a silver lining be found in unanswered prayers, then "he works in mysterious ways." Bullshit. I am so fucking tired of the closed-circuit logic of religiosity. Let's give up on imaginary friends and get real. Then we can really take care of each other.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Not Another Protest Song

The other day a friend asked me if I knew about any protests against the Republican National Convention while it is in town this September. I'm sure there will be, but I don't know of any. Maybe I'm jaded, maybe I've become too cynical, but these days protests seem kind of pointless: a bunch of folks who agree with one another walking around agreeing with each other. No one else listens or even cares, and I am certain that they do not raise awareness like they once did. They have become a big echo chamber where like-minded people convene to hear themselves speak.

Every time I've been to a march or a protest, I have felt that the energy was false; I have never felt real passion or conviction in the midst of such events. These crowds belch forth narcissistic indignation that says nothing so much as "we are cool because we are fighting the man," or "look at us old hippies, we changed the world by protesting." News flash: no you aren't and no you didn't.

The friend conceded my point, but explained that he has been feeling the need to do something, anything to feel like he is making a difference. He lamented he has little to show for his foray into participatory democracy (voting, caucusing, being a delegate, writing congressmen, etc.), and that Minnesota isn't the progressive place that it once was.

I'm sympathetic to his cry: what can an ordinary person do to affect change in the corridors of power? Year after year, polls tell me that Americans want progressive health care reform, a fair tax structure, a better education for their children. Why doesn't this ever happen? I've been told that "doing all you can" gives one a sense of peace and satisfaction. But for my friend, and for me, that is no comfort.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Straight to Hellboy

I love Guillermo del Toro, I quite enjoyed the first Hellboy film, and I am a fan of the comic book genre. In short, I wanted to like Hellboy II, and I was well-primed to have a favorable reaction to the movie. Sadly, I found it mostly stiff and mundane. I had a few good laughs, to be sure, and the creatures and visuals were truly amazing. Hell, on one level it was an enjoyable summer movie and a great way to beat Friday's oppressive heat and humidity. But I found myself cringing at a plot device here or a badly placed bit of dialog there. And the action sequences were so long and so frenetic that they were difficult to watch. To top it all off, I kept thinking that the villain bore an uncanny resemblance to Ted Danson.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Check Back In Thirty Years

I found a comical yet ominous quote the other day: "...the idea that 95% of content on the net is free is not sustainable. We don't believe that society can allow the free consumption of content to persist," [Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI, the body which represents the UK recording industry] said.

This sweeping statement poses an incredible array of questions. Is "free consumption of content" really a threat to civil society? Is 95% of the content on the net even free? It doesn't seem like it to me, given all the damn advertisements I have to endure. And who exactly does he mean by "society"? And what the hell does he mean by "sustainable"? Is content a non-renewable resource, like fossil fuel?

Clearly, people have grown accustomed to having unfettered access to content without being charged. In that sense, society seems to prefer free content. So how does he propose to put the genie back into the bottle? Through lawsuits? That might work for a while. But hindsight shows that shutting down Napster has had little effect on the demand for and availability of free content.

So what does all this mean? Time will tell.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Is Blogging Even Good For You Anymore?

So I have a blog. So what. Big deal. Apparently 185.6 million other people do too, give or take. That probably doesn't even include people who write blogs on MySpace or Facebook.

I've been traversing the blogosphere the past couple of days. It is vast, vast, vast. Humblingly so. And whenever I start looking I can't seem to stop! I get lost in there. It can go on for a few weeks like this: following links and hop-scotching around the internets. Of course there is an endless supply of banality and worse, but in truth I am continually astonished at how many folks are churning out funny observations and insightful commentary for friends, acquaintances, perfect strangers, or even just for themselves. There is some really good writing out there, published and distributed for free and available to anyone with a computer and a desire to find it. It actually makes me sad to think of all the interesting self-published work I'm missing, simply because I don't know about it.

When I first started writing online, within two months I was contacted by a movie promoter who forwarded my review to the director of the film she was promoting! That distorted my sense of scale of the web: I thought, "damn I'm good! There ain't nothin' to this blogging! I'm gonna network and meet the right people and I'll be making money off of writing in no time!"

Ha! I have sobered up since then. It turned out that the "movie promoter" was little more than an intern seeking out the online buzz surrounding the small Icelandic film on which she worked. And looking back on it, my "review" actually kind of sucked - it wasn't even a full-on review, more of a writing exercise for the day. I think my film studies professors would have been disappointed.

Fast forward to today. Obviously I've long since come to understand how enormous the world of weblogs is. But more than that, I now appreciate that keeping a blog isn't easy, keeping it fresh and lively is still more difficult, and generating interest and holding an audience, well... You get the idea.

My point in rambling on today is to re-affirm the reason I'm here: to become a better writer, and to read and interact with other writers. That is a far more manageable and enjoyable goal.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Obama's God Problem, Part II

Apparently Senator Barack Obama did not heed my advice. Instead of shelving all his talk about "God" in politics, he's actively courting this outrageous affront to the separation clause. How does supporting and enhancing the role of "faith-based initiatives" represent "change"?

We have been force-fed religion in the political sphere by the Bush Administration, and faith-based initiatives were one of the staples of this unwholesome diet. And from appointees high and low to matters of policy large and small, this administration favored religious dogma, ideology, and patronage over science, reason, and experience. It really is time for something different.

Faith-based initiatives should stay where they belong: in the churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues. Let's recall that these organizations are already tax-exempt. At least let's keep tax dollars from flowing back to these groups! Please?!? I for one would like to re-boot American politics, and Obama's rhetoric about change resonated with me. But in my eyes, coming out in favor of these initiatives is the first major blemish on the Obama Campaign.