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14 years Ago

Modern Day Orientalist

Published by marco on

Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents by Michael Dirda (Washington Post) is a review of the book with the same name, by Robert Irwin. The review starts with a movie-trailer–worthy introduction of “Thirty years after Edward Said’s groundbreaking “Orientalism,” a British scholar responds.” This gives the reader the impression that Said’s book from the seventies had, to date, enjoyed an unchallenged status in the world of cultural history—a status the brave author of the book being reviewed finally had the temerity... [More]

Vegetarian Propaganda?

Published by marco on

The opinion piece, Why I hate vegetarians, is a typical example of hating the cause because of its proponents. The author doesn’t counter any arguments of vegetarianism—she simply claims its ok to eat meat because some vegetarians are so damned “smug and superior”. A lovely bit of deductive reasoning akin to taking up smoking because there are non-smokers who are annoying.

“People should be allowed to make their own choices and not be bullied or frightened into giving up meat. In the US... [More]”

Online Philosophy

Published by marco on

Scott Adams, author of the Dilbert comic strip and several books, including the interesting God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment (Amazon) and increasingly bitter Dilbert collections, like When Did Ignorance Become A Point Of View? (Amazon) has a blog as well and updates with ferocious regularity, almost always with a unique idea that usually freewheels into a thought experiment. Some work, some don’t.

A recent theme was free will.

The Little Robot That Could by Scott Adams
In this one he posits a robot, whose job it is to... [More]

Temple of Doom

Published by marco on

Giant Carnivorous Centipedes tells you all can probably stand to know about “Scolopendra gigantea, a venomous, red-maroon centipede with forty-six yellow-tinted legs”, which reach “lengths of over thirty-five centimeters” (almost 14 inches). They’re carnivores, but beasts of this size (lovingly described as a bitter repast themselves in Papillon by Henri Charriere (Amazon)) must necessarily seek larger prey than mere beetles and spiders.

“In an environment completely devoid of light, the centipede scurries across the damp... [More]”

WoC 2006

Published by marco on

 Threat to CivilizationThe War on Christmas has begun. The opening salvo of 2006 is brought to you by this article, Woman faces fines for wreath peace sign (Yahoo News), which brings us the sad tale of Lisa Jensen, who was lying her face off when “said she wasn’t thinking of the war when she hung the wreath” (pictured left). Her arch fiend—and the enemy of a peaceful Christmas—Bob Kearns, said in a phone interview that he couldn’t allow it because it would pave the way for other forms of expression, like saying we should “drop... [More]”

Weird Al is Back

Published by marco on

 Straight Outta LynwoodIt seems that the world, through the Internet, has finally developed a place where Weird Al Yankovic’s special genius can shine. A truly talented performer is becoming more mainstream than he ever was. And his new stuff is just as good as he’s ever been, from the free song download done in the style of “Save the World” charity songs from the 80s, Don’t Download this Song (video drawn by Bill Plimpton and also available for free online at his MySpace page) to the brutal parody of James Blunt... [More]

Age of Consent

Published by marco on

The recent Mark Foley scandal in the US dragged the issue of pedophilia back into the limelight. It’s an issue that has increasingly gripped public fears, resulting in medieval public registration programs and increasingly inflexible laws. By simply reading the mainstream media, one would think that child predators lurk around every corner and it’s only a matter of time before every child is preyed upon.

Hurting the Innocent

As irrational fears go, it ranks up there with the fear of... [More]

Rape Not Just about Power

Published by marco on

For the longest time, pop psychology has taught us that “rape is about power, not sex.” That rape was purely an expression of power was received truth, though it didn’t sit well with anyone who’d experienced the powerful effects of libido. It was hard to imagine that rape would have nothing to do with that; it seemed more logical that different personalities responded differently to this drive. Because of the nature of most pornography—and it’s distinctly male-dominant/women-subservient... [More]

Iraq—The Sandbox

Published by marco on

The comic strip Doonesbury has weighed in heavily on the second Gulf War, stationing one of its main characters, BD, there and having him sent home after his leg was blown off in an attack. His friend, Ray, is still there. Recently, The Sandbox has appeared on the Doonesbury web site, which, in its own words:

“…[is focused] not on policy and partisanship … but on the unclassified details of deployment – the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. The Sandbox... [More]”

Borat

Published by marco on

 Borat In KazakhstanBorat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (IMDB) is—as the title makes relatively clear—a fake documentary by Sacha Cohen. The preview shows Cohen as Borat Sagdiyev, wandering from one excruciatingly socially awkward situation to the next, all the while with an ingratiating grin on his face that begs forgiveness for not understanding our great culture while, at the same time, apologizing for the backwardness of his own. In a word, he’s disarming—enough... [More]

Kenny’s Wife

Published by marco on

Kenny’s wife is jumping for joy right now. Since he died before going to trial, the judge in the case was forced to accede “to decades of legal precedent” and wipe all 10 criminal charges from his record. Judge Revokes Lay’s Conviction (Washington Post) has the gory details.

“Legal analysts said Lake’s ruling closely hewed to a long-held doctrine called abatement, which allows a conviction to be vacated if defendants die before they are able to exercise their right to appeal. Courts typically rule that defendants’... [More]”

Animated Map of the Middle East

Published by marco on

The movie below is called Imperial History (1.1MB) and documents the occupation of the Middle East, Asia and northern Africa over the last 5000 years.

The following empires ruled over smaller and larger swatches of land throughout recorded history. The dates given are approximate and estimated from the movie. The names and ordering are correct. And, yes, there is overlap: that’s kind of the way it with empires.

  • Kingdom of Egypt (3000 BC − 1380 BC)
  • Hittite Empire (1400 BC -1050 BC)
  • Kingdom... [More]

Wil Shipley Wants to Give Me a Computer

Published by marco on

This essay is written as a response to the CPU giveaway by Wil Shipley (Call Me Fishmeal).

I double-click the GTA: San Andreas icon and watch, relieved, as the Windows desktop fades to black.

*Churn*

The intro graphic’s looking a little pink.

Drat. The font’s messed up.

*Restart game*

Again with the pink logo, but the font’s ok. Let’s load up a saved game and do some driving. Funky music accompanies the fade from the loading screen to Carl’s back. A quick look around confirms that Carl was taking some serious psychadelics... [More]

Imagining the Tenth Dimension

Published by marco on

 Imagining the Tenth Dimension is a web-site dedicated to the book of the same name by Rob Bryanton. With a resounding recommendation by none other than Greg Bear, this book explores a universe of ten dimensions, as put forth in string theory. The preamble contains the following disclaimer text:

“The “theory of reality” that I advance on this website and in the book “Imagining the Tenth Dimension” is not the one that is commonly accepted by today’s physicists. Anyone wanting to know more about... [More]”

Tehching Hsieh

Published by marco on

 One Year Performances is a website dedicated the performance art work of Tehching Hsieh, who, during the late 70s and early 80s, did some simple, elegant pieces that tested the limits of human endurance. Each piece has a simple rule, by which he lived for one year.[1]

1978-1979
I shall seal myself in my studio, in solitary confinement inside a cell-room measuring 11'6" X 9' X 8'. I shall not converse, read, write, listen to the radio or watch television, until I unseal myself on September 29,... [More]

The US Budget Explained

Published by marco on

This Flash video, Oreos by Ben Cohen (TrueMajority), uses dessert to focus your attention on the ridiculous numbers in the US federal budget. The first illustration (below) shows the size of the military budget as compared to the sizes of other portions of the federal budget. On the one hand, he’s conveniently left off Social Security and Medicare (the two biggest non-military programs in the federal budget), but on the other, he’s only included the official Pentagon budget, which does not include Homeland Security’s... [More]

Elvis Never Did No Drugs

Published by marco on

The Bible is Bullshit is a video of an old Penn and Teller show[1] in which they spend some time gleefully debunking some of the more obvious contradictions in the bible. They actually provide a lot of decent historical background from the annals of biblical scholarship, which basically accepts that the bible is a work of man and has made some inroads into discovering exactly which men wrote which parts and when.

The biblical scholar they interview is completely incapable of formulating an... [More]

NASA wins 4th of July Contest

Published by marco on

 Biggest. Fireworks. Ever.

The shuttle program is 25 years old now and, ever since the 2003 crash of the Columbia, which was caused by pieces falling off, has had a much more touch-and-go feel to it—which is certainly attractive to NASCAR fans nationwide. As noted in the article, Shuttle fears over foam lost in blast-off (Telegraph.co.uk), the liftoff was not error-free, but the problems were well within expectations:

“‘This isn’t too abnormal,‘ said Bill Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator for spaceflight. ‘We fully expected to... [More]”

Statistical World Maps

Published by marco on

 Map of World ReligionsWadsworth Religion Course Guide Religion Maps offers a colorful look at geographic distribution of world religions and religious sites in both the ancient and modern worlds. Leaving out religion is the Contemporary World Map, which shows all of those countries from the World Cup that no one could find. Note that the inside of Africa’s elbow seems to be especially conducive to football, as the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Togo are all neighbors there. Most interesting is the map shown in thumbnail to... [More]

9/11 Conspiracies

Published by marco on

An event with the lasting effect of the 9/11 attack was bound to spawn any number of conspiracy theories. The are thousands of web sites dedicated to poring over any material related to the attacks in excruciating detail. Most of the media is happy to accept the cleansed version offered by the government, which streamlined its message to maximize impact and effectiveness in using 9/11 as a cudgel with which to whip the American people into a savage frenzy. The reality is almost certainly much... [More]

Summer Reading

Published by marco on

 The gap left by Dan Brown’s writer’s block needs to be filled by something as you lie on a beach this summer. There are only so many different versions of Digital Fortress under various names and publishers you’re going to read until you notice that they’re all the same book and that he hasn’t magically written a new novel you haven’t heard about. In steps Playboy with its 25 sexiest novels ever written, which is chock full of books to take the beach with friends and family. It’s a pretty... [More]

Well Duh.

Published by marco on

I Am a Liberal. There, I Said It! by George Clooney (Common Dreams) is a very short essay in which George Clooney officially outs himself, even though most would consider Three Kings, Good Night and Good Luck and Syriana to be eloquent enough statements of that. Still and all, there are some nice enough turns of phrase in it:

“…one of the things we absolutely need to agree on is the idea that we’re all allowed to question authority. We have to agree that it’s not unpatriotic to hold our leaders accountable and to speak out.”

... [More]

Commuting

Published by marco on

Oil prices are at an all-time high. Summer’s coming up, so don’t expect a dip anytime soon. The US is threatening war with Iran, the war in Iraq is dragging on and the Saudis are scrabbling to maintain control over an ever-more-agitated populace. Prices are going nowhere but up. This makes the “car culture” deeply ingrained in American culture (and growing quickly in Europe as well) problematic. The notion that everyone has a car has led to decades of residential design depending on just that... [More]

Lesser Known Punctuation

Published by marco on

The Trouble With EM ‘n EN… (A List Apart) discusses how to create proper punctuation characters in online documents—specifically HTML. Of most interest are the rules of use for “em” and “en” dashes:

em dash
“…used to indicate a sudden break in thought, a parenthetical statement that deserves more attention than parentheses indicate, or instead of a colon or semicolon to link clauses.”
en dash
“used to indicate a range of just about anything with numbers … also used instead of the word “to” or a hyphen... [More]”

Reply to a Friend − March 23, 2003

Published by marco on

 This weekend I unearthed an old document from March 23, 2003, which was written in response to a letter I received from a friend earlier in the month. This friend had taken the time to write a long reproach to the attitude towards the Bush administration—and American hegemony in general—found on this web site. The quoted blocks are from the friend, but the document is not available online. Therefore, though the quotes remain somewhat out of context, most are long enough to indicate to what... [More]

15 years Ago

Water: An Exercise in Contrast

Published by marco on

 The article, Bottled Water: Pouring Resources Down the Drain (Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel) documents the rising fortunes of bottled water. Again and again, studies have pointed out that the water in these bottles is either no different from or actually inferior to the water coming from your faucet (“roughly 40 percent of bottled water begins as tap water”). Even several years ago, a large city like New York had healthier tap water in most places than the average bottle of water. In many countries, drinking tap water in... [More]

Copying != Stealing

Published by marco on

In a recent discussion about Bill Gates’ Letter to the HCC (Slashdot)[1], an unusually astute comment (Slashdot) was logged by 808140[2]. It put into clear terms the difference between copying software, media or other digital bits and the actual legal definition of stealing. Stealing means to deprive someone (the “owner”) of something to which they have purchased title. Making a digital copy of that “something” does not in any way deprive the owner of their property, so it can hardly be called stealing, can it?

“What [the... [More]”

Glaciers advancing … run for your lives

Published by marco on

 Swiss wrap a glacierThe Real Junk Science by George Monbiot (AlterNet) covers a recent letter by a pillar of the scientific community (no, really, he apparently is … or was) in which he claims that most glaciers in Europe are, in fact, growing. Global warming naysayers have naturally taken this as “proof” that global warming is a sham dreamt up by fruity eco-socialists who want to ruin it for everybody.

Monbiot’s look into the validity of the claim takes him on a twisty path a myriad of citations, each building on the last without adding... [More]

The Poisonwood Bible − History Repeats Itself

Published by marco on

 The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Amazon) is a work of fiction about a baptist family from the American South who embark on a mission to the Congo in 1959. It tells the tale from the viewpoint of the minister’s four daughters with intermezzos told by the mother. The clash of cultures on social, political and military levels is exquisitely woven from these individual strands of experience. The political context is remarkably similar to that in which an amnesiac America has placed itself today, lending ever more... [More]

Teaching Science in America

Published by marco on

 Having Fun With Intelligent Design by David Morris (AlterNet) offers some good advice to teachers charged with spending time on alternative theories to evolution. The crux of the matter is that in two states so far, Pennsylvania and Kansas (big surprise there), teachers must address a theory of the world known as intelligent design. This is not religion; it is a pseudo-scientific justification for a God-like being.

“Intelligent design is not creationism per se. It holds that higher forms of life are so complex they must... [More]”