This Makes Me Happy XV

February 16, 2012

The Fallacy of Personal Autonomy Part 1 of 3: Context

June 5, 2011

For present purposes, Identity is the group of characteristics that makes one thing distinct from everything else.  For example, the identity of “a” in “car” is something like the combined identities of:

1) the English letter A, 2) lowercase, 3) between the letters “c” and “r” in a three letter American English word for automobile, 4) written in this font and size.  So, the above “a” is not c”A”r or c”a“r.  But it is also not 5) c”a”t (different word), or 6) I love my c”a”r (combined with other words to form a different expression).  Ok?

Now imagine the English Language Literati decide the letter C is confusing, redundant, and unnecessary (after all it merely combines the sounds of two existing letters: K and S).  So they excise the excess.  C is no longer recognized as a letter and S and K are substituted for C where it used to appear.  What used to be spelled “car” is now “kar.”

Does this change the identity of the particular “a” referenced above?  Of course – it’s no longer part of a (pardon the pun) real word.

Point being, the above “a” depends for its identity on many, many factors outside of itself.  Things seemingly unrelated to that “a” – ie the abolition of the letter C – can greatly impact the very essence of that it is to be that particular “a.”

To a certain extent, this is true of all things – physical, psychological, simple, or complex.  That is, the identity of one depends on traits of others that seem to be separate from and outside of itself.

For example, a circle requires a point from which all locations on the circle’s perimeter are equidistant.  Where the point changes, so does the circle.  1+1=2 is only true within the context of certain numeral systems, eg true in base-10 but false in base-2 (binary).  Color depends on light frequency and reflective/absorptive properties of material.  Et cetera, et cetera.

Next, Part 2: Personal Identity



The Evolution of Music and Film

April 30, 2010

Teenage Jesus and the Jerks were an influential 1970’s No Wave band.  They inspired post-punk groups like Swans, who in turn influenced many modern day acts, including Tool.

Their respective music videos are below, the progression is apparent (albeit not for the faint of heart).

“Orphans” by Teenage Jesus and the Jerks

“Love of Life” by Swans

“Stinkfist” by Tool

This Makes Me Happy Part XIV

April 6, 2010

Joshua Sacco kicks off opening day at Fenway 2010.  Not a bad way to start the season.

Mr. Sacco’s debut

The original (be sure not to blink around 1:45)

A Quick Note on Healthcare

March 30, 2010

Everyone is sick of talking about healthcare (pun intended, sorry), so I’ll make this brief.  The following speaks to healthcare on a macro level and is not meant to take a position on the merits of the bill currently before Congress.

By law, hospitals must treat patients in emergency situations, even if the patient has no insurance or alternative means for covering the cost of care. A significant percentage of ER patients do not have insurance. This study, for example, places the number at 25%. This means the rest of the system, namely the insured, must absorb the cost of the uninsured i.e. pay higher premiums.

The solution is to 1) insure everyone, 2) refuse medical treatment to the uninsured.

(Keeping the current system is not an option.  Medical costs are rapidly increasing – 3x since 1990, 8x since 1980 – and will continue to do so until some kind of reform is implemented.  That point, at least, is well settled.)

Now, many believe option #2 is morally reprehensible, while others counter that option #1 is an unwarranted government intrusion into personal rights and privacy (personally I’d be more concerned about things like Sec. 203(b) of the Patriot Act, but that’s for another day).

Those who oppose universal healthcare have plenty of valid reasons for doing so.  However, it’s important to acknowledge the cost of not implementing universal healthcare: no insurance = no care.

The Best Video on Youtube

March 26, 2010

This is old news but worth repeating. Battle at Kruger is a beautifully shot, amateur video of an incredible battle between lions, buffalo, and a crocodile. Watch it now if you haven’t already, it’ll be the best 8:24 of your day.

Politics is About Policy NOT People

June 10, 2009

PopeYesterday U.S. Senators Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham sponsored a provision to the $100B spending bill for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The provision would bar the release of photographs showing U.S. abuses of suspected terrorist detainees (read: Guantanamo Bay).

This is a sensitive issue with compelling arguments on both sides.  However, like many of today’s hot-button political issues it essentially boils down to freedom (the right to know) versus security (or the perception of).

The alarming aspect of this debate is not the prohibition itself but the justification provided for it.  Yesterday Sen. Graham addressed his constituents and the possibility his provision may be removed from the bill:

“I cannot believe that we’re about to do this.  That we’re going to dismiss the advice of our commanders who are leading our country in the time of war to give in to the fringe element.”

(an audio clip can be found here)

Senator Graham believes his provision should pass because “our commanders advise it.”

This kind of blind faith in “authority” lead Congress to authorize the Iraq war before confirming the existence of WMDs.  This kind of blind faith is not patriotic.  It does not safeguard America or Americans; quite the opposite in fact.

One of the beautiful aspects of America is our intricate network of checks and balances.  However, for the American government to function properly, each division must remain autonomous – pursue its own interests, voice its own concerns, and rarely (if ever) defer to an authority on the sole basis of rank and file.

There is a plausible argument for preventing the release of certain photos.  It is not one that I personally agree with, but that is because of policies I support (e.g. freedom of information, full disclosure of government actions, and torture is never acceptable in any situation) not because an authority or commander says so.

People are fallible, policies need not be, and political decisions should be based on the latter, not the former.

Today’s Ignorance Courtesy of Bjørn Rogstad

April 21, 2009

Yesterday EMI Music representative Bjørn Rogstad responded to a recent study that found “illegal” music downloaders buy 10x more music than those who do not download music illegally:

There is one thing we are not going away [from], and it is the consumption of music increases, while revenue declines. It can not be explained in any way other than that the illegal downloading is over the legal sale of music

Translation: According to Bjørn, illegal downloads are responsible for declining revenues in the music industry.

Simply put, Bjørn Rogstad is an idiot.

The music industry is losing money because its distribution platform has fundamentally changed over the past 15 years.  This is not an opinion but a fact.  A fact that is even understood by the record labels.

The biggest difference is evidenced by services like Pandora, Playlist, and MySpace Music; namely that people can legally listen to whatever music they choose for free. There is no longer less of a need to buy music albums or tracks because they can be streamed live, on demand, over the internet.

It is unfortunate that this blatant falsehood of so-called illegal music downloads is still given weight in public discourse, but I guess that’s what happens when a marketer/promoter is charged with talking business strategy.

The Absurdity of Theological Debate

April 15, 2009

At present time, all accounts of the physical world are wildly incomplete.  The biggest issue, of course, is how the universe came to be.  Neither religion nor science can explain how, for example, a higher power could be self-caused or where all of this physical matter came from (specifically, what created God or what happened prior to 10^-43 seconds after the Big Bang).

Yes, most religions claim something like God has always existed or was the cause of him/her self, but it’s quite obvious that these explanations fall well short of complete understanding – for there exists no account of how anything, let alone God, could be the cause of itself (or have always existed).

Similarly, modern day scientific understanding stops at “approximately” 10^-43 seconds after the Big Bang, and prominently lacks a unified theory of the physical universe (we use two very different models – Einstein’s theories of relativity and quantum theory – to govern large and small bodies).

New discoveries suggest it may even turn out that time does not actually exist – which is not nearly as implausible as it may seem at first glance (for we already know that time is not a constant, a nice explanation of this is here – choose the 4th video link).

The point is there are gaps in our understanding.  Huge gaps.  Consider the following (paraphrased) metaphor from Baruch Spinoza’s letter to Henry Oldenburg:

Imagine a worm, living in the bloodstream, able to distinguish by sight the particles of blood, lymph, etc., and able to think about how each particle is related.  This little worm would live in the blood [a part of the body], in the same way as we live in a part of the universe.  The worm would consider each particle of blood, not as a part, but as a whole. He would be unable to grasp the larger truth, namely the role the blood plays as a part of the body, and that the blood (his entire world) is only a part of something larger [the body], which in turn is part of something larger still [the universe].

It is impossible for the worm to get on to the larger, ultimate, reality of the universe from the evidence of his world (the blood).

While it may be possible for mankind to expand its understanding beyond that of the worm’s at some point in the future, modern day knowledge of some ultimate reality is on par with the worm.  This is evidenced by our inability to answer the most fundamental of all questions – how we came to be – and those referenced above.

The tired athiest/theist/agnostic debate – three worms in blood, confusing hubris for enlightenment.

Hoovervilles, Dustbowls, and Slavery

April 8, 2009

The Dark Side of Dubai is a profound narrative, and worthwhile read, by journalist, author, and playwright, Johann Hari.  It touches on everything from the horrific effects of the current recession to the ironic truth that gays are the most free of all (non-ruling) classes in Dubai.

The Dark Side of Dubai

The wide, smiling face of Sheikh Mohammed – the absolute ruler of Dubai – beams down on his creation. His image is displayed on every other building, sandwiched between the more familiar corporate rictuses of Ronald McDonald and Colonel Sanders. This man has sold Dubai to the world as the city of One Thousand and One Arabian Lights, a Shangri-La in the Middle East insulated from the dust-storms blasting across the region. He dominates the Manhattan-manqué skyline, beaming out from row after row of glass pyramids and hotels smelted into the shape of piles of golden coins. And there he stands on the tallest building in the world – a skinny spike, jabbing farther into the sky than any other human construction in history.

But something has flickered in Sheikh Mohammed’s smile. The ubiquitous cranes have paused on the skyline, as if stuck in time. There are countless buildings half-finished, seemingly abandoned. In the swankiest new constructions – like the vast Atlantis hotel, a giant pink castle built in 1,000 days for $1.5bn on its own artificial island – where rainwater is leaking from the ceilings and the tiles are falling off the roof. This Neverland was built on the Never-Never – and now the cracks are beginning to show. Suddenly it looks less like Manhattan in the sun than Iceland in the desert.

Once the manic burst of building has stopped and the whirlwind has slowed, the secrets of Dubai are slowly seeping out. This is a city built from nothing in just a few wild decades on credit and ecocide, suppression and slavery. Dubai is a living metal metaphor for the neo-liberal globalised world that may be crashing – at last – into history.

I. An Adult Disneyland

Karen Andrews can’t speak. Every time she starts to tell her story, she puts her head down and crumples. She is slim and angular and has the faded radiance of the once-rich, even though her clothes are as creased as her forehead. I find her in the car park of one of Dubai’s finest international hotels, where she is living, in her Range Rover. She has been sleeping here for months, thanks to the kindness of the Bangladeshi car park attendants who don’t have the heart to move her on. This is not where she thought her Dubai dream would end.

Her story comes out in stutters, over four hours. At times, her old voice – witty and warm – breaks through. Karen came here from Canada when her husband was offered a job in the senior division of a famous multinational. “When he said Dubai, I said – if you want me to wear black and quit booze, baby, you’ve got the wrong girl. But he asked me to give it a chance. And I loved him.”

All her worries melted when she touched down in Dubai in 2005. “It was an adult Disneyland, where Sheikh Mohammed is the mouse,” she says. “Life was fantastic. You had these amazing big apartments, you had a whole army of your own staff, you pay no taxes at all. It seemed like everyone was a CEO. We were partying the whole time.”

Her husband, Daniel, bought two properties. “We were drunk on Dubai,” she says. But for the first time in his life, he was beginning to mismanage their finances. “We’re not talking huge sums, but he was getting confused. It was so unlike Daniel, I was surprised. We got into a little bit of debt.” After a year, she found out why: Daniel was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

One doctor told him he had a year to live; another said it was benign and he’d be okay. But the debts were growing. “Before I came here, I didn’t know anything about Dubai law. I assumed if all these big companies come here, it must be pretty like Canada’s or any other liberal democracy’s,” she says. Nobody told her there is no concept of bankruptcy. If you get into debt and you can’t pay, you go to prison.

“When we realised that, I sat Daniel down and told him: listen, we need to get out of here. He knew he was guaranteed a pay-off when he resigned, so we said – right, let’s take the pay-off, clear the debt, and go.” So Daniel resigned – but he was given a lower pay-off than his contract suggested. The debt remained. As soon as you quit your job in Dubai, your employer has to inform your bank. If you have any outstanding debts that aren’t covered by your savings, then all your accounts are frozen, and you are forbidden to leave the country.

“Suddenly our cards stopped working. We had nothing. We were thrown out of our apartment.” Karen can’t speak about what happened next for a long time; she is shaking.

Daniel was arrested and taken away on the day of their eviction. It was six days before she could talk to him. “He told me he was put in a cell with another debtor, a Sri Lankan guy who was only 27, who said he couldn’t face the shame to his family. Daniel woke up and the boy had swallowed razor-blades. He banged for help, but nobody came, and the boy died in front of him.”

Karen managed to beg from her friends for a few weeks, “but it was so humiliating. I’ve never lived like this. I worked in the fashion industry. I had my own shops. I’ve never…” She peters out.

Daniel was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment at a trial he couldn’t understand. It was in Arabic, and there was no translation. “Now I’m here illegally, too,” Karen says I’ve got no money, nothing. I have to last nine months until he’s out, somehow.” Looking away, almost paralysed with embarrassment, she asks if I could buy her a meal.

She is not alone. All over the city, there are maxed-out expats sleeping secretly in the sand-dunes or the airport or in their cars.

“The thing you have to understand about Dubai is – nothing is what it seems,” Karen says at last. “Nothing. This isn’t a city, it’s a con-job. They lure you in telling you it’s one thing – a modern kind of place – but beneath the surface it’s a medieval dictatorship.”

Read the rest of the article here