Friday, May 30, 2008

Here's One For Greenies

...and this one should also be good fun for those who think that Greenies are full of Greenhouse Gases.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

News and Commentary 22 May 2008 CE

From the frontiers of 'Everybody Get a Life!'...

Ted Kennedy has a Malignant Brain Tumor.

Ted Kennedy is 76. At his age, such tumors are fairly common. A certain Mary Jo Kopechne was not allowed to live to such a ripe old age, since she was killed on July 18, 1969 in a car at a place called Chappaquiddick. The car was driven by Ted Kennedy, who subsequently paid the sum of $US 90, 904 to the family of the victim. This wasn't the only questionable aspects of Kennedy's behavior with regards to that accident. Insofar as actions reveal 'character' these were of major revelatory nature. Still, Ted Kennedy continued to be a major influence in politics and the moral life of certain strata of US society.

Do I hear the words 'denial' and 'selective attention' being shouted from the rooftops? Not!

On a broader level, this also reveals yet again that the mechanism sometimes termed 'Cosmic Equipoise' is statistical and sadly lacks precision.

Australian Entertainer Denies Having Had Sex With Special Forces Personnel In 'War Ravaged' Afghanistan.

"Performers on the tour were warned they would breach Defence Force regulations if they fraternised with troops."

'Fraternise'? HAHAHAHAHA! I know that's the term, but let me repeat... HAHAHAHAHA!

Seriously though...
  • If she didn't then whoever claims she did deserves to be singled out for special treatment by 'Special Forces'.
  • If she did then whoever claims she did deserves to be singled out for special treatment by 'Special Forces'.
Meaning that in either case, I sincerely hope that the originators of these rumors, be they true or false, will get some night-time visits someday soon that'll forever cure them of their proclivities for sticking their noses into business that ain't theirs.

As far as 'fraternisation' is concerned, there's a hallowed tradition that it's regulated against by officialdom and basically ignored at everybody's convenience. All of which makes me think that the whole thing was cooked up by a journalist needing a story. It wouldn't be the first time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Loud iPods, Holed Korans and Cadavers: Kinky Tales From the Fringe

Dangers of wearing headphones raised after helicopter death of B.C. student

U.S. soldier removed from Iraq for shooting at Koran

And, maybe inevitably, back to body parts. The most interesting item in that article may be that the perps were, inter alia, indicted for 'grand theft of personal property'. Putting aside the goulish nature of the whole thing, one may fell compelled to ask just who the victim was? The corpse? Does a corpse still have 'personal property'? A curious concept, to be sure.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Cloning Metaphors

Following on from my previous blog...

There's a simple and very cool program for the Mac, called CarbonCopyCloner (CCC). It does exactly what the name says—or, if circumstances aren't quite ideal, almost exactly the same thing: produce a carbon copy close of your hard drive on some other connected hard drive.

What that means for my Intel-based MacBook is basically this: I can make the copy of the hard drive to some removable USB drive of similar capacity; hook up the same USB drive to any other Intel Mac—doesn't have to be a MacBook; just an Intel Mac—and start up the Mac from that drive...and, bingo! I couldn't tell, except for external appearances and my knowledge of what I've done, whether it's my MacBook or not. The drive has a different name, Eratrya CCC, but that's all; and if I renamed it, the deception would be complete.

The main reason why this 'works' is the uniformity of the architecture among Macs of certain breeds—think of it as an instance of genetics at work, with the Intel-based breed, being the latest in the Mac's evolution. Doesn't mean that all Intel-based machines have the same hardware or circuit board or anything, but there are critical similarities that make al this possible.

If I made the clone for a disk that can be placed into a quiescent state (if it can be 'unmounted', or placed 'offline' or whatever cyber-yakspeak you want to use to describe the process) for the duration of the clone—the system disk can't be, because it's actually running the cloning operation, plus a gazillion other little things go on all the time—the copy would be complete; with a verification cycle following the copy, just to make sure all is identical.

The ironic bit is that VMVerse is actually a disk containing a 'Virtual Machine'—and I'd like you to remember that for later.

But if the thing copies itself as it changes, even of only a tiny bit, with the kind and essential support of the Mac's hardware, then, by the time you're done cloning, the copy isn't quite the same. Very, very close, but not the same.

This very simple example is one instance why I tend to be scathing about those who think that you can ever really 'clone' a human 'mind'. A smidgen's thought should make that amply clear. I really don't know why intelligent people insist on being so dull-witted as to think that it makes any sense at all. The only way to take a snapshot is to pause the system you're taking the snapshot of. 'Pausing' in human terms will always mean 'killing', because that's the only way to do it. But if you kill a human being then you're changing and actually destroying the brain, so taking a snapshot of that sounds pretty futile. And so on. The whole thing is really too stupid for words.

But that was by-the-by. Lest this blog gets too long—I'll continue in the next one—let me finish with a question for you.

Suppose you're one of these people who like to give their possessions names. You know, like calling your car 'Bob' or 'Wilhelmine' or whatever. Or calling your computer 'Pooh' or 'Lisa'.

Yes, about that computer. So, what exactly is it that you give the name to? I mean, I gave my computer a name as well: Eratrya. (Long story.)

But hold on, that's just the label of the hard-drive! The MacBook itself is 'the computer'. So, when I name 'the computer' what do I name? If I swap 'Eratrya' for another drive, does that mean that 'the computer' becomes...well, someone else? What is I boot another Intel Man from a USB-connected Eratrya clone? Will that make it into Eratrya? Or, if that other computer has a name—say 'Fred'—given to it by its owner, will that owner, at the time it's being booted from Eratrya, still rightly be called 'Fred', or is this a kind of computer 'possession' story? The body and the hardware is the same, but what about what it does and what it 'remembers'—all stuff from Eratrya and nary a thing from whatever else it used to be?

Is Fred still Fred? Or what happened to it? And what's the status of Eratrya on that USB hard drive? Once she's connected to the body of Fred, does she become Fred, or does the body of Fred in effect become Eratrya?

You think these are frivolous questions? They may sound like it. I mean, after all, it's just about damn laptops and hard-drives and operating systems and stuff. But in truth these questions are 'safe' stand-ins for others that touch deeply onto our own identities.

So, back to you. Does your computer have a name? If so, what is it that you've given that name to?

Friday, May 16, 2008

What We Think We Know, But Don't Know That We Don't Know

No matter how much I tend to beat up on religioids, they aren't really the worst offenders in the intellectual hypocrisy stakes. The booby prize here goes to those who consider themselves the religioids' intellectual superiors: those who think they know what there is to know, at least in terms of the outlines, though the details may be less than sketchy; and who think that they know exactly what methodology to use and what questions to ask in order to get to 'the truth'. Worse even, knowing what they do know and what scientific evidence holds in their face, they actually think they have an idea what 'truth' actually is.

You know the kind. The Richard Dawkins'es and Amazing Randi's of the world: people who certainly have a 'point', if you will, and with many of whose pronouncements I agree, but who have, at the same time, gone over to the other, equally dark, side of fervor and basically lost the plot. For it is OK to pronounce on the unlikelihood of an Intelligent Creator, the delusion of religion and the fraudulent or simply foolish nature of much 'occult' practice. But it is not OK to think that the available evidence is, even in principle, sufficient to give anybody an edge on the real big questions of existence; or some kind of special insight, based on whatever it is one thinks one knows, into 'reality'.

With regards to the big questions these folk are just as ignorant as...oh, let's pick someone at random they probably all hate: GWB. Or your common-garden Islamic terrorist. Or that kid on a bike over there about to kill himself because he's too dumb to know that that concrete wall he's about to run into is harder than his un-helmeted head.

How can I say that? How can I denigrate the intellectual superiority of these folk?

Well, I don't, actually. All I'm saying is that, in principle, they have no way of knowing anything about those BIG QUESTION things that the rest of us don't know either.

What are those BIG QUESTION things? Well, in a nutshell it's only one and that is:

Is there a '¿WHY?' for our existence?

I bracketed the word in the way that Spanish speakers will bracket a question, with the '¿' and '?' to be considered a part of the word, because this is a special kind of 'why', very much set apart from all the other "why is it so?" incarnations. This is the ultimate 'why', the question about the context that is embedded in no other context, the meaning that requires no reference to any other meaning. That kind of stuff.

I know, I know. Why go for the ¿WHY? ? Why not go for something manageable like "Is there life after death?"

The reason is that the latter is what you might call a 'detail' question; something specific that, given the right methodology of investigation, even one using the 'scientific method', might well have an answer of sorts. On a personal basis "Is there life after death?" is definitely a Biggie, as I'd be the first to admit. But it won't answer the ¿WHY?, or even necessarily contribute to an answer.

Why not? Well, just suppose, for the sake of the argument, that there is some kind of 'life' after death. But there's nothing to suggest that, just because there is or is not 'life'-after-death, that that tells you anything about the ¿WHY? of things. Or if there is a ¿WHY?. It would just tell you that there's a context other than just the 'physical'; what some people might just call 'more'. But it won't tell you how much 'more' there is, or whether there's 'more' beyond the 'more', or how far out there in a hierarchy—or is this a 'hierarchical' structure at all? who the hell knows? maybe it's just 'parallel'. maybe it's both. in any case evidence is sparse—you have to go before you come to ¿WHY? Or if this is just a really dumb question to ask to begin with; a question that, like all questions, limits the range of answers to the extend of rendering them meaningless.

This blog's getting too long. Leaving the theme until the next one. Have a nice day.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Real Indiana Joneses

With Indy's next movie just about to be released, I chanced upon this. The irony of the statement...

"Not a whole lot of what we know as archaeology goes on in these movies, except what the Nazis do. They seem to be doing some real archaeological work,"...

...is just too delicious.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Without a Trace (Excepting More Pollution)

Things, events, atoms-of-contigency tend to cluster. Statistical bunching, I would suppose.

This is like something from a James Hall novel, specifically Bones of Coral. I only hope that in this strange scheme of body dissolution, the eyes do get dissolved with everything else—which they didn't in the novel. Though even here apparently there's some bone-dust leftover.

Quoting from the article: The process is called alkaline hydrolysis and was developed in this country 16 years ago to get rid of animal carcasses. It uses lye, 300-degree heat and 60 pounds of pressure per square inch to destroy bodies in big stainless-steel cylinders that are similar to pressure cookers.

Together with a recent appearance of a guy on an inventor's program on Australian TV—who patented a coffin with a bottom that opens out, discreetly dumping the shrouded corpse into the grave, out of sight of the grieving mourners—I'm beginning to feel like I'm on the set of Dead Like Me. And, yes, I'm not quite through it yet. Two more episodes to go. Then it's curtains—for the show. A great pity. DLM grew deeper and darker and more twisted as time went on, without letting us lose track of the characters.

One thing occurs to me—and excuse my obvious interest in this, but Bodies is still on my mind and awaiting completion, delayed by the after-effects of moving, though hopefully not for much longer—and that is that if this became legal, hiding the fact that some corpse or other was 'harvested' of choice bits and pieces would become even easier than it is now. For that reason alone—as well as the fact that we're talking serious water-pollution here, what with all those nasty chemicals used.

On the other hand, and I cite: "George Carlson, an industrial-waste manager for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, said things the public might find more troubling routinely flow into sewage treatment plants in the U.S. all the time. That includes blood and spillover embalming fluid from funeral homes."

Anyway, I am seriously opposed to the practice; and so should you be. It also lacks Greenhouse Effect Consciousness, being very wasteful of energy, just like cremation. That heat and pressure come at an environmental price. And if this disposal method were to become large-scale, we're talking serious Joules being pumped into the already overheated atmosphere.

Besides, and despite the fact that the dead very probably truly and honestly don't give a shit, there's some serious terminal lack of dignity in the procedure. I mean, being cremated is one thing. At least there are ashes that can be buried, or spread across the soil or the waters or wherever the deceased or his or her relations choose to spread the remains over. But the disposal of what amounts to liquid industrial waste is a different affair altogether.

"Liquid waste from cadavers goes down the drain at the both the Mayo Clinic and the University of Florida, as does the liquid residue from human tissue and animal carcasses at alkaline hydrolysis sites elsewhere."

And for once I agree with a religioid.

"We believe this process, which enables a portion of human remains to be flushed down a drain, to be undignified," said Patrick McGee, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester.

State Rep. Barbara French said she, for one, might choose alkaline hydrolysis.

Good for you, Mr. McGee; and good riddance to you Ms. French! I think I prefer maggots to liquefaction. At least someone lives off my rotting remains.

You might also consider that the desire for economy--which will very likely be disguised as eco-friendliness by the cupid hypocrites--will no doubt lead to the reuse of dissolution-media, which means that by the time the stuff has been effectively used up, it might hold within it the molecular components of a whole bunch of dead people; or whatever's left of them after they've been 'harvested', or bits and pieces have been 'recycled' or whatever you want to call it. I might be dead one day and not care anymore—a state of affairs I have vowed to avoid if at all possible—but right now I do care and the notion of my molecules being recycled in some pressure cooker with those some random 'other' victim of the practice...

Thanks, but no, thanks.

Lest you're telling yourself that maybe all of this smacks of a certain degreed of morbidity, which it does, I suppose since such thoughts do not qualify as 'wholesome', let me point out that this doesn't make the thoughts any less pertinent. They might not be cheery, but if we only thought about things that cheer us up this world would be a lunatic asylum—well, more than it already is.

So, readers, anonymous and not, allow yourselves your excursions into the morbid. the right does is not only good for the soul, but essential for a balanced character.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Mapping Urban Humankind


According to this, psychologists have found yet more ways of classifying people:

Psychologists have shown that human personalities can be classified along five key dimensions: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience.

Map these personality traits, somehow determined in a huge 'study', onto a map, and you get some interesting distributions. The authors of the article try to explain how it all works, and maybe they have a point or two. I'm not dissing their conclusions, for they are thought provoking.

But, as the Bob Seger song goes, 'The answer's in the question'. In this instance it lies in the classification system applied. I am unconvinced that the criteria are really as subject to reliable measurement as the underlying survey seems to imply.

You may also notice blank areas on a combined map, such as the one I quickly made up:

This, of course, makes sense, because if you look at a population density map, there is some correspondence:

And it probably comes as no surprise to anyone that the North East is a focus of neuroticism, which seems to correlate perfectly with population density.

And, here's another one, just for fun:

So, Neurotics Voted Kerry in the last US Presidential Election? Hmmfff...

Maybe the weirdest thing of all is the absence of 'Neurotics' in California. Consider the following list of symptoms of neurosis, found here:

...anxiety, sadness or depression, anger, irritability, mental confusion, low sense of self-worth, etc., behavioral symptoms such as phobic avoidance, vigilance, impulsive and compulsive acts, lethargy, etc., cognitive problems such as unpleasant or disturbing thoughts, repetition of thoughts and obsession, habitual fantasizing, negativity and cynicism, etc. Interpersonally, neurosis involves dependency, aggressiveness, perfectionism, schizoid isolation, socio-culturally inappropriate behaviors, etc.

All of that is supposed to be absent in California?? Given the high population density that makes no sense whatsoever. I suspect that the methodology of the study ignored regional variations in assessment. After all, psychologists are people, too, and those practicing in California may be expected to have a different view of what's what than those practicing in NYC.

Things about humans are never easy, and while these maps are interesting, they are, at best, a first approximation to the real situation.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Cadaverine. Putrescine. Tomato. Tomato.

Have a look at these two molecules. Their structure is subtly different, but both cause one's nose to feel the sensation of STINK.


First hand experience came in the form of a late Possum, spread out across some of the bark chips covering part of the area beside our driveway. Underneath and inside said former Possum—protected in Australia, while in NZ it's open season on the blighters!—was a sea of maggots that would have interested 'Grissom', a character from the original CSI series. In fact, even as I held my breath while wrapping the reeking corpse into several layers of plastic, rubbish bags, I was thinking that maybe I should know more about maggots. Everybody should because, unless you, after your certain demise, are cremated or hermetically sealed into some enclosure inaccessible to blowflies, you'll be consumed in a similar manner to the putrescine-leaking corpse.

This stuff is serious, I tell you! I picked up the flaccid furry gross-out maggot riddled using a plastic bag, which I then inverted around it, plus inserting it into three more, before it went into the rubbish, to be collected on the following day and integrated into the great Equalizer, that being the municipal rubbish tip of Pine Rivers Shire—because we actually live just outside the official City of Brisbane.

Having disposed of the thing I the realized that there was still some lingering stench, and not just whatever remained on the bark-chips. Actually it was on the fingers of my right hand, with some juice or maybe just clingy stench having seeped right through the, not very thick, plastic of the bag and onto me. Took me some serious soaping and rinsing to get it off.

Ahh, yes, that's molecules for you. Sneaky little buggers.

And death, too, because I'm watching far too much Dead Like Me right now, ploughing through Season 2. It's the kind of show to make you ultimately paranoid—even more than the Final Destination movies were prone to induce. All of a sudden you look at the world around you as filled with creative means to kill you with what would otherwise be quite un-scary objects. I find myself very careful at the moment, paying close attention to objects that qualify as 'everyday', especially if they're pointed, sharp, have high centers of gravity and not much of a base, loose objects on the ground that might trip you up, head-height items sticking out from...well, wherever. Stuff like that. When I see someone doing something fraught with potential for lethal disaster I have to fight back an urge to tell them off, with maybe an afterthought of "What kind of a stupid pillock are you anyway? Haven't you seen Dead Like Me?"

And I wonder what had befallen that Possum. It was pretty large, and not just because it was getting 'runny' and spreading out over the ground. So I suppose it may just have been old. Pretty gray it was, too, but then again all of them are, so it's hard to tell.

So, did it fall out of the top of that tall gum tree underneath which it lay? Heart attack? Old age? A careless slip? Just dumb shit out of luck?

The things we'll never know...

Monday, May 05, 2008

Nationalism

On April 25 was ANZAC Day, which is a much bigger deal in Australia than in New Zealand. Over here the day is a public holiday, equal in status to Christmas Day or Good Friday, with basically everything being closed. In NZ, after 12 o'clock, there are ANZAC Day sales and everything goes its usual merry commercial way.

It was a bit of a surprise, this ANZAC Day thing in Australia. Not surprisingly then tofind, that Australia ranks pretty high in the 'Patriotism' list worldwide. Patriotism is Nationalism's near-identical twin, and most people won't even distinguish between the two. The main difference is that Fatherland-dom—or Mother-land-dom—which is what Patriotism emphasizes, has to do with being born in some place, while Nationalism is 'adoptable', if you will. Like I could become either and Australian or New Zealand 'Nationalist' if I were so disposed, seeing that I am a naturalized citizen of both countries.

My gut reaction to Nationalism has always been derisive. As a native German, that's understandable, and for someone of a libertarian disposition, that's maybe even more understandable. And, let's face it, there are versions of patriotism/nationalism that make me shudder. Mindless flag-waving, with patria or 'nation' assuming the status of deity, is troubling; though not more so than, say, common-garden religion. Or any ideology for that matter.

But Patriotism can also be rational and based on open-eyed personal decision making that has nothing to do with flag-waving or jingoism.

How is that possible? Well, you can start with the simple insight that Cosmopolitanism, the notion that all of humanity is effectively a single community that should be united in thought, belief and action, is a canard. I know it sounds nice and utopian, but, let's face it, if it were ever come to be it would have some extremely unpleasant implications, social, philosophical and possibly evolutionary. Moral Universalism is possibly the worst of these.

Fortunately, I suspect that it won't come to be, because it's also impossible to implement because of its intrinsic absurdity and misalignment with human nature.

If Cosmopolitanism is bullshit—which it is—then one has to make some serious decisions. One of these has to do with choosing, if one is given the choice and most people aren't, which of the nations that cover human space are likely to be the most suitable and promising for providing a 'future' for oneself and one's own, family and friends alike. A place as safe as 'safe' can ever be. A context to raise a family and have a notion that your kids do have a future; that they are protected, as 'protected' they can be; that their environment isn't going to be a toxic waste dump, as many environments are; that when the shit hits the fan, as it will, this is the best place to be; and so on.

Escape to the Fringe isn't really an option anymore. There is no deserted off-the-map place on Earth one can flee to and hope to survive for any medium or long term. 'Civilization' is a fact of our existence, and so let's make the best of it, and learn to live with its sometimes grim attributes; because it also has a lot of good things to offer. Very good things.

And so, the question is only: which part of civilization, which locality, which nation, is worth living in and, if necessary, fighting for? Which is worth defending, because, shitty as it may be, it's your best hope to take care of you and yours?

This leads to something that may be called 'Rational Nationalism'. It isn't about love of 'country', but of love for those you love and care for and the environment will provide them with the best assurance of a future. And from it may even grow an affection for that country or nation, because it provides those things for you and yours. Just like you might develop affection for, say, a house, which, though inanimate and a mere 'object', has provided your family with shelter and safety against the tempests and the heat and the cold.

And, just as you would defend—or at least one might hope you would!—your house, imperfect as it is, against those who intend to destroy it, be they tempest, termites or people, so one might reasonably expect that you'd defend the 'Nation'. Or that you would give it a 'loyalty' in return for the protection it affords to you and yours. That seems like a simple tit-for-tat thing; an instance of the Law of Cosmic Equipoise in action.

Such loyalty doesn't have to be blind. It can acknowledge the flaws and prompt one to strive to improve the 'Nation', to make it more liveable and like what you think it ought to be. But in case of doubt you have to be able to say "On this side I stand. This side, no matter how imperfect, I stand by."

Basically then, this kind of Nationalism becomes a matter of revelation of character, because it is based on personal decisions and choices; all of which really are 'character'-revealed. And it occurs to me that the kind of Nationalism I'm talking about could do with being promoted more, because ultimately it is more solidly grounded than the mindless flag-waving kind. For flag-wavers are fickle. Give them another flag and tweak their emotions here and there and push this button and that, and they'll wave that other flag with just as much, or even more fervour than the one they're now trampling upon. They'll be Catholics as readily as Socialists, Crusaders as readily as Greenies; just push the right buttons. They may appear solid and unwavering, but in the end they're easily manipulated by anybody with the right mind-tweaking tools—and there's lots of those, from 'state' to 'media' to 'church' to 'environmentalists' to...ahh, you get the idea.

'Rational Nationalism'. A notion I'd like more people to think about, and ponder it; and discard their knee-jerk reaction—like my former ones—and think about it some more; and maybe understand that there can be such a thing and that, as the world is going and for those who actually have a choice, it may be a sensible attitude to adopt.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Another Foo Video from Brisbane (mostly sound though)

But Honestly

Foo Fighters in Brisbane

Here's a clip of the first ten minutes of their concert. Apologies for the shaky video, but this was taken with a late-model Sony Cybershot in movie mode, from far across the arena and with people still walking to and fro.

I'm going to look through my video collection from that night and see if there are more. Meanwhile, there a gazillion more videos in the list on the clip's YouTube page.