Sunday, June 21, 2009

Iran Election 1

First a note: blogging takes up too much time for me to regularly continue. For now you can follow me on Facebook or on twitter for more regular updates.

I don't think any innocents read this blog but just in case, a warning, some stuff below is disturbing.

I have many thoughts on the Iranian election but there is one that is burning a hole in my heart.

Images can scar the psyche just as words and sensations can. Scarring images are like viral memes. One first must have a compromised mental immune system. I am not saying that you have to have mental health issues to succumb to such an image. You just need to be ready. You may even show someone else an image that scarred you, only to find that they are not affected.

A scarring image may shock you at first but takes hours or even longer to propagate through your body. The first image I really remember being scarred by was this one. I sat in front of my computer literally stunned by the image. I can't remember how long I sat there, it felt like hours but it probably was only 20mins or so. At first I was just shocked, then I thought it was funny, then I was grossed out, then I started to think about the thought universe necessary to create that image. What did I take away from it? Firstly I realized that is funny, even if very darkly so. Secondly it made my think about wildness, how we are separated from death by paper thin walls and that if we forget that, we deny the richness of possible human experience. The point the author is trying to make (I think) is that people who see the image and say "ewww" or "people shouldn't see that" have become too far removed from horrifying beauty of every second.

The second image I'll share today is this one. Again, I spent a long time just looking at that image, trying to force my brain to cope with it. I thought about how it could look like she was just sleeping. I thought of the great Stan Rogers quote "For causes are ashes where children lie slain". I thought about how utterly fucking pointless her death was. I felt sadness, then rage and hatred, then despair. It re-enforced my (already existing) conviction that there is no one benevolent God that micro-manages the world, although I should say that I am no atheist. What did I "learn" from this? Only sadness.

The third potentially infectious visual I will spread with you today is here (still images here). The (very initial, unconfirmed) story is that this woman is Neda (farsi for voice, ironically), "A young woman who was standing aside with her father watching the protests and was shot by a basij member hiding on the rooftop of a civilian house."
To those of us whose eye's are stil open, and to those who have turned away in cynicism, this is nothing new (examples of what I mean here). Another day, another far away country, another pointless death. Too bad, so sad, change the channel.
For me this is different, why? I wish I could say I am more aware, more compassionate, but unfortunately it is merely technology. Because of youtube, facebook, twitter, and blogs (I may post more on this later) the psychic gulf shrank enough that I could feel closer to this young woman's world than people in other atrocities I have watched from afar. For all I know I was reading her tweets mere hours before her death.
I even feel a little naive and guilty about being so affected by her death. I can hear other human rights advocates remarking on how millions of other deaths have gone unremarked and un-vindicated by myself and those like me. I have no defense for this, frankly there can be none. My only answer would be that for me to go on living I have come to believe the following things
1. Much as we fight to hide it, death is always all around us, and, (crucially) death is not bad. To assume that death is always bad (even if seems pointless and painful) is arrogant, and ignores reality.
2. The long term consequences of burnout, despair, and over-activism are worse than a certain degree of willful ignorance.
3. To be the most effective activists we must try and find the places where we can make the most difference. Not that we should ignore atrocities because they seem difficult to stop, but that we need to be realistic, honest, and mindful of the world around us and our capabilities.

More to say but tired now, going to sleep

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Best Ever!

1. Shout out to Dr Who fans: the coolest video EVER!!!!!!!!
2. Funny (and well produced) tv add
3. Krugman talks about something that many people are asking: what does a recovery out of these troubles look like? There are several ok possibilities (IMHO): a large consumer spending rise in China, a big leap in low cost consumer products innovation in the US. There are also some bad ones: a big expansion in the conflict in the Pakistan/Afghanistan, and just hitting bottom on how far the economy goes down (sort of an oversimplification but I can't articulate what I mean right now). Or the most likely: something completly different that I haven't seen.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Let's step into a brave new world...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Break From our Regular Broadcast

Not sure why, but today has been a day for art.

1. Just look at these pictures, scary and amazing at the same time.
2. If someone had told me that a video about a flying, dancing tentacle creature that shoots birds and light could be so beautiful I wouldn't have believed them.
***The next three videos NEED to be full screened to really enjoy them (if you haven't used Vimeo before you just click on the four little arrows on the video "screen" opposite the play button)***
3. A haunting and intimate video. Vimeo is my friend.
4. Wow, what a video. Strange and abstract. I feel like some of it's over my head but I love it none the less
5. I don't have words to describe this

Saturday, February 14, 2009

1. A good point, this hadn't even occurred to me. Wow. As a good liberal son I guess always though Bush's early tax cuts were 20 bagilion dollars...or more.
2. An excellent idea... that probably won't happen sadly
3. Huh, another thing I never knew.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I love the world

1. I almost lost all composure at work today. Why? The universe is far funnier than I could have imagined. First The Onion publishes this article, then THE NEXT FUCKING day this expose about obscene Japanese games comes out in the Belfast Telegraph. The article mentions that an MP is going to go before parliament with the issue, do you think he might demand... an apology from Japan?
2. I want a subscription to the Atlantic someday, they've really had some great articles. This is a shining example of someone thinking long term. Even if he's proved wrong it's important that people think about the consequences of actions and events.
3. In the same vein this article talks about lessons from the past (Japan's in particular). Both a sense of history and of consequences are crucial to living in a sustainable world.
4. Sweden deploys some interesting ships
5. Dream on Frum, I suspect the current Republican leadership still thinks they can "beat" Obama by attacking everything he does. It'll take a few more serious defeats for them to change their minds (unless Obama really screws up in an uncharacteristic way).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bunch O Stuff

1. I'm a nominal fan of PA (post-apocalyptic) fiction, and this movie just seems so beautiful, if really depressing. It also really reminds of of the Gunslinger Series by Steven King. The image of a train going through a blasted wasteland is very powerful I guess.
2. Regular readers will know that I love the Economist and reading these articles celebrating the 200th birthday of Lincoln was a powerful reminder of what a great news source it is.
3. I want to keep an eye on this technology. Batteries have many disadvantages including toxicity and the limited availability of raw materials so any technology that can get around that obstacle in the path to sustainable transportation is worth following in my book.
4. I remember seeing a aerogel related technology when I attended a NESEA conference a few years ago and I'm really glad to hear about this novel application of the technology.
5. If you really care about national security and the war on terrorism then I'd recommend reading this paper. I am not a legal expert but Jack Goldsmith is, according to everything I've read so far, a brave, principled, and intelligent man. I think we should treat what he suggests seriously (even if we disagree).
6. PSA for iPhone and iTouch users only: Wired has a new guide to syncing your google contacts/calendars with your mobile device and it looks pretty good to me.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

1. I'm disappointed in the Obama administration today. Why? Read this.

I get the argument, I really do, revealing this information would endanger the stability of people and countries that helped the US's rendition program.

But I still feel like saying...

"President Obama, we can do better than this".

2. Keep an eye on this trend, it'll be interesting to see how it plays out. Brooks has some good thoughts on it

3. Innovation the people doing it are so interesting, case in point.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Quiet Day

1. This is so true, I read academic journals, but I can only stay awake for the most riveting articles on topics that wildly excited me. Anything outside of that and I can't make it through.

/rant on
One topic that the article doesn't really cover is how boring writing leads to opaque and bad science. If academics write in this obscure, jargon-full, badly written manner it leads people a) not understand them and b) believe that all smart science writing is like that. Fraudsters and impostors can use that to gain undeserved status. I once had someone send me this academic paper in the sincere belief that it was worth reading. If you actually take the time to read it you realize that the author doesn't actually say anything, he just uses self-referential jargon to sound important. Take this sentence:

"The authors provide a simple, elegant model of scalar interactions, which accommodates
phenomena not heretofore accommodated, by describing how the fundamental processes of YBias Interactions [3] and optimal concomitant Angularity combine to operationalize the
autopoietic processes found in Self-Organizing Criticality [4] [SOC] as described by Bak etal."

I dare anyone who reads this post to argue that the person who wrote this had any desire to communicate anything. If you stare at it long enough and hold it upside down, then squint, and work through the whole thing (with it's brain-draining agony) you realize that if the author was using words that someone might actually be able to stay conscious long enough to finish reading them, what he wrote might be put as: "The authors provide a new description of physical interactions by describing the physical interactions." Then you realize that the author is either an idiot, a fraudster, or an amazing joker"

If I saw that, and did not have the curiosity, training, puzzlement, and rage driving me I might stare at it, try to understand it, and eventually give up thinking "wow, this really sounds very dry and academic, he MUST know what he's talking about."

The whole thing is 47 words long, 13 of which are either nonsense, jargon, or references to terms coined by the author in other "papers" which are miraculously "out of print" or "available on request".

/rant off

2. Hrrmm, attention James Inhofe, man-made projects might actually have an effect on natural processes

Monday, February 2, 2009

Art Today

1. First, a PSA about cell phone disposal
2. The amount of time this person has... is staggering
3. This is a charming idea
4. I think I've seen this before but it's still neat
5. Wow, photographs of landscapes in fishtanks... never thought that would look cool
6. If you have cable, and like Joss Whedon, or Whedon alums Fridays this spring will be gooooooood.