Archive for March, 2009

“We” can work it out

Does anyone else think the Beatles song, “We Can Work It Out” has very troubling lyrics? The singer says to see it his way: “While you see it your way, there’s a chance we might fall apart before too long.” There’s no talk of compromise, only insistence that the listener “try to see it my way.” I don’t think that’s a good way to resolve problems in a long-term relationship.

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A little bit softer now

The Bay Area is now definitely part of A Softer World. This picture is certainly from a BART station!

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Hang gliding

This weekend. Now.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure I’m 100% motivated.

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No worship-worthy god

I’m not religious because I can’t believe in a god worth worshiping. There are gods I could perhaps believe in, but either they don’t demand worship, or I wouldn’t give it.

For instance, there could be a creator god, who set the universe in motion and then stood aside. But that god doesn’t need my belief, and it wouldn’t answer my prayers.

I can’t believe in an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent god. There’s too much god-preventable suffering in the world for that. I can understand a god letting people make their own choices, but dying of cystic fibrosis isn’t a choice anyone would make. A god that’s not benevolent doesn’t deserve my worship.

A god that’s not omnipotent or omniscient doesn’t really sound that god-like, either. It could still be superhuman, but is that really divine? Would you pray to a god that can’t hear everyone’s prayers, or can’t act on them? What’s the minimum line for worship? Being able to move a mountain? How about a small hill?

And for that matter, a god that demands worship is a dick. What sort of supreme being gets worked up about how people feel about it? I won’t worship anything with a self-esteem issue.

Similarly, a god that doesn’t inform us all of its existence is a dick. It’s rude, at the least, to make us guess which millennia-old religion is correct. A polite god would let us know, rather than asking us to trust written records that have been mangled over thousands of years.

A god that puts arbitrary restrictions on behavior is also a dick. “You have to do no work on this day, because I said so.” “You can’t marry that person.” “You have to worship me by saying these words while lighting these candles and eating these snacky-cakes.” “You can’t use birth control.” “Only pray facing east.” “Don’t eat shellfish.” “Religious authorities must remain chaste.”

So, am I missing something? Do you know of a god that’s kind and wise, one that has concealed its existence from me for some good reason?

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Multiple Myeloma Race for Research

As you may have heard, my mother has the sort of bone cancer known as “multiple myeloma.” I’ll be running in a 5K fund-raising race on Sunday, April 5. I always feel awkward asking for donations, but I thought I should at least inform people of the opportunity. If you want to help support multiple myeloma research, you can donate through my mom’s team here: http://321cure.themmrf.org/site/TR/RaceforResearch/General?team_id=1500&pg=team&fr_id=1030

EDIT: To donate, click the “join team” link on that page.

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The Blanks

The Blanks were awesome last night! They’re the a cappella group that sometimes does little bits on the TV show “Scrubs.” They really did make their show into an entertaining comedy performance, and they sang weird songs extremely well. I think my favorites were the songs with talking toys. For instance, they had a pumpkin that said “Happy Halloween,” and by timing it carefully, they got it to sing along with them. Very clever.

Plus, I got cheap tickets from Goldstar, which not only informed me of the opportunity but also gave “free” (plus a high handling fee) tickets. I don’t usually endorse products or services, but after them finding me such a good concert, I’m pleased with what they do.

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Confessions of a Body Fascist

I’m pretty sure that according to the feminists, I’m a body fascist. I want to find a woman who is not only intelligent and fun, but also attractive and fit. We’re taught that to do this is shallow. You wouldn’t judge a book by its cover, so don’t judge a woman by her appearance. Form is not function, and a person is not defined by the color of his skin, but by the contents of his heart.

But that’s not exactly true. If you believe that sex is important in a relationship, then it follows that sexual attraction matters, too. It’s not just, but that’s life. While it’s undeniable that inner beauty counts, outer beauty counts, too.

Then again, you don’t really have to grant all that. You could say that people are different from other things; you can love your dog for being fuzzy, your blanket for being soft, your house for its curb appeal, but you can’t look at people in the same way. People should be judged only by their inner qualities.

Or, you might go all the way and dismiss the whole physical world. Just as you wouldn’t determine what you think of someone by their appearance, you shouldn’t judge anything by its outside. Pain should be ignored, as should pleasure. We eat food for sustenance, not enjoyment. The fact that physical things manipulate our emotions is a problem that can be overcome with sufficient mental strength.

Frankly, I’ve tended to follow that latter case and deny the importance of physical events. Somehow it rings true. I am what I do, not what I seem. I feel disappointed that I care about appearances, and I’m sad to think of the people going unloved because they don’t look lovable enough. Still, down this path lies a philosophical trap. If the material world doesn’t matter, why should I care about art or music? After all, there’s no function there, only form–there’s no inner beauty to find, only outer beauty. In that view, dancing becomes foolish, for it is purely enjoyment of the physical. Somehow that seems wrong.

There’s a deeper trap, too, since ultimately we’re physical objects ourselves. Our natural reactions to certain stimuli may be arbitrary, but they’re nonetheless real. My emotions come from my experiences of my body–without sweaty palms and butterflies in my stomach, how would I know I was nervous? Without a pounding heart, how would I know I was excited? In the end, there is no pure spirit to fall in love with; the book is all cover. Trying to deny the importance of the physical element of our lives requires denying nearly all our emotions.

Similar problems afflict any attempt to ignore the beauty of possible mates. The appearance of your lover does change how you feel about them. If their skin is soft, if their eyes sparkle, if their sweat smells sweet, then that really does affect your interactions, and sad as it is to admit it, it matters. We’re only human, and these things affect us in a visceral way that we cannot out-think. Moreover, there is no way to rise above being merely human, because there is nothing else there. It might be noble to imagine ignoring all appearance, but it turns out that in our world, form is function, and you cannot just forget it.

So, yes, I want a woman who is not only a good person, but also makes me feel the little excitements of being human. It’s horribly unjust to all those people who, through no fault of their own, cannot do that, but nonetheless it remains true.

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Old age

For a while now, I’ve been complaining that I’m old. I’m as smart as I’ll ever be, as strong as I’ll ever be, as healthy as I’ll ever be. People have disputed that claim, but now there’s research to back it up. By 27, people start losing their mental faculties.

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Savages!

I stumbled upon some dude’s sci-fi book reviews. He gives Old Man’s War a higher review than Kiln People! For reference, Old Man’s War tries to excite by the idea of giving old people a new youth with new, attractive, strong bodies so they can go fight a war. They have sex, they fight, they make sacrifices, but other than the wishful dreaming of a second youth, it’s just an ordinary, badly-written war story. On the other hand, Kiln People presents how a society could work even with the ability to copy yourself for a day. It explores the consequences and some of the fascinating trickinesses that would come out of such a wild idea. Sure, Brin degenerates into wild metaphysical nonsense at the end, but at least the book has some thinking!

And this dude didn’t even like A Fire Upon the Deep! He keeps talking about the shallow “characters,” suggesting they’re supposed to “develop” or something. It’s really weird–Vinge goes to great lengths to explore great ideas, and this guy wants people to change? I understand that our reviewer merely agrees with the standard literary ideas, but I think he’s backward. People are setting, and society, civilization, and a grander scope is what’s important. Caring about an individual in a story always leaves me feeling a little empty, because the author hasn’t captured the important things. We might care what happens to this one person, be sad when they lose something, and excited when they triumph, but ultimately the scope is too small. Why should I care what happens to one person in one circumstance, dictated by luck? I’m much more interested in larger outcomes–what will we become, what can we do, how will our societies react.

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Singular vegetarians

The strongest argument for vegetarianism and animal rights I’ve ever heard comes from Vernor Vinge, the sci-fi author. He thinks that within about a generation, we’ll produce superhuman intelligence, by AI or biology or some other trick. How, he wonders, will those people treat us? Will they consider us as we consider animals? If we want them to treat us well, should we not treat animals well?

This argument works on me because it points at a clear similarity between humans and animals: neither of us is the next step, and what happens to both of us will depend on how we raise our heirs. So let us now found a belief that we should treat our inferiors as well as we’d like our superiors to treat us.

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