Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Martha Graham

said this:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.

I love her.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Methuselah Foundation

I found out about the Methuselah Foundation through Hulu's non-profit advertising. It was nestled between an ad for saving the rainforest and encouraging people to send their children to camp--in other words, it was presented as just another harmless foundation, a cause that is meant to tear at our heart strings. Its mission?

"The Methuselah Foundation is a non-profit medical charity dedicated to extending healthy human life through proven programs supported by people like you. The Foundation supports a variety of strategies that will accelerate progress toward a comprehensive cure for age-related disease, disability, and suffering."

So they have created a foundation dedicated to extending healthy human life. Now, it could be suggested that in a broad sense all of medicine has this goal, as it attempts to keep people healthy, and thus living longer. But the Methuselah foundation is tweaking this project, or at least making it more explicit. After all, it isn't a far stretch to take 'comprehensive cure for age-related disease' to mean 'comprehensive cure for death'. To encourage this type of research, the foundation is sponsoring the mprize, a motivational tool to get scientists to lengthen the life of lab rats. From what I can tell, essentially, this foundation is dedicated to finding the fountain of youth.

This confuses me. When I was in 4th grade, we read Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit. In the book, one family finds the fountain and lives forever, only to spend their eternal lives lonely and unfulfilled, living in an ephemeral world. The message of the book is clear: living forever would suck. I thought it was just understood--that eternal life is just one of those things that sounds good but we all realize is bad at the end of the day, like eating ice cream at every meal.

Apparently, with this kind of foundation being formed, it isn't. I can see the appeal of wanting to extend life (to an extent..hehe), but I also feel strongly that extending human life too long is actually just accelerating the experience of death. I think the mistake is in forgetting how our experience of time is linked to the amount of time we experience. To live for a thousand years would just mean that a year would seem to us like a week, and more likely than not, we would squander it in similar ways. Life's pace would slow, adolescence stretch for decades, children would rarely, if ever, be born--the milestones of our life cycle would be few and far between.

For these reasons, I think the whole foundation is wrong-headed. I'm not anti-relieving suffering at the end of life. But I'm pro-accepting death. Without it, I don't think there would be such a thing as life. It's a packaged deal, and it just seems futile and weird to try and avoid that. Why don't we take the energy surrounding the Methuselah foundation and start a different foundation: one dedicated to getting as many as people as possible to live like they were going to die tomorrow?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Quantum Mechanics a la David Albert

Here's an EXCELLENT interview with David Albert, author of Quantum Mechanics and Experience, one of the clearest books about issues of philosophy of quantum mechanics that is out there. In the interview he answers such questions as : Can you give a brief overview of quantum mechanics?, How does quantum mechanics contradict common sense?, Can science give us a precise image of the universe?, Does quantum mechanics speak at all to consciousness?

He's just very clear headed when he presents the issues and makes them easy to understand. I recommend it. Big Think Interview With David Albert | David Albert | Big Think

Friday, February 19, 2010

Links of the Week

Here's some stuff I rounded up from the internets...Fun mirroring video with a song I really like via yvynyl......A clear and well balanced look at the whole atheist/theist thing I just can't seem to give up on.......Just in case you haven't listened to Pogo yet, it's an amazing treat......I've always fantasized about those crazy computers from the movies becoming real: dreams DO come true!..... Interesting article about the effect of the 'trust hormone' aka oxytocin aka MDMA on people with autism....the fall out from Copenhagen scandals rage on, Jeffrey Sachs does his best to defend.....No writer can resist a little meta-blogging, esp. when it's Lorrie Moore...WILL SOMEONE IN NEW ORLEANS PLEASE COME WITH ME TO THIS? IT'S LIKE REALLY CHEAP AND AWESOME LOOKIN...And finally, a social network we can all agree upon, sometimes globalization is just freakin awesome!

Police Expectations

New Orleans boasts the best crowd control in the country. Millions of revelers take to the streets during the Gras, and there are hardly any violent or destructive incidents. The department claims that people from around the country visit New Orleans to discover the NOPD's crowd control secrets, but I think I have a general gist of it: the NOPD don't expect anything terrible to happen.

Case in point: when the Phillies made it into the world series this fall, people filtered over to Broad Street, and as I was walking in the crowds I started to feel real happy, reminded of how nice it really is to be in a place, surrounded by people, knowing that they are thinking the same thing you are (in this case, WOO HOO). But when I got to Broad street, there were about 50-70 cops standing in the median, arms crossed, stares cold, eyes narrowed. They looked like some SHIT WAS BOUT TO GO DOWN, and they didn't look happy about it. They were expecting something to happen. Sure enough, about five minutes after I got there some guy shot off a bottle rocket in the middle of the crowd and was pinned to the ground by about four police within two seconds.

NOPD, on the other hand, stick to the outer edges of the crowd during Mardi. They act as the parties' referees, not enforcers. When someone is expecting you to break the rules, you do. Which is why racial profiling is so problematic and circular. It's just another example of your expectations of what is going to happen can radically change what actually happens. And the best part about expectations is that they are in your control!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Known Universe

Just in case you haven't checked this out yet. Its basically planet earth for THE UNIVERSE. Whenever you're low on awe, like truly knee shaking palm sweatin jaw droppin AWE, take a gander.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mardi Gras

Well, another Mardi Gras has come and gone for the city of New Orleans. I've gone to a few festivals, but haven't attended any as much as I have Mardi Gras, which has been a consistent milestone in my life since I moved to New Orleans in 3rd grade.

But, as many people ask, what is it? Like most things New Orleans, Mardi Gras is a strange amphibian, slippery and resistant to categorization or explanation, but more and more I've found myself comparing it to the major festivals around the country, musical and otherwise. Unfortunately, its national reputation has been boiled down to little more than a girls gone wild video, deterring a lot of would be revelers. At times I wish we could attract all kinds to the party, including more creative/artistic types, not just friends of friends and drunk college kids looking to see boob. I'm especially convinced of this because I think so much of what is emphasized at other national festivals is something that grows naturally in New Orleans, and does so without any specific dogma or marketing. So here's my go on why Mardi Gras is the best festival in America.

1. It's Multi-Generational: There's an incredible thrill as a child to see your teachers, parents, friends parents, grandparents, baby cousins, and neighborhood weirdos all gathered in the street doing exactly what you're doing--enjoying themselves. There's no age for Mardi Gras, and there's something for everyone.

2. It Spans Socio-Economic class: Sure, the richer you are, the more likely you are to be on a float, go to balls and dress up fancy, etc. etc. But on the whole, it would be hard to make the argument that these experiences are in any way 'better' than just the regular guy watching the parade, or riding on the truck floats, or waking up early to bbq in his backyard. Unlike most festivals, the concept of a "VIP" pass to the event would be ridiculous. Its one of the few festivals when having money/status doesn't translate into a better experience.

3. It's not motivated by Money: To the above point, unlike almost every other festival, Mardi Gras was not created to make money. Krewes don't get anything for having parades (they just lose dough), and although the tourism generated from the event is certainly an economic boon for the city, it wasn't as some mastermind manufactured it for that purpose. Plus, there's tons of free stuff all over the place. Sometimes I think I could go through a whole mardi gras just grabbing beers from random folks, eating the occasional hot dog that floats by and munching on the moonpies they throw out, not spending a dime.

4. It's limitless: While this is not entirely true, as all Mardi Gras' begin and end, the possibilities for what your Mardi Gras are seemingly limitless. Want to dress up in elaborate costumes and wander around? Check. How about listen to music every night? Sure. Be in a krewe and throw beads? Done. Watch as the parades go by? Course. Go to house parties every night? K. How bout clubs? Why not? Since every type of person is involved in the celebration, any type of party you can imagine is happening at any given time during the course of the festival. The only hard part is finding it.

5. It has no 'point': This is the best thing about Mardi Gras. There's nothing you're suppose to 'get' about it. It doesn't have a message, it's not trying to make a statement, and no one's out there trying to prove anything to you. It's a celebration of life for life's sake. The only point is to try and enjoy yourself, exactly in the way you like best, and as long as you let others do the same then you are doing Mardi Gras right.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

On Using the Word Retarded

About two weeks ago, the WSJ reported that Rahm Emanuel called some liberal democrats "fucking retarted". Sarah Palin fired back, asking if he has any decency, and a flurry of very interesting posts by liberal bloggers called her out on her hypocrisy, the best examples being Tiger Beatdown and Shapely Prose.

As Sweet Machine stated in Shapely prose "It’s awful to say something is “retarded” because the punch of the word is based on the equation of “disability” and “bad.”. I think she is absolutely right, and that the vast majority of the time when people say something or someone is retarded they are making this equivalence. But, I also think that when people call others out for using the word, or feel uncomfortable about its usage, they are continuing to make this equivalence.

In my ideal world, a person with mental disabilities would not be immediately be assumed to have a lower quality of life or be devalued as an individual in society. This person would just be different, in the same way that shy people differ from outgoing ones. In other words, the value judgment that I think is currently intrinsically married to the concept of people with disabilities would be eliminated.

If you agree that this would be an ideal, then the question becomes how best to bring it about. Obviously, using the word retarded when you really mean bad, low-quality, inferior, or lesser in any way would be counter-productive. But what if you use the word retarded to mean something that is stupid, or "less intelligent than average"? I think the problem with saying that people should not use the word retarded if they mean 'stupid' is that it implies (whether intentional or not) that being less intelligent than average is inherently bad. Taking for granted here that the word retarded has been co-opted from its original meaning of slow growth to be a catch-all for people with mental disabilities, if we weren't making this value judgment, then why would calling something retarded, if you mean stupid, be wrong? Wouldn't it just be the case that some things are less intelligent, on average, than other things, and to state this would be a matter of fact, like pointing out the speaker's tie was green?

This is a difficult concept to wrap one's head around, because there are a lot of people whose value systems are built around the concept that intelligence is a fundamental good and stupidity is its opposite. I'm not sure if this is something that could ever change, but I do think that considering the assumptions that are inherent in what makes you uncomfortable is important. If you don't like people saying something or someone is retarded, why don't you? What exactly is it about the word that makes you uncomfortable? Is it the concept of people with mental disabilities in general?

I'm not suggesting that we should all use the word retarded when we mean stupid or refer to people with mental disabilities as retarded. As I have throughout this post, the language preferred by those with disabilities is 'people first', which I've come to see as a brilliant way of changing the script and in turn altering our perception of those with disabilities. It's outlined beautifully on this website, "Disability is Natural". What I'm saying is sometimes we are uncomfortable about the use of a word because of underlying assumptions we are making about the group we want to defend. And examining these assumptions in ourselves is as important as demanding the word's demise in society.

Friday, February 5, 2010

We Have Told Ourselves Lies That Aren't True

After giving blood at age 16, Rodney McKenzie, Jr. received a letter informing him that he was HIV positive. He decided to leave his family in Texas and move to New York to die alone. Almost everything he did in the next ten years could be traced back to this belief he had about himself, and it wasn't until he was 26 that he decided to face his diagnosis and be tested again. Turns out, he was healthy all along.

This is an amazing story to me because it makes tangible something that I think is universal, but often without such hard evidence. We all have things about ourselves that we feel we 'know'. We decide that we are something, or not something, and we cling to that decision and live our lives as if it was 'true'. This vid made me wonder what truths I was hanging on to. It's really a nice watch.

Via Feministing

Links of the Week

New Orleans bounce, a la DJ Jubilee, Partners N Crime, and their many followers are finally getting a chance to show how they are the roots of countless smash pop hits today, support them!...Just watch this, I don't know why but it's super-mesmerizing, and I ended up researching Afrikaans for like 2 hrs...It's stuff like this that makes me question how I determine whats a man and what's a machine....Don't ask don't tell seems to be on the breaking point, let your voice be heard!...Rumors flyin bout Bonnaroo, gotta say DMB is a big whatev. for me...Awesome essay about the effect of brain science on literature, I'll prob. post about it but it's def. worth the read...If anyone was wondering whether New Orleans was the next big thang, well my biased ass self says it is---we've only spent 5% of our recovery money! 95% TO GO..Terry Schiavo gets ripped open with this, I'm really not sure what to think...I'm a glutton for O'Reilly vs. Jon Stewart, although this fight wasn't quite as good as others...And, for the last time, with all my heart and soul...GEAUX SAINTS...I think Mike Lorando summed it up best:

Order more beer. Throw me something, mister. Suck da heads. Wear da dress. Stand up. Get crunk. Hug it out. Protect your eardrums. Pass the Kleenex. Hoist the trophy.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Is Feminine Domination a Goal?

In the past year or so, there's been a spate of books emphasizing the essential role the quality of 'empathy' plays in humanity. This includes: Born to Be Good, by the Ekman (the emotions guy) disciple Dacher Keltner, also behind The Greater Good Science Center, which is about as touchy-feely as science gets, Beyond Revenge by Michael McCullough which explains the importance of forgiveness, The Age of Empathy, by leading primatologist Frans de Waal, who dares to ask, what if Bonobos had been the primary focus of our evolution research instead of traditional Chimpanzees? and even a how-to book, Mirroring People, about how you can use all this new science of empathy to your social And today, Arianna Huffington recommends for her bookclub (could she possibly replace Oprah?) The Empathetic Civilization, insisting that it's teachings will be the dawn of a new age, the transition from the "Age of Reason" to the "Age of Empathy".

In some ways, I think this trend is a response to the enormous influence and subsequent acceptance of selfish values as an essential part of humanity from Dawkins' The Selfish Gene. And really, I'm all for that. I think the emphasis placed on selfish instincts has led to a lot of over-simplification and unsatisfying theories about some of our most basic human experiences (to start, love).

But I think there's something more going on here. When you look up Chimpanzee on wikipedia, chimps are led by "alpha males" and bonobos are a "matriarchal" society. And it doesn't take much to translate the transition from an 'age of reason' to an 'age of empathy' to 'age of male-domination' to 'age of female domination'. Reading between the lines on these things, I start to feel like characteristics normally associated with women are now scientifically trendy, and I worry this will come to be seen as a 'victory' for the feminist movement. Individuals are being painted as 'fundamentally' having empathetic characteristics, and I have a problem with that.

Don't get me wrong. I cry every time I read the NYTimes or listen to NPR, think revenge is completely idiotic and there is definitely a part of me that wishes everyone took classes in college about how fundamentally good everyone is. And I'm not saying that these scientists and social observers were intentionally suggesting women be in charge instead of men. But rather, I think it's always wrong to suggest that people are in some sense 'fundamentally' one way or the other. And further, I don't think this should be a point of celebration or emphasis for the feminist movement. Ideally, feminism should be about equality, not domination. Isn't the ideal that we will someday balance these forces that both play a role in all of us? To unify reason and emotion, domination and submission, empathy and selfishness? Can't that be what the new 'age' is about?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why Is Privacy Important?

I don't know if I've ever seen an article be so popular on "The 3 Facebook Settings Every User Should Check Now" sits pretty at #7 most emailed, and it was published almost two weeks ago. Clearly there are thousands upon thousands of people who are highly concerned about their privacy on the internet.

I'm not immune to this--I've set all of my Facebook controls to "only friends". But, like a lot of things, when I try to determine exactly why I want to keep my facebook private, it's hard to come up with reasons that make a lot of sense. Mainly, it's because I get a feeling I can only describe as the 'jeebies' about anyone who wants to look at all the shit I post on my profile.

Here's what pops up off the top of my head: 1. Identity theft, as best evidenced by the citi bank identity theft commercials 2. Stalkers, as in people sending you annoying messages or worse coming to your house and 3. Companies using the information to market products to you 4. Bosses, as in your future/current employer rejecting/firing you for incriminating evidence found and 5. The "Jeebies" I mentioned above

Upon closer inspection, these reasons don't really stand up. 1. From what I can understand about identity theft, thieves need your SS number or some other official private data to really succeed, if all it took was your name/address/phone number, identity thieves could just use the phone book. 2. Fear of stalkers is maybe a bit more legit, especially if you are really hot or something, but I think it's safe to say that the risk of acquiring a truly dangerous stalker (this is stranger stalkers I'm talking about) is pretty freakin' low, and having a public facebook profile and being out in public are probably the same amount of risk. 3. As for companies, having more directed is it so different from the aimless advertising we have now? Granted the advertising might be more annoying, but probably just because it will be more persuasive. But I think it's mostly your job to try to combat the messages corporations send you about what you want (not that it's easy..). 4.As for bosses, this is a toughie. We sometimes want to have different personas for our work and persona lives. I don't think there's necessarily something wrong with that, but I do think that in general jobs that jive well with our personalities/lifestyle make people more happy.

So there are some risks involved in putting all our cards on the table, but I still think the main reason I don't it is these 'jeebies'. And when I try to determine what these 'jeebies' are really about, I can only think they are some combination of insecurity/shame/idea people will think I'm an exhibitionist. Since all of these feelings stem from fear, it doesn't seem like a legitimate reason to stay private. But what am I afraid of?

Let's imagine for a moment that most people weren't very private, that it wasn't valued or seen as important. This would mean that vasts amounts of information about your day to day life would be public domain, accessible as quick as it is to type your name into a google search bar. Ah! How vulnerable it would make me...but if everyone was doing it, how vulnerable is one measly individual? Instead, I think there would just be an increase of understanding between individuals, and a decrease of all the insecurity and shame that stems from our conviction that we are in some definitive ways different from most people. One can imagine through search engines we could instantly become connected to thousands of people who are really similar to us, and the creation of valuable networks would be even easier than they are now. And as a bonus, there might be a healthy dose of deflation for those who, because of external markers, have been lead to believe that they are significantly better than others, as there would be an increased recognition of equality. Also, as a bonus, I think the amount of inane reality television would be squelched by an increase in the amount of freely available "reality", a la Internet Killed Television.

I think the internet is already heading in this direction, but there is still significant resistance to things becoming public. And even after writing this whole damn post, I dunno if I'm quite ready to get over my jeebies and make my facebook profile public. It's a difficult thing to do when there are few others who do it as well. But I always think it's worthwhile to really consider why something is valuable to you, and whether the reasons make sense. And when it comes to privacy, I don't think the reasons stand up. Unless some of yall have others?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Do a 360

I've always wondered why Japan is considered SO difficult to get around in.