Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

The central belief is that there is an invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster, who created the entire universe "after drinking heavily." The Monster's intoxication was supposedly the cause for a flawed earth. All 'evidence' for evolution was planted by the Flying Spaghetti Monster, in an effort to test Pastafarians' faith — a form of the Omphalos hypothesis. When scientific measurements, such as radiocarbon dating, are made, the Flying Spaghetti Monster "is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage." The Pastafarian belief of heaven stresses that it contains beer volcanoes and a stripper factory. Hell is similar, except that the beer is stale, and the strippers have VD.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Brain Floss

A couple of weeks ago, I ran across a description of an experiment often practiced in parapsychology called the Ganzfeld Experiment. A major feature of this experiment is sensory deprivation, which is accomplished by putting halved ping-pong balls over the eyes and playing white or pink noise through headphones. I haven't really practiced meditation since I was a teenager. I lost the habit in my undergraduate years when I was chain smoking and subsisting on patty melts; Something about my poor health would make me itch violently whenever I tried to meditate. In any event, the Ganzfeld description made me remember an odd bit of open source sound software I had run across call Gnaural, which is a binaural and pink noise generator. I've been using it to meditate after my work-day before I start my creative work. It's makes deeper states of meditation easier to reach, and the hypnogogic imagery is a bonus. I've been using a particular file, and have been staying under for a half-hour to an hour.

Link to Gnaural on Sourceforge, I recommend Gnaural 2.
This is the file that I've been using. Save it as "NewMeditation.gnaural", if you wish to use it.
Link to Ganzfeld post on Mind Hacks.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The View from Far Away

With the new technology and ease of the Inter-tubes I was able to watch the Barack Obama acceptance speech. For the first time in my life the politicians and initiatives that I voted for are taking office and being made into law, and it is a strange sensation indeed; especially considering from where I sit in a foreign land, in no small part due to a persistent disgust about social conventions and political dialogue in the United States.

I cried for the first time during a political speech, three times. My cynical view parted for a moment and I felt like there might be something called hope in those constructs of government and politics, instead of just a lumbering and blind stumble towards a Soviet-style collapse born of arrogance and hubris.

Maybe I am being particularly sentimental because my own life is changing so much, but I can imagine proudly showing my soon-to-arrive daughter where I came from; without the shame and meek embarrassment of being an ex-patriot from a place so politically despised around the world as a hypocritical bully.

In spite of our differences and a history riddled with discrimination and struggle, we just elected the last black president, in part a son of immigrants whose family transcends any racial barriers handed down from past generations. I say the last, because maybe those distinctions of race and creed no longer have to have any real meaning in the United States of America. That makes my heart fill with pride and tears come to my eyes as I realize just how important that has always been to me. An oft forgotten hope that helped define how I see myself, finally reflected and represented in government.


This does not mean that everything is healed and suddenly perfect. As the country steps forward towards progress California, Arizona, Florida, and Arkansas take two steps backwards.

From Digby:

". . . these hateful propositions winning makes the victory bittersweet. How people can vote for the first African American president in American history, with all that implies, while simultaneously voting to
discriminate against gays is testament to the incoherence of American politics and the lack of clear cut philosophy guiding people's choices. Everyone says there's too much ideology in our politics but I'd say there isn't enough. There isn't enough common sense either. Discrimination against others just because you don't like how they live their lives is against the very essence of the two pillars of America --- liberty and equality. To fail to see that even as you vote for an historic, important first African American is incoherent.

. . . It's terrific that we are seeing a decline in racism to the extent that we are able to elect a black president. We've come a long way and there's no taking anything away from those who waged the struggle over all these centuries. But our society is not truly changed if it's
still writing discrimination into law.

It's as if we just can't be America unless we are taking active steps to marginalize somebody."

There is at least a sense that the political torch has finally passed and the fear, anger, and re-hashing of the politics of the 1960's over and over has finally come to an end. Maybe we can start engaging the world as it is right now and not always through the lense of ominous Soviet satellites and Viet Cong jungles.

I grew up in the contradictory USA of my parents "baby boomer" generation:

"We were raised under Ronald Reagan, smiling emptily under a shellacked cap of shiny brown hair like a demon clown, warning us (With a knowing nod! With a wink!) about those evil Russians stockpiling nuclear arms thousands of miles away. We were raised by "The Love Boat" and "Eight Is Enough" and "Charlie's Angels," a steady flow of saccharine tales with clunky morals. There were smiling families, hugging and learning important lessons on every channel, while at home, our parents threw dishes at each other's heads. We went to church and learned about God's divine plan every Sunday, but all it took was one Dr. Seuss cartoon about an entire world that existed on a speck of dust, and our belief in God was deconstructed in an instant. Our childhoods were one long existential crisis. We ate Happy Meals while watching the Space Shuttle blow into tiny bits."

and an open apology to boomers everywhere I find very fitting as we move on.

". . . So we apologize to you, for making fun of your earnestness. We never want to go back to our old way of thinking. Sure, we'll still be our irreverent, self-deprecating, exasperating selves, but we also want to believe. We want to follow this man, and trust him, and give him our full support. The world may not be transformed overnight, the economy may still struggle, Obama will surely make his share of mistakes. But we want to stand behind him, stand behind this country, and show our fellow Americans the same respect that this new leader of ours has shown all of us, in his words, in his manner, and in his promises.

On Tuesday night, we could all sense, with open hearts, that this man meant what he said. There's no shame in seeing that clearly, together. There's no shame in trusting someone's words, and allowing those words to move and inspire you. There's no shame in throwing ourselves into this new future with full hearts, with tears in our eyes, unself-consciously."


I am amazed at how moving a single moment in politics and a good rhetorical speech could be for me. I am intrigued to see where the chips fall and what kind of realignment we have just taken part. However brief it may be, I relish looking forward to the future without cynicism, embarrassment, and a sense of creeping dread.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

3 Senate Seats Still in Play

Al Franken (D) (yes, that Al Franken) in Minnesota trails 571 votes behind snake oil salesman and (alleged) womanizer Norm Colman (R) out of 2.9 million votes cast. A recount is Franken's right under MN state law, which he's already indicated he will pursue. Colman wasted no time in announcing that there should be no recount, you know, for the good of the Country.

Votes are still being counted in the race between fancy-boy Gordon Smith (R) and Jeff Merkley (D) right here in Oregon. Smith was leading in early counts, but the remaining ballots left to be tabulated are all from OR's deep blue city-states. Update: Merkley wins.

Convicted felon Ted Stevens (R) is narrowly leading his competitor Mark Begich (D) by 3,500 votes with 40,000 absentee ballots yet to be tallied. Even if he wins, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has indicated that he will not be able to serve.

Finally, bad person Saxby Chambliss (R) of Georgia looks as if he will barely miss the 50% + 1 margin of victory necessary to avoid a runoff election mandated by GA state law in December against his opponent Jim Martin (D).