Archive for the ‘My Life’ Category

Out of the Silent Planet

April 7, 2014

Sometime in the 1930s, C. S. Lewis and his friend J. R. R. Tolkien were complaining about the state of contemporary English fiction. “Tollers, there is too little of what we really like in stories”, Lewis said to Tolkien, “I am afraid we shall have to write some ourselves”. After some discussion on the subject, the two writers agreed that Tolkien would write a time travel story while Lewis would try his hand at a space travel story.

The results were typical of the very different styles and personalities of the two men. Tolkien was a perfectionist who was never satisfied with anything he wrote and his proposed story was never finished. Lewis was more energetic and managed to write the three novels that make up his “Space Trilogy” in less than a decade.
Out of the Silent Planet is the first book in the trilogy. The story begins when Elwin Ransom, a philologist who is spending his vacation walking around the English countryside, comes across two men, Weston and Devine, trying to force a retarded young man into some structure. Ransom rescues the young man, only to be taken himself on what turns out to be a space ship traveling to a planet called Malacandra, or Mars. Along the way, Ransom discovers that Weston and Devine intend to deliver him as a sort of human sacrifice to the Malacandrans and as soon as they land, he escapes.

Out of the Silent Planet

Out of the Silent Planet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ransom quickly encounters the Malacandrans and learns that they are not the savage, primitive monsters he had been led to believe they were. There are three species of Malacandrans; the seal like Hrossa, the tall, wise Sorns, and the handy Pfifltriggi. A fourth race, the invisible Eldili live in space and are more like spirits or angels. All three races are unfallen and thus lack the inclination to evil that the inhabitants of our Earth or Thulcandra, the Silent Planet. The only word in the Malacandran language that Ransom can find to express the concept of evil is “bent”, perhaps the most apt word to describe the problems or humanity that I have ever heard.

 

There is not much action in Out of the Silent Planet, and there are slow places, but the plot is far from dull. I think the depictions of the extraterrestrials are among the best I have read in science fiction. The science is badly dated, though Lewis made the best use of contemporary theories and knowledge about Mars available at the time. In the climax, Ransom is brought before the ruling eldil of Malacandra, the Oyarsa. He discovers that the Oyarsa of Earth is bent and confined to Earth’s immediate region in space. As a result, Earth is inaccessible to the Eldil and is named Thulcandra, the Silent Planet. Ransom answers the Oyarsa’s questions about life on Thulcandra and affirms things are very bent indeed. Weston and Devine are brought forward, but they insist on treating the Malacandrans like ignorant savages, even speaking in a ridiculous pidgin. This scene is a send up of modern man’s pretensions of superiority over “primitives”, and Ransom’s translation of Weston’s speech asserting Human superiority over the Malacandrans is priceless.

 
Out of the Silent Planet seems to be a promising beginning to the Space Trilogy and can stand on its own. I am not sure if it can really be classed as properly science fiction so much as a theological fantasy, or an up to date medieval romance, but however you might classify it, it is worth the effort of reading.

 

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Boycotting Mozilla

April 6, 2014

By now, just about everyone who might be reading this post knows something of what has going on with Mozilla and its eleven day CEO Brendan Eich. For the heinous crime of donating $1000 in support of California’s  anti-gay marriage Proposition 8, a position held by none other than then Senator Barack Obama. For this thought crime, Mr. Eich has been obliged to leave.

This isn’t about gay marriage. It isn’t really about freedom of expression, or the right to donate to political causes without fear of retribution. This is about the most fundamental right of all , the right to be left alone to live our lives as we see fit.

There is a class of professional activists; the hyper sensitive, the perpetually aggrieved, the would be do-gooders and reformers, for whom everything is subordinate to the glorious cause. For these people, life is a Manichean struggle of ultimate good and evil. No one can be neutral or indifferent to the struggle. If you are not with them, you are against them and must be destroyed by any means necessary. No decision or action can be strictly personal. Everything is political. In Mr. Eich’s case, the fact that he was a co founder of Mozilla and had invented JavaScript was irrelevant. He had opposed the cause and could not be tolerated. Remember that notorious video that British environmentalists made.

 

Notice that the people who were blown up were not actually opposed to the Green agenda. Their crime was simply that they were not sufficiently enthusiastic. I don’t want to live in that kind of world. I don’t want to boycott Mozilla or stop using Firefox. I don’t want to make decisions on what I buy or use based on the political ideas of the providers. I would rather just live my life and express my opinions and let everyone else alone. If there are differences of opinions, I would rather discuss or debate the matter and not have to worry about being punished for taking the wrong side, or punishing others for disagreeing with me. It would seem, however, that those of us who want to be left alone and to leave others alone are not going to be allowed to do that. Since this is the world the busybodies and the bullies seem to want, I guess we will just have to push back until they go away.

I do not know if the people who run Mozilla are cowards who give in to the least pressure, from the right sort of people, or if they can be included among the bullies. It really doesn’t matter. They have shown that they are on the side against liberty and so do not deserve any support from me. I will uninstall Firefox.

No Firefox

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Agent Richard Ryder

March 19, 2014

I must be one of the luckiest people in the world. Every time I am short of money, I get offers from all over the world from people eager to share their wealth with me, if only I will forward them my contact information and perhaps a small fee to get things rolling. I have had offers from Nigeria, Libya, and even Portugal. Now I have received information about some money that is waiting for me at an international airport.

Attn: Valuable Customer,

We wish to inform you that the  Agent conveying the consignment box valued the
sum of ($4.7M US) misplaced your info on transmit and he is currently stranded
right at your international airport with your consignment. We required you
reconfirm the following info, so he can complete the trip contained your
payment fund today.

Full Name: ============
Current Address: ==============
Mobile No.:===================
Name of Your Nearest
Airport:==============
A Copy of Your Passport/Drivers License,(If possible):==========

Please do make contact with the agent with the email below with the info
required. Contact Person: Richard RYDER
E-mail : (deplomatic.richryder0@hotmail.com)

He is waiting to hear from you today with the information.
NOTE: The agent does not know that the whot of the box is $4.7Million USD and
on no circumstances should you let him know about what it contains The
consignments was moved from here as a family treasures, so never allow him to
open it, Please make sure you do not disclose body of this letter to him so
that he won’t be able to know what is in the box.

Yours sincerely
Mr. Bernard Edward,
Email me at mr.bernardedward@yahoo.com

I hope that airport isn’t too far away. I would hate to have to drive too far to get my money.

 

 

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Saint Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2014

Today is St. Patrick‘s day and I thought it might be appropriate to write about St. Patrick. So, who is St. Patrick and why does he get a day? Not very much is known for certain about his life. It is possible that his story has been confused with one Palladius, a missionary who became the first bishop of Ireland. Still, Patrick wrote a short autobiography called “The Declaration” or “The Confession” as part of a letter which seems to be genuine.

Get out snakes!

Patrick, or Patricius was a Roman who lived in Britain. He may have been born around 387 and lived until 460 or possibly 493, so he lived during the twilight of the Roman Empire in the West. At the age of 16 he was captured by raiders and enslaved. He worked as a shepherd in Ireland for about six years. He managed to escape and return to his home, but then he became a priest and returned to the land where he was a slave and worked to convert the pagans to Christianity. He seems to have been very successful during his lifetime, though there were many other missionaries in Ireland. He helped to organize the Church in Ireland and is supposed to have traveled to Rome to seek the Pope’s assistance in this endeavor.

According to legend, Patrick died on March 17, so that date has become his feast day. He has never been officially canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. He became known as a saint long before the modern procedure for canonization was developed. He is, obviously, the patron saint of Ireland, and also Nigeria, Montserrat, engineers, paralegals, and the dioceses of New York, Boston, and Melbourne.

There are many legends about St. Patrick. The most widely known is that he chased all the snakes out of Ireland, thus ruining the local ecology. Another is that he used the example of the three-leaved shamrock to illustrate the trinity.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all the Irish, and Irish at heart, out there!

Sorry about the green text. I couldn’t resist.

 

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My Friend Barack Obama

March 16, 2014

I got an e-mail from the president himself yesterday. He is a friend of mine.

 

Friend –

The top Republican in the House said Americans should judge them not on how many laws they pass, but on how many they repeal.

The top Republican in the Senate said his top priority wasn’t to create jobs or expand opportunity, but to beat me.

I want to work with Congress wherever I can to do the job the American people sent us here to do — but it turns out Republicans and Democrats have some very different ideas about what that means.

Let me level with you: The only way we’re going to achieve our goals is by electing more Democrats in 2014.

Chip in $3 or more to help elect Democrats to a Congress we can all be proud of:

https://my.democrats.org/Elect-Democrats-in-2014

Thanks,

Barack Obama

 

All right, it is just a fund raising form e-mail, but I still feel special.

 

Personally, I think that the best thing Congress could do would be to take a year or two off from passing laws and working on repealing a lot of the obsolete, stupid, redundant, or useless laws we already have. They should then use the following year to go through every single federal agency, department and bureau and get rid of the ones that are no longer needed, not doing any work, or are redundant. They could start with an audit of the IRS, followed by a determination whether or not the surveillance done by the NSA has actually prevented  any terrorist attacks. As far as I am concerned, the fewer new laws, the better.

Official photographic portrait of US President...

 

I also think that the best way to create jobs or expand opportunity would be for Barack Obama to get out of the way. The best way to keep him from doing any more damage would be to make sure a lot of Republicans get elected to Congress so we can have more gridlock. For this reason, even though Barack Obama is my friend, I cannot, in good conscience, contribute $3 to help get more Democrats in Congress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Computer Down

February 15, 2014

I haven’t been able to write anything for the past week and a half because my computer hasn’t been working. Whenever I turned it on, it would refuse to start windows, instead showing a blue screen and the message, “Please wait”. I waited for over two hours but nothing would happen. I took it to a local computer store to be looked at, but they had along backlog of repair jobs so they were not even able to run any diagnostics on my computer until yesterday. There wasn’t anything seriously wrong and I finally got it back today. Too bad I feel too tired to write anything just now.

It has been more of an inconvenience not being able to blog, than I thought it would and I am glad I will be able to resume.

 

Soylent Green

February 2, 2014

A little while back I made a reference to the movie Soylent Green while writing on a very different subject. I’ve been thinking about that movie ever since so I might as well write about it. It must be around twenty years since I last watched Soylent Green on video so I only remember the general plot. Soylent Green was based on Harry Harrison’s 1966 science fiction novel Make Room!, Make Room!. I’ve read the book more recently. The movie and book share the same setting, an overpopulated, polluted, dystopian world and mostly the same plot, a detective is investigating a murder in the impossible circumstances of a dying New York City. There are a number of differences, though. Make Room! is set in the year 1999 rather than 2022. I guess the producers of Soylent Green thought that adding another 23 years might make the setting more plausible. Soylent green is not made of people in the book, it is plankton. The murder that the Charlton Heston character is investigating had nothing to do with the corporation or with the environment. The victim was a mob boss and the only reason the police want his murderer is because the New York mafia is afraid that a rival organization is moving in and they are putting pressure on corrupt officials to learn if this is the case.

The book is a whole lot more depressing than the movie. Harry Harrison works to make the world of Make Room!a world of poverty and misery, without any hope for improvement. All people have to hope for is the world might end. In fact, one of the characters is a crazy hermit who expects the end to come when the year ends. When 1999 becomes the year 2000 without incident, he can only despair. Water and food are tightly rationed and diseases of malnutrition, such as kwashiorkor are widespread in the United States. Cars, no longer working because there is no more gasoline, sit abandoned in parking lots, to be used as shelter by the large population of homeless people. Freight is transported by wagons pulled by people. Overpopulation is only getting worse, since the masses of permanently unemployed people have baby after baby to qualify for larger welfare benefits. It goes on and on.

There is, of course, a certain amount of preachiness throughout the descriptions of the miserable life of the future. At one point the Edward G. Robinson character discusses how the world came to be in such awful shape. He laments that if only people started to take overpopulation seriously about thirty years before (when the book was published), the world wouldn’t have been ruined.

These sort of sentiments were widespread throughout the sixties and seventies. This was the era of Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb and The End of Affluence. It was widely accepted that unless major changes were made, the world of the future was going to be nightmarish. We couldn’t afford have the luxury of an affluent lifestyle, or even basic freedoms if we wanted to save the planet. This sort of messaging was always in the background while I was growing up in the seventies and early eighties and I believed it. I worried about global warming, overpopulation, and the depletion of natural resources. I considered myself an environmentalist.

What changed? Well, if you look around, you might happen to observe that the world was not an overpopulated dystopia in the year 1999 nor is it likely to become one by the year 2022. As I grew older, I couldn’t help noticing that none of the horrible scenarios predicted by the environmental alarmed ever seemed to actually occur. We always had just ten years to save the planet. When ten years elapsed, we still had just ten years to save the planet. I also actually read some environmentalist literature and even got a degree in Environmental Studies. I took what I call my environmentalist wacko class. That helped me to learn just how anti-capitalist, anti-technology, anti-science, anti-American, and anti-human many environmentalists actually are. I have since developed the deepest skepticism about environmentalist claims of doom and gloom. I am on to them.

This is why I am a global warming skeptic. There are some who have suggested that I should defer to the experts. I am told that ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that drastic action is needed right now. I am not impressed. I happen to possess a functioning memory and very little of what these people are saying is any different than what they were saying forty years ago. Their solution to the crises is the same: the masses must live like medieval serfs while an all powerful government of the elite decide what’s best for everyone.

At some point, you realize that the boy cried wolf is a liar, especially when he seems to have an agenda which involves getting the villagers to hand over wealth and power to the only boy who can save them from the wolf only he sees.

 

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Corporations Are People

January 26, 2014

The title of this post is taken from the 1973 film Soylent Green, set in the dystopian, overpopulated world of 2022. The bulk of the world’s population subsists on manufactured food called Soylent Green. Charlton Heston plays a police detective charged with investigating the murder of a wealthy businessman. At the end of the movie, Heston discovers that Soylent Green is made from human remains and, seriously injured, he tries to spread the word that Soylent Green is people.

Corporations are not people in a physical or moral sense, of course. No corporation could be mistaken for a human being. Nevertheless, corporations are considered to be persons in a legal sense. Before I get into explaining this, I should begin by saying just what a corporation actually is.

Many people on the Left seem to think  that a corporation is some sort of alien entity that dropped down from outer space and is intent on using up all the world’s resources. While there are certainly corporations that act like that, that is not what a corporation is. A corporation is simply an entity that has been incorporated through legislation or a registration process established by law. A corporation is one of three ways in which businesses are legally organized in the United States, the others being sole proprietorships and partnerships. A sole proprietorship is owned by one person while a partnership is owned by more than one person. In each case, the owners of the business are entirely responsible for any debts or damages the business accrues and there is no legal distinction between the owners of the business and the business itself. With a corporation there is a legal distinction the  between the owners of the business (the shareholders) and the business itself. A corporation is a separate legal entity from its owners and this is where corporate personhood comes in.

Because a corporation is a legal person, the owners or shareholders can enjoy limited liability for the debts or damages incurred by the corporation. They are separate from the corporation and are not financially responsible for the corporation beyond what they have invested in it. There are actually some very good reasons why corporations are considered persons.

Suppose you own a few shares of Acme Widgets. This makes you a part owner of Acme Widgets, even if the shares you own are only .01% of the total number of shares. Now, suppose someone is injured when one of Acme’s widgets explodes and he decides to sue Acme Widgets for negligence. If the corporation were not a separate legal entity, or a person, you could be held partially responsible for Acme’s negligence and you could be required to appear in court, along with thousands of other shareholders. If the court rules against Acme, you could be required to pay part of the damages. If Acme Widgets goes out of business because their widgets keep exploding, you could find Acme’s creditors at your door, demanding that you pay your share of Acme’s debt. Also, that man who decided to sue Acme Widgets might find it very difficult to sure a thousand separate owners of Acme Widgets. Since the corporation is a legal person, it can be represented in court as a person, and found liable for damages, indicted for crimes, etc. Considering corporations as persons makes it much easier for the courts to deal with them.

This limiting of liability is the most important advantage the corporation has over other ways of organizing business. Because liability is limited, investing in the company is less risky. Were it not for limited liability, only the very wealthy, or reckless, would be able to invest in the stock market, and companies would find it much more difficult to raise capital. There are a number of controversial issues relating to corporate personhood, especially regarding just what rights corporations have compared to actual human beings, and like anything else, the concept can be abused, but the idea of corporate personhood itself is a beneficial one.

 

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Speeding

January 24, 2014

I have mentioned before that I have found Cracked.com unusually informative for a comedy website. Not too long ago they ran an article on Five Ways Your Brain is Turning You into a Jerk. Number three on this list refers to Time Saving Bias, the idea that if we drive above the speed limit we are saving a large amount of valuable time.

We all know that driver: the one who’s constantly speeding like she’s a heart surgeon zipping back and forth between two patients she’s simultaneously operating on in different cities. Please excuse the language.

Now, here comes the twist: There’s a good chance that driver is actually you.

If you’ve ever found yourself driving like an asshole, it could be simply because you are an asshole. However, there is another, stranger explanation: Maybe you do it because your brain prevents you from understanding the very concept of time. Time-saving bias, a very specialized bastard trick of our cranial command center, scrambles our ability to estimate the time that can be saved by increasing speed. Basically, your brain is poker-facedly explaining that driving faster will turn you into a Time Lord, and you’re happy to comply in case it’s telling the truth, because who wouldn’t?

The routine misestimations caused by time-saving bias are more common (and extreme) for some people than others, and often lead to speeding and — by extension — all the assorted shithead antics that follow when you wipe your ass with the speed limit.

Scientists are still attempting to wrap their heads around time-saving bias and how large of a part the phenomenon plays in the brain’s already impressive arsenal of traffic sabotage.

After reading this, I wondered just how much time I actually save by driving fast. What if I had to drive for sixty miles at a constant speed of sixty miles per hour? I would be driving at one mile per minute so it would take me one hour, or sixty minutes to reach my destination. But, what if the speed limit on the road were 30 miles per hour? Well, then I would be driving at only one half a mile per minute so the drive would take 120 minutes or two hours. If the speed limit were 55 miles per hour, I would be driving at about .917 miles per minute so the drive would take about 65 minutes. If I were in a hurry, I might drive 65 miles per hour, or 1.08 miles per minute so the trip would take only about 55 minutes. Five minutes either way doesn’t seem like a lot.

I sometimes have to drive from Madison to North Vernon as part of my job. The distance between the two towns is around 27 miles. The road is not straight but has several curves and it goes through the small town of Dupont, which has a lower speed limit. It usually takes me about 35 minutes to drive from Madison to North Vernon. Suppose that is the time if I drive an average of 55 miles per hour. How much time do I save by driving faster? If I go 60 miles per hour I am driving 1.09 times faster so the travel time should be .9167 times shorter or about 32 minutes. If I decide to risk getting a ticket and go at 70 miles per hour than I am driving 1.27 times faster so the travel time should be .79 times shorter or about 28 minutes. Saving five to ten minutes doesn’t seem to be worth the risk of being stopped and made to pay a fine.

So, now that I have run the numbers and seen that speeding doesn’t really save that much time, am I going to stop speeding and obey every speed limit? Of course not. If I am going 5 miles per hour faster than the speed limit, my brain is telling me I am traveling at warp speed and who doesn’t want to feel like Captain Kirk on the Enterprise?

 

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Smoking is Really Hazardous to Your Health

January 20, 2014

By now everyone knows that smoking is not a healthy habit, to say the least. I am not sure, however, that many people, especially smokers, know just how deadly smoking really is. Most people associate smoking with lung cancer but how many know that lung cancer is one of the worst forms of cancer, with only a 15% survival rate after five years? How many people think about the connection between smoking and heart disease? These are only the most obvious health problems caused by smoking. There are a whole host of others, as related in this article from Yahoo News.

Fifty years after the first U.S. Surgeon General‘s report in 1964 warned about the link between smoking and lung cancer, research continues to identify more diseases that are directly caused by smoking.

Now, liver and colorectal cancers have been added to the list of cancers for which there’s sufficient data to infer smoking is not merely linked to but actually can cause the diseases, according to the newest Surgeon General’s report released today (Jan 17).

Cigarette smoke contains thousands of compounds, including 69 known to be carcinogens, chemicals that are directly involved in causing cancer. Carcinogens can result in tumors by damaging the genome or disrupting the cell’s metabolic processes.

Smoking is responsible for more than 90 percent of lung cancers. But traces of tobacco carcinogens have been found in other organs as well. For example, pieces of DNA bound to carcinogens have been found in breast tissue and breast milk, according to the report authors, who reviewed new research over the recent years.

“These carcinogens are absorbed systemically. They don’t just stay in the lungs. They are carried through the blood to many organs,” said Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California at San Francisco, who was not involved in compiling the report.

In colorectal cancer, tumors often originate in the glands and the cells that cover the inside of the bowel. Carcinogens in tobacco smoke can reach the large bowel through the blood supply and disrupt regular functioning of the cells. These cells then might form polyps, which can progress into malignant, or cancerous, tumors.

Reviewing large previous studies, the researchers found an increased risk of colon and rectal cancer, particularly after smoking for two or more decades. In some studies, smokers were up to twice as likely to develop colorectal cancer as nonsmokers.

The report authors also looked at other cancers such as prostate cancer and concluded that smoking is not a cause for this type of cancer, although it increases risks of dying for those diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Examining breast cancer, the researchers concluded the evidence suggests smoking can cause the disease.

“Even a finding that is ‘suggestive,’ is a pretty strong finding,” Glantz told LiveScience. “If I give a glass filled with clear liquid and say, this might give you breast cancer but I’m not absolutely positive, I don’t think you want to drink the liquid.”

Other new entries in the official list of smoking-caused diseases include Type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, erectile dysfunction, macular degeneration that can blind older people, and cleft palate birth defects.

“In addition to carcinogens in the cigarette smoke, there’s a lot of inflammatory agents,” Glantz said. Smoking causes these diseases partly “by triggering inflammatory processes and increasing the general inflammatory environment.”

Looking over the past 50 years of the war on smoking, the report authors warned that the disease risks from smoking by women have risen sharply and are now equal to those of men for lung cancer, and pulmonary and heart diseases.

Since the landmark 1964 report, nearly 21 million people have died prematurely because of smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the report.

Heart and metabolic diseases attributed to smoking accounted for 40 percent of tobacco-related deaths, the report revealed.

“This is very important. When people think about smoking they usually just think cancer. Most people don’t really appreciate how big the risks of heart diseases are,” Glantz said.

I am glad I never started smoking, though I am not sure if I deserve any credit. Both my parents smoked and it may be that not smoking was my particular way of rebelling. In any case, the experience of growing up surrounded by cigarette smoke has given me such an aversion to the smell of smoke that I cannot stand to be in the same room as someone smoking. I guess that I am lucky not to be tempted into such an unhealthy and addictive habit.

 

 

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