Saturday, October 31, 2009

Intelligent Design?

Ferraris, maybe. Certainly not humans, despite what legions of believers on the religious fringe believe.

Any organism that requires more maintenance than a Formula One Ferrari for its day-to-day existence and continued survival cannot be logically argued to be a product of intelligent design. Nor can any organism sporting (or sprouting) hair around its anus.

But there are other design flaws, as well. What’s with teeth that need a near-constant regimen of brushing, flossing, scraping, picking, grinding, drilling and filling to keep them relatively healthy and pain free for the duration of a normal human life span? Intelligent design would incorporate natural chemicals and chemical processes—delivered via saliva glands and activated by tongue action—to keep your teeth their whitest white and make you wonder where the yellow went, wouldn’t it?

And what about all those organs and other parts that humans seem perfectly capable of living without? You know, tonsils and adenoids, the appendix, sometimes the spleen, and—far too often—the brain. It’s kind of like adding extraneous parts to the bodywork, undercarriage and suspension of a Formula One Ferrari just so there’ll be something to fall off during a race. So much for intelligent design.

Speaking of brains, I really must take exception to the packaging of the human CPU. Were any actual intelligence involved in designing an effective housing for the brain, that fragile organ would be packed in Styrofoam peanuts before it’s inserted into the skull. As things are, it’s free to slosh around and bang against the inside of the skull at every forceful impact or sudden deceleration—occurrences that often cause cerebral hemorrhaging, coma, permanent brain damage, and even death. How intelligent is that?

6.7 billion prototypes (not counting those billions that have already been scrapped and gone to graveyards, every one), and human beings still aren’t ready for production. It’s enough to send a rational, intelligent designer back to the drawing board—with a fresh approach and a clean sheet of paper.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Revolution or Renaissance? Why Not Both?

The whole damned system is broken. International bankers and financiers broke it. Corporate capitalism broke it. Bought-and-paid-for politicians broke it. Cronyism, insatiable greed, lust for power, willful ignorance and more than a little insanity broke it. But let’s not forget that mindless consumerism and devotion to celebrity culture contributed their share to the breakdown, too. Nothing sinks a participatory democracy faster than a disinterested, apathetic public.

Everywhere you look, the underpinnings of a stable society are crumbling. Education is dumbing down, joblessness and homelessness are on the rise, infrastructure is in disrepair, crime is on the increase, soaring healthcare costs put healthcare out of reach for many, wages are flat or diminishing, job security is nil, the Constitution is under attack by those who have sworn to defend it, and hope for a quick turnaround is plunging at freefall speed into the basement of despair. Add to these the imminent collapse of the nation’s currency and you have the perfect recipe for serious trouble.

For additional background information, see these videos featuring Gerald Celente, founder of Trends Research Institute, who calls ’em like he sees ’em. Most of the time, he’s right.

The reality is that nothing less than a full-scale revolution comes anywhere close to providing the means to fix this mess. Although essential to bringing about widespread changes throughout society, a cultural revolution need not necessarily lead to the violence, bloodshed and destruction typically associated with civil war. A peaceful revolution is possible, but it requires a second component. Along with a revolution in human thinking there must come a renaissance of human imagination.

One provides the means for change, the other shows the way.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Golden Rule

If you think that the U.S. President is the most powerful person in the world, you’re in for a surprise. If you think that President Obama runs the country, you’re in for another surprise. Yeah, I know this series of nine videos probably comes close to information overload, and that at roughly 10 minutes running time each it will take you at least 90 minutes to play them all. But where else can you learn so much vitally important information in so short a time? Get a preview of your future while you can.

Joan Veon, When Central Banks Rule the World

[Okay, that didn’t work out so well; the damned YouTube videos obliterated the whole page. Click on the links, instead. That works, too.]

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Joan stays pretty much on track right up to the very end, and then she runs completely off the rails. If you think that crying out to God is going to solve anything, you might just as well chug another glass of the kool-aid and go back to sleep.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Sanity Alert

A case of sanity broke out in the Obama Administration, today.

Let’s hope it leads to an epidemic.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Marijuana: The Good . . . (there is no Bad or Ugly)

"Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth & protection of the country." —Thomas Jefferson

"Make the most of the hemp seed, and sow it everywhere!" —George Washington

As intelligent men living in a world where oil was yet to be discovered, our founding fathers knew and understood the vital role that hemp played in a vibrant economy. So necessary was hemp to the well being of their embryonic nation and all its citizens that they enacted laws commanding farmers to devote a portion of their cropland to growing hemp.

But that was then and this is now. Current economic and environmental problems continue to fester because our leaders of today are men and women who lag far behind the times, who lack imagination and vision and are so firmly bound to the status quo that it blinds them to hemp’s many potentials. Consumed by greed and avarice, they routinely overlook or dismiss easy, pragmatic and affordable ways to achieve economic and environmental stability and sustainability—all of which could be attained by re-legalizing hemp.

Then, there’s the matter of soaring healthcare costs, but re-legalizing cannabis would help alleviate that problem, too.

"Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care ... The evidence in this record clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record."
— DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis L. Young, September 6, 1988

Marijuana: It’s Time for a Conversation

Part 1 of 3

Part 2 of 3

Part 3 of 3

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Reader's Night Out

Having written reviews of a couple of Timothy Hallinan’s books (A Nail Through the Heart, Breathing Water), and having corresponded with Tim—either by e-mail or by virtue of blog comments—on several occasions, I eagerly awaited his arrival (Wednesday night, September 30th) at Murder by the Book, in southeast Portland, as he blew through town on the last leg of his Breathing Water book tour.

Determined not to let this opportunity to meet Tim slip by, I’d begun planning for the event in early June, when I first learned that he’d be on tour in September. I diligently organized my own affairs so as to avoid conflicts with Tim’s scheduled appearance; checked the progress of his tour almost daily on his blog; reserved a Zipcar (more than three weeks in advance) to meet my transportation needs for the long-awaited evening event.

It was probably more by design than by accident that I arrived at the appointed place an hour earlier than the appointed time, but having an hour to kill gave me both opportunity and excuse to peruse a large selection of new and used mystery/thriller/suspense novels—many of which I’ve read and many more which I have not—including offerings from Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Tami Hoag, Patricia Cornwell, David Baldacci, Steve Martini, Tess Gerritsen, and quite a few others. It’s comforting to know that there will never be a shortage of reading material in the fiction genres I prefer.

Upon his arrival, Tim apologized profusely for being late (seems he was trapped for 20 minutes, on the wrong side of the river, by a bridge in the raised position), but he could have been later and still been early. I cleverly introduced myself by forgetting to introduce myself, launching instead into an immediate discussion of his long trip (then over 8,000 miles), the kind of car he drives (an Infiniti), and his on-board navigation system (named Doris, but which might have better been named—to borrow from Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast—Gay Deceiver), which led him into an anti-climactic but humorous confrontation with a pair of underzealous Kansas cops.

One of the things I most like about Timothy Hallinan is his affability, his congeniality, his willingness to engage with his readers (okay, three of the things I most like about Tim). Yes, he’s a gifted writer and storyteller, but there’s more—much more. Because he’s comfortably familiar with his subject matter, he speaks without hesitation or faltering or frequent interruptions punctuated by “uhs,” “ers,” and “umms.” When Tim talks about his Bangkok novels, or the city of Bangkok, or the people of Bangkok, or the economy, government or religion of Thailand, it’s as if he’s reading from a teleprompter; the narrative flows like a river. Of course, there was no teleprompter in evidence, nor so much as a single page of notes (although, I suppose, it’s possible that Tim had his main talking points tattooed on the inside of his eyelids).

The PowerPoint presentation, around which Tim’s talk was structured, produced some stunning visuals that captured Bangkok at its best—and at its worst. The thing that intrigues me most about Bangkok is that it’s a vibrant modern city whose entire population seems to live simultaneously in the past, present, and future. But it was Tim’s mention of the disparity between rich and poor and the corruption that runs rampant at all levels of Thai government that proved particularly insightful. It was at that point that I realized he could just as easily have been talking about social hierarchies and government in the U.S.; there really isn’t that much difference (the Golden Rule—those who have the money make the rules—applies everywhere).

A natural-born teacher, Tim managed to convey more useful information in 30 minutes than my high school social studies teacher was capable of in an entire semester. Had Mr. Hallinan been the teacher in that long-ago social studies class instead of a dumb jock (wrestling coach, assistant football coach) masquerading as an educator, I’m sure I would have stayed around long enough to graduate. As it was, I had no patience for the bullshit and wasn’t about to let school get in the way of my education. An ineffective educator not only denies students an education, but is nothing more than a thief of students’ time. Life’s too short.

After Tim’s presentation and subsequent book signing, a delightful young woman named Theresa—whom I’d met and talked with earlier in the evening—arranged an introduction to Portland novelist Bill Cameron (featured in Portland Noir, author of Lost Dog and Chasing Smoke), who also happened to attend. That introduction led me to purchase two more books—both signed by their author—and garnered an invitation to submit my contact information so Bill can put me on his ARC list before his new book comes out next year.

It may be something of an understatement to say it was a productive reader’s night out. As a first-time attendee at a book signing, my expectations had been exceeded in every possible way. As the door to Murder by the Book closed behind me and I began the long walk back to my car weighed down by a shopping bag full of books, I knew that someday soon I’d be back.

There are, after all, other books to read. And other authors to meet.

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