Crossing Paths with Bob Merikangas

This is an interesting guy whose page I stumbled onto while doing some futures research. He wrote an article called “Heuristics of Wisdom Communities” for Futures Research Quarterly. He once taught a course on Nobel Prize winners. He helps ESL students practice their English. He works as a local elections official. I like this guy already.

I’ll probably need to contact him about some work I’m doing on the future of Communities. His page of community resource links is at once selective and exhaustive.

That’s my favorite thing about the Internet – connecting with people you’d otherwise never meet.

Poet's Online Nirvana

Discovering The Poetry Portal made me chuckle with delight. This is about the coolest thing I have discovered online in many moons. As with all great corners of the Web, there is much to be explored. But so far my favorites are the links to multimedia poetry and the “PoetryMagic Help” sections. Must must must if you love poetry.

Cool Stuff Church People Do

The news is full of bad stuff religious people do. Not that wrongdoing should not be exposed anywhere it occurs, but news of church scandal travels like wildfire while the Good News has to schlep around on foot. Well, here’s something good:

Miriam’s Kitchen is a DC area kitchen that provides hot meals and a number of other services, like voice mail, for homeless people. Nothing remarkable about that, but what’s cool is that they host a number of art and poetry workshops, poetry readings, and publish an anthology of the poets’ and artists’ work each year. Well worth the suggested donation of $10.

The End Times

There is a group of people who are watching for signs that signal the end of the world as we know it. They watch, mostly eagerly, as the world progresses toward its eventual transformation, transformation in which human reality will be torn down and redfined along a new, utopian order we cannot now imagine.

A bunch of religious nuts? Not hardly. These are a bunch of scientists tracking and studying the coming Singularity:

“…our technological creations-are on a wild ride to an interesting destination, a local rate of computational change so fast and powerful that it must have a profound and as-yet-unclarified universal effect. As a side effect of this hypergrowth, biological human beings will not be able to meaningfully understand the computer-driven world of the near future unless they are able to make some kind of transition to “transhumanity.” How this transition will and should occur, and more importantly, how it is presently occurring, is a subject of spirited and insightful debate. Those few scholars who currently study the record of continuously accelerating computation and who seriously expect the emergence of an autonomous/artificial intelligence (AI) within the foreseeable future, call this event “the (technological) singularity”

So as a people of faith, is this idea a threat? Or is it a fabulous opportunity? I would guess it will be neither and both, but I do know it is something we all, secular and religious, need to be talking about. What does it mean to be human? What about being human should or should not change? And if aspects of humanity should not change, will we have any choice? I can see utopian and greatly dystopian scenarios resulting from a Singularity. Where will you be when the world as we know it ends?

Substitute "Faith" for "Dharma" if you wish…

Some people live closely guarded lives, fearful of encountering someone or something that might shatter their insecure spiritual foundation. This attitude, however, is not the fault of religion but of their own limited understanding. True Dharma leads in exactly the opposite direction. It enables one to integrate all the many diverse experiences of life into a meaningful and coherent whole, thereby banishing fear and insecurity completely.

-Lama Thubten Yeshe

We hate what we admire?

My referrer log tells me that my blog here gets a lot of hits from people looking for nude pictures of Amy Wynn Pastor, who’s become sort of a cult figure lately. She’s the talented, cute, and amiable carpenter from TLC’s Trading Spaces show and she apparently gets a lot of Google traffic from people trying to see her boobs. Such is the price of fame, I guess.

I can’t help but be a little saddened by this. It’s not like she’s a model who is earning her living based on the attractiveness of her body. Sure, Amy Wynn probably had to have at least basic good looks to make it into her TV role, but her body is not her currency. She builds cabinets, y’all. Why do you need to see her butt?

Is it a bunch of horny teen boys? Maybe. But I have a hunch that something more insidious is at work.

Could it be that we Americans love our celebrities and resent them at the same time? So we sit and gawk at them in their glamour on TV and in magazines and then rush to the Internet and the Tabloids for some tidbit of gossip or trashy picture that will give us a titillating thrill? Could it be that we like our famous people occasionally laid bare, exposed, stripped of as much dignity as possible? Topless photos are great but a beaver shot would be better cause the more we invade, the deeper we intrude, the more dignity we take, the more power we can convince ourselves we have over them? We want our celebrities to pay a price for their fame. We put ’em there, we can take ’em back down again by gum.

Heck, watching ’em on the way down is the majority of the fun, right? Once the has-been actress/singer/model does the desparate “Playboy spread” attempt at a comeback, we can all wait giddily for the drug arrests and the eventual messy overdose. And if we miss something, we can live it all again on a celebrity “True Story” special!

Man, I’d really prefer to think it’s just horny teenage boys.

I want my MP3's

I’m willing to pay, y’all. I am not a freeloader. I want artists and, yes, even the middle men, to get their fair share of my music buying dollar. Problem is, I can’t find a place to buy what I want. What I want is a service where:

I can, for a monthly rate or a per-file charge, download mp3 files.
I can find all the obscure stuff I listen to and recent titles as well.
I don’t have to buy an entire CD if I just want one or two songs from it.

That doesn’t seem too unrealistic, does it? I thought I had found it. I was trying out Audiogalaxy and was about to sign up for their for-pay service (’cause I’m not a freeloader, right?) when they were gutted by the courts. They had an excellent selection of stuff and I was very happy with it. Now they’re gone.

So I thought I’d try one of those “legit” commercial services run by the labels. I signed up for a free trial at Gawd, what a fiasco. First of all, I was trying to get a free trial at but got redirected to the emusic site, which I thought was may be a result of some sort of merger. Anyway, whatever.

Turns out that emusic, owned by Vivendi, one of the largest entertainment conglomerates in the world, has no music. Well, they have some music, but 7 out of 10 of the searches for bands I entered came back with either no results or “bands like” entries. Excuse me, but I don’t want a band “like” Wilco, I want Wilco. I should have known when, on it’s home page, emusic was advertising its Creedence Clearwater Revival files. Don’t get me wrong, CCR is a great band, but don’t you have something more recent than that to give front page space to? What would you think of a video store that still had posters for “Ordinary People” still hanging in its front window. I’m sorry emusic, if you want me to pay $9.95/mo for a year long contract, you need to give me more music. I couldn’t even find enough stuff to download to complete my 50 file free trial. I quit early.

So now I am in a pickle. I could do the wrong thing and rip files for free at a peer-to-peer service that provides me the selection I want but am willing to pay for, or I can search for a commercial service that gives me half-assed attempt at what I want, hopefully for a lot less than what emusic wanted for access to its anemic collection.

I’m beginning to believe that piracy is not the issue with the RIAA. They just don’t want to lose their business model. They don’t want to provide a way for listeners to get just the songs they want instead of having to buy 10 turkeys packaged with three or four hit songs into an $18 CD.

So if anyone knows of a good Audiogalaxy P2P replacement, I’m listening. And by any chance if anyone can tell me where I can legally purchase individual mp3 files from a large selection of artists, you’ll be my new hero.

"What if it's all a big fat lie?"

If this article in the New York Times (free registration required) turns out to be true, the impact to society could be enormous. Imagine the dietary orthodoxy of the last 25 years — that a low-fat diet is the way to stay thin — being turned upside down. Imagine the reverse — that the very carbohydrates that are pushed as the base of our ideal food pyramid are the very things that promote obesity. Hoo boy, what a stink.

This is a very well-researched article about the low-carb vs. low-fat diet controversy and how the former is gaining some scientific credibility as of late. Public health data and anecdotal evidence is building the case that low-fat, high-carb are not having the intended effects. Low-carb diets like Atkins’ are moving from the realm of quackery to have their day in scientific court. If you’ve invested money in ventures trying to make synthetic dietary fats like Olestra, you might wan’t to divest.

All this is well and good, but it concerns what I see as a peripheral issue to the whole diet thing. The basics are that you need to consume less calories, carbs or fat, than you burn. Period. The issues of which type of food is more satiating and which turns into body fat most effciently are endocrinal matters related to, but not more important than, how dang much you eat of any type of food.

Regardless of what the outcome is, the “Weigh Down” philosophy jibes well — there is no bad food in the appropriate amounts. It’d be nice if Americans could put real butter instead of plastic spread on their bread and not feel guilty. It’d be nice if people could eat the satisfying food every day and not just when they feel like being “sinful.” What we need to preach is portion control. What we need…

Omigod. I’m doing it. I’m diet proselytizing and I’ve only been on my diet for two weeks. I am a sad, sad, man.

Mate, Mate, Joy, Joy. Mate, Mate, Joy, Joy…

The Mate Joy song
(tune: “Monday, Monday” by the Mamas and the Papas)

pronunciation guide:
— bombilla – bom-bee-ya
— Mate – mah-tay

Here it goes….

Bah-da bah-bombilla
Bah-da bah-bombilla
Bah-da bah-bombilla…

Mate, Mate, so good to me.
Mate mornin’, it was all I hoped it would be
Oh Mate mornin’, Mate mornin’ you can guarantee
That Mate drinkin’ will give you serenity

Mate, Mate, I just can’t pass
Mate, Mate, I do not think that you taste like grass
Oh Mate mornin’ you are a warming wonderful tea
Oh Mate, Mate, you rev me up and set me free

Every other drink, every other drink,
Every other drink in my cup is fine, yeah
But whenever Mate comes, but whenever Mate comes
A-you can find me flyin’ all of the time…

(Okay, maybe a bit too much Yerba Mate this morning)

Easy for *you* to say

“When an apprentice gets hurt, or complains of being tired, the
workmen and peasants have this fine statement: ‘It is the trade
entering his body.’ Each time that we have some pain to go through,
we can say to ourselves quite truly that it is the universe–the
order and beauty of the world and the obedience of creation to
God–that are entering our body. After that how can we fail to bless
with tenderest gratitude the Love that sends us this gift?”
– Simone Weil [19th C], “Waiting on God” –