Sunday, April 30, 2006

An Atheist Lets Loose

Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, has posted an Atheist Manifesto. It begins:

Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind is not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of 6 billion human beings. The same statistics also suggest that this girl s parents believe at this very moment that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this? Is it good that they believe this?


The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle. The obvious must be observed and re-observed and argued for. This is a thankless job. It carries with it an aura of petulance and insensitivity. It is, moreover, a job that the atheist does not want.

It is worth noting that no one ever needs to identify himself as a non-astrologer or a non-alchemist. Consequently, we do not have words for people who deny the validity of these pseudo-disciplines. Likewise, atheism is a term that should not even exist. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in the presence of religious dogma. The atheist is merely a person who believes that the 260 million Americans (87% of the population) who claim to never doubt the existence of God should be obliged to present evidence for his existence and, indeed, for his benevolence, given the relentless destruction of innocent human beings we witness in the world each day. Only the atheist appreciates just how uncanny our situation is: Most of us believe in a God that is every bit as specious as the gods of Mount Olympus; no person, whatever his or her qualifications, can seek public office in the United States without pretending to be certain that such a God exists; and much of what passes for public policy in our country conforms to religious taboos and superstitions appropriate to a medieval theocracy. Our circumstance is abject, indefensible and terrifying. It would be hilarious if the stakes were not so high.

We live in a world where all things, good and bad, are finally destroyed by change. Parents lose their children and children their parents. Husbands and wives are separated in an instant, never to meet again. Friends part company in haste, without knowing that it will be for the last time. This life, when surveyed with a broad glance, presents little more than a vast spectacle of loss. Most people in this world, however, imagine that there is a cure for this. If we live rightly—not necessarily ethically, but within the framework of certain ancient beliefs and stereotyped behaviors—we will get everything we want after we die. When our bodies finally fail us, we just shed our corporeal ballast and travel to a land where we are reunited with everyone we loved while alive. Of course, overly rational people and other rabble will be kept out of this happy place, and those who suspended their disbelief while alive will be free to enjoy themselves for all eternity.

We live in a world of unimaginable surprises--from the fusion energy that lights the sun to the genetic and evolutionary consequences of this lights dancing for eons upon the Earth--and yet Paradise conforms to our most superficial concerns with all the fidelity of a Caribbean cruise. This is wondrously strange. If one didn’t know better, one would think that man, in his fear of losing all that he loves, had created heaven, along with its gatekeeper God, in his own image.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

It's Got A Good Beat And You Can Dance To It

Hyperactive is one guy, a webcam, his mouth, and too much time on his hands.

On a not-so-similar-vein, there's also Dance, Monkeys, Dance which tells you what you probably already know, but are too afraid to admit: you're a monkey.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I Was As Surprised As Anyone

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Why I Have Yet To Publish The Great American Novel

Someone inside the publishing industry has posted a very detailed look at how books make (or don't make) money.

An interesting read, especially for tidbits like:
The big bookselling outlet corporations have to "buy" the book from us. They get a discount that varies wildly, but the average is about 40% off the cover price, so let's say that the bookselling outlet corporations (aka "the trade", which is also sometimes known in this essay and in casual meetings as "direct" -- any place that specializes in books and also sometimes coffee) "pay" us $4.19 per book.

This is not real money. They don't actually give us money until well after the book is on the shelves. This is common in publishing -- no one pays until they have to! For anything! Ever! Not until we submit an invoice threatening lawsuits, or whatever. Someone else can tell you about that, since I know pretty much nothing.

Also, a small note (jumping ahead a little) -- mass market paperbacks that don't sell used to get stripped and pulped -- their covers torn off and the insides made into goo. Now, or so I am told, the whole book is destroyed. Usually, by the time this happens, the bookseller has already paid for the book. So the bookseller returns an affadavit (formerly known as "the book's cover") to the publisher's warehouse, and receives a credit, good for use on any other books, instead of paying with cash, and the book is counted as a "return" -- even though it doesn't get returned and it can't be shipped out again. This doesn't happen to hardcovers.

Now I can sleep at night.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Clear The Dance Floor

The other day, with as straight a face as I could muster, I told some of my students that my new favorite band was The Books. I had two of their albums, Lost and Safe and Thought for Food, queued up on the iPod, and I wasn't afraid to play them.

"What do they sound like?'

Oh, I can't wait to show you.

The Books specialize in a music of collages and random rhythms, with a few disembodied voices mixed in just to spice things up a bit. Their songs have titles such as "A Dead Fish Gains the Power of Observation" and "Smells Like Content," and chances are you don't have anything else like them in your music collection. Why? Because mainstream radio and MTV would never come near them with a 10-foot stick o' pop culture.

As one reviewer put it, and I totally agree, you should listen to one of their albums at night with headphones and the light of a flickering TV.

The Books didn't go over too well with my students. But then I played Kelly Clarkson and they were happy again.

If The Books are a little too strange or scary-sounding for you, I'm also listening to much safer choices such as The Editors ("Munich" is a great single, besides being a kick ass city) and a couple of songs off the new Panic! at the Disco album, "The Only Difference Between" and "I Write Sins Not Tragedies."

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Sunday Dump

Here are this weekend's links:
  • PimpMySnack: Giant, homemade versions of your favorite candies. My favorite: Giant M&M.
  • It's Jerry Time!: Awesome online show that got nominated for an Emmy. Start with Episode 1 and work your way up.
  • Solutions Luggage: If you've ever worried that you might get charged extra for the weight of your suitcase at check-in, worry no more.
  • Ron Mueck Gallery: Gallery of some of the incredibly life-like sculptures of Ron Mueck (some images contain nudity -- just so you know!). Another gallery of some of his work here and yet another here.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Jack And Coke

Jack White of The White Stripes has lent his considerable talent to a Coca-Cola commercial. While some may disagree, I personally don't have a problem with this. If writing jingles was good enough for Barry Manilow, it is certainly good enough for Mr. White.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Hell Of A Commute

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I Still Don't, But Some People Do

Almost three years ago, I posted about what some people hate, but I don't.

(Wow. Almost three years ago. I've been doing this way too long.)

And you know what? Three years later, I still have nothing but love for all things great and small. Puppies. Coca-Cola. Cilantro.

Yes, that's right. Some people hate cilantro, but I don't.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Trade Ya

So I have lots of things lying around the house, which, up until now, I felt held little value. Things like a Q-tip. A beer cap. A half-used pencil. A cat.

And true, they lack a certain something. For instance, the color red.

There's a guy out there, named Kyle MacDonald, who has taken a plain, red paperclip, figuring correctly that it would have value to someone, and has decided to use that as a starting point in a series of trades up to a new house. He started out on craigslist with his red paperclip, and just worked his way up from there toward a home.

Surprisingly enough, he's nearly there.

He's got a website going called, not-surprisingly enough, one red paperclip, where you can read more about what he's up to, and if you have a spare house lying around, perhaps make a trade.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Sunday Dump

In my bookmarks, I've got a folder where I put sites that I come across that I think are interesting and might make a good post later on. That folder can get stuffed with all kinds of randomness after just a few weeks. So every once in awhile, I'll go through the folder and either delete the one's that I no longer think are that great anymore, or I'll just dump a whole bunch of them on here in one go.

Here's one of those dumps.


  • Beatbox Rahzel: This guy's video has been online a couple of years, but it is still very impressive.
  • Steve, Don't Eat It!: Hilarious, if also sometimes vulgar, series where a guy dares himself to eat some pretty gross stuff. Starts with potted meat, but then quickly works his way up (or down) to some of what the rest of the world might deem a delicacy, but would make a typical American retch.
  • Bound by Law?: Free comic book about the true story of one filmmaker's struggle to make a documentary in today's overly copyrighted world.
  • Turn Your Head: Make your next gift a very personalized optical illusion (now offering a Mother's Day special!).
  • A cover of Radiohead's "Just": Free download of the video for Mark Ronson's cover of a Radiohead classic.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Whatever You Do, Don't Click On China

I'm not sure how accurate this is, but someone has posted a real-time population counter, sorted by country.

Just click on your nation of choice and watch people be born, people die, and what the adjusted population is. Even tells you the age and gender of the birth or death. Estimated, of course.

Surprising stat for me: over 28 million people in Nepal. I would have guessed 2 million, tops.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Alex Mauldin: Film Aficionado

Yesterday I got this email from a former student (hope he doesn't mind me posting it):

Good day, Mr. Mauldin,

I pray this letter finds you in good spirits and that today's endeavors bear something of an advantage to your person. I hope thou wouldst remember me, professor. No less than three years ago I sat in your very class, basking in thou's astute tutelage.

Mr. Mauldin, I write with an agenda in mind. You dubbed yourself a film buff, quite the aficionado if I may. I author this correspendonce in the hopes that you might, perhaps, recommend a few particularly interesting movies that thou art keen on.

It is my personal goal to watch as many great films as possible, and inquiring on any implication you might have would certainly place me on the correct path.

If thou wouldst grant me this small request, I would be indebted to you.


Yep, I've had some real gems in my classes over the years.

Now being Mr. Helpful, I encouraged him to check out the AFI list of top 100 movies. Short. Simple.

But then I got to thinking -- maybe he needed a more focused list. What the AFI Top 100 covers is a pretty broad range of genres, tastes, and decades. So... in the hopes of giving my former charge the type of individualized and focused attention he so surely deserves, here are a few more lists that he, or anyone else, can use to find that oh-so-special movie for the Easter weekend.

  • The IMDB top 250: A list that leans very heavily toward what a typical white male in the 20-40 years age range would pick. So yes, I've seen most of those movies more than once.
  • Best Western Films: If you're into cowboys and what they did to the indigenous natives of the North American continent, you'll find a family friendly list of good flicks here.
  • Top 10 Chinese Martial Arts Movies: Heeee-YAH!
  • Best Horror Movies: Because nothing says Easter better than popping one of these in the dvd player.
  • 100 Most Daring Movies Ever Made: Listed in alphabetical order, which doesn't strike me as being all that daring. Pick a #1, for pete sakes!
  • Top 50 Cult Movies: When I think of a cult movie, I think of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. So how the @%$&! is The Shawshank Redemption a cult movie?
  • Ten Black Films Worth Watching: According to Christians, so you know it's ok.
  • Top ten '80s movies: According to British women, so you know it's ok.

Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places

Everyonce in awhile I check my web counter stats to see not only how many people have visited this site, but also how they came to get here. One of the counters I use shows me the search term that was used, and even though most of the time those terms are tame, like "visiting trier" or "prom hair styles," occasionally I get a peak at the wierder corners of my visitors' minds.

Today's highlight: someone used Yahoo earlier this morning searching for "beastiality in the philippines." Stranger still, that search somehow brought them here, and I don't know why.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I Got The Blues

It is Thursday of my Spring Break, and that's got me down. Problem is I'm white, and white people aren't supposed to get the blues. As George Carlin put it, we're supposed to give people the blues, not have them.

Besides, isn't it kinda odd to be a fan of the blues in the first place?

"Excuse me sir, but if you don't mind me asking, why are you a fan of the blues?"

"I don't know. I guess I really just enjoy listening to depressing stuff about my lover cheating on me or losing my job. Gets me out of those troublesome happy moods."

That's exactly why I must fight the urge to spend any more time on the following sites. No more blues for me, but you're welcome to click away.
  • Desktopblues: Is this what Moby does in his spare time?
  • House of Blues: I didn't know Nine Inch Nails or Taking Back Sunday qualified as the blues. Or The Go-Go's. But then again, if a vacation is all you ever wanted, maybe that would get you down.
  • Baby Blues: I clicked through some of the comics in their archive, but the distinct lack of funny made me even more depressed.
  • BluesNet: The "longest-running blues site on the Web" hasn't been updated in four years. Maybe the webmaster is too depressed to type.
  • Genghis Blues: Raise your hand if you've seen this film. Hell, raise your hand if you've even heard of it. Something tells me the film makers have got the blues.
  • Blues & Blues: I think this is an Italian blues website, but I'm not sure because I can't read blues.
  • Sapphire - The Uppity Blues Women: I'm not sure if they're any good or not. I just really like the word "uppity."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Need Some Cute?

Well, here you go.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Missed Opportunity

Mr. and Mrs. Paltrow really missed a great opportunity. Instead of naming their new kid "Moses," they should have gone with "Orange." That way when Apple asks one day which of the two mommy and daddy love more, Gwyn could have said...

"I really can't compare you two."

Saturday, April 08, 2006