Near Earth Archive

A backup of Near Earth Object by Paul Fidalgo

Month: February, 2010

Them’s Some Powerful Clicks

That the contents of the world’s libraries will eventually be accessed practically anywhere at the click of a mouse is not an unmixed blessing. Another click might obliterate these same contents and bring civilization to an end: an overwhelming argument, if one is needed, for physical books in the digital age.

Publishing: The Revolutionary Future – The New York Review of Books

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A Reason to Give a Damn

That’s my boy.

Space Goggles

This is very serious; even we space captains must use caution. We will all don our amazing space goggles, so that we may protect our eyes from dangerous levels of space magic!

Of course, no goggles for frowny-faced Hojatoleslam.

Boundaries

Let me just get this out of the way, for formality’s sake. As I mentioned to some who follow me on Facebook and Twitter, I have a new job, and that job places me in a more formal position within the atheist movement. This, of course, can put a minor strain on what I now say publicly in regards to atheism, religion, politics, etc., as one can never tell what will be in conflict with the message of my organization, what might reflect one way or the other on said organization, and on and on. So let me simply say that nothing on this blog or on my Examiner column is in any way endorsed by, approved by vetted by, associated with, married to, dating, or has in any way to do with the organization that employs me. That said, I will be experimenting post by post with what I feel is now appropriate given my new role. This concerns me very little, frankly, and I don’t expect any readers would really even notice a difference, particularly since I have expanded the scope of this blog beyond mere godlessness. I will, however, never blog about my employers’ activities, or anything to do with the group, other than perhaps promote my own appearance at an event or when I am giving an address, simply to let you know I’ll be doing it, but that’ll be it. Okay? Okay.

Speaking of which, I’ll be speaking this Sunday to the Center for Inquiry’s DC branch, doing my “new taxonomy for atheists” spiel. This, too, has nothing whatsoever to do with the aforementioned employing organization.

Whew.

Ubiquitous Baby

I used to like to write about more anecdotal humor types of things, you know, stuff that happened to me as I went about my life, and now nothing happens to me that doesn’t relate to the baby. Which I guess is just the way it goes. I used to have random encounters with actors and homeless people and alcohol and now I have random encounters with urine and drool and ass ointments.

She’s Having A Baby

Feckless

Look. The Democratic Party is feckless, disjointed, and several vertebra short of a spinal column. The Republican Party is not only unserious about governance, but it’s greedy, and at times downright malicious and vengeful to boot. The Tea Party movement, regardless of how it is being portrayed lately by the mainstream media, as some “genuine” uprising of concerned citizens, is an excuse to celebrate willful ignorance, xenophobia, racism, and religious intolerance—why this is not completely obvious is beyond me. The progressive movement can’t decide whether to prop up the Democratic Party’s festering corpse and engage in a generation-long retelling of Weekend at Bernie’s or to nobly go down with the ship of state saying, “Well, at least we tried.” What, out of this morass, is supposed to rise up and save us all?

Bloc Raisonneur

Less a Tragedy Than a Deadly Farce, or, That’s One Dead Phoenix!

I keep waiting for the glimmer of hope, the silver lining. In fact, I am often promised it, but it is so rarely delivered.

I am speaking of the recent spate of “Is America Doomed?” articles that have cropped up of late as our government has so clearly demonstrated its uselessness, cowardice, gluttony, laziness, and short-sightedness, aided and abetted by a media with that covers the goings-on with all the depth of middle school cafeteria gossip.

Two of these doom articles come to mind; both of them espouse hope, and then offer none. I’ll go easier on the first, Paul Krugman’s piece in today’s New York Times. The false hope is probably more the fault of editors, or because he is trying for a pithy title that fits the thesis of his piece. Entitled “America is Not Lost,” one might think that Mr. Krugman intends to buck us up. Alas.

We’ve always known that America’s reign as the world’s greatest nation would eventually end. But most of us imagined that our downfall, when it came, would be something grand and tragic.

What we’re getting instead is less a tragedy than a deadly farce. . . . Well, America is not yet lost. But the Senate is working on it. 

Well, that hurt. Mostly, I am disappointed with the promise offered by The Atlantic‘s James Fallows for his cover piece which boldly claims to know “How America Can Rise Again.” Hooray! Like the phoenix, we can rise again!

Only Fallows’ piece offers no evidence at all to support the cheery headline. If anything, Fallows makes clear why America is not “rising” any time soon, and that the best we can hope for is to muddle through by gnawing away at the edges of policy, stepping around the cracks and mines, and hope America doesn’t turn into Mad Max. Despite some tepid examples of America’s toughing it out in rough times and coming out mostly better for it, the real points we are left with are that a) our institutions are incapable of addressing the serious, grave, imminent threats to our security and well-being and b) we haven’t the leaders, national will, or existing mechanisms to do anything about it. Rise again!!!

Lawrence Lessig’s major piece on changing Congress in The Nation offers no solace, for even though it is supposed to be a prescription to saving us from ourselves (or, more to the point, saving Congress from itself), it is clear that the changes he would like to see enacted could never, ever be passed by the very Congress he damns. Rise again!!!

Look. The Democratic Party is feckless, disjointed, and several vertebra short of a spinal column. The Republican Party is not only unserious about governance, but it’s greedy, and at times downright malicious and vengeful to boot. The Tea Party movement, regardless of how it is being portrayed lately by the mainstream media, as some “genuine” uprising of concerned citizens, is an excuse to celebrate willful ignorance, xenophobia, racism, and religious intolerance–why this is not completely obvious is beyond me. The progressive movement can’t decide whether to prop up the Democratic Party’s festering corpse and engage in a generation-long retelling of Weekend at Bernie’s or to nobly go down with the ship of state saying, “Well, at least we tried.” What, out of this morass, is supposed to rise up and save us all?

I was among the millions who thought it might be Obama. As the man we sort-of-re-elected president with 52% of the popular vote once said, “Fool me once, shame on…shame on you…y’fool me, can’t get fooled again.”

…!!!

But

America is not yet lost. But the Senate is working on it.

Paul Krugman

Hypoliteracy

I am not reading a book.

Washington, DC is shut down today, and besides doing some catch-up work here and there, I essentially have a bonus day off. Hooray! What a rare and often-wished-for opportunity to do some quiet, relaxed book reading! Visit my Goodreads page and you can see that I am juggling several books that I have yet to complete, and I have a list a mile long of “to-reads” as yet un-attempted. The baby is sleeping (scratch that, back in a second…)

[Two hours later]

Anyway. The point being, on this snow-blanketed day, there’s far more time than usual to engage in some literary imbibing. But here I am on the Web, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, poking around the RSS reader, etc. I know that the act of reading doesn’t require a herculean effort, but lately the energy, attention span, and patience it requires has eluded me. And I love reading (once I’m into it)! It’s that kick-start that is so difficult, particularly if I’m not totally enthralled by my current book.

There’s just so much *other* reading to be done! Not only is there blog and article reading online, but there are tweets (that lead to more blogs and articles), my various magazine subscriptions (which, since I am paying for them, I feel obliged to read), and since I do communications for a lobbying organization, I have to step up the pace on regular news consumption (major newspapers, aggregators, etc.). The latter one alone takes whatever quiet time my rain ride to work allows me.

While I genuinely love the act of reading, books are falling by the wayside. I own a Kindle (which I adore), I have a slew of books in my library I’m dying to get to, myriad Christmas and birthday-gifted books that others thought I’d enjoy, so I have to get to those, plus the backpack-full of books I’m still in the middle of. Meanwhile, I read about people who read several books a week, and my friend Ryan is doing a blog project on reading 100 books in a year. Another friend I have through Twitter is doing only about half that, a book a week for a year. I could never do that!

Part of it, I imagine, is that I don’t read much fiction. Anecdotally, I hear that fiction goes by more quickly than nonfiction, but I can hardly put that to the test, as I have as my current fiction selection War and Peace, and I’ve resolved, for no other reason than the novelty of it, to read it entirely on the iPhone–I wanted to really see if there was truth to the iPhone-as-e-reader cliché that says, yes, the iPhone is great for reading, “…but you wouldn’t want to read War and Peace on it!”

I’m getting off-track somewhat. Even when I do get to reading a book, it’s sparse. Too often, I read 10 or so pages before I get too sleepy, or I’m distracted by email/baby/life. And let’s be honest, even those magazines often don’t get the attention their subscription prices deserve, and the newspaper is often merely scanned and discarded. I think that in terms of word count, I read more from blog posts and articles about reading, ebooks, and publishing (a recent but I think enduring fascination of mine) than I do from actual books themselves.

One might think, well, Paul, you just don’t like books that much. But I know that’s not true–I know that good books move and enrich me more than just about any other medium I consume (perhaps tied with music, something else that has suffered since I stopped being a twenty-something). Perhaps part of the problem is the commitment of time necessary to complete a book, but I mainly mean those books that turn out to be only okay. I recently read A Tale of Two Cities for the first time (part of my attempt to catch up with all those books I was assigned in high school and fobbed off due to my shameful degree of laziness) and I couldn’t put it down. It was one of those moments in life when a piece of art truly changes you and affects you at your core. That’s not happening with any of the books I have in the pipeline right now, but nor should I expect so. Some books–most books that I pick up, thankfully–are “just good.” And that should be good enough to keep me at it.

Which, of course, still lands me into conflict with the realities of how many hours there are in a day and all the other text-based commitments I already have.

I’m not like those who lament the “shortening” of certain types of discourse through technology. Mark Ambinder of The Atlantic (one of those aforementioned subscribed-to magazines) recently explained to Michael Kinsley what his reading day is like, and it rang familiar to me to a certain extent. Though I don’t rely on Twitter nearly to the degree Ambinder does, I still understand how valuable it has become, and I certainly value the relationships–new kinds of relationships–that I have developed on that platform. As I noted, Twitter is not really about short bursts of blather for me (though it is also that), but the tweets serve as little windows into deeper reading I would otherwise miss, and a chance for me to share with my 1000+ followers the work I am doing and writing by others that I find compelling enough to warrant others’ attention. Facebook is similar for me, though more lighthearted and social in nature. [Follow me on Twitter here!]

But maintaining these gardens takes time, it takes thought. I enjoy the back-and-forth flow of information so much that I have felt compelled to start a Tumblr blog just to catch the things I don’t know what else to do with (a quote that is too long for Twitter, an article that doesn’t suit my blog or my Facebook audience, etc.)–and on this, I am essentially copying Text Patterns‘ Alan Jacobs and his use of Tumblr, or somewhat mimicking the short-burst blogging style of Andrew Sullivan.

So I heartily embrace social media, social reading and social writing. I’m extremely fortunate to be alive and of the age to participate at such a time as this. But it must be said that it only enables one of my pre-existing conditions: laziness. My dad, a voracious reader himself whom I can only dream of matching in terms of quantity, is befuddled by my use of the word “lazy” in this context. Reading is the fun part of the day, he says. There is no effort involved for him; it is always the
path of least resistance and the greatest return.

But my personality, my attention span, my physiology, my habits have not developed that way (all of which, almost, is my own fault). Books suffer, which really means that I suffer, depriving myself of what they hold. I should be reading right now, but instead, I’m sitting here writing about how I don’t read.

Perhaps my only avenue to mitigating this concern is to learn speed reading. Hm. Now, when would I find the time to do that?

Oh, and I want to learn French, too. Can we please just add an extra day onto the weekend?

Would that even help?

Three Things

THERE ARE only three things wrong with the National Prayer Breakfast: the past, the present, and the future… . Religion is not supposed to be coercive in this country, but the prayer breakfast is the ultimate command performance, and that is only part of the problem.

Political prayer breakfasts are bad religion – The Boston Globe