Near Earth Archive

A backup of Near Earth Object by Paul Fidalgo

Month: March, 2012

Don’t Get in a Car with an Atheist!

Spotted on, a “job listing” from a Texas mother looking for someone to help her transport her teenage daughters to school and activities, emphasis mine:

I am a mother who is 38 years old, I am a teacher in Tomball ISD, my husband is American and I am Mexican. I need to find a woman or girl that is nice, kind, and has good manners because you would be a role model for my daughters too. Christian or Catholic would be best. If you think you are atheist, please don’t take the job, I do not want those ideas in my daughters’ heads. We are a very kind and positive and affectionate family.

Just stretch your imagination and think about what folks might say if instead the ad feared for the effect of Christian “ideas in my daughters’ heads.”

You know what? I’ll bet she’d be “kind and positive” toward an atheist applicant before she called the police.


Tomorrow is Gone

The Veracity and the Vicissitude of Mike Daisey

Listening tonight to the nearly-unbearable “Retraction” edition of “This American Life” in which Mike Daisey is taken to task for his fabrication of details about his experiences in China, I kept waiting for Daisey to more effectively counter the assertion by Ira Glass that people who come to see a monologue expect that every word of it is true.

Perhaps it’s because Glass and the myriad bloggers and reporters feasting on this story are themselves journalists, and therefore can’t help but expect something like this to be akin to what they do, a retelling of actual events. And perhaps it’s because my roots are in theatre that I feel like Glass is wrong; one may not even think about it consciously while watching a show, but I feel that people on the whole do understand that a show is a show. I know that when I saw Daisey perform his excellent How Theatre Failed America in DC a few years ago, I certainly had no illusions that he was giving a 100% factual account of his life in theatre. Of course he was going to embellish, exaggerate, and invent. Why? Because he was spinning a tale, based on facts but not relying on them, that told a larger truth.

I understand that at least as far as “This American Life” and, perhaps even more damning, his op-ed in the New York Times are concerned, it’s the packaging of his story that matters. It does indeed sound as though Daisey offered his play as an entirely factual retelling and therefore worthy of being used as such on the show (and that his manufactured experiences could be written as though they were actual reportage for his New York Times piece). There’s no excusing the presentation of fiction as fact to news outlets.

But I have to wonder at “This American Life” for even wishing to do so with Daisey’s play. If they wanted to use his piece as a springboard, why not simply excerpt some pieces of a performance, make clear that what we’re hearing is a story told by an actor in a play, and then delve deeper into the very real, no less serious issue at hand? Why even decide to hand essentially an entire episode over to what they know is a piece of theatre? Glass says not killing the show after being thwarted in their attempts to contact Daisey’s translator was their big mistake. I think their big mistake was in thinking that a play might possibly be, not just the inspiration, but the substance of one of their reports. I find it hard to believe, but I am forced to believe, that Glass and company are as naive as he claims they are when it comes to credulousness about the veracity of performance art.

I don’t know what Mike Daisey was thinking. He’s such a brilliant writer and performer, and I think it would be a genuine, substantive loss to the culture if we were to lose what he does because of this — particularly since his larger motive was so crucial, so real. I can only presume that the idea of getting his show on “This American Life” and of getting to be treated with a kind of reverence by the media became con-fused with that larger motive. He is an actor, after all, and we are nothing if not attention whores of the worst kind. (Hey! Go download my music!!!!) I wish so badly that he had handled this all so differently. All he had to say to Glass, to the media, to his audience, in any subtle form he wished, that his play is just that, a play, but that it is based on many true events and reports. Done.

I also wish that when Ira Glass pressed him as to whether it was acceptable for his play to be in part constructed of fictions that he had said, proudly, that the art of storytelling has a different goal than journalism, and that his job is to get his audience to think and to feel something. Daisey does that extremely well, and the things he wants us to care about remain worth caring about.

Side note: I am more than a little sickened by many of the tech bloggers and journalists whose work I usually think extremely highly of, but are now dancing on Daisey’s reputation’s grave, almost delighted that Daisey is facing this new firestorm. This seems to me to be borne out of nothing other than their own desire to not have to feel anything about the source of the gadgets off of which they base their careers. Now they’re off the hook, so they believe, and they have someone to put in the stockades for his heresy. It’s deeply disappointing.

GOP: Not Worth Preventing Domestic Abuse if it Means Treating Gays and Immigrants Like Human Beings

Something to watch for: Senate Republicans are looking for a politically safe way to opossum, yes, the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act. Why? Per the Times:

Republicans say the measure, under the cloak of battered women, unnecessarily expands immigration avenues by creating new definitions for immigrant victims to claim battery. More important, they say, it fails to put in safeguards to ensure that domestic violence grants are being well spent. It also dilutes the focus on domestic violence by expanding protections to new groups, like same-sex couples, they say.

Try and swallow that paragraph without gagging. Just to be clear, Republicans think the act should be opposed because it could maybe, if you squint your eyes and tilt your head just so, it might, possibly, in theory, give immigrants an easy way to report being beaten. Oh, and it might also treat those gays like human beings also worthy of protection.

Revolting. How do these people sleep?

Oh, That’s Why People Like Tablets So Damn Much!

The so-called post-PC revolution came to my house. This has been my first weekend off in a couple of weeks, and though I’ve been browsing the Web, tweeting, and now blogging, I didn’t even turn on my computer yesterday, and if you know me at all, you know that the only reason this could be so would be if I was hospitalized and unconscious.

Look, I know. For millions of people, this is already how they live their digital lives (not unconscious, the whole post-PC thing) — without a “computer.” But I didn’t get it before. And I assure you, it’s not because of the new iPad announcement (lord if I could afford one), but rather because I began to boil down what I actually wanted to do on a device.

Let’s face it; even for so-called “power users,” which I sometimes fancy myself as being, 95% of what we do on our devices is low-intensity, passive consumption. We browse the Web, we check email, screw around on the social networks. Put apps and games and the like aside. Mostly, we’re sitting and staring at pictures and text. This does not require a 12-core Mac Pro and a Thunderbolt Display. But for a while, I was saying that it did at least require a MacBook Air; though underpowered in terms of processing heft, its physical slightness and its speedy solid state drive is/was more than enough for, again, 95% of what people actually do, save for software developers and feature film editors. Indeed, my contention has been that an 11″ MacBook Air, which I have, entirely obviates the need for a tablet — it’s so small and light that something like an iPad would be redundant. A tablet, I thought, was a powerful-yet-mostly-unnecessary toy.

Especially if one already has an iPhone/smartphone — and an e-ink Kindle too! Tablets? Please.

But let me tell you what I think affects all of this, which I think may still be true in some contexts: not living alone.

Think of this. You’re sitting in the living room with your spouse or significant other. Nothing much is going on, there’s some light chatting, perhaps your partner is watching something on TV, but only half paying attention. You want to do your Web browsing (or as I usually refer to it, your dicking-around), and you have either your iPhone or your MacBook. If you’re on your iPhone, admit it, even in this day and age of Utter iPhone Ubiquity (UiU), you still look like a closed-off, toy-obsessed douche when your attention is focused on a 2.3 by 4.5-inch rectangle in your hand. You know it’s true. Even while you’re using your own smartphone in the most noble, serious, and non-douchey of ways, you still think other people on their phones look like douches. Or crazy.

But let’s say instead you opt for the MacBook (if you’re opting for a Windows PC, I don’t even know what to say to you). Well then, even with the smallest laptop, you’re opening up a two-paned device, the display of which instantly takes dominance within the horizon of one’s vision. Once you’ve opened up the laptop, even if you are doing nothing more than clicking a few likes on Facebook, to anyone else in the room you are now “on the computer,” and that’s it, you’re effectively not there. How many times have I heard, while doing nothing that commands my attention, heard from my lovely wife, “Do you have to be on the computer now?”

(And a Kindle? That’s a book. Different territory altogether. When you’ve got a book open, you’re reading a book, and people get that, and that’s what you’re doing on a Kindle, so this is not terribly relevant to this overall thesis.)

So: I received a Kindle Fire as a gift, and being a tablet doubter, I mainly disregarded it — not because I didn’t like it, it was obviously quite neat, but I figured that it was, as I said, redundant. But the more of my day-to-day work that I’ve done on my personal computer, and the more cognizant I’ve been of being present for my family without crunching my attention into my wee iPhone or disappearing behind a laptop display, the more I’ve wanted something that allowed me my dicking-around and a level of acceptable environmental and social awareness.

And there was that Kindle Fire.

It’s not a perfect device by any means. Both my iPhone and my MacBook are an order of magnitude better than the Fire at pretty much anything I’d want to do with it (save for reading books, which I do on my e-ink Kindle anyway). This is a big reason I neglected it. But in the contexts I’ve described above, it suddenly became the perfect device. A tablet allows for the casual, passive consumption of content without leaving the appearance of being absorbed in something that either looks like “work” (on a computer) or a “gadget” (on a phone).

In many ways (and may The Steve forgive me for saying so) it’s better than an iPad because of its size; being 7 inches makes it close in size to an unintrusive-looking trade paperback rather than the iPad which is more physically prominent, nearer to a clipboard in size. (I’m not crazy. A Retina Display and Apple’s seamless merging of hardware and software are much preferable to Amazon’s otherwise-laudable efforts in this arena. But I have what I have and can afford what I can afford.)

But more to the point, it’s become my primary device for that aforementioned 95% of stuff that I actually do. When I’m working on a piece of long form writing (like this post), doing more complex creative work like videos or presentations, or recording and mixing music, I absolutely want my completely awesome 11″ MacBook Air, and probably attached to my 24-inch display. Taking pictures, making quick Twitter observations, or getting information wherever I am, I want my crazy-amazing iPhone 4S. But for just about everything else, I get it now. The tablet is the way to go.

I thought I’d miss heavy multi-tasking, quickly jumping between windows and applications, and having several things my field of attention at once, but I don’t — unless, again, I’m working on something. In almost all other cases, though, holding a medium-sized slate of glass and pixels makes by far the most sense.

I think my wife agrees. But I haven’t asked her, because I’ve been on the computer.

Suggesting People into Loving Their Servitude

Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.

Thank you once again for the book.

— Letter from Aldous Huxley to George Orwell, found via Teleread.

100-Foot-Tall Solid-Gold Winston Churchill Statue on Mars

Olympia Snowe’s Senate tenure should not be mourned. I never bought into the notion that she was somehow a principled centrist who only wanted what was best, but was constantly overrun by extremists on — ahem — “both sides of the aisle.” Jonathan Chait puts a point on it:

When George W. Bush proposed a huge, regressive tax cut in 2001, Snowe, sitting at the heart of a decisive block of centrists, used her leverage to support the passage of a modestly smaller and less regressive version. When Barack Obama proposed a large fiscal stimulus in 2009, Snowe (citing fears of deficits that she had helped create) decided to shave a nice round $100 billion off his figure and call it a day. If a Gingrich administration proposed spending a trillion dollars to erect a 100-foot-tall solid-gold Winston Churchill statue on Mars, Snowe would no doubt decide, after careful deliberation, that the wise course was to trim the height down to 90 feet and perhaps use a cheaper bronze alloy in the base.

As I put it on the social media sites when her retirement was first announced, “good riddance.”