(no subject)

Edward Wilson on Charlie Rose last night said that Darwin was the most influential person that ever lived. I suppose the people who oppose Darwin and his ideas would have another specific person in mind for that distinction.

But James Watson on that same show talked about Darwin's writing - that when he's written so powerfully and so on and then throws in a bit a poetry at the end, you pay attention.

my grandma

I gave my grandma a farewell pat on the head.
They say funerals are for the living.
I was alive. So this funeral was for me.
But the funeral home
had applied hairspray to grandma's head.
And that made her hair hard, less bouncy.
Less eminently pattable.
Less bouncy. Like her.
She's different now.

Maybe it's time to grow up.


"There are three possible parts to a date, of which at least two must be offered: entertainment, food, and affection. It is customary to begin a series of dates with a great deal of entertainment, a moderate amount of food, and the merest suggestion of affection. As the amount of affection increases, the entertainment can be reduced proportionately. When the affection IS the entertainment, we no longer call it dating. Under no circumstances can the food be omitted."

Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior

what would you do?

What would you do if you had a year left to live, but you were fully conscious and capable in your time left? This is related to my previous question of causes that you believe in, and I have personal reasons for asking (not what you may think).


I was wondering something, for anyone who would care to talk about it. Do you have a cause that you dedicate time to? Or significant amounts of money? Or effort? Or something else? I have a particular reason for asking, which I'll talk about later.

(no subject)

The United States spends over $87 billion conducting a war in Iraq while the United Nations estimates that for less than half that amount we could provide clean water, adequate diets, sanitation services and basic education to every person on the planet.

And we wonder why terrorists attack us?

- John Perkins
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man


I have a question. What is democracy? We throw that term around all the time, but what does it mean? Does it mean just having ballot boxes? Well, obviously, the ballot boxes have to be representing something more. What?

To start, I think it's pretty clear that democracy comes in many forms and flavors, and is used on different levels for different purposes. We have referendums that ask voters to decide issues directly. We have elections for representatives that are proxied the responsibility and power to run part of society. In the Iraqi election, voters didn't even get to select those representatives, only parties. So what do all these things that we lump under the common term "democracy" have in common?

To fall back on a psuedo-slogan, it seems like these are all processes that allow "the people" to decide "stuff". The relationship of that "stuff" to "the people" differs depending on the system and it's motivating philosophy. It can range from a referendum asking direct questions to Iraq's election of only parties. Is there a line somewhere for the "stuff," beyond which it becomes too abstract to rightfully be considered a democracy?

Also, do we actually need ballot boxes? What if we have a system where the people express their wills with Gallup polls? What about with armed rebellion? Then it could be argued, what isn't a democracy? What about with money? We consider one-person-one-vote as sacred, but what if rich people think they should have two votes? Some people would say the US is already marching in that direction.

Which brings up the issue of media control in a democracy. As a voter, I get about 100% of my information about an issue or a candidate from the lens of mass media. And mass media needs money. So the naive conclusion is, money control media which controls the electorate. So the people end up being sheep. And they have no choice, I don't think.

standing in line to see the pope

The authorities in the Vatican stopped letting people stand on line to go view the pope's body a while back because the line had grown too long. I don't think they should've done that. Sure, the people who got in line at the very end (or even not the very end, judging from the sheer length of it) wouldn't have been able to get to pay their last respects to the pope, and the authorities should've made this clearly known, but they still should've kept the line open.

I remember reading an old magazine account of people lining up in Washington to view the casket of JFK. The reporter overheard this couple. The guy said to his wife, "Let's go, we're never going to get in before they close the doors.", and his wife said, "No, we should stay. It's the least we could do." There was another story of a family who was just ten feet away from the door when they closed up and said "No more, that's all."

For the people standing in line, some for twelve hours or more, I can't help but think that perhaps their salute to a man they considered great was in fact that very act of personal sacrifice. They stood in line for hours after getting off a plane from half way around the world, with very little chance of being to accomplish exactly what they set out to do. Maybe doing it was part of their mourning process and a statement to themselves and the world that what the pope stood is important enough to be worthy of such sacrifice.

a 5 paragraph essay

The New York Times had a bunch of letters to the editor about the SAT's adding a new requirement - a five paragraph essay. The anti-essay points of view basically boiled down to "It'll force teachers to teach rigidly and stifle creativity." I would argue that today's technological and behavioral changes have made five paragraph essays more suitable.

Given today's average attention span, it seems like five paragraphs is about it. If your goal is to be read, I don't think you have much more opportunity than five paragraphs. Look at today's blogs. I don't think they go on for pages and pages (although to be honest, I haven't seen enough blogs to be able to say). Plus, I think somebody somewhere did research on how people reading in front of screens can't (and don't) read pages and pages of text.

For the average writer, expecting more than five paragraphs is probably both not practical and a bit unrealistic. If you're an average student, I would guess (condescendingly, sorry) that you don't have the attention span to write more than five paragraphs regularly. If you're in the workplace, your bosses and coworkers don't have time to read lots of stuff. And if you're a blogger, well, you have to deal with that attention span problem.