My blog contains a large number of posts. A few are included in various other publications, or as attached stories and chronicles in my emails; many more are found on loose leaves, while some are written carelessly in margins and blank spaces of my notebooks. Of the last sort most are nonsense, now often unintelligible even when legible, or half-remembered fragments. Enjoy responsibly.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Motorcycles are no longer cool

For Memorial Day Kela and I are traveling through a couple different places in the South, seeing some friends and family, and trying to relax in the warm and welcoming comfort of Southern hospitality. Our first sojourn along the way, Anderson, SC, was a stop to a motorcycle club on their way to somewhere else. My immediate impression of motorcycles is a flashback to 1969 with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper riding across the country on a self-realization trip. Or a band of 60’s Harleys rolling down the road, unencumbered with the trivialities of “normal” life.

Now my mother was at Atlamont when the Hells Angels took over the Stones Concert and killed one member of the audience and remembers it with distant horror. The Hells Angles were the quintessential motorcycle gang in our history. Vicious, merciless, and badass, they were cool in an awful way. Their motorcycles were the identifying marker of who and what they were.

Fast forward almost four decades and now Steven, an orthodontist who drives a Volvo 960 during the week, and Colin, a retired CPA with a wife actually named Muffin, ride down Main Street on their monthly trip to the Sam’s Club four towns over and back. Motorcycles use to be the pinnacle of coolness, up there with leather jackets, drugs, and anonymous sex. Now they are mostly for retired, balding guys who are trying to recapture an age which they missed because they were trying to pay off a house and put kids through school.

So it is bad that motorcycles are no longer the symbol of free expression and personal autonomy? Maybe. Is it a good thing that anyone can escape into a world where all rules are self-made and followed only on choice? Perhaps. Is it safe to assume that people are just experiencing a Disneyfied motorcycle fantasy with delusions of coolness? Yes. Do I want one? Possibly.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Net taxes could arrive by this fall

The following story is from News.com (http://news.com.com/2100-1028_3-6186193.html)

The era of tax-free e-mail, Internet shopping and broadband connections could end this fall, if recent proposals in the U.S. Congress prove successful.

State and local governments this week resumed a push to lobby Congress for far-reaching changes on two different fronts: gaining the ability to impose sales taxes on Net shopping, and being able to levy new monthly taxes on DSL and other connections. One senator is even predicting taxes on e-mail.

At the moment, states and municipalities are frequently barred by federal law from collecting both access and sales taxes. But they're hoping that their new lobbying effort, coordinated by groups including the National Governors Association, will pay off by permitting them to collect billions of dollars in new revenue by next year.

If that doesn't happen, other taxes may zoom upward instead, warned Sen. Michael Enzi, a Wyoming Republican, at a Senate hearing on Wednesday. "Are we implicitly blessing a situation where states are forced to raise other taxes, such as income or property taxes, to offset the growing loss of sales tax revenue?" Enzi said. "I want to avoid that."

A flurry of proposals that pro-tax advocates advanced this week push in that direction. On Tuesday, Enzi introduced a bill that would usher in mandatory sales tax collection for Internet purchases. Second, during a House of Representatives hearing the same day, politicians weighed whether to let a temporary ban on Net access taxes lapse when it expires on November 1. A House backer of another pro-sales tax bill said this week to expect a final version by July.

"The independent and sovereign authority of states to develop their own revenue systems is a basic tenet of self government and our federal system," said David Quam, director of federal relations at the National Governors Association, during a Senate Commerce committee hearing on Wednesday.

Internet sales taxes
At the moment, for instance, Seattle-based Amazon.com is not required to collect sales taxes on shipments to millions of its customers in states like California, where Amazon has no offices. (Californians are supposed to voluntarily pay the tax owed when filing annual state tax returns, but few do.)

Ideas to alter this situation hardly represent a new debate: officials from the governors' association have been pressing Congress to enact such a law for at least six years. They invoke arguments--unsuccessful so far--like saying that reduced sales tax revenue threatens budgets for schools and police.

But with Democrats now in control of both chambers of Congress, the political dynamic appears to have shifted in favor of the pro-tax advocates and their allies on Capitol Hill. The NetChoice coalition, which counts as members eBay, Yahoo and the Electronic Retailing Association and opposes the sales tax plan, fears that the partisan shift will spell trouble.

One long-standing objection to mandatory sales tax collection, which the Supreme Court in a 1992 case left up to Congress to decide, is the complexity of more than 7,500 different tax agencies that each have their own (and frequently bizarre) rules. Some legal definitions (PDF) tax Milky Way Midnight candy bars as candy and treat the original Milky Way bar as food. Peanut butter Girl Scout cookies are candy, but Thin Mints or Caramel deLites are classified as food.

The pro-tax forces say that a concept called the Streamlined Sales Tax Agreement will straighten out some of the notorious convolutions of state tax laws. Enzi's bill, introduced this week, relies on the agreement when providing "federal authorization" to require out-of-state retailers "to collect and remit the sales and use taxes" due on the purchase. (Small businesses with less than $5 million in out-of-state sales are exempted.)

It's "important to level the playing field for all retailers," Enzi said during Wednesday's hearing.

While it's too early to know how much support Enzi's bill will receive, foes of higher taxation are marshaling their allies. Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, said Wednesday that he'd like "to see an impregnable ban on taxes on the Internet."

Jeff Dircksen, the director of congressional analysis at the National Taxpayers Union in Alexandria, Va., said in written testimony prepared for the hearing: "If such a system of extraterritorial collection is allowed, Congress will have opened the door to any number of potential tax cartels that will eventually harm rather than help taxpayers."

Internet access taxes
A second category of higher Net taxes is technically unrelated, but is increasingly likely to be linked when legislation is debated in Congress later this year. That category involves access taxes, meaning taxes that local and state governments levy to single out broadband or dial-up connections. (See CNET News.com's Tech Politics podcast this week with former House Majority Leader Dick Armey on this point.)

If the temporary federal moratorium is allowed to expire in November, states and municipalities will be allowed to levy a dizzying array of Net access taxes--meaning a monthly Internet connection bill could begin to resemble a telephone bill or airline ticket with innumerable and confusing fees tacked on at the end. In some states, telephone fees, taxes and surcharges run as high as 20 percent of the bill.

These fees that states levy on mobile phones, cable TV and landlines run far higher than state sales taxes at an average of 13.3 percent, cost the average household $264 a year, and total $41 billion annually, according to a report published by the Chicago-based Heartland Institute this month. Landlines are taxed at the highest rate, 17.23 percent, with Internet access being virtually tax free, with the exception of a few states that were grandfathered in a decade ago.

Dircksen, from the National Taxpayers Union, urged the Senate on Wednesday to "encourage economic growth and innovation in the telecommunications sector--in contrast to higher taxes, fees and additional regulation" by at least renewing the expiring moratorium, and preferably making it permanent. Broadband providers like Verizon Communications also want to make the ban permanent.

But state tax collectors are steadfastly opposed to any effort to renew the ban, let alone impose a permanent extension. Harley Duncan, the executive director of the Federation of Tax Administrators, said Wednesday that higher taxes will not discourage broadband adoption and his group "urges Congress not to extend the Act because it is disruptive of and poses long-term dangers for state and local fiscal systems."

Sen. Daniel Inouye, the influential Democratic chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, said: "Listening to the testimony, I would opt for a temporary extension, if at all."

If the moratorium expires, one ardent tax foe is predicting taxes on e-mail. A United Nations agency proposed in 1999 the idea of a 1-cent-per-100-message tax, but retreated after criticism. (A similar proposal, called bill "602P," is, however, actually an urban legend.)

"They might say, 'We have no interest in having taxes on e-mail,' but if we allow the prohibition on Internet taxes to expire, then you open the door on cities and towns and states to tax e-mail or other aspects of Internet access," said Sen. John Sununu, a New Hampshire Republican. "We need to be honest about what we're endorsing and what we're opposing."

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Entry for May 19, 2007

Have you ever been somewhere, listening in on a conversation (or possibly trapped where you are forced to listen) and wish you could jump in regardless of the consequences? Well, this happened to me this morning. And not being able to respond at that time, I now present just my side of the conversation with the adult voice from the Peanuts filling in the other side:

So you honestly think that a being capable of creating space, time, and matter, 125 billion galaxies, of which there are 400 billion stars and 4 trillion planets in our galaxy alone, with 1.8 million known living plant and animal species on this planet (several billion if you count the extinct ones), and you think that this being thinks YOU are important? Oh please, get over yourself. You aren’t cosmic shit. You are not special by any stretch of the imagination. And if there is a divine being, it would have the power to create something infinitely more interesting than you.

Whaa-whaa-whaa?

Died for your original sin?!?! What sins does a baby have? What kind of horrible being do you think would create a life already convicted of the worst crimes that can be imagined? How horribly cruel is that being that you’re calling a God?!??

Whaa-whaa-WHAA.

Look, I understand that you think that there is a super-cool guy out there in the sky who controls everything, but there is an old argument by some dead dude that goes something like this: If your God wants to stop evil, but can’t, then he is not all powerful. If he can prevent evil, but is not willing, then he is cruel. If he is able and willing, then evil wouldn’t exist. If he is not able or willing, then he isn’t actually a God. See how easy that was? No God, you’re on your own. Sorry.

Whaa-whaa-whaa!!!

Fine, fine, whatever, I look at it this way: The same freewill that allows you to believe in a supernatural being is the same freewill that allows me to behave myself. You choose to believe in a fantasy world because you think that its rules are sacred. I use my freewill to believe in rules for the sake of humanity and to keep myself safe. Either way, we are basically supporting the same rules. Except with my way, I can change my rules as science, morals, and technology evolves. You are now stuck because you’ve chose to submit your freewill to something that is uncompromising and your freewill no longer exists while it is in sublimation to that divine law. Therefore, I can choose to be a better person then you because I can take in more factors and current judgments about present day situations.

Whaa

Same to you.

There, I feel much better now. Thank you.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Open Question for Everyone

Is it safe to assume that with the ever increasing connectivity of information leading to a technological Lamarckian view of knowledge, or, where new generations of humans inherit the acquired discoveries of past generations (allowing for cosmic insight to accumulate without limit), that this process would channel towards an overall collectivist mindset in those knowledge’s benefactors?

If they answer is yes, will this collective attitude manifest itself into global Socialist governance and has it already started in countries where information is shared equally and with efficient fluidity?

If not, will the ease of access to any information create a subset of individuals whom choose to absorb said information and an equal subset who do not? Would this split not eventually lead towards speciation?

Caveat: I am making the assumption that those who take full advantage of the technological Lamarckian view of knowledge raise a higher percentage of children who will do the same and eventually mate in-kind.

Thoughts? Insults? Ideas?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

On Disney and Southern Baptists

On June 18, 1997 the Southern Baptists approved, by an overwhelming majority of delegates, a boycott the Disney Company and its subsidiaries. At the time they claimed it was for the "anti-Christian and anti-family direction" that they believed that the saw in Disney (cnn.com). It citied Disney’s tolerance of homosexuals and subsidiaries production of controversial books and films like "Pulp Fiction". Of course, all of this hit Disney’s bottom line in ways immeasurable, mainly because it had no measurable impact whatsoever.

It wasn’t until this last week, upon seeing a couple of the Disney movies (Beauty and the Beast, Jungle Book, and Little Mermaid) when I finally figured out the real reason for the Southern Baptists frustration. What I realized was that it had nothing to do with the Disney Theme Park’s “Gay Days”, or anything to do with films like Pulp Fiction. Instead, it was because Disney is the standard for children’s entertainment and that that product is almost entirely secular. Essentially, the Baptists were pissed because Disney wouldn’t help them to sell their religion. The Southern Baptists decided to boycott Disney to force them into providing some Christian products to legitimize their beliefs in the eyes of their most impressionable of their congregation.

I don’t know why it took me so long to figure that out, and I’m almost ashamed to admit it here, but I figured that if I didn’t come clean on my own shortcomings, I would be no better then those Southern Baptists.

http://www.cnn.com/US/9706/18/baptists.disney/

Monday, May 14, 2007

Entry for May 14, 2007

Have you ever reread a book and found something new? Some undiscovered line or thought that you’ve somehow missed in subsequent readings? This weekend it happened to me and I’m better for it.

When our friends Tom and Kate invited us to go camping this last weekend, and being the nerd that I am, I decided to raid my bookshelf for something appropriate to read in the woods. This led me to rereading Thoreau’s Walden, after a morning sunrise over the lake, and for the first time in years.

Buried in the book by a fire I found the line, “I believe that men are generally still a little afraid of the dark, though the witches are all hung, and Christianity and candles have all been introduced” and sat thinking as the embers seemed to crack and hiss their approval of my fresh discovery.

As much as I would like to argue the belief, I think that we need fear to feel alive; it is the curse of being mortal. So many things we have done are aimed at controlling the fear of death, but nothing every really seeks the root. It is the one disease that we will all get, suffer with, and eventually die from. Moreover, no one has, or will, ever come back to tell tales of eternal light. So we sit in the dark, warmed by the glow of our little advancements, safe in the knowledge that evildoers are being hunted, encouraged by passing tales of myth and guesses, all the while knowing we will someday find the darkness, and are complete.

Happiness comes in all forms, most of which are denials. So it is reassuring to see mortality for what it is, because that is the only true way in which to learn to enjoy the sun as it warms us for one more day.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Science is Cool

From apples to zebras, all 1.8 million known plant and animal species will be listed in an Internet-based "Encyclopedia of Life" under a $100 million project, scientists said on Tuesday.

The 10-year scheme, launched with initial grants of $12.5 million from two U.S.-based foundations, could aid everyone from children with biology homework to governments planning how to protect endangered species.

"The Encyclopedia of Life plans to create an entry for every named species," James Edwards, executive director of the project which is backed by many leading research institutions, told Reuters. "At the moment that's 1.8 million."

The free Encyclopedia would focus mainly on animals, plants and fungi with microbes to follow, blending text, photographs, maps and videos in a common format for each. Expansion of the Internet in recent years made the multi-media project possible.

Demonstration pages at http://www.eol.org include entries about polar bears, rice, death cap mushrooms and a "yeti crab" with hairy claws recently found in the South Pacific.

"This is about giving access to information to everyone," Jesse Ausubel, chairman of the project who works at the Rockefeller University in New York City, told Reuters.

The Encyclopedia would draw on existing databases such as for mammals, fishes, birds, amphibians and plants. English would be used at the start with translations to other languages.

Edwards said the project would give an overview of life on earth via what he termed a "macroscope" -- the opposite of a microscope through which scientists usually peer.

Species would be added as they were identified. Edwards said there might be 8-10 million on earth, adding that estimates ranged from 5-100 million. Fossil species may also be added.

The encyclopedia, to be run by a team of about 25-35 people, could help chart threats to species from pollution, habitat destruction and global warming.

The project would be led by the U.S. Field Museum, Harvard University, Marine Biological Laboratory, Missouri Botanical Garden,
Smithsonian Institution, and Biodiversity Heritage Library -- a group that includes London's Natural History Museum, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Royal Botanic Garden in Kew, England.

Initial funding comes from a $10 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and $2.5 million from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Extra funds would be raised in coming years.

Ausubel noted that 2007 was the 300th anniversary of the birth of Sweden's Carl Linnaeus, influential in working out ways to classify species. "If he were alive today we think he'd be jumping up and down celebrating," he said.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Entry for May 11, 2007

I’ve heard quite a few people say the line “I don’t worry about the government monitoring me because I have nothing to hide”. To them, I offer this video. Enjoy.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

On this National Day of Reason

On this National Day of Reason I offer forth the story of Mosey the Pirate form The Gospel according to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

While brooding atop Mount Salsa having lost his pirate ship, Captain Mosey received advice from the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the form of ten stone tablets. The Flying Spaghetti Monster proclaimed these were to be forever called the "I'd Really Rather You Didn'ts", or the "Commandments" by Mosey, with his pirate gang referring to them as "Condiments". Why transporting the new sacred tablet back down the mountain, Mosey dropped two. This accident "partly accounts for Pastafarians' flimsy moral standards". The FSM's commandments address the treatment of people of other faiths, worship of the FSM, sexual conduct, and nutrition. They are as follows:
The Eight "I'd Really Rather You Didn'ts"

1. I'd really rather you didn't act like a sanctimonious holier-than-thou ass when describing my noodly goodness. If some people don't believe in me, that's okay. Really, I'm not that vain. Besides, this isn't about them so don't change the subject.
2. I'd really rather you didn't use my existence as a means to oppress, subjugate, punish, eviscerate, and/or, you know, be mean to others. I don't require sacrifices, and purity is for drinking water, not people.
3. I'd really rather you didn't judge people for the way they look, or how they dress, or the way they talk, or, well, just play nice, Okay? Oh, and get this in your thick heads: woman = person. man = person. Samey = Samey. One is not better than the other, unless we're talking about fashion and I'm sorry, but I gave that to women and some guys who know the difference between teal and fuchsia.
4. I'd really rather you didn't indulge in conduct that offends yourself, or your willing, consenting partner of legal age AND mental maturity. As for anyone who might object, I think the expression is go fuck yourself, unless they find that offensive in which case they can turn off the TV for once and go for a walk for a change.
5. I'd really rather you didn't challenge the bigoted, misogynistic, hateful ideas of others on an empty stomach. Eat, then go after the bitch.
6. I'd really rather you didn't build multi million-dollar churches/temples/mosques/shrines to my noodly goodness when the money could be better spent (take your pick):
A. Ending poverty
B. Curing diseases
C. Living in peace, loving with passion, and lowering the cost of cable
I might be a complex-carbohydrate omniscient being, but I enjoy the simple things in life. I ought to know. I AM the creator.
7. I'd really rather you didn't go around telling people I talk to you. You're not that interesting. Get over yourself. And I told you to love your fellow man, can't you take a hint?
8. I'd really rather you didn't do unto others as you would have them do unto you if you are into, um, stuff that uses a lot of leather/lubricant/Las Vegas. If the other person is into it, however (pursuant to #4), then have at it, take pictures, and for the love of Mike, wear a CONDOM! honestly, it's a piece of rubber. If I didn't want it to feel good when you did it I would have added spikes, or something.

So let us all now bask in His noodly goodness and spend this National Day of Reason contemplating those less fortunate than us, how we may help them, and what we can do to improve ourselves. Because lets face it, we all need some work.

Now if you'll join me (no need to stand, we're not that formal) in the The Flying Spaghetti Monster Prayer:
Our saucer, which art in a colander,
Draining be Your noodles.
Thy noodle come,
Thy meatballness be done on earth,
As it is meaty in heaven.
Give us this day our daily sauce,
And forgive us our lack of piracy,
As we pirate and smuggle against those who lack piracy with us.
And lead us not into vegetarianism,
But deliver us from non-red meat sauce.
For thine is the colander, the noodle, and the sauce,
Forever and ever.
Ramen

Go in Reason and Thought

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Entry for May 01, 2007

Is it just me, or is Christopher Hitchens is trying to become Oolon Colluphid?