Jan. 5th, 2006

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I got two Mastercard credit card applications in the mail yesterday, the one issued by my alma mater of Queen's University, the other by CapitalOne.

I'm disturbed by these signs of desperation. Are we that close to the millennium?
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I'm rather pleased with my recent acquisition of a Public Enemy greatest hits album. Chuck D's deep and lyrically profound voice finds a nicely manic counterpoint in Flavor Flav's rhymes, and the dense and overlapping sampling from which the group made their songs is pure ear candy. "Fight the Power" is a standout track, as I had been led to respect and as I distantly remembered from the Spike Lee music video, worthy of both a charmingly academic essay by a writer at Salon and a humourous essay from McSweeney's. I don't think that I'm particularly well-positioned to comment upon the controversies associated with the group, but if the songs I've heard are typical any bigotry is peripheral to Public Enemy's project of eminently enjoyable and politically conscious rap music.
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Washington Post journalist Joel Garreau's recent book Radical Evolution (New York: Harper Collins, 2005) is yet another of his sweeping journalistic surveys of the future at work. Garreau gained his name as a futurist with his 1981 Nine Nations of North America, a title which argued that North America was divisible into nine regions based on geographic, economic, and cultural factors. In Radical Evolution, Garreau moves on to examine the potential impact of a transhumanist future using what he calls the GRIN technologies--genetics, robotics, information, and nanotechnology--on humanity. Garreau structures his arguments via his interviews, with optimists like Marvin Minsky and Ray Kurzweil, pessimists like Bill Joy and Francis Fukuyama, researchers associated with government institutions like DARPA and with private corporations, and with other thinkers: writers, artists, and more. The long-term plausibility of what Garreau identifies as the Hell and Heaven scenarios concerns Garreau, as does the short-term ramifications of such things as genetic engineering producing catastrophic illnesses by accident, the risk of emergent transhumanist technology making the gap between rich and poor a yawning canyon, and the questions of how control can be exerted. The most hopeful passage of Radical Evolution, interestingly enough, comes from Garreau's interview with Jaron Lanier, who argues that the only factor that prevented bright cephalopods from competing with hominids was their lack of a childhood, of culture and of sustained processes of enculturation. Is it really too much to hope for to say that the human capacity for empathy is the only thing that can and will guide us through the 21st century? I feel I'm in a somewhat stronger position to say this after reading Garreau's book, but others may come away with different impressions.
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Via CNN.

A pastor who has spoken out against homosexuality was arrested after propositioning a male undercover police officer outside a hotel, authorities said.

As the Rev. Lonnie Latham, 59, left jail Wednesday, he said "I was set up. I was in the area pastoring to police."

Latham, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee, was arrested Tuesday and charged with offering to engage in an act of lewdness, Capt. Jeffrey Becker said.


What Freud said about repression, and all that. Desperation so obvious has to be pitied.
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The problem with Paul Clancy, André Brack, and Gerda Horneck's Look for Life: Searching the Solar System (New York: Cambridge UP, 2005) is that it is two books in one, merging a useful survey of the potential scope of exobiology that identifies likely origins, habitats, and defining characteristics for life in the Solar System with a tract arguing in favour of extensive manned exploration of space in the 21st century. This fusion is justified, barely, by the authors' convincing case that adequate in-depth field research will necessarily have to be manned. The authors' distinctly European perspective on humans in space brings interesting facts and perspectives that the casual reader doesn't hear from American commentators to the forefront. I only learned of the ESA's use of the Franco-Italian Concordia base in Antarctica via Looking for Life, and the argument that multinational bodies may be better placed to undertake high-risk ventures based on the precedents of the European Commission and NASA is original. Even so, I can't help but feel that the authors should have aimed for a two-book contract. If nothing else, it would have been neater.
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The main reasons that I'm strongly tempted to disagree with Christopher Hitchens' celebration in Slate lie in my questioning of the judgement of Hitchens on most things and the very true observation that this throws Israeli politics into a complete tailspin.
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It's that time of the week once again.


  • The matter editation that, Charlie Stross tells us, Wil McCarthy originates is an interesting idea. It reminds me of Greg Bear's thoughts on the same technology in his unrelated novels A Forge of God and Moving Mars.

  • At Far Outliers, Joel explores coal mining disasters and their long history throughout the world. The thing is, in the First World they're safe.

  • Nalo Hopkinson writes about the problem of finding the right words.

  • The Marmot's Hole publicizes Mongolia's support for North Korean reform. This reform, Mongolia argues, must be self-directed.

  • Phil Edwards at Actually Existing comments upon the few results of Britain's alliance with Uzbekistan and its use of evidence acquired via torture.

  • Over at The Pagan Prattle, [livejournal.com profile] feorag discovers that Pat Robertson blames Sharon's stroke upon his cession of the land God gave Israel. Eugene Volokh wonders how Stalin and Arafat managed to live so long. Andrew Sullivan points out that Robertson agrees with Iranian President Ahmedinejad.

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