Thursday, December 30, 2004

Hitchcock of Manchuria

Dear Robyn Hitchcock:

Over the holiday break, my wife and I watched The Manchurian Candidate. You know, not the old one, but the new one, the one that you are in. Anyway, we rather liked the movie, but there was a problem. Whenever you showed up on screen in your quaint little cameo appearances, my wife had to bear through hearing me remark again and again that "that's Robyn Hitchcock!" in self-congratulatory, I-know-something-about-who's-who satisfaction.

Let's get this straightened out, shall we? You are perhaps my favorite singer/songwriter. Your songs have seen me through great and rough times. I faithfully purchase nearly every CD you have released--even those that we both know are pretty much just the filling in around your more exceptional works. I have been to two of your shows in San Francisco and one in Seattle. Fan I am. Okay?

But here's the thing: You're not in movies.

To be clear, it's not that there was anything wrong with your performance in the movie. It seemed to me that it went pretty well. But I cannot ightly tell because I was not thinking "is that guy playing the role well?" Instead I was thinking: "Is Robyn Hitchcock playing this role well?"

You see the problem. You're Robyn Hitchcock. Not an actor. When Willem Dafoe plays a cameo role, we can all see that it's Willem Dafoe, but it's kind of like just a little tiny background voice saying, "oh, there's Willem Dafoe." Like, that's supposed to happen. But when Robyn Hitchcock appears in any movie that is not directed by Jonathan Demme, it's distracting. Stay in your proper context.

Okay, then.

Your #1 fan,

--Ted Haeger

Update, 06 Jan 04: The Manchurian Candidate was directed by Jonathan Demme, thus confirming that I am indeed a complete ass.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Career Monkey

I have a great job by most people's standards.

I often think I should change up careers...maybe go back into the National Park Service. This corporate world thing has a lot of bullshit burdens to it. Should I be doing something else? Maybe I should be teaching. I like to teach.

I have to remind myself pretty often that part of being human is that there is this constant mental tension created by the fact that we're all the result of a 3.5+ billion year long competition. Makes it hard to live a restful existence when we're all deeply programmed to be dissatisfied with what we have.

I like the Taoist view of this. Some Taoists characterize this tension as the Monkey, archetypal representation. The Monkey tugs at our attention, is constantly distracting us. The Monkey is one of the parts of all our personalities, at least in one metaphorical part. Once you understand the Monkey and his influence on you, you can more effectively ignore him by acknowledging his influence, and just being aware of its influence.

Getting in touch with the Monkey is easy. Whenever you have a thought that distracts you or seems to say "I'm bored," that's the Monkey acting up.

I now better understand the Monkey's origins in the fact that our minds result from forces of evolution on our genes, and by memetic competition for space in our minds. But I still find the Monkey a useful model for dealing with uncertainties. When these "what should I being doing instead?" thoughts start to gather, I look into the face of the Monkey to see how serious he is. So far, he's still just fucking around.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Grave Matters

My blog entries so far seem so serious. Too serious. Suspiciously serious. This is not how I talk in real life. Something's gotta change.

MWM Seeks Snowboard for Clandestine Getaways

When Kim and I moved to Park City a couple years ago, I decided that I should try out snowboarding. So like any good American, I went and laid out a couple thousand dollars on equipment for a new sport before I really knew what I needed.

Fortunately I shop at Recreation Equipment Incorporated, which has about the most approachable and knowledgable employees to help with any of your most common outdoor activities for the true nature-lover. They got me into a beginning0-to-intermediate set-up that I have used for a couple winters and have now started to outgrow.

Next on the list is a good board for powder days. (If you live in Utah, having specific-use boards makes sense.) So I'm looking at the K2 Ambush, the Burton Malolo, or a similar Burton board whose name escapes me. I'll probably get this one at Salty Peaks in Salt Lake City. They have demo boards for rent, and at the going rate, I'm now thinking that try before you buy is a good policy.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Pat Buchanan and Wal-Mart

I recently listened to Pat Buchanan's audiobook Where the Right Went Wrong. I'm not a conservative seeking validation of my beliefs and positions, but neither am I a liberal who believes that conservatives are flatly wrong. So, I thought this would be a great way to see the conservative voice of dissent from Bush's presidency.

I have never had a high opinion of Buchanan, knowing that he advocates xenophobia as part of national policy, and I feel it is careful inclusion that brought the United States to such prominence. I came away from listening to his book with a richer understanding of his views on conservatism. He's still a xenophobe, but I respect him in that he has perfect clarity on what he believes and why. Buchanan's beliefs are out on the table. I think him to be honest in his convictions.

I also agree with him on some issues. I'm coming to understand more and more that globalization has some serious down-sides. Where I would counter Buchanan is that a laissez-faire policy for business is what has allowed corporations to take over personal freedoms. Time and again, Buchanan points to centralized power in Washington, particularly in the hands of the Supreme Court, as being the root of America's problems. Buchanan also points out that the neo-conservatives are as much or more to blame for this as the liberals are. But Buchanan misses the mark a little as he lets big corporations off the hook in his analysis.

The PBS investigative media journal Frontline recently ran an edition called "Is Wal-Mart Good for America?" that covered how Wal-Mart bullies its suppliers into ever lower prices, sometimes forcing their closure or move to overseas production in China. As I watched this I started to think about Pat Buchanan's words about how globalization indeed brings in lower price products but export jobs from the U.S., driving down wages until those inexpensive Chinese goods don't seem so inexpensive any more. In a free world market, Wal-Mart is single-handedly demonstrating that this process is well underway. Wal-Mart may lead, but it is only a leader in a multi-industry phenomenon that is drives U.S. manufacturing jobs to China.

But I did not get much of an impression that Buchanan faults business for this. He seems to lay it entirely on the government. Is it so simple as that governement trade policy sets the arena in which corporations exist, sets the tone for their behavior? I think it's more than that. Corporations can push their trade agendas because corporations are not merely economic entities. They are political entities. We have allowed them to become so, and we do little to curb their political power. It would take a mass movement of people to unseat the corporate hegemony that now controls the national political dialog. Where are you with that, Mr. Buchanan?

Buchanan is now out on the conservative fringe, his party having been hijacked and radicalized by weird neo-conservatives and Christian fundamentalists. He comes at the Wal-Marting of America from a clear and definitive angle, so I like the integrity of his approach. But he overlooks the obvious thing that his near antithesis, Ralph Nader, seeems to see clearly. Government is in the hands of corporations--big business--both directly (Cheny/Halliburton?) and indirectly (corporate lobbyists pushing business agendas).

New Birds

I volunteer on weekends at the Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City, cleaning out the cages and mews of birds used in the aviary's educational programs.

Handling the birds is part of the job, and I am working my way to become familiar with several of the birds. I regularly handle a Green-winged Macaw, a Red-crested Turaco, a Barn Owl and an American Kestrel. I have also had a little experience with a Peregrine Falcon. It's a fascinating way to learn more about some amazing birds.

Yesterday I got to help with two birds I had not handled before. One was a barred owl (we call her "Cypress") that looks similar to this:

The other was a dark morph Swainson's Hawk, known as "Babero," who looks somewhat like this:

Saturday, December 18, 2004


Holy smokes and artichokes and writing on the wall
Camel's fleas' pajama knees and smarties in the hall
An end sigh, a note too high, the harder it will fall
Liquor rum, panda thumb pin a little ball

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Another Divide

My dad recently told me about how he's about to start Lakoff's Moral Politics, which analyzes political views and boils Liberal versus Conservative to their fundaments.

I may need to read this, too. I really enjoyed watching Bill Maher get scolded by Wyoming's Senator Alan Simpson. As a spectator, you could see one valuing wry logic, where a certain level of facetiousness adds agility to reasoning; the other valuing respect and more tradtional values as a way to simplify the problem of how we can all get along better. The senator, firmly in the latter position did not see any sincerity in Bill Maher even though Maher thought he was being deferential to the Senator.

So I'm interested to see what Lakoff has to say. I'm burrowed into several other books at the moment, each equally importantly-pressing and urgent. I think I see this one drifting past my window of awareness, from which it will quickly disappear, despite my keen interest to read it.

Neurons are so slow. Damn this fleshware.

[Okay, I think I found a short work that may be a functional synposis.]

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Divide

Religion states, "We are unique."

Science asks, "Are we unique?"


I watched a great National Geographic Explorer that my TiVo caught for me and saw something my friend Erin often points to as being inspirationally cool.

There was a scientist who had a worked on proving a hypothesis about the origins of civilization for some fifteen years of his life. It was his life's work, and in the Peruvian desert, a recently discovered site of an early civilization, the oldest known evidence of a civilization in the Americas, his hypothesis totally collapsed. The evidence was convincing to him, and he not only graciously accepted it, but seemd truly excited by finding out that he was wrong.

I have seen this happen a few times, where a scientist, upon seeing convincing evidence, changes his position not with bitterness or resistance, but with zeal. How wonderful! I was wrong.

This is the spirit of scientific discovery. Many seem to get the idea that science is about cold facts, but it's so different. Discoveries are not won easily, and researchers in the field and in the lab both do a lot of raw number crunching and arduously slow exploration of minutiae. But ultimately, it is adventure and discovery that science is about, not being wrong or right.

I have thought many times about what is wrong with science as it is taught in lower education. None of the public teachers who taught me ever taught us about remaining skeptical until enough evidence can provide some kind of conclusions. I would guess that this is because skepticism, summarized by it's two word maxim "prove it"--is a dangerous thing to have as part of your worldview.

Dangerous? How could skepticism be considered dangerous? Simply because it is the antithesis of Faith, the basis for almost all religions. Teaching optimistic skepticism presents a threat to faith-based religions. (Zen Buddhism comes out unscathed in this area--no faith required.) As soon as "prove it" comes into play, faith in God is on the table for inspection. That's still a taboo subject for public academia. Religion is off limits, protected by broad societal agreements that we don't talk about it.

But being truly conscious requires us to be able to look at our beliefs--personal or societal--and re-arrange them. When we do, we have breakthroughs that allow us to better understand our place in the universe. The Copernican view of the universe, where Earth is not at the universe's center, is now almost completely accepted, and it broadened the consciousness of our species by showing us more about how we exist. Darwin's theory of evolution has done the same (for those who accept it), just as Watson and Crick's discovery of the double-helix codestring of DNA has lead to the eventual realization that evolution is not even about individual species evolving but selfish genes competing to replicate themselves. Relativity has done some of the same, for those who understand it. And Quantum Theory has, too, but for even smaller intellectual circles.

None of these great discoveries, each expanding our understanding of how we and the universe exist, would have been possible without questioning our assumptions and giving up some of our convictions. To not be able to lay down our beliefs and consider evidence that goes contrary to what we currently "know" is to live life not as a conscious being, but a partially-conscious being. To have subjects that are untouchable and unquestionable, whether enforced by strict taboos or by smug stubborness, is to surrender a fully conscious existence.

I postulate that humanity comes in two species, defined by their dominant memes instead of their genes. There are those who are locked into unassailable ways of thought or simply bask in the simplicity of relative ignorance. And there are those who strive to understand more and relish in humanity's growing base of scientific knowledge. The divide between merely existing and behaving as humans have since the descent of our species and participating in scientific intellectualism is significant.

This sounds like an elitist view of the world, at least to me. Since I try to be part of the latter group, I have defined the parameters above to favor that which I value. But I think there is an cogent argument that having a world view that can adapt to the revelations of empirical evidence is a higher type of consciousness; a deeper way of understanding how we exist. To say that those who share this live more consciously indeed sounds elitist, but it's only elitist if you actually value consciousness. Being more conscious isn't better relative to any kind of absolute. It's just better to me.

Monday, December 06, 2004

More on Astrology

I was thinking more about Astrology, and thought about how some religions treat Astrology. To many Christian sects, for example, astrology is lumped into a broad category of things called "the Occult," and that makes it part of a set of reviled and feared taboos. Why would religions treat such things with such a strong reaction?

Such Christians state that they are tools of the devil intended to lead us astray. No, not that they are whimsical superstitions. Nor that they are mere empty pursuits that waste people's time and energy. They are reviled.

It's an interesting phenomenon that such religions would not simply state that they are simply an empty waste of time. Instead they are associated with evil. Why would religions want to cast them to the dark side when they could simply lay them aside as meaningless? The reason is that to do so would require debunking the superstitions. Debunking things is a problem, as skepticism is not merely a tool, but a world view that ultimately conflicts with religion. Once you learn to debunk ESP and astrology, you're on the path to debunking just about anything. So it's a short step to debunking religion.

Belief dries up quickly when skepticism takes ahold of people's minds. Religions that encourage skepticism, if there are any at all, are few because they produce their own end. Therefore, there are only two routes for competing worldviews: incorporation or intolerance. Incorporation melds separate world views together and you get The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, for example. Intolerance is the other route, which we see in the presence of having a much-tabooed world known as The Occult.

I encourage anyone who is deeply religious not to cower from the occult, but to shout at the devil--learn the science behind disproving how anything from Tarot cards to telekinesis can be disproved. In the name of the Lord, become a practiced skeptic.

Astrology Sucks

There are twelve kinds of people in this world...

Okay, I have to say something disparaging about, the people who host my blog free of charge, and to whom I owe great debt and gratitude, yet only reward them by posting a blog covering what sucks about them. I feel rude for doing it, and that makes me feel kind of bad. So, I can be persuaded to take this post offline and post an apology for it as soon as the situation is corrected. Here it is.

Why in the hell would any self-respecting company force upon their patrons astrological signs as a required part of their profile? It's not strictly required. I mean, I could elect not to put my birthdate in the profile. But I do like to get the occasional happy birthday greeting (despite that it's just arbitrarily the day I was born on our Gregorian system for tracking days of the year). The thing is, if you enable your birthdate, you're stuck with your zodiac sign showing up on your profile.
Now. you might ask, what's the big deal? Why would somebody care so much about their astrological sign showing up on their profile? Well, it's this. I strive to be an honest and direct person. That means I need to try to be true to myself as much as I can. I see astrology as bad superstition, and any superstition by which people think they can steer their lives perpetuates distractions from genuine learning and improving the experience of being truly conscious beings. Astrology is one of the petty fascinations that distract people from discovering and marveling in the real observable universe. It's ridiculous to believe that somehow distant stars influence our daily existences and cause events in any predictable way. And it's been categorically disproven many times by every kind of logical tests. Inserting in my profile, when everything else about me I share is optional, makes it look like I chose to put my astrological sign in my profile. As if I believe that astrology has merit. If someone were to find my writings inspirational, or helpful, I would never want them to then see I also endorse astrology, and perhaps they feel that it gives more credibility to the whole field. (Or, less important on the grand scale, but certainly important to me: that someone think less of me for believing in such rubbish.) So, when I look at my blog profile and see this, I feel like I'm not representing myself truly; like I'm not being authentic.

[Aside: Again I ask: why on earth would a company think that people would so overwhelmingly desire to share their sign that it would be automatically inserted?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

IM monologue with Jonathan Rondon

(10:02:23) Ted Haeger: J--let's chat about your previous IM's this PM
(10:02:34) Ted Haeger: PM=afternoon
(10:02:39) Ted Haeger: not Product Manager
(10:02:48) Ted Haeger: or Prime Minister
(10:02:55) Ted Haeger: or Prime Meridian
(10:03:02) Ted Haeger: or Post Mortem
(10:03:24) Ted Haeger: or Parlimentary Member
(10:03:32) Ted Haeger: because that's usually MP
(10:03:39) Ted Haeger: as in Member Parliament
(10:04:17) Ted Haeger: which I believe the Brits designed specifically to differentiate from PM
(10:04:39) Ted Haeger: Because you can't have a single PM and several MP's getting crosswired.
(10:05:14) Ted Haeger: Incidentally, MP in the US us generally thought to signify Military Police
(10:05:35) Ted Haeger: In Japan, it refers to Mount Pinatubo
(10:05:56) Ted Haeger: In ancient italy and spain, it was a code name
(10:06:13) Ted Haeger: referring to foreign invaders/occupiers
(10:06:17) Ted Haeger: Moore Problem
(10:06:26) Ted Haeger: Or Moor Problem