Gainesville Ramblings

This is a blog, and thus it barely qualifies as writing, let alone formal writing, so I'd not let it bother you.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

God Bless You...Keith Olberman?

I haven't really watched Keith Olberman on MSNBC, but I think I might start. Check out this video critizing the recent speech by Donald Rumsfeld. It is, quite simply, amazing. I also have the transcript of the speech if you don't want to watch the video, but really, its worth it to take a look.

The man who sees absolutes, where all other men see nuances and shades of meaning, is either a prophet, or a quack.

Donald H. Rumsfeld is not a prophet.

Mr. Rumsfeld's remarkable speech to the American Legion yesterday demands the deep analysis--and the sober contemplation--of every American.

For it did not merely serve to impugn the morality or intelligence -- indeed, the loyalty -- of the majority of Americans who oppose the transient occupants of the highest offices in the land. Worse, still, it credits those same transient occupants -- our employees -- with a total omniscience; a total omniscience which neither common sense, nor this administration's track record at home or abroad, suggests they deserve.

Dissent and disagreement with government is the life's blood of human freedom; and not merely because it is the first roadblock against the kind of tyranny the men Mr. Rumsfeld likes to think of as "his" troops still fight, this very evening, in Iraq.

It is also essential. Because just every once in awhile it is right and the power to which it speaks, is wrong.

In a small irony, however, Mr. Rumsfeld's speechwriter was adroit in invoking the memory of the appeasement of the Nazis. For in their time, there was another government faced with true peril--with a growing evil--powerful and remorseless.

That government, like Mr. Rumsfeld's, had a monopoly on all the facts. It, too, had the "secret information." It alone had the true picture of the threat. It too dismissed and insulted its critics in terms like Mr. Rumsfeld's -- questioning their intellect and their morality.

That government was England's, in the 1930's.

It knew Hitler posed no true threat to Europe, let alone England.

It knew Germany was not re-arming, in violation of all treaties and accords.

It knew that the hard evidence it received, which contradicted its own policies, its own conclusions -- its own omniscience -- needed to be dismissed.

The English government of Neville Chamberlain already knew the truth.

Most relevant of all -- it "knew" that its staunchest critics needed to be marginalized and isolated. In fact, it portrayed the foremost of them as a blood-thirsty war-monger who was, if not truly senile, at best morally or intellectually confused.

That critic's name was Winston Churchill.

Sadly, we have no Winston Churchills evident among us this evening. We have only Donald Rumsfelds, demonizing disagreement, the way Neville Chamberlain demonized Winston Churchill.

History -- and 163 million pounds of Luftwaffe bombs over England -- have taught us that all Mr. Chamberlain had was his certainty -- and his own confusion. A confusion that suggested that the office can not only make the man, but that the office can also make the facts.

Thus, did Mr. Rumsfeld make an apt historical analogy.

Excepting the fact, that he has the battery plugged in backwards.

His government, absolute -- and exclusive -- in its knowledge, is not the modern version of the one which stood up to the Nazis.

It is the modern version of the government of Neville Chamberlain.

But back to today's Omniscient ones.

That, about which Mr. Rumsfeld is confused is simply this: This is a Democracy. Still. Sometimes just barely.

And, as such, all voices count -- not just his.

Had he or his president perhaps proven any of their prior claims of omniscience -- about Osama Bin Laden's plans five years ago, about Saddam Hussein's weapons four years ago, about Hurricane Katrina's impact one year ago -- we all might be able to swallow hard, and accept their "omniscience" as a bearable, even useful recipe, of fact, plus ego.

But, to date, this government has proved little besides its own arrogance, and its own hubris.

Mr. Rumsfeld is also personally confused, morally or intellectually, about his own standing in this matter. From Iraq to Katrina, to the entire "Fog of Fear" which continues to envelop this nation, he, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and their cronies have --
inadvertently or intentionally -- profited and benefited, both personally, and politically.

And yet he can stand up, in public, and question the morality and the intellect of those of us who dare ask just for the receipt for the Emporer's New Clothes?

In what country was Mr. Rumsfeld raised? As a child, of whose heroism did he read? On what side of the battle for freedom did he dream one day to fight? With what country has he confused the United States of America?

The confusion we -- as its citizens-- must now address, is stark and forbidding.

But variations of it have faced our forefathers, when men like Nixon and McCarthy and Curtis LeMay have darkened our skies and obscured our flag. Note -- with hope in your heart -- that those earlier Americans always found their way to the light, and we can, too.

confusion is about whether this Secretary of Defense, and this administration, are in fact now accomplishing what they claim the terrorists seek: The destruction of our freedoms, the very ones for which the same veterans Mr. Rumsfeld addressed yesterday in Salt Lake City, so valiantly fought.

And about Mr. Rumsfeld's other main assertion, that this country faces a "new type of fascism."

As he was correct to remind us how a government that knew everything could get everything wrong, so too was he right when he said that -- though probably not in the way he thought he meant it.

This country faces a new type of fascism - indeed.

Although I presumptuously use his sign-off each night, in feeble tribute, I have utterly no claim to the words of the exemplary journalist Edward R. Murrow.

But never in the trial of a
thousand years of writing could I come close to matching how he phrased a warning to an earlier generation of us, at a time when other politicians thought they (and they alone) knew everything, and branded those who disagreed: "confused" or "immoral."

Thus, forgive me, for reading Murrow, in full:

"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty," he said, in 1954. "We must remember always that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.

"We will not walk in fear, one of
another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular."

And so good night, and good luck.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Religion 2: Electric Boogaloo

I'm sorry about the title. I'm just tired enough that it seems funny.

So back to my previous post: Religion. Disclaimer same as before.

My belief structure is based around two theories. The first of which I call the Faith Conundrum. I don't claim that I'm the first one to invent it, but I'm pretty sure I came up with it on my own. It goes a little like this:

Me: (to Believer) How do you know that your religion is correct?

Believer: Because I have Faith.

Me: OK, so you believe that your religion is correct because of the Faith you feel and the peace you gain from the religion, right?

Believer: Yes.

Me: Well, how is that faith any different than that felt by those of different religions? If you asked them why they believe, eventually it would boil down to "Because I have Faith."

There is no logical answer for that. You can't prove that one particular religion is correct because it always boils down to the beliefs of the individual. I'm not saying that because you can't prove any particular religion is the right one, all should be done away with. Rather, I'm saying that because one religion can't be shown to be more right than any other, all are of equal worth.

This leads directly into my other conclusion about religion, which I call The Problem of God's Love. It goes a little like this: Most religions, and all of the most popular ones, say that God loves us. We are His most wonderful creation. But then religions say that the ones God really loves are those who follow X religion. All the others are, at best, going to be denied a place by God's side (or whatever the religion promises. I'm most familiar with Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions, so I tend to use those as examples). This is directly contradictory to the previous conjecture that God loves people.

Take Christianity. There are, at best, about 2 billion Christians in the world. There are over 6 billion in the world. Going by Christian teachings, only those who follow Jesus Christ will go to heaven. That means of the people currently living, at least 2/3rds will go to Hell, to endure eternal pain, torture, and suffering. Why would a God who claimed to be a loving God do this to his children? I choose to believe that he wouldn't. I find the world to be too full of wonder and love to believe that God does anything but love all his children, every single one of them.

Well, that's the basis of my beliefs. What about the particulars?

- About going to church: If almost all religions are equally valid paths to God, then that should logically mean that not following any path in particular is OK as well. For me, I don't have to go to a church to feel a connection to God. All it takes is a walk in the woods, a paddle through a lake, meeting someone new, having a deep conversation with someone old, going to an art museum, or anything else that shows the great diversity of the world. This doesn't mean that I feel like going to Church is pointless. If it works for you, then by all means, go. But its not needed for me.

- The nature of God: I have conflicting views about this. Two theories present themselves. The first is that there is one God, who puts on many different faces for all people. For Hindus, the many faces of the many gods, for Muslims, they see Allah. For Atheists, they see a chaotic universe full of chance. That's fine too. God can be these things to everyone. He is all powerful, after all. The other stems mostly from Terry Pratchett's Small Gods, where gods vie for belief, which is sustenance for them. I've always believed in the amazing power of people in groups, so is it possible that we create gods through our belief? The concentrated power of many people believing in one thing may be able to effect the structure of the universe. That's a little too new agey for me most of the time, so I tend to lean towards the first theory.

- Heaven: I believe that people get what they deserve. Good people go to a good place. Evil people don't. I also tend to believe that where you believe you are going or will happen plays a big part in your final destination. I haven't worked out a huge amount of the specifics of this.

Am I right? Well, I have faith. That's good enough for me

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Brief Intermission

I'm working on the second part of my religion post, but its slow going. It's the first time I've really tried to put down in words my feeling about this subject, so I want to get it right.

But in the mean time, I discovered this today. I thought it appropriate for my current life situation, so I thought I'd record it for posterity. Its a letter written to Garrison Keillor of Prarie Home Companion fame. If you don't know who he is, you really really should:

Dear Mr. Keillor,
I graduated from college last year. After a few months leeching off my parents and being lazy, I started my first real job. Most of my day is spent in my cubicle staring at a computer monitor with intermittent paper shuffling. I've been listening to your program for as long as I can remember and you always seem to have some insight, some wise suggestion, for people who are growing up. Any suggestions for me? A new office drone struggling with boredom and cubicle fever (its a lot like cabin fever)?

Michael P.Hoover, AL

You did the right thing and put your foot in the water and of course it's cold. My advice is: be patient and make a plan and keep searching for your truest self. Don't become an indentured servant. That's somebody who hates work and so he spends his money, and borrows more, in order to alleviate his suffering, thereby becoming a prisoner of the job. So be frugal, stingy even. Salt as much money away as you can, so that if some jerk of a boss yanks your chain and insults you, you can walk away without trepidation. Make a plan that you'll stick it out for a year and that in six months you'll look at your options. Be an exemplary employee ---- it helps pass the time and it's a good exercise. Meanwhile, continue your education, except now with no need to please teachers or write bullshit papers or trim your sails to match prevailing opinion. There is no better way to find out who you are than to sit down and write about what's happening to you and what you think. At work you can be a perfectly polite, helpful, quiet, reliable drone, but don't confuse that persona with yourself: you are you and don't waste any time finding out more about you. In the end, your continuing education ---- the valuable part of your education, since it's what you do on your own ---- and your self-awareness will be what guide you on to the next phase of your working life. The part that's quite a lot of fun.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Warning: Religious Content

I should start this with a disclaimer: I'm going to be talking about religion. It may be incoherent. You are likely to disagree. These are just my opinions, and are likely to be contradictory at times, which I find to be the nature of religious thought. If you want to talk to be about religion and your own personal beliefs, that's fine. If you want to try to convince me I'm wrong or try to convert me, please keep moving. You're holding up the line.

That being said:

I've been thinking about religion that last day or so. What really got me started was looking at a friend's Facebook profile. I knew he was uber-religious, but what he had in his 'Personal Quotes' section was a lot more religion than I've seen in a while. Also, it was in direct contradiction to most of my beliefs.

My religious background is mangled at best. My dad's a recovering Catholic (called that because, like alcoholism, you may stop going to church, but the guilt stays with you for a lifetime). My mom's family was never particularly religious, but it seems that they weren't unreligious either. When I was growing up, we would periodically go to church because my mom would discover a pastor that she liked. These pastors would inevitably get fired for sleeping with their secretary. I swear to God, every single time. I was baptized Methodist when I was around 7 years old, but I never really went to church after that.

My parents never really talked about religion or God. Or at least, they never started the conversations. I get the feeling my mom was seeking more community than religion in going to church, and my dad was probably religioned out after something like 15 years of Catholic school. But they raised me and my sister in a moral atmosphere. Right and wrong were clearly defined, while still allowing us to develop our own opinions and seek our own paths. Heck, there was a brief about three month period in high school where I was looking into Wicca, and while my parents were initially a little freaked, they soon gave their blessing (or at least didn't stop me). That phase died quickly, and I was back to my ol’ agnostic self.

I've had two really impactful religious experiences in my life. The first was when I was twelve. My mom had sent my sister to a summer Vacation Bible Camp that my neighbors went to. It ends up that these guys were crazy religious. When I was dog sitting their Golden Retriever, I found copies of the Ten Commandments everywhere. On the fridge, next to the TV, the computer, on random spots of the walls, mirrors, headboards, dressers. Everywhere. So it comes as no surprise, in retrospect, that the church that was sponsoring this camp was a very fundamentalist Baptist church. And the family went to it to see my sister's class present whatever they had done in the class.

There wasn't an actual church. Instead, it was in a classroom at the local elementary school. I don't know if the preacher was actively trying to get new members/converts to his church, or the luck of the draw, but his sermon was fiery, and attacked every belief I held at the time. Keep in mind that I was twelve. I was confused about life to begin with, being in the middle of puberty. I was particularly vulnerable that year, as seventh grade was the worst year of my life (still, to this day). I was being picked on constantly, I was feeling awkward constantly, and I had very few friends. So when this preacher knocked down everything I believed, I almost collapsed. I definitely started sobbing. And then he called for the people who were being 'touched by the Hand of God' to come down and 'testify.'

I stayed put. It was hard, cause at that moment I was extremely vulnerable. There was a moment where I almost got up, but I guess deep in my heart, I knew that it would be best to stay seated. I went home, and I thought, and I was able to more clearly define what I believe after that. I've thought a lot about what my life would have been like if I had walked up to the front of that classroom, how my life would have changed. But I'm glad I stayed put.

The second most important incident was when I was 19. I was visiting Tampa to go to a Water Management Conference. I figured while I was there, I would stop by my Aunt Kelli's house, visit my cousins who I didn't see all that often, and get some free food (always important). Aunt Kelli is kind of the anomaly in our family, as she comes from my mom's not very religious family, and found religion in college. She married a pastor, so they're obviously very religious. I don't know how, but somehow we got onto the subject of religion and belief. I'm incredibly grateful to Aunt Kelly and Uncle Dean for that conversation, because it made me realize that it's possible to talk about religion in a very deep and personal manner, while still being civil and friendly. You can disagree completely with someone and still respect them. And that conversation is where I came up with the basis for my beliefs. I call it the faith conundrum, or possibly the problems of God's love.

On that cliffhanger, I’ll stop. The post is already too long, and tomorrow promises hangovers, which is great fodder for religious ramblings. Oh, I can sense your excitement.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

This Week on Campus: Maps, Freshmen, and Quiet

This is the first in a (hopefully) weekly series that documents the sights and sounds on the University of Florida campus. More just a way for me to document my impressions of whats going on, and hopefully a chance to develop my snark skills. Also, I plan on making this post photo heavy (once I get my camera up and running), so it won't just be me talking.

But until then, here's the scene on campus:

The most common sight on campus these week is the confused freshman, holding a printout of thier schedule in one hand and a campus map in the other. Often they're in pairs or groups, all huddled around a map, trying despretely to figure out what the hell building 'NPB' is. And they were everywhere. You couldn't take three steps without seeing one blindly cross your path.

And until tomorrow, the other thing you can hear on campus is silence. Turlington Plaza is empty. The Plaza of the Americas doesn't have chants ringing through it. The Reitz Union is abandoned, the few people who are there scurry through it like theres an impending gun fight.

I always enjoy an empty campus. The quiet and the solitude allow me to enjoy the campus. I find there's nothing like sitting in Turlington Plaza when no ones there. A walk through an empty Plaza of the Americas is always enough to make me smile and relax. An empty campus is one of the unspoken bonuses of taking classes during the summer. It allows you to actually experience the campus and go exploring.

But tomorrow, that changes. The masses decend. And the fun begins

Is less philosophical news, the ear has not improved. I pray that I can actually hear out of it tomorrow. That would be, you know, nice. Also, the ear somehow prevents me from sleeping, so I got something like three hours of rest last night. The rest was spent on the couch watching Firefly. A good show, but I probably would have liked to sleep more.

Don't forget, party on Friday. Talk to me if you need details.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

I don't recall being an 8-year-old with swimming practice three times a week...

...So why do I have an ear infection?

No really, this came out of nowhere. I haven't been sick. I haven't been swimming. So how did these bacteria get up into my middle ear?

I started on Friday, when I had a headache and the hearing in my right ear slowly got more and more obstructed. Thinking that it was just earwax, I got some hydrogen peroxide, and let it go to work on the cruddy stuff. Nothing happened.

Saturday was one fun day. I woke up tired, with a pounding and pain throughout my right ear. Even my earlobes hurt. Of course, being in this condition, I decide it’s the perfect time to go to Starke to go shopping.

Yes, I said Starke.

I needed to do a lot of shopping, and trying to get into any store here in Gainesville this weekend, with the Freshmen Hordes attempting to get their parents to buy everything they need for their dorm, would have been near impossible. This of course does not take into account the fact that I needed to buy much the same stuff as these freshmen, which would make shopping even more annoying. Plus, after three years in retail hell at Target, including one back to school season in Gainesville, I can do without the crowds all jostling for the last dish rack.

So it was off to the Starke Super Wal-Mart, where the busiest section was the gun counter, wherein you could see many potbellied men with camouflage and Confederate Flag hats on point shotguns at imaginary deer in the distance. I would have found this slightly disturbing if on my way to the Wal-Mart, I hadn't stopped at the Waldo Flea Market.

I've been to many flea markets in my time, and usually enjoyed all of them. There's always the bong shop, which claims that everything there is for tobacco use only. There's the guy selling pirated music and movies, another trying to get rid of baseball cards that no longer have any value. The knife shop, the people who see this as a garage sale writ large, and the many many people selling peanuts.

The Waldo Flea Market is much like this, only much more depressing. I don't know why. It may have been the combination of people in the back, who just threw every piece of junk they could find onto the grass. They were yelling at people to come see the water stained and warped particle board furniture, the rusted lawnmowers, and the toys missing body parts. Overall, it just had an air of desperation (and toothlessness) that sucked the fun out of my trip to the flea market.

But Wal-Mart was good. Got almost everything I needed to make this apartment run, and to cook the food I plan on making. By the time I was done though, I was ready to fall asleep, and to take painkillers for my ear. It was around this time also that I realized I many have an ear infection. I even called my mom, to remind me what an ear infection feels like, since I haven't had one since middle school.

In an effort to get this taken care of as quickly as possible, I went to the Urgent Care Center on Newberry and 53rd. I expected to wait, so the three hours spent in the waiting room were OK. Having spent a life time going to general practitioner offices in upper middle class suburbia, going to a walk-in clinic was a new experience. And surprisingly, everyone was in pretty good spirits, which made it much better. I expected crying kids, people holding bloody pieces of cloth up to giant cuts in their arms, and people yelling at the nurses about why they aren't being seen. But, it was just like every other doctor's office, except for the Evangelical on the television telling me I needed to give my heart to Jesus and very diverse crowd in there.

After waiting for those three hours, it takes the PA 3 minutes to diagnosis me and write me a script for an antibiotic. An antibiotic which I can't take with alcohol. Don't they know this is Gainesville?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Yes, there were in fact snakes on that plane.

Oh boy, were there. Lots and lots o' snakes. It was fun. Not good by any means, but a lot of fun.

They say it takes a few weeks to adjust to moving to a new place. To sort things out, get your life together and make new friends. But why am I experiencing these things when moving back into a town that I've lived in for four years? I left for two months, and I feel slightly out of place, slightly out off kilter. And feeling this way only makes me feel even more wrong. It’s a vicious cycle.

There are a few reasons that I can think of. The first is, obviously, work. I'm here in Gainesville under completely different circumstances. I can't stay out late, get drunk, or do really stupid things. I have to be at work at 8AM, which limits the old patterns.

Another is that a lot of my anchors that I relied on earlier are gone. For the past year, I didn't stress out too much because I had a girlfriend. So I wasn't worried about going out, looking good or impressing anyone. With that gone, I'm suddenly more aware of a breakout of pimples or the weight I'm gaining. Combined with many people being out of town, I'm suddenly flailing around, trying to find again that support I had before. It wasn't easy for me to establish that support in the beginning. I’m hoping it'll be quicker this time around.

Finally, there’s this feeling I have that I want something different. I'm not saying I want out of Gainesville. I like it here. But I think I need to look around, find other groups or other activities. I mentioned a while ago that I want to try D&D again. I need to get back into rock climbing. I want more friends who do more things.

Oh well, I'll give it till next week, when everyone's back in town, and see how things feel. Until then, we soldier on.

Also - Party next Friday to celebrate both mine and Rachel's B-day. Kegs and Hunch Punch. Also: Awesomeness.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

God, I love Florida

I stepped out of Moe's (of course) about twenty minutes ago. I went from frosty A/C, with a scent of steak and tortillas steaming to the warm air of Florida at dusk. A soft breeze was blowing, and the air smelled of nothing in particular, but it was all Florida. I paused as the door swung shut and whispered to myself, "God, I love Florida."

I give my home state a lot of shit. I joke about it being the nation's wang. I complain about all the people who move here. I worry over its changing political climate, which is turning increasingly conservative and which gives lots of lip-service to the idea of sustainable development and environmentalism, but increasingly does things that go against those philosophies. But really, in all my travels (and honestly, there haven't been alot), I've never found a place I love as much as this state.

I love the weather. Yes, its hot and humid. But I still love it. I walk around campus during my lunch breaks, wearing long sleeve shirts (and undershirt!), long pants, and shoes with socks. I sweat, I melt a little from the humidity. But I still love it. Everyone in the office complains constantly about it being too hot. I have no idea what they're talking about. Its perfect. When I go outside, I can feel the heat sinking into me, envigorating me, making me want to move around, explore and seek new things out.

I love the people in this state and how diverse it is. Gainesville is Florida in a microcosm, ethnically. Here, you have everybody. Rich and poor (very rich and very poor, actually). Lots of hispanics, lots of whites, probably not enough blacks (at the University, at least), a fair chunk of Asians, who certainly represent themselves well. I ate lunch at a Cuban place, which is right next to a tavern, above a Japenese milk-tea place, down the street from a hippy sandwich place, and across the street from the largest (and most likely, best) University in the Southeast. That is just awesome.

I love the environment in the state. You have the south, where the swamp is king. I love parts of the Everglades (especially the mangrove islands on the west coast), while I'm less fond of other parts (I really don't have an urge to go through the actual swamp part). But either way, the Everglades are amazing. I think I love the north more. Oak and pine hammocks, rivers, springs, amazing woodlands and parks. Its a place I could see living for the rest of my life.

For a while, I've wanted to go into politics. The problem in American politics is that its all based on land. To go to Congress, you need to represent a district or a state. This becomes hard for people who want to travel, or leave their state. And as much as I agree with Hendrik Hertzberg's ideas for amending the Constitution,* his suggestions are unlikly to be followed. That leaves the people who stay in one place to be the most likely to be elected. This worried me until recently, when I realized that I'm OK staying in Florida. Or at least, coming back after a while (I do want, and need, to experience other places).

There are things I don't like about this state. I think the constant influx of people perpetuates the perception of "Development for Development's sake." It doesn't allow the state to explore other, more sustainable types of industry. It also is constantly killing off large parts of the state. I don't like Orlando. It's too much, with no history behind it. I don't like that the more people who move to the state, the more conseravative it gets. I don't like the fact that theres so little regulation in the state, meaning that many large coporations and rich epople come here and run amok. I hate how little is put into education and basic services. And I don't like how easy it is to change our state Constitution to put absolutely stupid things in.

But in the end, these things don't chase me out of the state. They make me want to stay and try to fix these things. Florida is a great place, and it deserves to be saved from the people who are ruining. So Florida, I may rag on you, I may leave you, but I'll always come back.

*To put it simply, Hertzberg dislikes the winner take all system in America, and especially the Constitution's insistence on basing politics on land. In today's world, with instant communication, its much easier to build a dispersed, but national consituency than a local one. So he proposed eliminating one Senator from each state's representatives, and making those fifty elected by a national vote using some kind of preferential voting system. This allows for more intellectuals or national personalities to be elected. Yes, people like Al Sharpton or Pat Robertson would probably be able to be elected. But so would truely intelligent people who have traveled the world and had many experiences. You know, the type of people who would be good at running the country.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Robot Work

In Antarctica by Kim Stanely Robinson, one of the main characters is a low-level worker. When a forklift knocks over a bunch of drawers full of nuts, screws, and washers of various sizes, the character is tasked with the job of sorting this enormous pile out. He thinks to himself, after day three of this ordeal, that this is robot work, something that in a perfect world, a sentient being wouldn't have to do. Unfortunately, robots are too clumsy and too stupid to do things like this yet.

I am now doing Robot Work.

Robot Work is defined, by me at least, as a job that requires no thinking. Mindless repetition is par for the course. At no time should the person doing Robot Work be forced to use any intelligence or make any decisions. A person does not require education to do these jobs, but ironically, you often need quite a good education to actually get the jobs that give you nothing but Robot Work.

This is a list of the projects I've been given recently:

  • Scan old agreements into the computer. This involves using the Xerox Workcenter, so it at least went fairly quickly.
  • Shred old agreements. The shredder is very old and very picky. It jams often.
  • In the database, change the links to files, which involved opening up nearly 1000 entries and adding one exclamation point (!)

At no point during this entire time was I required to use my brain. At no point did I actually think. The only thing that makes this bearable is the fact that this is a temporary stop on my path, and that the people in the office are very nice and fun. But still, it’s frustrating. I know I'm lucky, I at least get to do my robot work in the air conditioning. Most people in the world do nothing but robot work for their entire lives. Mindless boring work. And they learn to live with it. I hope I never do.

Of course, me being me and having a lot of spare mental time, I start to think about a time when robots aren't stupid and clumsy. A time when human beings will be free to do the thinking, the exploring, the things that require a brain. Of course, a side effect of that is that the world's economy collapses into a vicious cycle of starvation, riot and war. Since most of the world does robot work, if robots and semi-sentient programs are there to do it, people are out of jobs, they can't buy things, and everything goes to hell. If that does happen, I hope previous goal of colonizing Mars has already been achieved.


On a completely different note, I found myself bored today at work, so I started reading the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates. It’s amazing to read. Here are two political rivals, who attack each other viciously, and I’m pretty sure they don’t like each other. But they still manage to treat each other with respect and dignity.

But even more amazing is the audience. The people who are listening to these speeches are stunning to a modern reader. They are involved, not afraid to laugh, applaud, shout at the speakers, make jokes with them, and basically become involved. Check this exchange out:

MR. LINCOLN- I hope you will permit me to read a part of a printed speech that I made then at Peoria, which will show altogether a different view of the position I took in that contest of 1854.

VOICE-"Put on your specs."

MR. LINCOLN-Yes, sir, I am obliged to do so. I am no longer a young man. [Laughter.]

I just don’t see that happening anymore. Read them if you have a few days to kill, as they aren’t short. But I think they’re entirely worth it. American political rhetoric at its best.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Pornographers and Born-Again Christians

Two articles I found today point to an interesting contrast in the modern American society.

The first is from the LA Times. It chronicles the life and business of Joe Francis, the founder of Girls Gone Wild!. It’s really quite good, I recommend you read it. You especially have to love an article that begins with:

Joe Francis, the founder of the "Girls Gone Wild" empire, is humiliating me. He has my face pressed against the hood of a car, my arms twisted hard behind my back. He's pushing himself against me, shouting: "This is what they did to me in Panama City!"

Mind you, the author of the article is female, making Joe a stand up guy. She then goes on to describe the business of Girls Gone Wild, and more importantly, the life of a professional soft-core pornographer. It isn't pretty.

A few items of interest about Mr. Francis:

  • He pays his cameramen a $1000 bonus if they find a girl who is turning 18 that night.
  • It seems likely that he raped a girl the night the profile was taking place
  • When the reporter later brought up her rough treatment at Francis' hands, he spread rumors that she had a crush on him, and was spreading these lies to get back at him.
Something else interesting from the article, brought to my attention in the comments section of Francis continuously uses the First Amendment to shield himself from lawsuits, while at the same time threatening to sue anyone who says anything uncomplimentary to him. I find that ironically hilarious, but I doubt Francis has any problems with his positions on free speech.

But luckily, karma catches up with all of us. This is another quote from the article:
In January 2004, as news reports recounted, he was forced at gunpoint to simulate sodomizing himself with a vibrator as an intruder videotaped him in his Bel-Air mansion.

However, the main thing I wanted to point out with this article is that this is a culture where women have no problem pulling up their shirts and taking down their pants so that they can get on camera (and maybe get a free pair of Girls Gone Wild Panties). One girl, when asked if she planned on flashing the camera, said "'If you do it, you do it,' she says confidently.’You can't complain later. It's almost like your 15 minutes of fame.'" Apparently, the end goal of everyone today is to be famous, even if it’s only for the brief portion of the next Girls Gone Wild video.

We now move from BARELY LEGAL TEENS, SHOWING IT ALL FOR YOU!!! to Christians who are complete assholes.

Apparently, in southern Delaware, there are communities that are almost all Christian, and almost all assholes. This article from the New York Times documents the struggles of the lone Orthodox Jew family in Georgetown, DE. When preaching became especially obnoxious in the school system, the mother asked the school board to come up with some guidelines that everyone could live with, this was the response:

A homemaker active in her children’s schools, Mrs. Dobrich said she had asked the board to develop policies that would leave no one feeling excluded because of faith. People booed and rattled signs that read “Jesus Saves,” she recalled. Her son had written a short statement, but he felt so intimidated that his sister read it for him. In his statement, Alex, who was 11 then, said: “I feel bad when kids in my class call me ‘Jew boy.’ I do not want to move away from the house I have lived in forever.”
Later, another speaker turned to Mrs. Dobrich and said, according to several witnesses, “If you want people to stop calling him ‘Jew boy,’ you tell him to give his heart to Jesus.”

Oh, that's not all.

Mrs. Dobrich, who is Orthodox, said that when she was a girl, Christians here had treated her faith with respectful interest. Now, she said, her son was ridiculed in school for wearing his yarmulke. She described a classmate of his drawing a picture of a pathway to heaven for everyone except “Alex the Jew.”

Yeah, this is fun. So is this the state of religion in this country? Are Christians really so full of themselves that they demand that all others of all religions do what they do, otherwise they face being ostracized and receiving threats?

Recently in Gainesville, there have been a bunch of commercials for 'The Rock School.'* They have testimonials of parents talking about how great the school is. The most telling comment in the commercial was one mother saying, "My kids can pray in school. That's invaluable." This perplexes me, for as far as I know, people pray in school all the time. They just can't do it during class. During lunch, in between classes, before and after school, that's fine. Just not when the teacher is teaching and just not in a school-organized system. I fail to see the problem.

So this is the modern America. On one side, you have a millionaire pornographer and the tens of thousands girls who are willing to get naked in exchange for a trucker hat. On the other side, religious fanatics unable to accommodate others who may be different from them. Yeah, I would say that there’s a culture war on.

* I find these commercials (sadly) hilarious for two reasons. The first is that if both parents are on screen giving testimonials, only the husband talks. Only if the woman is by herself does she get a chance to speak. The other reason is that the school mascot is the Lions.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Second Review!

"I read you blog - you're writing is engaging, interesting and fun."

Thanks Mom!

Edit: Just so you know, I chose not to proofread my own mother's comments. I know, I'm a loving son.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

News Flash: Stadiums are Hard

Two items of interest:

Got a promotion of sorts. Instead of being "Office Floater/Bitch," I'm now "Office Floater/Bitch/Receptionist." Take that bitches. No pay increase, but I do get benefits now. In the conversation that led to me being promoted, my boss asked if I had any problems with the office. My response was "I'm going to regret saying this, but I'd actually like more work." That got a surprised look.

Second: I did what I promised to last week. I did a stadium. I've heard the Swamp was a quick way to die from exhaustion, but I never expected it to be that bad. I got up two sets of steps on the Alumni side before my legs refused to be lifted anymore. But it was actually kind of fun. I had Beatles going on my CD player; the weather was a perfect temperature with a nice breeze blowing. I think I'll go again tomorrow; maybe I'll get a bit better.

Edit: I forgot to mention: one of the side benefits of getting this promotion is that office I've been working on is now offically mine. I'm 21 years old, and I have a fucking office. Plus, its a nicer room than many in the office has, as it has a nice big window. How cool is that?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Dig It

Walking home from the bus stop, I kept thinking to myself, "Man, i really want to get home and write in my blog." I know, pretty pathetic.

It figures after complaining about life not being interesting yesterday, I have an eventful day.

It started with my first staff conference. Nothing in the conference applied to me, being that I'm the lowest of the low in the office, but I still found it useful. I didn't really know what all the people in my office do on a day to day basis. I still don't completely, but an image is starting to form.

When I walked into the conference room, I was told that I would have to sing, as I was the new guy. I warned everyone that they probably didn't want me to attempt to sing if they valued their eardrums or sanity, but they insisted. So I started on my only karaoke song: Boy Named Sue. After going through the first verse and getting applauded, I was told that I was the only person who actually sang. Of course. But I've always felt good after making an ass of myself, so the rest of the day was good too.

Other good things: I finally finished a project that I had been working on for two weeks. I told Monya as I handed it to her, "Here it is. Burn it. Shred it. Whatever. I just don't want to see it again."

The new library opened today, and Jess and I went on a tour during a lunch break. Its very very nice. I did notice that there was a distinct lack of books, as most of the space was devoted to study and research space. I don't know if I just didn't see everything, but it was a bit disappointing not to see books everywhere. I'm sure that everyone who is actually a student will appreciate the study space though.

I wrote in an earlier post that I was going to talk to Jane (my boss) about me getting more pay for more work. I finally broached the subject today, and I think it went well. After she had come into my office (yes, I have my own office) and told me what a good job I'm doing, I asked if she was still hiring a receptionist. She responded, "We're still thinking about that. But it looks like no matter what, it will be beneficial to you." As I was about to leave for the day, she asked me to stop in her office tomorrow and talk about a few things. Since I have a guilt complex, I immediately thought she was going to chew me out. But thinking about it more, she wouldn't have told me about the wonderful job I'm doing if she had problems. So it all looks up.

In other work related news: My name is now on the directory board, which means I'm now officially working there. Also, I discovered that my phone has a headset, which not only means I look incredibly nerdy while working, but I constantly look busy. Always a bonus.

And finally, a transcript of a phone conversation with David, who runs the office:

Me: Good afternoon, Office of Technology Licensing.
David (in very bad redneck accent): Yeah. I wanna get some technology.
Me: Well, you're in luck sir, as we have lots of technology just lying around.
David: How much for the technology?
Me: Well, its ten dollars per technology, but its four for $35. That's a great deal.

I think it’s safe to say I like my job.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

My Life: A Review

If posts have been getting sporadic, it’s because my life these past few days hasn't been very interesting. I spent the weekend doing housework, errands, watching DVDs, and occasionally going out. But here's the lowdown (as if you cared).

I mentioned that I saw Clerks Two on Friday, and I still stand by my rating of Fun and Good. The movie was very very funny, if in a very very crass way. In particular, I enjoyed the scene where there was an argument over which was a better series: Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. But it was also pretty poignant. The climatic scene had some of the best writing Kevin Smith's done, while still breaking the tension occasionally with humor. I think I may have enjoyed the movie more than most, but that’s for very personal reasons that I'm not going to be getting into here.

By the way, if you’re a fan of Kevin Smith, check out this post in his blog. It’s pretty funny, but the sound clip of him arguing with film critic Joel Siegel is awesome.

Saturday, I did two things worth talking about: I got a library card and I went to an Anything But Clothes Party with Jackie and her friend Dia. About the library card, I thought it was about time I stopped using the expense of books as an excuse to read the same books over and over again. There's the added benefit that the Gainesville Library is one of the best I've ever seen. It’s a cathedral to books, which is an architectural statement I can get behind. Plus, I discovered they have a whole section devoted only to Science Fiction. My nerdy heart went a-flutter when I walked in there. The one downside to getting a library card: I have never felt so much like a twelve year old since I was, well, twelve.

The Anything But Clothes party was interesting, especially as I did not go in theme. Its weird walking around in normal clothes while everyone else is wearing paper bags and shower curtains (and one girl, who demonstrated a daring use of duck tape). I knew maybe three people there, and usually in those situations I would be going around, meeting people, so on and so forth. But Saturday, I was not feeling it at all. I may have been tired, or maybe it was my lack of costume. But I just wasn't feeling like myself. Oh well, lets move on.

I got a call on Saturday from Cush, asking if I could pick him up at the airport on Sunday night. Unfortunately, the flight flew into Orlando and landed at 10:55pm. This posed problems as I had work at 8AM the next day. But I did it. Cause I'm a good friend like that.

And that’s about it. In the cards for this week: Jill's Birthday tomorrow; Newberry's, paycheck and heavy drinking on Friday.