Saturday, February 24, 2007

John Ondrasik - World

John Ondrasik is better known as Five For Fighting. This is the new single that seems to be all over the radio these days.

John Welwood on Standing in Our True Ground

This quote is from Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships. I have found this to be a really valuable book. John Welwood is a great teacher, able to combine Buddhist wisdom and techniques with Western psychology in a way that makes sense and feels useful (unlike Mark Epstein, who is nearly as popular).
When love or passion flows unobstructedly, it is experienced as bliss. And when we awaken to the bliss in our veins, its natural outflow is radiant love.

Of course, in our creaturely vulnerability, there is no way to avoid loss and separation from what we love. We cannot avoid coming back again and again to the experience of being alone. No one can finally get inside our skin and share our experience -- the nuances that we alone feel, the changes that we alone are going through, the death that we alone must die. Nonetheless, loss, separation, and this fundamental aloneness are important teachers, for they force us to take up residence in the only real home we have -- the naked presence of the heart, which no external loss can destroy.

Standing in this, our true ground, is the ultimate healing balm for the ache of separation and the wound of love. "You must fall in love with the one inside your heart," says the teacher Poonja. "Then you will see that it has always been there, but that you have wanted something else. To taste bliss, forget all other tastes and taste the wine served within." The warmth and openness at our core is the most intimate beloved who is always present, and into whose arms we can let go at last.

Are You Good With Money?

You Are Great With Money

You know the value of a dollar - and you save and spend wisely.
By living below your means, you've set yourself up for a rich future.
And while it may hurt to sacrifice now, you'll probably have plenty of money later on.
You're on your way to riches - just keep it up.

This is not a topic I write about much, but finances used to be a huge struggle for me. I lived with a serious poverty mentality. I grew up not having much and was on my own fairly young, making a lot of mistakes that young people make in accumulating debt.

But over the last five or ten years, my relationship to money has changed quite a bit. I'm not rich or wealthy, but I have enough to be comfortable. Most of that is due to learning to live within my means. Aside from a serious book addiction (and a lot of supplements), I don't spend much money on anything other than travel. And even that is not very frequent due to my job requirements (clients get testy when I go away for a while).

One of the great things about becoming more self aware is learning to stop when I feel the "need" to buy some new toy and ask myself if I really need it. Usually I don't. This has been a great lesson in not feeding cravings and attachment. I like things as much as any other guy, but I generally don't feel the need to buy them.

It seems to me that a lot of people in this culture still define themselves by the things they own -- their car, house, clothes, toys, or whatever. The culture feeds that mistaken sense of identity in the way companies sell their products.

One of the first steps toward being good with money, it seems to me, is to break that connection of self-worth and possessions. I still struggle with this sometimes, but I've gotten a lot better with it over the years. If I have become good with money, this was one of the first steps toward getting there.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Authoritarian Bush

AlterNet has an interesting article on the slow slide toward authoritarianism that has been initiated and promulgated by the Bush administration. Using an old Sinclair Lewis dystopian novel as a jumping off point, the authors (excerpting Joe Conason's new book, It Can Happen Here) make a good case for their point of view.

It Can Happen Here

By Joe Conason, Thomas Dunne Books. Posted February 23, 2007.

The following is excerpted from Joe Conason's new book, "It Can Happen Here" (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007).

Can it happen here? Is it happening here already? That depends, as a recent president might have said, on what the meaning of "it" is.

To Sinclair Lewis, who sardonically titled his 1935 dystopian novel "It Can't Happen Here," "it" plainly meant an American version of the totalitarian dictatorships that had seized power in Germany and Italy. Married at the time to the pioneering reporter Dorothy Thompson, who had been expelled from Berlin by the Nazis a year earlier and quickly became one of America's most outspoken critics of fascism, Lewis was acutely aware of the domestic and foreign threats to American freedom. So often did he and Thompson discuss the crisis in Europe and the implications of Europe's fate for the Depression-wracked United States that, according to his biographer, Mark Schorer, Lewis referred to the entire topic somewhat contemptuously as "it."

If "it" denotes the police state American-style as imagined and satirized by Lewis, complete with concentration camps, martial law, and mass executions of strikers and other dissidents, then "it" hasn't happened here and isn't likely to happen anytime soon.

For contemporary Americans, however, "it" could signify our own more gradual and insidious turn toward authoritarian rule. That is why Lewis's darkly funny but grim fable of an authoritarian coup achieved through a democratic election still resonates today -- along with all the eerie parallels between what he imagined then and what we live with now.

For the first time since the resignation of Richard M. Nixon more than three decades ago, Americans have had reason to doubt the future of democracy and the rule of law in our own country. Today we live in a state of tension between the enjoyment of traditional freedoms, including the protections afforded to speech and person by the Bill of Rights, and the disturbing realization that those freedoms have been undermined and may be abrogated at any moment.

Read the rest.

Interview with Susie Bright

10 Zen Monkeys has an interview with Susie Bright. It was a fun and interesting read -- she seldom disappoints.

Here is the obligatory tease:

The New York Times called Susie Bright “the avatar of American Erotica.” She was co-founder and editor of the first Women’s sex magazine, On Our Backs: Entertainment for the Adventurous Lesbian, from 1984-1991. Since then, she’s written and edited about a zillion books, and taught many courses on sexuality. Currently, she posts regularly on her own blog. Her audio show, In Bed With Susie Bright, is distributed by She was a sex-scene choreographer and consultant for the Wachowski Brothers’ first film, Bound, in which she also had a cameo role.

Susie appeared on two consecutive episodes of The RU Sirius Show, primarily to discuss the anthology, The Best American Erotica 2007, which includes stories by Dennis Cooper and the lae Octavia Butler, among many others. (She’s been editing the Erotica series since 1993.) We did, of course, digress quite a bit from the main topic.

As with the audio interview, we are running these text edits in two segments, so stay tuned right here for the second half in about a week.

RU Sirius Show co-host Diana Brown joined me in interviewing Susie Bright about her “Ted Haggard Betting Pool,” teen sex, and other illicit thoughts.

To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: The introduction to The Best American Erotica 2007 is quite an intense little piece. Would you please read a segment from it?

SUSIE BRIGHT: Sure. I called it “The Lolita Backlash.” Every year, the stories in the book tend to magnetize to a certain theme. And this year, it had to do with a rather vicious generation gap.

Read the rest.

Be Kind to Britney Spears

The blogosphere has been having a good time with Britney Spears' latest troubles. Hell, whether or not she is currently in rehab is a paradox on par with Schrodinger's Cat. Well, okay, I'm exaggerating a little bit.

Still, Rebecca Traister, writing for Salon, is calling us out on our meanness -- and she's right.

Enough Britney bashing already

The celeb we love to hate is self-destructing before us all. Maybe it's time to realize that Britney Spears is actually a human being for whom things aren't going very well.

By Rebecca Traister

A question: At what point will people notice that the Britney Spears story has become rapidly less funny?

While tabloid press stalwarts -- I'm looking at you, Andrea Peyser -- have been reluctant to curtail the guffawing and censorious finger-wagging that began when the singer spent the holidays flashing her cooter and kicking off a three-month bender, the ribaldry surrounding her unraveling is beginning to feel extremely tacky. In fact, this week's Spears news was so grim that you could practically hear the national laugh track fading to a few awkward giggles.

Rosie O'Donnell has renewed her offer to adopt Spears (in free verse, naturally); Gwen Stefani has expressed her desire to "scoop her up and give her a kiss"; late-night comics are pulling their Britney punches. It seems to be dawning on at least some people that the 25-year-old mother of two is actually a human being for whom things are going very badly.

Spears has taken a semester-long descent into addled behavior: A typical night might include a lie to her young sons' minders about how she's just popping out to the drugstore, a trip to some clubs where she gets so looped that she decides she must change into the ill-fitting bikinis worn by the waitresses, a substance binge that lasts until she vomits on herself, and, in a boot-and-rally move worthy of the Delta Tau Delta brotherhood, some 5 a.m. phone calls about what venues might still be open for her continued partying pleasure. All of this has been conveniently captured on celluloid for the perusal of the public.

Last weekend, things took a darker turn when she checked herself into rehab in Antigua only to beat a hasty retreat the next day, heading to a salon where she shaved her own head in full view of cameras and then melted into bald and tearful fretting about how her mom would be so mad. Spears then got a pair of lips tattooed on her arm and a black-and-pink crucifix on her hip; some outlets reported a middle-of-the-night visit to Cedars Sinai Medical Center, but whatever may or may not have happened there, she was awake the next morning by 10, when she reportedly appeared alone at the pool at the Mondrian Hotel to sunbathe, drink mojitos and ask fellow guests to trade bathing suits with her.

Among the most pitiful of the recent Britney stories has been the Daily Mail scoop that Spears, whose funds have reportedly been cut off by her family, attempted to rent a room at the Mondrian armed only with a scrap of paper with half a credit card number scrawled on it. When denied, she reportedly bayed, "Nobody wants me anymore." On Tuesday, Spears checked herself into rehab at Promises in Malibu, only to check out again the next morning, making a beeline for another tattoo parlor, which was (thank god for small mercies) closed. But by Thursday, Spears had decided to give rehab the old college try once more, reportedly averting an emergency custody hearing with her ex by checking into a program that is supposed to keep her for 30 to 45 days.

Read the whole article.

It's easy to forget that celebrities are human beings. Britney is a mid-twenties young woman whose life has come apart at the seams over the past few years. She was once the reigning goddess of pop music and now, such a short time later, she is the mother of two, slightly overweight, and getting divorced from a white trash husband who cheated on her.

I doubt she has the inner strength to weather such a storm of events. So then there are the drugs and alcohol and the [reported] need for constant reassurance of her sexuality. She's a kid thrown into an adult world without any of the life experience that prepares one for these things. And worse, she likely has been so protected and coddled that she is really little more than an adolescent girl -- with all the insecurities and fears that go with that age -- in a woman's body.

We have been mean-spirited in picking on her. She is a human being in extreme pain. While it's easy to say she deserves whatever she gets, or that she is so rich we shouldn't feel sorry for her, the reality is that no one deserves this kind of suffering and ridicule.

I hope that she can find some peace and an end to her suffering.

Satire: Poll: Majority of Americans Wish Bush Was a Fictitious Character

From Andy Borowitz:

Poll: Majority of Americans Wish Bush Was a Fictitious Character

Loses to Easter Bunny, Aquaman in Theoretical Match-ups

In perhaps the most troubling sign yet for his presidency, a poll released today shows that a majority of Americans wish that George W. Bush was a fictitious character rather than a real person.

Mr. Bush’s popularity has taken some serious hits in recent months, but the new survey marks the first time that over fifty percent of respondents indicated that they wished the president was a figment of their imagination.

When asked the question, “If you could choose whether George W. Bush was a real person or a fictitious character,” 51% said “fictitious character” while only 42% said “real person,” with the remaining 7% responding, “George W. Bush is a fictitious character.”

Even more troubling for the president is the survey’s conclusion that in theoretical match-ups with other fictitious characters, Mr. Bush would be trounced.

According to the poll, which has a margin of error of 5 percentage points, if an election were held today between Mr. Bush and the superhero Aquaman, Mr. Bush would lose to Aquaman by a margin of two-to-one.

And Mr. Bush would suffer a similar fate in hypothetical face-offs with such other fictitious characters as the Little Mermaid, the Easter Bunny, and SpongeBob SquarePants.

At the White House, spokesman Tony Snow said the poll results were, in their own way, “good news” for the president.

“The American people want the president to be fictitious,” Mr. Snow said. “Well, his reasons for invading Iraq were fictitious, so he’s really meeting them halfway.”

Elsewhere, experts say that Britney Spears’ hair could fetch as much as $1 million, while her brain could go for $300.

Satire: Temperature Of Coffee Expected To Rise Nine Degrees By End Of 21st Century

From The Onion, of course:

Temperature Of Coffee Expected To Rise Nine Degrees By End Of 21st Century

February 23, 2007 | Issue 43•08

WASHINGTON, DC—A report released by the Union of Concerned Dietitians stated that not only will the temperature of coffee increase by nearly nine degrees by the end of this century, the rise is directly linked to human activity. "At this point, there is no way to reverse the trend, but we can slow it down," said UCD President Marilyn Presber, who blamed the rising temperature on corporate coffee "super-heaters" such as Starbucks, McDonald's, and Dunkin' Donuts, and added that if the public made a conscious effort to heat water short of its boiling point and pour "extremely chilled" milk into the beverage, the overall temperature increase could be delayed nearly 150 years. "If we don't make some sacrifices now, our children's children will be living in a world in which it will be virtually impossible to avoid having the inside of their mouths burned." However, many Americans remain skeptical of the coffee-heating issue, such as Tampa, FL coffee drinker Henry Giesen, 67, who calls it "a hoax perpetuated by the anti-caffeine lobby and the carbonated-beverage industry."

Speedlinking 2/23/07

Quote of the day:

"Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch."
~ Orson Welles

Image of the day:

~ Muscles, Molecules, and Maple Leaves: The Ontario Exercise Physiology Winter Meeting -- "Do you like your science articles fed to you in easily digested bite-size morsels? Then you're in luck. Dr. L. has taken the highlights of the winter physiology meeting, sprinkled them with some cinnamon, and stuck little toothpicks into each one. Have as many as you like."
~ Programmed For Obesity -- "Obesity is generally discussed in terms of caloric intake (how much a person eats) and energy output (how much a person exercises). However, according to a University of Missouri-Columbia scientist, environmental chemicals found in everyday plastics and pesticides also may influence obesity."
~ Rewarding Fat Rats -- "For animals in the natural world, making the right choice can mean the difference between life and death. When rats and other animals choose the thing that leads to a "reward," such as food, changes happen in the body and the brain. Describing and understanding those changes has been the focus of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) grantee Peter Shizgal for most of his career."
~ Kids shovel down more calories watching TV -- "Watching television disrupts children's' normal response to food -- they will eat more while they're sitting in front of the tube, whether or not they're really hungry."
~ Fertility detection good as pill for contraception -- "A method of natural family planning that closely monitors two indicators of fertility is just as effective as oral contraception in preventing unwanted pregnancies if used correctly, European researchers report." Are you willing to gamble on this approach? Not me.
~ A Man's Belly Fat Prevents Him From Breathing Optimally -- "Apparently, men have larger waistlines, more belly fat and more problems breathing than women, according to a study of 25 morbidly obese adults (those with BMIs above 39)."
~ Cancer Cells More Likely To Genetically Mutate -- "When cells become cancerous, they also become 100 times more likely to genetically mutate than regular cells, researchers have found. The findings may explain why cells in a tumor have so many genetic mutations, but could also be bad news for cancer treatments that target a particular gene controlling cancer malignancy."

~ Meetings make us dumber, study shows -- "People have a harder time coming up with alternative solutions to a problem when they are part of a group, new research suggests."
~ Don't Advertise During Sexy Programmes - The Viewer Won't Remember -- "People are less able to recall the brand of products advertised during programmes with a lot of sexual content, than if the advert is placed in similar program that has no sexual content."
~ Traumatic memories easier to recall than happy ones -- "Memories of traumatic events are not suppressed by the people who experienced them but can be recalled clearly, according to Canadian researchers." I'm guessing that the higher the intensity of the memory, the more easily it will be remembered due to the more dense neural pattern that results.
~ How 'Naive Cynicism' May Poison Your Relationships -- "Cynicism has its uses. Being suspicious about the motives of others won't leave you gasping when you are tricked. Expecting negative events means you are never disappointed. Anything good is a bonus. But can cynicism go to far? A study by Kruger and Gilovich (1999) suggests it can."
~ Smart Enough To Make Ourselves Sick -- "Why do humans and their primate cousins get more stress-related diseases than any other member of the animal kingdom? The answer, says Stanford University neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, is that people, apes and monkeys are highly intelligent, social creatures with far too much spare time on their hands."
~ Cross another ability off the "humans only" list [Cognitive Daily] -- "When we learn that an animal can, for example, recognize itself in a mirror, we begin to wonder if we're really so different from the other animals; whether our dominance over the world is really merited. The latest study covering such ground involves the scrub jay, a remarkable bird which hides its food in thousands of caches, remembering where they are and tracking whether each cache has been discovered by a rival bird." Gotta love those corvids.
~ Highly Accomplished People More Prone To Failure Than Others When Under Stress -- "Talented people often choke under pressure because the distraction caused by stress consumes their working memory, a psychologist at the University of Chicago has found."

~ Progress Being Made In Efforts To Stop Female Genital Cutting In Mali -- "Organizations working in Mali to stop female genital cutting -- a practice sometimes referred to as female circumcision or female genital mutilation in which there is a partial or full removal of the labia, clitoris or both -- are beginning to make progress, Afrol News/Daily Nation reports."
~ States are running out of health dollars (AP) -- "Some states are warning that hundreds of thousands of poor children could lose their health insurance if Congress doesn't act soon to come through with more money for the program."
~ Tobacco Companies Obstructed Science, History Professor Says -- "'Doubt is our product,' stated a tobacco industry memo from 1969. For half a century, the tobacco industry tried to muddy the link between smoking and cancer. Now, with that effort long since failed, cigarette producers facing dozens of potentially ruinous lawsuits are once again attempting to manufacture doubt."
~ Roman Catholic Leaders Criticize New York City For Distributing 20M Condoms As Part Of HIV Prevention Efforts -- Dumbasses.
~ Education: Small Wins the Race -- "Students in small classes do better."
~ Nancy Pelosi, flying high -- "Madam Speaker is turning out to be one of the Democrats' best assets."
~ Terrorism Index Up; al Qaeda Rebuilds. –Depressed Yet? -- "The second Terrorism Index was released February 13 and didn't get much press outside the blogosphere. This twice-annual survey takes stock of the war on terrorism by polling "more than 100 of America's top foreign-policy hands." No surprises here: These sage minds conclude that we're losing–and that things are getting worse, not better."
~ The state of the slacker movie -- "There was a time when the most endearing men on film smoked pot for breakfast, rarely saw fit to leave the couch, and espoused homegrown ideologies that linked The Smurfs with Krishna. They were slackers, masters of the art of time suckage, and theirs was a proud and noble calling."

~ Sustainable Aquaculture Critical To Feed The World -- "A scientific panel has revealed that rising global demand for healthy seafood has exceeded wild capture fisheries' ability to provide all fish meals demanded by consumers. Aquaculture -- or the farming of seafood -- is helping to fill the gap between sustainable wild supplies and the public demand for seafood."
~ Hospital group pitches universal insurance -- "A group of U.S. hospitals on Thursday offered a plan to cover the nation's 47 million uninsured, including mandatory coverage for all and subsidies for the working poor."
~ Elements of an effective response to global warming -- "With the release of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report, the debate over climate change has noticeably shifted from arguments about the reality of human-induced climate change to a debate over how to address the problem."
~ Chimps Use "Spears" to Hunt Mammals, Study Says -- "For the first time, great apes have been observed making and using tools to hunt mammals, say researchers who documented chimpanzees hunting other primates in Africa." Evolution in action?
~ Atlantic to Pacific feedback discovered -- "French scientists say an exchange of water vapor from the Atlantic to the Pacific might be an important feedback mechanism for abrupt climatic changes."
~ New use for waste cooking oil is found -- "U.S. scientists say waste cooking oil from restaurant deep fryers -- known as "yellow grease" -- could be transformed into therapeutic cosmetics." Yeah, that sounds pleasant.
~ Sea Turtles Shocked by Frigid Gulf Waters -- "Nearly 90 endangered sea turtles rescued after a cold snap left them comatose have been returned to the Gulf of Mexico."

~ "Integral" Shamanism -- Gary at Integral in Seattle takes an old post of mine and adds some valuable insights and expansions.
~ The Zero Boss takes on Men's Health: What Scares a Man? Articles Like This.
~ A series of new posts from Mystery of Existence: Fully allowing a sense of a separate self, Exploring a sense of a separate I in three general ways, What I take myself as, is how I experience Existence in general, and Differentiating 3rd and 1st person identities. These are best read from the last one to the first one, the order in which he posted them.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

An Update on Conservapedia

Here are some posts from the science blogs after yesterday's dust up surrounding Conservapedia.

* Are you banned from Conservapedia yet? (The list) [Dr. Joan Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refuge]
* Conservapedia evolves [Stranger Fruit]
* Fun with the Conservapedia [Thoughts from Kansas]
* Conservapedia Mistates Mutation [Mike the Mad Biologist]
* Conservapedia: slow minds but fast fingers [Dr. Joan Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refuge]

Here are some links from the rest of Blogosphere:

* Conservapedia Already Ravaged by Libtards [Wonkette, of course]
* Everything Is Biased Against Conservatives [more Wonkette]
* Conservapedia - and you thought Wikipedia was bad [Things I Don't Understand]
* Idiotopedia [17 Oxen]

Daily Om: The Past In Light Of The Present

This is today's Daily Om:
The Past In Light Of The Present
Knowing Better Now

When we look back at the past, knowing what we know now, we often find it difficult to understand how we made the mistakes we made. This is because once we learn new information, it is nearly impossible to reenter the headspace we were in before we learned that information. And so we look back at parents who spanked their kids, for example, and wonder how they could have thought that was a good idea. Similarly, our personal pasts are full of mistakes we can't believe we made. We did things then that we would never do now, and this is precisely because we have information now that we didn't have, or weren't able to access, then.

From ideas about how to raise children to how to treat the environment, our collective human past sometimes reads like a document on what not to do. In many ways, this is exactly as it should be. We learn from living and having experiences. It is from these past actions that we garnered the information that guides us to live differently now. Just so, in our personal lives, we probably had to have a few unsuccessful relationships or jobs, learning about our negative tendencies through them, in order to gain the wisdom we have now.

In order to live more peacefully with the past, it helps to remember that once we know better, we tend to do better. Prior to knowing, we generally do our best, and while it's true that from the perspective of the present, our best doesn't always seem good enough, we can at least give our past selves the benefit of the doubt. We did our best with what knowledge we had. Beyond this, we serve the greater good most effectively by not dwelling on the past, instead reigning our energy and knowledge into our present actions. It is here, in this moment, that we create our reality and ourselves anew, with our current knowledge and information.
I am someone who has often been haunted by past mistakes -- the Catholics are really good with teaching guilt. But even where there isn't guilt or shame, there is almost always the sense that I should have known better.

This post frames that feeling in its proper context -- once we learn a lesson, it's hard to imagine that ever didn't know it. We can feel as stupid as we want, pointlessly, and it will not change the fact that we did not know it until we knew it.

What makes this whole issue tougher, and isn't mentioned above, is that once we know something we can see all the hints and clues that we think we should have picked up on before. Looking back at my last relationship, it's clear to me that is wasn't working (for either of us) for a long time. And even though there were lots of hints and clues along the way, I didn't pay attention or didn't want to see them.

I can blame myself for being stupid all I want, but the reality is that I was doing the best I could at the time. Now I know better, so I likely won't make the same mistakes again.

In the end, that's all that matters -- that we learn from our mistakes and make every effort not to repeat them. If we didn't make mistakes, we would have no material to fuel our growth.

AlterNet: The Lies They Tell

AlterNet has a great look at the media manipulation that is Faux News.

The conservative roots usually puts out a speculative story through Fox News or Matt Drudge (of the Drudge Report), a powerful mouthpiece for the Bush White House. Then the right-wing echo reverberates as the lies make their way to talk radio and the right-wing blogosphere. Eventually, it gets picked up and carried by the mainstream media, with few understanding where the story originated.

In fact, disinformation conjured by the conservatives often has its most profound impact with the steady cooperation of the corporate press in repeating their lies. How many people still think that Al Gore said he invented the Internet?

The power of Fox and Matt Drudge to serve as kingpins of the Bush White House echo chamber, while at the same time being key agenda-setters for the mainstream press is a daunting problem for Democrats, progressive media makers, and bloggers.

Fox's ability to be blatantly partisan, yet be treated like serious news journalists, is an unprecedented and thus far successful, juggling act. Furthermore, Fox critics are perpetually frustrated with the counter-productive collusion of Democrats and some activists to cooperate with Fox by appearing on its shows, aiding Fox's claims of the legitimacy of its new organization.

Read the whole article.

If you are interested in a regular update on the lies Faux is telling, News Hounds is your best bet for constant coverage of the Faux noise machine.

Cool Site: Urban Dictionary

If, like me, you are getting to be an old fart, and more than a little curmudgeonly, and you just can't fathom what is the kids are saying these days (is that English?), then you need the Urban Dictionary.

And just in case you haven't figured out how all the tubes function that make up the internet, you can get the Urban Dictionary in book form, as well -- but you'll probably have to get someone else to do it for you.
Phat, popular and portable.

Urban Dictionary: The Book hits the shelves with more than 2,000 of Urban Dictionary's funniest, smartest, crunkest defs.

It's more than a dictionary. It's a catalog of popular culture you helped write. Now it brings to the world these words and more:
  • compunicate - to chat with someone in the same room via instant messaging service instead of in person
  • business provocative - attire used to provoke sexual attention in the workplace
  • dandruff - a person who "flakes out" and ditches their friends
  • ringtone DJ - an annoying person who shuffles through all of their ringtones incessantly
  • ginormous - the combination of gigantic and enormous
The site has random words popping across the top of the screen, a word of the day feature, and lots of other fun stuff -- including the option to add new words.

Tricksters and Breakfast Cereals

I found this rather fascinating article (Tricksters and the Marketing of Breakfast Cereals, by Thomas Green), in The Journal of Popular Culture, that looks at the historical use of trickster figures to sell breakfast cereal. The article also presents, by way of setting up context, the history of the breakfast cereal industry, which I knew a little of but found the more detailed information quite interesting (yes, I am a geek).

Here is small section that touches on the main argument of the article:

The trickster tale in Western scholarship has a number of characteristics relevant to the study of the marketing of breakfast cereals. First, the primary motivating force that drives the dramatic action of many trickster tales is the acquisition of something—sometimes a valued magical object, but frequently only the desire for food. This perpetual hunger often takes on a predatory character. For example, Uncle Remus tales often center around the efforts of Brer Fox to eat Brer Rabbit, and a good number of the Winnebago trickster tales have Wakjunkaga manipulating his victims into providing him with a ritual feast, or falling into a trap where they can be killed and eaten. As William Hynes puts it, "Most tricksters are forever hungry and in search of food. No prohibition is safe from the trickster, especially if it lies between the trickster and a prospective meal" (42). Trickster-style breakfast cereal advertising universally takes the competition-for-valued-food motif as its plot premise, with the valued object or desired food substance represented—of course—by the breakfast cereal. Like the tricksters of myth, the cereal tricksters are forever hungry for the cereal product, and willing to stalk, steal, deceive, and engage in various forms of predation in order to get it.

The breaking of taboo, usually by the trickster figure, is a motif so widespread in trickster tales that some scholars—for example, Laura Markarius—argue that it constitutes the major mythic function of trickster characters (68). The taboos broken by folkloric tricksters are generally more extreme than those of cereal tricksters, as when the Japanese Susa No-o commits incest with his sister, the Algonquian Manabozo chooses a wife from the menstrual hut, or the Tibetan Uncle Tompa drops feces in the king's lap. Yet, the dynamic is also apparent more subtly when, for example, child characters in Kix and Life cereal commercials break the taboo against eating cereals defined by adults as "healthy," and the dramatic outcome rewards the forbidden behavior.3 As demonstrated later, advertising that uses the competition-for-food or predation motifs may often exhibit violations of taboos against stealing. Cannibalism and inappropriate predation are also common taboo-breaking motifs in trickster tales, and some cereal advertising exhibits undertones of these deviations. Breakfast cereals such as the General Mills monster cereals and Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats, in which the mascot takes the form of the cereal itself, dramatize these patterns by placing acquisition of the magical benefits of the cereal in symbolic consumption of the mascot.

Disguise and/or mistaken identities are another prevailing motif in trickster tales. Wakjunkaga is mistaken for a shaman when he gets his head stuck in an elk skull or dresses up as a woman in order to seduce the chief's daughter and get the wedding feast (Radin 23). Hermes disguises himself as a mortal—along with Zeus—at the house of Baucis and Philemon (Doty 61). The Tibetan Uncle Tompa dresses in the clothing of a nun so that he can enter a convent and make love to all the nuns there (Hynes 36). The disguise motif holds true in breakfast cereal advertising as well, with the cereal-trickster often using the disguise as a means to get the valued substance (cereal) away from its rightful owners. Many scholars see the disguise motif as an outgrowth of the trickster figure's own polymorphous or undefined form. Particularly in North America, tricksters move fluidly between animal and humanoid forms and body parts have a tendency to change size or operate independently when detached. A motif that is therefore related to the disguise/identity change often seen in trickster tales, and in cereal commercials, is the transformation of the trickster himself or others into different forms.

I think children are especially attracted to trickster figures, which is why (I would presume) they have become one of the most prevalent motifs in teaching stories from a variety of cultures. The trickster teaches what can happen when taboos are broken for selfish reasons, often in a humorous way, but nearly always with a bad outcome.

The article uses the Trix Rabbit as one of its main examples. "Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!" Who doesn't know that line from childhood?

In his basic form, the Trix Rabbit resembles mythical trickster figures in that he is an anthropomorphized animal, like the hare trickster Wakjunkaga. He exhibits the insatiable hunger typical of Wakjunkaga, but not for foods typically associated with rabbits. He desires only the Trix brand breakfast cereal, and is willing to cheat and deceive in order to get it. In the early days of Trix, the variations on the specific disguise that the Rabbit adopted were still closely identified with the plot premise: He was attempting to appear as something other than a rabbit, so a little old lady or astronaut disguise would do. In more recent years the disguises have begun to take on the form of whatever the advertisers perceive as popular with kids at the time, so in the 1980s the Rabbit disguised himself as a breakdancer, and, most recently, a karaoke singer. In any case, the Rabbit is using these disguises, to appear more human than rabbit, which emphasizes the way in which the Trix Rabbit most closely corresponds to the archetypal Radin/Jung trickster.

Jung, in particular, theorized, in a now largely discounted but still interesting way, that the trickster figure represents the psychological state of humanity making the transition from animal to human. Using Radin's description of Wakjunkaga as a touchtone, Jung describes the trickster cycle as demonstrating how the trickster gradually comes to greater levels of control over his selfish, predatory, animalistic impulses—associated with animal physical forms such as the hare, the coyote, and the raven. In this way, according to Jung, Radin's trickster evolves into a thereomorphic culture hero who sacrifices himself to give gifts to humankind, which is the hallmark of humanity in this scheme (144). The Trix Rabbit fits right into this design, not only in the way that his animal form matches that of the Winnebago Indian Hare that Radin studied, but also in the symbolic pattern of his advertisement narratives. The Rabbit desires the Trix cereal, which represents the outward sign of humanity: "Trix is for kids." He disguises himself as a kid, taking on the superficial form of a human in an attempt to make the transition. But the disguise is unable to conceal his baser selfish impulses—which manifest as frenzied enthusiasm—and his true animal nature is revealed to the kids who take away the magical humanizing substance. Whether or not one gives credence to the impact of Jungian depth psychology on the communal consciousness, the cyclical tragic drama played out over and over again produced a verifiable impact in at least one case. In the 1980s there arose such a public outcry about the Rabbit's plight that General Mills held an election allowing kids to vote on whether the Rabbit should be allowed to finally get the Trix. The vote came out in the Rabbit's favor, and he was rewarded with three spoonfuls of the cereal—although his advertisements then immediately reverted to the old formula.

I still think what is being overlooked here, even if we allow the Jungian interpretation (which I do, with reservations and corrections), is that the trickster is ALWAYS an example of bad behavior and its outcomes -- these are teaching stories. The rabbit doesn't get any Trix because he acts impulsively and selfishly, often using deception (and because he is a rabbit and Trix are for kids, which reinforces the special nature of Trix as human food).

Still, when Green starts getting to his main point, I agree with him completely:
So, bearing all this in mind, a rationale for trickster figures into cereal advertisements begins to emerge. From the time of their origins, cereals have never been presented as just food, but have always been closely associated with the mysticism of health, healing, and generation—and, by extension, with moral goodness. As the substance that symbolically endows humanity with these qualities, it is only natural that the culture hero—whose body and generative spirit are closely identified with the substance—would bequeath it to humankind, or that the selfish trickster would wish to hoard or steal it all for himself. The unique history and development of breakfast cereal coincides with their use of mythological and mystical symbolism. Whatever persuasive power such myths arguably have, the advertising that uses such myths can be said to draw additional influence and authority from the associations. Cereals are parity products,5 and advertisers are severely limited in the allowable claims of superiority for one over another. Investing some outwardly distinctive feature of their own cereal with mystical properties, and placing that created value at the center of a mythic quest drama tends to work around this limitation.
What makes these figures ideal salespeople is that they seek the magic food, the elixir of life. The whole motif of "magical food" and the use of the trickster appeals to the pre-rational minds of children (and some adults). This approach sets up a dynamic in which the cereal becomes desirable to children as some kind of coveted item.

In reality, I think this pattern is changing to a degree. Children are much more sophisticated now than when I was a naive little lad. The article mentions near the end that the market has been transformed in the past 15 or 20 years. The old mainstay characters are still there, but I don't think the characters or the motifs carry as much currency as they once did.

Animation: Quicksand

A quick journey through the stages of grief . . . .


Wow, the wingnuts are really getting nuttier by the day. Alleging that Wikipedia has an anti-Christian and anti-American bias, some group of home-schooled kids in New Jersey started Conservapedia. Please note that I present this for humor purposes only, not because I think what they are doing is necessary or valid.

Conservapedia is a much-needed alternative to Wikipedia, which is increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American. On Wikipedia, many of the dates are provided in the anti-Christian "C.E." instead of "A.D.", which Conservapedia uses. Christianity receives no credit for the great advances and discoveries it inspired, such as those of the Renaissance. Read a list of many Examples of Bias in Wikipedia.

Conservapedia is an online resource and meeting place where we favor Christianity and America. Conservapedia has easy-to-use indexes to facilitate review of topics. You will much prefer using Conservapedia compared to Wikipedia if you want concise answers free of "political correctness".

The science bloggers are all over this mess (here, here, here, here, and here for just a few), so I'll leave it to them to rip this site the much-needed new one.

The Questionable Authority, however, was too entertaining to pass up. Here is some of what was posted over there.

Before I get into my first look at the humor in the page, there is a serious reason to be (mildly) concerned about Conservapedia. It is representative of a philosophy that seems to be common among a wide range of right-wingers in the United States today: if reality doesn't match your ideology, rewrite reality and go from there. This would be sad and funny, were it not for the tragic fact that this group of nutcases still has an extensive amount of political clout.

Now, on with the accidental humour show.

One of the things that Conservapedia is very upset about is Wikipedia's failure to give Christianity credit for the Renaissance. They are so upset about this particular bit of pervasive and pernicious anti-Christian bias that they complain about it not once, but twice - on the main page and in their list of "examples of bias" found in Wikipedia. Strangely enough, though, the Conservapedia entry for "The Renaissance" - wait for it - doesn't give Christianity credit, and lists humanism as the "primary philosophy of the Renaissance." (If the page is edited to change that, you'll still be able to see it by looking at the history tab on the top of the page.)

I guess the liberal bias is so contagious that even they've caught a touch of it.

The real crime here is that a whole mess of home-schooled kids (those of wingnut parents) are going to get a [more] horrible education because their folks will rely on this mess of an "educational" resource rather than real books or real websites.

Maybe Sam Harris (no entry) or Richard Dawkins will drop by to rewrite some of the articles for them. That would be fun.

Gratitude: 50,000

Sometime in the night, a person in South Korea searching for Natalie Merchant became my 50,000th visitor. It took 15 months to get my first 25,000 visitors, but only 5 months for the next 25,000.

I don't pay too much attention to stats, but I like to acknowledge the milestone numbers. When I began this blog, I never could have imagined how it would develop.

Thanks to all of you who read on a regular basis, and to those who visit on accident.

Speedlinking 2/22/07

Quote of the day:

"Anybody caught selling macrame in public should be dyed a natural color and hung out to dry."
~ Calvin Trillin

Image of the day:

~ Overcome gymphobia, one step at a time -- "Gymphobia: an irrational fear of the gym. Or maybe not so irrational. Many a prospective exerciser wants to start a gym-based exercise routine, but quite a few can't get past the anxiety of showing up."
~ Under Half US Children Advised About Healthy Eating By Doctors Or Other Health Providers -- "Although the percentage may seem low, it represents a slim improvement over 2001 when just 45 percent of children in this same age group were advised about healthy eating."
~ Quackwatch Report on Amaze Rx -- If you see it in an infomercial, it's crap. (Especially anything by Kevin Trudeau.)
~ Active Lifestyle Reduces Risk Of Invasive Breast Cancer -- "Six or more hours per week of strenuous recreational activity may reduce the risks of invasive breast cancer by 23 percent, according to researchers from the University of Wisconsin Paul P. Carbone Comprehensive Cancer Center (UWCCC)."
~ 8 Reasons You're Not Losing Weight -- "It turns out that sneaky hidden sources may be keeping your hunger on overdrive. Follow this checklist to get back on the happy-diet highway."
~ FDA tells ADHD drugmakers to warn of risks -- "Companies that make drugs to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder must take extra steps to alert patients to possible cardiovascular and psychiatric risks, U.S. health officials said on Wednesday."
~ Caffeine may be good for some aging hearts -- "Drinking caffeinated beverages on a regular basis may provide significant protection against death from heart disease in the elderly who have normal levels of blood pressure, according to data from a large U.S. health and nutrition study."
~ Smoking changes brain like drugs -- "Smoking causes long-lasting changes in the brain similar to changes seen in animals when they are given cocaine, heroin and other addictive drugs, U.S. researchers said."

~ Key To Treating Neurological Damage Is Harnessing The Brain's Plasticity -- "With an aging population susceptible to stroke, Parkinson's disease and other neurological conditions, and military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious limb injuries, the need for strategies that treat complex neurological impairments has never been greater.One tack being pursued by neuroscientists and engineers is the development of "smart" neural prostheses."
~ While you slumber, your brain puts the world in order -- "As well as strengthening our memories, sleep may help us to extract themes and rules from the masses of information we soak up in the day."
~ Stanley Milgram: Obedience to Authority Or Just Conformity? -- "What psychological experiment could so be so powerful that simply taking part might change your view of yourself and human nature?"
~ How to motivate kids to be their best -- "A smart piece by Po Bronson in last week's New York magazine pulls together some great research about how to motivate kids to increase effort, take risks and get better at stuff."
~ Marijuana Abuse Contributes to Schizophrenia, Psychosis -- "Collected evidence adds weight to the idea that, in addition to its obviously detrimental physical side-effects, marijuana abuse/dependence may intensify the symptoms of psychosis in patients with mental illness and increase the chances that healthy subjects will eventually develop the same conditions." Sounds like Refer Madness.
~ Scheduling the Sex -- "Regular sex is good for you." Duh!?
~ Boys Will Be Boys, Even if They're Depressed -- "This week's Newsweek features a story on men and depression. It's a confusing story because women have long been known to suffer depression at twice the rates men do, and though the tone of the article is meant to suggest that scientists are finding increasing rates of depression in men, no such statistic is ever offered."
~ Polarity -- From Steve Pavlina.

~ Group sues feds over medical pot -- "Armed with a new study showing the drug can ease pain in some HIV patients, medical-marijuana advocates sued the federal government Wednesday over its claim that pot has no accepted medical uses."
~ New DVD Game Battles Childhood Obesity -- "New DVD Game Battles Childhood 'Obeez City' With Superheroes That Teach Better Nutrition."
~ Health care costs will keep climbing -- "Health care is expected to account for $1 of every $5 spent in the United States in another decade."
~ New Tombs Unveiled in Egypt -- "Archaeologists unveiled the tombs Tuesday of a pharaonic butler and a scribe that have been buried for more than 3,000 years — proof, they say, that Egypt's sands still have secrets to reveal."
~ The Obama-Clinton brawl over David Geffen -- "The response from the Obama campaign was good, old-fashioned hardball. You call me a hypocrite, and I'll respond by raising something out of your ugly past. But that wasn't the way Obama has said he'll play the game." Obama loses this one.
~ UPDATE: Britney Spears Leaves Rehab after checking in yesterday. Can you say junkie?
~ Gallup: Voters Skeptical of Romney, Rudy, McCain; OK w/ Hillary, Obama -- Comment: "Americans are much more tolerant of inherent characteristics (race, sex) than of things they view as a candidate's choice (religion, sexual orientation, marriage tendencies), which means we've moved past racism to simple prejudice. Take that for what it's worth."
~ I like Jim Wallis, but I think he's preaching to a wall.

~ Surfing the Web's Video Wave -- "With all of the videos on the World Wide Web, it can be tough to know where to begin. Here are some links to get you channel surfing."
~ Buried Lakes Send Antarctica's Ice Slipping Faster Into the Sea, Study Shows -- "Four large lakes found at the start of a rapidly moving ice stream offer the first direct link between the under-ice bodies of water and the rate at which ice flows into the ocean."
~ Antifreeze-Like Blood Lets Frogs Freeze and Thaw With Winter's Whims -- "Wood frogs can weather winter's ups and downs by literally freezing and thawing in step with fluctuating temperatures. Scientists hope to replicate the technique to aid human organ transplants."
~ Virtual Reality Becoming a Valuable Resource for Researchers -- "Virtual reality isn't just for gamers anymore. At the University of Arizona, the technology that used to be synonymous with the video game industry is now supporting the efforts of UA researchers in fields as diverse as medicine, educational psychology and landscape architecture."
~ Professor explores Greenland's impact on weather systems -- "Science doesn`t always happen at a lab bench. For University of Toronto Mississauga physicist Kent Moore, it happens while strapped into a four-point harness, flying head-on into hurricane-force winds off the southern tip of Greenland."
~ Exercise Machines to Work With IPods -- "Your workout at the gym isn't going to be any less painful. But the world's leading commercial provider of exercise equipment might at least help make the session on a stair-climber or treadmill more entertaining."
~ Over a century after disappearing, wild elk return to Ontario -- "After disappearing from Ontario due to over hunting in the 19th century, wild elk have returned to the province thanks to the efforts of the Ontario elk restoration program."

~ Sam Harris and Reza Aslan: Reason & Faith -- "Here are atheist Sam Harris and Mulsim scholar Reza Aslan being moderated by Jewish intellectual Jonathan Kirsch. A truly beautiful discussion. All three are opposed to religious fundamentalism, but their positions are differentiated by important nuances."
~ From CJ Smith: stumbling blocks -- "Still searching for an outlet for integral discourse and theology in the school. Haven't found it exactly yet. That's not to say there aren't other positive attributes--the people, my studies, teachers--there are just in this one arena not much action."
~ Suffering and Impermanence -- From Dashh.
~ The Spiritual Athlete: Enlightenment as Sport -- From Buddhist Geeks.