22 August 2009

Raphael's "School of Athens"

I've always liked this painting. I'm much more a fan of Michelangelo than of Raphael, but the summit of the philosophers has always seemed like one of the most amazing learning environments to ever be conceived. Well, that and I live in a little college town by the name of Athens.

The two philosophers at the center of the painting are generally thought to be Plato and Aristotle*. But it's generally thought that Raphael based certain philosophers on artists of his time. Plato is connected to da Vinci. Michelangelo is in the painting, but there is debate about who he is -- is he Aristotle, standing proud with his Ethics, debating his teacher?

Or is he the brooding figure of Heraclitus?

I think he's both. Michelangelo was certainly the dark, depressed figure that painted himself as a lifeless skin in "The Last Judgement" in the Sistene Chapel, but he was also the master who completed the ceiling of that very same chapel with almost no help from his apprentices.

But if Michelangel gets to play both roles, why does da Vinci only appear once? Where is the most famous Renaissance painter? I think he might be Pythagorus as well -- the bald, bearded figure hard at work on the foundations of geometry and architecture -- just as da Vinci is well-known for his volumes of notes on anatomy and inventions.

Rock on.
*Scholars determined the places of Plato and Aristotle by which books they hold in the scene. Plato holds his Timaeus, and Aristotle, his Ethics.

These images were retrieved via Wikimedia Commons and are in the public domain.

13 August 2009

Anonymous -- Internet Golem

A golem* is a creature in Jewish folklore made by man out of inanimate material, generally soil. Much like Dr. Frankenstein's Monster, the best-known story of a golem ends with the creature betraying its maker.

I have jokingly referred to the Pillsbury Doughboy as a golem, and along those lines, so are the fabled Gingerbread Man and his comical form, the Stinky Cheese Man.

But what would an actual 21st century golem look like? A creature made from an inanimate material brought to life by its creator, and then being set loose to destroy order and harvest chaos?

I suggest the Internet-based Anonymous, a collection of web-users from the Something Awful forums, 4chan and 7chan, and any number of other sites that compose the basement of the World Wide Web. Anonymous is not a single person, but it is not really a group, either. Anonymous has no coherent membership, no leaders, and no common goal (in fact, it often turns on itself). It is self-aware, which is, granted, rather unlike a golem. But it has a mysterious life force -- like the magic words and combinations of letters which bring a golem to life, so anonymity gives Anonymous the ability to, for better and for worse, get away with what they do. Take away the life force, take away the creature.

Now, I'm not suggesting that we grab pitchforks and torches, form a mob, and take down Anonymous. Just trying to flush out a thought.

Rock on.

*The term means "cocoon", but also "silly" or "stupid". The Hebrew root for the Yiddish word means "incomplete substance". It's likely that Tolkien's Gollum is a reference to this phrase, slipping from Smeagol, his Superego and Ego, into Gollum, his Id, becoming a baser creature

08 August 2009

Health Care Refo-oh crap, what are you doing with that noose?

From a recent NY Times article:
The bitter divisions over an overhaul of the health care system have exploded at town-hall-style meetings over the last few days as members of Congress have been shouted down, hanged in effigy and taunted by crowds. In several cities, noisy demonstrations have led to fistfights, arrests and hospitalizations.

Um...on the up-side, people are starting to take notice of politics. Yea!

On the down side, we're starting to look like those Fox specials with names like "The World's Wackiest/Most Violent Parliaments."

I understand that divisive issues will lead to frustrations on both sides. Great. Read up on the topic, take a side based on an informed opinion, and make your voice heard.

But be respectful and calm. Don't start a riot. This is not Iran. This administration did not steal an election. We are not being oppressed. We are being asked to join in a debate over the future of healthcare, like the civilized country we are.

And as a brief aside to those calling for these protests (I'm looking at you Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh, and O'Reilly): for eight years, you told protesters that they were un-American. You said dissent was un-patriotic. You questioned the loyalty of any who didn't fall in line behind the Bush administration's agenda. But now, dissent is patriotic, as your picket signs read. You organize events and encourage your followers to disrupt meetings and protest taxes, and then claim it's grassroots.

But I've never seen grass grow from the top down.

I'll let Mr. Jon Stewart explain*:
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Master Rebators - The Crank Cycle
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Political HumorSpinal Tap Performance

Rock on.

*I was going to right a brief explanation of Fox New's claim about Cash for Clunkers seen in the posted video. It took on a life of it's own and is now posted here.

On Cash for Clunkers and Why Fox News Sucks at Math

I started to write a brief end note to this post about political fist fights, town hall meetings, and the conservative double standard. The end note was going to be on an outrageous claim from Fox News that the Cash for Clunkers deal was running out of money. But the note quickly spiraled, and has taken the form you see now.

Now, on to Cash for Clunkers.

Yes, due to the program's popularity, it burned through it's allocation rather quickly, leading to additional funds being allocated. But at the time FN's claim, the math worked out like this:

The statement claims CfC was allocated $1 billion, and spent $96 million with another $96 million promised, and was therefore "basically out of money already". That's dishonesty in reporting. Let's look at this in digits.

One billion = 1,000,000,000
One million = 0,001,000,000

Notice the three extra zeros. At this point, CfC had spent $192,000,000. Out of $1,000,000,000.

Each clunker traded in is worth between $3,500 and $4,500.

Let us now consider this with smaller numbers and get rid of a few zeros. We'll move the decimals over six places. One billion becomes one thousand and one million becomes one. We will leave the percentages the same.

CfC allocated-------------$1,000.00
CfC spent-----------------$0,192.00
Each additional deal----$0,000.0045

Each additional clunker traded in costs less than one half of one percent. That means that 202,000 more trade-ins were made between Fox New's wonderful display of (willful) ignorance and the renewal of CfC.

What thinking man, given a thousand dollars, would claim that he was out of money after spending $192, if each purchase cost him less than half a penny?

Using elementary-school level math, you can move the decimal over one more place, and see that 19.2% of the allocation had been expended.

Does this mean that Fox News is a less-than-twenty-percent-of-the-glass-empty style pessimist? If this is the case, they are truly the most depressed people in the world. By the time you're a teenager, you're "basically" almost dead.

Another option is that they so incredibly simple as to not understand the difference between a million and a billion. But I would hope that "America's News Network" was smarter than that.

Instead, I see it that the network that claims to report the facts and let the viewer decided, who has taken "Fair and Balanced" to be their slogan, is so incredibly biased as to purposely misinterpret the facts to mislead the public.

Rock on.

Edited on 8 September 2009 for minor formatting changes.

05 August 2009

Did you know...

...that Christopher Hitchens sends his daughter to a private Quaker school?

That's what he said when he was interviewed by the Commonwealth Club of California.

He was asked which religion he detests the least, and gave the response that even the Quakers make the mistake of viewing faith as a good thing.

It is of the highest order of hypocrisy to claim that religion poisons everything and then send a child, your child, to a religious institution.

Rock on.