Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Unresolvable argument

It occurred to me a couple days ago, amongst my random mental ramblings, that the 'abstinence' argument for preventing unwanted pregnancy is unresolvable.

The problem is this:

Creationists believe that a 'God' created us. For those who believe that sex is a sin, they believe that, like any other sin, it is a weakness that we can choose to overcome if we are 'godly' enough.

Those of us who recognize the likeliness of evolution as the source of humanity also recognize that that evolution has optimized us for sex in general and procreation in specific. The instinct to procreate has evolved to be the strongest natural force in human will. It's why even the wisest, most knowledgeable, most intelligent people can succumb to 'passions' no matter the consequence.

That's why 'evolutionists' recognize the need for measures that acknowledge the inevitability of sex in order to reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancy, disease transmission, and non-consensual sex. To 'evolutionists', abstinence is not a viable solution as it will fail in the vast majority of cases.

Creationists won't accept the evolutionary will theory. Their belief that all human behavior can be made subservient to the individual's "devotion to God" makes them impervious to any arguments in favor of non-abstinence-focused approaches.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Dear Lego Imperial Star Destroyer, Will You Marry Me?

My beloved Lego Imperial Star Destroyer,

Will you make me the happiest geek in existence and be my betrothed? I long for your companionship, your partnership, your eternal presence in my life.

In all my long years I have never beheld a being so glorious as you. A glimpse of your beauty fills me with ecstatic glee. I can dream of no greater bliss than your touch.

I know that we can't have children of our own, but we could always adopt. I can't imagine a child that would hesitate to shower you with their love and affection. They couldn't help to see, as I do, the beauty that comes from deep inside you and radiates so brightly from your every feature.

I know you have a checkered past, that you've let yourself be sold to anyone willing to pay, but I know that isn't who you really are. I see the inner calm and peace you bring. I feel the kindness of your heart, the warmth of your love. It doesn't matter to me what you've done or where you've been, all that matters is that we be together.

You have my eternal devotion.
Please be mine.

Please, say yes.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Curing car pollution

About a month or so ago, I read an idea about how to address car pollution (maybe it was in a book by Jane Jacobs?).

The idea was to require car manufacturers to move the exhaust pipe to go into the cabin of the car, instead of outside the car. Very quickly, a solution would be found for the pollution coming out of cars.

It's not at all unfair. It's against the law to litter and car exhaust can easily be described as a form of litter. In fact, it's also a form of assault (a very slow and drawn out assault, but it does cause harm - eventually fatal).

The more I've thought about this idea, the more sense it makes. I can't see anything unfair about it, either - whereas there is much that is unfair about the current policy and practice of allowing pollution from cars.

I figure that if we said to the car manufacturers: "In three years, you will not be permitted to have any pollutive emissions from new or refurbished cars," that they would very quickly come up with a solution.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Voices from the Days of Slavery

Voices from the Days of Slavery: Former Slaves Tell Their Stories features audio recordings from former slaves in the U.S. The recordings were made between 1932 and 1975.

Friday, January 23, 2004

'Peace Knits' Banner

The Revolutionary Knitting Circle is participating in the global peace actions for March 20.

As part of our participation, I've put together a printable (PDF) pattern for a knitted banner that says "Peace Knits". I don't know if other cities will be using the pattern, but in Calgary we've already started. If you can knit (or crochet) a square, please contact me to sign up to work on the banner.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Urgent Amnesty appeal for Sudanese woman

Amnesty International is calling for urgent support to prevent "the flogging of Intisar Bakri Abdulgader" which is currently scheduled for January 23 in Sudan.

Alberta Green Party Leader speaks

Because the Calgary Dollars NUTV video shoot wrapped up earlier than expected, I was able to pop by for the last half of George Read's discussion at the University of Calgary. George was elected leader of the provincial Green Party in Alberta back on November 1 at the party convention in Red Deer (which I attended).

George has been responsible for a transformation of the Green Party locally. It has become a party I can actually back which is something I had not expected given my experiences with the party in the early 90's. Back then, I became extremely (to put it mildly) frustrated with the immobility of the party. 'Consensus' was being used (not necessarily deliberately) to prevent any forward movement. Individual agendas seemed to dominate the party.

My work with the Green Party here back in the early 90's contributed greatly to my first serious "activist burnout", and left me with a very sour attitude toward the party.

Over the past couple years, George - who I've known for many years outside of politics and activism - has been gradually convincing me that the party is finally on track for making positive change in this province. I now see it as a vibrant, progressive and active political movement here. The party has become something I actually want to be (and now am) a part of.

The biggest problem I see for the Greens is getting people to recognize that the party is not just about the environment. Yes, the party holds the environment as the most critical issue (since if it is destroyed, we all die), but the party has a broad range of policies and plans for the spectrum of issues and areas that any group which seeks to govern must deal with. From the military to social services to electoral reform, and so on. There is also a strong recognition of the interconnectedness of most issues. Poverty, war, racism, etc., are environmental issues.

Calgary Dollars - NUTV video shoot day

Yesterday was a very busy day for me. The biggest chunks of it were spent with the video shoots for the Calgary Dollars psa/ad that we're doing with NUTV.

Amazingly, the four scenes all went very quickly and efficiently. I'm so used to creative endeavors always running much longer than expected that it's quite shocking when something is finished on time (or even early, as in this case). Big kudos go to Chrissy (camera) and Kaitlyn (direction) who did the bulk of the work at the shoots today and made my jobs as production assistant and Calgary Dollars liaison very easy.

Editing is set for this weekend, so it might even be ready for broadcast next week.

More blog resources

I've updated my list of blogging tools and resources.

My buddy 'frymaster' pointed out Geeklog. Like Movable Type, it's software (using PHP, MySQL) that you install on a web server (unlike a number of the free blog hosting services that don't require you to have server space). It looks to be very feature rich (in the positive sense of that phrase), with user access management, commenting, custom themes, plugin extension support, stats, calendaring, and more.

Buzznet is another free blog posting site. What distinguishes it is that it is focused on photologs (photo blogs).

The Guardian's Weblog guide provides a lot of resources from the basics of "What is a weblog?" to instructions on how to build a weblog. How Blogs Work, by Marshall Brain, is a quick introduction to what blogs are and how to set one up with the free Blogger service.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Activist Diary: CBC Learn @ Lunch - Poverty and panhandling

Today I attended the CBC Calgary's Learn @ Lunch on "Poverty and panhandling, how well does Calgary cope with its people living on the edge?". The topic is hot in Calgary right now because of city council's endorsement of a new panhandling bylaw - one that will not work.

The event was packed - they had to bring out extra chairs and benches and there were still people standing. What was particularly positive was that there was not one person out of the hundreds there who said anything to put down panhandlers. In fact, all of the discussion accepted that panhandling is a symptom and that what needs to be done is to address the problems that it is a symptom of.

Those problems can be summed up with one word: Poverty.

Some things in our society that are encouraging/sustaining/growing poverty include the immense shortage of affordable housing, the lack of sufficient timely health care for treatment of addiction and other mental health issues, and the extreme lack of political will to take on poverty.

A point I made during the question & comment period was that we have things like the "War on Terror" and the "War on Drugs" - but those are just targeting symptoms, not problems. What is needed is a 'war on poverty'. Such a 'war' would include 'assaults' on the housing shortage, 'battles' for health care, 'raids' on oppressive services, and much more 'combat' against social structures that sustain and encourage poverty.

It's been said that some people feel threatened by panhandlers. The real threat is poverty.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

World Social Forum

There is a ton of interesting stuff coming out of the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India.

One frequent theme is the harm that corporations are perpetrating throughout the world. For example, Coca-Cola's operations in:
"... Colombia, where company-paid paramilitaries have been killing union leaders and activists at the Coca-Cola bottling plants, and India, where the company has not only bought up most of the major local brands but is mining so much water that local residents don't have anything left in their wells."
—Daina Green in Mumbai: hot and dusty, colourful and busy.
Arundahti Roy is cited as calling for a campaign targeted at the corporations (Haliburton, Enron, etc.) that are engaged in the pillaging of Iraq's economy. Proposed actions include occupations and shut-downs of corporate offices around the world - but especially in the U.S.

Another big focus coming out of Mumbai is Iraq. There is apparently a lot of connecting and discussion going on there amongst peace activists from around the world.

Interesting, too, is the ways in which the extreme diversity of participants is being supported. At least 13 languages are being supported through a network of translators supported by low-cost, open-source based, computer systems.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

The Christian Bible as IRC transcripts

"The IRC Bible" will probably only be funny if you're familiar with online chats. If you are, it's quite funny and bizarre. Like this choice sampling:
* Eve has joined #Eden
<Adam|zZz> w00t!!1
* Adam|zZz is now known as Adam
<Adam> ASL?
<Eve> newborn, female, eden!
<Adam> omg! me too, but male
<Eve> omfg! you're nekkid!
<Adam> so what! your too!
<Eve> lol
* Jehova sighs
<Jehova> bbl
* Jehova has left #Eden
Seen on MetaFilter.

Oops, there goes the world.

I saw this great quote in a buddy's email signature:
The most likely way for the world to be destroyed, most experts agree, is by accident.
That's where we come in; we're computer professionals. We cause accidents.

Drugs and Activism

[This is a draft essay on why drugs are an enemy of progressive activism.]

A lot of people (far too many) associate activism with drug use. This comes out of the whole "counter-culture" and "rebellion" modes that most of the attention getting forms of activism are wrapped up in.

Drugs have been (wrongfully) associated with rebelliousness because of the extreme measures taken to prohibit their use.

One consequence of this is that many who seek to be rebellious mistakenly turn to drugs as a mechanism for acting out their rebellion and trying to gain a feeling of being part of the "culture of rebellion".

This plays right into the interests of the dominant powers, the governments, the corporations, the oppressors.

Drugs are one of the most effective tools of oppression available:
  • Pimps get young girls and women hooked on drugs to create dependancy and make them more open to exploitation.

  • Governments ship drugs into ghettoized neighborhoods to maintain a lower class and/or to destabilize communities that are threatening the status quo (such as the U.S. government's shipping of drugs into black communities).

  • Drugs are deliberately associated with 'alternative' cultures to convert communities' revolutionary energies into self-indulgent, individualist disconnection. Former CIA researcher Timothy Leary's famous line "Tune in, turn on and drop out" can be understood as a call for the revolutionary movements of the 60's to stop focusing on community and society, withdraw from engagement, and stop trying to improve the world for anyone but yourself.

Drugs bring a person's focus onto themselves and their own experience. They are a deeply anti-social activity. While many drug users would argue that they socialize through their drug use with others, the experience typically does not foster any real social development. No communities are built from drug use. No systems of social support come out of the application of drugs. There is no benefit to community or society.

Let me make clear that I am not a prohibitionist—experience has shown that that approach simply does not work. Regardless of what laws (including death penalties) are in place, people will use drugs. The only purpose criminalization serves is increasing criminal activity in the form of the organized crime that thrives on the illegality of drugs.

A far more practical approach is to regulate and license drug use. Providing safe, regulated, spaces for drug users will reduce negative health impacts (and not just for the users) and the socially destructive activities that surround drug use in a criminal culture. It also provides more opportunities for treatment of addicts and drug use prevention.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Reading: Slaughterhouse-Five

A few days ago, I finished reading Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five.

I haven't read a lot of Vonnegut's novels, so I was surprised to find the character of Kilgore Trout whom I remembered from Breakfast of Champions. Curious about this connection, and whether the character occurs elsewhere in Vonnegut's writings, I did some searching and found that there was also a connection with The Sirens of Titan - the distant planet Tralfamadore (I thought that name sounded familiar).

Now I'm wondering if there are other connections across his writings...

Saturday, January 10, 2004

The Emergence of Blogging

Lately, I've been doing a lot of reading around blogs, as well as listening to Christopher Lydon's fascinating series of 'audio bloggings'.

I've been finding myself explaining what a blog is to some of the people I know. It strikes me as a similar feeling to the days before the emergence of email and the web when I was explaining those things to the people around me and working to increase access (BBSing, freenets) and participation.

A question I've been asking myself lately is: What differentiates blogging from the 'traditional' web? I think there are a few key factors.
  1. Ease of Use.
    Just as word processing and desktop publishing made it significantly easier to publish to print, blogging makes it significantly easier to publish to the web. It takes no - or extremely minimal - technical knowledge of formatting content for the web (html) to publish a blog.

  2. Ease of Sharing.
    Sharing what you publish on a blog is as easy as giving out the web page link (URL) for your blog. But, in addition to that, the past couple of years have seen the emergence of protocols (RSS, Atom) and easy to use tools for syndication and gathering (NetNewsWire, et. al.) of 'content' on the web. This is allowing for the rapid spread of ideas and information in ways that traditional publishing and syndication simply could not reach.

  3. Ease of Feedback and Multi-directional Dialogue.
    Blogging currently seems to take some aspects of traditional web publishing, and some aspects of email & message boards, to form a new thing that is part publishing and part dialogue.

    The ease of publishing and syndication allows for people to use their own blogs to respond to, counter or elaborate upon anyone else's bloggings. Not only that, but 'trackback' tools allow for connections between bloggings across diverse blogs to be traced and made explicitly available through the blog.

    There are also various tools popping up to support comments/feedback directly onto blogs.

Something particularly exciting has been the application of this open, extended, dialogue medium to politics. The ability of a blogged campaign to genuinely engage the grassroots in not only participating, but also directing an election campaign, is immensely exciting to me.

I think, too, that we are seeing the emergence of blogs as a new medium. One test of whether something is a new medium is the extent to which making analogies to other mediums fails to express the full scope of it. While blogs have aspects of journalism, diaries, traditional websites, message boards, etc. - none of those (or even the sum of those) fully expresses what a blog is.

I'm not going to venture any predictions as to the future of blogging. The chaotic and surprising history of technologies and social transformations makes foreseeing often a matter of dice rolls. What is clear to me is that blogging is the latest in a series of tremendously powerful and empowering technologies that will deeply affect how we communicate.

In the 80's and early 90's I was BBSing a lot and could clearly see that email could be a valuable tool for activism and for building social understanding & connections. What I couldn't see was how that would actually come about. I found myself training people, one by one, on setting up their modems and accessing BBSes. When the internet finally reached 'the masses' in '94, I was amazed to see the radical transformation, and the fulfillment of that potential I had struggled with for years.

The work I'm doing on building and promoting blogging (and related) tools now feels a lot like what I was doing back then.

I do not doubt that it will be tremendously exciting to find out where blogging takes us over the next decade.

A sad day, indeed, for the beloved brick

It's being reported that Lego is discontinuing it's robotics line (Mindstorms), as well as it's tie-ins (Harry Potter, Star Wars, etc.). Those three are my favorite lines outside of trains and the plain-old standard brick.

I'm a very sad Lego junkie today.

Reading: Ethics for the New Millennium

There's nothing new about Ethics for the New Millennium by The Dalai Lama. But, it is a good exploration/reinforcement of 'the golden rule' that is shared by almost every religion (and probably most formal secular ethics): Act with love, kindness and compassion for all others.

One of the points that stood out for me was the comment that the reason the media spend so much time focusing on violence and destruction in our society is that those things are news, whereas acts of kindness are so commonplace that there's nothing 'newsworthy' about them. He takes from this a reinforcement of his belief that kindness is normal, commonplace, and that the vast majority of people want, to do good.

The other point that interested me was that, with the broad decline of religious practice and learning, the study of ethics and morality needs to be integrated into public/secular education. He argues that our educational systems were developed in contexts where religious study was an active part of society, so schools didn't need to fill that role.
"Secular educational systems were developed at a time when religious institutions were still highly influential throughout society. Because ethical and human values were and still are generally held to fall within the scope of religion, it was assumed that this aspect of a child's education would be looked after through his or her religious upbringing. ... Although the need is still there, it is not being met.

Friday, January 9, 2004

My Schedule

I've posted my calendar (iCal link) of (public) events in iCalendar format.

You can access it using programs like Apple's iCal on Mac, or the cross-platform Mozilla Calendar.

My calendar consists mostly of stuff like activist events (such as the Revolutionary Knitting Circle) and the occasional fun thing (Lego events, important holidays like April Fools,...).

Envy is not one of the sins I like

Lego's Master Builder Search is only happening in the U.S. That's a big frustration for me here in Canada. Getting paid to play with Lego is the ultimate dream job.

One of the applicants has posted a totally exciting report from his first interview session for the job. "Envy" is putting it mildly, for my part.

Who do I lobby at Lego to get them to open a Canadian branch?!? (especially if it's in Calgary!)

Seen on Slashdot.

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Birth control for men

Ever since attending a session on birth control at the CBCA many years ago, I've been frustrated by the extreme lack of options for men to participate in birth control. The choices available could be summed up in two words: Condom, vasectomy. (Three words if you're religious - add "abstinence", an unrealistic option for most people.)

Now there's talk of a male version of 'the pill'. Frankly, the pill (female or male) really bothers me. Messing with the body's chemistry like that (using hormones) has some potentially nasty health side effects. However, for a lot of people, that's a better risk than risking unwanted pregnancy.

The thing is, now there's an apparently safe - and extremely effective - method of birth control for males that has been developed by a doctor in India. It's a single injection that can be set to last for 6-15 years and has had a 0% failure rate in studies conducted over the past couple decades. It's also safely reversible. The only side effect noted in the studies has been short-term swelling at the injection site immediately following the procedure.

But, there's a catch. The evil (yes, I use that word too much, but this case is unquestionably true) pharmaceutical industry doesn't want to bring the procedure to North America. Apparently, the one-time estimated $500 cost per injection is a threat to their expected profits from the potentially thousands of dollars annual cost of a male hormonal birth control pill per user.

Far from advancing the cause of human health, the pharmaceutical industry are showing themselves as, yet again, being solely in favor of creating 'consumer' dependencies regardless of the cost to people and society as a whole.

Tuesday, January 6, 2004

Creating new/better blog services

I have a number of ideas for blog services I'd like to implement. Especially better versions of some of the tools out there (blog comments, blog rolls, blog rss generation) since most of the ones I found are 'sub-optimal' in my view.

This has come out of spending the past few days exploring the range of blog tools currently available.

Any thoughts, suggestions, on blog tools/services you'd like to see created or improved?

And Grant said, let them have voice!

I've added comment links to this blog, so you can leave your mark on what I've said here. I'm using the free Blog Comments service for this.

Please let me know if you have any troubles with it.

Monday, January 5, 2004

Tools for Blogging

Over the past couple of days, I've been familiarizing myself with the variety of tools (mostly free) for blogging and doing stuff around blogs. I've put a list of all the blog-related tools I've found up on my archive page.

Here's the quick summary to set up your blog:
  1. Consider using a Creative Commons license for your blog content, instead of the usual (restrictive) intellectual property restrictions.

  2. Setup your blog on Blogger (use their BlogSpot service if you don't have a webserver handy).
    Or, use Blog Drive to setup and host your blog.
    Alternatively, if you can install custom software on your webserver, use Movable Type (which has built in functionality that covers the following steps except for the last).

  3. Add support for user comments with Blog Comments.

  4. Add metadata to your blog template with using BlogMatrix's metadata tool.

  5. Add a blog roll using BlogRolling.

  6. Add an RSS feed using BlogMatrix's RSS feed tool or BlogStreet's RSS Generator.

  7. I would say add your blog to the Blog Tree, but they seem to have been suspended by their isp.

  8. Add your blog to directories and aggregators:
That's all it takes to be a well set up blogger. Now you just need to think of something to write...

Sunday, January 4, 2004

Social Software ideas

Matt Haughhey has posted a collection of ideas for useful social software. I especially like his third idea: "Collaborative consumed media".

Far from all being doom & gloom

The Christian Science Monitor has an article about the growth of peace in Africa.
"For the first time in five years, no major wars are roiling the continent,..."
It's incredibly heartening and encouraging to realize that peace really is possible - and that it's happening.

"Emergent Democracy"

Blogging luminary Joi Ito has written an essay titled "Emergent Democracy" which discusses democracy and totalitarianism and points to the role of technology - especially weblogs - in the push toward direct democracy.