Monthly Archives: October 2004

brain surgery made easy!

"Yes! You too can be a brain surgeon, with the new Brain-O-Rama surgeon’s helper, a revolutionary new tool from the makers of the incredible Gung-Ho knife!! For just $49.45, you get the Brain-O-Rama scalpel, a rubberized dummy to learn your way around the skull, and complete instructions with helpful anatomical diagrams. You’ll be taking care of tumors in 30-days or less, or your money back!!!!!"

it seems like i’m being ridiculous. i am. and so are half the people trying to sell the latest [insert noun here] made easy products or books or tools or 12-day-tutorial-magic-or-your-money-back courses.

just because i know where your prefrontal cortex is, or because i’ve heard of broca’s area, you wouldn’t want me cutting into your brain with the best scalpel in the world. it wouldn’t make any difference, even if i had read the Dummies book and had seen "Extreme Autopsies" on FOX last week.

and yet people keep talking about making hard things easy, and others keep falling for it. books keep selling that demystify the mystical and show how, gosh, well, it turns out that brain surgery is easy after all, and we were just foolin’ ya so we could keep the money for ourselves (ha!).

i could make jokes all day long, but i believe this kind of behavior, and the thinking behind it, has consequences. it devalues the effort required to create things of value or utility, or to provide important services. in turn, it reduces the perceived value of the fruits of these labors. it cheapens the world and destroys our appreciation of people and the beauty they often create.

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the perils of faith-directed leadership

the following entry was spawned by Ron Suskind’s New York Times article, Without a Doubt. in my opinion, it’s an important and terrifying piece depicting a president possessed by evangelical certainty.


faith and religious belief are important in the lives of most people. they take as many shapes as do the people who practice them. our Constitution and our law have enshrined the freedom of religious practice; it is a central tenet of our government to protect these rights. it is also a central principle that religious practice is separate from the practice of government. our founding fathers were wise to legislate this separation, because the practice of religion, based on faith, should not be commingled with the practices of state, which have their feet firmly rooted in the empirical realities of the world in which we all live.

president clinton was a man of faith, as have been many other presidents, and yet i never felt his faith caused him to suspend rational consideration of empirical facts. indeed, there are some who would say that faith (or intuition) and rationality complete a circle, that they balance and inform each other. in this sense, a faith-informed leadership is natural, even expected. however, a president’s faith should never supercede or dominate the choices of government, and this is where i believe we have gone astray.

in short, we seem to have veered into murky territory where faith is being improperly used as a weapon in the war of ideas. if i criticize the president for being a religious zealot who claims himself to be the right hand of God, i am certain people would complain that i am denying the president’s right to his religion. it is natural, after all, that as a religious man, his faith will inform his thinking. as stated above, i couldn’t agree more.

however, when faced with challenging questions or facts that oppose his vision, Bush dismisses them based on his gut instinct. his certainty, driven by his faith, destroys the possibility for dialogue and demands unflagging devotion in his followers. there is no dialogue with George Bush – only dissent or agreement, my way or the highway, black or white. in my mind, this is faith-directed leadership – faith and the certainty it provides have taken the driver’s seat from dialogue, and are leading us on a white–knuckle crusade.

there is a name for democracy without dialogue and dissent – it is dictatorship.

as our democracy suffocates under Bush’s faith-directed leadership, Suskind’s ideas will probably only serve to polarize the electorate even more. the president’s detractors will voraciously consume the article and see it as a ray of light in an ever-darkening room. his supporters will read the first four paragraphs and dismiss it, seeing a biased, left-wing journalist with an agenda to unseat a man making the world safe for freedom.

the most disheartening quote in the article for me was not anythinig said by Bush, but something said by one of his supporters and aides in Washington:

And for those who don’t get it? That was explained to me in late 2002 by Mark McKinnon, a longtime senior media adviser to Bush, who now runs his own consulting firm and helps the president. He started by challenging me. “You think he’s an idiot, don’t you?” I said, no, I didn’t. “No, you do, all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don’t care. You see, you’re outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don’t read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it’s good for us. Because you know what those folks don’t like? They don’t like you!” In this instance, the final “you,” of course, meant the entire reality-based community.

this is the division our nation faces. my faith in our electorate is waning – nothing can bridge this kind of gap.

faith-directed leadership is a perilous course, a dark and windy road that America has pursued these past four years. if george bush is re-elected, the consequences of following this road will be broad; they will echo across our futures, not as trumpets celebrating triumph, but as righteous drums of war, paranoia, and fear.

p2p politics

lawrence lessig is one of my heroes. read his blog. think about his ideas. or, if that’s too much effort, check out his his p2p politics site. he put it together as a simple tool to allow people to share political content by emailing links to an archive of political ads.

visit lessig’s p2p politics site
it’s supposedly a non-partisan forum; he has invited kerry, bush and nader to make content available on the site. at present, content has been contributed by and the kerry campaign; the bush campaign has yet to contribute anything. one commenter notes that the libertarian candidate was not, apparently, invited.

regardless of my own political leanings, i think it’s important to have access to all of this content. for example, i’m probably one of the few people in the US who hasn’t seen any political ads, most notably any of the bush campaign’s provocative ads. lessig’s site could provide a single archive for all of this information, allowing people to share it and think about it as we come down the home stretch….hopefully, bush will make his ads available.

look ma, no tables!

exclamations of the general form, "look ma, no [insert noun here]" are invariably followed by disasters of one variety or another (e.g., broken limbs, scraped knees, poked out eyes, hindenburg-style vapor cloud explosions). they indicate a certain hubris on the part of the utterer, and mother nature is not one to let these sorts of things slip by unchecked.

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OCDNObsessive Compulsive Desktop Noodling (n. or v.t.): From the forthcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Volume 5 (subsection ‘Computer-related issues’). The process of incessantly rearranging and/or resizing computer desktop windows in a (largely futile) effort to optimize the use of on-screen real-estate. Common sufferers include graphic designers, information architects, web developers, or those who are just generally anal retentive. See also procrastination, boredom.

rashomon and the frailty of human perception

akira kurosawa’s rashomon is a masterful piece of film-making. it recounts a set of heinous events from several different perspectives, and in the process tells a story about the subjectivity of human experience, and the way that truth is usually in the eye of the beholder.

as i’ve consumed the presidential and vice-presidential debates over the last few days, along with the exhaustive media analysis and punditry, i’ve had the distinct feeling i was reliving kurosawa’s film.

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