Monthly Archives: August 2007

Summer Reading List-log

List of summer reading:

  • I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter — 363 pages
  • Fiasco by Thomas Ricks — 439 pages
  • God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens — 283 pages
  • Invasion of the Party Snatchers by Victor Gold — 235 pages
  • Settling Accounts: Drive to the East by Harry Turtledove — 594 pages
  • Settling Accounts: The Grapple by Harry Turtledove — 616 pages
  • Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar — 176 pages
  • A Collection of Essays by George Orwell — 316 pages (unfinished — approximately read 100 pages)
  • Downsizing Democracy by Matthew Crenson and Benjamin Ginsberg — 244 pages (unfinished — read 128 pages)

Total pages read (approximate): 2934.

I’m Lost

If life’s a journey, then I’m lost. I have no idea where I am, and, even worse, I have no idea where I want to go.

Sometimes when I look into my own mind, all I see is an abyss. If I close my eyes and listen, I hear the buzz of bewilderment.

There is no obvious road from here. There is no road more travelled, no road less travelled — no damn roads at all. There ain’t no damn road that’s going to tell me what I want to do with my life.

And there’s no person who can tell me that either. That leaves just me to decide, right? But what if I don’t know? Because I don’t.

I stand here, lost in an utterly alien landscape.

There are only a few choices.

One: Look backwards. Yet no matter how quickly you run in that direction, you never get anywhere. The landscape stretches and you get further and further from where you want to go. Time does not allow you to move backwards.

Option one, therefore, is out of the picture.

Two: Sit down, paralyzed. Never get anywhere. Survive, but do nothing. Live a boring life.

Unacceptable. To throw away the gift of life without doing anything with it is equivalent to suicide.

Option two, therefore, is out of the picture.

Three: Pick a direction and trudge forward. Put one foot in front of the other.

I choose option three.

The path I choose will be arbitrary, but so is any other. The absurdity and arbitrariness of the universe is simultaneously a source of despair and a source of consolation. My choices don’t matter, but my mistakes don’t either. Maybe I don’t know what I want, but does it really matter?

Perhaps I will find what I like while travelling along this new path and perhaps I won’t. Nevertheless, I sure as hell won’t find it just sitting here. To find what’s beyond the horizon, I must walk forward.

In order to make sure this decision is not completely useless, I must move from the abstract to the concrete. I must make specific choices.

First of all, I choose to take this semester to pursue as many things as I can, and then, make my choices later as to where to focus. What can I handle? What can I not? I don’t know, and I won’t know, until I just overload myself. Furthermore, I don’t know what I like, and this will help narrow things down.

I have obligations towards three clubs: The Pool Club, the College Republicans, and The Carrollton Record. I will keep up my pool playing skills, provided my shoulder issues haven’t ruled that out. I will use the College Republicans to train people on how to make an impact, regardless of their political inclinations. I will maintain a policy of integrity. I will do this training regardless of the group’s size. I will continue to write for The Carrollton Record, and I will attempt to widen it’s online audience.

I choose to not neglect my studies and maintain my high GPA. I will not get a grade lower than an A-. I choose to take 12 credits a semester for the rest of my undergraduate experience in order to pursue extracurriculars and develop better relations with my professors.

I choose to pursue philosophy more vigorously. I will post philosophy on this blog and write more serious essays. I will solicit my professor’s opinions on this philosophizing.

I choose to be a cartoonist. I need The Chalkboard Manifesto as an alternative creative outlet. It makes my life better and funnier. I will fulfill my update obligations. I will expand my comic’s audience.

I choose to be a writer — an essayist, of sorts. I will look for opportunities to write in different publications. I will look for jobs at different publications.

I choose to be an activist. Specifically, I’d like to expand voting by introducing same-day registration everywhere or eliminating registration, and I’d like to move voting to the weekend. Of course, this isn’t a personal goal, and I’d have to team up with many other people to achieve this.

I choose to refine and change these goals on a regular basis and as needed.

Verbal Commitment for The Chalkboard Manifesto

I will update The Chalkboard Manifesto every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday until the end of the year.

I will have a 10 comic buffer by the end of September and a 20 comic buffer by the end of the October. Once established, this buffer should never dip below 10 and should always be replenished to twenty by the 1st of the next month after the end of a vacation.

Now it’s in writing. Now I have to do it. See you tomorrow.

Complain again but do nothing

I can’t do it. I can’t go back to school. I can’t write those ridiculously worthless essays. I can’t continuously spew out bullshit for them.

I can’t do it. I can’t listen to another lecture.

Can I sit there while the world goes on without me?

Can I sit there while the environment is wrecked, our soldiers die, and our corrupt politicians make more money?

I say I can’t, but I can. I’ve done it for two years, haven’t I?

What’s two more?

What’s another two after that?

I can’t do it. I can’t go to work. I can’t sit in a cubicle farm. Isn’t there more to life?

I say I can’t, but I can. I’ve done it before, haven’t I?

Make the money. Sit in front of the TV. Act indignant. Go to sleep.

Complain again but do nothing.

Wedding Today

Later today, I’m going to my cousin’s wedding. So, I’m blogging right now after a night out with some of my friends. I’m truly blessed (in a secular way — so, extremely lucky) to have such great friends, and I think tomorrow I’ll be reminded about how great my extended family is.

Good night.


This may be a way in which I might want to break my rule of updating once a day. There are all these magnificent links out there which I still want people to see.

  • Sullivan links to Obama on the Daily Show. Not only does this show off the skills of Obama in appearing above the fray, but it also demonstrates John Stewart’s interviewing skills.
  • Matt Yglesias asks John Edwards and Barack Obama, just what the heck are “vital interests”? This reminds me of the “Meaningless Words” section in George Orwell’s classic essay, Politics and the English Language.
  • Bruce Schneier is his usual astute self, when talking about how spending money on interoperable communication systems for emergency response helped save lives in Minnesota: “Too much of the money spent on terrorism defense has been overly specific: effective only if the terrorists attack a particular target or use a particular tactic. Money spent on emergency response is different: It’s effective regardless of what the terrorists plan, and it’s also effective in the wake of natural or infrastructure disasters.”
  • Lloyd meditates on what weblogging is: weblogging as life (yes, itself). Very… sweeping. And when I think of philosophy, I think this is it. Trying to make sense of the world.

No, I Don’t See

I am completely fascinated by how differently people operate. This post, Overstimulation, that I chanced upon totally drew me in. So, in this same vein, I’m going to write about a weird quirk I have.

I often hear people complain about how the movie characters never look like how they imagined them while reading the book. I have never had this problem. “Ah, what a remarkable coincidence! They always look like how you imagine them!” you probably won’t guess. In fact, the reason I don’t have this problem is because I never imagine these characters in the first place.

While others may say that when they read, they see a movie in their mind’s eye, I see nothing. I can’t even imagine seeing a movie whilst I read. Wouldn’t that be distracting?

Descriptions tend to be essentially skipped over. I mean, I’ll read it, but it won’t register. If the character has a peculiar physical flaw, like a missing hand, I’ll make a mental note of it, and I’ll remember it when it is necessary. I can perfectly process the information in an abstract way. However, I won’t be creating a mental image of a one-handed man.

When I write, I create character descriptions out of obligation. I don’t need to imagine the way they look.

Am I deficient in visualization skills? I don’t think so, but I don’t know how you really measure these things. If you gave me pictures of blocks, I could probably put them together in my head better than the average person. With a little training, I doubt I would have trouble remembering small details in pictures. My drawing is horrible, but that’s because I never bothered developing that skill. I don’t have the talent to become an amazing artist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t become mediocre.

Another thing, which may be related: Gruff voices and high voices don’t exist when I read quotations. However, this could be a side effect of sub-vocalization. And when I read too fast for sub-vocalization, of course there won’t be any voices. Yet I don’t think I’ve heard anyone complain about how the character sounds so different from how they imagined it.

I think it’s just the way I read and not some weird type of visualization-blindness. The way you probably read a boring text book is the same way I read a novel.

How do you read?

Experiment: Blogging Once a Day

I dislike my recent quick-burst blogging style. I didn’t sit down and decide to write short posts all the time; it just happened. Maybe it’s a combination of being busy and still desiring to blog. Or maybe I wasn’t busy and I was just to lazy to engage in sustained writing. Whatever the reasoning behind it, I want to change to style where I write one long post once a day.

Every time I read a blog entry by Glenn Greenwald, I’m amazed at the way he weaves together facts to build a case. Those who work in pundit-world issue broad assertions based on their personal feelings and pre-existing ideological shackles. Greenwald supports his claims with evidence. For example, look at the plethora of polling data in this post on the low approval ratings of Congress. Yet I’m not drooling over his writing because it contains data. As stated above, I like the way he weaves together those facts — he is able to connect different pieces of information and construct a cohesive argument. His writings don’t feel like blog entries; they feel like essays. I’d rather be an essayist than a blogger, and so, I’d like to imitate him a bit more. (The online essayist has the powerful tool called the hyperlink, which does change things some what.)

I also have always enjoyed Lloyd’s weblog and he writes one entry a day. (Sometimes, he’ll update this same entry multiple times or address two different topics, but each day has one post.) Note that I wrote out “weblog” in full, instead of simply typing “blog.” That’s because it feels crude to call Lloyd’s weblog a mere “blog.” I can’t explain quite why I feel that the word is crude. There must be some element of unconscious synesthesia because the word’s texture feels crude in my mouth. In any case, I can’t apply such a crude moniker to Lloyd’s weblog because it is so much more than what normal people write. What Lloyd does goes beyond an online diary. His weblog a living, breathing manifestation of his self, his consciousness, his soul. Those who read his weblog are in no danger of a feeling of false intimacy because that really is a big piece of Lloyd on the internet.

I recently read Douglas Hofstadter’s book, I Am a Strange Loop. The small wikipedia entry for the book gives this quote: “In the end, we self-perceiving, self-inventing, locked-in mirages are little miracles of self-reference.” Lloyd has a created one of these strange loops with his weblog, which contains an unusual number of “hunekers” (Hofstadter’s imaginary unit of soul) for an online entity composed of words, pictures, and links. Hofstadter talks about how an image of his wife’s self partly existed in his mind. A lower-resolution image of this sort exists in the mind of all the readers of his weblog.

Okay, that’s enough philosophical dissection of “the free radical.”

While I certainly don’t believe that making one post a day is sufficient for writing like Lloyd, it almost seems like a necessary condition. Always writing lots of little things is too scattered to make a living weblog. It’s hard to take those disparate pieces and turn them into a whole. Limiting myself to one post a day will force myself to focus on creating wholes rather than pieces. I will be able to create sustained arguments rather than isolated bits of snark.

I don’t like the isolated bits of snark because it doesn’t tell anyone (including myself) anything useful. For example, check out this entry from July:

I’m going to print out this article, The Pentagon Gets a Lesson From Madison Avenue, and put it in my sarcasm filing cabinet, under “Fucking Brilliant.”

Yes, fucking brilliant! What the military needs is re-branding in Iraq! If we label this lead balloon as a happy balloon, everyone will buy it!

What I wanted to say is that it’s bizarre to treat a real problem as if it were an image problem. Imagine a bunch of corrupt businessmen saying that their problem was that people perceived them as corrupt. Futhermore, I doubt the ad-men say anything useful that isn’t already explained more in-depth by books on counter-insurgency, or at least that’s the impression I have after having read Fiasco.

Now imagine if I explored what I just wrote above and added some research. Juxtapose that with the snark you see above and you know why I’m so disappointed in what I’ve been writing. This blog is worthless as a learning tool if I just write those bits and pieces; focusing on condescending dismissal enhances my biases, instead of teaching me new things.

So, it’s time to make my blog more thoughtful and more fact-full. I will do this by limiting myself to one blog entry a day (along with doing more research).

Return to Literature

I used to read a lot of science fiction, but after one particularly bad book, I’ve hardly read any science fiction at all. For the past few years, I’ve almost exclusively read non-fiction. There are some exceptions: The Brothers Karamazov (which I read on my own), various books I read for my Introductiont to Fiction and Poetry classes, and a few Harry Turtledove alternate history books. Hence, why I said almost.

But right at this moment, I feel like the lack of literature in my life is a particularly bad thing. Non-fiction contains facts, but if you really want to learn something about human nature, it’s best to read a novel. (Of course, non-fiction in narrative form can also teach a lot.)

In addition, I’m reading too many blogs and not enough novels. I’ve taken a bit of time to examine how I spend my time and feel that much of the time I spend on the computer would be better spent on literature.

I’m about to read Dostoevsky’s The Underground. That’s just one book, though. I want to ask anybody out there for suggestions, but I don’t want just any suggestions. In fact, I don’t even want your absolute favorite novel.

If anyone wants to make a suggestion, you have to suggest a novel that deeply, profoundly affected you and changed the way you think.


Administration defends FISA powers, but not very convincingly. From the article: “Mr. McConnell’s letter, however, said the government will police itself and has measures in place to prevent snooping on U.S. citizens.” Police itself. *giggle*

By the way, look at the obfuscation in this sentence:

“These procedures have worked well for decades and eliminate from intelligence reports incidentally acquired information concerning U.S. persons that does not constitute foreign intelligence,” said Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

“Incidentally acquired information concerning U.S. persons that does not constitute foreign intelligence” is delightfully wordy. It can’t be anything bad!

Dirty Rotten Lying Bastards

You might recall Senator Arlen Specter voting for the Military Commissions Act one day, and then defending habeas corpus the next. I consider him nailed on that issue.

Well, now it turns out that he’s not the only dirty rotten lying bastard. The Democrats have done it too, as Dahlia Lithwick so eloquently explains. They denounce Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general, one day, and then vote to give him more eavesdropping powers the next. Observe:

There is virtually no way to reconcile Sen. Mark Pryor’s, D-Ark., claim that Gonzales has “lied to the Senate” and needs to go with his vote to expand the reach of our warrantless eavesdropping program. And how can one possibly square Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s, D-Calif., claim that the AG “just doesn’t tell the truth” with her vote to give him yet more unchecked authority? You either trust this AG with the power to listen in on your phone calls or you do not, and the mumbled justifications for these “yes” votes ( … but Gonzales shares his authority with National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell; … but the bill sunsets in six months) do nothing to lessen the impression that some Democrats mistrust Gonzales when it’s convenient, but not when it’s truly important. [This entire paragraph is from Lithwick’s piece, linked above.]

Indeed, there is no way to reconcile what they said with what they did. They are a bunch of goddamn hypocrites and deserve to be thrown out of office.

This breaks a general rule I follow, but I’m starting to think that the Democrats did it just because they can’t wait for their president to have that kind of power.

It appears that there would be no point to even switching parties.

It will probably take me several days before I can become optimistic again and think that this can be fought. For now, I will wallow in my anger.

Internets Poll Doesn’t Understand the Internets

Ron Paul Wins FreedomWorks GOP Presidential Straw Poll, but I’m concerned about how accurate their poll is. The following statement sets off my bullshit meter:

“The FreedomWorks GOP Straw Poll was engineered to allow for only one vote per e-mail address, and all email addresses had to be validated to count in the poll, making it one of the most accurate online polls.”

No, never mind. It must be remarkably accurate — because, you know, I don’t have at least 5 different e-mail addresses, and I don’t use a different name with any of them.

[Note: This is not a judgment of Ron Paul, any other candidate, or their supporters.]

UPDATE: After some Ron Paul supporters left a few comments, I decided I’d clarify a few things.

I don’t doubt Ron Paul’s support on the internet, and I wish him the best because I’d really like him to shake up the Republican Party, even though I will not ultimately support him or any other Republican candidate for president in the 2008 elections. Furthermore, Ron Paul has an actual record of limiting government, unlike the Security Demagogue, Rudy Giuliani, or the platitude-machine, Fred Thompson.

I guess my real point is the press release’s silly “one of the most accurate online polls” claim. The security hole is there, I’ve pointed it out, and I pass no judgment on the candidates, any of their supporters, or the true state of support for anyone. I changed the title of the post (from “Ron Paul Wins Online Poll, But…”) to further reflect that.

I wish Ron Paul’s supporters the best of luck at the Ames Straw Poll. I’d love to see Mitt “Double Guantanamo” Romney go down in flames.

War on Aging Infrastructure

So when’s the War on Aging Infrastructure coming? A bridge collapses in Minnesota and oh… how about those levees in New Orleans? Isn’t it time for people to demand action?

Naw, I guess aging infrastructure isn’t as scary as drugs or brown people.

EDIT: On a more serious note, money and good intentions aren’t enough. Instead of demanding “action,” maybe it’s time people demanded “results.”

Worth Quoting

This is worth quoting a million times (but I wish I had my book with me because I like that translation of the quote better)

“Infinite examples read in the remembrances of ancient histories demonstrate how much difficulty there is for a people used to living under a prince to preserve its freedom afterward, if by some accident it acquires it, as Rome acquired it after the expulsion of the Tarquins. Such difficulty is reasonable; for that people is nothing other than a brute animal that, although of a ferocious and feral nature, has always been nourished in prison and in servitude. Then, if it is left free in a field to its fate, it becomes the prey of the first one who seeks to rechain it, not being used to feed itself and not knowing places where it may have to take refuge.” – Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Book I, Chapter 16