Thursday, February 26, 2009

Designer Babies - Like It Or Not, Here They Come

"The Fertility Institutes recently stunned the fertility community by being the first company to boldly offer couples the opportunity to screen their embryos not only for diseases and gender, but also for completely benign characteristics such as eye color, hair color, and complexion. The Fertility Institutes proudly claims this is just the tip of the iceberg, and plans to offer almost any conceivable customization as science makes them available. Even as couples from across the globe are flocking in droves to pay the company their life's savings for a custom baby, opponents are vilifying the company for shattering moral and ethical boundaries. Like it or not, the era of designer babies is officially here and there is no going back."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Equal Opportunity Offender

Oh, how the West shook our heads when Muslim extremists went bazonkers over the Danish cartoon depiction of Mohammad. Yet, we frantically throw ourselves on the grenade of shame lobbed by New York Post cartoonist, Sean Delonas. Since most people view the cartoon from within the context of the controversy through a news article or by word of mouth, there is an automatic bias toward seeing the offensive interpretation. I will admit, I took my first look after reading an article about the accusations, and at glance, with the notion in mind the suggestion of racism was readily available.

So, Sean launched a shock bomb. Or did he? After all, perhaps the cartoon suggests only that the writer of the stimulus package might as well have been a monkey. I believe the Infinite Monkey Theorem also applies to the Stimulus Bill, and Sean expressed such a sentiment through his cartoon; the Infinite Monkey Theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.

A friend of mine thought the cartoon might be referring to Nancy Pelosi who actually authored the bill. So, why did the NY Post apologize? Are they admitting that the cartoon is racist? Is Al Sharpton suggesting that HE thinks Obama looks like a monkey? a secular humanist, I declare that this is an insult to chimps everywhere, yuk yuk.

Here's the NY Post's original response, which I find appropriate:

"Wednesday's Page Six cartoon - caricaturing Monday's police shooting of a chimpanzee in Connecticut - has created considerable controversy.

It shows two police officers standing over the chimp's body: "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill," one officer says.

It was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill.


But it has been taken as something else - as a depiction of President Obama, as a thinly veiled expression of racism.

This most certainly was not its intent; to those who were offended by the image, we apologize.

However, there are some in the media and in public life who have had differences with The Post in the past - and they see the incident as an opportunity for payback.

To them, no apology is due.

Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon - even as the opportunists seek to make it something else."

...and here is the follow up apology from Rupert Murdoch himself:

February 24, 2009

"As the Chairman of the New York Post, I am ultimately responsible for what is printed in its pages. The buck stops with me.

Last week, we made a mistake. We ran a cartoon that offended many people. Today I want to personally apologize to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted.

Over the past couple of days, I have spoken to a number of people and I now better understand the hurt this cartoon has caused. At the same time, I have had conversations with Post editors about the situation and I can assure you - without a doubt - that the only intent of that cartoon was to mock a badly written piece of legislation. It was not meant to be racist, but unfortunately, it was interpreted by many as such.

We all hold the readers of the New York Post in high regard and I promise you that we will seek to be more attuned to the sensitivities of our community."

Prior to the election, I remember hearing outcry about the t-shirt depicting Obama as Curious George. Though I fully recognize the intent of the designer being to upset and jab, I had to justify the notion with my own point of view: Like Bush, Obama can also be depicted as a monkey. So, I made my own cartoon featuring Rev. Wright popping up out of the picnic basket (and, yes, McCain did say 'Gooks', so no whining):

Not at all to minimize the history of racism, but the simple core truth is that if someone runs for political office, the public will kick them anywhere they can get a foothold. It's like being in elementary school again. Big nose, quirky voice, whatever; it's going to take a hit. Nothing is sacred, and taking a shot is based on whatever is most readily available. Bad taste can be expected. But what does it mean? It means that those lobbing shock are losing patience for the political correctness and the extent to which those around them are buying into the hype. In the case of Sean Delonas, the cartoon may have even been a means of baiting the rabid PC police, but it may also have been completely benign. Certainly not a blatant caricature of Obama, unlike the ceaseless parade of W Bush/Monkey caricatures that riddled the syndicates throughout both of his terms. One often hears snide remarks about fine art: "That could have been made by a monkey". But, people like Al Sharpton keep the torch lit by insisting upon viewing the world through the lens of racism. Look at Sean Delonas' body of cartoons and fine art, and ask yourself whether a racist sensibility is likely or plausible. Regardless, the episode serves as a litmus test to indicate who still needs to be needed. Sharpton's keen eagle eye is keeping the world free from the tyranny of cartoonists.

More importantly, when the emphasis on race is tactically used to shield and intermingle with wanton political agendas, the result is a volatile dynamic attached to tragically high stakes. Foolishly fusing the sacred and the profane, it smells a lot like religion, and we drop to our knees at the alter, crying for redemption. The symbol of a first African American President potentially signifies a measure of healing in our nation's collective psyche. However, seething with contempt following on the heels of George W's utter failure and abuse, we find ourselves both vulnerable and in shock, unconsciously staring at the next equally polarized alternative. We have indeed swung from economic fascism to wholesale socialism. Or, perhaps fasciosocialism, summoning up emotional appeal at a time of economic crisis. And who more embodies a fresh and opposing face than a young, intelligent, liberal, attractive, black...MAN. Well, Hillary came excrutiatingly close, didn't she? And Sarah Palin, well that was just the spoiler, wasn't it? Come on, folks, Geraldine Ferraro spelled it out about as plain and simply as anyone could ask. It was outright rock-paper-scissors, each party producing candidates who might embody the magic market combo. Pot shots about race would'a-could'a easily been pot shots about gender (what was that about 'lipstick on a pig', Pres. Obama?), or by contrast, about McCain's age or his post-traumatic stress disorder.

In George W's case the pot shots were about intelligence and nepotism. And truly, all associates of W paid a hefty price - the Republican Party itself, Christianity, and the very notion of 'conservative' values. Actually, if you look at African American culture, it is more so rooted in conservative Christian values and Gospel music than any association with Muslim influence, though it may have flirted at times with the seductive calling to anger by Louis Farrakhan. Otherwise, the only draw of a liberal political vote is the promise of an economic break. Black conservatives will tell you that they don't want any handouts and that they understand that the 'liberals' seek to keep them under their wing, like children. And, they are embarrassed by Al Sharpton.

Now, imagine if the first black President had been a moderate or a conservative. Or a military figure, say a true senior-level public official...Colin Powell. I don't know what Powell's politics might look like, but I'd bet he could have given Obama a run for his where'd-he-get-all-that-money. And, this issue about being 'articulate'. As 'articulate' as Obama may be, I doubt any voice coach would get very far with telling Colin Powell to fake a southern drawl...'polic-uh' (policy, in case you haven't caught that) for example. What else...not black enough? Colin Powell is not as susceptible to that level of criteria. It simply would miss the point entirely, whereas Obama's being young, liberal, and yes, black IS quite the point from a marketing standpoint because politically, he is virtually an unknown. Now, the 's' word is certainly getting tossed around a lot, but the preferred euphamism is 'Big Government'. If I were going for a jab, I might just call him 'Big Brotha'.

So, OK, there's a new monkey in the White House - and the label has nothing to do with race. Bush took executive power to the next level, proclaiming that he was 'The Decider'. And, Obama pulled the same act to end the debate over the stimulus package, stating 'I won'. Monkey see, monkey do. And, as the gap widens each time further to the left and further to the right, as this pendulum swings every eight years (yes, eight years), the precedent and path for abuse is further routed. It's like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown who keeps on running up for another kick, setting us up again and again.

So, take my collage and my cartoon with a grain of salt, and then rub that salt in your eyes, ya buncha tv-addicted headline-gobbling eager-consumer babies. And while you're at it, read this parable of wisdom:

Aesop for Children (1919)


The Frogs were tired of governing themselves. They had so much freedom that it had spoiled them, and they did nothing but sit around croaking in a bored manner and wishing for a government that could entertain them with the pomp and display of royalty, and rule them in a way to make them know they were being ruled. No milk and water government for them, they declared. So they sent a petition to Jupiter asking for a king.

Jupiter saw what simple and foolish creatures they were, but to keep them quiet and make them think they had a king he threw down a huge log, which fell into the water with a great splash. The Frogs hid themselves among the reeds and grasses, thinking the new king to be some fearful giant. But they soon discovered how tame and peaceable King Log was. In a short time the younger Frogs were using him for a diving platform, while the older Frogs made him a meeting place, where they complained loudly to Jupiter about the government.

To teach the Frogs a lesson the ruler of the gods now sent a Crane to be king of Frogland. The Crane proved to be a very different sort of king from old King Log. He gobbled up the poor Frogs right and left and they soon saw what fools they had been. In mournful croaks they begged Jupiter to take away the cruel tyrant before they should all be destroyed.

"How now!" cried Jupiter "Are you not yet content? You have what you asked for and so you have only yourselves to blame for your misfortunes."

Be sure you can better your condition before you seek to change.

Domestic vs. World View

No surprise to compare headline priorities between CNN and BBC, but kinda funny to see it back to back.

I remember when CNN posted the news of the Virginia Tech shootings with the headline 'Blood Bath' - our news is all about ratings and sensationalism. And this story about bigfoot that went all the way to national and then international news? The other day CNN had a top headline citing how Lil' Wayne wearing a modest necklace at the Grammys was an indicator of hard economic times. The headline reads 'Will recession dull hip-hop's bling?'. Thanks for bringing that keen insight to the forefront, CNN. By the way, when I googled to recall the article headline by typing 'cnn lil wayne', the search field begs me to discover articles about 'Lil Wayne shot dead' (relax, everyone- this is unconfirmed). Maybe LW should try wearing a kevlar necklace.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Things You See...

Click photo to zoom.

Riding up the road home today and looked up to see two hawks sitting on a very low branch above me. I returned to take a picture and as I approached they moved to a higher branch. I was still able to get a few shots.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cirque du Soleil "Kooza", Ringling Bros. 2009 Review

Just saw Kooza yesterday back to back with Ringling Bros. My opinions:

Ringling Bros.

I've seen Ringling Bros. maybe three times in my life. I recall seeing a 3-ring show in the past and having a hard time deciding where to look because of so much amazing stuff going on at once. I also recall really high trapeze.

This show was overall a big disappointment. Mostly underwhelming acts and esthetically incoherent while visibly groping for strategies to sell itself. Admittedly, I missed the first 30 minutes which I was told included a dog act and clowns which I soon learned were numerous but NOT FUNNY. Upon arrival, there were horses running around the ring with riders doing dismounts/tricks which was brief but actually pretty good. Then, shetland ponies with goats standing on their backs which was odd enough, though I could do without the 'My Little Pony' theme music. The ringmaster sounded like a disc jockey and did a lot of bad singing and stilted talking while in a contest with a clown over who would introduce the best acts. The clown had some character, but his entourage of clowns were totally pointless. Lots of people in the show, none of them looking very enthused; overall just filler and little action.

The one act worth seeing was a spherical cage containing 7 motorcycles riding in formations - I saw a similar act featuring only 2 bikes long ago - very impressive, no doubt. Other acts included 7 tigers on prozac made to stand on their hind legs, and elephants doing some walking and formations. The mid-level flying trapeze was not bad but not astounding, and one guy did a high-up climbing act which was pretty good. At one point, there were 4 features at once including a contortionist, two guys doing body balance formations identical to the Cirque act couple from days past, a woman doing some kind of pole balance and another I don't recall.

I think the staging of this whole thing was just very scattered and contrived. The live band which was under amplified and worked too hard to persuade you that something was amazing. I have to admit that my past trips to see Cirque du Soleil have probably jaded my impression - their shows are more intimate and focused, but seriously, something was really missing from this circus and you walk away feeling like you just saw the Howdy Doody Show, just a bunch of singing and dancing and big groups of people waving half-heartedly.

So, feeling very disappointed, went two exits up 85 and got tickets with a slightly obstructed view at Kooza, just 45 minutes before the next show. One dollar less than Ringling Bros. and beyond compare.


No spoilers about Kooza; however, I will say it is the best Cirque du Soleil I've seen so far (this was my fourth or fifth show, I believe - I also saw Quidam, Dralion, and Corteo). Every act delivered absolutely astounding and unimaginable feats of super human ability. This show is in your face with the goods and never overdoes the artistic element to overwhelm the show with unwanted emotion or filler. Having said that, the music is fantastic and prominently featured, the costumes, staging and esthetics perfectly balanced and brilliant. The show was written and directed by David Shiner, a former Cirque clown and actor - adult-oriented clown characters and humor throughout the show.

The show runs through March. The obstructed view seating was very acceptable for the price of $36 - we were on the end seats, so for a few acts, we got up and stood on the ramp to the left of us to afford a better view, no problem. Naturally, If possible, I would of course have preferred getting something in the center in order to see the band set up. But, I would urge anyone on a budget who really wants to see this show to grab the obstructed view with an end seat without hesitation. There really are no bad seats in this relatively small tent, and the superior design of this show ensures satisfaction.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dig Deep the Wells of Geekery

View Past Articles Posted on MySpace Blog

Collection of articles on remarkable emerging science and technology. Skim the headlines and view the archives for more, back to 2005.

Memes on Facebook

"A survey of about 3,000 people who were tagged in a "25 Random Things About Me" note on Facebook found that memes spread through social networks in a remarkably similar way as diseases do. A biologist who looked at the data says that "'25 Things' authors can be seen as 'contagious' under what's known as a 'susceptible-infected-recovered' model for the spread of disease," with a propagation factor of 0.27 in this case. But like an infection, the whole thing died out as quickly as it exploded once the number of 'victims' — people who were willing to write 25 things about themselves — was depleted."

Advanced Prosthetic Arm

Scroll down for video.