Bad Disney Movies

posted in: The Bigger Picture | 0

Matt Damon gets mucho respect points from me for this hilarious clip, in which he criticizes the Republican party’s choice of running mate for John McCain. Check it out:

He’s right – it is absurd. Thing is though, when you dig into Sarah Palin’s background, the idea that she might end up as President of the US starts looking damn scary, not funny. For instance, F. William Engdahl writes in an excellent article:

The religious background of Sarah Palin is not unrelated to her bid to take the nation’s second highest office. She herself has been extremely vague about that background. Given the details, it becomes clearer perhaps why.

Sarah Palin has spent more than two and a half decades of her life as a member of an Alaska church which is part of a fanatical Christian-named cult project that is sweeping across America. Palin comes out of the most radical stream of US Born-Again Evangelism known as ‘Joel’s Army,’ an offshoot of what is called Dominionism and sometimes also called the Latter Rain cult or Manifest Sons of God. The movement deliberately attempts to remain below the radar screen.

If you’ve never heard of Dominionism before, check out the following articles: The Christian Right and the Rise of American FascismThe Dominionism Apostasy: The Despoiling of America by Christianity turned EvilJoel’s Army, The Rise of The New Storm Troopers and Sarah Palin used Alaskan tax dollars to fund dominionist churches. Another pretty freaky one is: Jesus plus nothing: Undercover among America’s secret theocrats. One blogger also writes that Dominionists plan to steal the 2008 elections.

Religious stuff aside though, another scary thing about Palin is her apparent cluelessness:

And after watching her “debate” Joe Biden, I think she doesn’t do much other than reiterate folksy platitudes and talking points, whereas Biden at least produced facts and figures to back up what he said. Rolling Stone puts it pretty well:

But watching Palin’s speech, I had no doubt that I was witnessing a historic, iconic performance. The candidate sauntered to the lectern with the assurance of a sleepwalker – and immediately launched into a symphony of snorting and sneering remarks, taking time out in between the superior invective to present herself as just a humble gal with a beefcake husband and a brood of healthy, combat-ready spawn who just happened to be the innocent targets of a communist and probably also homosexual media conspiracy. It was a virtuoso performance. She appeared to be completely without shame and utterly full of shit, awing a room full of hardened reporters with her sickly sweet line about the high-school-flame-turned-hubby who, “five children later” is “still my guy.” It was like watching Gidget address the Reichstag. […]

The great insight of the Palin VP choice is that huge chunks of American voters no longer even demand that their candidates actually have policy positions; they simply consume them as media entertainment, rooting for or against them according to the reflexive prejudices of their demographic, as they would for reality-show contestants or sitcom characters. Hicks root for hicks, moms for moms, born-agains for born-agains. Sure, there was politics in the Palin speech, but it was all either silly lies or merely incidental fluffery buttressing the theatrical performance. A classic example of what was at work here came when Palin proudly introduced her Down syndrome baby, Trig, then stared into the camera and somberly promised parents of special-needs kids that they would “have a friend and advocate in the White House.” This was about a half-hour before she raised her hands in triumph with McCain, a man who voted against increasing funding for special-needs education. 

And some of her fellow Alaskans don’t seem too impressed with her, either, especially after the New York Times reported that an Alaskan inquiry concluded Palin abused her authority as Governor in an attempt to get her ex-brother-in-law fired from the police force. Sounds like a swell gal, huh?

Fortunately it looks like Obama commands a large lead at this point, so unless some election vote-counting dirty tricks get pulled, Palin and McCain probably don’t stand much of a chance. I guess we’ll find out on November 5th. 

Brother, can you spare a dime?

posted in: General | 0

Well, the economy is the “big news” at the moment. Of course, we now see the “doomsayer” economists who have actually paid attention over the last few years starting to show up on the news just in time to say, “I told you so” and, “We’re heading for the next Great Depression”. Well, I can’t blame them really. The corporate financial media has pretty much done nothing but hype the market and ignore dissenting voices for so long that it doesn’t look like there’s much else to say. Actually, a lot more could be said but I don’t think it will happen until the public get a lot angrier than they appear at the moment. Stories like this one should certainly help:

Less than a week after the federal government committed $85 billion to bail out AIG, executives of the giant AIG insurance company headed for a week-long retreat at a luxury resort and spa, the St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, California, Congressional investigators revealed today.

“Rooms at this resort can cost over $1,000 a night,” Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) said this morning as his committee continued its investigation of Wall Street and its CEOs.

AIG documents obtained by Waxman’s investigators show the company paid more than $440,000 for the retreat, including nearly $200,000 for rooms, $150,000 for meals and $23,000 in spa charges. 

Who said the unbridled greed and hedonism of the 80’s were over? And let’s not forget cronyism – plenty of that going on in the White House/Wall Street/Federal Reserve “Crony Triangle” as well. No doubt the ultra-rich will scoop up plenty of assets at fire-sale prices as the collapse worsens. As George Carlin so eloquently put it, “The table is tilted folks… the game is rigged”.

Unfortunately, with the news last month of 8 people arrested for planning a US political protest, it quite probably will come to pass that the American people will face brutally repressive measures by their government if unrest over the economy begins to escalate. The current US Presidential election campaign will likely hold such unrest in check until at least next year though, I think. The prevailing notion suggests that if they can hold on until Bush goes from the White House, the new guy will fix things. Given the state of the US and global economy at the moment, that seems like wishful thinking to me. 

Anyway, to change the subject completely, another interesting article that caught my eye describes something called “asexual” relationships – basically, relationships where the partners don’t have sex. At all. (I can already hear the cynical catcalls – “Sounds like a marriage” etc… stow it guys. 😉  ). Here’s a snippet:

One day I got an email from Amanda. She was asexual, living close by, and offered to show me around the neighbourhood. In case she was cruising for an asexual boyfriend, I responded with a warning that I was “vehemently anti-romantic”. But we met up anyway, for tea and ice-skating, and we took to meeting a lot.

I loved Amanda’s attitude to life and enjoyed hanging out with her. And she was pretty. At first I tried to treat it like any other friendship. Then I found myself travelling four miles downtown to deliver sandwiches when she told me she was hungry. Two months in, we were at a gig and it seemed like a good idea to hold her hand. I felt cautious about it but just wanted to. I wondered if I could. Then I found I couldn’t let go.

That evening ended with us agreeing that our friendship was an important thing. We wanted to commit for life. In the asexual community we don’t form relationships lightly. If you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with a person, there’s no reason to make such a special commitment.

When we announced our engagement, our families were happy for us, and our friends in the asexual community were particularly pleased. On our wedding night, my mother-in-law insisted on booking us into a honeymoon suite, so we invited all our friends to an after party. We played Scrabble late into the night and everyone stayed over and slept on the hotel-room floor.

People always ask how our marriage is different from just being friends, but I think a lot of relationships are about that – being friends. We have built on our friendship, rather than scrapping it and moving on somewhere else. The obvious way we differ is that we don’t have sex, though we do kiss and cuddle. We like to joke that the longer we’re married the less unusual this is. By the time we’ve been married five years we’ll be just like everyone else. 

As the saying goes, “Truth is stranger than fiction”, yes? But can asexuality really be considered that strange, or is it just that the Western culture of hyper-sexuality (propagated via the cult of celebrity and mainstream media) permeates our psyche to the point that it creates a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of relationships without sex? Interestingly, at about the same time, I also found this article in The Age, which cites a study revealing the role of sex in relationships may be greatly overrated:

Men who tell women they value relationships over sex now have the weight of numbers to back their argument.

Almost 28,000 randomly selected men, aged 20 to 75, from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Mexico and Brazil responded to a standardised telephone interview about their attitudes to life and sex.

The results, published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, showed men overwhelmingly rated attributes such as being seen as a man of honour and having the respect of your friends ahead of having success with women when assessing masculinity.

When it came to quality of life, one-third of respondents said being in good health was the most important factor, followed by a harmonious family life (26 per cent) and being in a good relationship with their partner or wife (19 per cent).

Just two per cent put a satisfying sex life as their top priority.

“Taken together, this body of research underscores the centrality to men of nonsexual aspects of the male identity (and) emphasises the importance of the couple relationship,” German researcher Michael Sand said in his research.

Given the above data, I can certainly see some big advantages in asexuality, especially during the formative stages of a relationship. I imagine it as much easier to form a genuine emotional connection without all the adrenalin and pheromones getting in the way. Nice gig if you can get it, but I guess the rest of us will have to rely on jogging, cold showers and willpower if we want to abstain! 

And to finish this post on a completely different note – a Yale astronomer has discovered a theoretical hard limit to the size of black holes:

There appears to be an upper limit to how big the universe’s most massive black holes can get, according to new research led by a Yale University astrophysicist.

Once considered rare and exotic objects, black holes are now known to exist throughout the universe, with the largest and most massive found at the centers of the largest galaxies. These “ultra-massive” black holes have been shown to have masses upwards of one billion times that of our own Sun. Now, Priyamvada Natarajan, an associate professor of astronomy and physics at Yale University and a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and Ezequiel Treister, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Hawaii, have shown that even the biggest of these gravitational monsters can’t keep growing forever. Instead, they appear to curb their own growth – once they accumulate about 10 billion times the mass of the Sun.

These ultra-massive black holes, found at the centers of giant elliptical galaxies in huge galaxy clusters, are the biggest in the known universe. Even the large black hole at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy is thousands of times less massive than these behemoths. But these gigantic black holes, which accumulate mass by sucking in matter from neighboring gas, dust and stars, seem unable to grow beyond this limit regardless of where – and when – they appear in the universe. “It’s not just happening today,” said Natarajan. “They shut off at every epoch in the universe.”

The study, to appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS), represents the first time an upper mass limit has been derived for black holes. Natarajan and Treister used existing optical and X-ray data of these ultra-massive black holes to show that, in order for those various observations to be consistent, the black holes must essentially shut off at some point in their evolution.

One possible explanation put forth by Natarajan is that the black holes eventually reach the point when they radiate so much energy as they consume their surroundings that they end up interfering with the very gas supply that feeds them, which may interrupt nearby star formation. The new findings have implications for the future study of galaxy formation, since many of the largest galaxies in the universe appear to co-evolve along with the black holes at their centers.

“Evidence has been mounting for the key role that black holes play in the process of galaxy formation,” said Natarajan. “But it now appears that they are likely the prima donnas of this space opera.”

Economic collapse, asexuality, self-limiting black holes… the Universe is a mysterious and fascinating place indeed!

Quick update

posted in: General | 1

Wow, 2008 is moving quickly, huh? Haven’t posted an update for a while, I know, and guess what – I still haven’t left! Turns out autumn/winter in the Southern hemisphere is not the best time to look for fruit-picking jobs. And as luck would have it, I’ve run out of money! So, it’s back to work for me for a while, and rather than have a “working holiday” I think I’ll have a “working change”.

Car-wise, I ended up going with the Mitsi Triton. They’re excellent value for money compared to the Toyota Hilux, and have a good reputation reliability-wise. Even managed to find one with all the trimmings – bullbar, canopy etc. Had to fly down to Melbourne to pick it up and drive it back though, which was a nice little mini-adventure in itself. Drove through the Gippsland region and up through the foothills of the Snowy mountains through Canberra, then took the highway through Sydney and followed the coast road back to the Sunshine State. Great scenery, and a nice drive, although the cost of diesel is certainly stinging a bit these days! I’m certainly not the only person complaining about that one though. Hopefully we’ll see some relief soon, but the global economic climate at the moment is not good. 

And speaking of “climate change” – it’s been a pretty cold winter here across Oz, based on the news reports – even here in the “Great South East”. Makes me think it’s not so much “global warming” as “global cooling”! It’ll be interesting to see what the spring and summer bring but there’s still another month of winter to go, so I’m not putting the Ugg-boots away just yet. 😉

Hope you all are doing well, no matter which hemisphere you’re in!

My baby, she gone away

posted in: General | 0

Well, it’s done. Two weeks ago I finally sold my Honda Integra – one sleek and sexy mistress who’s kept me company for the last 4-odd years. I’ve uploaded a few pics to the Gallery under the album “Cars”.

Selling a car can be an eye-opening experience. You get to observe that what you think the car is worth isn’t necessarily what the general public thinks, while at the same time having to fend off those who think your car is worth far less than what a genuine buyer would pay for it. I had offers that represented half of what I actually sold the car for, never mind what I had originally asked for it! It turned out for the best though – the car went to a good home and both parties were happy with the deal (maybe the buyer just a bit more than the seller, but I don’t begrudge him that 😉 ).

It took longer than I thought to sell the car – seems to be a buyers market for 2-door sports coupes at the moment in Oz – and so I’m still kicking around at home getting ready for my trip. After a bit of soul-searching, I’ve realised the need for a more “substantial” lady to keep me company on my journey. Two models under consideration are the Mitsubishi Triton and the Toyota Hilux, both of which I’ve had the opportunity to test drive so far. Although the factory specifications have the Triton’s 2.8L 4-cylinder turbo diesel motor outputting 96kW to the Hilux’s 85kW (3.0L 4-cylinder turbo diesel), the ute doesn’t feel quite as quick off the mark compared to the Hilux. That being said, the overall ride in the Triton is much smoother compared to the dipping, swaying and bouncing of the Hilux. Gear changes are also nicer in the Trition, however the lack of a foot rest on the left hand side next to the clutch is somewhat annoying. I’ll post a more thorough review of each once I’ve driven a couple more, but at this point the Triton is just in front compared to the Hilux – mostly out of pricing considerations.

Decisions, decisions…

Weight loss that works!

posted in: General | 0

No, it’s not Dr Rudi’s weight loss scheme, but it’s close to it – and it works for overweight men, too. Instead of “eating less”, you simply eat nothing. I am of course referring to the age-old practice of fasting. It’s something I’ve been doing on an annual basis for the last couple of years – find a couple of weeks where I’ve got minimal things to do (this in itself can be tricky!) and stock up on select fruit juices, then stop eating.

There are many different ways to fast, and I’m not going to go into all the permutations. Juice fasting (and/or the Master Cleanser) is what works best for me, as it supplies a few simple sugars that allow me to keep up with daily activities as well as do light exercise. I’ve tried fasting with only filtered water before, and it’s not a very pleasant experience – I got really weak and dizzy to the point where I couldn’t do much except move between the couch and bed. Even reading books was difficult! Juice fasting is really good though, especially combined with salt-water flushes. The first couple of days are always a bit difficult, but I don’t have any problems doing a two-week stretch now. Apparently juice fasts of 30-40 days are easy and safe to do once you work your way up to them. I find life tends to disrupt my fasting schedules (eating out with friends, or family dinners etc) though, so I’d probably have to disconnect myself from the ‘net, throw away my mobile phone and go out into a shack in the wilderness to get through 40 days uninterrupted!

This year, I decided to follow up a two-week juice fast with a 15-day “detox diet program“.

The detox diet consists of following a pretty strict diet (no meat, no dairy, no processed foods, no white/processed grain foods etc) and taking herbal pills with and between meals. So I ate more wholegrain bread/pasta, fruits and vegetables than I have done in a long time I reckon. Needless to say, after nearly a whole month of detoxing and eating healthy, tucking into stuff like beef rissoles and chocolate biscuits was “quite pleasant”. 😉

The overall results? I’m now feeling great and have dropped 10kg and am two notches tighter on my belt. Doing push-ups and sit-ups is certainly a bit easier with a little less weight around the middle! I’m sure Dr Rudi would heartily approve of such a yearly regime.

Speaking of which, I’ll leave you for now with some more advice from the good doctor on a topic that vexes all of us: dealing with wankers.



posted in: Inner Journeys | 0

I was reading through an essay by A.R. Orage this evening, entitled “On Love”. On the subject of love and relationships, it’s quite a unique perspective. Here’s an example:

It [conscious love] is rare among humans because, in the first place, the vast majority are children who look to be loved but not to love; secondly, because perfection is seldom conceived as the proper end of human love-though it alone distinguishes adult human from infantile and animal love; thirdly, because humans do not know, even if they wish, what is good for those they love; and fourthly, because it never occurs by chance, but must be the subject of resolve, effort, self-conscious choice. As little as Bushido or the Order of Chivalry grew up accidentally does conscious love arise by nature. As these were works of art, so must conscious love be a work of art. Such a lover enrols himself, goes through his apprenticeship, and perhaps one day attains to mastery. He perfects himself in order that he may purely wish and aid the perfection of his beloved.

Would one enrol in this service of conscious love? Let him forswear personal desire and preconception. He contemplates his beloved. What manner of woman (or man) is she (or he)? A mystery is here: a scent of perfection the nascent air of which is adorable. How may this perfection be actualised-to the glory of the beloved and of God her Creator? Let him think, is he fit? He can only conclude that he is not. Who cannot cultivate flowers, or properly treat dogs and horses, how shall he learn to reveal the perfection still seedling in the beloved?

Humility is necessary, and then deliberate tolerance. If I am not sure what is proper to her perfection, let her at least have free way to follow her own bent. Meanwhile to study- what she is, and may become; what she needs, what her soul craves and cannot find a name, still less a thing, for. To anticipate today her needs of tomorrow. And without a thought all the while of what her needs may mean to me.

You will see, sons and daughters, what self-discipline and self-education are demanded here. Enter these enchanted woods, ye who dare.

Just to provide context, Orage is talking specifically about conscious love, one of three main types. The other two are instinctive/biological love (“chemistry”) and emotional love.

This got me pondering quite a bit. I mean, the guy makes some good points. “Love” is a word that each person tends to have their own unique interpretation of. But if it was possible to refine all these billions of interpretations of what love is, would we eventually reach a couple of main types? And if we arrange these types into a method of classification, could there be different methods of classification, based on different main types? How would we know which class of types was most objective? Since that starts to fall under the question of, “What is proof?” and I don’t feel like discussing that one, I’m going to take Orage’s types as a sort of “conceptual playground” for the moment.

The concept of instinctive or biological drives being slapped with the label “Love”, is probably pretty familiar to most people. Everyone has probably known (or been) at least one couple who have proclaimed their undying love for one another to all and sundry, only to break up six months later when their non-stop shagfest starts to run out of steam. Right?

And “Love” being all about a person’s romantic fantasies and illusions of perfection (even if the sex ain’t that good) is probably not something most people would be unfamiliar with either, no? It’s probably the concept that creates a serious chunk of profit for the greeting card industry, at least.

So what’s “conscious love”, then? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “conscious” in the adjective as:

1: perceiving, apprehending, or noticing with a degree of controlled thought or observation
4: capable of or marked by thought, will, design, or perception
6: having mental faculties undulled by sleep, faintness, or stupor : awake
7: done or acting with critical awareness

So we might give a working definition of “conscious love” as being, “Love that is infused with will, reason, and that is active or ‘awake’ in nature”. For comparison, Orage writes:

“The conscious love motive, in its developed state, is the wish that the object should arrive at its own native perfection, regardless of the consequences to the lover.

I get the sense that “conscious love” is a love that assists the loved to be all he/she can be – something truly protective and supportive. If this sounds somewhat idealistic, then you (like me) probably agree with Orage that this form of love is much rarer than one might think – and thus we return to some key points about what Orage wrote that I find really interesting:

1) The vast majority are children who look to be loved but not to love.

Hahaha… this is one of those statements that most people (me included) tend to immediately think is completely wrong, or that applies to the “vast majority” made up of people who aren’t me. 😉
When I take some time to think back over my previous relationships though, as well as thinking about the many relationships of friends that I’ve observed, I can sort of see what he’s getting at. Otherwise, how could we have cultural sayings like, “Better to be with someone who loves you more than you love them”?

2) Perfection is seldom conceived as the proper end of human love.

While I have no doubt that many people project their ideals of perfection onto their partner in order to feel that THEY are perfect, or now have a “perfect life”, Orage is referring to “perfection” in a deeper, more spiritual sense. And let’s face it, people rarely get together with mutual spiritual advancement as being the primary aim of the relationship. So again, I see his point.

3) Humans do not know, even if they wish, what is good for those they love.

Do I even need to elaborate on this one? How much hurt and pain is caused in relationships despite the best of intentions of either party? And two words – domestic violence. Seriously, how a guy could ever get it into his head that hitting the woman he loves is for “her own good” is beyond me. And yes, some guys are seriously fucked-up enough to think that. Admittedly that’s an extreme example, but if the recent spate of TV advertising and DV statistics is anything to go by, it’s unfortunately far more common that we might like to admit.

4) It never occurs by chance, but must be the subject of resolve, effort, self-conscious choice.

Well, biologically speaking, it doesn’t have to, does it? The reproductive instinct will take care of propagation of the species, emotional whims and fancies will satisfy most everyone else, so how could such a thing occur without the effort or will towards an ideal?

Of course, the question most hardcore rationalist types will pose is then, “So what makes the ideal of conscious love any more than a romantic fantasy equivalent with the emotional love type? There is no need for a third category. Biological drives will do their thing, emotional fantasies and romantic ideals provide the necessary justification to help people live with themselves rather than face the hard reality that it’s all biology.”

That opens up a whole other can of worms about the evolutionary purposes of altruism, and this post isn’t going there, either.

Anyway, I thought Orage makes some good points, and found his essay inspiring enough to post a few thoughts on it. That’s all for now.

Moving and Mixed Drinks

posted in: General | 0

Okay, so what’s been happening, you ask? Well, moving day has come and gone, and I am now ensconced comfortably in my old stomping grounds down on the Gold Coast. My parents have been graciously “volunteered” into storing some of my more treasured possessions while I hit the road for a while (not that I have much in the way of possessions, and even less in the way of treasure!). It’s been interesting to observe that the little tucked-away house on the hill where I grew up has become part of thriving middle-class suburbia. I went for a hike up the road the other day and was gobsmacked by the opulence of some of the newly-built homes overlooking the bay/valley area. Real estate values still seems to be on the rise in this area, but for how long?

One thing that helped the Russians get through their period of economic hardship was vodka (or so the part of my personality responsible for outrageous stereotyping has informed me), and on that front I’m now set up with the skills I need to help others drown their sorrows. I’m now certified in the “Responsible Service of Alcohol”, and can thus tell you what the difference between a traditional and a boston cocktail shaker is, as well as what gin is made from and why layered shooters are evil. Well, the last one is just opinion, but I stand by it. For a $300 night course over a couple of weeks, it was a lot of fun. It was interesting to see what goes on from the perspective of the bar staff for a change, and I learned some great stuff. Now, whether I could competently run a bar is a different question, but hey, you gotta start somewhere, right?

Or maybe I’ll just get lucky like this guy:

Yowza!(thanks for the clip Bambi!)
So $1 million New Zealand Dollars would be about… $500 bucks Australian? (I kid.. I kid…) 😉