It's Great Living Here In The Future

My friend Dan likes to say "It's Great Living Here In The Future" and I like it so much I'm going to steal it. He first said it in wonder and delight at some new scientific development and I instantly realized he was right, this IS the future.

So, why doesn't it seem that way? It's because this is not the future that was envisioned. I'm 53, a significant age for several reasons, I'm at the tail end of the baby boomers, the generation that has seen more technological advancement than any other. All the great, new things we use every day did not exist when I was a kid, or even a young adult. And through the 50's and 60's people loved to envision what the future would be like. I was a big fan of sci fi back then (still am) and devoured hundreds of books - and not one of them envisioned THIS future.

We were suppose to have flying cars and rocket belts - soaring, ethereal buildings - interplanetary space flight, teleportation - and intelligent computers and robots that were going to take over the world if we weren't careful. We should at least have a colony on the moon by now, and miners digging in the asteroid belt. But we have none of that.

Instead we have cell phones, computers on our desks that connect to the web so we can send email anywhere in the world and make web pages, cable TV, High Definition, DVD's and DVR - and of course, the iPod. None of the old visionaries came anywhere close to predicting what actually happened. The one who came closest was Robert Heinlein with his vision of The Crazy Years, we have most definitely entered that period of history and it's crazier than he imagined. But even Heinlein had his main character in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" going to phone booths to communicate with the AI that controlled the moon colony. No cell phone anywhere.

Why? Part of it is some things, like artificial intelligence, flying cars and space travel, have proven to be devilishly difficult to create, we still aren't anywhere close. But most important is that the course of humanity always takes the path of least resistance, the technology that we could make we worked on at a fever pitch, and I'm mainly thinking of the personal computer and the Internet. As a graphic artist I've been working on one for over 15 years yet when I was in art school in the early 70's it was all done the old way, pencils and brushes, paper, canvas, oils and watercolor. I haven't touched any of those things in years. No one ever even brought up the idea we would all be doing art on a computer.

As I go through my work day I sometimes think of all the things we can't live without in the workplace; emails, transferring large files over the internet, color printers that are cheap, copy machines and FedEx. We had none of these things when I started my art career in 1976. How did we function back then? I can't even remember.

And then there are cell phones. Now so cheap they are everywhere, you can see minimum wage workers talking on them at their lunch break - most teenagers have them. They are around so much we've now started taking them for granted, but they are an amazing technology that has advanced rapidly. 20 years ago the first cell phones were so large you needed both hands to lift them and so expensive only the rich could afford one. Now they are hardly bigger than a credit card and we can watch TV on them - and take photos that you can send to another cell phone or to an email address.

So what will the future be from here? Most likely something no one has yet imagined. But that isn't going to stop me from making predictions. In the next 50 years we are going to see an explosion of medical advances that will blow everyone's collective mind. Most of the diseases we thought we were helpless against will be gone or at least controlled, including fixing spinal columns so people can walk again - and holding back old age. For those who have lost limbs they will be come cyborgs, part man, part machine. In fact, 50 years from now nano technology will just begin to be felt and by the end of this century we will have started to transform ourselves into cyborgs, all of us. We will become the intelligent machines envisioned so long ago.

And, of course, we'll have some really awesome home entertainment systems.


The World's Greatest Hero

Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the World's Poorest Citizens
  • Article here

  • This is an interview with a man who started his career as a banker by loaning $24 to 8 people (in Bangladesh this is a lot of money). He offered these loans to the poorest people he could find. Making it a loan, to be paid back with interest, is a stroke of genius. Charity only helps for a moment but a loan allows someone to keep their pride, and the respect that is offered by someone who thinks you will be able, and honest enough, to pay it back is a big boon to self esteem, and allows people to continue to improve their lives by working hard.

    This is so refreshing in the USA where we have become a country that is all about corporate greed. The Republicans think trickle down is the way to grow an economy when the truth is it has to start from the ground up. In a capitalist society you need a lot of consumers with money in their pockets to spend, then the rich get richer too in the long run. The way things are now the rich have gotten a brief inflow of cash due to tax breaks but with the middle class actually losing earnings this will not continue as there will be less and less people able to buy the products of their businesses. George Bush remains frustrated that the middle class and the poor think the economy is bad, it's good for rich people and that's all he understands. I don't think poor people are real to him, and he has no concept of what it's like to work hard every day yet feel like you are only treading water and are one paycheck, or serious illness, from disaster.

    What Yunus has done is lift the poorest citizens just a bit and give them the means to keep increasing their quality of life. Most of his clients keep coming back for bigger and bigger loans as their ambitions grow and they see what is possible. I think he has done more to change the world for the better than any other human being, because lifting people out of poverty fixes many problems, not just one as pure charity would do.

    Not that charity isn't sometimes necessary but the effects of it are limited. And even more he has concentrated on giving loans to women because in his country women are completely left out of the loan process. Women are still highly repressed throughout the Middle East and financial power will lead to social equality.


    10 myths—and 10 truths—about atheism

    Here is the beginning of an article by Sam Harris:

    10 myths—and 10 truths—about atheism

    By Sam Harris

    December 24, 2006
    /The Los Angeles Times
    SEVERAL POLLS indicate that the term “atheism” has acquired such an extraordinary stigma in the United States that being an atheist is now a perfect impediment to a career in politics (in a way that being black, Muslim or homosexual is not). According to a recent Newsweek poll, only 37% of Americans would vote for an otherwise qualified atheist for president.

    Atheists are often imagined to be intolerant, immoral, depressed, blind to the beauty of nature and dogmatically closed to evidence of the supernatural.

    Even John Locke, one of the great patriarchs of the Enlightenment, believed that atheism was “not at all to be tolerated” because, he said, “promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human societies, can have no hold upon an atheist.”

    That was more than 300 years ago. But in the United States today, little seems to have changed. A remarkable 87% of the population claims “never to doubt” the existence of God; fewer than 10% identify themselves as atheists — and their reputation appears to be deteriorating.

    Given that we know that atheists are often among the most intelligent and scientifically literate people in any society, it seems important to deflate the myths that prevent them from playing a larger role in our national discourse.

    Here is the link to the whole article:
    Sam Harris
    Below are his 10 myths and truths but I've replaced his answers with my own, go to his site to read Sam's answers.

    *1) Atheists believe that life is meaningless.*

    It's entirely the opposite, because it's all temporary it is all so much more important. There is no time to waste or life to squander because it is all so brief, so every day and every person is beyond precious. Every moment should be savored because it will never come again. If there is an omnipotent god life is meaningless because we would be nothing more than slaves to this being, carrying out whatever plan he has in mind, our own desires would be completely irrelevant, all our actions empty because it would all have been planned out for us. Only without a god do our lives belong to us. But meaningfulness, one way or the other, says nothing about the facts. All such arguments seem to say "I can make up anything I want about reality if it makes me feel better."

    *2) Atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in human history.*

    If they mean guys like Stalin and Pol Pot, that's absurd. They were communists and dictators, the lack of religion was just another tool they used to ensure their power, a dictator does not want any competing dogma. No, what is responsible for our greatest crimes is greed for power and dogmatism. The dogmatism of communism is exactly like the dogmatism of religion. Hitler claimed to be a Christian because more people would go along with him if he did everything in the name of god, but personally, I doubt he was a believer at all and would put the crimes of Nazism straight on the shoulders of the Nazis who did it, not on Christianity, although many Christians went along with him and didn't seem to have a problem killing Jews.

    *3) Atheism is dogmatic*.

    I find this one strange, part of Sam's questions but I've never heard that before. Religion is dogmatic, atheism is the complete lack of dogmatism. Religion is faith, atheism is the lack of faith. There is no monolithic Atheism, no set of rules or Atheist Handbook. Atheism is merely a lack of belief in a god, nothing else. Could individual atheists be dogmatic? Or course, I've met some, but it has nothing at all to do with atheism, it has to do with individual choices.

    *4) Atheists think everything in the universe arose by chance.*

    No atheist that I know, and I've known quite a few online, has ever made any kind of claim whatsoever about where the universe came from. Unlike theists we rarely make claims to knowledge we can't possibly know. Hopefully, science will find the answer before I'm dead but I'm not counting on it, in fact, I have doubts we humans will ever know how the universe got here.

    *5) Atheism has no connection to science.*

    Technically, no. Atheism is purely lack of belief in a god, no science is required. However, I have never met an atheist who didn't have a far better than average understanding of science, and most scientists are atheists (or agnostics which is pretty much the same thing). The general stance of most atheists is that we require proof of a proposition before we will accept it, science is really the only method to gain that proof in most cases. Guesswork or ancient mythology doesn't cut it. The people who wrote the bible didn't know the Earth was round or that the stars in the sky were really distant suns, clearly they were abysmal cosmologists, why in the world would we accept their cosmological expertise as to the origin of the universe? Or about anything in the universe since then? Science is the systematic methodology for finding out about the universe and how things work. More has become known in the last one hundred years of scientific research than the previous 10,000 years of faith based knowledge. It isn't hard to figure out which method works and which one is a complete failure.

    *6) Atheists are arrogant.*

    Well, that one it true, but can you blame us? On the other hand we aren't so arrogant as to claim we know what can't be known, only a theist can be THAT arrogant.

    *7) Atheists are closed to spiritual experience.*

    That depends on what is meant by a spiritual experience. Spirit refers to something supernatural, in that sense no, few atheists think there is any such thing. If what is meant by that is experiencing joy, awe, wonder, love, ecstasy then atheists experience these things just like any other human being. The only difference is that our experiences are based on reality while what most people would refer to as spiritual experience is based on fantasy. Frankly, the real world is so amazing, weird, awe-inspiring and scary I simply fail to understand why anyone needs to look for fantastical mythology to feel these things.

    *8) Atheists believe that there is nothing beyond human life and human understanding.*

    Now how could we possibly know this? Atheists rarely have a problem saying simply "I don't know." It's usually theists who feel they have to have answers that don't exist. They want those answers so badly they will make them up if they have to or believe any fairy tale that makes them feel good.

    *9) Atheists ignore the fact that religion is extremely beneficial to society.*

    Simply because something has benefit doesn't make it true. To me truth is important, I've noticed it's not at all important to theists. They even lie to their children about Santa Clause in a twisted attempt to make Christmas fun, as if getting a ton of presents isn't fun enough. Being blissfully insane and living in a world that only exists in your mind might be the most beneficial thing of all but it holds little attraction for me. In the argument about the validity of religious truth the idea of how beneficial it might be has no place. Frankly, I think atheism is FAR more beneficial to society than religion, does that make it true?

    *10) Atheism provides no basis for morality.*

    Actually theism provides no basis for morality. No one follows the morals of the bible today, if they stoned their disobedient children to death they'd be arrested and either put in prison or a home for the insane. Morality comes from our culture and this is true for both the religious and non-religious. 150 years ago many Christians felt owning slaves was perfectly OK, heck, it's even condoned in the bible! Today very few in this country would say there is anything at all good about it. Why? Did god suddenly change? Did the bible change? No, the society we live in changed. And slavery is the perfect example of how society continually changes for the better, certainly not at once nor in a straight line, but still better slowly but surely. There is nothing in the bible about abortion yet most Fundamentalist Christians think it's murder, why? Because the insular Christian society they all live in agree that it is. And once again, this has nothing to do with the truth of the matter.



    I love TV, sure 95% is junk but I don't watch THAT stuff. It's the 5% I look for and am delighted when I find a gem in the mud. One of those gems is Dexter, new this season on Showtime. I've long been a fan of HBO's shows and thought them the best on TV, Showtime's have always been pretty poor in comparison, but with Dexter they have achieved greatness. Michael C. Hall of "6 Feet Under" fame (an HBO show) plays Dexter Morgan, who works in the crime lab in Miami, blood is his specialty. But his real life is his hobby - serial killer. Dexter narrates the show, giving us his inner vision of what a serial killer is like, how empty he feels and how much he likes killing people, the whole ritual he's developed. But there is a further twist within the twist, Dexter's adoptive dad was a cop and saw what Dexter was at an early age and began molding him on how to kill people without getting caught, how to pretend to be normal so no one suspects, and most important - who to kill. Dad sent Dexter off against the evil people (like him) who slip through the cracks, so he becomes a GOOD serial killer. The idea is brilliant, we are repulsed by Dexter yet root for him too because we get to see just how bad the people are that he goes after, while Dexter himself is very likable. Michael C. Hall plays it brilliantly, just enough of a smirk on his innocent face to let you know there are hidden secrets. And he lost weight for this job so he is now very lean and the leanness adds to the character, gives an edge and hunger he was lacking in 6 Feet Under. In general, Hall is too nice a guy to play a serial killer, but that's what makes it all work so well. If he was playing a hard-core-evil-and-mad-to-the-bone-killer we wouldn't believe it. But because he plays a "nice" serial killer and torturer we can buy it, in fact, Hall plays the role perfectly and the series wouldn't work without him.

    What adds so much depth is the flashback scenes to Dexter's childhood and how Dad teaches him; all the tricks to acting normal, all the ways to curb his bloodlust (like taking him hunting), and how important it is to only attack evil people. James Remar plays his dad, Harry Morgan, and does it very well. We see the moment when dad realizes the kind of person Dexter is while the boy is very young, and he takes it in stride and begins teaching him right away. There never seems to be a moment when dad questions the morality of what he is doing, he merely proceeds with his modeling of Dexter as if it was the most natural thing for a parent to do. Especially a parent who was a cop. The most recent episode gives us the best clue to his motives where he tells the teenage Dexter that it's no fun to teach him how to kill people without getting caught but it's the only way he can think of to keep Dexter out of the electric chair.

    In the first episode Sgt. Doakes (Erik King) tells Dexter that he gives him the creeps. Dexter then muses how odd it is that in a building full of cops Doakes is the only one who gets the creeps from him. And Dexter's sister is a cop as well and Dexter helps her out with tips (who knows a serial killer better than him) on the Ice Truck killer who is cutting up girls in Miami. But there is an added twist with the Ice Truck killer as well - he knows who Dexter is and leaves hints for him. "My friend wants me to come out and play and I want to," narrates Dexter.

    But when the Ice Truck killer turns the tables on Dexter and has the cops and his own crime lab investigate one of his murders (circumstances forced him to rush, no other murders are
    known about) Dexter starts to panic. Until he gets the idea of turning the tables back again by giving the police another suspect by planting the very evidence he is supposed to be examining. His sister Debra (very well played by Jennifer Carpenter) works up a profile of the killer which matches Dexter exactly, but of course she would never suspect him so it doesn't occur to her. When Dexter plants his evidence it blows her profile out of the water and causes friction between the siblings. But Dexter knows she will get over it.

    I would call "Dexter" the best new show of the season. Bizarre, creepy and likable, it wins points simply for uniqueness, the fact that it's well done and well acted is a wonderful bonus. There are many shows I like this season but only Dexter, Studio 60 and Battlestar Galactica make my "must see" list.

    Giving times for it can be difficult for a cable show as they change it between time zones, it premiers each Sunday night, in SoCal it plays at 7 & 8pm plus 10 & 11pm and is repeated several times during the week.