Archive of March, 2002
March 30, 2002:
As I'm falling asleep, my mind tends to wander. Tonight, it decided to tackle religion. I didn't want to lose it, so here I am at 1:00 in the morning, spending more time on this than I did most of my college essay assignments.
I am, as most of my friends and family know, an atheist. I believe that there is no supernatural being (or collection of supernatural beings) responsible for the creation of the world, the universe, or humanity. I do not believe that my destiny has been predetermined by some omniscient being. We are what we are, and no more.
Why? Because I look at religion (mostly Christianity, because it's what I'm most familiar with) and I see the same thing, over and over. We have the One True Answer, people say, and our god(s) tell us to live in peace with everyone ("love they neighbor"). But we must not allow these people to contaminate us, so they must be destroyed in the name of our loving deity(s).
Christianity had the Crusades, during which countless Jews and Muslims were killed, tortured, robbed, raped, imprisoned and mocked because their name for God was different. It was the exact same God, but some of the rules were different. Jews in Israel and their predominatly Muslim neighbors have been fighting in one form or another since the creation of the Israeli state after World War II (and to be quite honest, since long before even that). Both claim the right to an undivided Jerusalem, and both kill civilians. At least Israel makes an effort to hit military targets before they bulldoze cities. (And as an aside, if it matters, I do think that Israel is the aggrieved party in that conflict.)
Muslims kill Hindus, Hindus kill Muslims, Muslims bomb Jews, Jews bomb Muslims, Christians killed Jews and Muslims, entire American Indian civilizations were destroyed by conquistadors in the name of saving their pagan souls. And just about everyone's wiping out the gays with God's implied blessing.
But God loves all of you, right? Let's jump to the beginning of all this mess and see if we can find out what went wrong.
Thousands upon thousands of years ago, probably at the dawn of civilization circa 10,000 BCE, humans looked at the world around them and wondered: Where does all this come from? Why am I here? What happens when I (or someone I love) dies? And they couldn't answer those questions.
They didn't have the cosmological and quantum theories to explain the Big Bang; they knew nothing of stellar mechanics and gravity to explain how the shockwaves from supernovae compress matter to form protostars; they didn't know any biochemistry to explain how simple chemicals in water could form the amino acids leading to cells; and they didn't have the knowledge of genetics to explain how after billions of years, humanity came to evolve.
All they had was the world they saw and, if they were lucky, 60 years of memory from the oldest villagers. It wasn't enough; how could it be? The whole world was there, right? And something had to put it there, didn't it? A very powerful someone had to put it there, right?
And this is how paganism and polytheism were created. The gods in the trees and the animals and the sky came together to make the world. Later, in about 4000 BCE, another person put forth the idea that there weren't many gods, but one God. Creator and destroyer, savior and punisher, all rolled into one.
And Man created God in his own image.
Through the millennia, these groups of people came into conflict with one another. Over land, resources, interfamilial disputes. But how do you rally the troops? Convince them that they are on the side of Right, and that the enemies must be destroyed? Tell them God said to do it.
So for thousands of years, probably since the dawn of civilization itself, Man has used God to justify its fears, its prejudices and its hates. God endorses the conquests and turns a blind eye to the destruction wrought upon the enemy. Love your neighbor, yes, but these people aren't your neighbors -- they're Evil. They don't believe in your God. So it's OK to hate and kill.
As time wore on, these religions spawned new religions of their own. An obscure cult within Judaism believed that God had sent a part of himself to redeem humanity. Years later, they became Christians. A nomad in the Arabian peninsula saw the teachings of the Torah and the Bible and expanded on the works of these two "great prophets," making himself the third -- Islam was born. So we had three religions, sharing the same God, sharing the same basic tenets of right and wrong; three dynamic, open teachings about the way to live.
And then they stopped being dynamic. They became locked into their own dogma. Christianity, which had been open enough at its outset to move the birth of Christ to a convenient pagan festival, has two orthodox branches (Roman Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodoxy) frozen in the Dark Age. It took 400 years for a pope to publically recognize that Galileo Galilee was right; that the Earth isn't the center of the universe. Islam, which was responsible for the innovations that led Europe out of the Dark Age, has itself become frozen, even reverting to older teachings in some fundamentalist circles. The Jewish kosher, which simply prevented people from eating uncooked pork and dieing, has become a law that is upheld for no reason other than "it's always been this way."
And still we kill each other over God.
We know now, with reasonable reliability, how the universe began to within one one-hundredth of a second of the Big Bang. We know how supergiant stars went supernova, creating shockwaves light-years across, to compress stellar gas and dust into protostars and planetary disks. We know how the fusion reaction in the sun warmed the surface of a small, 7000-mile-diameter ball of iron and rock. We know how liquid water, combined with the outpourings from the planet's core reacted with radiation and lightning to form small organic molecules that became the precursors of Life. We know, courtesy of Darwin, how random selection by the simple means of what lives and dies determines which genes are passed to subsequent generations. We know how we evolved, from a single cell of algae into the creatures we are today.
Wonderful creatures: We have language, emotions, knowledge, minds. Horrible creatures: We have hate, war, murder of our own kind -- a claim only very few species on this planet could make. We know how we got here.
Yet still we cling to God, like a child gripping its mother's hand as it crosses the street. Is it so horrible that we are the result of a series of coincidences? That we have control over our own lives, without the interference of an all-powerful ghost? That when we die, the only way we continue to exist is in others' memories? After all, we already tell children at a funeral, This person will never truly die as long as we remember him. Isn't this just a logical extension of that idea?
What kind of arrogance must we have, to presume that this gigantic universe, infinite and finite at the same time, billions upon billions of light-years across, older than we can imagine, was put here simply for our amusement? Go outside tonight, and look at the stars. Don't just say, "ooh, pretty," look at them. Think of it: Light left those stars years ago, centuries ago, millenia ago. Some are so far away that our solar system didn't even exist when the light left them, and there is no way they are still there today. It boggles the mind.
We aren't that important. If some asteroid like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs came along and destroyed us tomorrow, the universe would continue, uncaring. The eons would tick away, as they always have, unheedful of our brief entry into the scene and our even more brief introspection about Why.
God didn't make us, we made him. And now, like a child growing up, it is time for us as a species to put him away on a shelf like a toy we've outgrown. For now, people who claim to be doing his work only hold us back from our true goal -- learning how the universe works. As long as people can put a spin on creation "science" and force it down children's throats, as long as people who deny evolution can wave their arms and ignore the evidence placed before them, we can never grow up. As long as we have no reason to explore the depths of knowledge that await us -- by just saying God did it all -- we will stagnate. And stagnating is as bad as death itself, for in just a few generations, we would forget how to learn.
And that is a crime I am unwilling to perpetrate against future generations.
March 29, 2002:
At least a few people have realized where the country's currently headed. Aaron McGruder (the Boondocks comic strip's author) has been talking about this since about September 12th, now others are getting in on the act:
March 28, 2002:
I was watching the teaser scene for this week's West Wing just now. The president (played by Martin Sheen) is doing quickie 60-second interviews with various morning shows. After the Philadelphia station goes to commercial, he spends a few seconds bantering with the morning show anchor. One of the cameras is still active as he makes a comment about how a likely competitor in the next election is "a .22-caliber mind in a .357 Magnum world."
The staffer prompting him through the interviews notices the light's still on. "We were still hot. They have it on B-roll."
Martin Sheen gave a great "oh shit" look. It's the little things like that make make a show well-acted.
Update, end of the same show: Damn. I completely missed that. As the president's getting ready to give a speech, the White House coumminucations director talks to him quickly about how well the gaffe worked: Everybody and their brother is doubting the other guy's intelligence, and the president is unscathed because it was an accident. Then she tells the president she's been going over the interview: "I noticed that after each interview, the anchors wanted to talk about Ritchie [the potential opponent] and each time you took a pass. Until Philadelphia. Mr. President, did you know the green light was on?"
And again, Martin Sheen does a good job, this time giving her what I would call a "purposefully blank" look. The character had planned it. And if I'd been paying closer attention I'd have noticed it.
To whoever wrote that episode: Well done!
March 27, 2002:
If you live in urban Pennsylvania, you've probably seen the we-payed-a-guy-20-bucks-for-this commercials urging people to stay in the state. The commercial makes prominent use of Pittsburgh scenes, such as Mt. Washington, Market Square and PPG Plaza. Which makes it all the more pathetic that searching on the Pittsburgh Tech Council Web site has no jobs that I'm qualified for.
Maybe they need a commercial for the employers around here: Stop dicking around with people who want to work here, but are being insulted by your offers.
March 26, 2002:
Ah, Battlebots. If only they'd get rid of the stupid inter-bout interviews and the cheesy play-by-play, and just show the fights and Carmen Electra (preferably naked), it'd be a near-perfect show.
Why? Fire. Some of the 'bots use lawnmower engines which, when broken, leak gasoline and burn. I just got done watching a bout that had to be ended because one of the combatants was noticably en fuego. No other show I know of has that.
March 25, 2002:
Mmm, first-person shooters. Venting those harmful impulses in a safe environment.
Team Fortress Classic. The mod that originally got me started on Half-Life. A re-hash of the Quake mod Team Fortress, using the HL engine. All the classes are there, the graphics are better, and the game's a little more competitive between the classes. Unfortunately, as the oldest mod, it's had the most time for lamers to take it over. The last time I played, the concepts of team play such as playing defense and telling teammates where the flag is, seem to have gone out the window. Depressing if played for more than half an hour at a time.
Counter Strike. Another teamplay mod, this one pits terrorists against counter-terrorist forces such as the SAS and SEALS. The mod uses real weapons like AK-47s and MP-5s and has more realistic damage assessment. On the down side, my aim sucks so I usually wind up getting hosed. It shows promise though.
Day of Defeat. The newest mod I've played, it pits the Axis against the Allies, both in made-up maps and in maps that emulate WWII battles. Microphones are handled differently from CS (CS uses them as radios only audible to teammates; DoD uses them as shouting, which fits the WWII theme) and the weapons are all WWII vintage as well. On the downside, it tries to do too much -- the gigantic maps play hell with my old system and I basically can't keep up. Usually I'm dead before I know I'm being fired on.
TFC: Oldie-but-goody, unfortunately taken over by lamers. 6.5/10.
CS: Shows promise, I'm just frustrated because I'm not very good at it. 9/10.
DoD: Good concept, but poorly implemented. Old machines can't take it. 3/10.
March 23, 2002:
To nobody's surprise, the owners of the dogs in the "Dog Mauling Trial" in California are guilty of all charges. How could it possibly be otherwise? From the short clips I've seen on TV, the prosecution did an excellent job of proving that the dogs were known to be mean and were horribly negligent, at a minimum. The defense did an admirable job of proving ... that the defendants are uncaring assholes.
I don't know how much they paid that woman to defend the wife, but they should get their money back. I think she did more to hurt the case than the prosecution did. Blaming the "gay community" for the prosecution of the couple? Sorry hon, the vicious attack dogs took care of that part. Blaming the cops for not helping sooner, putting themselves at risk? Right. And if they'd shot at the dog and missed, hitting the woman, Queen Lawyer Bitch wouldn't have sued the city for several million dollars. The police simply didn't have a clear shot.
I wish all criminal cases were this cut-and-dried.
March 22, 2002:
The teaser for Tuesday's Smallville showed a guy driving his truck along the highway, apparently in a rush to talk to Lex Luthor's father. He comes up behind Jon Kent (Clark's father) who's moving at a more leisurly pace, listening to the Dukes of Hazzard theme on the radio.
The in-joke, of course, is that the actor playing Jon Kent is the same actor who played Bo Duke on The Dukes of Hazzard.
March 21, 2002:
I told my sister about the comment one of my friends made about me going Krakatoa on my boss's boss that led to my firing. She didn't know what Krakatoa was. I know that not everybody finds that kind of stuff interesting, but how can you not know about one of the most famous volcanic eruptions in history?
March 20, 2002:
I've been a little disappointed with myself for not always living up to my goal of writing something for this every day. The way the script works I can easily back-fill days that I've missed, but that doesn't change the basic problem. After all, the guys who run spinnwebe.com and notmydesk.com can write stuff every day, so why can't I?
Well, maybe I'm being too hard on myself. Spinnwebe doesn't have daily updates any more, for the exact same problem I'm having -- lack of content. And Not My Desk is mostly about the author's experiences temping. He basically gets new material on a regular basis.
That, and creativity seems to come more easily to those guys. I do well enough when given a problem to solve (and in a way I enjoy that) but just having something materialize out of the blue -- whether for something to write or for a page design -- just doesn't seem possible with me.
Doesn't exactly give me that warm, fuzzy feeling when I think of it that way.
March 19, 2002:
OK, as you all know by now, I was fired.
And I'm bored. The last two weeks have sucked just about as much as possible without going to a crappy job. I'm not starving -- I can go for another 6 weeks or so before I have to start collecting unemployment -- I just have to find something to do.
Don't believe me? Try watching daytime TV for a week. Get back to me.
March 18, 2002:
I turned on TNN Friday night while I was waiting to go out drinking. Usually they play four hours of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Since I'm a geek, this appeals to me. This time they were running a marathon of their show Fame for 15. Basically, it's a pair of half-hour bios about the people who came and went.
One bio was of Jared Fogle, the "Subway Guy." You all know the story; dude lost a linebacker's worth of weight by eating a sub and a half a day. I saw his story, and was inspired. I immediately went into the kitchen and grabbed ... a handful of Oreos.
Eh, I never said I learn quickly.
March 16, 2002:
Unless you're some sick-and-twisted morning person (or reading this after Saturday), as you read this I'm helping a friend of mine move. It started/will start at about 10 AM, which is about two hours earlier than I usually get up on a Saturday.
And of course, since said friend is getting in around 11 on Friday night, there'll probably be a round of drinking involved the night before. Ohhh, this is gonna suck.
March 15, 2002:
A friend of mine from college pointed me to his and one of his friends' weblogs. I really can't believe how much people will put up on these things. I mean, people just completely bare their souls for all to see. It's truly incredible.
On the one hand, it's a very interesting glimpse into people's daily lives. On the other hand, I don't want to share that much with all you people. Nothing personal; you just ain't worth it ;)
The closest I've ever gotten, and probably will get, are my September 11th post and its follow-up. Those of you wishing to play amateur psychologist and tell me why I'm unwilling to spill my guts for all to see, yet post the minutae of my lesser aggrivations, go nuts.
March 14, 2002:
That would include going to the dentist, right? After all, if you look up "Dentists" in the Yellow Pages, you'll find about 95 gajillion of them. But apparently they're all DDS-es (orthodontists and dental surgeons), or they're not taking new patients (I'd love to have so much business that I can turn away paying customers), or they don't work Wednesdays for no good reason.
Meanwhile, I alternate between not-too-bad and feeling like my lower jaw's going to fall off. Out-fucking-standing.
March 13, 2002:
Well, from the 10 minutes I've seen so far, it's unwatchable. But damn, Margeurite Moreau is hot.
Watch something else, but click over every few minutes for an ogle.
March 12, 2002:
People seem to feel the need to re-examine everything from last September on the six-month "anniversary" of the events. Who am I to argue?
My post from September 12th pretty much still sums up my feelings about the attacks. We now know who orchestrated the attack, and the military is currently on the ground in Afghanistan attempting to capture him. Even Saudi Arabia is making an attempt to look like they're distancing themselves from the terrorists now.
On the other hand, I don't really feel any different than I did when I went to work on the morning of 9/11/2001. I obviously wish that 3000 of my fellow talking apes hadn't died, but I was lucky enough to have not been personally affected by what happened. As I said six months ago, the Somerset County crash was only about 20 miles from here, but that still doesn't mean a whole lot to me on a personal level. Looking back, being sent home from work was more surreal than anything.
So what now?
I've seen New York governor George Pataki speaking at the temporary memorial in New York City, delivering a speech that would make Al Gore look animated and emotional by comparison. I've seen several pictures of the sphere from World Trade Plaza that now looks like a ping pong ball that's been stepped on. In an hour and a half they'll turn on the spotlights in Manhattan to emulate the towers just in time for the evening news. And the military is still flushing out the caves in eastern Afghanistan, and taking extremely light casualties in the process.
What of these memorials? Personally, I feel like it's all rushed. Almost like we need to be reminded of what happened (could we possibly forget?) in order to continue supporting the military action. I don't think Americans are that short-sighted, and the constant coverage of the "war" would be enough to keep us reminded anyway. So why are they doing all this now?
The best I can think of is that we, as a country, still feel the need to wear what happened on our collective sleeve. Marking the first anniversary of the attacks with a quiet, somber ceremony in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania would have worked just fine. But I don't think that we're collectively mature enough for something like that. The world knows what happened, they know how completely shocked we were (and still are). This overblown, fake anniversary is unnecessary, and I truly feel bad for the relatives who are being trotted out for it all. Is it possible for a memorial service to be gauche?
In an attempt to review the last six months, I'm trying to think of who would have been better-suited to be president for all this: Bush or Gore? I've decided that, as Clinton's successor, Gore also would have had no clue about how to use the military. We'd still be launching cruise missles without having ground troops anywhere nearby, and we'd be calling it a victory even as bin Laden makes another taped speech. On the other hand, we wouldn't have any of these borderline-fascist policies that John Aschroft has initiated under the guide of "homeland defense." We all know Bush's M.O. -- well-executed military operations (probably because he's letting the military just do its job), but a severe curtailing of freedoms here in the States.
I'm not sure which is better, and I'm pissed that I have to play this game of what-if to decide. There's no reason we should have to surrender our rights to keep the country safe. There's no reason we should have to let a Puritan tell us what's right and wrong just so we can get a well-run military. History shows us that after the wartime conditions end, these unconstitutional laws will be quickly removed from the books. But this isn't like World War II. We knew when the Germans and Japanese had no armed forces left. We knew when the enemy was defeated. We can't have that kind of knowledge now. And that's why I'm afraid that some of these laws will never go away.
So there you have it, my thoughts at the six-month mark.
March 11, 2002:
As most anyone who knows me already knows, I'm a pretty big Star Trek geek. I'm currently watching a episode from Next Generation's sixth season called "Rascals". Basically, the Mysterious Energy Force of the Week transforms four members of the crew into children about 12 years old. They're mentally the same, but they're kids.
And the actors they got to play these "regressed" crew members did a damn good job of it. I was wondering how they managed to pull it off, and decided they probably had the adults run through the scenes once or twice to show the kids what to do.
So where's the funny bit, you ask? I'm getting there. In order to get a message to Riker, Picard (one of the kid-ified crew) throws a temper-tantrum to get a Ferengi to take him to the bridge. I just have this hilarious mental image of ultra-dignified Patrick Stewart jumping up and down, pumping his fists, and screaming, "I want to go now! Now, now now!"
All the geeks are laughing, all the non-geeks are scratching their heads and saying, "Wha?" C'est la vie.
March 09, 2002:
You'd think something like getting canned would provide me with a wealth of material -- my insights on being jobless, my attempts to curb my impulsive spending habits, and so on -- but instead the writing ability petered out after a few days.
God I suck. Even a first-year English hack could do better than this.
March 08, 2002:
Now that we've had a couple unseasonably warm days (in the low 60s) I've tried reattaching my rear-view mirror again. And this time it actually worked. Granted I gave the epoxy an hour and a half to set this time, but hey, I can at least clear the baffles when I'm speeding across the High-Level Bridge.
Of course by the time this becomes visible there's a chance the damn thing'll be on the floor again.
March 07, 2002:
Apparently, my body's rebelled against the whole "25-hour day" idea. It's currently 11:53 PM on Wednesday, and I'm starting to get tired. I think now that my internal clock's just resetting itself to a default day. Maybe the seek is off or something :)
Damn, and I was all ready to tie it to the tide's 25-hour schedule somehow too.
March 06, 2002:
Apparently the just-about-24-hour cycle of sunrise and sunset isn't good enough for my body. Freed from the constraints of going to work every day, I've discovered that I'm waking up and going to bed an hour or so later every day.
Sunday, I was tired at 1:00 and went to bed. Then Monday I woke up at 10. Monday night I went to bed at about 2:00 and Tuesday morning I woke up at 11. So apparently a completely sedentary 25-year old works on a schedule of 9 hours of sleep followed by 16 hours of being awake. Or, in other words, left to my own devices I'll spend 36% of my day in the sack.
This also means that, taken to its conclusion, after waking up at 2:00 PM on Friday I'll turn in at about 6:00 in the morning, or about an hour and a half before sunrise. Next week I'd start waking up as people are getting off work and going to bed after watching the first repeats of SportsCenter. On March 25th I'd cycle completely around and start waking up at 8:00 AM.
Or, faced with an inverted sleep cycle, my body will just rebel and force me back onto a normal schedule. I'll tell you which it is in a few days.
March 05, 2002:
Oh, yay. College basketball, a sport I don't even come close to giving a damn about anyway, is getting ready for the NCAA Tournament. Which means that on SportsCenter I'm going to have to put up with Dick Vitale screaming like a moron about "prime time players" and any other stupid catchphrase he hurls at the screen at around 95 decibels.
I don't care who wins; I just want "Dicky V" to shut the hell up.
March 04, 2002:
You might be wondering why I don't seem very surprised (or at all upset) by my firing. To be blunt, I kinda saw it coming. I just didn't think it would happen as soon as it did.
A couple weeks earlier, when I finally had my review (after four or five reschedulings) more than a year and a half after the previous one, the HR director and the CTO both made sure they brought up negative things about my performance. I'm by no means perfect, but from what I gathered I was the only person this happened to. Not a good sign.
Also, the CTO had basically been riding me every chance I gave her to -- even for the smallest mistakes. Something I had mentioned wanting to take the lead on was assigned to someone else who had no real knowledge of it, and for no good reason. It's almost like there was an effort to make me quit. I'm pretty sure, looking back, that it was.
And like I said, I almost did. But instead I was fired. Which accomplishes the same basic thing, but now they have to pay me. To be honest, the little bit of pride I lost by sitting around waiting to be fired is worth it knowing that I'm still costing them money. The vindictive part of me digs that.
March 02, 2002:
Went out last night to celebrate my newfound unemployment. A 22-ounce Yeungling and six or seven (strongish) vodka-tonics later, I was huggin' the bowl. And now my head's letting me know that I had a Bad Idea.
But I thought drinking vodka was supposed to keep you from getting hungover. Apparently I thought wrong.
March 01, 2002:
On the upside, yesterday's brain fart is now active. On the down side, that's because I was fired.
It doesn't come as quite a big surprise as you might guess from the title, but I was still a little off-guard when it happened. After what happened Wednesday night I went and talked to the HR guy. He already knew about The Argument and told me he'd been discussing it with John all day. I told him my side, how I don't like being lectured in public like that, and he said he'd call John and see what he was supposed to do.
I found out about 20 minutes later.
I'll be changing some of the more relevant parts of the site, like my resume and the front page, but I'm planning on this being business-as-usual, even though I'm technically out of business at the moment.
And hey, I have no reason not to completely throw myself into the job search now, do I?