Saturday, May 26, 2007

Bom Dia

Lovely Salvador, Brazil

I'm in lovely Salvador, Brazil, where I have a stunning view of the bay and Pelourinho, the old historic center of Salvador. For 25 bucks a night. That's the view from my window above. Unfortunately, it's raining cats and dogs today, so I'm stuck inside this adorable little Internet cafe Bahia blogging, instead of strolling the cobblestone streets and garnering a few more blisters on my feet, as I did yesterday, when I walked all the way down to the Atlantic Ocean - and then some.

Oh yeah, and we found out last Friday that AARF (or rather our parent company Aquantive) got bought by Microsoft. So now I work for Bill Gates. Hiya Bill.

Guess since it's raining today, I'll make some good headway on Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, so far, one of the best books I've read in ages.
Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing direction. You change direction, but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you, something inside you. So all you can do is to give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand does not get in, and walk through it, step by step. There is no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverised bones.

- Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
Update: Loads of Brazil pics over on my Flickr site

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Is for Aardvark

Reality provides us with facts so romantic that imagination itself could add nothing to them.

- Jules Verne
For my money, the Encyclopedia of Life would have to be the single most exciting project Avenue A | Razorfish has been associated with since I began working there. AARF has produced a video and preliminary IA and design for the Wiki-like site, which intends to catalog the earth's 1.8 million named species.

The Boston Globe has a great writeup, which quotes the eminent biologist, E. O. Wilson, one of the program's founders:
Our ignorance is dangerous. Life forms with which we've shared the planet are going extinct at an alarming rate -- usually before we even determine what they are and what role they play in the ecosystem. Our knowledge of biodiversity is so incomplete that we are at risk of losing a great deal of it before it is even discovered.
The Washington Post also has an article, which reminds us that perhaps as little as 10% of the world's species have been cataloged.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

I Am Cuba

Havana Poster
Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.

- Thoreau in "Civil Disobedience"

I'm not Michael Moore's hugest fan. Though I've appreciated much of his work, I do think he can work a little fast and loose with the truth, and for that reason, he's generally only preaching to the converted. He just happens to often be highly entertaining when he's doing that.

Having said that, I absolutely support his right (I use the word intentionally) to go to Cuba, for which he's currently being admonished.

In fact, I'd very much like to go there, too - especially while it's supposedly illegal to do so. (Actually, I believe it's technically only illegal to spend American money there, and since there are no U.S. flights to Cuba, that effectively keeps most U.S. citizen from going.) Anyway, here are three main reasons I'd like to go:

1. No country should ever be able to tell any human being that he or she cannot visit another country. I assume, obviously, that one isn't leaving one country to escape the law. I'm talking about a country forbidding its citizens from going to any other particular country. Period. What about in time of war, visiting an enemy country, I think now? Even then. If I join forces with the enemy, that's a different matter. There may be other legitimate reasons for going to that country: missions of mercy, visiting friends or relatives, etc. If there are issues of safety, those should be mine to consider. So, I quite seriously suggest that it's a violation of my human rights to prevent me from visiting there. Much more importantly, it's a gross violation of the rights of Cuban expatriates to govern and limit how often they can visit their own homeland. Which, we do, in case you didn't realize.

2. It is my understanding that the United States restricts travel to no other country on earth other than Cuba. That means that, yes, I can travel to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and countries around the world run by any number of ruthless dictators. I could have traveled to the USSR or China at their most severe. There's no good reason to forbid travel to Cuba that couldn't be applied to any of these other countries. And I'm aware of the State Department's travel warnings. Those do not prevent me from visiting East Timor or Syria for example, they only warn me that I might be attacked by gangs or terrorists. It would appear that the only reason we're not able to go to Cuba is because of the obviously still profoundly resonant anti-communist fervor of the last century - the "reds under the bed" paranoia that the Republicans promulgated so effectively during the 50s and onward. Of course, we're also prevented from visiting Cuba because of some particularly strident, conservative Cuban expatriates, who have seen to it that their own fellow countrymen are now unable to visit their own homeland. Notably, many conservatives and liberals, as well as religious leaders offer numerous reasons for ending the trade embargo with Cuba. Any talk about maintaining the ban due to human rights violations in Cuba is nonsense. If we were prevented from going there for that reason, I shouldn't be allowed to go to Rwanda or dozens of other countries either. In fact, I can.

3. Finally, I believe my traveling to Cuba would be a legitimate act of civil disobedience. Though, to my knowledge, no one has yet been sent to jail for visiting Cuba (which makes the Treasury Department's investigation into Moore all the more suspicious), if I were imprisoned, I think I can safely assume that some future administration would completely pardon me during a saner period of American history.

My desire to travel there doesn't mean I support Fidel Castro or communism any more than my going to Rwanda would mean I supported genocide. Of course, I can get a Visa to travel Rwanda in Washington, DC, but not to Cuba.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Feed Your Mind

Lately, I've discovered a few sites, which feature lectures by some of the world's biggest brains, so many that I could probably fill my 30 GB iPod several times over.

Here's a few great resources, including links to some lectures I've enjoyed.

Listening to Words - fantastic clearinghouse for all kinds of different lectures, gathered from various sources across the internet, including MIT, Princeton, the Museum of Natural History, and the BBC. Plus you can browse by lectures, people, locations, tags, and popular.
  • Bill Bryson - A Short History of Nearly Everything [mp3]
The Long Now - Brian Eno coined the term "The Long Now" and he's one of the founders of this group, which understands the need for long-term thinking when considering human progress. Check out the seminar section of the site for mp3 lectures by Jared Diamond, Stewart Brand, Jill Tarter and loads more. Many Long Now videos are provided, too, via Google video.
  • Jared Diamond - How Societies Fail-And Sometimes Succeed [mp3]
  • Jill Tarter - The Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence: Necessarily a Long-term Strategy [mp3]
TED - view videos of lectures online through a slick AJAX interface or download them free for your iPod. Includes Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Jane Goodall, James Nachtwey, Bill Clinton and E. O. Wilson among many, many others.
  • Richard Dawkins - The universe is queerer than we can suppose [mp3 | mp4 video]
  • James Nachtwey - The recent TED winner discusses his photography [mp3 | mp4 video]
Even YouTube has some great stuff among all those vanity projects if you look for it.

You can practically attend the world's best university online for free.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

American Taliban

Taliban & Luce

Rolling Stone recently featured an article entitled "Teenage Holy War" about 45-year-old Christian youth crusader Ron Luce. There's a lot of material in the article that's cause for concern, but this scene positively sent a shiver down my spine.
Luce ends his rallies with an illustration from the Book of Judges: the story of a man who, after he gives over his concubine to be gang-raped, kills the disgraced woman and cuts her into twelve pieces, then sends one to each of the tribes of Israel as a reminder of what happens to the ungodly. For a finale, Luce or one of his junior pastors dissects a mannequin labeled "with the sins of secularism and then - to the cheer "Cut up the concubine!" -- sends his assistants into the crowd to distribute the pieces.

In Cleveland, one sensible fourteen-year-old boy snorted at the sight of a girl hugging her prize, a naked male torso labeled PORN. "Imagine carrying that home," he whispered. Thousands of kids had envisioned it; they shrieked for the prize of the head. Such teens are likely prospects to join the 800 interns who pay $7,800 a year, plus mission fees, to attend Luce's Honor Academy.
Why is it that these extremists call themselves Christians but frequently reach for the Old Testament's grimmer, more anti-human segments to support their points? [cc: Fred Phelps] Don't they recognize that, whatever little we know about Jesus Christ, we do know that he clearly repudiated Old Testament law? And that when presented with a prostitute, traditions says his response was to tell the surrounding crowd, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"?

How can these guys claim to be Christians, when they're clearly ignoring Christ's teachings and reaching for the most decrepit teachings to support their blood lust?

4000 kids attended that single rally.

Here's the whole Rolling Stone article.


Did you know there was a narrowly averted terrorist attack on American soil within the last couple of weeks? No? That's because when religious extremists attempt to blow up buildings in the United States, we don't refer to them as terrorists if they're just Christians trying to blow up abortion clinics. Nonetheless, such acts clearly meet the definition of terrorism.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Mission Accomplished

Mission Accomplished?
Four years ago George Bush spoke those words, and four years later, they are still premature.

I'm again prompted to wonder where we might be if we had poured our efforts into Afghanistan, instead of invading a second country under false pretenses. For one thing, as this graphic shows, there would be far fewer American and Iraqi casualties. As a matter of fact, U.S. casualties in Iraq surpassed the 9/11 death toll in September of last year.

I incorporated the Iraqi death toll in this graphic not to minimize the deaths of American civilians and soldiers, but to demonstrate that the number of lives taken in our reaction to 9/11 - both American and Iraqi - is of an order of magnitude far, far greater than the lives lost in the United States on that day. And, yes, the vast majority of those lives are Iraqi. It would be intellectually dishonest not to recognize that. And inhumane. Nonetheless, how often is that last figure ever mentioned in the mass media?

Incidentally, these figures do not include the lives of those coalition members from other countries. The total number of coalition casualties (including U.S. troops) stands at 3,624.