Wednesday, July 23, 2008


This is cool. You just paste a bunch of words or a website in, and it creates a Wordle. I made these from Mumon's Comments. Mumon was a Zen Master who commented on each of the koans in The Gateless Gate, one of my favorite books of all time. They are easy and fun to do.

More Ecology

Here's an interesting article about how we may eat in the future. The article has some fascinating points in it, including the fact that the average American eats 1200 calories more than recommended each day, and that a single hamburger takes 1300 gallons of water to create. There are lots more good facts on this, in case you're interested. Some of the ones I have collected are here.

And in case you didn't see the full version, here are the highlights of Al Gore's Challenge. It's just 5 minutes long, so give it a quick watch - time to get on board and sign up with the We campaign!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Ecological Benefits of Vegetarianism

I have played with being a vegetarian several times in my life, and have usually gone back because I just haven't taken the time to eat healthily enough and end up losing weight or getting deficiencies. But after watching a 30 Days episode about animal rights, I decided to go back, and have been consistent now for a while. I do feel healthier, and have discovered quite a few good vegetarian options.

Animal rights aside (since, as Joseph Campbell says, life lives on lives, and vegetarians are just eating something that can't run away), there are powerful ecological reasons to be a vegetarian. This article from The Green Lantern at Slate Magazine mentions a study that determined that the switch from carnivore to vegetarian is the equivalent in terms of environmental impact of trading in a Chevy Suburban for a Toyota Camry. Being a vegan is a bit more ecologically friendly, but I still haven't done that, because protein is more difficult to find without cheese, etc., and soy ice cream just doesn't taste as good. But here's another article about the ecological difference between dairy milk and soy milk, and I've definitely made that switch, since in some ways I like soy milk better.

I've never been a missionary, since I don't believe in converting others, but I do think the information is fairly compelling and worth spreading.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Our Brilliant Government

Amazing. This story is about how supplies intended for Katrina and
Rita victims
were estimated at $85 million actually just cost $18.5
million and many of the supplies arrived at all, since they just sat
in a big warehouse in Texas. Yay Government competence.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Climate Change Challenge

In case you didn't see it, here's Al Gore's speech challenging us to go to non-carbon-based, renewable energy sources in the next ten years, equivalent to Kennedy's challenge to get to the moon within a decade, which of course America accomplished ahead of schedule. All of the technology is available now, but the political willpower is not. I think this is one of the most urgent (and blatantly obvious) issues of our day. If you agree, you can sign the petition and find out how to do more at the We Can Solve It website.

No matter what your political persuasion, and no matter whether you actually believe in global warming or not, these proposals make absolute sense. Getting rid of carbon-based fuel will also restore clean air and water, and cut the funding off from terrorists who get their money from oil-rich countries. Other than economics, I can't see any reason not to do this. And as Gore points out, it also makes economic sense.

As a teacher in a new home, I can't afford this right now, but if anyone else who lives in Virginia is interested, you can opt to get your power from renewable sources through Dominion. It costs about 5 cents per kilowatt hour more right now, and your power can come from a combination of wind and solar, or from methane recollection over landfills. Here's the site for changing over if you think you can afford it. It doesn't actually change where you get your electricity, but Dominion then purchases the amount of power you use each month from a renewable resource supplier, so it effectively works out though not actually. I'll certainly be doing that as soon as we can afford it. And for those of you in NC, here is there FAQ for Green Power down there.

Here's the video of his speech - quite clear, enormously compelling, and really worth watching. One of my favorite quotations: "We should tax what we burn, not what we earn."

In case you are interested, here's an editorial from the NY Times about the speech. My favorite passage:

When exactly was it that the U.S. became a can’t-do society? It wasn’t at the very beginning when 13 ragamuffin colonies went to war against the world’s mightiest empire. It wasn’t during World War II when Japan and Nazi Germany had to be fought simultaneously. It wasn’t in the postwar period that gave us the Marshall Plan and a robust G.I. Bill and the interstate highway system and the space program and the civil rights movement and the women’s movement and the greatest society the world had ever known.

When was it?

Now we can’t even lift New Orleans off its knees.

Again, the website to join the campaign is And here is a link of action steps you can take.

Electricity from Garbage

I thought this was an interesting article about a technology that would allow us to use garbage to create electricity - with very little byproduct. It would create about as much carbon dioxide as natural gas does, but it gets rid of many tons of garbage a day, converting it into energy and into a slag that can be used for asphalt. It looks like an intriguing technology, and one I hope more places will try. Apparently, New Orleans is looking into it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

More on 411

Here is a video that details 3 more free information services for cell phones (no iPhone necessary). You can get answers to anything that Google could find an answer for on Cha-Cha, get 411 information from Google (similar to the texting service, but voice activate), or send text messages on Jott. Check out the video. Pretty useful stuff.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Human Mirror

Some people from my old theater department are in charge of Improv Everywhere. They do cool and fun stunts - their latest is a Human Mirror on the subway, where they found 16 pairs of identical twins to ride all together in a subway car. Check it out here.

Their complete mission list is here - all worth watching. My favorite is Anton Chekhov.

Here's the video of the Human Mirror, but be sure to check their website too.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Maybe you have heard about this - I didn't know anything about it until I saw it tonight. Anonymous is a group that is organizing a series of protests against Scientology. Their PR is pretty intense - a computerized voice with pictures of clouds and cities. Here's one of the videos they released.

They have been called domestic terrorists, most notably by a KTTV Fox 11 News report, and were accused of quite a few things, from the serious (bomb threats) to the fairly serious (hacking into MySpace pages and posting gay porn) to the ludicrous (trying to spoil the ending of Harry Potter before it was published). You can see where the fear would come from in the video above, as well as the fact that many of the protesters for their mass demonstration on Feburary 10th wore the masks used in V for Vendetta. But they also released this video with the rules for their protest, which seems like a pretty excellent list, including respect for police and private property and acting sensibly so as not to taint or distort the message by doing dumb things.

That video is also done in a sort of scary way, but it did make me more interested in researching their particular grievances. I had not known anything about Lisa McPherson, or James Hester. Lisa McPherson was a Scientologist who died under unusual circumstances, though the court findings were inconclusive. Certainly, any large organization is going to have suicides or unusual deaths, and from an outside perspective, there's no way to verify whether the church had anything to do with it, or whether those who died would have died anyway. So I'm not at all sure how I feel about either group, but I do find it all pretty fascinating.

The group also made headlines for outing a sexual predator - Chris Forcand - before he was able to do any damage. They got him to proposition them, and then reported him to the police, who then arrested him. The police reported that it was the first time an "Internet vigilant group" had ever helped with the arrest of an internet predator.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Prime Minister Heathcliff!

Wow. This should interest my former students. The current prime minister of Britain is comparing himself to Heathcliff! It's now being used in Parliament as a mark of derision against him. One minister said, "It's time for Heathcliff to come down from dithering heights."

Check out the video on the website. It's why British people are such better public speakers than Americans - their parliament requires it! The video shows a relatively calm day. Here's a more typical day, where you can actually see Heathcliff in action.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Collegiate Play Photos

Just put this together. It's a collection of photos of plays at Collegiate since I've been here. They look pretty impressive when all put together. Check it out!

You can also feel free to poke around the rest of the site while you're there. I'm putting all my classes online, and I'm pretty happy with it so far (though it will be tested in the fall...).

Monday, July 7, 2008

Hannah's Lunchbox

No doubt many people think this family is crazy. I think if more people in our culture had conversations about need vs. want, we'd live in a very different world. Click here for the CNN video and article.

Here's the video Hannah's brother made about it.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Google 411

This has been around for a while, but I had no idea how versatile and easy it is. You can get the address and phone number of any business or restaurant, driving directions, sports scores, movie listings, product prices, or even flight information for a specific flight.

Watch the video below, and if you're interested, check out this website for all the different things you can do with it. It's much cheaper and more efficient than a phone call!

Kinetic Sculpture

This guy is amazing.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Boston and Journey

Maybe I'm behind in hearing about this. The bands Boston and Journey both have new lead singers, and both of them were discovered through MySpace and YouTube. It's a completely new paradigm! Here are the stories.

Tommy DeCarlo with Boston

And here's Arnel Pineda with Journey

I'm not sure how I feel about the emphasis on sounding exactly like the original singers. Musically, it seems like we're labeling everything now. But these guys are pretty amazing technical singers, and it does show that we're living under an entirely different set of rules these days.

Friday, July 4, 2008

From Juba to Hoofin' and Beyond

One of the primary projects I'm working on this summer is revamping my classes. British Literature is no longer offered, and so I'm teaching semester-long courses in the Hebrew Bible, World Mythology, and Literary Nonfiction. I taught the Bible and Myth courses once 2 years ago, but the Nonfiction course is entirely new. Allen Chamberlain and I received an innovation grant to work on the course this summer, and I've been having a pretty amazing time with it. The course will deal with both written and audio nonfiction, and the preliminary ideas are on a wiki I'm developing over the summer, which will eventually become a platform for the whole class to work in.

Today, I was reading one of the essays in our textbook, and got really excited about a possible project that I may work on while the students work on their own individual projects. The essay mentioned Juba dancing, and since I didn't know what that was, I looked it up. It's a form of dance that slaves did on plantations when slave owners outlawed any musical instruments, thinking music would cause unrest and riots among the slaves. In 1848, "Master Juba" (William Henry Lane) was taken to London by P.T. Barnum to dance before Queen Victoria. While he was there, he combined Juba dancing with traditional Irish dancing to create tap dance. Reading this reminded me of one of the most astonishing Broadway shows I've ever seen - Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk - starring Savion Glover. The rest of the brainstorm - and several videos - are on the wiki, which you can check out here. It's still in rough form, but I think the videos are sufficiently amazing to justify the incompleteness of the thought process.

But just in case you don't know Savion Glover, here's a 2 minute video that ought to inspire you to look at the rest of it. But if you have time for nothing else, watch the video of him and his group (Not Your Ordinary Tappers) at the White House, which is the 2nd from last on the page.

Shifty Obama

Here's a good editorial today from the NY Times about Obama's recent shifts toward the center. I agree with the ending, where they say that a candidate's shifts toward center in an general election are expected and necessary, but I do find some of them distressing, particularly the one about gun control in DC and illegal wiretapping. I have mixed feelings about the public financing issue (he could have worked within the system and then fixed it...but his denial of lobbyist funds is encouraging...but the hunt for high rollers is dismaying), and I have no problem with the faith-based initiatives - as long as they are carefully chosen, churches are often in a good position to provide aid to those who need it, and are better organized for that than the government is. I don't agree with him about the death penalty, but I understand why he holds that position. In a presidential race, I'm not looking for a candidate who agrees with me on every topic, but for someone whose judgment I feel I can trust. In the past, I have sometimes felt shaky on that with Obama, but he has usually risen to the occasion, particularly with the Reverend Wright affair and with the issue of negative campaigning. Here's a good article where he acknowledged some missteps in a rough week of the primaries. I would never expect a candidate to be perfect all the time, but the acknowledgement of missteps goes a very long way in my estimation of him.

He is of course a masterful and crafty politician (and not at all naive, as some would paint him). The fears on the right about his Chicago politics are not entirely unbased, but he'll have to play the game to the hilt in order to win, so I don't grudge him the occasional shifting positions, but I am a bit concerned over the gun control and wiretapping issues. The pattern in the past has been that he gets bogged down in the system (which anyone would), but then manages to rise above it (most clearly in the negative campaigning issue), and I hope that will prove to be the case here too.

General Clark

I've followed General Wesley Clark for several years now, and have been impressed in many ways. He was the Supreme Commander of the NATO forces in Kosovo, and ran for president in 2004. The recent fallout over his off-hand remark about John McCain - saying very clearly that he is a hero to Clark himself and to hundred of thousands of other soldiers who fought in Vietnam, but that getting shot down in a plane and serving in a prison isn't necessarily qualification for high office - has caused a great deal of controversy. Paul Krugman has an editorial about this today which I believe puts the situation in proper perspective, but I do regret that public opinion is following the same path it did with the Swift Boat situation in '04. One of McCain's most vocal aides is Colonel Bud Day, who is outraged that Clark would "insult" McCain in this way. Colonel Day was one of the primary Swift Boaters, who actually did question and insult John Kerry's Vietnam service, though that's clearly not what Clark did. The original interview is here, and you can see for yourself how even-handed he is.

I had hoped (and still hope) that Obama would choose Clark as his vice-president. That would have been unthinkable when Karl Rove was still in charge, but Krugman seems to suggest that the days when his tactics worked automatically on an unsuspecting America are now over, and that we are now in an era where trumped up smears are outshined by real issues.

God, I hope so.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Biker Brotherhood

I know I'm opening myself up to serious charges of nerdiness here, but I've been a nerd pretty much all my life, so I'll just plow ahead.

Last year, horrified not only by global warming but by the fact that the oil crisis is the primary cause of our involvement in Iraq, I decided to get a scooter. I believe that the only way to defeat terrorism is to cut off what's important about them, and as soon as we go to electric cars, powered by wind, solar and methane collection, the entire Middle East will be just a sterile desert, and our planet can begin to heal itself. I researched different options, and bought a Genuine Buddy 125 (see photo). It gets 100 miles to the gallon, so I fill up about once a week, and the gas tank holds about 1.5 gallons, so I never spend more than $6 (usually more like $3.50). It also comes with a 2 year warranty and 1 year road-side assistance, which I've never needed, because it has run like a dream ever since I got it. People like to make fun of it, but today, I took it for my first time on the interstate, and clocked 74 miles per hour.

The added benefit I didn't expect was that I would become part of the brotherhood of bikers. If you haven't ridden a motorcycle or scooter before, you probably don't know about this brotherhood. I was surprised at first to see everyone on a bike wave at me as I passed them. The first time it happened, it was a group of Harleys, and I was sure I'd offended them in some way. I kept checking in my rear-view mirror to see if they were following me to beat me up. But it kept happening, and before long, I realized that scooters are also a part of the biker brotherhood. Every time I pass a bike, I get the trademark left-handed wave, sometimes varied as a point or a head nod, especially at stop lights. The only people I've ever passed who don't wave or nod are the people on the rocket bikes whose jackets and helmets match their cycles, usually in black and electric blue or canary yellow. But every Harley rider of every age (the old Hell's angel, the dissatisfied yuppie, the young rebel without a cause) solemnly recognizes my part in the brotherhood, as does every other bike rider out there. It's a completely different experience than you get in a car, which is so isolated. That may be connected to how different riding a bike on the highway is. You are always aware of your surroundings. Even when I listen to my iPod, I am keenly aware of the rhythm of the road, of where every car around me is, of which drivers are paying attention and which ones are not, of whether it looks like rain, or whether the wind picks up on a bridge. This hyper-awareness is something all bikers share, and the wave may be simply a tribute to that common understanding, that no matter the cool factor of the bike, we can admire each other and connect to each other through a common experience.

I've also noticed that my bike is probably the most consistent conversation starter I've ever had. It's typically middle-aged men who catch me in parking lots, to ask about what type of mileage it gets, to complain about oil prices, to reminisce about the days when gas was cheap, and to commiserate about wives who won't let them get the bike they've always dreamed of. There's a type of freedom that comes with the risks a bike entails, and that feedom is apparently quite attractive to men of a certain age. Today, I got in a conversation for about 45 minutes in a parking lot with a man who believes that oil should not cost above $65 a barrel (it passed $145 today), and that the entire gas crisis is a product of speculators - a few Ivy league graduates who have learned how to manipulate the situation. "America doesn't make anything," he fumed, "we just invent ways to get rich off of nothing. Nothing at all. Get rich off of people's fears, off of their stupidity, off of other people's work." Just the simple fact that I was riding a bike made me a confidant to this stranger, and a sort of icon of a way to stick it to the man. I didn't get into the fact that I can't really afford another car right now, and that I'd probably buy the Tesla Roadster if I were rich, rather than this scooter, because I didn't want to spoil his view of the situation. It helped him to have someone to blame, and it helped him to see a different way of approaching the situation, rather than just complaining. He asked me where I got the bike, and I told him, so maybe he'll go check it out. When I told him what part of town it was in (a pretty rough section), he laughed and asked if this is what all the drug dealers are driving now. I don't know, but I certainly am curious about the limo that is always in front of Ed's Seafood and Produce (click on street view on the link - it's even there on google maps!).

I'm rambling now, but while part of the decision to get the bike was a practical one, I'm also quite convinced that it's one minor way to start saving the planet. The number of scooters on the road has more than tripled since I bought mine last year, and I see one every time I ride now, as opposed to seeing one only every month or so when I first bought it. It's definitely tough to ride in the winter, or in the rain, but the weather here has been perfect recently, and I do love the sense of freedom it provides.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Disadavantages of an Elite Education

This was brought to my attention by our Academic Dean. It's an amazing article written by a Yale professor about the problems of an elite education, including that it is (counter-intuitively) anti-intellectual. The article is long, but really worth taking the time to read.

Meditation & Genetics

Here is a new study on how meditation can actually alter genetic responses in the body. People have known this for millenia, but it is nice that science is catching up...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Mandela, the terrorist

Amazing. Today, Nelson Mandela was removed from the US terror watch list. It reminds me of when Pope John Paul II pardoned Galileo...

An invisibility cloak

Here is an article about the possibility of actual invisibility cloaks that proves that whatever you imagine will one day become a reality. Of course, they are a long way off, but the mathematical models are there, and that's the beginning. I sometimes wonder if that is how the world is created. We imagine something, give it some time and space and plenty of our attention, and eventually it materializes.