Friday, March 21, 2008

Nation Swoons; Varenius Yawns

Being bored, I decided to do an obvious Photoshopping of The Anointed One...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Irony of Disabled Euthanasia

At the very point that the lives of the disabled have become the best they have been in all of human history, disability is increasingly seen as a fate so horrible that killing is the only appropriate response.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

You're Joking, Right?

Online Dating

Monday, January 08, 2007

Dinner Conversations from Our Biotechnology Future

"What do you mean, you don't 'want' to go to Harvard? We paid over 300 grand to make you, buddy! Like hell you're not going to Harvard!"


"Did you hear? The Clarks' baby hatched with a deformed arm!"
"What?! Are you serious? But ArtiWomb has such a great reputation for quality control -- how could that happen?"
"I know, I know, but apparently one of their technicians screwed up and it wasn't caught beforehand. Poor Tim and Marsha were actually in the hatching room ready to receive the kid when one of the techs spotted it."
"Well, I certainly hope they are suing those incompetent bastards!"
"You bet they are!"
"But what about the crippled kid? What are they going to do?"
"The company was decent enough to euthanize it for free, thank goodness. I mean, who wants a reminder like that hanging around?"


"Mom, why didn't you make me with big boobs? Mine are so small… and flat…"
"Honey, how many times do I have to tell you? Your breasts are fine! And you're still growing, anyway!"
"Kaitlynne and Alexxiss got designed with big tits and they get all the attention! Boys don't even know I exist…"
"I've told you before, honey, we felt a good brain was the most important thing, and that appearance doesn't matter that much."
"Well it DOES! I HATE you!" [slam!]

[Later than evening]

[Knock knock] "Honey? Are you there?"
"…go away…"
"Your father and I talked, and we decided to buy you new breasts for your birthday. We'll go to OrganGro tomorrow and let you pick whichever kind you want. They can graft them on you in time for the prom."
"Really?" [Door opens] "Oh Mom, you're the greatest!"

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Catholic Triumphalist Humor

Friday, November 03, 2006

Someone's In A Really Foul Mood Today

The following words and/or phrases will no longer be tolerated in my vicinity:

  • "Like" a la Tourette's: "Like, I was, like, asking myself, like, do I, like, like him, or like, what exactly, like, y'know? " Have you, like, considered seeing, like, a doctor for that?  I hear that they have some wonderful medications these days.

  • "Hella": Hella this, hella that... Hey buddy, how would you like to experience hella pain right now?

  • "My bad": Your bad what, you moronic surfer dude?

  • "Anal" or "anal retentive": Potty talk meets Freudian psychobabble. Say it one more time and my boot will connect with the associated region on your body with such force that you'll be retaining shoe leather for the rest of the month.

You have been warned.

Sea Monkey Funeral Announced

Funeral services were announced today for Dizzy the Sea Monkey by the Varenius Sea Monkey Farm. "With great sorrow, I must inform everyone that Dizzy the Sea Monkey has departed for the great sea monkey tank in the sky," said Farm owner Bernhardt Varenius. "We will sorely miss the scrappy little fellow."

Dizzy's body was found still and turning black at the bottom of his tank Monday night. The discovery was a blow to the Farm, which has fallen on hard times of late. After several months of successful sea monkey raising, the Farm's stocks suffered a massive die-off in September that still remains unexplained. Only two healthy sea monkeys, Dizzy and Ditzy, remained after the incident.

The Farm had hoped that the remaining pair would breed, but to no avail. "The two just didn't seem interested in raising a family," Varenius explained. "Perhaps we exposed them to too many episodes of 'Friends' and 'Will & Grace'."

Ditzy died a few weeks after the population crash, leaving Dizzy as the sole remaining sea monkey. Dizzy continued to grow in the empty tank, but appeared increasingly listless in his isolation, circling endlessly in the same corner. Varenius attributes this to grieving and loneliness due to Dizzy's loss of his mate. "Whatever the coroner may say, I know that Dizzy died of a broken heart," he says.

Funeral services will be held on Friday at Our Lady of Crustacea Catholic Church. In lieu of flowers, the Farm requests donations be made to the Stella Mare Sea Monkey Retirement Home.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Random Thought to Prove I Still Live

If Fox News didn't exist, liberals would have to invent it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

What I've Been Doing...

with my free time instead of blogging:

The Kingdom of Loathing

One must have one's priorities, mustn't one?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Ernie Gets a Come-Uppance

Monday, August 15, 2005

Seasons of the Afterlife

A beautiful collection of photos of Steatham Cemetery through the seasons.

Varenius' Law of Libertine Politics

Sentimental libertines become Leftists.

Unsentimental libertines become Libertarians.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Latest Insights on Sleep

Here is a fascinating article on the current state of sleep science and the unintentional experiment in sleep deprivation being conducted by modern society.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Traditional Buddhism... Or Just Theosophy?

One focus of my academic research has been attempting to tease apart true Asian religious perceptions from distorted Western assumptions about them. As works such as J.J. Clarke's Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter Between Asian and Western Thought show, the Western perception of Asian religious traditions has often had less to do with what is "actually there" than with the desire of certain Westerners to have a foil against which they can unfavorably compare their own culture, particularly its Christianity. With perceptions of the natural world in particular, there has sometimes even been a curious exchange in which Western misperceptions are picked up and spread by Asians themselves as the "true" Asian view.

An even stranger variant of this is the deliberate seeding of Western interpretations back into Asian soil. Peter J. Leithart explores one example in When East is West. It seems some "traditional" Buddhist doctrine may have less to do with Siddhartha Guatama than with an American Theosophist named Henry Steel Olcott:

Buddhism in the West is clearly being Americanized and commercialized. But the complicating wrinkle is that Buddhism has been remade by Yankee imperialists before. To this day, schoolchildren in Sri Lanka learn about the “doctrine” of Theravada Buddhism from a Buddhist Catechism first published in English and Sinhalese in 1881 -- a book described by its author as an “antidote to Christianity” and as a bulwark against Christian missionaries invading the East. Before they finish learning the Catechism, Sinhalese schoolchildren have been instructed in the evils of slavery and the virtues of “temperance,...gun control, chastity, and women’s rights.”

In its catechetical form, apologetic content, moralistic tone, and anti-ritual polemicism, the Buddhist Catechism suspiciously echoes nineteenth-century Protestant polemics against Roman Catholicism. And that the Catechism inculcates a sort of liberal Protestant Buddhism is no accident, for its author was an American-born convert, a lapsed Presbyterian reformer, journalist, and spiritualist named Henry Steel Olcott.

Olcott embarked on a personal crusade to save Buddhism from Christian missionaries by teaching Sri Lankan youth his own interpretation of their religion:
Believing the Ceylonese were appallingly ignorant of their true religious heritage -- and that this ignorance made them vulnerable to Christian missionaries -- he embarked on a program to consolidate Sri Lankan Buddhism, becoming one of the most important anti-mission missionaries in modern history....

Not only organizationally, but also conceptually, Olcott’s work was less a revival than a reshaping of traditional Buddhism according to a liberal Protestant model. He attacked the Buddhist practice of veneration and made the distinctly Western claim that the essence of Buddhism did not lie in the rituals of the Buddhist monks but in the philosophy and texts of Buddhism, a kind of “sacred Scripture.” No one before had conceived of summarizing all of Buddhism in a single volume, much less in a set of propositions, but Olcott produced both the Buddhist Catechism and a compilation of “Fundamental Buddhistic Beliefs,” summarized in a fourteen-point Buddhist Platform by which he hoped to unify all Buddhist teaching. “His Buddha,” Prothero notes, “was a quintessential Christian gentleman: sweet and convincing, the very personification of ‘self-culture and universal love.’”

All of these interpretations should sound quite familiar to anyone who has perused the numerous Huston Smith-style introductions to Buddhism to be found here in the US. That they may in large part be the product of a 19th-century Theosophist rather than any legitimate Buddhist tradition is truly ironic.

Recommended Reading

Bruun, O., and Kalland, Arne, Eds. (1995). Asian Perceptions of Nature: A Critical Approach. Studies in Asian Topics, Vol. 18. Richmond, UK: Curzon Press.

Clarke, J. J. (1997). Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter Between Asian and Western Thought. London: Routledge.

Girardot, N. J., James Miller, Liu Xiaogan, Eds. (2001). Daoism and Ecology: Ways within a Cosmic Landscape. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Glenn Frazier Returns!

I had given up my long-lost blogfather for dead, but it seems Glenn Frazier has surfaced again. Welcome back, Glenn!

Friday, July 01, 2005

Instapundit's Bioethics Skewered Again

Eternity Road goes after Reynold's shallow thinking on stem-cell research: Research Without Moral Limits Is No Better Than Government Without Moral Limits. (But that's of course one of the blind spots of Libertarianism: The problem is always The Government, not you and me.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Anti-Intelligent-Design Arguments, Adolescent Edition

These aren't very fair, but they are damned funny and do capture the attitudes and rhetoric of the most obnoxious missionary atheists who go after IDers: Best of the Burning Panda. Some of my favorites:
8)The argument from falsifiability
1. I.D. isn’t real science because it isn’t falsifiable.
2. Evolution is true and has falsified design.
3. Therefore evolution is true.

11)The argument from computer programs.
1. A programmer wrote a program that he installed on a computer.
2. The code took written words and randomly placed them together, under certain programmed rules, to form complete sentences.
3. See? Random processes CAN create information.
4. Therefore evolution is true.

28)The appeal to Richard Dawkins
1. Richard Dawkins is an evolutionist
2. Richard Dawkins is also smart
3. Therefore evolution is true.

SIDENOTE: I have added a new blogroll category, Weird Science, where I will have links to Intelligent Design and other "fringe" science related blogs I find interesting.

UPDATE: Before some itinerant Web hooligan jumps on me as a "nutjob creationist", let me point out that while I am religious, I have never had the slightest problem with evolutionary theory, nor am I a particular fan of Intelligent Design. I do, however, think there is value in having scientific spoilsports such as IDers, and find that evolution partisans too often dress up as "science" what is actually their own arrogant personal ideology.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Shaidle on Conspiracy Theorists

Speaking of conspiracy theorists, Kathy Shaidle of Relapsed Catholic has a nice essay on conspiracy theory buffdom.

Didion Reviews Schiavo Case

Joan Didion has an excellent retrospective on the Terri Schiavo case, clearly laying out the facts and speculating on the motivations of the different groups pulled into the battle.

Something important she fails to point out is how groups on both sides were primed to go off as soon as a well-publicized case like this appeared. Anti-euthanasia groups, seeing how euthanasia legalization seems to be gaining ground and expecting this to continue, jumped on it on the assumption that it was the first major assault of the anticipated war over euthanasia. On the pro-euthanasia side, it appeared to be viewed as similarly pivotal, and as a tremendous chance to gain public sympathy for their cause given the massive media attention.

The problem was that the Schiavo case was not the perfect one for either side's public argument. Terri was a little too incapacitated for the anti-euthanasia side -- someone more visibly functional would have been easier for the undecided to sympathize with. For the euthanasia advocates, the case was simply not airtight enough. There were too many uncertainties surrounding the history of Terri's medical condition and questions about her husband's behavior and interests, and there was the added twist of her parents being willing to take over her care. Ideally for them, there would be no ambiguities, and a stark choice between only euthanasia or indefinite minimal hospice care as her possible futures.

Didion's piece also came out too early to incorporate the results of Terri's autopsy, although as Andrea Harris ably points out, they are ultimately irrelevant in judging the morality of the decision.

Weirdo (Ex-)Roommate Conspiracy Theory No. 8

Weirdo Roommate may be gone but he is certainly not forgotten. Here is another of his crazy claims I happened to remember this morning...

Claim: The US government is who brings all illegal drugs into the country. After all, who else could fly the stuff here? Mexicans don't own planes, and blacks are afraid to fly!

Eh, maybe WR wasn't all bad... he did provide some cheap entertainment.

Friday, June 10, 2005

My Singularity Singularity

I seem to be encountering my own singularity on the Singularity these days. Without really intending to, I keep stumbling on great material related it. Via someone I'm too lazy to look up again, I found Logic, DNA, and Poetry, a critical and refreshingly new take on how two of the potential feeders into the Singularity -- artificial intelligence and genetics -- have been hobbled by reductionistic thinking. Further digging into the the author, Steve Talbott, and his associated organization looks promising as well.

Even better, on a totally unrelated web search I found an issue of Whole Earth magazine on the Singularity. (The issue-specific links don't seem to be intended as permanent, however, so you probably want to check it out quickly if interested.) Lots of promising material there.

I may eventually blog more on these finds, real life permitting.

UPDATE: The Talbott piece is also in the current issue of The New Atlantis.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Threat of the Singularity, or Instapundit (Slightly) Redeems Himself

I have always considered Instapundit to be a shallow-thinking technomaniac on bioethics and other issues involving societal impacts of technology. Today, however, he manages to redeem himself a bit. In this entry discussing the Singularity, Glenn says this about its potential dangers:
The bigger danger won't be the creation of a godlike artificial intelligence. It will be the creation of many millions (and eventually billions) of individuals with powers that would have been until recently regarded as godlike, in the rather small space that humanity currently inhabits.

Exactly. The primary danger lies in access by one and all to powers of immense destruction -- powers that today are available, in weaker forms, only to a few governments. Even if the vast majority handle the ability to create weapons of global destruction on their tabletops responsibly, there will inevitably be a few who do not -- and a few is all it will take.

Glenn proceeds to give a typically techno-libertarian solution to the problem:
That problem will be reduced, however, if we expand beyond the earth beforehand. I certainly agree with Stephen Hawking that the alternative is extinction. But I think that we'll do it in time.

True, space colonization will help to ensure that, should an apocalyptic disaster occur, some of humanity will survive. This overlooks, however, what I fear will be the immediate means for dealing with the problem: totalitarian surveillance and control of society. The most direct solution is to make sure people do not have the secrecy that allows them to covertly create super-weapons, and to squelch any inclinations in them toward doing this in the first place. This would entail total, continuous surveillance of the population, and the "rehabilitation" of any who exhibit signs of criminal mindset. And it will be the very same Singularity that yields the technologies for surveillance and mind control that will make this possible.

As for Glenn, now if only we could get his rare, nominal squeak of allegiance to Christianity to inform his bioethics a little more, we might actually be getting somewhere...

Our Bioengineered Future

Of Genes and Genomes provides an insightful review of a predictable but worthwhile new book giving an overview of genetics. In particular, it has a succinct summary of what gives so many critics pause over the attitudes of the techno-triumphalists.

Intelligent Person's Guide?

The book is part of a new series entitled "Intelligent Person's Guides". Am I alone in finding this appeal to readers' egos hilarious?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Real Mao

The Guardian is ridiculously treating it as if it's a new revelation, but this review of a book on Mao Zedong's reign provides a good overview of what an evil, oppressive tyrant the oft-venerated bastard was.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Christianity Vs. Neo-Paganism: A Musical Case Study

"Good King Wenceslas", Christian version: The King and his page bring gifts to a poor man.

"Good King Wenceslas", Neo-Pagan version: The King and his page bring gifts to the woodland creatures.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Ethical Stem Cell Research: A New Solution?

For critics of embryonic stem cell research such as myself, the criticism is one of means, not ends. If ethical means of stem cell therapy can be found -- such as adult-derived rather than embryo-derived stem cells -- I have no problem with their application, and may even benefit from it personally.

That there may be several such approaches to stem cell research that avoid ethical problems is suggested by this Wired article on the research of William Hurlbut. Hurlbut proposes using modified embryonic cells that will provide stem cells but lack the inherent potential to continue developing and thus die of "natural causes" early on. As the article points out, this is not without possible ethical questions, but it's encouraging to me because it suggests with a little bit of imagination and ingenuity, we can design methods that make potential therapies possible to do without compromising ourselves ethically.

Provided the will is there, of course. The one disturbing note in the article is the fact that opposition to Hurlbut's proposal is coming from scientists themselves. Perhaps accusing them of being ideologically and self-servingly motivated on this issue is unfair, but it does make me wonder how much of researchers' rhetoric about "wanting to help people" is honest given that they torpedo alternate approaches that may in fact get such therapies to the public faster and with less political violence.

But all in all, positive news.

[Would it be too vulgar to say, "Go kick ass, Dr. Hurlbut?" No, but you would be guilty of a very punny crime -- Ed.]

UPDATE: Hey Virginia, check out what this blockhead has to say:
"Many people believe human life -- a person -- begins in a woman's uterus, in the mother's womb, not in a Petri dish or a test tube," [stem cell researcher] Lanza said in an e-mail.
Kind of proves my point, eh Postrel?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Random Thought

If you were to be kept alive as a detached head, would you suffer from phantom body pains?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Nazi Seduction

Jean Bethke Elshtain on why the Nazis captivate our attention in a way other totalitarians do not.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Reefer Roommate

Pothead in the morning
Pothead in the evening
Pothead at suppertime
With Bob's homemade super-bong
He can be a pothead anytime

Well, that break did not last for long. It seems I've traded an insane conspiracy theorist for a marijuana addict. It's rather ironic considering my long-standing, intense animosity toward weed-smokers. (Ha ha, God. Very funny.)

Maybe I should just see it as extra motivation for finishing this thing...

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Genius or Garbage?

After almost a decade of ignoring it, I listened to U2's Achtung Baby again, and in "One" came across what always struck me as a remarkable lyric:

Have you come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in your head?

That line is either absolutely brilliant, or some of the most laughably pretentious drivel I've ever heard. I still can't decide which.

Zen at War

One of the many shibboleths of pop culture's take on spirituality is the image of Buddhism as the planet's most peaceful religion -- in contrast, naturally, to those oppressive, war-mongering Christian sects. But anyone with a little knowledge beyond the romanticised and sanitized New Agey portraits realizes that Buddhism has its own history of bloodshed and toadying to worldly power. This is especially true for Japan, where Zen in particular became intertwined with the samurai and later colonial militarism. A good overview of Buddhism's role in 19th and 20th Century Japanese militarism is provided by this book review: Zen at War.

(Via a commenter at The Jawa Report.)

Monday, May 16, 2005

Andrea Flays Matt Fox (With A Little Help from Benedict XVI)

Andrea Harris unloads both barrels on the latest bit of silliness from Matthew Fox (he of the weeing musical bears). Not to be missed!

Friday, May 13, 2005

I'm Back!

Hey Varenius fans! I'm back again! Did you miss me???

[crickets chirping]

Oooohh... kaaaayyyy... [ahem] Well, my chirpy little friends might be interested to know I had a truly horrendous but ultimately triumphant! week. At long last...

I be ABD!!!! Woohoo!!


Now what?

Oh yes, that thing called sleep would be nice.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Welcome Fellow Apologia Fans!

I see the esteemed William Luse has taken notice of my reemergence. Welcome, one and all! The basic idea behind this blog can be found here.

I'm temporarily in a bit of blogging lull, but once I've finished with my current project I will be posting more. I plan to continue my extended series on dramatic future technologies such as Radical Life Extension, first coming up with all the potential negatives, then attempting to sketch positive counterarguments, and finally trying to envision the most positive possible scenario for them (more to calm my own fears than anything else!). Please stay tuned!

Friday, April 22, 2005

Another Nightmare Scenario: Garage Bioengineers

Futurepundit ponders another of the possibilities that keep me up at night: What happens when anyone and everyone can do genetic engineering?
The DNA-based biological organism nightmare scenario that attracts the most attention is the release of genetically engineered killer viruses or bacteria that could wipe out much or all of the human race. I grant that threat is plausible and the attention that threat receives is understandable. However, in the future we will face a more general biological threat that has received far less attention: the genetic engineering of organisms that either through infection or environmental competition wipe out or greatly decrease the size of other species.

....Genetic engineering will inevitably become accessible to low skilled hobbyists working with small budgets. That is going to create enormous potential for mischief and worse. Think Rottweilers bred for ferocity are a threat at the local park? Wait till homies decide to compete to genetically engineer dogs that are the most dangerous in the neighborhood....

You see the problem here? People are going to take many existing species and modify their DNA for fun. This will be easy to do. One doesn't need to be a mechanical or electrical engineer to modify and enhance a car in all sorts of ways. Well, the same will be true of all the species of biological life.

And unlike many of his commenters -- who seem to think "religious fanatics" are the only ones to worry about -- Futurepundit understands what a wide range of motives people would have to do these things:
Why will people release their own genetically engineered species into the wild? For kicks. For fame. Out of anger. To see if it can be done. To immortalize themselves by having their own species live all over the world. To remake some part of physical geography in their image. Vanity, pride, a desire to be noticed, a desire to strike out at the world, all the normal human failings will be at work.

Anyone see reasons why this won't happen? Strikes me as inevitable.

Me too... me too.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Life Extension: Perpetual Papacy?

It seems the same thought occurred to Rand Simberg as did to me this week: What might radical life extension mean for the Papacy?
In a world of conventional life spans, we can always console ourselves with the thought that, if we're stuck with a dud pope, or a particularly nasty and competent dictator, or an overactivist judge, no one lasts forever.

But what if they do? What are the implications of this for the future of the Church? Or of dictators (who are usually the first in their own nations to take advantage of new medical techniques)? Or the Supreme Court? Or indeed, any position which, in our current finite-lived reality, is defined as a term for life?

I think Simberg is overstating the likelihood that RLE breakthroughs will occur during Benedict XVI's lifetime, but regardless, the issues he raises will have to be faced in the future.