Friday, May 30, 2008

Generic Religious Rant

Maybe it's pointless to argue against religion. If you've closed your mind to rationality by blindly accepting an illogical belief system, then how can a logical argument change your opinion? It's almost certainly pointless for me to rail against it, since many philosophers have made the same points more eloquently than I ever could.

Still, it's an interesting exercise for me to put my beliefs in writing, and I would guess that most of you don't read much philosophy anyway. So here we go...

I want to start with a pic that z0r sent me a couple weeks ago:

This is the crux of my atheism. Of course I'd dispute the existence of God, or at least I'd cite the lack of evidence that one exists, but that's not the core of my disbelief. Even if I stipulate that God exists, exactly as he's represented in the Bible, Koran, or Torah, God is not worth believing in, even if he's real.

Oh I know the response from believers: God allows evil to exist as a test. Right, that makes perfect sense. An all-powerful, merciful, just God - words used to describe him in all three holy texts - has devised a horribly flawed and unfair test for his beloved creation. He allows some of us to suffer unimaginable agony, to be strained beyond the limits of human endurance, subject to ridicule, torture, or death because of, or in spite of our beliefs. And then he allows some to live a life of effortless luxury. Some die young, too young to ever form a rational thought, and others live for decades with multiple second chances to find him. Some are never exposed to the 'true' faith, while others are indoctrinated with it from birth. By this set of random circumstances are we judged.

And that judgement is eternal. However long your life on Earth might be - 10 minutes or 100 years - your fate determined by that blink of time is infinite. Imagine taking a test 30 seconds into your freshman year and being told that your entire 4-year GPA depended on the results of that test. That's the standard of fairness by which your wise, all-knowing God judges us all.

Imagine also if you had all the power in the universe at your disposal, and you could create any sort of this the best you could come up with? How about a world that encouraged scientific development and artistic expression, instead of being shackled by a belief system that represses it? How about a world that allowed everyone to succeed or fail based on their effort and ability, instead of accidents of birth? What if - I know this is crazy - you had a belief system that valued life on Earth at least as highly as the mysterious afterlife?

Suppose you had the choice between rewarding people who relentlessly seek truth and justice, who refuse to believe without proof, who treat others with the respect and fairness they deserve - or you could reward thieves and murderers who repent on their deathbed and profess their faith in you. What kind of spiteful, petty, immature loser chooses the latter?

Well I don't have the slightest desire to bend a knee to a deity like that. In fact, if irrefutable proof of God existed, and he was exactly the God represented by the major faiths...I'd devote my life to figuring out where he lived and building a gun big enough to smash his house to dust. And anyone with a half a brain should help me...our eternity would depend on it.

Next week, if I have the energy: Generic Political-Economic Rant!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Movie Review: Speed Racer

Speed Racer presented an interesting decision for the writers who were remaking this cartoon classic. For as much as I loved Speed Racer as a kid, it's painful to watch the original cartoon today. It's full of paper-thin characters, awful dialogue, and illogical action. So the writers were left with this choice: do something completely authentic and reminiscent of the original, or make a good movie.

They chose authenticity, and they nailed it. As you can imagine, that's a mixed blessing.

The running time is far too long...21/2 hours of juvenile characters and dialogue is definitely tiresome. Every appearance of Spritle and Chim-Chim was cringe-worthy, while fights that include John Goodman slapping a headlock on a ninja don't even border on the believeable.

But all that said, and it needs to be said because I don't want to give anyone the impression that this was a good film, the races themselves are pure magic. Especially if you watched and enjoyed the original, the race scenes capture the essence of Speed Racer completely. The unrealistic, yet consistent, physics of jumping, spinning, and turns of the cars are identical to the original. Details like the lettered buttons are duplicated faithfully (Disclaimer: I was never a Speed Racer nerd, so I'm working from ancient memory when I say this. If you find discrepancies when you research, bully for you...but it jived perfectly with my memory, so it worked for me) down to the single button that mysteriously deployed all four jump pads, or just the front two jump pads, or just the right or left pads, depending on the situation. The Fuji race and the dash through the ice caves are especially stunning scenes visually, and alone they were worth the price of admission for me.

My five-year-old son loved it, once we got past the initial mash-up of flashbacks and present-day action that totally confused him. My three-year-old daughter wolfed down an improbable amount of popcorn and soda before promptly falling asleep. And, in spite of all the flaws, I was glad to be there. To hear my son wonder aloud (is Racer X really Speed's brother?) the same deep question that racked my own five-year-old brain made the entire experience worthwhile.

Because the writers went for authenticity over quality, this movie will appeal greatly to my exact demographic - adults that watched and enjoyed the original cartoon who now have young children. But that very authenticity will make it much less appealing to people that didn't watch the original, because the flashy visuals by themselves can't overcome the weak characters and dialogue. Keep that in mind when you make your decision. For me, it was worth it...but Speed Racer won't work for everyone.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Joy of Travel, Part 3

My luggage arrived at the hotel today, a mere two days behind me. And there was much rejoicing.

The A's game was a blast - gorgeous weather, dollar dogs, and an empty stadium all contributed to a relaxing afternoon. Now it's back to Java One!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Joy of Travel, Part 2

An automated voice has assured me that my luggage is in flight from Chicago as I type. Forgive me if I don't hold my breath until it arrives.

Walking behind two gentlemen today, I became convinced that even the straight guys in San Francisco are gay. One of the "guys" was talking to the other one about his girlfriend Virginia, and he used these words: I want an honest, eyes-wide-open relationship. The other "guy" listened intently and made encouraging sounds for his friend to continue. On the Gay Scale, that conversation rates only slightly below taking a double load on the face.

Meanwhile, I'm tooling around town in an electric blue P/T Cruiser. I asked for a "mid-size" car, expecting something bland like a Ford Taurus. Instead, I have a beefcake magnet with a ridiculously phallic gear shift and a preset for Alice Radio.

Yeah, well, I'm going to an A's game tomorrow. And one way or another, I'll be wearing fresh underwear. Life could be a lot worse.

The Joy of Travel, Part 1

I used to like travelling.

But now, another facet of life is losing its charm for me as I get older.

You don't need all the details, you can construct them for yourselves...but lost luggage, crowded flights, and long layovers have a way of sucking the life out of you. Throw in some unhelpful customer service employees handing out awful directions, and travel disasters ensue.

I ended up eating dinner in a Thai Karaoke bar around 10:30 PST last night...can't say I joined the singing, but the food was good. All the screens had videos of Thai music with the lyrics printed beneath (in both Thai and phoenetic English.)

Today I tackled Java One in the same clothes I had worn across the country yesterday. Luckily, I was 10 minutes too late for breakfast and only after I spent $3 for a Mountain Dew did they roll out the free drinks. The line for the opening session was out the building, down to the end of the block, and around the corner. Needless to say I did not follow the line all the way to the end, but promptly went to a local diner for some eggs. I went to my morning sessions, standing in long lines for classes I scheduled weeks ago, jostling for seats with overweight developers for the privilege to listen to an hour-long advertisement.

I returned on lunch break to find some luggage delivered to my hotel room, which unfortunately wasn't mine. A call to United confirmed that they have no idea where my luggage might be, so I went shopping. A short walk brought me to the largest Old Navy I'd ever seen, and that was before I discovered there were two more floors above the ground. Trust don't realize how exciting it is to have clean underwear and socks until you're missing them.

Strangely, my walk through the shopping district of San Francisco yielded a sparse bounty of eye candy. One thing you can usually count on in a big city, especially a big California city, is an endless parade of head-turners. Apparently, all the hotties are staying home and locking their doors the week of Java One, and I can hardly blame them.

Back to the conference now, where things can only get better. Right?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Tastes Like Kevin Bacon

I'm driving home from Philly on Wednesday, flipping through my Sirius presets, and I came across this gem. The name of the band is I Wrestled A Bear Once and the song is called Tastes Like Kevin Bacon. I'm not sure what's more hilarious - the awful music, the awful video, or the comical ugliness of the band members. Enjoy!

Movie Review: Iron Man

Solid, kick-ass, formula action flick. Much better than most of the crap I've suffered through lately.

Predictable? Yes. Implausible? Naturally. But still a lot of fun. The dialogue is refreshingly well-written, the banter is chuckle-worthy, and Downey Jr. plays an arrogant asshole beautifully. Gwynneth Paltrow, with red hair, is worth watching (alone, with an extra-large bottle of hand lotion) even if you despise the comic super-hero genre.

Oddly enough, the ending is the exact opposite of what you'd expect...instead of naturally setting up a sequel, it creates an obstacle that will be awkward to overcome if the storyline continues (not that awkwardness has ever stopped the Hollywood money machine.)

Missing, thankfully, is the smarmy sweetness of Spiderman. Tony Stark doesn't struggle with the moral dilemmas of killing bad people, doesn't deliver pizzas on a bicycle, and doesn't fail miserably with women. And instead of waging battle against cheesy villains, he topples terrorists and ruthless corporate execs.

The best part of the night, other than the guffawing hyena who sat three rows in front of us and laughed uproariously at every mediocre sight gag, was that JC and I didn't have an empty seat between us. Well...for about ten minutes, anyway. Then his leg touched mine, and I knew it was time to move.