Monthly Archives: September 2009

Man, still inventing his doom

At the beginning of the year I started keeping track of certain science stories related to genetics, cybernetics, and artificial intelligence. I wanted to see what developments were out there that might contribute to the following: trends in genetics, cybernetics, and artificial intelligence, each of them accelerating individually and converging collectively, make it very likely that a fundamental transformation of the human species is at hand. This is likely to happen more or less instantly in evolutionary time. Even on the scale of our day-to-day lives, it’s likely to occur well before the end of the century, and is thus something many of us might live to see, especially in as much as these trends involve medical advances as well.

You can see my Q1 and Q2 recaps in previous postings. For Q3, even with me out of the country and not paying much attention for the month of August, several interesting stories have appeared:

Tiny New Battery is Printable

Embryonic stem cells used to create human sperm
Military Develops ‘Cybug’ Spies
Contact lens can dispense drugs to eyes
Gel heals injured brain and bone
Gene Therapy Cures Colorblindness in Monkeys
Brain scan reveals what you’ve seen
Micorsoft researcher converts his brain into E-memory

Even in this few months worth of headlines you can see potential for expanded lifespans, mobile robots powered by lightweight power sources and human brains interfaced with computers. To quote the prophet David Bowie:

Let me make it plain
You gotta make way for the homo superior

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The Rising Tide of Right Wing Violence

In April, when a Department of Homeland Security report on the potential emergence of right-wing domestic terror threats was partially leaked, the Right in this country went wild with scorn and mockery. The media widely reported the dissing of the report, but did very little analysis of the relative merits or lack thereof of the idea.

The title, “Right-Wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment”, pretty much gives you the thesis. You would think someone in the press at the time might have taken said thesis a little seriously based on:

– Jim Adkinson going on a shooting spree in a Unitarian church in June 2008 because, as explained in a letter he left behind, he “wanted to kill liberals”.

– Campaign rallies toward the end of the Presidential election where a beaming Sarah Palin said things like “You really get it!” to whipped-up crowds yelling “Traitor!” and “Kill him!” when Obama was mentioned.

– An assassination plot by skinhead groups that was broken up shortly after the election.

– Conservative groups organizing anti-Obama “Tea Parties” across the nation including one in which Texas Governor Rick Perry said frustration with the government might run so high that Texas might have to secede.

– Richard Poplawski in Pennsylvania, who frequently fretted about “the Obama gun ban that’s on the way” staging a domestic disturbance on April 4th, donning body-armor and loading an AK-47 to then shoot the officers who responded.

By April, was it really that ridiculous to think that economic hardship in the country, combined with a sudden political change and exacerbated by alarmism from Rightist media, might be creating a milieu of violent extremism?

One could certainly make the case that Adkinson and Poplawski were lone nuts, but as subsequent coverage has made clear, they weren’t lone nuts who appeared out of the ether. Officers found Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder by radio talk show host Michael Savage, Let Freedom Ring by talk show host Sean Hannity, and The O’Reilly Factor by television talk show host Bill O’Reilly in Adkinson’s apartment after the shooting. The note he left behind specifically mentions wanting to kill the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg’s book 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (And Al Franken Is #37). Poplawski turned out to be a follower of Alex Jones, who used to be a fringe 9-11 conspiracist but by March 2009 appeared on FoxNews.com hailed as “the one, the only, the great Alex Jones,” in a segment warning about “what the government has done to take your liberty and your property away.”

If mainstream media didn’t spot any emerging trend in April, you think they might have been on to one this summer, when, in the space of less than two weeks:

– Shawna Forde, a former member of the anti-illegal immigration border watch group the Minutemen, posed with another man as police officers in order to enter the home of a Hispanic family and kill them in Arizona on May 30th.

– Prominent abortion doctor Richard Tiller was gunned down in church in Wichita, Kansas on May 31st.

– White supremacist James Wenneker von Brunn went on a shooting spree in the National Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. on June 10th.

Still not enough trend? How about Virginia Congressional candidate Catherine Crabill in July helpfully noting that, if candidates trying to stop “Marxism” fail to get elected in November, at least we still have guns to affect change? How about the town hall meetings and Tea Parties all fall where Obama has been excoriated in the most inflammatory language? Find Mark Williams of the group Tea Party Express, for example, calling Obama an “Indonesian Muslim and welfare thug”.

And then there’s Chris Broughton, who proudly wore an assault rifle and a handgun to an Obama rally in Arizona in August. Far from being a disconnected lone nut, Broughton is actually a member of a church congregation whose pastor, while disavowing calling for anyone in particular to do anything illegal, publicly prays that Obama “die and go to hell.”

Is it possible that a sitting member of Congress shouting “You Lie!” during a Presidential address is the relative ruly tip of an increasingly unruly iceberg of growing radicalization that is implicitly encouraged by leaders of the Conservative movement? Possible enough that we might want to take a serious look at what’s going on?

Before dismissing this as Liberal paranoia, let’s play a thought game:

What if, during the 2000 election, a radical leftist had gone on a shooting spree in an evangelical church leaving behind a note saying he wanted to, “kill conservatives?” Not long thereafter, Gore’s VP candidate had grinned and encouraged crowds shouting that Bush was a fascist who should be killed. After the election of Bush, left wing acts of violence dotted the country in the following months as prominent Liberals organized and encouraged town halls where Bush was described as dangerous and a threat. A Democratic congressional candidate advocated violent revolution if Liberals lost elections and a prominent Democratic governor mentioned seceding if Bush’s agenda continued. And then a gun-totting member of a radical Black church congregation whose pastor called for Bush’s death came to a rally that the President was at? How calm, nuanced, reasoned and balanced would Fox News and talk radio be in reporting on this?

Help with my Ten Books in 2010 self-challenge

I’ve decided to issue myself a self-challenge in 2010: I’m going to try to read 10 books that are on my “always wanted to, but never got around to” list.

Now is the part where you come in- I’ve started a list, but it has over ten entires, with more being added all the time. Any particular “yea” votes? Or suggestions about something I might want to add? The list so far (mixing sacred and profane, in no particular order):

-the Illiad
-Paradise Lost
-Short Stories of Dostoevsky
-something by Tom Robbins (what?)
-Catcher in the Rye
-Jesus’ Son
-Letters to a Young Poet
-something by Raymond Chandler (what?)
-something by Raymond Carver (particular recommendation?)
-the Analects
-the Varieties of Religious Experience
-Aristotle’s Poetics
-The Corrections
-Good in Bed
-Pass it On
-something by DeLillo (I’m leaning towards “Libra”)
-Godel, Escher, Bach
-Please Kill Me
-The Epic of Gilgamesh

Any suggestions?

September Writing News

Now that I’m back from safari (more on that later) I figured it was time for another monthly update on my creative doings:

Film- “Deaf, Dumb and Blind Date”, one section of my three-part short film “Triptych” will screen at the Victoria Theatre on October 4th. I wrote and produced this one, for the next round in Scary Cow I’m thinking of directing a new project as well. While I ponder that, you can check out the previous installment of Triptych that screened in June, “Geek Wars”, on the Scary Cow website, project #33: http://www.scarycow.com/videos/round0008/round008.html

Publication- I just put together a portfolio of things that I’ve had published in the last few years. To my surprise, it reached almost 50 pages. Maybe I’m not as much of a slacker as I think! The latest additions are more musings on hipsters for LEGENDmag: http://legendmag.net/thelegendonline/2009/07/16/invasion-of-the-hipster-bodysnatchers/ , the short prose piece “relapse in 26 lines” for Slouch Magazine: http://www.slouchmag.com/?p=245 , and two poems for the science section in Umbrella Journal’s school-themed issue: http://www.umbrellajournal.com/fall2009/school_contents.html

Performance- I read at Magnet’s “Smackdab” reading series on Wednesday July 15th and at the Gallery Café poetry series on Monday August 3rd. The Magnet audience was mostly gay, which means they were literate and paying attention. Love it! The Gallery Café was also excellent, one of the largest and highest quality reading series I’ve been to, I definitely plan to go back some time. As for September, I’m not sure where I’m going to read yet, but I’m pledged to try, so stay tuned for details…

Novel- Still not sure what I’m going to do with the revision suggestions I got from the manuscript evaluation by the freelance editor I met at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February regarding my novel, Out in the Neon Night. Until I figure it out, you can read the first chapter on my blog: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/2009/02/first-chapter-of-my-novel-in-neon-night.html

Blog- The biggest doing on my blog has been my updates from my three-week trip to Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia in August. I finally have my pictures up too! Check it out here: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/2009/09/my-africa-pictures-are-online.html

So there you have it, with more to come…