2018 Update

It’s been over a year since the last update.

I’ve got a server running in my house now, cobbled together from older parts after a recent PC upgrade. I brushed up on my Linux, and installed the Ubuntu 16.04 server distro, with Ubuntu MATE desktop environment for occasional non-command-line management tasks. Teamviewer, the free single-user edition, handles the remote connection to the MATE desktop. Otherwise, I log in to a terminal command line from either my Galaxy S6 using the JuiceSSH app, or from my main PC using MobaXterm.

The Linux server is there for three main reasons:

  1. Plex Media Server. Plex with the subscription (“PlexPass”) is the best home theater media server out there, at the moment. This one was running on my main PC, but while streaming to my Roku apps, or mobile Plex apps, it put a strain on the PC’s modest resources. So, it’s nice having a dedicated box for that, and the main PC breathes easier now.
  2. Calibre. My main activity on breaks at work is reading SF books. There’s no better reader for Android (for now, only Android, sadly) than Moon+ Reader Pro. It is the best epub/mobi reader on any platform, far superior to Amazon’s own Kindle product line, and B&N’s, and the many competitors. I’ve tried many. It’s one of the things keeping me locked on Android mobile devices. How could I switch to iPhone, and lose my favorite reader app? Anyway, it integrates with Calibre library software effortlessly, and Calibre has a Linux version. One less server running off my main PC. I need to donate to the dev coding Calibre; he’s a saint.
  3. I have two Foscam security cams watching my place. After trying all the main software suites out there, the opensource Linux version proved superior (no surprise there). It’s called Zoneminder. Yes, the learning curve is steep, but it’s well documented.

So that’s three server-based software suites I don’t need to worry about hogging resources and slowing down the main PC. Previously, I would just turn one or two off, to take the strain off whichever one I was using. Now, I have the luxury of a set-it-and-forget-it server and uninterrupted access to three useful server-based apps, all happily running crash-free on the excellent Ubuntu Linux server platform.

Podcasts remain another lifesaver for work and commute. Again, I’ve tried all the Android-based alternatives to Shifty Jelly’s Pocket Casts, but it remains the best pod catcher out there. (Plex just got in the game, but they’ve got a long way to go to get my attention off Pocket Casts).

I dumped the Rubin Report because it got repetitive, boring, and annoyingly tilted toward libertarian causes. Also, he never asks a tough question. I lost interest in Penn Jillette’s Sunday School, even though I retain much respect for the man.

My current playlist, updated:

  • New York Times’ The Daily, now only Mon-Thu, is still a list-topper. Two caveats: Michael Barbaro has a painfully slow, overwrought cadence to his speech. Happily, it’s not often you have to hear him, since he usually just starts and ends the episode, but that’s usually enough to irritate. Pocket Cast’s speed control and silence-trimming feature help some. Also, it’s a poorly edited podcast, for being so high profile, and presumably high-budget. For example, when Michael’s first audio clip is the phoned-in voice of one of his colleagues at the Times, we don’t just hear the reporter’s introduction to the topic; they leave in the sounds of Michael dialing the number, the ringing, the answer, and preliminary chit-chat, sometimes even the chit-chat with hotel switch-boards also… I can only assume the producers think listeners are fascinated with Michael Barbaro’s career to the extreme of wanting to listen in on even mundane portions of his day. Other problems include long pauses and long, longgg music breaks for emotional impact. For a news outlet, they seem pretty motivated to pull on the heart-strings. It’s all so very pretentious and wasteful of the listeners time. It is a glaring error in judgment, in my opinion. Please, Daily producers, hire a real editor. Otherwise, it’s got good production values and well-written stories.
  • Sam Harris’ Waking Up and subscriber channel, too. My current favorite podcast, and always trumps all others on the list whenever it’s released.
  • Also, Twenty-Thousand Hertz, mentioned below. Probably the podcast with the highest quality audio. That makes sense, given their topic, and who is producing it, but theirs is the one I would recommend above any other for new pod casters to study and emulate.
  • Reply All. Delightfully weird, hipster in the best ways, often heart-wrenching. Stay for the post-credits mini-series of some weird inter-dimensional traveler and his dog(?). From the Gimlet network (high quality stuff, there).
  • Binge Mode. I started listening after they split off the weekly show from their GoT-obsessed one (I’m not into Game of Thrones. Shoot me.). Catch up gems: Star Wars Heroes, Westworld and the Nature of Consciousness.
  • The Rewatchables. Good catch-ups: Good Will Hunting, The Big Lebowski, The Princess Bride, The Dark Knight, Speed, The Silence of the Lambs, A Few Good Men.
  • The Recappables, Westworld edition. These last three are from the Ringer network, and have really high production values; they raise the bar for podcast quality.
  • The Joe Rogan Experience, but not all episodes. I always skip the fight recaps and most all comedian interviews, but when mainstream authors come on, it’s always the best long-form interview you can get. And there’s a YouTube video of every episode, if you want that. Recent gems: Michael Pollan, Matt Taibbi, Sam Harris & Maajid Nawaz, T.J. English & Joey Diaz, Bret Weinstein & Heather Heying.
  • Radio Atlantic, produced by the editorial staff of the Atlantic magazine.
  • Crazy/Genius, another in the Atlantic house.
  • The Caliphate, a spin-off miniseries from the New York Times.
  • Intelligence Squared debates. Optional, only if waiting on the above pods.
  • Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. Recent episodes are extremely long– several hours, usually– but worth it if you have the time and interest. Oddly, the first few episodes were produced with background sounds and music accompanying Carlin’s narration. It was a good decision to dump that; it’s unnecessary and distracting. But I would like to learn more about both sides of that decision (to do it in the first place; and then, to stop it).
  • Switched On Pop. Two scholarly music reviewers, thoroughly deconstructing pop songs. Their take on Demi Lovato’s Sorry, Not Sorry was great fun. This one’s optional.
  • Trying to find time for Slate’s new one: Lend Me Your Ears, current events through Shakespeare’s eyes.

In March, I got my five year pin. I’m still at Hollywood Studios. The new Toy Story Land is opening later this month, and Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge (really? couldn’t just call it Star Wars Land, which we all will anyway?) opens in about eighteen months. These two changes, combined with getting a station on the new Skyway gondola network going in, should make for some pretty big changes in attendance at my park.

I quit Facebook (and their Instagram platform, too, though I was fairly inactive on that one). I deleted my Tumblr, which only had about ten posts anyway. The only social media I kept was Twitter, and I only look at it for news, and rarely ever write anything on it. I don’t miss social media a bit, and have a much healthier relationship with my smart phone. I also recently finished the last couple mobile games I’d been working on. No more games or social media pull me to my phone. I’m proud of that!

I’m all caught up on Asimov’s Foundation canon, Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller series (he needs to publish a new one! Please!), the published works of Neil Stephenson, and Ernest Cline’s two great books (so far). I’m working on James S A Corey’s Expanse series.

I got four books in, and then caught up with the SyFy Channel’s adaptation, three seasons long so far. The actors are not A-listers, and most of the cast is way too young; plus, casting actress Shohreh Aghdashloo as Avasarala is unfortunate, but not because of her skill, I think. Science fiction isn’t her thing; her pronunciation of so much technical jargon and her character’s generous use of cursing just feel wooden coming out of her mouth. Her almost opaque accent is irritating, too. That, combined with Corey’s made-up “Belter” pidgin English phrases freely mixed in to the dialogue (without captions, unless you turn them on for everyone) make it a bit of a strain to keep the disbelief suspended. CGI effects are pleasantly well-budgeted, however, and the fairly strict devotion to the source material make it worth the viewing time, if you’re enjoying the series. Word is, SyFy is giving over production of the fourth season to Amazon; luckily, I have a Prime subscription.


Catching Up

It’s been the better part of a year since the last post, although my Twenty-five Years in the Seventh-day Adventist Church post continues to draw comments and I reply to each one.

We’ve had a bitter and contentious election season, and somehow elected a bitter and contentious person to the office of President of the United States. Way too much being written/ Youtubed/ podcasted about that fiasco for me to bother adding any more than I just did.

Speaking of which, podcasts have continued to skyrocket in popularity, enabling some rising stars to catch my attention. Here’s my current faves:

  • Twenty Thousand Hertz, a too-short, very sweet occasionally published dive into interesting sounds. Created by a film and game sound effects house, it offers compelling background info on a topic which has always obsessed me: sound.
  • The Rubin Report, Dave Rubin’s audio version of his YouTube channel. He’s gone completely Patreon/subscriber funded, and that’s enabled him to build his own studio, and say whatever the hell he wants, and interview anyone, penalty free. This makes for some terribly informative listening.
  • Penn Jillette’s Sunday School is fairly narrow in demographic, but I happen to fit into it: fans of magic, of Penn and Teller, and those interested in libertarianism. I started listening during the middle of last year, and it helped me comprehend that much-maligned political doctrine, and fleshed out a little of candidate Gary Johnson’s background for me. The format is long and rambling, and seems like you just entered a long-running conversation between three best friends. It’s not for everyone, but it has never failed to crack me up.

I’ve moved over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios merchandise from the Magic Kingdom. I’m glad I did my first three years at Disney at the busiest, most intense park, but I’m thrilled to be away from the madness and chaos. Just ask anyone you know who’s ever worked at MK or even an annual passholder or vacation club member; they’ll help you understand that madness. It’s a wonderful place to visit, but I’m not sure I could handle ever working there again.

DHS is more my speed, and yes, I realize that it’s about to get a LOT busier, when they finish Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land (2019-ish?). That’s okay. First of all, I’m more of a fan of Star Wars than probably any other aspect of Disney; those geeky, nerdy, Star Wars fans the world over are my tribe, and I love meeting them every day. Also, I’m not intimidated by crowds or busy shifts; I routinely tell my coworkers and guests that I can’t wait for the opening day of Star Wars Land, and I hope I get to work that day, since it will be so insane as not to be missed!

I’m re-watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s version of Cosmos on Netflix. I have lately been delving deep into my interests in evolution and pondering the question of where we came from. This series is a must-see for anyone….period! And just finished reading Stephen Baxter’s Evolution: A Novel, which has one of the most sweeping story arc’s I’ve ever encountered (including Asimov’s Foundation series).

Thanks to a new friend (Stephen Barry), I’ve discovered bandcamp.com and uploaded all the homemade electronica tracks I had previously showcased on SoundCloud.com. The latter’s interface and players are still superior to almost any other available for free online. But bandcamp allows monetization quickly, easily, and for a reasonable price. I’ve also created a bandcamp site for my wife’s piano CD, An Offering.

I’ve also created a WordPress.com mirror to this site, just because I can and because it offers a different selection of themes. I think I like the look of it better.

That’s the news for now. Thanks for reading.


Social Justice War On Speech

​Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) have found the enemy, and it is freedom of speech! On university campuses, on their podcasts, blogs, and social media, and in their advocacy and movements, this branch of the political spectrum is ostensibly fighting for the victims of abuse and bigotry and systemic injustice. But in so doing, they have armed themselves with weapons to fight against the free exchange of ideas. Now everyone and everything is scrutinized for a possible political impact. Every word is being parsed, every decision analyzed, every move broken down to find out how it potentially hurts someone somewhere, and thus hurts everyone everywhere, and therefore must be banned from the safe spaces, which are growing and merging, the logical end result of which looks startlingly like Orwellian dystopia. If you question everything, hold nothing as sacred, and say whatever is on your mind, you are not invited to the SJW party. 

The regressive left has gone crazy.  Being liberal used to mean protecting freedom of speech. Now the SJW flank of the left have abdicated that protector role in order to secure an illusory goal of somehow keeping everyone safe from ever hearing anything threatening or uncomfortable (triggers). 

As I learn about the damage being done to the right to speak freely, it reminds me of my own self-censoring while I was a Christian, and a Bible teacher. The parallels between the right and left on free speech have been discussed frequently by Dave Rubin on his excellent Rubin Report, which I highly recommend to anyone concerned about free speech issues. I also credit his series of podcast interviews launched last September for the inspiration for this writing. 

It finally dawned on me last night that I could remember being confronted with ‘threatening speech’ occasionally during my Christian delusion. Even in the safe spaces of the Seventh-day Adventist campus where I taught, I could access and interact with challenging ideas outside that protective bubble, using the Internet. When challenges to my faith arose, I usually just dismissed them, feeling a pang of guilt which was quickly tagged as ‘evil’, or whatever– Christians are good at inventing justifications from “The Devil made me do it”. The guilt and shame came from my conscience, which knew better than to dismiss facts just because they were uncomfortable, but I did it anyway, time and again, in order to prop up my delusional belief system. That dismissal and damage to the conscience is a thing everyone did, everyone who clung to the irrational and illogical doctrines we all held sacred. It was easier to do in a community which encouraged it. 

This kind of violence done to one’s conscience cannot be healthy. Across years of indulging in this denial of basic values like freedom of expression and freedom to question sacred beliefs, the cognitive dissonance builds up like scar tissue on one’s reasoning ability. I know this self-censorship made me vulnerable to conspiracy theory paranoia, inappropriate trust in bogus claims and authority, and doubtless contributed to the depression I fought since I began my journey out of Christianity.

I think that same kind of cognitive dissonance threatens those apostles of the social justice mania chilling free speech on university campuses and trolling social media now. I wonder if they are becoming vulnerable to irrational schemes and conspiracy theories just like Christians are. 

It hit me again last night how much I regret wasting my youth teaching teenagers how to deny their consciences for the purpose of delusion-maintenance. Those same regrets are waiting to pounce on any current advocates of the speech policing now popular in academia and the liberal press, just as soon as they realize the damage they are doing to our hard-won 1st Amendment rights. 

Supporting popular causes can make you feel important, and stroke your need to belong. But if that cause you love ever makes you censor your doubts about it or damage your own conscience, run away from it. Get out of that toxic pattern now, before you build up life-altering loads of regret. 

If you’re interested in learning more about freedom of speech and the current threats it faces, a good place to go is Dave Rubin’s Rubin Report. It’s a podcast and a YouTube video channel, and the interviews and commentary there are really interesting and informative. But prepared to be challenged! It is not a safe space for anyone still caught up in the regressive left mind-fuck!

Climate Change, Economics, Personal statements, Politics, Religion

Threatdown, Human Species Edition: Climate Change vs Religion

I’ve been wavering between two opinions for the past few years. It has to do with the delicate position in which the human species finds itself. We are perched, as it seems, on the razor’s edge of extinction by climate change phenomena we ourselves are causing. I am very much a fan of humanity, and would like to see us thrive, prosper, and one day leap across the divide to other planets and colonize the galaxy. (I dream big; blame Isaac Asimov).

The first opinion I hold is that climate change itself is the greatest threat to our existence. Given the alarms being sounded by the planet’s scientists observing and measuring our global climate, this is not a particularly original or controversial opinion. Lucky for us humans, it is an imminently (though not easily, as it turns out) preventable disaster, a slow-motion train wreck with time still to stop it before impact.

However, a great number of very influential leaders in business and government refuse to admit that the threat is real. They profit handsomely from this attitude. They literally earn more money and votes by denying climate change than they would by admitting it. Despite this being incredibly short-sighted, singularly self-serving, and based on nothing more than brazen greed, they have nevertheless enlisted the help of many allies to spread this denialism. Their allies include their media outlets (Fox News, the Washington Post, Rush Limbaugh) and their lobbyists and PR machines (Anthony Watts, Joanne Nova, American Petroleum Institute).

Religion inserts itself as an influence into this group of deniers in a variety of ways, probably, but there is one way which has presented itself to me recently. Religion has become an ally of deniers of climate change because one belief that most religions hold in common across the great varieties of faith traditions is that there is something more to human beings than our brief lives here on our home planet, Earth.

This is why I refer to all (or, at least the majority of) religions with the initial capital, Religion. I’m aware of the danger of generalization and stereotyping, and yet I think I’m on solid ground with my claim that most religions hold a Paradise doctrine in common, if we just take the belief in a better life laying beyond death alone, without getting distracted by differences in specific descriptions of the belief. I use the capitalized word Paradise as shorthand for the life-beyond-death belief, letting it stand in for the multitude of varieties of afterlife traditions.

Denialists’ most influential ally is Religion because of this very widespread, very damaging doctrine: Death is an illusion, and a better world awaits us on the other side of it. This belief in Paradise is damaging, because it makes it easy for believers to shut down rational demands for evidence or facts. After all, they didn’t require evidence to accept the Paradise dogma. They require no evidence to believe any of the claims and dogmas of Religion. When scientists and their allies in business and government present facts as evidence that the human species faces an extinction-level crisis, Religion offers little more than a bemused yawn in response.

Think about it from their perspective: If all (or, as they would prefer, any particular one) of their religions were true, and God will fix every mistake humans can possibly make, then what good reason can anyone put forward to worry about climate change, even if it ends up killing off humans at an alarming rate?

In their faith-addled, religion-poisoned reasoning, if the human race ends up down to the last two remaining people, huddling on top of the last patch of dry land, about to starve to death or drown, and one of them happens to be a believer, the last words of the human species could conceivably be: “Don’t worry, man; God’s gonna remake heaven and earth and start over again, anyway. A resurrection is coming!” Or, if the other person happened to be me, the last words will actually be, “Will you shut the fuck up and let the human race die in peace?!”

Some believers even go the extra mile in cooperating with their greedy denialist allies (Christians are good at going the extra mile; Jesus did, and taught them to go and do likewise). They actively cast doubt upon science itself, and deny their children access to it, replacing it with creation science and a profound anti-science fear of anything that casts doubt upon their Paradise dogma. Thus they ensure that whole new generations of religious believers are on their way to becoming denialist allies.

It’s easy to imagine that most denialists within Religion are such unwittingly, as out of touch with scientific facts as they prefer to be. Faith trumps fact in the formulation of their opinions and values. They trust their religious leaders and the media outlets referred to above, and they vote accordingly. They don’t feel the same danger nonbelievers feel at the prospect of climate change, since their faith in a Creator who controls history and, indeed, the weather, dulls their perception of the threat. A threat only feels threatening when it is perceived accurately as a threat. One who believes in the Paradise dogma cannot accurately perceive a threat in climate change.

This paralysis in the face of danger makes believers and other deniers uniquely UNqualified to make decisions bearing on climate change issues, or to wisely vote for representatives to deal with these tough calls. UNqualified though they are, they are unfortunately not DISqualified thereby; they go on voting into office deniers, becoming heads of environmental and science committees in legislatures (Sen. James Inhofe, head of the Senate committee on the environment, and Rep. Lamar Smith, head of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee).

So, the second opinion I hold is that the greatest threat to the future of the human species is belief in the Paradise dogma, which is another way of saying Religion, I guess. Nonreligious deniers, at least, have nothing except their greed barring them from becoming convinced by the facts; they have no hope in a cosmic do-over preventing them from taking seriously the fearful facts daily piling up, warning us to slow down climate change.

The religious deniers, on the other hand, are handicapped in the arena of facts, warnings, and threats to human existence. Their denial of climate change is bolstered by their belief in an afterlife; even when they are forced to agree with inconvenient truths about the climate, their religious dogma trumps facts because they believe their deity will save them in the end. They are notoriously well entrenched in their dogmatic doctrines. It is almost impossible to educate them out of their ignorance of the facts while their critical thinking faculties remain so impaired by the incrustation of faith-claims.

And so I waver between the two opinions about which is the greater threat to my own species: Is it Climate Change itself which deserves our full and aggressive efforts to slow down, or is it Religion’s Denial-Fueling Paradise Dogma we should be working hardest to defeat? Which campaign will more effectively solve the crisis of our day? And what strategies and solutions would you offer to meet the demands of either campaign?

I’m interested in your thoughts, and hope you feel motivated to share them in the comment section below.

Atheism, Ethics

We Need A God

The terrible behavior of the god-believers is a convincing evidence of the non-existence of a morally influential God. Believers loudly legislate each others’ behavior, imposing their made-up gods’ made-up codes on each other (and the rest of us). And believers in gods constantly embarrass the hell out of each other.

It’s a shame there isn’t a real god behind all of the shouting, the offense-taking, the in-the-name-of-killings, whippings, wars, and blasphemy laws, sitting up above it all, shaking his divine head in disgust. The way the world is going, we could really use a god.

But until one shows up, until just one god or just one believer appears who makes a difference distinguishable from any minimal self-help efforts, it would be nice if the believers could quiet down about how powerful and amazing is their god. Sit up and take notice of how truly shitty things are in this world we share. And notice that this god they bludgeon us with has improved life on earth just about exactly as much as human beings have, no more or less. Could they please just notice that they are the ones making the codes, answering the prayers, performing the ‘miracles,’ and paying the bills? They themselves are the gods on which they pretend to depend.

We need a god. We need lots of them. We need everyone who pretends there are real gods to start acting more like them, inasmuch as these gods are supposedly kind, loving, benevolent, and acting in the best interest of humanity. Be that kind of god in the world. Discard your pretend gods, and be a force for good without god.