Monday, July 13, 2009

The tragedy of suburbia, and how to build a city that improves the environment



Posted mostly for Martin, but this is something which concerns all of us.
I live in the country, and I don't mind it. I love the life of the city itself. I find the suburbs depressing. Kunstler has just articulated why, and done so far better than I could. Oh, and it seems somewhat appropriate that his name is the German word for "artist".



EDIT: This second video is about design in general, but the end explains revolutionary city design. Utterly brilliant, in my opinion.





EDIT 2: Unfortunately, these grand plans have been scrapped. Here's an overview of why.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Jesus Christ and sexuality

Jesus Christ and sexuality

According to mainstream Christian theology, it is through Jesus that God understands what it is to be a human. God understands us because (through Jesus) He took on flesh and lived as one of us. Although He (of course) must understand us from the outside, it is through Jesus that He understands us from our point of view. Truly, the view from inside is different.

My question is this: Did Jesus have a sex drive?
Was he sexually attracted to anyone, female or male? Did he ever masturbate? The list goes on.

If the answer to any of these questions is "no", then God does not truly understand human sexuality. If this is the case, then it is more or less guaranteed that at least some of His edicts regarding human sexuality are flawed.

If the answer to any of these questions is "yes", then there is an even bigger problem for modern mainstream Christianity. The entire Christian view on sex presupposes that the perfect human (Jesus) was essentially sexless. If Jesus was a sexual being, then huge areas of theology and doctrine need to be scrapped or rewritten, and vast untouched areas need to be dealt with. Note that this does not require Jesus to have had sex - I am not willing to state absolutely that sexual intercourse is a prerequisite for understanding human sexuality. However, any male who reaches the age of 33 without ever masturbating does not understand human sexuality; this I am willing to state unequivocally. The history of masturbation and its futile prohibition is a topic for another essay, which I may or may not write.

Incidentally, I shall refrain (for now) from holding forth on the interpretation of "fully human" in relation to sexuality.

As always, intelligent responses are very welcome. If you disagree with me and can support your position, so much the better.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Civil rights versus religious freedoms (cross-posted from Storm)

I read an interesting article the other day (courtesy of Fark.com, for anyone who's curious). Now that I've had some time to think, I would like to set out a reasoned position on this issue.

Basically, the issue here is one of civil rights vs. religious freedoms; some religious people believe that their "deeply held religious principles" give them the right to trample the civil rights of others. My choice of words has already suggested which side I support, but this is not a simple issue.

Let's look at some highlights:
1. A Christian photographer was forced by the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission to pay $6,637 in attorney's costs after she refused to photograph a gay couple's commitment ceremony.
This strikes me as deceptive reporting; my best guess is that the legal fees were for their own legal defence, and that the case was adjudicated without costs being awarded either way. I won't comment on the example itself, on the grounds that I don't have enough information (eg. even knowing who 'won' the court case).
2. A psychologist in Georgia was fired after she declined for religious reasons to counsel a lesbian about her relationship.
This is the same issue as the Sariya Allen case which I discussed in my journal entry I smell a contradiction. That is, this is a question of job performance. If my religious beliefs forbid me from doing a job properly, then I am not suitable and should not apply for that job in the first place. By applying for a job, I am implicitly promising that I am willing to perform the job. Therefore, I cannot then use my religious beliefs to justify my refusal to perform the job. The clinic in Georgia did indeed discriminate against this psychologist on religious grounds, but it was relevant to the job. It is merely a question of job performance, and she chose to make herself less useful.
3. Christian fertility doctors in California who refused to artificially inseminate a lesbian patient were barred by the state Supreme Court from invoking their religious beliefs in refusing treatment.
This is the same issue as above, to begin with - job performance. The difference lies in the means by which it was dealt with. A patient's sexual orientation is not a valid concern for fertility doctors, any more than it is for any other doctors; their job is to provide medical treatment for medical conditions, and this is therefore an issue of job performance. Incidentally, the wording is vague and possibly deceptive - we are not told how the case was decided, for instance.
4. A Christian student group was not recognized at a University of California law school because it denies membership to anyone practicing sex outside of traditional marriage.
This is a straightforward violation of anti-discrimination rules. I don't think it requires any explanation.

The online dating site eHarmony agreed to provide gay and lesbian matchmaking services to settle a complaint by a gay New Jersey man accusing it of discrimination. The new site, CompatiblePartners.net, started Tuesday. The site eHarmony, founded by evangelical psychologist Neil Clark Warren, does not provide a same-sex option. Warren said his research into successful relationships did not include same-sex couples.
As above, this is an issue of job performance. I consider it perfectly valid for Neil Warren to neglect same-sex matchmaking on the grounds that it is outside his expertise, and I disagree with the "gay New Jersey man" who complained. If Warren had a boss who wanted to provide gay matchmaking services, it would be perfectly valid to fire Warren for poor job performance; as it is, the question of job performance should simply have been left to the free market. I do not believe that every business should be obliged to fill every niche in its chosen market.

Superficially, this may seem to contradict my views on example 3 above. The distinction, however, is that in eHarmony's case the issue is inability rather than unwillingness.

Some scholars also point to Bob Jones University, which lost its tax exemption over a ban on interracial dating and marriage among students, even though it claimed that those beliefs were religiously grounded.
This is a straightforward violation of civil rights, and seems to have been dealt with appropriately. I quote this largely for context, since I'm about to quote and respond to the sentence which follows it.

Some legal analysts suggest that religious groups that do not support gay rights might lose their tax exemptions because of their politically unpopular views.
1. This is quite plausible, as (presumably) precisely the same would happen to any church which openly violated other civil rights in the USA today. Civil rights are not optional.
2. On reflection, I think the wording here betrays the writer's bias. Gay rights today are roughly equivalent to black rights a few decades ago, and few people today would describe racism as being merely 'politically unpopular'.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University who supports same-sex marriage, said the Bob Jones ruling "puts us on a slippery slope that inevitably takes us to the point where we punish religious groups because of their religious views."
I consider this to be an example of sloppy thinking. Professor Turley is failing to distinguish between beliefs and actions. Religious groups certainly should be punishable for illegal actions, regardless of whether or not those actions are accepted or even required by 'deeply held religious principles'. I have the (unexercised) right to despise any ethnic group I choose, but this would not exempt me from the laws protecting any group from victimisation.

Bluntly, religious practices are subject to the laws of man. Certain religious groups object to this. This is the issue in a nutshell.

As always, intelligent discussion is welcome.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Do these sites look like child porn, or even "illegal content"?

-Poker sites:
absolutepoker.com
fulltiltpoker.com
hollywoodpoker.com
pacificpoker.com
paradisepoker.com
partypoker.com
pokerroom.com
pokerstars.com
ultimatebet.com
vegaspalms.com

-Christian sites:
libchrist.com
truechristian.com

-Miscellaneous:
betfair.com (major betting site, as relentlessly endorsed on the cricket broadcast on Aussie TV)
dentaldistinction.com.au (a dentist in Queensland)
encyclopediadramatica.com (somewhat juvenile satirical wiki site)
imgsrc.ru (equivalent to Photobucket)
maroochyboardingkennels.com.au/data (data link is broken, but site is a legit boarding kennel)

My government is trying to convince us that it would be a criminal act for me to explain where these links come from. Until I'm sure of the legal situation, I'm being fairly cautious - last I heard, Senator Conroy is threatening to send our federal police after whoever leaked my source.

Until then, a little bit of intelligent googling should help you to understand why I am furious and utterly disgusted. As you figure it out, feel free to post details in comments here - this bullshit suppression of speech doesn't apply outside my country.

Oh, and this is Australia.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Heat acclimation: running

I just ran about 2 kilometres in a touch under 9 minutes (close on my best time for this course), in 40+C heat. I don't know exactly what the temperature is, but my best guess is somewhere up around 45. Oh, and being out in the blazing sun helps.

For those who think I'm crazy:
-I made sure I was very well-hydrated before I started - drank lots of cold water and a bit of Gatorade for the salts.
-Most importantly, I soaked a t-shirt in cold water and wore that. It was still quite damp when I got home
-I've drunk half a litre of Gatorade since I got home, and a fair bit of ice-cold water (like, with lots of ice floating around in it).
-I'm going for a cold shower now.

Still haven't heard back about that job, but that should happen soon. Oh, and Ele's about to be back in Australia. Words cannot express... *dances*

Another day, some more progress

Another unreasonably hot day today, but a productive day nonetheless.

-Had a group interview for the job - I don't have it yet, but I like my chances. Should find out tomorrow
-Filled out and handed in a form - my last Centrelink jobseeker support payment should go into my bank account tomorrow. It'll be my last if I get this job, anyway.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A return to blogging

It seems that my intentions of blogging properly have fallen by the wayside, and I suppose it's a tad late to resurrect them now - the primary purpose was communication with Ele while she's in Europe, and she'll be back in Australia this weekend (YAY!)

There have been days in which I've done things that were worth blogging about. For the most part, I didn't bother. Whoops. Tonight, however, I'd like to share the achievements of the day.

First thing is, I Skyped with Ele for a few hours. Not an achievement, but sufficiently wonderful that I couldn't leave it out.

Second thing (in roughly chronological order) is that I arranged to have my old car taken away. Yes, my defunct Telstar has been sitting helpless in the driveway since partway through Ele's visit some months ago. I was going to say "since Joe the tow truck driver ever-so-skilfully dropped it there", but then I remembered that I have moved it around a bit (by brute force) since then. Manually moving a small car on flat, level concrete is actually surprisingly easy. Either way, I've arranged to have it taken away. I was waiting for Peter Gardiner (a local mechanic who's an institution in his own right) to take it away, but he hasn't had the chance to. I've now arranged for someone else to take it away, and I'll even get some money - the scrap metal market tanked just before I cooked the Telstar's engine, but apparently I'll still get a reasonable amount of money. I just want it gone - any money is a bonus.

Third thing, I topped up the oil and water in my (fully-functioning) Falcon. I am determined not to neglect and abuse this car like I did the Telstar before it. I might note at this point that "topped up the oil and water" was more of an effort than you might think - it involved a fair while spent out in the blazing summer sun, with temperatures somewhere in the low- to mid-40s (Celsius) in the shade. I would complain about that heat (particularly since it's not over yet), but my brother in Adelaide says they've got temperatures in the high 40s. This, folks, is Australia.

Fourth thing, I chucked my bike in the back of my car (station wagon ftw!), took it down to the service station and pumped up the tyres. Haven't ridden it in ages, but now I can. Also got petrol, which is helpful.

Fifth and final thing, and easily the most exciting: I probably landed my first-ever full-time job today - I shall find out for sure tomorrow. Compared to the soul-crushing degradation and frustration which has hitherto marked my jobhunting efforts (at several times in my life), this was astonishingly easy. Saw an ad in the paper, rang the number, left a message, got called back, and am going in for information and/or training tomorrow morning at 11am. No hassle, no references, no resume, no tricky questions - the significant requirements mentioned were "honest" and "reliable". No worries there, and I think I'm in. I shall report further when I have more to report.

It's a "load out packing" job at an abbatoir in Kyneton, about 20 minutes' drive from here (the same town I worked in for a couple of years recently). I'll be handling carcases, which I suspect is why the job is available and easy to walk into. There's always a catch in any job - the trick is to find a job whose catch doesn't bother you, and I've done precisely that here; I don't mind the idea of handling raw meat all day.

A little more about my reasoning, for those who came in late...

For a while now I have had two jobsearches going on: the short-term and the long-term. The long-term one is for a career I can be happy in for a fair while, but I'm aware that it will almost certainly require serious training (probably involving university degrees). To support me in the meantime (and get me out of debt <.<), I need a job in the short term. The requirements for this aren't high: it has to be bearable (preferably not notably unpleasant), reliable (which my current job isn't) and pay me vaguely decent money (which my current job doesn't). This gap is of course filled by the abbatoir job, assuming I do in fact get that job. I did the numbers, and the minimum wages for full-time work is plenty of money for me. My information is that abbatoirs pay quite highly (because of the gore factor), so hopefully I'll be able to get a fair chunk of money behind me before I start uni next year (assuming all goes to plan).

I do have plans for the long term career, but I won't go into them here - they're not settled yet, and I don't need to actually do anything about them for quite some time. For now it is enough for me just to work and earn money.

Life is good, my friends. Life is good, in a way of which I'd been somewhat less confident lately.