Musings on Everything

I muse, therefore I write.

Archive for February 2009

On Lies

 

pinocchioThink about the last time you spoke to somebody. Chances are, they lied to you at least once, most likely more. Lies are everywhere in society, from “harmless” white lies to big, hulking monsters like Enron. Let’s face it, everybody. Lies are a part of the American lifestyle. No, let me rephrase that. Lies are the American lifestyle.

Lies permeate every single bit of the culture of this “great” country. Our politics is basically a series of lies, one after the other. Like the recent news that George W. (Dubya) Bush actually drove us $2.7 trillion more into the ditch than he let on in public. Or the all-too-familiar “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Or the total lie that was Sarah Palin’s competency. It’s all there.

Of course, lying’s not just for people. America’s textbooks have been full of lies for, well, the entirety of American history. What’s worse is, our teachers believe them.

They say it’s easy to tell if a person’s lying. If they hold eye contact when recalling past events, if they bite their lip or smirk at the wrong time. People either get good at discovering lies, or they are lied to for the rest of their lives and end up never going anywhere. But the thing is, you can’t really tell if a book’s lying to you. A book doesn’t have a face, nor body language clues that we can pick up on instinctively. And thus, written propaganda can skew our perceptions of our fellow man, tell us things in order to cover up for other things that are true but rather nasty, and many other purposes. And that is why propaganda is so prevalent.

I know, I know, propaganda is only associated with Russia and dictatorships. However, that’s not true. Propaganda is everywhere. It would take too long to describe each and every single kind of propaganda that exists in the print media I have scattered around my room, so let’s focus on the one example I have in front of me: The American Pageant, 10th Edition by Bailey and Kennedy.

My goodness, are these guys good at their job or what? And by that, I don’t mean writing US history textbooks. These men are master propagandists. They glorify US policy wherever possible, and demean and denounce everybody and everything that ever had the gall to stand in the US’s way.

For example, dear reader, look at the cover of your textbook. Its title is The American Pageant. Pageant… pageant…. that’s like that thing with the bikini models, right? Yeah! Like Miss America! Where are my bikini models, Pageant? Oh…. you mean it’s a history text? Awww… well, maybe the book will have some pictures of bikinis in it, right?

Wrong. Instead, this book shamelessly glorifies everything to do with the US and detaches and detests “the enemy” of the period with reckless abandon. It’s also unabashedly racist. And full of lies. And contradictions. And this is in the first five chapters alone. Let’s take a look at page 7:

In the fateful year 1492, probably no more than 10 million Native Americans padded through the whispering, primeval forests… of North America.

Sweet. This is fine and all, except that by the year 1492, most of the Northeast tribes were farming. Not padding. They were no longer hunters, indeed, had not been for several centuries. But that’s not even the good part. The good part comes on page 18:

And the native population of Mexico…shrank from more than 20 million to 2 million people in less than a century.

Wait… what? Where did 20 million people come from? Did everybody on the entire continent spontaneously make babies? And then move to Mexico? WTF?

But, personally, what I think is the best part of the Pageant’s shamelessness is the way it tries to cast the white man in a good light, even when there is nothing good about what they have done. I direct you to the passage on page 18 that begins with, “Yet the invader brought more than conquest and death…” Yeah. How much more apologetic can you get? This is like a boy who smashed a priceless vase trying to kill a cockroach, and then, when berated by his mother, says, “Well, at least I got the icky cockroach.”

It’s pathetic and disturbing. I am ashamed to be learning anything out of this travesty of a textbook.

P.S. The madness is present throughout the book. Remember how Koenig said that if you find something stupid in the book, to email it to him? Please. Please please please do so. Maybe when he gets hundreds of dumb, racist, and just plain wrong quotes, he’ll be forced to change the textbook entirely. And shut up about how awesome the Pageant is. I don’t care if you’re not even in Koenig’s class. Do it anyway.

P.P.S. Big thanks to Lies My Teacher Told Me for getting me incensed enough to write this post. Maybe, every now and then, I’ll put up something stupid from the book for everyone to laugh at. Now there’s an idea…

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Written by Sri

February 21, 2009 at 3:59 PM

Posted in Musings

Tagged with ,

On Dreams

For many thousands of years, man has been wondering why he falls into a coma-like state and hallucinates for several hours at a time, coming out of it refreshed and ready to take on a new day. And for that same many thousands of years, there has been absolutely no concrete answer for why we dream. There are many theories, but the most favored one says that the brain dreams in order to preserve its mental integrity – air out the dirty laundry and sift through all the crap that’s happened during the last few waking hours.

Personally, I think I dream because my subconscious enjoys messing with me. Let me explain:

A great many of my dreams are twisted. Like the time I was devoured by army ants. Or the time I dreamt I woke up, then fell asleep again, then woke up. All within a dream. That was odd. Or the time I was made out of Lego and being chased by a giant wrecking ball that had legs. And those are just the easy-to-believe ones, relatively speaking.

But dreams, in and of themselves, are rather magical. They take you somewhere completely unique, and completely from your mind, so that  And that way, you’re saved the hassle of thinking about it when you’re awake. But there are those people who say dreams are nothing more than misfirings of neurons, a cosmic accident that just happens to be something cool. Or scary. Or both.

And sometimes, they even let you participate in them.

Has anyone ever lucid dreamed? It’s possibly the most amazing thing ever. To actually be a part of the world that you have just created in your head, to actually take an active role in what should, for all intents and purposes, be a mere hallucination, now that’s something cool. I’ve only been able to do it one time:

I dreamt that I was in the forests of some taiga (I really need to go visit one of those before I die), and suddenly, I realized that I could look around. And move my hands. But it was a dream. It had to be a dream, right? I couldn’t just randomly be in the Russian taiga in the middle of the night, could I?

I quickly realized that I should just go for it and start exploring. So I did. And while many things happened in that dream, I thought I might give you some highlights: I battled a wolf with my bare hands (this was awesome), saw the house of the Baba Yaga running through the trees, apparently chasing a deer (this was freaky), and found a tunnel into a cave, lit only with one burning torch, and obviously, I went into it. And there at the end of it was a sphinx in front of a huge door that resembled Minas Tirith (yeah, I know, right?). And the sphinx asked me, “It has a golden head, and it has a golden tail, but no golden body. What is it?”And I gave the correct answer (I suspect this came up because I was doing a book of puzzles before going to bed that night). And the doors opened, level by level sliding open, and I walked through to a field full of dragons, the kind that are in the book Eragon (I was sorta obsessed with it at the time). And I was just about to go down and say hello to them when my alarm clock started beeping.

That was three years ago.

I can remember every single bit of that dream vividly. I’ve never lucid-dreamed since then, but damn if that wasn’t on my top ten coolest things ever. And there is so much I saw in that dream (vision?) that if I went into it in detail now, I’d never get my homework done. I do have one last bit of that dream I’d like to leave you with: I emerge from dense trees onto a cliff, with a view over the entire expanse of what seemed like endless waves of dark green forest stretching out below me, the moon above hanging in a starry sky. It was the most amazingly beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, whether it be real or not, and I’ve spent a good deal of time since then trying to find a picture that can match it. If I had any lick of artistic ability, I’d try to make it myself, but I can’t,so I guess until I can find the time and skill to put something together, I’ll have to settle with the memory of that scene in my head. 

And some people say that dreams are just mind farts. Pathetic. 

P.S. Ah, how I wish I had the time to really do that dream justice now. Maybe later, when I have some more free time, I’ll make it into a story and post it. That would be fun. For now, however, know that the paragraph above is only a small part of what happened in my head that night, and that it really doesn’t do the story any justice. Thing’s like the frigging Lord of the Rings, it’s so epic.

P.P.S. Who knows the answer to the riddle?

Written by Sri

February 11, 2009 at 7:24 PM

Posted in Musings

Tagged with

On tl;dr Posts

Dear God, that last post was long. Some 1400 words, I think. Ah well. I must apologize for the appalling length of that post (as we’ll be calling it). Anyway, time to move on to the more relevant topic. 

How’s the content type suiting you? Should I shake it up a bit? Move away from always posting the undoubtedly daunting blocks of text I usually do? I don’t want to go into fiction, as Sam’s got that area all wrapped up, and I feel I’d intrude. What sort of content should I be putting up here in addition to the occasional essay? Sound off in the comments, because after having this blog up for two whole months now, and only seeing Ben Lei comment, well, it gets rather lonely. No offense to Ben, of course. It’s just that I see ~40-50 pageviews per post (though that may just be from the same three people viewing it multiple times, I dunno, I haven’t figured out how WordPress tracks that yet), and I have no idea who’s reading if you don’t comment. So answer my question, and say hello. Thanks!

P.S. Also, for those wondering: “tl;dr” is an abbreviation for “too long; didn’t read”.

Written by Sri

February 9, 2009 at 9:32 PM

Posted in Musings

On the Internet

So, let’s start, as does everybody, with Google. Biggest tech company this side of, well, everything. Google, is, as we all know, something that’s going to be written down in history books forevermore. The world can’t afford to forget Google, because sooner or later, our parents will die, and there will not be a human left on this planet who knew a life entirely devoid of consumer computing technology. Think about that for a second. We are the first of countless generations of humanity that will be totally acclimated to, and indeed, dependent upon, computers everywhere we go. And one of the companies that made that spectacular achievement possible is Google. Before Google came along, “The Internet” as we know it today didn’t really exist. It was just a bunch of geocities websites, isolated and stranded, with no real method of gaining an audience. Email was something nobody really knew about except uber-nerds, IRC (chatrooms) was the only communication medium, as IM didn’t exist yet, and the webby world (and boy, was it small at the time) got on almost exclusively through AOL, dial-up, or company T1 lines (with bandwidth about the size of a standard DSL pipe split up for maybe 10-15 employees). I mean, it was sparse. And, into all of this, came Google. And they, by virtue of being the first people on the web to hit upon a Really Good Idea, brought the web together and made it possible. For the first time since the web’s invention some 30 years before, people could find other people out in this vast, mostly barren world of html and dancing baby pictures. And the Internet exploded. Ladies and gentlemen, try to wrap your brains around this:

In 1998, there were 650 million web pages (ie, html pages that could be linked to) in the World Wide Web. Right now, there are somewhere upwards of 63 billion. As in, with a b. That is a 9,692.31% increase over 10 years. And God knows how much other crap. The most conservative estimates put it at somewhere around 65 exabytes of data and files that are not html sitting available on the public and private Internet combined. So, a hell of a lot.

In other words, a hell of a lot. And what’s more, look at what we can do with it. Back in 1998, the coolest thing evar was that you could search for a webpage. Now, I can have a video conversation with my cousins in India in real time over the Internet. I can watch movies and TV over the Internet. I can… watch any video on any conceivable thing I want over the Internet. And, personally, I attribute all of that to Google. Without them, the web would just be a bunch of dancing babies still, because people wouldn’t have taken the time to make the Web any more useful.

What can we say was made possible indirectly by Google? Well, the continued usefulness of my iPod touch, for one. Specifically, the fact that I got my new earbuds for said iPod through Amazon. I mean, come on, ten years ago, people could only dream about having a site that allowed you to never have to leave your home again, because it would deliver everything straight to your door. Hell, it was sci-fi fodder, something to spin a good yarn about, it was so unrealistic. Now, it’s so commonplace your grandmother knows about it (I mean, mine doesn’t, but cut her some slack. She’s from India and was born before Partition. My cousins, however, know all about it). And why does Amazon even exist? Because Google made the web popular, and where there is popularity, there is ample opportunity to make money. Which is exactly what Amazon did. My A in Latin is also indirectly Google’s fault. Without Wikisource, I’m not sure I would have gotten through this first semester of Latin 4. And how did I find Wikisource? Google. Google is so all-pervasive, so all-encompassing, that it is officially part of the English language (ah, yes, English. One of only two or three languages in all of history to ever be a true lingua franca. But that is for another post). As a verb, no less. Not bad for a ten-year-old company headed by two thirty-year-old kids. Who have some $15.something billion in stock each. Yeah. Google makes a metric shit-ton of cash. A day. More money than you or I will probably ever see.

It makes me scared shitless.

The Internet is the modern equivalent of the free-wheeling, laissez-faire economic climate back in the 1800s that spawned the monster trusts like Standard Oil and JP Morgan and Carnegie Steel. It was shown back then that while the government was slow to act upon those organizations, they did, eventually, act, and that is the primary reason our world is where it is today. The doom and gloom of mega-corporations that run the world can never become reality, because it already was reality, and then made illegal. That is set to happen again with the Internet. There are several massive tech companies out there: Microsoft and Google, to name a couple. Already, governments are starting to look up from their work and curb their activities. Microsoft has been slapped with an antitrust order in Europe for pushing Internet Explorer on every user whether they like it or not, which the EU holds is characteristic of a trust. Now, there are special versions of Windows that are only sold in the EU that don’t come with IE installed, nor Windows Media Player. It’s only a matter of time before the US can get down to establishing some new antitrust laws that are aimed at breaking Google up. I mean, as soon as the world comes out of this recession/depression it’s in, that’s going to be priority #1. Because by the time the dust settles, there are going to be some old men in those offices with nothing to do, and they will be at that odd age that will only be present for a few years: too old to understand the Web the way it’s quickly making clear it should be understood, and too young to completely ignore it because they don’t understand it. And they will have the power to shape the Internet, and therefore, shape our world’s primary method of communication, for several hundred more years, if not forever.

That can spell doom, especially with the American government’s shaky track record of good decisions. If you split up Google, then what? One of the major draws of Google is that it’s so easy to use. Sign in somewhere, and your information is available everywhere on Google’s vast network. Until now, that network was only comprised of Google-owned services. But with services such as Google Friend Connect and Facebook’s rival Facebook Connect, you can be everywhere with one simple email/password combination. That’s appealing. But also scary for governments. Governments like having people’s information. Now, they can never be sure they have everything. Which, of course frightens them. But there’s nothing they can do about it.

And what of this whole “net neutrality” business? Its battles have already been fought, for the most part. The ISPs and telecoms are beginning to understand that charging for website access will do nothing  but lose them customers. And besides, it’s not like you can actually charge for websites. There are too many to ever split up into neat tiers, the way they do with cable television. There’s no fear there. And as people make their voices heard, the entertainment companies will eventually hit upon a mutually agreeable method to make content available online. Already, things like iTunes and Hulu have seen success beyond their wildest dreams, but it’s not entirely there yet. It will be, though.

So by the time you and I are old fogies, the World Wide Web will have become just the ‘Net, that irreplaceable backbone of communication and data that will will all have grown to use and rely on. I can easily imagine that the ‘Net will be available wherever you go in the world, except maybe the most remote of places, and it will have replaced all the other disparate methods of communication – phone lines. VoIP, cellphone towers, texting – as the method of communication. The world will truly be smaller than it has ever been before. We are at a great crossroads of humanity. I, for one, cannot wait to see where this new road takes us.

And please, click on the picture. It looks so much more awesome when it’s full size (warning: big image).

Written by Sri

February 7, 2009 at 11:14 PM

Posted in Musings

Tagged with , ,

On Funny Mustaches

[angry_baby.jpg][William_Howard_Taft.jpg]

Hee hee. Mustaches. Also, presidents should always have mustaches. Also also, this is all you get until I get some new content ideas in mind. School has a way of interfering with creativity. :(

Written by Sri

February 6, 2009 at 6:18 PM

Posted in DELAY THAT

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