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Posts tagged as “Politics”

Beirut and Paris

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My heart, prayers and condolences go out to all those who lost their lives in the deadly attacks in Beirut and Paris yesterday, and to the families, friends and loved ones who are suffering in the aftermath of this outrage, which over the past few days killed almost 200 people in France and Lebanon. This has got to stop … but for now, you are all in my prayers.

Going on the Record about Donald Trump

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AS some of you may have noticed, real estate mogul Donald Trump is making his second (or third) run for the presidency (depending on how you count), and has been having quite a good show of it - topping many polls despite saying and doing a lot of things that would have doomed another candidate - such as disparaging American prisoners of war, associating immigrants with criminals, and, most recently, associating his opponents with pedophiles.

As a left-leaning moderate, I’m not fond of many of Donald Trump’s policies. But I am fond of Dilbert, and the excellent blog by Dilbert creator Scott Adams, in which Scott wrestles with many difficult and interesting ideas so you don’t have to (but you should). In the blog, Scott’s been chronicling Trump’s rise to power with what he calls the Master Wizard Hypothesis, which, in a nutshell, says that there are great techniques of persuasion, Trump is an acknowledged master, and most of the crazy things that Trump is doing are carefully engineered to get and keep your attention. Regardless of your politics, Scott says, you should pay attention to what Trump is doing, because you’re watching a master class in persuasion unfold on a national stage.

Scott, a trained hypnotist and student of persuasion himself, goes further to say that a Master Wizard’s persuasion often puts people into cognitive dissonance, where a person becomes uncomfortable when they are presented with information they don’t want to accept. Well, as a trained cognitive scientist, that characterization makes me a bit uncomfortable, because I see the conscious (or unconscious) persuasion embedded in that characterization, persuasion which is in the favor of someone trying to be a persuader: the framing is that someone presented with “information” is “feeling uncomfortable,” hence is being irrational. However, because one thing that can trigger discomfort is someone exhibiting a violation of what you perceive to be a standard, it’s also perfectly possible that you can feel uncomfortable confronted by new “information” that contradicts new beliefs not just because you are inconsistent … but because the presented “information" is wrong. So, in this argument, people could possibly just be upset with Trump not because he’s a Master Wizard … but because they sincerely disagree with him in their judgments about facts and policies.

As it happens, I’ve entertained for a while an alternate hypothesis about what’s been going on about Donald Trump, and it seems like it might be playing out. In fact, I’ve almost been scooped on it, so at first I wasn’t going to write anything. But Scott Adams has done something great with his hypotheses: he’s put his predictions about Trump on the table, so he can be proved wrong later. Feynman argued the same thing: you’ve got to stick your neck out far enough for it to get cut off in order to really see the truth. So, I wanted to go on the record about what I think’s going on with Donald Trump.

For reference, here’s what I think people are saying about Donald Trump:

  • Malignant Narcissist Theory: Donald Trump is an insufferable blowhard who’s doing well because he’s an outrageous bully with an ego so enormous he’s resistant to normal modes of shame, and is airing all the dirty laundry of the Republican party that the politer and saner politicians with greater experience have tried to sweep under the rug. Many political analysts hold this theory, and assume Trump will eventually implode somewhere between the debates and the campaign trail because the majority of Republican voters, and certainly most Democratic voters, will never vote for him (and there’s data for that). The idea, you see, is that roughly twenty five percent of people is the most who’d ever vote Trump, so he’s maxed out.
  • Master Wizard Hypothesis: Donald Trump is a highly experienced, well-trained businessman, expert at the art of the deal and his own brand management, who’s mastered a semi-secret art of persuasion. His campaign is a sequence of carefully crafted stunts designed to implode his opponents, one by one, because Donald Trump has no shame, merely a cold, calculating, highly trained brain designed to put the whammy on people, slowly convincing them to turn his way so he can ultimately get his way. Scott Adams believes this, and has analyzed in depth how many seemingly weird things Trump does actually make a lot of sense.
  • Tell It Like It Is Hypothesis: Donald Trump is a smart, intelligent, conservative man who’s gotten fed up with the way things are going in this country, like many other conservatives, and is gaining popularity because (a) he’s saying what many conservatives are thinking (b) he’s telling it like it is, without a filter (c) he’s got a lot of experience running a successful business and (d) now he’s applying his decades of experience to politics, hopefully making America great again.   

These all seem like alternatives, but they’re actually closer than you think. They’re all based on the idea that Trump has no shame (which isn’t likely true), has a lot of experience at business (which is almost certainly true), and is saying things that the Republican base wants to hear. The spectrum seems to be whether you think some of his more colorful antics are because he’s an arrogant bully (politicos), a skilled persuader (Adams), or a genuine conservative (the Republican base).

Now my hypothesis.

  • Genius Brand Management. Donald Trump is a billionaire whose greatest asset is his brand, and he’s an American who cares about his country. Running for President, while it costs money, gives Trump an enormous amount of free publicity - he’s getting an enormous force multiplier from all this media attention, far more than he could by building more hotels or casinos, starting another reality TV show, or running ads. While doing this, he decided to - sincerely - raise all the issues he really cares about in the election, or at least the things he cares about which resonate with Republican voters. Trump simultaneously gets an enormous brand uplift and sets the tone of the presidential campaign to be about issues which matter to him. If he’s elected, great: he’s run a mammoth multinational corporation, and can handle the Presidency. If not, he’ll bow out … just as he’s bowed out of every other flirtation at candidacy since 1988.

So, under this theory, Donald Trump would likely implode sometime between the debates and the campaign trail (where a majority of votes, not just topping a poll, matters, and a mammoth grassroots organization is needed), but regardless of whether he implodes, he’s going to have a huge uplift in his brand, and will have set the course of the campaign.

Last week, Trump appears to have imploded with a long winded speech, different from his usual polished self, in which he ranted about his opponents, outlined his policy approaches about just about everything, and ultimately finished with "How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?” His opponents have gone wild, and Janell Ross wrote an article which crystalized what I’d already been thinking: Donald Trump might be self-sabotaging. You read it there first, folks, but just so I would have the opportunity to be proved wrong, here’s what the other people predict.

  • Malignant Narcissist Hypothesis: The arrogant blowhard’s finally imploding. Example: at HuffPo.
  • Master Wizard Hypothesis: Trump’s now moving against Carson. See Scott Adams’ analysis, in which he points out Trump’s engineered a linguistic kill shot comparing Ben Carson’s pathological temper to incurable pedophilia.
  • Tell It Like It Is Hypothesis: Trump is just speaking from his heart, and won’t be hurt by telling it like it is. See this New York Times article "Republican strategists in the state were skeptical that Mr. Trump’s latest over-the-top outburst would seriously erode his support."

And now my take:

  • Genius Brand Management: Trump, having watched campaigns since the eighties, is fully aware that at one point half of Republican voters said they would never vote for him, and that falling behind Carson at this point could cost him the jockeying position he needs to get the nomination. So he makes an impassioned plea for attention, simultaneously trashing his rival as a last ditch hope, giving his brand one last spike - and reiterating what he thinks is important about the campaign.

As Scott might say, I remind you I don’t know who’s going to be President. I’d be a dumb man to bet against the author of Dilbert; I literally have his book on systems versus goals on my desk at work. (I haven’t gotten to it yet, but soon - I get the gist from his blog). And other politicos certainly are more practiced at this than me; I’ve only been following politics closely since, oh, when Bush was running. Bush Senior. The first time. Remember, against Reagan? I do.

SO anyway, the best hypothesis will win, because you can’t fake reality any way whatsoever. I’m going on the record saying I think Trump is bowing out of the race. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. But if Trump has started to bow out, I’ll think about my Genius Brand Management hypothesis, recall that I said to myself that a smart man wouldn’t just use all this free publicity to pump his brand, but to make a statement to the American people about what he cared about. And then I’ll think about this phrase from his speech:

"I've really enjoyed being with you," Trump said. "It's sad in many ways because we're talking about so many negative topics, but in certain ways it's beautiful. It's beautiful."

Sure sounds to me like someone who has issues he cares about, bowing out after he’s said his peace.

-the Centaur

Why Bipartisanship is Dead

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Ever feel like bipartisanship is dead and the two parties can't agree on anything? Well, there's a reason for that: even if they agree, they can't pass anything. The House of Representatives has a rule which says the only bills that can be brought to the House floor are ones approved of by the majority of the majority party:

But having enough votes is not enough. In fact, it is likely the package will not even be brought to the floor for debate and a vote. How can this be? Even if a majority of the whole House (Republicans and Democrats) were prepared to swallow the Senate deal, they won't get a chance unless Speaker John Boehner brings it to the floor. And Boehner probably won't. He has adopted a rule that no measure will be voted on unless it is supported by a majority of the majority party — that is, his party, the Republicans.

Now, I understand that there are many people, particularly on the right, who believe the job of politics is not to get good things done, but to prevent the government from doing bad things. So this kind of stalemate may seem appropriate. But for people on the left and right who just want to get to consensus, find a solution and move on, it seems crazy.

Even if John Boehner, Speaker of the House, came to agreement with President Barack Obama about the latest crisis, even if a overwhelming majority of the House and the Senate agreed with him, a minority of House representatives could prevent a deal from being reached. The Senate is in the same state: if a single senator filibusters a bill, it takes a supermajority of senators to break it - essentially, again blocking the country's progress based on a minority.

I strongly believe in the rights of the minority. I used to say "the majority is always wrong". But I've come to understand partisans, who put allegiance to their party over the good of the country, are almost always more wrong than the majority. Three procedural rules make partisans a grave danger to our republic: closed political primaries (so only partisans can be nominated by their parties), the House majority of the majority rule, and Senate filibusters.

Time to end all three of these, so we can move forward on things a majority of the country can agree on.

-the Centaur

Dawn of a new day

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The 2012 election season is over. Win or lose, be proud of yourselves, Americans. You made your choice.

Win or lose, be proud of yourselves, Americans. You made a difference.

God bless America? God bless democracy.

-the Centaur

Vote Yourself!

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Yes, the election is OVER today ... but the outcome is up to YOU!


My wife and I have an election evening ritual to review all the candidates and make our decisions.


To find out where to vote, check out Google's Voting Guide, which will tell you where the polling places are, who's up for election, and what the referenda are in your district, if any. Since we're in California, we also used resources like the KQED Proposition Guide, the San Jose Mercury News endorsements, and the LA Times endorsements - less for the endorsement value than the discussions they prompted. For some more obscure races, the Smart Voter site and simple Googling helped.


I've already stated my reasons why I think Obama should remain President:

... the left of us are going to vote for the guy who passed healthcare reform, repealed don’t-ask-don’t-tell, ended the war in Iraq, repaired our relations with the world, and made a good-faith effort to close Guantanamo, and the moderates among us are going to vote for the guy who saved the auto industry, passed the stimulus, refused to prosecute those who were prosecuting the war on terror, repeated Bush’s surge trick in Afghanistan, piffed Osama bin Laden, and finally put the smackdown on Gaddafi the way Reagan wanted to oh so many years ago.

And in the same article, I outlined why I have a hard time voting for Republicans for the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, or for California state offices - though I think they make swell governors and have voted for a few of them myself, and they can be excellent local representatives. (Though I mostly voted for Democrats this time).


The propositions are a murkier matter: I recommend voting against the deceptive Proposition 38, which says it provides money for schools but will actually most likely cause a loss of six billion dollars to schools, against Proposition 31 which is a grab-all reform of the state legislature, against Proposition 32 which is bankrolled by corporations in an attempt to prevent unions from doing the same kind of bankrolling, and in favor of the backwards Proposition 40, where a yes vote actually means to leave the new election districts the way they are - and even the backers of the measure have backed off their support (meaning, even the people who wanted you to vote no now want you to vote yes). For the bulk of the rest of them, it depends on your feelings about contentious issues like the size of government, the food labeling, and capital punishment. Vote your (well-informed) conscience.


But vote! Because, remember, cats can't vote ...


And if they could, it would be just for more food.

-the Centaur

Pictured: our vote by mail ballots, which enable us to vote the night before and walk the ballots over to the polling place at our leisure. Go democracy! Hooray America! And if you're not in a democracy like America's, you should think about getting yourself one!

Involves politics, but not really political

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Andrew Breitbart is dead at 43. He was apparently a conservative commentator; I wasn't too familiar with him except for some of the scandals he broke. But the point, as John Scalzi said, is that he was 43. I'm used to hearing about accomplished people who are much younger than I am ... Larry Page, Britney Spears, Christopher Paolini, that last born when I entered high school. Occasionally people in that age bracket die. It's a damn shame, everyone says, they died so young. But when Andrew Breitbart died, while it was clear that he died young - to the point of spawning (what at first appear to be ridiculous) conspiracy theories - no-one is too surprised. Because a male's chance of dying of a heart attack triples when you move up to 35-44 year age bracket, and triples again when you roll over into 45-54. I'd enter some snark about white males like myself being worse off, but it doesn't seem to be the case. So Andrew's about the right age where people should start worrying about dying of a heart attack. So am I. God speed, Andrew. And may God be with us all. -the Centaur Pictured: a memento mori featuring my cat, Caesar, curling up in the lap of luxury next to the skull of one of his less evolutionarily successful distant relatives. Looks like Caesar had an easier time taking down that giraffe than his buddy there.

Can you conceive of a situation where you wouldn’t vote for Obama?

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I try to avoid too much of the politics here. My experience of blogs that dip political is that they're often shrill, partisan, and most likely to make mistakes about the things they're most likely to post - the same trap I usually fall in when I post to my friends's shared mailing group. When you're engaged enough to respond, you're enraged enough to gaffe.

But a friend and I were discussing the recent election, I said something complimentary about Romney "even though I wouldn't vote for him" and my friend responded: "Can you conceive of a situation where you wouldn't vote for Obama?" And that gave me pause.

I try to be open minded. I currently vote liberal, but I was a College Republican, with deep admiration for President Reagan and President Nixon (no that wasn't a typo), and even though accepting reality forces one to lean to the left (and trying to be moral leans one even moreso), there are very important values on the right we can't just throw out with the bathwater. Economic freedom. Gun rights. Lower taxes when possible. Limits to the size and reach of government. Promoting the needs of families, businessmen, farmers, soldiers. I'd call myself a libertarian, but that's not a good descriptor either. Short story, i try to keep an open mind.

The last election cycle was ideal for me: a Republican I admired and had supported up against an eloquent technocrat who finally broke the color barrier. I couldn't lose. I printed out Obama and McCain's political positions and went through them with a fine tooth comb, and found myself on the fence, 50-50. I was undecided right up until August 29, 2008, when McCain selected Palin as his running mate. I take running mates very seriously, especially with an older headliner, and while McCain had earned my admiration and reflected my values, Palin ... hadn't, and didn't. So (big surprise) I voted for Obama. A Democrat.

Fast forward almost 4 years, and our conversation about Romney. I saw this article, and was impressed enough to write:

“I’m very pleased with the campaign, its organization. The candidate sometimes makes some mistakes, and so I’m trying to do better and work harder and make sure that we get our message across,” Romney told reporters during a visit to his campaign headquarters here. “In the final analysis, I anticipate becoming the nominee.”
Q: Candidate Romney, where does the buck stop?A: Where does the buck stop? The buck stops here. Next question.

But (based on other conversations) my friend's a bit bitter, as he thinks there's nothing that's going to stop Obama, and was probably frustrated to see me say I'd never vote for him. That lead to the question: "Can you conceive of a situation where you wouldn't vote for Obama?" ... and this (correcting a few typos) is what I wrote:

TL;DR: No.

Conceive of? Sure. He's unmasked as a space alien or secret Communist plant or something. Or contrafactually, had McCain selected almost anyone else with real credentials combined with appeal to a moderate base (Pataki? Powell? Rice?) it could have happened in 2008.

Realistically? No, for three reasons.
  • The Republican establishment has moved too far to the right, becoming deliberately obstructionist (you can verify this with their public statements) turning their backs on even hardline conservatives (you can also verify this with their public statements) and now see "moderate" as a dirty word. When you vote for a President, you vote for his party, and I cannot in good conscience vote for the Republican party. When the current conservative movement implodes and the party once again is open to a variety of opinions then I'll reconsider.
  • Obama's values, governance and style reflect my values, understanding of the facts, and preferred way that politicians should operate. He's not a Dukakis, or Carter, or LBJ, or one of the scarier people the Democrats have waiting in the wings ... he's more like a Clinton or JFK. SO he's not a bad choice to have up there, regardless of the Republican opposition, with the possible exception of his positions on space and domestic spying.
  • You don't change horses in a river ... or a President in wartime.
Put another way, from the perspective of a liberal moderate, Obama is one of the most successful presidents in history, so no, too much would have to change. The Republicans would have to radically shift to the center, and Obama would have to turn into some kind of monster.
In 2016, however, who knows? Bloomberg? Romney? Christie? Could it be ... Jeb Bush? (And yes I looked up their political positions before making that statement, though I reserve the right to change my mind if they have diarrhea of the mouth in the 2016 campaign).

Partisans may pshaw at this, evidence free as their reasoning is, because I'm not even a RINO (Republican in Name Only). If you have to put a name on what I am, I'm a left-leaning moderate. I haven't voted for a Republican President since Bush's dad. But Republicans are doing nothing to sell me on their party. I listen carefully to their positions. I'm trying to learn from their wisdom and defend their important values: the steering wheel of state needs to turn both ways.

But they've been drifting to the right since Bush lost to Clinton, since Bush violated his campaign promises and drifted to the right, and people like me ended up voting for the other guy. I still remember that day when a conservative shopkeeper, who had in front of him a voter telling him he switched parties because Bush went too far to the right, stood up enraged and told me that the reason Bush lost was because he wasn't conservative enough.

Keep telling yourselves that.

In the meantime, the left of us are going to vote for the guy who passed healthcare reform, repealed don't-ask-don't-tell, ended the war in Iraq, repaired our relations with the world, and made a good-faith effort to close Guantanamo, and the moderates among us are going to vote for the guy who saved the auto industry, passed the stimulus, refused to prosecute those who were prosecuting the war on terror, repeated Bush's surge trick in Afghanistan, piffed Osama bin Laden, and finally put the smackdown on Gaddafi the way Reagan wanted to oh so many years ago.

I'm sure if I went through and extensively fact-checked this article I'd have to blunt some of my criticism and praise; the real story is always too big to fit in the boxes that we want to fit it in. In particular, I know Obama's not perfect. But I'm going to go with the guy who's willing to take on ideas from the other side, if not their votes, because all the other side is trying to do now is make him fail - even if it means turning on their own ideas ... or turning on their own. There's a lot of good on the right ... but right now, on many issues, the right's in the wrong, and is extraordinarily resistant to accepting facts, reason, or even their own history, even in areas where Obama's choosing to follow firmly in Bush's footsteps to the point some of the left want to tear their hair out.

In the end, it's not about parroting the current set of litmus positions to establish one's group identification.

It's about being effective at doing what's right.

-the Centaur

P.S. For the record, while I admire Ron Paul's clear moral compass, and would love to see Newt Gingrich debate Obama just for the fireworks of seeing two powerful minds clearly articulate their conflicting ideals, if I did have to pick a Republican candidate I would pick Mitt Romney because I think he's the most experienced, levelheaded, and dare I say moderate of the current pack. I agree with my friend: he is the best choice out of the Republican field, even though I have the option of selecting a different candidate from a different party that better reflects my personal values. Best of luck, Mitt, though I will be voting for the other guy.

Pictured: White Flag by Jasper Johns, currently hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

They’re at it again …

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Shortly after a study from a former climate skeptic seemed to show that global warming is indeed happening, anti-climate skeptics are now accusing him of "hiding the truth" because the globe hasn't warmed in the last 10 years. Ok, let's grant that, for sake of argument. I for one believe it. But climate is defined as the weather averaged over 30 years. So even if the temperature hasn't risen for 13 years, as they suggest, that means that it has risen for 17 out of the last 30 - and that the temperature is still rising. Wait another decade and then you've got a case to make that global warming has stopped. If the skeptics are right, as they haven't been about almost anything for the past century or so, then we can throw a party. If they're wrong ... well, waiting another ten years makes fixing the problem much harder. Understand: climate skeptics are just stalling in the hope the the problem will just go away. Personally, I wait in joyful hope for the Resurrection --- but when dealing with temporal problems, I pray for God's good favor, then get to work. Why don't we all try being real about what our problems are and working hard to fix them, for a change? -the Centaur

Before the dawn of the dawn of time…

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Continuing my attempts at computational archaeology: before the dawn of the dawn of time ... or at least the dawn of the Internet ... computer people had .plan ("dot plan") files, chunks of text you could read from the command line using the finger protocol. This protocol is often deactivated nowadays, but it was Facebook at graduate school at Georgia Tech in the early nineties. The following was mine, from apparently late 1995. Like my attempt to find my first web page, this obviously isn't the earliest version of my .plan file, but at ~15 years it's the oldest bit of online presence I've found about myself yet. Obviously, some things have changed ... the "love of my life" died (the love itself part, not the person) shortly after writing this, as evident from the editor's note. I then went on to marry the lovely Sandi Billingsley, the real love of my life. Some of the other friends listed are no longer with us, or no longer with me and my friends. For the rest, well, read on - this is a completely unfiltered snapshot of me fifteen years ago:
The Centaur's Bio (his Old .plan File) Hi. This is the personal page of the Centaur, otherwise known as Anthony Francis. I'm ostensibly a graduate student in Artificial Intelligence at the College of Computing, but that's just a hobby. For the past eight years, I've been a science fiction writer, a vocation that became professional when I published my first short story, "Sibling Rivalry," in the February 1995 issue of _The Leading Edge_ magazine. The love of my life is a redheaded historian, Shannon Duffy. When I'm not with her I spend time with my best friends in the Edge Group, which consists of Michael Boyd, David Cater, Anthony Francis, Derek Reubish, David Stephens, and Fred Zust in the core Edge franchise as well as William Morse, and Stuart Myerburg in our recently opened Atlanta branch. [Editor's note: Sad to say, Shannon and I are no longer together; we simply had different ideas about where we wanted to take our lives. We're still friends, though, and hope to keep it that way.] I'm sorry, I can't tell you what we at the Edge Group do; we'd have to kill you (we do bad movies, good software, and great times, in no particular order). When I'm not hanging with the Edge Group I'm jamming with my other best friends Steve Arnold, Eric Christian and his fiancee Chalie, Joe Goldenburg, Kenny Moorman and his wife Carla, Ruth Oldaker, Mark Pharo and his wife Yvette, Patsy Voigt, and Fred's girlfriend Marina. The weekend tradition is to jam with William, Stuart, Mallory and sometimes Joe at Anis, Huey's, Oxford at Pharr, Phipps and wherever else we can get into trouble. (Occasionally, you can find me at the Cedar Tree or Yakitori Den-Chan with Mark & Yvette). If not, I'm either hanging with Fred & Marina, Eric & Chalie and Dave & Ruth up in ole Greenvile, South Carolina, watching (or filming) movies at my house, eating dinner with my loving parents Tony and Susan Francis, perforating the odd target with musket fire at Eric's or just noshing on late-night food at Stax' Omega or IHOP. If I'm not doing any of the above, I'm liable to be curled up with Shanny in O'Flaherty's Irish Channel Pub in the French Quarter in New Orleans, listening to Irish ballads and soaking up each other's company over an Irish Coffee (her) and a diet Coke (me). Since people have asked, my favorite authors are H.P. Lovecraft, Larry Niven, C.J. Cherryh and Douglas Hofstadter, in that order. My favorite TV show is Dr.Who, followed neck-and-neck by Babylon 5 and Star Trek (TOS TNG TMS DS9 VOY ANI, in that order) and nipped at the heels by the Tripods and the Six Million Dollar Man. My favorite comic book is Elfquest, followed closely by Albedo Anthropomorphics, Superman, Cerebus, and Usagi Yojimbo. My favorite band is Tangerine Dream, although I do listen to Rush, Yes, Vangelis, and Genesis. My favorite style of music is now called "New Age" (uuugh) but used to be called electronic music, minimalist, or just electronic rock. My second favorite style of music is soundtrack music (music for the visual image). I can stand rock. I hate disco. Rap held my interest for a while, but it officially lost me with "Whoomp(t) there it is." My favorite cuisine is Lebanese, a gift from my parents and my family, the best damn extended family in the whole wide world. I shock my parents and family by also appreciating Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Cajun, Mexican, Italian, Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish and Indian cuisine; I also have a great appreciation for the foods of the South, a culture which I find to be both vastly underrated and overdiscussed abroad. When I'm not dining out or curled up with a good book or laptop computer at Captain D's at Corporate Square in Atlanta drinking inordinate amounts of iced tea, I'm at home honing my patented personal tabbouleh (Lebanese salad) recipe, slowly learning to cook Chinese, and honing the art of grilling steaks and microwaving potatoes so that they both finish at the same time. My favorite form of literary expression is science fiction; my preferred style is flashbacks within a framing story, usually in third-person limited, although I've begun to experiment with a more liberal third-person style derived from the narrative structure of contemporary motion pictures. My primary means of plotting and expression are visual images. My favorite fictional creature is, of course, the centaur; however, the genetically engineered spaceborne professionals of *my* fiction bear little resemblance to the bearded primitves that stalk the wooded glades of your average fantasy novel (unfair though that may be to my inspirations, which include the very nice halfhorse folk of the Giesenthal valley dreamed up by Donna Barr, the ambiguous Titanides from _Titan, Wizard, Demon_ by John Varley, and Timoth the warrior sage of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons comic. Just don't call my Porsche St.George a halfhorse too; she'll be liable to pummel a fictionalized version of you in a story sooner or later if you do). My favorite style of AI is symbolic AI with a situated/behaviorist twist. I play around with memory, agents, case-based reasoning, natural language understanding, and semiotics; I have nothing against genetic algorithms or connectionist systems other than the fact that I don't have time to pursue them as avidly. I also fiddle around with animal cognition, and can talk your ear off about chimpanzee culture and dolphin language if given the chance. My favorite style of science is Kuhnian with a cognitive flair. I have no respect for positivism or any of the horrible things it's done for science. My philosophy is somewhere between Kant, Plato and something no-one has a name for yet. To sum: the universe is real; deal, but don't assume you have the answers and *don't* assume that a single level of description can capture all of reality. My religion is theist; I believe in the tripartite single God at the heart of mainstream Christianity, and accept the messiah aspect as my savior. My theology is liberal Episcopalian with a strong theological background in my Catholic upbringing. My disagreements with the Catholic Church are primarily theological and only partially pragmatic; I gave up on waiting for them to catch up with Jesus, but they're still mostly good people. The religious right, on the other hand, is a bipartite oxymoron: neither religious nor right, and certainly not in keeping with the anti-Phariseean radical I follow. Genteel religious discussions are welcome; rude evangelizers will be biblically and theologically diced *before* I turn you over to Shannon, Joe, William, and Eric. Bring references to authorities, but don't expect me to respect them. Arguments against evolution will either be summarily flushed or buried underneath my copies of Eldredge's _Time Frames_, A.G. Cairns-Smith's _Genetic Takeover_, Dawkin's _The Selfish Gene_, _The Saint Paul Family Catechism_ and my copy of the New American Bible, flipped to the part of the preface discussing evolution. Read the gospel of Thomas; it's an eye opener, and you haven't even seen the Dead Sea Scrolls yet... Politically, I am a Goldwater liberal. I believe in war, gays in the military, religious freedom, no state-mandated prayer in schools, free ownership of automatic weapons, licensing of gun owners, aid to the Contras, prosecution of IranContra, investigation of Whitewater, and support and respect for the president regardless of party. I voted for George *and* Bill once each, don't regret it, and would do the same knowing what I know now. I believe in AIDS spending, military spending, research spending, and the space program; I also believe in welfare reform, cutting waste, a line item veto, and perhaps even some kind of budget amendment if I could be convinced it wouldn't get us into trouble in wartime. I don't believe in "school choice", "political correctness", "multiculturalism", "Rush as Equal Time", "the liberal media", "the conservative media", or "anti-special-rights amendments". I don't think we should take "In God We Trust" off of our coins and I don't think we should picket funerals of people who had AIDS. I don't believe acceptance of homosexuals as equal citizens has anything to do with the disintegration of the American family. I don't believe in hobbling industry with overregulation nor do I believe in letting them cut down trees holding endangered species just because they planned our logging programs poorly. My political heroes are Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Margaret Thatcher.
Interesting. Well, that is what it was. There are definitely opinions I would tweak, things I now think I got wrong, and snapshots of relationships that no longer hold. But the Edge is still here, I'm still here, I'm still writing, I'm still a Christian, and still a scientist. SO, all things considered, I think I'll have to stand by my dot plan file after all. -the Centaur


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When I was visiting England over the Fourth of July many, many years ago, a British radio announcer interviewed visiting Americans to ask what the Fourth of July celebrated. I missed the interview, but the host at the bed and breakfast I was staying in at Drumnadrochit by Loch Ness asked me the next morning. I'm embarrassed to say it took me about thirty seconds to say ... "the signing of the Declaration of Independence". As it turns out, I did far better than the average tourist. Well, uh, umpteen years later, things aren't any better ... even in our homeland.  From Jay Leno's 4th of July episode of Jaywalking: As a friend said, scary stuff. I was sitting on my porch while my wife was rooting succulents and when she heard the video play she said "uh uh!" and ran over to watch. I think we got all of the questions except the Minutemen, and our "guess" (that they were an elite group of colonial soldiers who were our first line of defense against the British, essentially Revolutionary War special forces) was apparently spot on. Afterwards, all we had to say was: "Go Grandpa!" -the Centaur