Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sophistication and its Limits

Reza Aslan seems like a relatively thoughtful and well-informed observer of the Muslim world, and this makes his contribution to a C-Span debate with Sam Harris tragic rather than merely annoying.

Aslan is annoyed at Harris for emphasizing the nasty, immoral, and cruel portions of holy texts because he rightly sees that these same texts are so culturally and historically indepensible. Dumping the Koran, Old Testament, and New Testament would be the modern-day equivalent of burning the library of Alexandria.

But here's the problem. Aslan seems stubbornly blind to the extent to which people actually take these texts seriously, even literally. Aslan wants to believe that large numbers of people share his sophisticated (a word he invokes frequently) view of these texts.

Though just a neuroscientist, and not a sophisticated cultural historian like Aslan, Harris has this right, and Aslan has it wrong: the truth is, in alarmingly large numbers, people do not regard these texts as they regard, say, the sonnets of Shakespeare or the epics of Homer. For many, many people, these texts represent a revelation handed down by the all-powerful creator of the universe, and intended as His obligatory guide to life. They see these texts as holy and sacred, not merely as inspirational and interesting. No doubt Aslan is disappointed in such a widespread poverty of sophistication among the world's religious believers -- so am I, for that matter -- but this disappointment doesn't erase the fact.

Beliefs have consequences. People who believe in the sacredness of texts that demand death or enslavement for non-believers (Deuteronomy 13:6-18; Koran 9:29) can and should be regarded as dangerous. We should be extremely concerned when such people gain access to power, whether in the form of weaponry or political authority.

Harris urges an important (though admittedly impolitic) step in combatting such danger: call believers on their bullshit by demanding higher standards for truth claims than "my favorite book says so." Whereas Aslan prefers to wish the bullshit away. The latter is a tragic failure of honesty, whatever its sophistication.

Civilian Control, Unapologetically

Our judically-installed President and his knuckle-dragging media flacks like to claim that Democrats in Congress are trying to second-guess "generals in the field" by imposing timetables for troop withdrawls.

Yes. Yes they are. And?

I realize Bush doesn't think about or question the pieces of insipid speechmaking that are typed out for him, and that's both regrettable and shameful, but let it be known: under our system of government, "generals in the field," whatever we might think about them, do not get to set timetables or otherwise make big-picture decisions regarding war and peace. Military commanders, in or out of the field, answer to the civilian government. Period.

Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress and the President decide when wars will start and when they'll end, right down to details of troop deployments, funding, equipment, choice of weapons, rules of engagement, and everything else. The text of the Constitution offers no exceptions to this, not even in cases where the President is a semiliterate chicken-hawk with a history of drug abuse and a congenital streak of nasty small-mindedness.

Five Stars for Ten Commandments

Apparently this has been around for a while, but I just found it:

Fake trailer for "Ten Things I Hate About Commandments"

Brilliant!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

It's Not Easy Being Bush's Brain

Admit it -- if you were a self-loathing homosexual fascist like Karl Rove, you'd get testy if Sheryl Crow touched you, too.

She's a girl! And not only that, a liberal!

Poem of the Day: "Bees"

This song and a few more excellent Laura Cantrell songs can be downloaded free from this page.

I love the way the metaphors are simply set loose in this poem, which is a big "f__ you!" to how-to poetry instructors and cookbooks everywhere. And while I'm not certain what she means by bees and the missing of them -- this song long predates the recent alarming disappearance of bees -- there's more than enough evoked there to pull anyone in.

Above all, what an exquisite match of lyrics and voice. Consider me stung.

Laura Cantrell, "Bees"

See the sign of the old hotel, we used to stay there
Empty and threadbare, water running cold
Searched the streets for old friends, met only strangers
None who remember, none who would take me home

I miss the bees, I miss the honey
I miss them humming by the flowered vine
My time is short now, I feel it coming
I’ll see you darling in the morning light

Spent an hour in the waiting room of our old headquarters
None brought my orders I rode on alone
With my portrait missing from their hall of honor
No frame to claim me in silver black and gold

Lost in the afternoon missing an hour or two
Turn the crystal set never failed me yet
No voice to say goodbye, tears on my face have dried
I’ll be coming through on that wavelength a heart can tune

I miss the bees, I miss the honey
I miss them humming by the flowered vine
My time is short now, I feel it coming
I’ll see you darling in the morning light

No voice to say goodbye, tears on my face have dried
I’ll be coming through on that wavelength a heart can tune

I miss the bees I miss the honey
I miss them humming by the flowered vine
My time is short now, I feel it coming
I’ll see you darling on the other side

In Which I Again Dare to State the Obvious

I often link to amazon or wikipedia for books, but lots of great books are available for free over the internets, especially older ones that have long since entered the public domain. One fine resource for classic works online (among many) is Bartleby.com.

This should be enough free reading for your weekend:

The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (remember to read it at least twice!)

Candide by Voltaire

Speaking of Bartleby, Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville

It is sometimes difficult to fathom how we made it from one day to the next before the internets began flooding our lives with such high, low, and inbetween diversions. Not to mention the porn (no link provided -- just check your browser history or enter any marginally salacious word or phrase into a google search).

People used to have to buy or shoplift pornography! How quaint!

If this post has insulted your web savvy-ness, I've succeeded, as this blog is trying to reach a demographic consisting of English speakers who don't yet know they could be browsing any number of more interesting web sites.

The Trouble with Blogs II

"One does not write because one has something to say but because one wants to say something."

While I'm quoting the delightful E.M. Cioran, here's another favorite:

"Each concession we make is accompanied by an inner diminution of which we are not immediately conscious."

And here's one more, albeit one I didn't come by in my own reading but in the course of finding the wikipedia hyperlink above:

"Bach's music is the only argument proving the creation of the Universe can not be regarded a complete failure."

Aphorists rock.

The Limits of The Google

I think it's funny that google "ad sense" places ads for the Bible on my blog. What next? Ads for chickenshit private sector bureaucracy? SUVs? The GOP?

The Sacred and the True

Here is an eloquent reminder that atheism does not have to exclude the category of the sacred: Ann Druyan on Carl Sagan in The Varieties of Scientific Experience:

He never understood why anyone would want to separate science, which is just a way of searching for what is true, from what we hold sacred, which are those truths which inspire love and awe. His argument was not with God, but with those who believed that our understanding of the sacred had been completed. Science's permanently revolutionary conviction that the search for truth never ends seemed to him the only approach with sufficient humility to be worthy of the universe that it revealed. The methodology of science, with its error-correcting mechanism for keeping us honest in spite of our chronic tendencies to project, to misunderstand, to deceive ourselves and others, seemed to him the height of spiritual discipline. If you are searching for sacred knowledge and not just a palliative for your fears, you will train yourself to be a good skeptic.

He's been dead since 1996, but I still miss Carl Sagan. Richard Dawkins is his living successor; not having seen it, I wonder if Growing Up in the Universe is any match for Cosmos?

It's fair to wonder if dorks of my age could ever accept a successor to Cosmos any more than we could ever accept a successor to the original Star Wars trilogy? I mean, the very same George Lucas produced the successors, with the benefit of greater special effects, and most of us want to smother him with a pillow for it.

Of course, Sagan and Dawkins are rightly best known for their popular books. Here, Dawkins is unquestionably a worthy successor.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The World Needs a Few Pricks

I agree that God Is Not Great, but the phrase does make for a great book title, and so happens to apply to the forthcoming atheistic polemic by Christopher Hitchens.

Hitchens' characteristic subtlety comes through in the subtitle, "How Religion Poisons Everything," which is fortunate, as the subtitle is as far as the book will be read by the audience most in need of it. Hitchens works tirelessly to cultivate a love/hate relationship with anyone who might chance to read him -- previous targets have included Mother Theresa, Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, assorted opponents of the Iraq War, and everyone besides Hitchens himself who has ever written for The Nation -- and surely this most recent effort will add some to both columns.

Slate dot com has published some exclusive excerpts from this book, which are well worth reading and more than enoough to whet the appetite, whether you're in the "love Hitch", "hate Hitch", or, as I am, the "love and hate Hitch" camp.

If nothing else, the book is likely to increase your vocabulary and sharpen your cultural literacy, even if it doesn't dislodge the particular faith you're still rooting for.

Happy loving and hating!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Inescapable Ugliness

On the MAX today, looking over the faces and bodies of the many-too-many, it dawned on me with special force: these people are ugly. The Asian-Americans? Ugly. The African-Americans? Ugly. The Latinos? Hideous. The white people? Please, don't even get me started.

How can the near-universal ugliness of this planet's human population be squared with the logic of sexual selection? Who is breeding with all these ugly people, and why won't they stop? Incidentally, if you haven't heard, it is looking more and more as though attractiveness isn't so subjective after all. We're pretty much all hot for one or the other half of Brangelina, if not both.

My own working hypothesis on this -- one that is almost perfectly untroubled by supporting evidence, rigorous thinking, or other hallmarks of good science -- is that the human race is doomed to mediocrity due to the divergent sexual selection regimes of men and women: women will overlook a dude's ugliness if he has wealth, power, charisma, charm, a fascinating blog, or other familiar markers of character, and this perpetuates ugly genes in the human phenotype. Men, meanwhile, will gladly copulate with anyone (or anything) that looks a certain way, regardless of character flaws, and this perpetuates asshole-bitch genes in the human phenotype.

So why do we have a world packed to the gills with unsightly assholes and homely bitches? Look in the mirror. Guys, think back on the headless mannequins and Jessica Rabbit images you've wanked off to. Gals, think back on the times you went all weak in the knees over the likes of John Lennon, Bill Gates, or some troll with a heart of gold.

Sure, this hypothesis is open to a number of thoughtful objections, starting with its brazen reliance on stereotypes. But when it comes to evolutionary psychology, as in so many areas of life, stereotypes are a real time-saver.

Shouldn't I be careful what I ask for?

Below I mentioned that I miss The A-Team. Sadly, sooner or later, some Hollywood executive or another will come across that and deem it sufficient market research to establish the commercial viability of an A-Team remake movie along the lines of what they've done with Dukes of Hazzard, Bewitched, The Flintstones, Starsky & Hutch, Charlie's Angels, and gawd-only-knows how many other execrable TV series. (No, I refuse to link to any of the above on IMDB. You'll need to find them yourself.)

Please, no. Please.

Sure, I miss the A-Team -- who wouldn't? -- but that doesn't mean I want to see a one-weekend "blockbuster" remake of it featuring a tiresome cameo by Mr. T, that crazy guy who played the crazy guy (before moving on to Star Trek fame), and that organism who played "Face." At least George Peppard had the good sense to die before this could reach him.

Even the thought of the trailers for it are making me double over with stomach pains. Yes, you guessed it -- I fear a self-soiling.

Taglines I Might, um, Borrow Later

I know what I hate, and I don't hate this:

http://disgustedbeyondbelief.blogspot.com

I love the tagline he uses: "A place for me to vent only slightly less pointless than in the comment sections of other blogs."

Sigh. Poem of the Day: "Set Out Running"

You didn't think I'd let National Poetry Month pass without mention, did you?

Not all songs are poems, but Neko Case's are. This isn't even the best song on Furnace Room Lullaby! If you don't already have a copy, plus a backup copy, you're missing out. You should also make some duplicates of one of the originals and put it in a nuke-proof bunker in case they can't find mine.

There aren't sighs enough for the fragment I've italicized.

Neko Case, "Set Out Running"

Want to get it all behind me
You know everything reminds me
I can't be myself without you
Want to crawl down deep inside
The springs inside the mattress
Where l cry my dirty secrets
'Cause I just can't shake this feeling
That I'm nothing in your eyes

And if I knew heartbreak was coming
I would've set out running
Past the city houses
And the ditches on the highway
Read between the seasons
Under the bridges in valleys
Til the winds out on the prairie
Whip the tears from my eyes

Want to get it all behind me
You know everything reminds me
I can't be myself without you
Want to crawl down deep inside
the springs inside the mattress
where I cry my dirty secrets
'Cause I just can't shake this feeling
That I'm nothing in your eyes

And if I knew heartbreak was coming
I would've set out running
Across the muddy river
And the smokestacks on the bank
Swallow that horizon
Hunger beyond hunger
Til the cloudy blue Pacific
Took the air in my lungs


And if I knew heartbreak was coming
I would've set out running
'Cause I just can't shake this feeling
That I'm nothing in your eyes.

Good Lyrics Resource! On the Internets!

Have you ever tried googling song lyrics only to find that lyrics web sites are just behind porn in frequency, phishing scams, and adware-spyware-popup bloat? I have, and this bothers me because I have a very severe case of a very narrow retardation that renders me unable to understand song lyrics. I need the internets to help me.

At last I've found a good resource for it! And it's a wiki! How perfect!

LyricWiki

I've done some spot-checking here, and so far, so good. I've found lyrics to every song I've tried, and they seem reasonably if not completely accurate.

I love it when a plan comes together.

I miss the A-Team.

Amen

Here's a single-question theodicy exam.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Breaking Theological News!

A three year study produced the conclusion that limbo, long an element of Catholic lore, does not exist.

Those three years must have sounded something like this: all those prayers said for someone in limbo? Wasted. The prayed-for party was either in heaven or hell. OK, let's break for lunch. All those unbaptised infants go to, um, let's say heaven. No, make it hell. No, heaven. Yes, heaven. Has someone been taking minutes? (Repeat for three years.)

With all due respect to that three years of intellectual speculation and exertion -- and mind you, not much is due -- no, the prayed-for person was dead. Unbaptised infants were spared a silly ceremony.

It took them three years to determine that limbo is a falsehood?

No, here's your waste -- that adult humans are devoting what appears to be serious mental effort to such matters. They're wasting their lives.

Stop Bush's Stupid War


Watch VideoVets.org

Ponca City Makes The Onion!

At last, the writers of The Onion have fished from the deep and wide reservoir of cautionary human examples known as Ponca City: Weird Kid Shines During Dissection Project!!

It's a start.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Of Cat-Beasts and Descent-with-Modification



I followed nerdygirl's flickr link to a photo of Theo the cat and nearly soiled myself at how closely he resembles my cat-beast, Wilbur (pictured) -- or as I know him when he climbs up on the table: "WILBUR NOOO!!"

I wonder if they're related? I suppose all housecats are related in the end -- it's possible, but wildly unlikely, that we have distinctly-originating strains of housecat who have evolved so convergently that they're interchangeable today. No. This is too much to ask of evolution.

Intelligent Design could swing it, of course, but don't get me started on that. I'm angry at Intelligent Design -- if it's true, that is, in much the same way and for many of the same reasons I'm angry at god if he happens to exist. I want to grip Intelligent Design by its flabby cheeks and scream into its face (among so many other things): "Why do we have an appendix that might just burst one day? Why do placental baleen whales have teeth? How could you allow those wasps to treat those spiders that way? Why aren't there any microbes that eat excessive greenhouse gases and crap out mind-blowing orgasms?" That would be intelligent.

A lot of things seem to be bringing me close to soiling myself of late. I know I should get that checked.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Out, out, brief candle!

Happy birthday to William Shakespeare today! He was born on this day, and he died on this day.

I figure he checked out voluntarily on 4/23/1616 because he was sick of everyone telling him to get back to writing, the theater, London society, The Big Time.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Stirring the Narcoleptic Pot

I've joined an online discussion group for narcolepsy (and related disorders like cataplexy), and a poster went and cited 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 in an attempt to help us all see our condition as god's blessing. For those of you who have not committed 2 Corinthians to memory, here goes the New International Version:

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

With due respect to believers and to "Saint" Paul, I'd rather not have narcolepsy, and I don't see it as a strength. It would be better to be alert during the day and sleepy at night; I'd rather not fear muscular collapse from the next fit of laughter or other intense emotional response.

Living half-asleep is not a blessing, lest "blessing" lose its meaning.

I do not and will not see this condition as the "grace" of a god. If there is a god with a plan, and if this condition counts as essential to that plan, then I choose to agree to disagree over the worthiness of the plan. If such a god exists, I ask him to see this for what it is -- a curse, not a blessing -- and lift it. Thereupon I'll be thankful for the blessing bestowed. That's how the curse-blessing-gratitude thing works lest, again, these words be vacated of meaning.

A fortiori for the countless cases of "weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties" that exceed my relatively mild case of narcolepsy -- the people senselessly killed at Virginia Tech recently, and the loved ones they left behind, leap to mind. I can cite dozens of people just from my own personal circles who have endured far worse, only to be answered with this same slapdash casuistry from 2 Corinthians, that god's master plan makes it all OK and checks their "pride" to boot.

This tendency of believers to convert curses to blessings and otherwise to assert things they can't possibly believe is irksome at best. Nietzsche certainly found it so, and expressed the point at book length.

Let's be honest. We don't love our enemies, and we are not made stronger by that which weakens us. Blessings are not curses, good is not bad, war is not peace, ignorance is not strength, and freedom is not slavery (thanks as always George Orwell). Whatever our convictions about the "afterlife," we should aim to be clear-headed about this one. As Thomas Paine so eloquently put it in The Age of Reason (a book everyone should read twice):
Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving, it consists in professing to believe what one does not believe.

Current Ipod Contents

Fascinating!

Bob Dylan

  • Motorpsycho Nitemare

  • I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)

  • It Ain't Me Babe

  • Visions Of Johanna

  • One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)

  • Just Like A Woman

  • Obviously 5 Believers

  • Tangled Up In Blue

  • Buckets Of Rain

  • Song To Woody

  • Subterranean Homesick Blues

  • She Belongs To Me

  • Maggie's Farm

  • It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)

  • Masters Of War

  • A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

  • Bob Dylan's Dream

  • Like a Rolling Stone

  • Tombstone Blues

  • Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum

  • The Times They Are A Changin'

  • The Ballad Of Hollis Brown

  • North Country Blues

  • Boots Of Spanish Leather

  • When The Ship Comes In

  • Broadcast
  • Corporeal

  • Colder
  • Losing Myself

  • To The Music

  • Death Cab For Cutie
  • Summer Skin

  • I Will Follow You Into The Dark

  • Someday You Will Be Loved

  • Crooked Teeth

  • What Sarah Said

  • Brothers On A Hotel Bed

  • The Sound Of Settling

  • We Looked Like Giants

  • The Decemberists
  • The Crane Wife, Pt. 3

  • Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)

  • DeVotchKa
  • Curse Your Little Heart

  • Somethin' Stupid

  • The Enemy Guns

  • Twenty-Six Temptations

  • We're Leaving

  • Such A Lovely Thing

  • Viens Avec Moi

  • Lunnaya Pogonka

  • C'est Ce La

  • The Oblivion

  • Death By Blonde

  • Queen Of The Surface Streets

  • Vengo! Vengo!

  • Ocean Of Lust

  • Danglin' Feet

  • Devotchka!

  • Gasoline Serpent

  • Head Honcho

  • Whiskey Breath

  • Sunrise on Cicero

  • Life Is Short

  • Tragedy

  • Dixie Chicks
  • Everybody Knows

  • Voice Inside My Head

  • Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins
  • Big Guns

  • You Are What You Love

  • Handle with Care

  • Jimmie Dale Gilmour
  • Go To Sleep Alone

  • Number 16

  • Johnny Cash
  • Folsom Prison Blues [Live]

  • A Boy Named Sue [Live]

  • Man In Black

  • Laura Cantrell
  • What You Said

  • Poor Ellen Smith

  • Bees

  • Little Bit Of You

  • Two Seconds

  • Churches Off The Interstate

  • The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter

  • Do You Ever Think Of Me

  • The Way It Is

  • Too Late For Tonight

  • All The Same To You

  • Early Years

  • Don't Break The Heart

  • Vaguest Idea

  • Yonder Comes A Freight Train

  • Broken Again

  • When The Roses Bloom Again

  • Conqueror's Song

  • Oh So Many Years

  • Loreena McKennitt
  • Kecharitomene

  • Penelope's Song

  • Luna
  • Slide

  • Anesthesia

  • Slash Your Tires

  • Smile

  • Hey Sister

  • Time To Quit

  • Massive Attack
  • Protection

  • Unfinished Sympathy

  • I Against I

  • Monade
  • 2 Portes, 7 Fenetres

  • Neko Case
  • Things That Scare Me

  • Stinging Velvet

  • I Wish I Was The Moon

  • Margaret Vs. Pauline

  • Hold On, Hold On

  • Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

  • Maybe Sparrow

  • The Needle Has Landed

  • Guided By Wire

  • Twist The Knife

  • Thrice All American

  • We've Never Met

  • Whip The Blankets

  • South Tacoma Way

  • Furnace Room Lullaby

  • Behind The House

  • Buckets Of Rain

  • Alone And Forsaken

  • If You Knew

  • Soulful Shade Of Blue

  • Hex

  • Loretta

  • Favorite

  • Rated X

  • Timber

  • High On Cruel

  • Nirvana
  • Scentless Apprentice

  • Milk It

  • The Man Who Sold The World

  • Smells Like Teen Spirit

  • Drain You

  • Pavement
  • Stereo

  • Pixies
  • Cactus

  • PJ Harvey
  • Meet Ze Monsta

  • Send His Love To Me

  • The Postal Service
  • Such Great Heights

  • Nothing Better

  • We Will Become Silhouettes

  • Brand New Colony

  • Public Enemy
  • Can't Truss It

  • Welcome To The Terrordome

  • Bring The Noise

  • Don't Believe The Hype

  • Rage Against The Machine
  • People Of The Sun

  • Bulls On Parade

  • Rilo Kiley
  • The Good That Won't Come Out

  • Paint's Peeling

  • The Execution Of All Things

  • Capturing Moods

  • Hail To Whatever You Found In The Sunlight That Surrounds You

  • With Arms Outstretched

  • It's A Hit

  • More Adventurous

  • Love And War (11/11/46)

  • A Man/Me/Then Jim

  • Sheryl Crow
  • Strong Enough

  • Tombstone Blues (live)

  • Gold Dust Woman (live)

  • The Shins
  • Phantom Limb

  • Sea Legs

  • Red Rabbits

  • Turn On Me

  • Split Needles

  • Girl Sailor

  • Sonic Youth
  • Reena

  • Incinerate

  • Jams Run Free

  • Turquoise Boy

  • Pink Steam

  • Unmade Bed

  • Stereolab
  • French Disko

  • Fuses

  • Puncture In The Radak Pernutation

  • Brakhage

  • Interlock

  • Excursions Into "oh, a-oh"

  • Widow Weirdo

  • Sadistic

  • TV On The Radio
  • Wolf Like Me

  • U2
  • Silver And Gold

  • Love Rescue Me

  • The Watson Twins
  • HighSchool

  • Southern Manners

  • Darlin Song

  • Yo La Tengo
  • Dreaming

  • The Race Is On Again

  • The Room Got Heavy

  • Yusef Lateef
  • Sister Mamie
  • Saturday, April 21, 2007

    To Both of My Readers

    I now have a Portland Marathon fundraising page, and I would be honored if you donated to the Oregon Habitat for Humanity on my behalf (link to my fundraising page). They do good and important work.

    Speaking of powerful morons ...

    Alberto Gonzales is astoundingly stupid.

    As a matter of politics, I hope Bush continues to back him as Attorney General since it will give us constant reminders of the incompetence of this administration.

    As a matter of right and wrong, Gonzales has no business anywhere near the office of Attorney General.

    Feel Bad for Will Ferrell

    Sometimes our semiliterate judicially-installed so-called President exceeds parody, as he did a few days ago during an attempt at public speaking in Ohio.

    If you're Will Farrell or another comedian, how do you parody "a chicken-plucking factory or whatever you call 'em"?

    Friday, April 20, 2007

    Stage Two


    This is where my ambitious summer do-it-yourself project stands after an evening's frenzy of destruction. It turns out that backboard material is not so shatter-proof.

    It's largely out of the way of mowing now. I see no reason it can't stay right where it is until, oh, September.

    Harris v. Sullivan Concludes

    The debate between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan over the grounds for belief and the existence of god appears to have come to an end with this final entry.

    The debate was well-expressed and civil, and despite a respectable effort, Sullivan failed to move me away from Harris's position: we have no good reason to believe god exists, let alone that any specific interpretation of god is valid. And while falsehoods can be comforting, indulging them can be deadly. Some honest doubt might have made a monumental difference if it had found its way into 19 specific human minds on 9/11.

    It's time for waking to our Santa Claus moment with respect to god. Yes, Christmas was more enchanting when we could believe Santa Claus flew by reindeer and staged home invasions through chimneys, but we came to know it isn't so. Christmas survived that revelation, and it will survive the removal of the rest of the mythology on which it is based.

    Let comfort be comfort, and let truth be truth.

    Have you lived?

    Have you had the experience of waiting in line for a portable toilet, finally reaching the end of the line, entering and hitting the wall o' stench, trying but failing to avoid looking down into the filth pit (with its unspeakable shapes and colors), wondering if you really want to sit on that seat, going ahead and sitting on that seat, letting nature take its course, only then discovering that the remaining paltry slivers of toilet paper have been pre-soaked with urine -- someone else's urine?

    You haven't lived if you haven't had this experience.

    Wednesday, April 18, 2007

    A Snapshot of My Delightful Brand of Paranoia

    I posted an ad on craigslist last night to sell the old car (god bless its cranky old soul) and was immediately besieged with responses that indicated one of two things: either I priced the car too low, or craigslist really is the active hunting grounds for countless scary weirdos that I picture it to be. More than a few of these replies mentioned how they had cash on hand right now and would love to meet me to buy the car right now. This isn't suspicious? Who carries '97 Honda 4-door cash around with them? Are the richest kings of Europe shopping for used cars on craigslist?

    Anyhoo, I collected e-mail replies all day -- one enterprising scary weirdo logged three replies -- and sent a mass e-mail to them a little bit ago. That e-mail stated, in part, the following:

    Here's the awkward part -- you never know what you're getting through craigslist. I've sent this e-mail to you because your response didn't scream "scam" as loudly as some. Anything you can say to establish that you're truly a regular person looking to buy a car and not some kind of weirdo looking to score will increase your odds of getting a personal showing of the car. I hope you'll understand I mean nothing personal by this.

    I've tried to show I'm not a scary weirdo by using complete sentences, providing details about the car (truthful ones at that!), answering your questions directly, telling why I'm selling it (again, because we bought a new car and didn't want to be insulted by the dealer on a trade-in). I am not sure what else I'd say to my own question so feel free to surprise and edify me.

    So ... If you're still interested, please reply with whatever additional questions you have, suggestions about whether/when you'd like a personal showing, and any additional comments establishing your non-weirdo bona fides.

    Suckers! Little do they know I don't even have a car to sell, and I'm just looking for new audiences to brag about marathons.

    Tuesday, April 17, 2007

    Let Me Be Your Post-Rapture Gopher

    T, the balding fountain of despair I mentioned in an earlier post, sent this brilliant link to a post-rapture courier service. What a terrific business idea!

    By way of giving that idea the sincerest form of flattery, I hereby offer myself as a pre-paid waterer of plants, feeder of pets, disconnector of cable, and provider of miscellaneous services for any of you who expect to be summarily stripped and vaulted into the air (see 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). No reasonable offer will be refused, and as I am bound to follow through for honor's sake rather than for fear of the smitings of an ethereal father-figure, you can rest easy knowing I'll follow through on my commitments after you've joined Jesus or whoever.

    Let's talk turkey.

    That Additional Bragging I Promised

    They've posted the official results from the Whidbey Island Marathon, and I finished in 3:11:54 (7:20/mile pace), 11th place out of 363 marathoners, 5th in my age/sex category, etc. -- all this despite setbacks, shortcomings, and hardships that would hinder if not destroy a lesser person, including but not limited to the following:

    * I was born and raised in Ponca City, Oklahoma -- by all accounts a wretched, pointless little town.
    * My legs are comically short (30" inseam is a stretch).
    * My feet are comically large (size 12 or 13, depending on brand).
    * I didn't learn to tie my shoes until my 7th birthday, and only then because I wanted the BB gun.
    * I have a bad attitude.
    * Not all the finalists for the Oklahoma State quarter design poll include the Pioneer Woman.
    * Neko Case refuses to show any public signs of loving me back. Sadly, there aren't any private signs either.
    * Marathons are hard. Many people have never even run one!

    Monday, April 16, 2007

    Where I'll be this time next year ...

    I'll be in Boston running the Boston Marathon! Yay! Yesterday I finished the Whidbey Island Marathon in 3:11, four minutes ahead of my Boston-qualifying time.

    Pardon the bragging (and the more detailed bragging to come) but I kicked butt.

    Deception Pass


    Here it is, my handsome new muscle car posing and flexing near Deception Pass in Washington, one of the most beautiful natural scenic vistas in the universe.

    And here are a couple of shots of Deception Pass that just don't do it justice.



    This second image shows the tip of my shoe a couple of inches from an almost vertical drop. For a sense of scale, on the rock promontory in the distance, the tiny little blip at the end of the rock is a person (click the image to enlarge it).

    Saturday, April 14, 2007

    New Car Follies

    We made it to Seattle alive in the new car! I'm so proud of us.

    Of course, there are always pitfalls when you're driving a new car, things you don't notice, things you don't anticipate, things you never thought to think about.

    Our contribution: we covered about 10 miles along interstate 5 in the black night in our black car without having bothered to flip on the headlights. No wonder everyone seemed so willing to change lanes right into us.

    Friday, April 13, 2007

    The Prius Arrives!

    So cool! I was first struck by the comically low lifetime mileage of the vehicle -- 56 miles when I first sat in it, 56! 56! -- with the new car smell, and with the reverse camera. Throw this machine into reverse, and a clear panoramic view out the back of the vehicle magically appears on the dashboard console. Now I can see every kitten and every bunny I'm backing over.

    If only to show I'm not Toyota's bitch, I think this reverse camera should be standard on this vehicle. Without it, rear visibility is pretty mediocre. Oh well. I have the reverse camera in my Prius, and I am so charmed with it I am tempted to drive in reverse part of the way to Seattle tonight.

    I love it! Now I just have to pay for it. That part isn't quite as fun.

    Thursday, April 12, 2007

    RIP Kurt Vonnegut

    Thank you for Cat's Cradle and Breakfast of Champions (my two favorites), for Slaughterhouse-Five, and for decades of priceless iconoclasm. It's suddenly a poorer world without you.

    Headphones Again?

    These $12.99 headphones by Phillips are the best I've found (actually, I get the identical black ones for $9.99) for daily, active use.

    Why? They stay in position when I run, the cord is lightweight so it doesn't place undue stress on the connections, and their sound quality, while merely average, exceeds that of many pairs of more expensive headphones I've tried and returned. Bass separates the wheat from the chaff in headphones, and these reproduce bass quite well -- better than most headphones of all prices that fit the 'sport' niche.

    Several of the high-end inside-the-ear designs sound better, but they blow it with a heavy or otherwise ill-conceived cord, and lose any fidelity advantage when, three seconds to any physical motion, inside-the-ear becomes falling-out-of-the-ear. Musical sound is, in that moment, replaced with mutterings along the lines of "f__ing piece of shit!" and the noise associated with trying to cram the bud back into the ear. Thanks but no thanks.

    Yesterday I bought my third-ever pair of these headphones and I expect them to survive six months of daily use through sweat, heat, rain, ambient MAX spittle, etc.

    Kudos to Phillips for bothering to make a product that does what it is supposed to do.

    My Newest Opiate

    Thanks to a tipping point provided by nerdygirl, I have entered the world of google reader and I love it. I'm subscribed to dozens of blogs and miscellaneous informative RSS feeds that don't quite answer to the word 'blog.' And now I'm embarking on sharing some of the more noteworthy items I come across there.

    I'm adding a permanent link to my 'worthy places to go' links at the right.

    Enjoy!

    Wednesday, April 11, 2007

    The Unflattering and the True

    Ingmar Bergman drew a very accurate portrait of me in his film Nattvardsgästerna (Winter Light). I was portrayed by the superb Gunnar Björnstrand. Yes, a few small details are distorted in the depiction -- I am not a Lutheran pastor, and I don't know a word of Swedish -- but the important stuff is all faithfully rendered. This is all the more remarkable for the fact that this film was released several years before I was born. Duuude.

    Notwithstanding any of the above, if you haven't seen this film, add it to your short list. And while you're at it, add the book ends of the "man and god" trilogy, Through A Glass Darkly and The Silence. I say you won't regret having put yourself through it all, but if you do, it will be in the very best way.

    Boy


    Here's my boy, N, reading a little before hitting the sack. It's impossible to tell from this angle whether that's one of the "Captain Underpants" books or the paperback of Fear and Trembling he sometimes dozes off to, and frankly, I was way too drunk when I took the photo so I don't remember.

    Either way, he's the cutest and best child in the universe. It's his world I'm hoping not to trash too severely.

    Tuesday, April 10, 2007

    Summa Pro Prius

    No, sorry, the perfect and the good can't be enemies in this life. And so it is with the Prius: the Prius is the best available option right now. Let's dream of a world beyond carbon-emitting cars, and let's work to make it happen, but let's think and act in the real world meanwhile.

    Are Prius buyers burdening the world with terrible batteries that will choke landfills forevermore? No, they're not. Prius batteries are recyclable, and Toyota has taken concrete steps to ensure that that recycling actually happens. $200? That's gold! That's like 4000 aluminum cans to cash-hungry meth-heads!

    Here is a discussion along similar lines, starting with a claim that the Prius is somehow a poor ecological choice, followed by a refutation of the claim.

    And by the way: I partly agree with the crank. I think buying carbon credits is a very good thing to do, whether you own a Prius or not, and that's why I do it.

    New Car Eve


    Tomorrow I take delivery of the new Prius and I've been reflecting on the purchase and indulging a little buyer's remorse -- maybe 'sampling' it is closer than 'indulging' because I don't actually have any remorse over this. True, the Prius is not my dream car in every respect -- to the extent that I have a dream car, it is the 1975 Audi 100 I had in high school, with the same whiff of beer coming from the generously-sized trunk, only without the interminable mechanical and electrical problems and with better gas mileage.

    While Toyota has developed the Prius with such success that buyers have been routinely wait-listed, what have "the big three" American car makers been doing? Well, Daimler-Chysler is working hard to unload Chrysler -- into whose foolish hands only time will tell -- while the other two approach insolvency.

    I am not terribly interested in cars, but I know what I hate. I hate cars that break down. I hate cars with cheap and cheap-feeling interiors. I hate how American cars continue to be promoted on the basis of towing capacity, horsepower, the size of bolts, nostalgia (for the good old days before there was meaningful foreign competition) and other shallow markers of machismo. I hate hearing year after year after year that "reliability isn't as bad as it used to be" for American cars -- I distinctly recall hearing this line the first time in the late 1970s when my mom bought an Oldsmobile that would later moulder in our yard with countless mechanical problems. For all these reasons and more I hate cars made by "the big three," and I hate that this means I have no car choices that would help American labor unions. I deeply hate the fake hybrids and the greenwashing of which it is a part. I hate that Ford has bothered to create not one but two hideous crossover SUVs (Edge and Freestyle), and that Chevy has answered Chrysler's embarrassing PT Cruiser with the even more superfluous HHR.

    Links:

    Ford greenwashing

    Fake hybrids

    Side by side comparison of the Ford Edge, Ford Freestyle, Chevy HHR, and Chrysler PT Cruiser

    More claims that American cars are getting better all the time

    Imus and Dullness

    Sigh. That Don Imus guy said 'nappy-headed hos' and there's been an uproar. This sort of thing bores me more than anything, but here goes: I think this is a case where his practiced irreverence -- Look ma! Look how 'politically incorrect' I am! -- got away from him and kicked back in predictable fashion. I don't particularly like Don Imus but not because of what he said about the Rutgers women's basketball team. I don't like him because he's just another mouthpiece for the dullest of conventional wisdom. I think nearly everything he says is either blindingly obvious or filched from a sharper statement of the same thought that someone else expressed at least a month before. I think he channels safe, commonplace insights but packages them in a way he and his fans want to believe is "edgy," but the fact that so many big-name journalists and politicians are comfortable in his studio is proof enough that he's toothless. He's "edgy" for people who actually don't want to deal with "edgy."

    Is that edgy enough?

    Sunday, April 8, 2007

    Kermit Goes Dark

    Long before George Lucas estranged millions of Star Wars panters with shitty plots and Jar Jar Binks, he estranged me with the use of Muppets in the otherwise captivating The Empire Strikes Back. The unforgiveable Muppet-driven insults continued into The Return of the Jedi.

    Please accept this link to Kermit the Frog's recent artistic turn in the spirit of that fall from faith.

    If any part of you has ever hated a Muppet, you won't be disappointed.

    Saturday, April 7, 2007

    I am terribly shy but ...

    Here is the link to become my Netflix friend.

    ChiRunning or Whatever

    I didn't think much of Danny Dreyer's ChiRunning (amazon link), and not just because "chi" is one of those religious ideas lacking a non-fuzzy meaning. His technique seems to come down to leaning forward as you run (while maintaining alignment of hips, shoulders, and head), striking your foot against the midsole to avoid under- and over-pronation problems as well as undue use of the calf muscles, and positive self-talk. No doubt I'm missing loads of nuance and skipping many of the lessons from the many lists of things-to-remember-while-running contained in this book, but in the end I didn't get more or less from this book than I get from a typical issue of Runner's World. Any book on technique is prone to lead to overthinking, which is the best way to stop running. I say: if it hurts, consult the texts (this or a zillion others). Otherwise, just stay hydrated and limber, keep breathing, and get going.

    Hardy, Poet of Gloom

    Another recent read is Thomas Hardy's collection of short stories, Life's Little Ironies (amazon link). It had been a long time since I had encountered Hardy's style, and it took some adjustment to see eloquence rather than tedium in his florid renderings.

    But there's more than mere eloquence here. The overarching little irony in these tales of small, crushing ironies is the tension between style and theme: his stories sound harmonious and orderly but describe a world that is cracked at the foundations. He stands exactly at that transition between the world of Victorian propriety and the world to come, featuring total war, fascism, dance crazes, and the impossibility of faith. Fun stuff!

    I actually do read

    Now that I've gone to the trouble of applying labels to my posts, I've determined that the categories of books, film, and Ponca City are underrepresented. Toward remedying this, I am going to discuss the last three books I have read, and I'll spread it across three posts to pump the numbers. My blog, my rules. Thereafter I'll do the same for film and Ponca City.

    Peter Singer and Jim Mason, The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter (amazon link): this covered a lot of already-familiar ground for a finger-pointing vegetarian like myself, but it did give me pause over whether I should push all the way to veganism. Most days and indeed most weeks, I am there but for a few bites of cheese, a cup of yogurt here and there, and maybe an egg, so it wouldn't be a big change. Hmm.

    Anyhoo, the reasons you shouldn't eat meat are as follows:


    • it is incredibly wasteful: it takes too much land and too much grain to raise animals for meat

    • it is not nutritionally necessary: plenty of protein is available from non-animal sources

    • animals suffer so we can have meat: if we're not arbitrary about morals, this should matter


    There are other reasons besides, but these are the main ones. I won't belabor the details but I will challenge all ye carnivores to read this book and at least choose meat knowing the costs, which are so carefully hidden from you. Even if you reject the vegetarian/vegan bias, it's still worth reading for the good information about organic farming and the reasons for supporting the organic foods movement.

    Thursday, April 5, 2007

    Images of Easter


    Here, the Easter Bunny takes a reflective moment with coworkers while on kiddy photo duty at the mall.

    I can pinpoint exactly what's frightening about this bunny -- it's the changeless expression. Whether talking to coworkers or hosting a child on his lap or putting out a small fire in his lap caused by a neglectful smoker, this bunny wears the same facial expression. Sure, it's a smile, but when it never goes away, a smile starts to look too much like it's deliberately hiding something more sinister.

    Just what or who is this bunny fantasizing about feeding into a wood-chipper? Let's not pretend as though that question comes from left field.

    Science Beliefs Quiz

    What do you believe about science-y stuff that's just not so? You can get a sense for it by taking this interesting science beliefs quiz. I got 35 out of 47 correct, although 'correct' does not really fit a few of the questions where true/false don't properly answer the question as stated.

    Tuesday, April 3, 2007

    Is it just me?


    This is a photo of a cubicle belonging to one of my coworkers, R. The framed portrait hanging on the wall-like partition is of Portlandia, the gigantic trident-bearing woman who guards Portland's city hall.



    I took this second photo within three feet of the same spot where I took the first -- this is the view from the window next to R's cube. It's Portlandia again!

    Is it not odd to hang a portrait of exactly the same view you could get by turning your head and looking out the window? Or is it just me?

    I could ask R, of course, but frankly, I'm not fond of speaking with him.

    Ponca City v. President Garfield

    Sometimes I think my home town wants to be insulted. Years ago, the school board decommissioned Garfield Elementary (one of my alma maters) and now they're building a new elementary school in its place and -- get this -- accepting public input on how to name it.

    Evidently, President Garfield has fallen from favor, and the fact of his assassination no longer hurts as it once did.

    Suggest a name for the new school here, and suggest often.

    Be gentle.

    Sunday, April 1, 2007

    Harris v. Warren

    Here's a brief but fairly interesting debate between Pastor Rick Warren and Sam Harris about belief in god. It's a Newsweek article, and since Newsweek is such a piece of crap, the story is broken down into far too many pages to maximize ad exposure to ads (hence the link to the printable version). The debate should have gone much longer and deeper but it's worth reading anyway.

    The Trouble With Blogs

    As sung to us by the marvelous sctor-singer-songwriter Jenny Lewis in "It's a Hit":

    "Any asshole can open up a museum
    put all the things he loves on display
    so everyone can see 'em
    ...
    No one wants to pay to see your happiness
    No one wants to pay to see your day-to-day"

    If it helps, I remind you this blog is free.

    Sign of the End Times or Liquid Courage?

    It has happened -- I have danced in public to the Juvenile song "Back That Ass Up."

    There were lots of camera phones present, but no, I can't prove it. I suppose the best proof is in how far this is from something I would normally tell about myself. This is a truth stranger than any self-promoting fiction I might invoke.

    It happened. I was there. Beer is an amazing liberator of possibilities.

    Something Basic

    I am an American, and yet I don't have answers for Iraq. I am not sure what a best possible real-world outcome for Iraq looks like. Perhaps a mirror of Turkey? Is that realistic given the history and the geography? For countless reasons, Iraq is not Turkey, and won't be. Assuming that's the best end result, I have even less purchase on how to get there. I know two things that don't work, namely, savage dictatorship and US military occupation.

    I don't know what the answer is. I have not read or heard anyone who has given me that 'aha, that's it!' epiphany. I have no idea, and I don't know of anyone who does.

    I am distressed at how little the above is said in this country, for all the endless squawking about this sordid and feckless war.