Thursday, May 31, 2007

Evolution Resource

Here's an excellent one-stop resource responding to common creationist arguments against evolutionary science: Index to Creationist Claims on TalkOrigins.

Poem of the Day: "Remember the Mountain Bed"

This song is the gem of the two-volume compilation, Mermaid Avenue, featuring "lost" lyrics of Woody Guthrie composed, arranged, and performed by Wilco and Billy Bragg. While both volumes are excellent, this is the only song on either I consider a "desert island song," and I would go as far as to say we would be justified to remember Woody Guthrie if this is all the poetry he had ever written.

Woody Guthrie, "Remember the Mountain Bed"

Do you still sing of the mountain bed we made of limbs and leaves?
Do you still sigh there near the sky where the holly berry bleeds?
You laughed as I covered you over with leaves
Face, breast, hips, and thighs
You smiled when I said the leaves were just the color of your eyes

Rosin smells and turpentine smells from eucalyptus and pine
Bitter tastes of twigs we chewed where tangled wood vines twine
Trees held us in on all four sides so thick we could not see
I could not see any wrong in you, and you saw none in me

Your arm was brown against the ground, your cheeks part of the sky
Your fingers played with grassy moss, as limber you did lie
Your stomach moved beneath your shirt and your knees were in the air
Your feet played games with mountain roots as you lay thinking there

Below us the trees grew clumps of trees, raised families of trees, and they
As proud as we tossed their heads in the wind and flung good seeds away
The sun was hot and the sun was bright down in the valley below
Where people starved and hungry for life so empty come and go

There in the shade and hid from the sun we freed our minds and learned
Our greatest reason for being here, our bodies moved and burned
There on our mountain bed of leaves we learned life's reason why
The people laugh and love and dream, they fight, they hate to die

The smell of your hair I know is still there, if most of our leaves are blown
Our words still ring in the brush and the trees where singing seeds are sown
Your shape and form is dim but plain, there on our mountain bed
I see my life was brightest where you laughed and laid your head

I learned the reason why man must work and how to dream big dreams
To conquer time and space and fight the rivers and the seas
I stand here filled with my emptiness now and look at city and land
And I know why farms and cities are built by hot, warm, nervous hands

I crossed many states just to stand here now, my face all hot with tears
I crossed city, and valley, desert, and stream, to bring my body here
My history and future blaze bright in me and all my joy and pain
Go through my head on our mountain bed where I smell your hair again

All this day long I linger here and on in through the night
My greeds, desires, my cravings, hopes, my dreams inside me fight:
My loneliness healed, my emptiness filled, I walk above all pain
Back to the breast of my woman and child to scatter my seeds again

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Wetlands Near Lava


Here's a nice shot of the wildlife preserve near the Lava Beds National Monument. It was densely populated with red-winged blackbirds and yellow-headed blackbirds, which are lovely birds but too skittish for me to photograph within my limited attention span. There were a number of exotic-to-me kinds of ducks and wading birds, and it is also where I saw the bald eagle featured in an earlier post.

If you're a birder, this is a great place to go. I am not a birder, but I am not a bird-hater, and I'll settle for birds when there aren't any reptiles or marine mammals handy.

Photo-Related Note to End-Yewzers

I've posted a number of photos lately, some breathtaking in their beauty, others showcasing telltale flaws of amateur photography, still others outright stolen. Note that you can always click on images here to get a larger view of them.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Wizard Island

Sigh.

Got Sage?



The Lava Beds National Monument is an interesting spot, and heaven for sage lovers.



A charming lizard exactly like this one came dashing onto a log and gulped down a little white moth I happened to be looking at. I don't know what kind of lizard it is, but it's apparently extremely common because we saw several of them in the vicinity of the lava beds, and the moth didn't seem a bit surprised to be eaten by one.


There is an impressive display of ancient petroglyphs in the area. As no one has been able to translate them, I say this one says, "Some day, white settlers will arrive and start a town called Klamath Falls north of here. It will really, really suck."

I'm Not Done Slamming Klamath Falls


This kind of tree, which I have tentatively named the Klamath Falls Crunchberry Tree because I have only seen them in Klamath Falls and because the foliage looks like Cap'n Crunch Crunchberries, is the only thing I found in Klamath Falls interesting or beautiful enough to photograph.

I saw many things in Klamath Falls that lacked the Crunchberry Tree's mouthwatering, camera-magnetic elegance: the large bucket in front of the Klamath county courthouse; the richly-peopled drive through of the KFC; the numerous speed limit signs; the weeds poking through the cracks in the sidewalks and playgrounds; the snot-rocketing hobos clustered near the train station; the sad street signs pointing the way to the ever-sadder Oregon Institute of Technology campus, unaccountably located in Klamath Falls, dooming its graduates to ridicule, isolation, and academic ostracism normally associated with desperately underfunded community colleges.

But back to the tree. If you can identify the tree, please do, but be warned that I will continue to think of it as the Klamath Falls Crunchberry Tree unless your correct information is more interesting (and more delicious). Moreover I predict that the massive reach of this blog will turn this new name to an unstoppable meme that will propagate through the entire English-speaking and Cap'n Crunch-eating world, overwhelming the tree's erstwhile designation. In time, moreover, "Klamath Falls" will drop from its new name, and it shall be the Crunchberry Tree for as long as people speak English and eat breakfast cereals that toughen the rooves of their mouths.

Because I am generous, I will allow the tree's scientific name (whatever that is) to remain intact.

The Trouble with Klamath Falls

The trouble with Klamath Falls started with my first human contact there, the woman-ish creature manning the desk of the wretched "motel" where we stayed. In the awkward pause while she fished around for my reservation, I innocently asked what she knew about the Lava Beds Nat'l Monument, and she proceeded to drone on with exceedingly detailed, turn-by-turn driving directions for getting there, whereas "follow the signs to highway 39 and go south" would have been more than adequate, as it is impossible to drive any distance in Klamath Falls without seeing signs referring to highways 39, 97, and 140 -- how to get out of town is precious information for any driver who carelessly ventures in. In fact, I would put it at nothing short of impossible to miss these signs, since the streets of Klamath Falls are so thickly larded with stoplights, each exquisitely timed to stop every single vehicle with every single passing, which affords the driver great stretches of time to read the signs, gaze upon the wretched hotels where he's not staying, peer into the ugly storefronts, and wonder why anything more than marmots and the crows and magpies who scavenge them after death ever thought to settle here.

The terribleness of the "motel" was, in a sense, my own fault for being such a cheapskate. In another, deeper, truer sense, it is not my fault that "motels" can be so filthy and yet still presume to extract fees for overnight stays. There were active spider webs in at least two of the corners, the carpet was none too dry, the air conditioner had an aggressive auto-shutoff feature, and the shower head was roughly half-clogged with rust (or an orange rust-like mineral growth -- I'd rather not know). The walls were a shade of white I'd normally associate with primer, and completely free of decoration. There was a walk-in closet space lacking shelves but offering a bulb-less overhead light fixture, and a digital alarm clock placed conveniently at the top of the TV cabinet at the foot of the beds. Relocating it would not have been strictly impossible: we did have a single electrical outlet near the entrance to the bathroom, which would have allowed the alarm clock to be a couple of feet closer to the head of one of the beds, if I guess the alarm clock's cord length correctly. The small refrigerator-freezer unit generously skipped past refrigeration and proceeded straight to freezing, and I'm probably alive only because we never tried the microwave.

Nor was I encouraged by the quality of many-too-many who made the same choice of "motel," who were inordinately fond of pulling their room furniture onto the creaky balcony to play card games, talk, drink, bellow at one another, and otherwise carouse the night away. Did the balcony have a view? Well, no. But in another, deeper, truer sense, it did have a view: from it you could see several of the stop lights of main street (and whatever vehicles they were pointlessly delaying at the time), as well as a speck of land labeled a park across the street, and beyond that an unnamed body of water labeled a lake. The lake featured a fountain that whiles away the hours spewing three slender streams of water into the air, with all the majesty of a garden hose left dribbling off the side of an upturned bucket. Someone erected this fountain to honor veterans, a small sign proclaimed. With this, Klamath Falls supports the troops, not just in ribbon-shaped bumper stickers affixed to all those duelly trucks idling at stoplights.

I should have taken a photo that would summarize all the squalor and inadequacy of Klamath Falls, and for my subject I might have settled on the roadside restaurant housed in the kind of aluminum-sided building out of which they normally sell ski-doos or car parts. For those waiting at two or three successive red lights it beckoned, simply: "RESTAURANT." Above it, a sun-baked hillside with sage brush, and below it, cars waiting for a green light out of town.

This Eagle: Blurrier and Balder Than You



This bald eagle, the second we saw on the Crater Lake - Lava Beds junket, is not only balder and blurrier than you (educated guess), but probably more paranoid as well. He (educated guess) seemed happy enough surveying the area from atop this pole, probably scanning the reservoir for lazy fish, but he didn't appreciate it when I got out of the car to get a little closer for this photo. This is seconds before he flew away in a huff, taking his national symbolism and massive wingspan to a distant point in the hills nearby.

Eagles are neat.

Crater Lake: Prettier Than You


We ventured to Crater Lake and stood aghast at its unremitting blueness and pitiless beauty. It's difficult to take a bad photo of Crater Lake, but I tried, and these two images represent just a brief offering.



There's plenty more to tell of this trip, which took us through large swaths of southern Oregon, and as far as the Lava Beds National Monument in northern California. Along the way we saw a surprising variety of landscapes, flora, and fauna, and discovered that Klamath Falls, Oregon, sucks. It really, really sucks. More later.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Now I've Heard Everything

Christopher Hedges opened a debate with Sam Harris with the usual equivocation, arguing that his preferred religion, in this case the Abrahamic faiths, is nothing more than that which he likes in human nature, ethics, spirituality, and culture. But in doing so he made the astonishing claim that individualism is the crowning inheritence of the Abrahamic faiths.

Now I've heard everything.

Hmm. The Abrahamic faiths are pretty clear on the importance of group-level moral responsibility: we are all to be punished for Eve's transgressions; all mankind (save Noah and kin) are swept away in a worldwide flood; the plagues sent against Egypt turn the Nile to blood for all its drinkers, not just a few bad individuals; entire towns are wiped off the map in the course of wars establishing and demarcating favored tribes, not favored individuals. Etcetera.

If this is "individualism," then the word means nothing. But that seems to be precisely the modus operandi of liberal religionists like Chris Hedges: stretch words to and beyond the breaking point, so that X becomes not-X and, if whimsy demands it, turns back into X. War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, etc.

The Abrahamic faiths have a definite shape and form, and it's not whatever Chris Hedges likes. There are books that define this tradition, extremely well-known ones at that. Likewise, individualism has a meaning, and that meaning is in open conflict with the Abrahamic faiths. I would suggest that every inch toward individualism has been an inching away from the hideous and monstrous bully called "God" in the Abrahamic faiths.

How tedious. Go get him, Sam.

"Balm of Woe" My Ass

Elizabethan warm-up act Philip Sidney praised sleep as the "balm of woe" and "the certain knot of peace" but I beg to differ.

Dali, Sleep, 1937
Sure, nothing can replace a good sleep when you're in need of one, but there's a point when sleep is indistinguishable from woe, as when the craving for sleep crowds everything else out. Whatever it is -- fun, duty, the lure of a bright day's perfect weather -- if I'm at least half an hour out from my last sleep, I'd rather not. I'd rather sleep again.

I can rouse myself to do what needs to be done, but it's as though I'm stuck in a hole and know I face an extremely difficult climb as a first step to doing anything, or even thinking anything.

Running works. A good run is enough to thwart sleep, but anything short of that -- those fragments of life less physically strenuous than a five-mile run -- aren't stimulating enough, even doused in caffeine.

That's my narcoleptic world. Waa waa.

What Kind of Atheist?

I scored as a Scientific Atheist. Neat.

Scientific Atheist

92%

Militant Atheist

58%

Spiritual Atheist

50%

Agnostic

50%

Angry Atheist

42%

Apathetic Atheist

17%

Theist

17%

What kind of atheist are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

American Whiner

I am old enough to remember when gas was 75 cents per gallon, but lately, I'm noticing a desperate shortage of 75-cent gas. I want the government to step in and arrange things so that I'll get all the 75-cent gas I need. Can't the government appreciate the importance of my driving around?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Perplexed About Climate Change?

If you bookmark just one site about climate change this year, make it this one: Climate change: A Guide for the Perplexed, a "round-up of the 26 most common climate myths and misconceptions."

As Seen on Pocket Change

I've spent almost exactly half my life living in Oregon, but I still have only seen Crater Lake as represented in photographs and etched in the face of our state's quarter.

Not for long! This weekend the whole family (Marla, the twins, my son, my wife, Aunt Ginny, Patty-Sue, Ned, JJ, and Ol' Red) are piling into the jalopy and driving down to gawk upon this lake in person. If I don't see bears and cougars gamboling along its banks, coelacanths and plesiosaurs teeming in its waters, and if I'm not caught with a tear rolling down my cheek at the sight of litter fouling the life-altering vista, then it will fail to live up to the pity and disgust in the face of every person who has ever said to me, "You've never been to Crater Lake?"

Soon I will have been to Crater Lake. I will try very hard not to litter, as I always do.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Dumb, Loud, Numerous

It looks like it's going to be a big year for cicadas across the midwest.

The din made throughout the summer and spring by these dumbest and clumsiest of bugs is one of very few things I miss about living in Ponca City. I think maybe I'll see if I can google up some good cicada recordings; something tells me these are, well, dumb, loud, and numerous. Google is nothing if not a big mirror of our collective follies.

I also miss june bugs, crawdads, and armadillos. I am drawn to exceptionally stupid animals.

Why Running is Great (cont'd)

Running is also great because it can be done anywhere, which means it can bring you into contact with almost anything. Illustration: this morning's run took me past a sight I honestly never expected to see, namely, a man walking down the sidewalk carrying a human spine and pelvis (likely not his own). I'm going to guess it was a pedagogical tool since the bones seemed clean and fused-together in ways I would not expect of a 'raw' spine and pelvis. Also, while the man fit the description of the guy who seems to commit every single crime -- Caucasian or Latino male, lower-30's, 5'8" or so, 160 lbs or so, dark hair, dressed in jeans and a baseball style cap -- the bold, unafraid way he carried the spine and pelvis suggested nothing illegal, and the wry smile on his face seemed ready for the "hey, why are you carrying a human spine and pelvis?" question. I didn't stop to ask that question, nor, regrettably, did I have a camera for this most Kodak of moments.

So I'll concede that a downside of running is that it's not easy to do with a camera in hand, and it doesn't lend itself to small-talk. Fine, but if you ask me, nothing lends itself to small-talk.

If you're missing a spine-pelvis combination, my regrets, but I saw it being carried northbound on NE 132nd in Portland, so start your search there.

Why Running is Great


Running is great because stepping outside to find that the skies look like this is not a problem. In fact, rain makes it an even more pleasant activity, so long as you remember to wear socks and shoes that won't retain water.

The Fruit is Close to the Tree

Sometimes, after you spend a lifetime convincing yourself that the world is divided between those who follow and those who deny the one true god; and that his instructions to mankind were revealed to desert-dwelling primitives; and that invisible angels, demons, sprites, fairies, leprechauns, and bigfoots are playing a never-ending cosmic game in which humans are both pawns and prizes; sometimes, I say, when in the thrall of absurdities like these, the chain of reasoning (such as it is) leads you to cook your two-month-old daughter in the microwave.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Of Taglines and Torpor

I wonder if there is still any redoubt of the English-speaking world from which we could expect writing like this, from Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads:

For a multitude of causes, unknown to former times, are now acting with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind, and, unfitting it for all voluntary exertion, to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor. The most effective of these causes are the great national events which are daily taking place, and the increasing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident, which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies. to this tendency of life and manners the literature and theatrical exhibitions of the country have conformed themselves. The invaluable works of our elder writers, I had almost said the works of Shakespeare and Milton, are driven into neglect by frantic novels, sickly and stupid German Tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse.—When I think upon this degrading thirst after outrageous stimulation, I am almost ashamed to have spoken of the feeble endeavour made in these volumes to counteract it; and, reflecting upon the magnitude of the general evil, I should be oppressed with no dishonourable melancholy, had I not a deep impression of certain inherent and indestructible qualities of the human mind, and likewise of certain powers in the great and permanent objects that act upon it, which are equally inherent and indestructible; and were there not added to this impression a belief, that the time is approaching when the evil will be systematically opposed, by men of greater powers, and with far more distinguished success.
"Sickly and stupid German tragedies" -- zing! Take that, Goethe and Schiller!

Anyhoo, the above 250 or so words would be the tagline to this blog if not for the crippling delimitations of the google blogger tool. I'll stick with "Miscellaneous causes lost and found. Sapere Aude!" but I'll admit to some temptation toward a riff on "almost savage torpor."

Sell Your Guinness Shares Now

I shall never totally abandon my beloved Guinness, but stouts are so last year. I've recently taken a strong liking to India Pale Ales, the conversion experience coming from an IPA from Hair of the Dog Brewery. If there's a type of beer for you, I'll wager HotD makes the best version of it.

Note to my Oklahoma friends: Coors Light isn't actually beer. I don't claim to know what creature's urine it is, and I remind you that questions not worth asking are not worth answering.

The Loathing


When my iPod is connected to its little USB dock (as when I'm recharging the battery), and I use iTunes to play MP3s, and a song comes up that is also present on the iPod, I am presented with a Windows Explorer window that gets in the way of whatever I happen to be doing. It's like a pop-up ad that wants me to buy logical drive J.

I'd bet large sums of money this never happens with iPods connected to a Mac. And I'll bet Apple's explanation is, "Case in point! Apple OS-whatever is so much better than Windows! Have you not seen those ads featuring the doughy geek of Windows losing out to the handsome hipster of Mac?!?!"

Yes, I have seen those ads. Bullshit.

I can't prove it, and they'd never admit it, but I say this is actually an example of a form of e-sabotage I've noted many times before, in which the goal is to make the other guy's software look deficient. Usually the other guy is Microsoft, but Microsoft pulls the same tactic against competitors it hasn't bought yet.

Note to Apple: before the next time you force-feed an update to iTunes, remove this stupid fucking bug. Act out the 'cool' you mean to convey with those ads. Note to Microsoft: if this is your way of getting me to use Windows Media Player as my default MP3 player, fuck you! It won't happen. Windows Media Player is bloated crap and you know it. Unless/until you buy Apple and renane iTunes as "Windows Media Player," your free media player will be an also-ran.

A pox on all your houses.

Ode, Composed On A May Morning

One of the lesser-appreciated charms of being a morning person, as I am, is in how so large a fraction of the people you encounter in the morning hours are drunk or high. The lady at the grocery store early this morning, for example, was probably high, but she might have been a little drunk too. We arrived at roughly the same time and followed roughly the same route through the aisles, so I can report this with complete confidence: she talked the entire time she was in the store. She talked and talked, about the varieties of snack crackers, about whether to put the milk back or stay with it, about the way her cart wanted to pull to the right, about whatever else seizes the meth-enhanced attention at 6:45am. Her talking was ostensibly directed at the dirty and underfed man with her, playing the role of cart mule and heavy-item-lifter, who himself never uttered a word, but it was really just the channeling of her every thought through her diaphragm, over her vocal cords, and out her cake-hole.

She found no thought too inconsequential or discreet to go unexpressed (is she a wayward blogger, perhaps?), certainly not her several praises of the checkout clerk's facial skin, nor the related musings -- not quite questions, mind you, as those invite the speech of others -- about the checkout clerk's age. Nor, certainly, the comparisons between the checkout clerk and "Terry," the latter known only to the talking lady and her silent famished mule. Apparently the clear-skinned clerk and Terry share a similar hair color, height, age, and body style, but differ in matters of fashion. Terry, we learned, is never seen wearing the smooth-skinned clerk's work clothes.

Would it have been possible to draw these connections and inferences regarding Terry and the checkout clerk without all this talking? I pause here to reiterate my appreciation of the intoxicated many-too-many of the morning hours.

When at last she left, talking, it was my turn to check out -- and, I suppose, my turn to praise the checkout clerk's skin. I declined to praise her skin, finding it clear enough but covering a little more facial fat than I prefer to gaze upon (hey, I didn't bring it up), but I tried to ingratiate myself while testing her fidelity to Fred Meyer's strict "don't snipe at customers" service rules by noting that the previous customer talked the entire time she was in the store. This was her opening to add something cutting (e.g., "what a fucking freak!") or at least world-weary (e.g., "you wouldn't believe the shit I've seen!") but she just chuckled. Sigh. When will the Imus Effect wear off, and people let fly their petty insults again?

On my drive home from the store, I noticed a handful of people out in public (I am not counting the respectable few of us in cars). One of them was an old woman girding herself nervously for the long haul across the crosswalk -- I hope she made it -- but the others seemed very drunk, very high, or very both. One in particular was showing her thumb for hitchiking -- on a public street in the middle of town a little after 7am -- as clear an indication of substance abuse as any blood test result.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Medieval Help Desk

Those of us who have worked a help desk in some capacity can appreciate this mightily.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Poem of the Day: "Take This Longing"

I'm a recent fan of Leonard Cohen thanks to the recent film about him and his influence on various musicians. The film wasn't great, but it gave a sense of the devotion his poems have inspired, and I have come to share in that more and more.

Understanding Bono's love for Leonard Cohen has given me a fresh perspective on U2's oevre, which is no small feat given how deeply nested U2's music is in my brain. A song like "Love Rescue Me" sounds, lyrically and musically, like it could have come directly from Leonard Cohen. (If lyricwiki is to be believed, it was co-written by Bono and Bob Dylan. Hmm.)

Like many of Cohen's poems, this one is as much from the groin as the heart or head, and lives on that line between 'love is filthy' and 'love is beautiful.'

Leonard Cohen, "Take This Longing"

Many men have loved the bells
you fastened to the rein,
and everyone who wanted you
they found what they will always want again.
Your beauty lost to you yourself
just as it was lost to them.
Oh take this longing from my tongue,
whatever useless things these hands have done.
Let me see your beauty broken down
like you would do for one you love.

Your body like a searchlight
my poverty revealed,
I would like to try your charity
until you cry, "Now you must try my greed."
And everything depends upon
how near you sleep to me

Just take this longing from my tongue
all the lonely things my hands have done.
Let me see your beauty broken down
like you would do for one you love.

Hungry as an archway
through which the troops have passed,
I stand in ruins behind you,
with your winter clothes, your broken sandal straps.
I love to see you naked over there
especially from the back.

Oh take this longing from my tongue,
all the useless things my hands have done,
untie for me your hired blue gown,
like you would do for one that you love.

You're faithful to the better man,
I'm afraid that he left.
So let me judge your love affair
in this very room where I have sentenced
mine to death.
I'll even wear these old laurel leaves
that he's shaken from his head.

Just take this longing from my tongue,
all the useless things my hands have done,
let me see your beauty broken down,
like you would do for one you love.

Like you would do for one you love.

Fundy Whack-a-Mole

Lest you think the death of Jerry Falwell represents any kind of turning point, remember there are dozens of screaming preachers ready and eager to take his place. One such is James Dobson, who, Andrew Sullivan reports, is an extremely important player in the Republican Party who takes his foreign policy ideas (such as they are) right out of the book of Ezekiel.

Note that Andrew Sullivan is no liberal, but hails from that ever-diminishing wing of the conservative movement that prizes common sense, liberty, and small government. He also reads books other than the Bible.

Viddy This

Apparently there is an annual contest for best visual illusions. Cool stuff!

Hitchens on Falwell II

Christopher Hitchens has expanded his eulogizing of Jerry Falwell in his latest Slate column. It starts as follows and then proceeds to get really pointed:

The discovery of the carcass of Jerry Falwell on the floor of an obscure office in Virginia has almost zero significance, except perhaps for two categories of the species labeled "credulous idiot."
Good stuff!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Cancel Those Vacation Plans to Pakistan

Convert or be bombed? "Religions of peace" don't behave that way.

Islam is not a religion of peace. Are these Pakistanis perverting the peaceful essence of Islam? You can maintain that if you ignore the text of the Koran, or if you declare the text of the Koran irrelevant to the essence of Islam -- at which point Islam has been redefined as "that which I like in the realm of spirituality and ethics." But why bother squeezing Islam into that box? Why isn't that box good enough on its own? And why bother cherry-picking supporting quotes from the Koran to express what you like in the realm of spirituality and ethics? Why not Moby Dick or Hamlet? There are a lot of really good quotes in Moby Dick and Hamlet.

Sadly, these Pakistanis are perverting nothing; rather, they're taking their professed creed at its word, and that is precisely what makes them dangerous. It's also what made Jerry Falwell dangerous, and what continues to make Pope Ratzinger and Pastor Ted dangerous.

Hitchens on Falwell

Now this is what I call a eulogy!



"Chaucerian fraud" -- excellent.

I disagree with Hitchens on one point: I will go ahead and cede that Falwell was sincere in his beliefs. So what? Bush is always urging us to stand in awe of his sincerity as well. I am not the least bit impressed with sincerity, and I am appalled at how it is confused with a virtue. It is not.

Can you think of anyone on earth more sincere than Osama Bin Laden? Or how about the sincerity of the 9/11 highjackers? Clearly they possessed tremendous sincerity -- they really believed they'd wind up in the arms of 72 virgins shortly after killing a few thousand people. This is the sort of work sincerity can do. Give me doubt any day.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Tribute of Sorts

Back and Forth and Forth Again on Falwell

My first instinct was to post something snarky but lightweight about Jerry Falwell's death, which I did below, in some quip or other about the rapture.

My first instinct was to go easy on him, but then I was reminded of his statement just after 9/11:

I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'
This took me right back out of the mood to go easy, because these are the words of a hateful piece of garbage. I do feel sympathy for those closest to him, and I believe the people who say he was charming on a personal level, but here's where I land: Falwell is dead, and good riddance.

Falwell did issue a half-baked apology for the verbal scat quoted above, but one tellingly lacking in the elaboration and detail found in his original comments. I take it as an "I'm sorry I got caught" apology. Maybe I'm wrong.

I [Heart] Generalists

As an aspiring generalist myself, I have to admire El Hijo del Santo. I love how he keeps the mask on, even at sea. I would like to see more photos of him in his mask -- gardening, adjusting the thermostat, installing solar panels, showering under a reduced-flow shower head, driving a hybrid ...

Good News / Bad News

The good news: the Rapture has happened.

The bad news: Jerry Falwell was the only one vacuumed up to heaven.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Letter from a Christian Nation

A friend forwarded these closing comments from a letter sent to her employer:

May I be so bold to ask if the founder is a Christian? I have found that often (but not always), when things are done really well, a Christian is behind it.

Thank you for your time, and whether your company is run by a Christian or not, may God bless you!

Call me uncharitable, but I read these as the words of a Christian housewife with lots and lots of time on her hands who needs to get out more often and meet more people. If she troubles to leave the space in the church basement where all the other useless Christian housewives get together to gossip about the few who didn't show this time, she'll find there's a bright and varied world out there.

Illustrations are easy to come by. I just saw a TV ad for a medicine for people who experience burning sensations when they urinate. The ad concluded with a shot of a woman emerging from the women's room with a look of satisfied glee that could only mean her peeing no longer burned her. I might write to ask if the company behind the medicine was founded by a Christian, because I have found that often (indeed always), when someone's pissing finally stops hurting, it is either because they've died or because someone did more than say a prayer. Whether that burning-pee-medicine company is run by a Christian or not, may legitimate medical research keep succeeding where prayer fails!

Actually, I won't write to ask about the religious beliefs of the company's founder.

Wireless?

Do you like your wireless carrier? Of course not! We all hate them all! It's all part of the game.

If you're looking to change, consider Working Assets Long Distance (WALD). I've actually been happy with their wireless and long distance service for many years.

If you do decide you can't live another day without WALD, use the above link and give my information. If you don't have my information, e-mail me.

I am such a tool.

It's Carnival Time

The latest Carnival of the Godless is out, and I made the cut. There's a lot of good reading there if you can find the time and get past your reservations about any carnival that would accept the likes of me.

Poem of the Day: Sonnet 87

All of Shakespeare's sonnets are famous as poems go, but this is a slightly less famous one judging by how rarely it seems to appear in 'best of' collections. I like the way all the 'ing' words create momentum and pace, and I love the phrase "upon misprision growing" -- I'm always trying to work it into conversations.

William Shakespeare, Sonnet LXXXVII

Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing,
And like enough thou know'st thy estimate,
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting?
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
And so my patent back again is swerving.
Thy self thou gavest, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me to whom thou gav'st it else mistaking;
So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
Comes home again, on better judgement making.
Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,
In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

More Legislators for Withdrawal Timetables

It appears that the Iraqi parliament has taken major steps toward asking the US to set a timetable for withdrawal of its forces. This is, or should be, a major news item, but it is just barely appearing in mainstream media coverage -- here are grudging acknowledgements in the NY Times, Washington Post, and The Guardian.

I first heard of this last week on the Randi Rhodes radio show, when Randi was giving due praise to Tommy Thompson's proposal for Iraq, which, being relatively sensible and credible as these things go, will doom his chances among primary voters for the Killin' Stuff party.

Golf is for Pricks? Pro & Con

Pro: A golfer came close to backing his lazy-cart into me as I was running over a section of path that, in fairness, exists for both lazy-carts and pedestrians. He did check behind him, but it's unclear why since he was already in motion by the time his doughy face had swung all the way around to see where he was going. He was going directly toward me, and only missed me by inches thanks to my own alertness. Maybe I should have gone ahead and "played through" and let him hit me: I could be the next owner of his lazy-cart and maybe even the SUV in which he drove his fat ass to the golf course for "exercise." Whereupon I could park both where they belong -- on my grandpa's acreage on the Oklahoma side of the Ark-La-Tex, alongside countless other rusted-out trucks and boats he mines for parts.

Con: I also caught a glimpse of golf's appeal in the sight of that little ball rising gently into the air after a drive, its motion and whiteness cutting a lovely contrast with the background of blue sky, green field, and pink rhododendrons. Golf is capable of the picturesque, and that's saying something.

Friday, May 11, 2007

It's Squirrelin' Time!

The Ponca City News wants us to know that squirrel season is about to open in Oklahoma! Killing squirrels is surely its own reward, but those cash-hungry meth users who can still control a rifle will be drawn to this observation:

Hunters taking to the woods after squirrels would also be interested to know that squirrel skins and/or tails may be legally sold and have brought up to $2 for whole skins in recent years.

Nice! This one is a little puzzling:
Sportsmen can attract squirrels to them using calls as well as find them in the woods by searching for food and habitat.
What food? Squirrel food? Taco Bell?

Index Funnies

Blogger has done something unexpected with my posts and consequently, my post about Al Sharpton and Mitt Romney got placed behind my post about Dylan's "Song for Woody."

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Poem of the Day: "Song to Woody"

I like the way this poem cuts through all the chatter about the relationship between Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, Dylan-as-folk-singer versus Dylan-as-rock-star, and all the rest. Dylan pays a simple and direct tribute to Guthrie and flips a bird to the commentary.

I also love the ambiguity in the second stanza -- just what, exactly, is looking tired, hungry and torn? I doubt Dylan will be pinned down on this question, and I refuse even to check.

I could listen to his delivery of the last two stanzas forever. I barely know who Cisco, Leadbelly, and Sonny are, but this song makes me want to find out.

Bob Dylan, "Song to Woody"

I'm out here a thousand miles from my home,
Walkin' a road other men have gone down.
I'm seein' your world of people and things,
Your paupers and peasants and princes and kings.

Hey, hey Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song
'Bout a funny ol' world that's a-comin' along.
Seems sick and it's hungry, it's tired and it's torn,
It looks like it's a-dyin' and it's hardly been born.

Hey, Woody Guthrie, but I know that you know
All the things that I'm a-sayin' an' a-many times more.
I'm a-singin' you the song, but I can't sing enough,
'Cause there's not many men that done the things that you've done.

Here's to Cisco and Sonny and Leadbelly too,
An' to all the good people that traveled with you.
Here's to the hearts and the hands of the men
That come with the dust and are gone with the wind.

I'm a-leaving' tomorrow, but I could leave today,
Somewhere down the road someday.
The very last thing that I'd want to do
Is to say I've been hittin' some hard travelin' too.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

White Mitts and Black Interlopers

In the course of a debate with Christopher Hitchens, clownish screamer Al Sharpton has inserted himself into another controversy by distinguishing Mormons from "those who really believe in God." In context, Sharpton was referring to Mitt Romney, the most Caucasian and Reagan-aping of the GOP Presidential candidates, best known for his belief system and hunting experience.

Aside: what is it about Mormons and the need to fabricate things they've done in the woods? What can account for this? Leave it to FauxNews to thoroughly track Romney's tall tale.

So, in a candid moment, Pentecostal Sharpton counted Mormons among the filthy infidels of the world. On one level, big whoop: it's as though Brittney Spears called Paris Hilton a crazy slut.

But then again, why not? Isn't Al Sharpton just being true to his Pentecostal creed by declaring that non-Pentecostals are, by definition, living outside the best understanding of god? Aren't they bound for hell if they persist? Likewise, wouldn't Romney's most truthful reply be "No, Al, you're the one with silly, wrong beliefs about god, and in the comfort of Mormon heaven, we'll laugh at you as you burn in hell for eternity."

I ask all the Presidential candidates -- all of them, of both parties -- to take their genuflections toward godliness all the way by detailing who is and is not bound to be saved. That sounds like an interesting debate to me.

There Exists a "Conoco Heritage"

Yes, there is such a thing as a "Conoco Heritage," and a museum will soon open to preserve it -- it says so right there in the newspaper.

Consider this verbal gem from the article:

Commenting on the way some of the displays are designed in a way that lets the visitors get close to them, she said some of them are on the level so the youth can easily view them.

Please note the context, and pity me: this appeared in the local newspaper of the town in which I learned to write.

Gas Out?

You've probably received the e-mail encouraging you to stick it to the oil companies by refusing to purchase gasoline on May 15. Well, long story short, that won't work.

However, the kernel of a good idea remains here. How about if we use that day, May 15, as a day to explore alternatives to traveling by car? Make May 15 the day when you take that step away from gasoline-dependence you've been thinking about:

+ Walk. If that's too slow for you, try running!
+ Ride a bike (or a Segueway, or a skateboard, or even a scooter).
+ Telecommute. Show your boss it can work!
+ Start a carpool, or join an existing one.
+ Ride mass transit.
+ Consolidate car trips.
+ Give flexcar a try.

I'm just saying try one or more of these on May 15.

What if a carpool is more fun than you thought it could be? What if using mass transit gives you countless new opportunities to observe and insult the many-too-many? Or catch up on your reading? What if your bike stops rusting and starts helping you shed pounds? What if you save some money?

No, avoiding gas purchases on May 15 won't bother the oil companies or accomplish anything else if it just means you'll fuel up the next day. But finding a new way to get yourself from point A to point B -- one that uses no gas or less gas -- that will bother them. And it will reduce carbon emissions, and might just enrich your life.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Republican Hopefuls

I watched as much of the first Republican Presidential debate as I could stomach, and almost a week later, what stands out is the palpable delight all these troglodytes took in having a believeable threat to obsess over. Terrorism has emerged as a worthy replacement for Soviet Communism, succeeding where a succession of other candidate hobgoblins have fallen short: poor people, drugs, crime, "cultural elites," the judiciary branch, Social Security, Bill Clinton's sex life, etc.

This puts Republican Presidential hopefuls right back where they most want to be: where, in lieu of dealing with substantive matters of policy or otherwise committing the sin of thinking, they can sound off about enemies they'll follow to the gates of hell and so on. The terrorism obsession means they can skip details for their vacuous crowd-pleasers ("cut spending," "cut taxes," "strengthen families"), spend less time making fraudulent themes like "compassionate conservatism" sound sincere, and wish away the environment, health care, education, international trade imbalances, etc. They can just talk about killin' stuff, and shrink all their human sympathy to the size of a blastocyst.

All of which underscores the shallowness of the debate's biggest conceit: that George W. Bush's wretched Presidency never happened. Sadly, the Bush disaster is both real and ongoing, and these hopefuls offer precisely more of the same.

In a perverse way this is good since it exposes the GOP for the death-and-hatred cult it is. Three of the yokels -- Huckabee, Tancredo, and Brownback -- felt comfortable enough in their backwardness to disavow the science of evolution.

In another, more straightforward way, it's a disgrace that we have to have an entire political party that counts selfishness, stupidity, and bellicosity as virtues.

10K Scandal!

They've posted the official results to the Cinco de Mayo 10K, and there's been a scandal!

Or so I gather. I actually finished 14th in a field of 386, not 15th in a field of 381 as originally reported. The original results showed a female finisher ahead of me, who has now disappeared from the results, so I have to conclude that Rosie Ruiz has brought her old tricks to Portland.

For shame. But it's understandable -- with this kind of prize money and fame at stake (zero and zero, respectively), we should be surprised this sort of thing is not more common.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Faith and Non-Faith

Critics of the latest round of atheistic books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Dan Dennett are fond of claiming that the atheists are just as intolerant, if not faith-based, as the religionists. This criticism is false in addition to being lazy, and here's an economical reply to it by Dan Gardner:

Now, it is absolutely true that Dawkins' tone is often as charming as fingernails dragged slowly down a chalkboard. But just what is the core of Dawkins' radical message?

Well, it goes something like this: If you claim that something is true, I will examine the evidence which supports your claim; if you have no evidence, I will not accept that what you say is true and I will think you a foolish and gullible person for believing it so.

That's it. That's the whole, crazy, fanatical package.

When the Pope says that a few words and some hand-waving causes a cracker to transform into the flesh of a 2,000-year-old man, Dawkins and his fellow travellers say, well, prove it. It should be simple. Swab the Host and do a DNA analysis. If you don't, we will give your claim no more respect than we give to those who say they see the future in crystal balls or bend spoons with their minds or become werewolves at each full moon.


Well said. Here's a link to the full column from which the above is quoted.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Poem of the Day: "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"


I was reminded of this poem this morning when I saw a crow drinking from one of downtown Portland's public drinking fountains. This is not only because a crow is a black bird, but because it was one of those moments of triangulation I associate with Wallace Stevens, where his poem comes between you and something that used to be ordinary.

Because they're smart-enough to be people-shy, it is unusual to see a crow in such a spot, but this one was taking advantage of the quiet of morning.

Wallace Stevens, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"

I
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

II
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

III
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

IV
A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

V
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

VI
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

VII
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

VIII
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

IX
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

X
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

XI
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

XII
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

XIII
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

Cinco de Mayo (give or take a day)

I ran Portland's Cinco de Mayo 10K race today, finishing 15th overall with a time of 40:11.

An out-and-back race course like this one leaves few opportunities for discreet snot-rocketry, but I soldiered on with a lot of mouth-breathing. Oh well, we can't have everything. The post-race IPA from Red Hook and vegetarian burritos from Madison's were superb. Kudos to Terrapin Events -- they really know how to put a race together.

Six of the fourteen people who finished ahead of me were in my male 35-39 demographic. Six of fourteen! So no ribbons for me. I have got to get a sex change or an age change or something. Couldn't they count mental age? I'd rank higher in the 12-17 set.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Poem of the Day: "Synchronicity II"

This is the first poem I ever committed to memory outside of school requirements, and it comes from the first album I considered truly my own (my sisters' Peter Frampton and Bee Gees 8-tracks mostly served as barter, as in I'll break your 8-tracks if you tell mom I have porn stashed all over the upstairs).

I got it from Columbia House, that rip-off outfit that used to entice, say, stupid 13-year-olds with the promise of a dozen full-length albums for a penny. Sigh. Kids these days don't have to work at all to steal music. (Aside: it turns out that Columbia House still exists and is still running the same fine-print bait-and-switch. Who knew?)

In poetic terms, I was drawn to the premise that all is not well in scenes of domestic harmony, and equally to anything and everything that mentions Scottish lake monsters. These fixations remain as strong as ever, but my trust in the reality of Nessie is severely shaken at this point -- only a faint hope remains -- and the idea that happy-looking domestic settings belie unspeakable ugliness has become as commonplace as chewing gum. Every third Hollywood movie covers exactly that ground these days -- the other two force-feed us a remake of something we already didn't like from TV or comic books.

The Police, "Synchronicity II"

Another suburban family morning
Grandmother screaming at the wall
We have to shout above the din of our rice crispies
We can't hear anything at all
Mother chants her litany of boredom and frustration
But we know all her suicides are fake
Daddy only stares into the distance
There's only so much more that he can take
Many miles away
Something crawls from the slime
At the bottom of a dark
Scottish lake

Another industrial ugly morning
The factory belches filth into the sky
He walks unhindered through the picket lines today
He doesn't think to wonder why
The secretaries pout and preen like cheap tarts in a red light street
But all he ever thinks to do is watch
And every single meeting with his so called superior
Is a humiliating kick in the crotch
Many miles away
Something crawls to the surface
Of a dark Scottish loch

Another working day has ended
Only the rush hour hell to face
Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes
Contestants in a suicidal race
Daddy grips the wheel and stares alone into the distance
He knows that something somewhere has to break
He sees the family home now looming in his headlights
The pain upstairs that makes his eyeballs ache
Many miles away
There's a shadow on the door
Of a cottage on the shore
Of a dark Scottish lake

Many miles away...
Many miles away...
Many miles away...
Many miles away...
Many miles away...

Crazy Fred Got There First

An alert reader (yours truly) reminded me that long before my own fulminations against the Christian notion of sufferings-as-blessings, Nietzsche covered the same ground at book length in Genealogy of Morals. I have updated the post with a bow to that crazy, misunderstood writer of such great books.

Sometimes I channel Nietzsche, sometimes the Harris-Dawkins-Dennett-Hitchens hydra, sometimes Noam Chomsky, sometimes Jeff Foxworthy. It would be nice to get some of my own thoughts, but until that happens, I'll continue to be an intellectual chameleon / slut / sponge / pick your figuration.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Sweet MPGs

Four tanks of gas in (or is it three?), we're getting right around 53 miles per gallon with the new Prius.

Gas is $3.29 per gallon at the cheapest place around the corner? Yes! Bring it on!

I [heart] that car.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Zero Accomplished

Today is the fourth anniversary of our so-called President's infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech. The Democrats, finally showing a little spine and a little flare, have undertaken to mark the day with a healthy appreciation for symbolism.

Shame on Bush, and shame on all who have enabled his Presidency and the war for which it will be long rued.

Anticipating the insipid talking point about supporting the troops: Bush's failed Iraq policy is not the fault of the troops.