Friday, June 29, 2007

The Drama


Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more dramatic than hand-to-hand combat.

This post has nothing to do with women's orgasms.

A Worthy Experiment Concludes

For all my efforts, I remain at an R rating, so I am ending the experiment and concluding that mingle2 dot com uses a different rating scheme from the one for films.

This is not to suggest I plan to discontinue the topic of women's orgasms. I'll continue to address those whenever it serves the aims of science.

Farewell to Sebring

The Chrysler Sebring we had to rent is now back where it belongs, parked and ready to be foisted on another hapless car-renter. The Prius, too, is back where it belongs, transporting its smug liberal owners until the next time someone dings it. It shouldn't be a long wait!

All of which raises an interesting question: do you suppose a woman has ever had an orgasm in a Prius? Corvettes and Camaros are more commonly associated with female orgasms -- I'm pretty sure they come standard with the chick magnet that Borat wanted to install in a Hummer. I don't recall seeing a chick magnet with any of the options packages for the Prius. Anyone?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Orgasms! Female Orgasms! Right in the Post Title!

Well, I'm still sitting at R despite my increasingly copious mentions of women's orgasms, so now I've put a female orgasm in the title of a post.

Of course women's orgasms go anywhere and go with everything. There's almost nothing better than a woman's orgasm.

Ratings Update

Hmm. My rating still shows as R.

I am not giving up on this theory -- I'll just keep mentioning women having orgasms, women in the throes of orgasms, the relationship between film ratings and hot hot female orgasms, and so on. Actually I don't find this a difficult topic to address, as far as topics go.

Yep, I could go on about women having orgasms all day long.

This Blog's Rating: An Experiment


Speaking of ratings, the documentary "This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated" is boring -- about 15 minutes of documentary-worthy content wedged into 90 minutes of documentary -- but it taught me one thing about film ratings: material concerning female orgasms is just about a guarantee of an X rating. So I am dropping some mentions of female orgasms to see if the same holds true here.

Bear Alert


There's a bear loose in this candy factory called America and it's name is Dick Cheney. From his tendency to shoot old men in the face to his unhinged denial that he belongs to the executive branch, Cheney embodies the wreckless abuse of executive power that inspires people to overthrow tyrannies in the first place.

I have no great love for Bruce Fein but he sums up the case for ridding us of this menace well enough.

Impeach Cheney now.

In Line for the iPhone?


If you're reading this, you're probably not in line to buy an iPhone, and good for you.

It's a phone, camera, MP3 player, and web browser -- four things to which the word 'need' attaches only loosely -- and it costs upwards of $500. And in the best tradition of Apple, it pins you into one and only one wireless carrier, and not the good one.

"Apple" is the key word here. Apple makes personal computers that people consider 'cool' for some reason, and it has scored zillons with its line of iPods, which people consider 'cool' for some reason. I have an iPod, and I manage my MP3 collection with iTunes, but all my coolness is located in my sexily contrarian religious and political opinions, where it belongs, and to a lesser extent in my offbeat approach to humor and life exemplified in the hilarious pairing of this post with the image of a crispy-fried chicken head. Other people's ideas of 'cool' strike me as frivolous, if not a little sad.

Sigh. Other people. Will they never learn?

But back to the iPhone: would it be gauche to note that people were this hyped-up about the Newton the day before its launch, too?

There's a chance, of course, that you are reading this post from the campout line to buy an iPhone tomorrow, from which it follows that you already possess a mobile device that can browse the web -- a laptop perhaps, or maybe one of the many internet-ready phones already on the market.

If that's you, while I'm glad to be reaching my target audience of people who don't know any better, I really think you should contact me. I have some excellent ideas for how you can spend that next $500.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Macabre Turn

 

If you study this photo closely, you'll notice that some of what you see is cricket parts rather than whole crickets. Despite living in antennae-high piles of food (oatmeal and cat food, both of which I can vouch for) with an excellent view of the bearded dragon that will eventually feed on them, the crickets have turned on each other, converting this happy idyll into a Hobbesian war of all against all.

Much it grieves my heart to think what cricket has made of cricket.

I'm going to pay a little extra next time so I can get the 'glass is half full' sort of crickets.

I'll need to see some ID

Online Dating

I shouldn't have bothered abstaining from all that frontal nudity I wanted to post here since I got flagged as R anyway.

Watch this space for more sweater meat.

Fish III

Here is the money quote from Stanley Fish's latest criticism of "new atheism" (which all parties concede is not new at all):

Proving the existence of God would be possible only if God were an item in his own field; that is, if he were the kind of object that could be brought into view by a very large telescope or an incredibly powerful microscope. God, however – again if there is a God – is not in the world; the world is in him; and therefore there is no perspective, however technologically sophisticated, from which he could be spied. As that which encompasses everything, he cannot be discerned by anything or anyone because there is no possibility of achieving the requisite distance from his presence that discerning him would require.

The criticism made by atheists that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated is no criticism at all; for a God whose existence could be demonstrated wouldn’t be a God; he would just be another object in the field of human vision.
Sam Harris's response is to feed the exact same argument back to Fish (and other critics) with a couple of word substitutions:
Proving the existence of [the Devil] would be possible only if [he]... were the kind of object that could be brought into view by a very large telescope or an incredibly powerful microscope. [The Devil], however--again if there is a [Devil]--is not in the world; the world is in him; and therefore there is no perspective, however technologically sophisticated, from which he could be spied.
... the point being, it is arbitrary -- and therefore specious -- to use the word 'god' here when the same argument equally affirms the validity of the devil, Santa Claus, Zeus, Thor, or for that matter, Bertrand Russell's teapot.

My response to Fish's argument comes back to equivocation. He is defining god as an entity that can never, in principle, be observed, because it is simply too interwoven with the 'furniture of the universe' to admit a perspective above and beyond it from which the observation might take place. Fair enough, this is a possible definition of god. It is not, however, the sort of god that has alarmed Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens enough to write their books. The one with which they're concerned is said to be an active agent in human affairs, one defined by the definite demands it has made of humankind (believe this, don't believe that, do this ritual, follow this book, etc.) The followers of this sort of god -- and they are legion -- take this agent and his demands quite seriously, seriously enough to form the basis of life-or-death prescriptions about how they and other people should live. The "new atheists" demand better evidence before they'll surrender their freedom or their lives to this mind-reading of an entity whose very existence is doubtful, and whose tangible effects in the world are indistinguishable from what we would expect from the merely man-made.

Fish defines god as something whose existence or non-existence can never be demonstrated. To his credit, he does not mistake this for a refutation of atheism's central claim, namely, that there is insuffucient reason to believe in god's existence. He is clear in saying he has no idea if god exists or not.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How Misanthropy Happens

I will be driving a Chrysler Sebring until a day or two after the July 4th holiday because a parasite did $1100 in body damage to the new Prius and didn't bother to leave a note.

I guess that'll teach me to park the car at the grocery store.

The Sebring is a close enough approximation of the Honda Accord it is trying so hard to imitate, but I'll be glad to be rid of it. For the same price I could have rented a Dodge Avenger but those make me want to vomit with rage.

I hate parasites.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Chickenhawk Superstar!


It turns out that Mitt Romney is a confirmed chickenhawk, as his Mormon 'mission' to France was just too important to be interrupted by military service in Vietnam. After all, he probably won upwards of two French Catholics over to the One True Faith of Mormonism during his time there. At least until they sobered up. Let's just say it gave them something new to discuss with their priest during the next confession. Surely an interesting and fruitful discussion or two, those.

A chickenhawk with Reaganesque flappy jowls and slicked hair? One who will say anything at all to placate the medievalist base of the GOP? This guy has to be a lock for the GOP nomination -- unless Fred Thompson comes up with an even flimsier excuse for evading service in Vietnam.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Important Disclaimer


Side-effects of reading 'faith in honest doubt' include nausea, headache, confusion, self-soiling, self-pity, and glassy-eyed facial expressions among those with whom you discuss what you read here; may raise persistent and distressing questions like "I stopped browsing porn for this?"; other less common side effects include increased aversion to mass transit, painful recovered memories of reading other tedious blogs, and personal encounters with the writer in which he gets a slightly hurt look and asks, "Haven't you been reading my blog?"; you should not take it with non-alcoholic beer, and you shouldn't read 'faith in honest doubt' if you don't have a solid command of the words tendentious, casuistry, hermeneutics, whereupon, craptacular, and self-soiling, because the writer overuses all of these.

Before reading 'faith in honest doubt,' ask your doctor if you're ready for sexual activity. And let me know what he says.

Regarding That Last Quartile of Stubborn Retards


Only 26% of people now express support for George W. Bush's wreckless, lawless, violence-loving, faith-based, Mammon-worshipping Presidency, which is slightly ahead of the low point of Richard Nixon, who is only one of several terrible Presidents that Bush has made us pine for. Nixon, at least, could read, and for all his stubbornness, he knew when to quit.

What will it take for that last quartile to come around to reality? I was about to suggest that he would have to stab a child on camera to drop any lower, but then I realized his handlers would just spin it as a re-enactment of Abraham's exhibition of the glories of faith (see Genesis 22), which would no doubt increase his polling among believers.

Seriously, folks -- I mean you in that 26% -- what will it take?

Don't Say I Never Helped

Feeling nostalgic for The Sundays and Frente but worried that listening to Stereolab and Monade will make people think you're gay or English?

If this sounds like your personal predicament, I can recommend Broadcast. Godspeed.

Friday, June 22, 2007

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Who gives a shit?

But seriously. The very soul of ecumenicalism, Christopher Hitchens offers some choice words about Buddhism also:

A faith that despises the mind and the free individual, that preaches submission and resignation, and that regards life as a poor and transient thing, is ill-equipped for self-criticism. Those who become bored by conventional "Bible" religions, and seek "enlightenment" by way of the dissolution of their critical faculties into nirvana in any form, had better take a warning. They make think they are leaving the realm of despised materialism, but they are still being asked to put their reason to sleep, and to discard their minds along with their sandals.
The "submission and resignation" together with the diminution of life are what trouble me about Buddhism. Achieving a "nirvana" state has always sounded to my ears indistinguishable from depression: a repudiation of all wants and an indifference as to what happens from one moment to the next. This is wisdom? This is contentment? I'll allow it is the wisdom and contentment of a fed lizard, but in human terms, it sounds like the tranquility people report experiencing in that moment when the giant boulder is closing in and they know they're going to die.

No doubt I miss the precious, precious subtleties of nirvana here, but I am not afraid of Richard Gere. Not very.

Finally, I mean no disrespect to koans, which can be of genuine assistance to meditation, which in turn is a perfectly useful discipline, one that neither implies nor requires any supernatural twaddle. Not that you asked, and not that I'm even particularly interested, but narcolepsy creates special challenges for meditation. My koans have to be especially active lest sleep take over. Running, shooting baskets, and cleaning tasks are some of the ways I manage to get out of the way of my own thoughts (so to speak).

Christian Love?


God Hates the World - courtesy of break.com

This is how it looks when people take seriously the scratchings of bronze-age desert primitives. A religion of love? No. Love is not hate.

What if people vanished?

Scientific American online has posted some informed speculations on what would happen if humans suddenly vanished from the earth.

Naturally, it uses New York City in the exercise, the very center of the universe, but I can forgive that. Very interesting!

The Hazards of Reading

This morning, during those few moments on the train platform that seem to invite awkward social interactions, a scruffy but not altogether homeless-looking dude blurted out a question:

"Is that a good book?"

Since I was wearing headphones and reading the book in question (God Is Not Great), I hoped for an instant that he might be addressing someone else, but the eye contact confirmed I was his addressee.

"Yes. Yes it is," I said. Not prepared to give a full book report, and long in possession of the habit of volunteering as little information as is absolutely necessary to the thoughtless urchins who defy the MAX's unwritten injunctions against ever speaking to anyone, and wondering at the wisdom of seeking or offering book reviews at a MAX stop, yet sensing the leading nature of his question, I supplemented these few words by raising the book's cover into his view.

He examined the cover, paused, and asked "Would you recommend it?"

Here, having received essentially the same question slightly rephrased, I felt no small alarm at the thought that I had strayed into the ken of a latter-day Socrates, who would lead me by small but ineluctable steps to a radically new understanding of all things. I would think I was answering a simple question about, say, beauty or horses, only to find that I had been complicit in refuting several philosophical schools, or some such.

This quickly gave way to the suspicion that he recognized the book and the cultural moment in which it has appeared, and was about the business of delivering me to The Lord and away from doubt and damnation. Or worse: he recognized the book and saw in me a kindred spirit with whom he might strike up a lasting friendship. (I can only guess that friendships often start more or less this way. That doesn't make it right!)

"Yes," I said, "I would definitely recommend it." Girding for the worst, I returned my attention to the book, and took his pause as an opportunity to pretend that I had something urgent to attend to several feet away. The train arrived soon enough, and I was relieved to see him boarding the other car.

Whew. Close call.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

How Great Is God Is Not Great? Really Great!

I'm working my way through God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens and it's a terrific read. From page 110:

In 2004, a soap-opera film about the death of Jesus was produced by an Australian fascist and ham actor named Mel Gibson.
Beautiful! Hitchens is truly gifted at put-downs, all the more because of the way they weave in and out of more sober, thoughtful, reasoned analysis, and his book tour has given him plenty of opportunities to exhibit this talent. In one of his nationally-televised eulogies for Jerry Falwell, he remarked that if Falwell had been given an enema he could have been buried in a matchbox. I don't know about you, but I'm filing that one away for future use against every fat person I need to insult!

Here is a link to Hitchens's appearance on a British call-in radio show in which his arguments and wit are especially sharp.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Morning's Eye View

 

 

 

 


These are some views along the Springwater Trail near downtown Portland. I don't see how people can choose not to go running here.

More on Fish: Science is NOT a Species of Faith

Over at the always-engaging Pharyngula, PZ Myers has posted a rebuttal to Stanley Fish that's less charitable than mine and more cogent. Myers shows no familiarity with Fish's line of thinking, but that's entirely forgiveable -- he has been studying squids and the rest of biology instead of reading the Milton scholarship.

Myers' rebuttal is lively reading in itself, and an especially valuable rejoinder to the commonplace claim that "religion and science are just alternate faith systems." No they are not, and if you're reading this, please never make that claim again without having read and fully understood Myers' explanation of how and why.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Fish v. Dawkins-Harris-Hitchens

I admire Stanley Fish a great deal, but his antifoundationalist criticism of the "new atheism" as expressed by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens misses the mark.

Notwithstanding Fish's claims about incompatible interpretive communities, Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens most directly and urgently draw attention to precisely those believers with whom an apples-to-apples comparison is fair, right, and proper -- namely, the people of faith who not only make but distinguish themselves by claims about the structure of the universe, the origins of all things, and the nature, history, and future of mankind.

They -- Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens on one side, the faithful they're targeting on the other --- are making conflicting claims about the same phenomenal universe, such that one side's truth entails the other side's falsity.

What claims? Common examples include a claim that a virgin gave birth to someone who later fell afoul of the civil authorities, suffered a cruel execution, and then rose from the dead to comfort his follower before ascending to an invisible realm; that all the world's extant animal species waited out a worldwide flood aboard a zoological couple's cruise; that an angel with what I am assured is a poetic grasp of Arabic dictated a book to a desert-dwelling illiterate; that a first century CE man appeared in North America shortly after having been crucified to death in the Middle East; that immediately upon death, the immaterial essence of the deceased (his or her "soul") survives and is either eternally rewarded or eternally tortured, depending on the deceased's disposition in the eyes of the creator of the universe.

People by the millions, if not billions, believe in the straightforward truth of one or more of these claims.

For all these claims and countless more claims of faith, two things can be safely said: the claim is either true or false, and the truth or falsity is within the bounds of the discourse associated with the faith tradition. I will add a third: if true, these claims hold enormous ramifications for the best current scientific understanding of biology and physics.

To say that Jesus literally walked the earth after his death by crucifixion is not only fair and intelligible within the context of Christian belief, it is foundational. The claim about the dictating angel is similarly intelligible and significant to believing Muslims. These claims mean a great deal to scientists and historians as well. Apples to apples.

Surely there are religious observers who shy from the literal truth of such claims, preferring to cast them as a spiritual truths, figurative truths, allegorical truths, or the like. Stanley Fish and Christopher Hedges appear to situate the religious traditions and their assorted claims alongside the works of Homer, Milton, Bunyan, and Freud -- as artifacts (some unfortunate, some elegant, some brilliant) of a historically-unfolding literary discourse through which mankind has grappled with persistent questions. Many people, myself included, appreciate religious traditions on these same grounds.

All well and good, but for Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens, it is not a question of what deserves appreciation in a literary or cultural sense, but of what counts as probable, provable, and testable, and this, in turn, matters in the laboratory and all the more in the wider world. A wired world featuring technologies that can bring whole cities to dust in seconds demands a stepping back, a reexamination of where certainty is justified and where it is not. It should no longer count as sufficient, the new atheists want to say, to base purposeful action on a musty old text and the intensity of one's allegiance to its teachings.

We cherish Shakespeare but we know better than to base father-daughter interactions on even the most ingenious close readings of King Lear, or organize Denmark's government around the most sophisticated elaborations of Hamlet. Everything depends on cultivating and insisting on that same critical distance vis-a-vis the "holiest" texts most of all.

Sorry, Stanley. Truth matters, and we should insist on acting, speaking, and thinking as if it were so.

Tenth

They've finally published the results and it turns out I finished 10th in the Mt. Tabor Challenge. I'm so proud of myself I could just fart!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Saturday, June 16, 2007

I [Heart] Mt. Tabor


I didn't need more reason to love Portland's Mt. Tabor Park, but running today's Mt. Tabor Challenge added to the sum of my affection. While it was only 8k (~5 miles) in length, the hilliness of the course, especially the half-mile stretch leading up to the mile 4 marker, fully justifies the word "challenge."

I didn't stick around for the official results or standings, which will in any case be posted online soon enough, but I finished somewhere toward the front of the pack, with a time somewhere close to 33:30, for a per-mile pace in the 6:40's -- good enough to solidify my place among the most accomplished and modest athletes in the history of our species.

Notwithstanding the above, don't move to Portland! It's so ugly here! This photo is a fabrication! Don't believe it!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Raccoon! Marooned!


Early this morning, having deboarded the MAX several stops early because the fat greasy-bearded man in the red sweatshirt wouldn't stop sniffling, I walked past the Oregon Maritime Museum -- actually just a sternwheeler boat permanently moored to, and blocking the view of, a particular stretch of Portland's waterfront (here is a link to OMM's comically Flash-happy web site, but I don't recommend it, the site or the place itself) -- I discovered that people do visit the OMM from time to time.

Well, maybe not paying people, and maybe not human people, but raccoons. Or one raccoon. Yes, I say! Yes, there was a raccoon wandering the deck of that ship, and I can't be sure if the distress in his expression betrayed a fear of me, the taunts of another racoon I couldn't see, or the bleak suspicion that getting back off the boat wouldn't be as easy as getting on was. Stuck in the thrall of a nightmare he didn't choose, he was a raccoon version of the wedding guest from the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner":

He [i.e., the so-called museum] holds him with his glittering eye --
The Wedding-Guest stood still [well, except for some raccoon-style arm-waving],
And listens like a three years child [or comparably-aged raccoon]:
The Mariner hath his will.

Now I have a mental picture not only of people visiting the OMM, but the exact look on their faces after they've carelessly entered it.

Raccoons are people too. Sadder, wiser, on average more willing to scavenge, but people.

I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

That's not a threat, just a great album title by Yo La Tengo. Their album title I love best is "And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out."

Their music is pretty good too.

Poem of the Day: "The Bowerbirds"

I always pause to read the poetry published in The New Yorker, but being ever so slightly opinionated, I rarely feel drawn to what I find there. This one by Dana Goodyear is one of the exceptions that keeps me pausing. I love the economy with which it raises so many interesting questions without answering any of them.

"The Bowerbirds" by Dana Goodyear

As if we were leaving
the small forest tower that we built,
with a moss carpet and mosquito chandeliers,
and laughing at it.
I can't believe you used that word ---
in an argument, no less.
But we would never break this way,
loose, affectionate, wry.
You straighten,
add an ornament.
This is somehow part of our staying.
If you left, a black cape would flap
like a crow winging,
and I would make a hundred harried calls.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Et tu, Hindus?

Yes, Hinduism is also included among the nasty faiths that need to be challenged, because (among other reasons) child prostitution is being practiced and promoted under its nonsensical rubric.

Americans: Not Conservative

Yet another study reveals that on a wide range of significant public policy matters, Americans are overwhelmingly progressive-liberal rather than conservative.

For the Republican party, this continues to raise a familiar question: how to bamboozle people into voting for politicians with whom they disagree and whose policies they oppose?

Details and instances vary, but the basic approach combines audacious lying and fear-mongering, enabled by a compliant mass media.

It's interesting to watch in its way, but sadly, it's not an academic exercise.

"I was against Bush before it was cool"

I was, but that's not the point: the point, such as it is, is that I just saw the above on a bumper sticker here in the People's Republic of Portland.

What kind of car? A Prius? Nope. An aging Saab? An aging Volvo? Close -- it was on a Subaru.

It doesn't beat my favorite all-time bumper sticker, one that started as "just do it" but was cut and pasted to read "judo tits."

Now that's good bumper.

Huzzah! It's Flag Day!


I hope this doesn't constitute desecration or I'm in deep doo-doo.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Phineas Gage of Bowhead Whales


Native Alaskans have killed a bowhead whale with a piece of an older a whale-killing weapon embedded in its flesh. The whale survived a previous hunting attempt dating as far back as the Hayes administration, and has lived ever since with the weapon inside it, raising the classic Phineas Gage question: is this a very lucky whale, or a very unlucky one?

I'm not charmed in the article's mention that the whale was killed as part of a program granting native Alaskans an annual quota of whales in keeping with their "native ways," alongside the observation that they used a chainsaw to carve the blubber. If their barbaric traditions are so important to them, why not do them properly? I say they should have to collect this quota just as it was done in the Edenic pre-white-man times, using that era's techniques, boats, weapons, communications, carving implements, etc. And no fair coordinating the hunt in English! In another, deeper, truer sense, I say they should be denied any such quota.

I am not a cultural relativist. "Because it is traditional" is an exceptionally weak argument.

Whales are awesome. Save the whales.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I Got Twelve

Going in, I thought I'd do really well, but after the first several, I realized I wouldn't. Still, I'm happy with my result and won't start pestering anyone to grade it on a curve.

How good are you at spotting real versus fake smiles?

Sopranos Afterthoughts

I came to The Sopranos late, so I really missed the best of it, but I became a fan (I rank it below at least two other HBO Series, The Wire and Deadwood). The ending disappointed me at first, but after thinking about it and hearing some of the chatter on it, I've come to a grudging appreciation of it. I like the theory that the fade-out represents the viewer being "whacked" suddenly and unexpectedly.

As for the theory that it ends by reminding us of the tenuousness of Tony Soprano's existence -- any given moment he might be having a meal with his family only to be riddled with bullets -- I don't think that's true to the show. The show hasn't been primarily about that tension, although we always understand that as a mafia boss it is always a part of his everyday experience. Rather the show has been about the tension between Tony Soprano as a regular guy versus Tony Soprano as a mob boss. He's distinctive, and the show is distinctive, because he is depressed, he seeks talk therapy, he has various family problems, and yet his "profession" puts him in a universe remote from such matters, made more so by the fact of its secrecy. The methods, tools, traditions, and other resources that make him a successful mafia boss do not avail him when he faces these everyday problems: he can't impose harsh "just business" bargains with his wife, he can't whack his recalcitrant son, he can't call on the unwritten mafia code to constrain his daughter's choices, he can't send muscle to rough up whatever is nagging at his soul.

This sudden fade-out ending had nothing to say to this central dynamic, unless I'm just too daft to see it. Still, it was an interesting ending, and I honestly wonder if there is such a thing as a truly satisfying ending to The Sopranos. This ending did conform to one other thing about the show that made it great: the refusal by the creators to answer every question and close down every ambiguity.

Ignorance: A Counterpoint

A recent Gallup survey reveals that Americans are, in alarmingly large numbers, misinformed and undereducated about science.

This poll result is one proper and important counterpoint to all the hand-wringing about how poorly American school students perform on math, science, and reading tests compared with students from other nations: namely, we should expect incurious, ignorant adults to produce incurious, ignorant children.

And that's exactly what we get.

The households that while away the evening hours flipping between I'm Quite Sure You're Not Smarter Than A Fifth Grader, World's Funniest Fat Camp Hidden Camera Outtakes, and College Girls Filmed Imitating Porn Personas They've Seen On The Web don't wake up the next morning to develop novel chess defenses, solve longstanding mathematical conundrums, share readings from Nabokov, or sequence genomes. No, they wake up to mail in poor exam results and give distressing answers to pollsters.

Pointing the accusatory finger at those terrible terrible public schools would ring a lot truer and make a lot more sense if this nation's general population tended to value the intellect, learning for its own sake, the life of the mind, and other synonyms for book-learnin'. But that's not the USA. This is a nation that keeps a million forms of thought-evasion in business, starting with all those tax-free buildings on so many plum intersections (but, in fairness, encompassing such secular phenomena as Mini-Truckin' and Reader's Digest magazines, uncountable varieties of diet cola, insipid books like The Secret, wretched films based on unbearable comic books, and political discourse centered on puerile accusations about "supporting the troops").

[Graphic from Pharyngula's excellent write-up of these results - click the graphic to make it show better. Grr.]

The survey's results, which correlate active belief in god with pathetic ignorance of science, further confirm that faith represents a debased form of thinking in which valid questions are met with evasions, question-begging, and other non-answers (e.g., because god did it that way, because it is god's will, because god works in mysterious ways). To say that god created life and the universe is to say exactly nothing that counts as an explanation. To end the discussion there -- whether out of fear of an imagined afterlife, or what someone labels as humility, or what someone labels as devotion -- is to leave ignorance standing triumphant. It's not clear that such an outcome would bother Americans in large numbers, but ignorance has consequences, whatever its consolations.

While we all have a right to our own opinions, we don't have a right to soothing and false "facts." A sick patient needs a cure, not a sanctified phrase. A boat will sink or float, a plane will fly or fall, a stadium will stand or collapse, based on realities honed by the scientific method, not based on the sincerity or fervency of prayers said for it. Which do you prefer -- the meal served on the plate that was the most prayed-for (informed by the deepest sincerity and latest theological finery), or the meal served on the plate cleaned with knowledge of how to kill e-coli and botulism through these organisms' continued adaptations (informed by an understanding of the germ theory of disease and Darwinian natural selection)?

I know which plate I'd choose, and I'm for the regrettably undersized portion of America that would choose it with me.

Monday, June 11, 2007

We Are All This Lizard

Right Away: Everyday Stupidity in the Age of Bush



There are at least three things wrong with this picture:

1) This is not the image I meant to post. I meant to post a photo of the sign I saw earlier today in Portland's Waterfront park, stating that pedestrians have the "right away" vis-a-vis bikes. More on this first wrong thing below.

2) "Right away" is a stupid mistake. A non-stupid rendering would have said "right of way" in place of "right away." How stupid does a person have to be to miss this one? Mitt Romney stupid? George W. Bush stupid? Alberto Gonzales stupid?

3) The sign should not have been necessary in the first place. Bikes always yield to pedestrians. Period. No exceptions, not even to save the life of the mother, not even in cases of rape or incest, not even when the person on trial is a celebrity. End of discussion.

4) The sign had been taken down by the time I returned with my camera phone, which is too bad in a way. However, in another, deeper, truer way, it is fine because it signals the end of the execrable Rose Festival, Portland's annual extremely unconvincing celebration of gawd-knows-what, being in fact a chance for the many-too-many to clog the waterfront more than usual, swallow cotton candy and assorted other alleged treats, give money to carnies for rusty amusement rides, fill portable toilets to bursting, and take tours of the Navy and Coast Guard boats that have jammed the river and delayed the bridges.

Good riddance. Speaking of which, there are only 588 days left in the disgrace known as the Bush administration.

I Am Not Talking About Paris Hilton

Rather, this blog post is about Christopher Hitchens' incisive and pouty column about her, which, he is at pains to point out, is not really about her, and is not really about the dubious "larger questions" her situation supposedly raises, and is one he'd rather not be writing at all. The money quote:

Stuck in my own trap of writing about a nonsubject, I think I can defend my own self-respect, and also the integrity of a lost girl, by saying two things. First, the trivial doings of Paris Hilton are of no importance to me, or anyone else, and I should not be forced to contemplate them. Second, she should be left alone to lead such a life as has been left to her. If this seems paradoxical, then very well.
I agree. There is nothing to say and nothing to think about it. And yet I'm saying it, and so is he, so we're apparently rats in a cage (or possibly lizards).

I think the nastiness expressed toward and about Paris Hilton (the person, not the hotel located in the French capitol) is just redirected rage at the fact that these pseudo-stories are constantly foisted on us. Escaping them would require retreating to a cave, if not Dick Cheney's hidey-hole, and that rightly angers us. After all, caves are notoriously uncomfortable and bear-riddled, and Dick Cheney's hidey-hole probably has Dick Cheney in it. Ew.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

RIP Richard Rorty

I just leared Richard Rorty has died. Sad. In a previous life, back when hermeneutics was the only thing I wanted to think about, I grappled with some of his writings. He broadened my horizons, in the Gadamerian and everyday sense, and he'll be missed.

TV-Related Groans

The titanic groan you heard moments ago was the collective expression of disappointment as The Sopranos faded to black and rolled credits for the last time. Not surprisingly, enough is left open to make room for a movie, but I hope they don't do it. Enough.

I still say they should make some Godfather prequels with Leonardo DeCaprio as a younger Vito Corleone. If that happens, I humbly ask that pains be taken to ensure that the Godfather prequels in question don't suck.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Mitt: Dumb and Dishonest -- GOP Shoe-In!

Apparently Mitt Romney is angling for the voters who favored George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, the ones who like the President to be openly and brazenly stupid. During the most recent Republican Presidential debate, in response to a question about whether it was a mistake to invade Iraq, Romney said this:

Well, the question is, kind of, a non sequitur, if you will. What I mean by that — or a null set — that is that if you're saying let's turn back the clock and Saddam Hussein had opening up his country to IAEA inspectors and they'd come in and they'd found that there were no weapons of mass destruction, had Saddam Hussein therefore not violated United Nations resolutions, we wouldn't be in the conflict we're in. But he didn't do those things, and we knew what we knew at the point we made the decision to get in. (emphasis mine)

"Null set"? "Non sequitur"? Obviously Romney is working well above his SAT-verbal pay grade here, because neither of those words apply. Judging from the rest of his answer, he probably meant to use a word like "counterfactual" or "hypothetical."

And speaking of facts and counters, Romney is wrong here, and is repeating one of George W. Bush's lies about Iraq: according to FactCheck.org, "Inspectors had been in Iraq since November 2002. They remained until U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered their evacuation on March 17, 2003, just three days before U.S. and British troops invaded Iraq."

So, in this one brief answer, Mitt Romney abused the English language in a characteristically GOP-Presidential dumbass way, and distorted an important factual matter relevant to serious, ongoing public policy. Just give him the GOP nomination now!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Pogo: A Portrait


I find his extremely stunted emotional and intellectual range hilarious. Consider earlier today:

To get him out of his cage so I can clean it, I place a dark dish towel over him and grab him through it. At first he squirms a little as if to run his way out of the trap, but that doesn't work. A few seconds later, he arcs around and snaps at my hand, but the move is mechanical and ineffectual in addition to being late (does a wild bearded dragon wait two or three seconds to strike after a hawk has him in his talons?). Then it dawns on me, and perhaps on him as well: he has no plan C after these crude renderings of "flight" and "fight." The squirming got him nowhere, and the snapping got him nothing but a taste of dishtowel, yet he's still being carried away. What now? Mute acceptance.

Then I place him in the bath tub with six or seven mealworms and, no longer behind the dish towel, I see absolutely no change in expression, nothing to register the relief for not having been carried to his doom, nor exhilaration over being placed within mouth's reach of several succulent prey even more hapless than he is. It's that same changeless reptilian face suggesting fearlessness, indifference, joy, -- all the same thing to him.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

God Hates, um, Something


A bolt of lightning sheered the arms off a likeness of Jesus in Colorado.

Was this a feat of divine agency overcoming the spectacular odds against it happening by chance? I say no. But marvel at the astronomical odds of a bolt of lightning hitting the exact spot and with the exact force to have this effect on this statue! Wow!

Will Pat Robertson soon be announcing that God hates arms? Statues? Marble? Faux marble? Colorado? Gays? Gay Coloradans? I just know Brother Pat is the one to read this for us -- I have no talent for it.

Honda Has Angered Me


In a move that smacks of the stupidity of an American car maker, Honda is ending production of the Accord hybrid. It's probably for the best since it was a "performance hybrid" -- a hybrid designed with NASCAR enthusiasts in mind, roughly as sensible as a line of soy cheeses made with dairy farmers in mind -- not a good-faith effort to produce a full-size sedan with the fuel economy of a hybrid.

A side-by-side comparison of a 4-cylinder Accord, a 6-cylinder Accord, and a hybrid Accord reveals the hybrid barely gets better mileage than the 4-cylinder (28/35 versus 24/34), delivers negligible increases in torque and horsepower compared with the 6-cylinder, and gives up three cubic feet of cargo space (because of the big battery), all for a $3700-$7700 price premium. And buyers didn't flock to it! Go figure!

Above and beyond the hybrid / non-hybrid question, what idiot thinks "performance car" and "Honda Accord" belong in the same sentence? What standardized tests of common sense do you have to flunk to make cars these days?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Today in Hypnagogia

Today, again on that line between sleep and wakefulness, I was surprised and disgusted to see that "How It's Made" on the Discovery Channel was showing a crucifixion, giving details about the hewing of beams and the hammering of stakes in the assured, blank voiceover that normally guides us through the making of aluminum pots, acoustic guitars or cotton candy. I was appalled, but I also wasn't turning away, even though the crucifixion in question came complete with a grieving mother. And then I awoke a little more (I gather) and the show's subject matter shifted to the making of electric baseboard heaters -- quite a bit lighter, but on the whole, less compelling.

I can only guess this uptick in hypnagogic hallucinations is a result of the drug holiday that will vanish once I resume the medication, and I'll go with that since it's the most optimistic interpretation available.

Aside: Blogger's spell checker recommends "spongecake" in place of "hypnogogic." Call it arrogance, but I'll go with my first spelling.

Sicko!

Yes, yes, we're all required to hate Michael Moore because he's not subtle, doesn't tend to give equal time to the evils he confronts, and so on. His next film looks important and entertaining:

I'll be there on opening night or soon after.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Now What, Bob?


I was hoping to avoid the excuse-making in the context of this blog, but I've been more lame and uninteresting than usual of late because I've been on a doctor-prescribed 'holiday' from the stimulant I take to treat narcolepsy. During this holiday, which began on May 31 and will end on June 11, I have felt as listless as a putatively awake human being should ever feel, but the good news is that I've had the time away from work, which allows the drool to puddle in my lap here at home rather than at the workplace, where it (and all the napping) might discomfit the other insurance bureaucrats.

It was at the tail end of one of my naps today that I had the clearest, sharpest hypnagogic hallucination I can remember. As I lay there somewhere on the fuzzy line between sleeping and waking, I distinctly heard the phrase "OK, now ..." spoken from above and behind my right shoulder, and though there was nothing visual to this hallucination, it was clear to me (for whatever reason) that this was spoken by Bob Dylan. And that he was wearing a sort of train conductor's hat. Or maybe it's closer to the mark to say that I heard (or hallucinated) a voice-like sound and then turned it into "OK, now ..." and turned the speaker into Bob Dylan. And put a train conductor's cap on him and placed him behind me. Don't ask me how the mind works -- I'm just a boxcar hobo on this crazy train, not the engineer.

As I read over the description, it sounds creepy, but it didn't have that emotional tone. It was very banal, as if Bob Dylan saying "OK, now ..." over my shoulder is the most boring thing in the world.

And maybe it is.

Another Bearded Summer


I have learned that we'll get to babysit Pogo the bearded dragon for the second consecutive summer. Pogo loves eating crickets, worms, and greens, but otherwise just sits on his log with a look that says, "I would eat you right now if you were smaller or I were larger." In fact, like any reptile worthy of his class, he would happily devour everyone in this photo, clothing and all. Yes, even Grampy.

Monday, June 4, 2007

From within a Jar

I ventured outdoors long enough today to encounter two garter snakes much like this one:

I had better and richer interactions with the Oklahoma regional variety of these snakes than with three-fourths of my K-12 classmates in Ponca City. If this is more a commentary on me than on the quality of garter snakes or my classmates, then so be it, but in my experience, a garter snake will never let you down except by dying too quickly when cabined within a mason jar. The same might be said of existence itself, but I'm not feeling that generous.

I spotted the snakes as they were sunning themselves on a quiet stretch of sidewalk, and each retreated quickly into the grass well before I was close enough to go Crocodile Hunter on them. I barely had time to let go a single "krikey!" or "gorgeous!" and I'm proud to say I didn't follow them into the grass.

It's nice to know there are wild reptiles in the Portland area. Sometimes I wonder.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Terrorism in Actuality and Ideology

George W. Bush likes to claim we have to keep fighting 'them' in Iraq so 'they' won't fight us here. But judging from the evidence, waging endless, indefinite war on Iraq isn't scaring terrorists away, as illustrated in a recent plot to destroy New York's JFK Airport. Moreover, good police and intelligence work, not the military, foiled this plot.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Lapham on Tee-Vee

Lewis Lapham, a prose stylist for the ages and a fabulously acute observer of the contemporary American and world scene, will be appearing on C-SPAN2's "In Depth" program tomorrow (9am Pacific time). Watching this will make you a better person.

Politically, I am a Red Dot


Not to say a dotty red.

The web is riddled with self-quizzes like this, prompting me to wonder, as in so many other cases, how did we hobble through life before the internets?

You can take the questionnaire here.

Friday, June 1, 2007

'The Decider': About to Start Flinging Poo

It is getting more and more common to read reports and see signs that President Bush is losing his mind.