Friday, August 31, 2007

"Progress" in Iraq: Not Getting Shot Down

It's really not possible to make this sort of thing up: members of Congress whose plane narrowly missed being shot down over the heavily-fortified Green Zone went on to give glowingly positive reports of "progress" in Iraq.

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma was among the politicians who portrayed the near miss as a sign of progress. I admit I haven't been back to Oklahoma in a while, but have things sunk so low that not quite being shot out of the sky makes for a good day? Does the GOP see people as in-season ducks now?

Maybe this is a force of habit from having made it through hunting trips with Dick Cheney without getting shot in the face?

God to Christians: Shut Up and Take It

Chapter 13 of Paul's Epistle to the Romans begins as follows (quoting from the New International Version):

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
The King James Version is more blunt, hauling out the "d" word for those who resist government:
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
Wow! This certainly isn't the stand I'd take on the matter, but hey, god's word is what it is. I'll expect Christians to stay out of government affairs from now on.

Well Said on Craig

I agree completely with this post by MissLaura on Daily Kos, from which I quote:

I have to acknowledge a touch of schadenfreude at yet another piece of evidence that Republican anti-gay beliefs make hypocrites of many simply because living these beliefs isn't tenable for some people. But mostly, I feel outrage that this is still a country where police spend their time sitting around waiting to reject men for sex and then arrest them for the attempt, and I feel enormous compassion for Larry Craig, vile though his votes have been. What must it be to spend a lifetime repressing your basic sexual urges? To be so ashamed of those urges that you actually make them dirty, denying yourself healthy, loving relationships and instead seeking out anonymous sex in public restrooms?
I confess I've indulged more than a touch of schadenfreude.

I will add that I hope this situation creates an opening for learning and acceptance in Larry Craig himself, and I hope it adds to the small crack that surely must be trying to let in some light among his supporters, fellow-travelers, friends, and family. Surely there are a few "family values" enthusiasts out there who look at this situation and count it in favor of the reasonable and humane conclusion that homosexuality is not a perversity or a malady, but just one of the ways of being human.

That's my hope, and my take on the situation when I can tear myself away from the schadenfreude.

Clothes Make The Man


Which begs the question: what have they made here? (I should talk -- I have orange-framed sunglasses too.)

I think I know the answer. This is how I would look after about a week of not running and eating whatever I wanted. After two weeks I would no longer be able to board the MAX, let alone stand in it while it moved. Not long after that, I would have to be relocated with the help of construction equipment to the lower level of my house. Death would soon follow, after which the county would need to condemn the property.

Ah, MAX, how I cherish the cautionary examples you present to me every day.

Opus, Not So Magnum

Here is a link to the Opus cartoon that many newspapers are refusing to run out of a fear of offending Muslims.

The better reason for not running it -- it's not funny. Also, it's not offensive enough to Muslims if you're asking me.

Guide to All Future Wingnut Gay Sex Police Interrogations

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness, as the saying goes, so I offer this guide to all crazily anti-gay politicians who find themselves on the sharp end of a vice squad interrogation after having been caught engaging in exactly the deeds they find so troubling to the fate of civilization when done by others.

I present this guide in the form of annotations to excerpts from Senator Larry "I couldn't be any less gay" Craig's police interrogation, released yesterday.

Dramatis Personae
LC = Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho). He is not gay. He has never been gay.
DK = The arresting officer.

My annotations appear in [brackets].

LC: I sit down, urn, to go to the bathroom [No details? How often do you think the public gets to see a transcript like this? Make it count!] and ah, you said our feet bumped. I believe they did, ah, because I reached down and scooted over and urn, the next thing I knew, under the bathroom divider comes a card that says Police. Now, urn, (sigh) that's about as far as I can take it, I don't know of anything else. [LC! This is so unconvincing! This is where you're supposed to draw a complete blank as to what 'anything else' could possibly be! Remember: you are not gay. You have never been gay. And quit saying "urn" -- that is very gay.]
...
LC: I don't, ah, I am not gay, I don't do these kinds of things and... ['These kinds of things'? What kinds of 'things'? Taking craps? Taking a crap is all you've admitted to having done so far. You're supposed to be confused and angry about why you were arrested for pinching a loaf, not referring to 'these kinds of things' that you, being ever so not-gay, have no earthly idea about.]
...
LC: But you shouldn't be out to entrap people either.

DK: This isn't entrapment.

LC: All right. [This talk of 'entrapment' has taken you off the rails again. If you are just another commuter dropping the kids off at the pool, so to speak, then you are supposed to be utterly confused about why the police have bothered you. You're supposed to be talking about how, as a US Senator, you happen to know that taking a shit is legal. This talk of 'entrapment' sounds a lot like you know you did something illegal but were tricked into doing it. Avoid the 'e' word.]
...
DK: Were you (inaudible) out here while you were waiting? I could see your eyes. I saw you playing with your fingers and then look up. Play with your fingers and then look up.

LC: [Nervous tic! Say it was a nervous tic!] Did I glance at your stall? I was glancing at a stall right beside yours waiting for a fella to empty it. I saw him stand up and therefore I thought it was going to empty. [No! You've avoided the weird playing with fingers and looking up stuff. Nervous tic!]
...
DK: Okay. And then with the hand. Urn, how many times did you put your hand under the stall? [See? Now you've got the vice officer saying "urn."]

LC: I don't recall. I remember reaching down once. There was a piece of toilet paper back behind me and picking it up.

DK: Okay. Was your was your palm down or up when you were doing that?

LC: I don't recall. [OK, that answer is a little weird and suggestive of guilt. Also, Alberto Gonzales has ruined that 'I don't know' answer for pretty much everyone for a long time to come, so avoid it. Don't give that answer. Be a method actor here --- put yourself in that "I am not gay! I have never been gay!" role and play it to the hilt like you did in the press conference. Remember: you reached down to pick up a piece of toilet paper, nothing more. You know perfectly well that your palm would be down for that. Say that! Lie! You've been lying all your life! Stay in character!]
...
DK: And I know it's hard to describe here on tape but actually what I saw was your fingers come underneath the stalls, you're actually ta touching the bottom of the stall divider.

LC: I don't recall that. [Sigh. You and Alberto Gonzales should get adjoining stalls.]

DK: You don't recall

LC: I don't believe I did that. I don't.

DK: I saw, I saw

LC: I don't do those things. [LC! Don't say 'those things'! Get in character and stay there! The character doesn't have any notion of what 'those things' are! You're just an extremely heterosexual US Senator who had to do a #2! If the cops have explained what 'those things' are prior to the taped interview, make sure to continue to need explanation while the tape is rolling. Remember: you're just now learning what 'those things' are. You're baffled by them and the world of which they're a part.]

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Restroom Signals That Dare Not Speak Their Names

Judge the transcript for yourself, but what leaps out to me is in what Senator Larry "totally 100% UN-gay" Craig does not say. The absence of responses like "what the hell are you talking about?!?" suggest a guilty familiarity with the signals and codes that prompted the vice cop to arrest him in the first place.

Maybe I'm wrong, but that's how it sounds to me.

For the millionth time: being gay should not be a problem, let alone a crime. People shouldn't need to lie to the cops about it, let alone lie to themselves about it. But I take delight in seeing a wingnut Senator fall by the same demonization of gays he has done so much to foment on the national scene.

Sigh. An Even Nine.


This is a photo of Neko Case. I love her.

Now Portland Is No Longer Boring


Deanna Moffitt and Rance Rizzutto are playing Portland! The blurb:

Rance Rizzutto and Deanna Moffitt, former Portland ComedySportz ensemble members, make a trip back home as The R&D Project. By audience selection they were crowned the 2007 Chicago Dual Duel champions of two person improv, and now they bring their signature show to Portland for a special one night only performance.

Sometimes words get in the way, so The R&D Project has found it best to give The Silent Treatment. The only sound you will hear is the random selection of music acting as their soundtrack for their completely improvised show.

One Night Only!
Saturday, September 1, 2007
10pm
$5.00 at the door
ComedySportz Theater
1963 NW Kearney
Go, have a great time, and laugh until you cry. Here's a link to Portland ComedySportz for ticket information and everything else you need to know.

That Big 'A'

In case you ever wondered, the big 'A' on the sidebar of my precious, precious blog refers to the OUT Campaign, and constitutes a public aknowledgement that I am an atheist.

Being an atheist does not mean I am absolutely certain that god does not exist. It means I know of no reasonable basis for believing that god exists, and therefore* feel no stirring of any such belief. Moreover, having looked at the matter carefully over the course of many years, I do not live in fear of the possibility that I'm overlooking such a reasonable basis -- Pascal's Wager does not strike me as convincing in the least, and I am not going to church or dropping to an eastward-pointing prayer mat "just in case."

I proceed through life as though god does not exist, and do not bother with the label of agnostic, any more than I would bother with calling myself agnostic on the question of the existence of leprechauns, fairies, werewolves, or unselfish Republicans.

If you believe in god, I deny the existence of all the gods whose existence you deny -- plus one more.

From the OUT Campaign's page:

As more and more people join the OUT Campaign, fewer and fewer people will feel intimidated by religion. We can help others understand that atheists come in all shapes, sizes, colours and personalities. We are labourers and professionals. We are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers and grandparents. We are human (we are primates) and we are good friends and good citizens. We are good people who have no need to cling to the supernatural.

--------
* The therefore in that sentence is misleading -- it happens that I know of no reasonable basis for belief in god, and it happens that I feel no stirring of belief in god, but the connection between the two is not straightforward cause and effect. I disbelieve on intuitive, emotional, and visceral grounds as well as reasoned ones. The reasons tend to reinforce the others, but I don't think it would be quite honest to say the reasons are the basis, or even the sine qua non, of the less rational side of my disbelief. But on this question as on others where the true-false distinction is consequential (unlike, say, color or candy bar preference), I do my best to make the rational and reasonable guide the irrational and emotional.

Not Into Running?!?!!?

I have had this conversation several times in the last few days (in the meat world, not the internets) and I want to make my position abundantly clear:

It's OK if you're not a runner. It doesn't bother me. I don't think less of you for it. Really.

I recognize that running is not for everyone, and I do not mean "not for everyone" as a euphemistic way of saying "you're a wimp." So let me expand the thought so you can see that I'm not just saying nice things.

Running is a natural action for our species, but it is also very hard on the human body. The human body can handle a little running, but not as much as most mammmals -- horses, dogs, cats, deer, and bears are much better-suited to running than we are. [Update: recent scientific research indicates this is wrong, that humans are actually unusually well-suited to distance running compared with most animals.] If you have a small problem with any part of your body below the neck, running is likely to balloon it into a big problem. If you have no physical ailments below the neck, running is likely to generate fresh ones. People know this from experience, because it doesn't take much running at all to demonstrate it. Those of us who run regularly have found ways to compensate for it, and we've done so because we happen to want to, for the same kinds of reasons that anyone ever feels an inclination to do anything.

Which brings me above the neck. For some people, spending an hour alone running along the shoulder of a road shortly after dawn in the rain sounds like a punishment. To me, and to most people inclined to run, it sounds like a terrific way to spend a morning.

Running fits me, but it may not fit you, and that's fine. It doesn't mean you're lazy, out of shape, not trying, or otherwise flawed. I can be counted on to suggest otherwise, but know it will be in jest.

Only Seven Posts on Neko Case?


I've done some housekeeping and found only seven posts about my beloved Neko Case? I should be ashamed. She should give me a good spanking. Really she should.

But seriously, the new album by one of her joint projects, the New Pornographers, is now available for purchase by the six or seven of us left who don't steal all our music: Challengers.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What Compels You?

I am loath to keep harping on this topic, but comments by Pat Buchanan on one of the cable tee-vee screamer shows have elicited a thought. Discussing Senator Larry "I am so very NOT gay, you just can't believe how UN-gay I am" Craig, Pat repeatedly labeled homosexuality as a "compulsion" and compared it with alcoholism. Just as a priest might justifiably preach against alcohol abuse but still overindulge it in the grips of the "compulsion" of alcoholism, said Pat, so Larry "totally and completely NOT gay" Craig can work to criminalize homosexuality while indulging in a game of airport restroom pigs 'n' pockets in the grips of the "compulsion" of homosexuality.

A compulsion like that? This label says a lot. That's one of those loaded words.

I know about compulsions. By and large I am lucky in my compulsions -- the things I am driven to do and to want that qualify as compulsions are legal, mostly harmless, even moral in some cases -- and I think that's one of the luckiest forms of luck to have. Take, for example, my compulsion toward sugar and fat. It is no exaggeration to say that every waking second of my life is a trial of my will against a viscerally-felt compulsion to shove more food into my mouth. If I'm conscious, a significant faction of my mind-body system is petitioning me to eat. "Full" in the sense of sated and no longer driven to take another bite is an exceedingly rare state of mind-body for me, one that comes only at the end of a truly epic feeding. And in fact, in happily rare instances over the course of my life, I have eaten quantities of food at a sitting that would have terrified god himself, if only he had existed to watch it happen.

That's a compulsion. It's something I have to fight, and certainly not something I chose. I can further report, with absolute confidence based on endless and ongoing experience, that no amount of self-cajoling or self-hate makes it go away. It doesn't answer to that. It doesn't answer to anything. It just wants me to open a bag or two of corn chips followed by some gallon-sized jugs of almonds. And several quarts ice cream, don't forget the ice cream. And so on.

The point is (yes, there is one, more or less), a compulsion doesn't go away -- it's a natural endowment. Do we want to punish people for their natural endowments? Even if they're not harming anyone, not even themselves? I say no way. And to that point, here's the brilliant and indispensible John Stuart Mill in On Liberty, a foundational work on another sense of the word compulsion:

... the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right.... The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is of right, absolute, over himself. Over his own body-mind, the individual is sovereign.
Here's a question: does Pat Buchanan so easily label homosexuality as a compulsion because he feels it as such? Does Pat feel the pull of pigs 'n' pockets every time he passes through an airport men's room? Apparently Senator Larry Craig does. I don't. Do you?

Is it anyone's business either way? No. Sadly, that's a principle that Senator Larry Craig never learned from John Stuart Mill or anyone else, and instead spent a long political career flouting. The chickens (and perhaps too the pigs 'n' pockets) are coming home to roost. May they nest grandly in his disgrace.

Funny-When-It's-Not-You, Hood to Coast Edition

Oh, to have had my video camera running at the exchange point leading to course leg 27 early Saturday afternoon, when the runner bearing bib [number withheld to spare the embarrassed] came roaring in ever so dramatically.

Well, sort of -- I think I have an idea of the dramatic moment he intended to create: to run in at maximum effort, hand the baton to his teammate, then go gracefully to his hands and knees while giving out a victorious cry of relief at having completed his third and final leg. That's a very proper and perfectly blameless moment to have.

I also know what I saw and heard: his victory shout began well before he reached the chute, and came out in the form of a strangled, yodeled voice accompaniment to those last several footfalls; and the baton handoff and the physical exhaustion disrupted any grace that might have marked the transition to hands and knees, converting it to a planting of chest and face into some very rough-looking gravel. He heaved himself back up to hands and knees, still yodeling and wheezing, and I am quite sure I saw a stringer of bloodied goober and dirt connecting his lip to the ground.

It looked painful. He was wearing nothing but running shoes, shorts, and a reflective vest with his bib pinned to it, so his upper body was almost completely bare.

Adding to the awkwardness, the other teammate of his on the scene was none too quick or eager to go to his aid. His expression and pace told us that this had not been the first bout of histrionics from this runner.

Clarification

I am not gay. I have never been gay.

But you would be fair to ask, what does this mean?

It means, among other things, that I've never entered a public restroom for the purpose of engaging in anonymous guy-on-guy sex acts. Not only have I never intended to do this, I have never done it at all. Not even once, not even when drunk, not even accidentally. And the same is true of my life outside of public restrooms -- so to be clear, I've never participated in any guy-on-guy sex acts either in or out of public restrooms. And I've never wanted to. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

In fact, I can't think of a single instance where I've been propositioned to cross over to the other team, not even for a few seconds in a bathroom stall (ick). This must mean that I'm unattractive to potential same-sex partners, or that I unconsciously give off not-interested-in-gay-sex signals, or that I have been oblivious to the signals of my potential gay suitors. I can actually live with any of these three, or any combination thereof.

I have nothing against gay people. I believe gay men and lesbians when they say they are attracted to members of the same sex in the same way that I am attracted to women. I believe them, but I don't relate.

To be honest, I find reports of which men are attractive to be baffling, and I always have. I just take people's word for it and nod along as though I see something in what they're seeing. Yes, yes, I can see that Brad Pitt looks quite a bit different from Earnest Borgnine, but the differences in their appearance don't, for me, register on a viscerally-felt "sexual attractiveness" scale. I really don't want to think about either of their diapered zones. Ew.

I am trying not to protest too much. I am trying not to be Senator Larry Craig or Pastor Ted Haggard or any of the other curiously-obsessed wingnuts who spend a little too much time distancing themselves from the gay label. I think there's quite a bit of truth to the hypothesis that homophobia is the biggest tell of repressed gay tendencies.

The gay label doesn't fit me in either thought or deed, past or present. It wouldn't bother me if it did, and only the existence of homophobia troubles me in the prospect of my son turning out to be gay. He seems already to have a thing for the ladies, as it happens, but the point stands. I'm not as sure about a couple of his little friends, but I won't get into that.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Funny (When It's Not You)

Oh, the pranks you can play on narcoleptics! In this video, a guy induces a cataplexic response in his fiance ... or should I say former fiance?



My cataplexy is not this severe, and it's usually anger or laughter rather than startling that kicks it off in me. Then again, I haven't had a really good startle in quite a while, so I don't know what will happen the next time I do.

Senator Larry Craig: "I am not gay! I have never been gay!"

Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

Who's Gay In Idaho

Here's to wingnut Senator Larry Craig (R, Idaho), self-hating homosexual of the day, for having been caught making passes in the men's room of an airport. I call him self-hating because his voting record puts him squarely in the camp of the homophobic Christianist right judging from the consistent zeros from the pro-gay Human Rights Campaign and consistent near-100's from the Christian Coalition and Eagle Forum, two groups that can't seem to stop thinking about how to make life miserable for gays.

Come on out, Senator Craig. You must realize after so many years of trying to square your inclinations with your outer life as a husband with kids that god made you that way -- a way he happens to hate.

Or perhaps you could come around to reality and see that there is no god, that the non-existent god doesn't hate you, and there is nothing worse than an unchosen set of urges here. You're obviously a well-practiced liar -- I mean, your party affiliation already told us that -- but I say it's never too late to embrace the truth.

Exactly Wrong

A number of newspapers are refusing to print forthcoming Opus cartoons because the cartoons make fun of Muslim dress codes.

This is exactly wrong. The proper response to fanatical humorlessness, let alone fanatical humorlessness over fantasies, is irreverence. The proper response to those who menace free expression is the defiant insistence on free expression.

We should keep laughing at the wild-eyed screamers. Laughter works wonders. Laughter creates room for reason to creep in.

Monday, August 27, 2007

She Didn't Win?


A blogger has certain responsibilities.

Draw no lasting conclusions about this answer until you've heard it at least three times. It keeps getting better.

Two of My Favorite Words

In his public statement today, the worst word Michael Vick could summon for his maltreatment of dogs was "immature":

I want to apologize to all the young kids out there for my immature acts. What I did was very immature, so that means I need to grow up.
Weirdly, he used the word "immature" in exactly the point in the speech when he addressed young people, which invites the interpretation that Vick regards dogfighting as nothing worse than an example of "kids' stuff" he should have long since put aside, on par with collecting Hot Wheels cars or making prank phone calls.

As for the morality of dogfighting itself -- breeding dogs for lives centered on pain, making dogs as vicious as possible, killing those dogs that don't fight viciously enough, etc. -- he had no worse than this to say:
Dogfighting is a terrible thing and I do reject it ...
Reject it? As in, he won't actually participate in any more of it while he's in prison? That's great!

What is "terrible" about it? What "acts" and "actions" are worthy of so many repetitions of "apology"? I think I have an inkling. Does Michael Vick? Just what, precisely, is he apologizing for? What does he now realize to be wrong that he previously thought acceptable? To what does he attribute the new insight? Through what moral epiphanies can he escort "the young kids out there"? For exactly what is he accepting responsibility? His statement is silent on these central questions, and this leaves his credibility in doubt.

But to forestall all doubts of whether he has made a complete turnaround in how he regards life, the universe, and everything, he hauled out the g-word:
[t]hrough this situation I found Jesus and asked him for forgiveness and turned my life over to God. I think that's the right thing to do as of right now. [emphasis mine]
Oh, there Jesus is! Carelessly mislaid underneath this dogfighting conviction! Someone must have misfiled him during all the harried fuss associated with playing football, depositing gigantic checks, signing merchandising deals, and buying mansions with enough acreage out back to conceal a huge dogfighting operation!

Why is handing the existential keys to god the right thing to do as of right now? Perhaps because god is the only thing left to guard his smooth ass in prison?

Sadly for Michael Vick, nothing fails like prayer.

It Feels So Good When It Stops Hurting

At last, serially-lying comically-incompetent Alberto Gonzales has traded in his Junior Attorney General Badge and left the federal government. The only question is how he'll balance his schedule between that spot on Hollywood Squares and those naps curled in George W. Bush's lap.

Bush will be naming a new Attorney General forthwith, and please don't assume he has learned any sort of lesson and will seek someone with ability or integrity. He won't. Don't do Bush the kindness of assuming Alberto Gonzales was the bottom of the barrel -- instead, expect Bush will do what he always does, which is to tunnel down to a new, hitherto unnoticed bottom and pull out someone worse.

Yay Team

All my bragging tends to obscure the fact that the Hood to Coast is a team event. They've posted the results (wow! quick! good work!) and our team, The Road Rebels, finished a more than respectable 18th out of 116 teams in the "male corporate open" category.

Draw what inference you must about our apparently female team member Rosi from the fact that we were grouped in the "male corporate open" category; for my part, I'll just say that what happens in the van stays in the van.

Our overall finish time for the 197 miles was 26:10:44, for an overall pace of 7:58.

In leg order The Road Rebels were Rosi, Burke, Pete, Tom S., me, Brian, Rodney, Eric, Dave, Tom G., Mark, and Carl.

Well done, team!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Is Narcolepsy a Superpower?

Short answer: no. Hell no.

Provocative answer: the thought did occur to me during Hood to Coast as I spent 24+ hours crawling through the wilds of Oregon in a minivan with five of my closest and sweatiest friends. Because you're either running, riding in the van that is leap-frogging the running legs, or driving ahead to the next starting point for the next round of running legs, sleep is somewhere between fleeting and nonexistent, and sleep deprivation adds plenty to the burdens of fatigue, traffic, confusion, stench, and all the familiar pitfalls of close-quarters human social interaction.

It's fair to say sleep deprivation didn't bother me very much, especially as compared with my teammates. I wasn't particularly pepped up with adrenaline, having seen all of it before, and yet I had no trouble staying awake into and beyond the crazy hours of the night, even though it radically departed from my normal sleep schedule. I was sleepy, but it didn't rise above the usual background noise of sleepiness that is always tugging at me. And when we did get a chance to grab 60 or 90 minutes of sleep, but no more than that, I didn't relate to teammates' reports of extreme difficulty waking from so short a sleep.

I think this is because I am already so well-practiced at dealing with sleepiness, and also because, by the very nature of narcolepsy, I can hop into REM sleep in just a few minutes. Most people take upwards of half an hour to get to that! Suckers!

So yes, I have loads of experience and practice dealing with sleepiness. You'd think that would grant me some wisdom to share, but in fact, that experience has not given me the slightest bit of wisdom. If you feel a strong urge to sleep instead of doing what you need to do, I can relate, but I have no help to offer.

If there is any truth to this provocative answer, it comes with loads of caveats so big and fat they take all the truth away. The short answer is the better one: wish narcolepsy only on your worst enemies, because it truly sucks. That circumstances sometimes drag non-narcoleptics down to its level of suckiness is slight praise for it.

Hood to Coast 2007: I Must Have Three Legs (Bragging Alert)

This is my summary of the three Hood to Coast legs I ran over this weekend, which confirmed my rightful reputation as one of the most accomplished athletes the world has ever seen.

I tried to warn you about the bragging. Sigh. It just gets worse from here.

First Leg: I started out with course leg 5, a 6.08 mile "very hard"-rated leg somewhere between Mount Hood and Sandy along Highway 26. I started at 8:40PM, so we were well past the heat, and the darkness was manageable at first because HWY 26 has lots of traffic and plenty of street lights. That changed as we took the turn onto Cherryville Road, though, and visibility veered toward zero despite the bright moon, and despite my damnnear useless headlamp. I had to trust that the surface I was running on was smooth and even, which fortunately turned out to be the case, because all my limited vision was devoted to making sure I could stay on the road itself. The darkness had the salutary effect of hiding the hill I was climbing, however, so it had its uses, and I finished at 9:22PM, for a 6:54 pace. My teammate wasn't actually there to accept the baton for a minute or two, but that's a tale for another time.

Second Leg: This was my shortest leg at only 5.69 miles, course leg 17, rated "easy" and turning out to be actually so, although hillier than the elevation map suggests. And while I appreciate the spirit behind those who left sprinklers running to shower passing runners, this turned out to be damn cold given the 5:28AM start time. The timing worked out favorably in another way, in that the just-rising sun created a brilliant vista of cloud, light, and hills in the western horizon I was chasing. I came hurling in to the finish at 6:06AM, for a pace of 6:41.

Third Leg: This was to be the leg that would make or break the athletic portion of the experience, if not my shins, hips, and knees: course leg 29, the notorious "very hard"-rated 6.14 mile leg that caused every experienced Hood to Coaster to shrink in horror and pity when I mentioned I'd be the leg-5 runner. It consists of 3.5 miles up to the Coast Range summit along highway 202, followed by 2.5 miles steeply down the other side of the range. The run began at 1:48PM, under mostly sunny skies and moderate temperatures, and the first 2.7 miles uphill felt very consistent with one of my regular training runs. Just as I started to feel good about things, the last .8 miles uphill tilted to a cruel new degree of steep, and proved to be among the longest-feeling .8 miles I've ever tried to run. I maintained a running-like motion, and even collected a road kill (i.e., passed another runner) in this stretch, but I felt pretty betrayed and angry at every little curve in the road that didn't have that summit just beyond it. At last I got there and began downhill, and downhill had never felt better. Knowing I had only 2.5 miles to go in the entire event, putting aside my recent trouble with shin splints, and forsaking qualities like common sense and temperance, I continued with maximum effort and crossed the finish at 2:32PM, for a pace of 7:10.

My cumulative pace over all the miles in all the legs was 6:55. I think I got four hours of sleep if all the bits and snatches are stitched together, and it will be a good long time before I need to see the interior of another minivan.

According to my scoring scheme, in which every runner I pass counts as +1 and every runner that passes me counts as -1, my cumulative road kill rate was +18. This is lower than last year, but this year I was running with a much faster team and therefore paired with other, much faster teams.

I close this bragging with the humble acknowledgement that no less than five times, I was passed by runners who were clearly in another category. They blew by me and disappeared over the horizon, never to be seen again, and to those runners, I can only say "well done." Assholes.

Important Update on Hood to Coast Leg 5


I've added an important update to this leg in red.

Fortunately, it hadn't started to smell yet, and it wasn't the sort of dead raccoon that's bloodied or flattened or showing internal organs, the sort that can be such a downer at the start of a long evening's run. No, this raccoon lived an evidently well-fed life and left an immaculate corpse. Still, it should be noted for the sake of those with allergies to dead raccoons.

Don't say I never did anything for you.

Our Sine Qua Non



This is a couple of Honey Buckets being hauled away from their long weekend's duty for the Hood to Coast. Two essential points:

1) That's not honey in those buckets. Never make that mistake. Honey Bucket is a cute brand label; "Shit Stallz" would be more fitting.

2) Without Honey Buckets, there could be no Hood to Coast relay. 12,000+ runners and 17,000+ overall participants covering 197+ miles of rural Oregon must answer the call of nature, which is to say, they must piss and shit in mind-bogglingly vast quantities. In recognition of this fact, Honey Buckets are placed in numbers all along the course, and thank goodness they are.

Hail Honey Buckets! And the men who service them! We love you! Without you we're in a river of excrement! Literally!

Made It, Killed It

I not only finished my Hood to Coast legs but blew it up. I gave maximum effort with every freakin' step and ended with an overall pace below 7 minutes/mile. Our team performed well and made it through without too much bodily damage.

More bragging later ...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Knuckle Drag of the Day


Ted Nugent is a foul-mouthed lout who talks about "freeedom" but actually can't stop looking at, thinking about, and fondling his gun.

By the way, remember when the Dixie Chicks said a few words against Bush and the wingnuts went into a crying, record-burning, poo-flinging snit? I don't think anything remotely like that is the appropriate response. It's enough to take this in and see it for what it is -- equal parts sad and funny.

Barely Parody

Here's a great moment from Family Guy parodying the religious right's view of science:


Really, only the Mountain Dew comment makes it parody as opposed to straight representation.

Reproductive Freedom and Its Opponents

Don't be fooled -- the real agenda of the anti-abortion movement goes well beyond banning abortion. The real agenda includes banning all forms of contraception.

Cate as Bob


It looks as though Cate Blanchett will be portraying Bob Dylan in a film, and lo and behold, it actually works. Never doubt the power of the art of casting, I suppose.

Openness and Discourse on the Web

Jason Rosenhouse on his Evolutionblog has added a brief and thoughtful reply to the anti-blogging nostrums of Andrew Keen, noting that well-informed bloggers can and do perform as a vital check on a certain brand of science (and I would add medical) reporting in which new findings are exaggerated or otherwise distorted.

It can be framed as a matter of "media literacy" if you like, although I still prefer the more straightforward label of "discourse." One needs media literacy to navigate the world of blogs, and at the same time, the world of blogs contributes mightily to media literacy. The exact same is true of books, newspapers, magazines, TV, etc.; I just don't see what's qualitatively different about blogs.

Blogs are not going to substitute for critical thinking, and anyone saying so is spouting nonsense, but they can and do add to its aggregate, and to the knowledge and insight it spawns. Via blogs and similar open web tools, it is easier to seed the world with bullshit, but it is also harder to do so unnoticed and unchallenged.

The Geopolitics of "Suck on this"


Amazing. That's pro-globalization lickspittle Thomas Friedman speaking.

"Suck on this" as an approach to world politics. Hmm. The Doctor Phil question immediately suggests itself: "how's that workin' out for ya?"

Speaking of Fardels

Our collective burden, the Presidency of George W. Bush, took another incredible turn earlier this week when the Chickenhawk-in-Chief showed the gall to evoke Vietnam in a speech to the VFW. The layers of gall are piled deep:

* Bush has evoked the Vietnam war of all things, a war that he himself evaded in a haze of privilege and intoxication, to explain a war that his draft-age daughters, nephews, and nieces have evaded.

* Suddenly, this week, Bush has decided it's fine to connect Iraq with Vietnam, after years in which he and his administration have responded with whining red-faced outrage at the suggestion of any such parallel. Here is just one example of many.

* Bush doesn't seem to understand his own speeches, judging by his tiresome repetition of his "we have to fight them there so they won't fight us here" talking point in connection with Vietnam. The Viet Cong didn't follow us here after we finally withdrew from Vietnam. If Bush thinks they did, he was more coked-up in the 1970s than I previously thought.

* This Vietnam talk is about setting the stage for a "back stab" theory of Iraq to match the "back stab" theory of Vietnam. Andrew Sullivan has discussed this developing theory in excellent depth, but the basic idea is that the American right wing is generating a narrative in which the Iraq war's failures can be blamed on the war's critics rather than its planners.

The Big Day

Hood to Coast Friday has finally arrived, and I am trying my hardest not to overpack for the 197-mile sweaty minivan sleepover. I am currently deliberating over whether I should pack a fourth set of running clothes in case a teammate is lost to bears, cougars, wolverines, land-orcas, rattlesnakes, jackelopes, cantankerous hill folk, eagles, or bigfoots and I have to run his leg. Since I have thought of it, I will almost certainly go forward with the fourth set of running clothes because the fretting over the mere possibility will not go away. There is no way to un-ring the bell of my fretting over things like this.

As always, it would help with the packing if I had smaller feet, but the feet are what they are, and the shoes take up the space they take up, and the idea of cutting them down to a more moderate size (either the shoes or the feet) is fraught with complexities, medical and ethical. And I "need" to have dry shoes that I can wear while I'm not running.

Fretting or no, I am looking forward to it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Whole of Hamlet

At last Kenneth Branagh got around to releasing his 1996 film of Hamlet to DVD, and circumstances dealt me an opportunity for an uninterrupted viewing. This is the complete Hamlet and it's magnificent -- I can't praise it more highly as a film than to point out that it manages to include roles by Billy Crystal and Robin Williams without making either of them annoying. Not many films can say that.

I think I'll credit the completeness of this production for the degree to which the play's focus on cosmology stands out. Other productions of Hamlet seem more focused on Hamlet's sense of honor or his sanity-insanity tightrope antics, which is to say, other productions focus too much on the title character and pare the play down to an opportunity for an actor to put in his Big Serious Shakespearean Role -- I purposely didn't mention Mel Gibson by name.

To be fair, the Hamlet character is enormously rich and varied, but Branagh allows the richness of the character feed the larger philosophical themes rather than vice-versa. There are, of course, Hamlet's most famous lines, which are arguably Shakespeare's and English literature's most famous lines, in which he weighs the option of suicide. I'll only quote from them because it would seem lazy not to, and because I don't know if there will be another post about Hamlet on this blog:

... who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all
Anyone else would have rendered this as "life sucks, but the afterlife might be worse, so suicide is a big risk," but this is Shakespeare at the height of his powers, using his amazing facility for poetic expression to linger over the question at the center of the play, thus using poetry where someone else might have used exclamation marks, yelling, cursing, or, in George W. Bush's case, nauseating overuse of the phrase "in other words ..."

Hamlet later has the opportunity to kill Claudius, but declines to do so because he sees him in prayer and refuses to give him a death in a state of grace. Lesser productions of the play portray this as just another example of the Hamlet character's vacillations, but Branagh's Hamlet seems perfectly resolute in the decision, confirmed in his plans rather than plagued by his doubts, evoking the exact words of his father's ghost's importunings:
[Hamlet]: O, this is hire and salary, not revenge.
He took my father grossly, full of bread;
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May;
And how his audit stands who knows save heaven?
But in our circumstance and course of thought,
'Tis heavy with him: and am I then revenged,
To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and season'd for his passage?
No!
The "No!" is unambiguous and unwavering in the text and in Branagh's production. I see Hamlet's loquacity not as hesitation but as another example where Shakespeare elongates the poetic expression to linger on the play's very long view of life, death, the afterlife, and how they interrelate. It is an interpretive stretch well within the reach of English departments everywhere to note Hamlet's use of money-related words like audit, hire, salary, and flush, and to connect those with similar words used by the Ghost when describing the state of his salvational balance, so to speak, at the time of his murder: "no reckoning made, but sent to my account / with all my imperfections on my head."

The fate of souls after death arises again, and very forcefully in theological terms, at the grave of Ophelia. Questioned by the grieving Laertes about the minimal rites granted his sister, the Priest replies curtly, with doctrinaire assurances that come so easily to someone with no personal stake in the matter:
Her obsequies have been as far enlarged
As we have warrantise: her death was doubtful;
And, but that great command o'ersways the order,
She should in ground unsanctified have lodged
Till the last trumpet: for charitable prayers,
Shards, flints and pebbles should be thrown on her;
Yet here she is allow'd her virgin crants,
Her maiden strewments and the bringing home
Of bell and burial.

LAERTES
Must there no more be done?

FIRST PRIEST
No more be done:
We should profane the service of the dead
To sing a requiem and such rest to her
As to peace-parted souls.

LAERTES
Lay her i' the earth:
And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
May violets spring! I tell thee, churlish priest,
A ministering angel shall my sister be,
When thou liest howling.

HAMLET
What, the fair Ophelia!

The contrast between clerical aloofness and human connectedness goes from 10 to Spinal Tap 11 here, for it is here when Hamlet realizes the funeral he's been watching from the sidelines and shadows is for Ophelia, the woman with whom he has been toying for so long. Suddenly he is flooded with passions of love and grief, and it takes no small effort to keep Hamlet and Laertes from strangling one another over who loved her more. Their conflict builds from here and rolls through the play's bloody end, when Hamlet succeeds in avenging his father's ghost, and Laertes and Hamlet, in the last moments of life, realize common destinies and human affinities that outweigh the petty schemings leading to this point:
LAERTES
He [Claudius] is justly served;
It is a poison temper'd by himself.
Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet:
Mine and my father's death come not upon thee,
Nor thine on me. [Dies]

HAMLET
Heaven make thee free of it! I follow thee.
Regarding what comes next, they have resignation and small hope.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

30-3

I fade in and out of my fandom of major league baseball, but here's an interesting result: Texas Rangers 30, Baltimore Orioles 3.

30 runs. 30 runs!

And it was game one of a doubleheader. Cool.

Maturity: A Thought Experiment

Here's a thought experiment that riffs on my longstanding distaste for the idea of maturity, going at least as far back as my sister's frequent labeling of me as "immature" since we were both young enough to fight over TV channels. (I liked Davey and Goliath, she preferred Scooby Doo. And wow, what a telling portent that turned out to be: nowadays I harp on simple-minded religious themes while she probably lives out of a van.)

"You're so immature!" was her all-purpose put down and she never dropped its use, and in subsequent years I have come across many more people who don't bother to pull anything more caustic or precise than "immature" from their quiver of insults. (Others prefer the lazy catch-all of "manipulative," but I'll leave that to a future post.)

The next time someone labels someone else as "immature," substitute any or all of the following for "immature" and note whether, and to what extent, it alters the meaning:

* "compromised"
* "indifferent as to the outcome; dispassionate"
* "ready for oblivion"
* "afraid to speak up"
* "deferring to patent bullshit for self-serving reasons"
* "dead from the neck up"

Please don't call me "mature." I am not, and I don't want to be. I have responsibilities, and I carry them out more or less willingly. I have the job, the house, the cars, the marriage, the kid, the insurance policies, the calendar with birthdays marked on it, the overpriced cable package. For all this I am known, at times, to give a crap about what happens, from the personal right on up to the cosmic level, and to feel -- and yes, even externalize -- emotions such as anger, frustration, discontent, alarm, elation, exhilaration, and glee. (OK, those last few are a stretch, but it could happen.) If I reach that point in life when I need diapers again, I will choose the ones with "mature" in the product description, but that's a consequence of labeling and marketing decisions made by others, not a gesture of identification.

If you want to insult me, please do, but please don't bother with "immature," as it will have the opposite effect.

Correspondence [Annotated]

Recently at work I had occasion to write the following:

L, C, A, those ideas sound great to me. [L, C, and A are coworkers whose ideas do not, in fact, sound great to me, except insofar as their ideas chance to coincide with my own.]

The survey response was outside company rules and outside the most basic norms of adult conduct, and I make no excuses for it, but I think we should mean what we say. [Actually, the survey response was at least slightly successful in its attempts at humor, and I do excuse it on those grounds.] And this is, inescapably, a question of what we say -- it was a team communication that used the word "anonymous," twice, without qualification.[Zing!]

"Anonymous" should mean anonymous. If we mean "anonymous, but we will report violations of the company's electronic communications guidelines to HR," then we should say that (or more elegant words to that effect). [I consider those exact words quite elegant enough, actually.] True, it's silly to have to spell these things out, but the same applies to quite a few of the rules in the first place -- we're all adults employed here [present company excepted], so we shouldn't have to have rules telling us to communicate like adults, answer the phone courteously, wear workplace-appropriate clothes, etc. [I am actually endlessly thankful for the dress code, a copy of which is posted at my closet and my bureau to forestall my daily temptation to wear ragged cut-offs, flip-flops, and my Neko Case t-shirt.]

My apologies for the bee hives I've kicked here [insincere though it may be], but I am repeatedly told we're supposed to stand up for the company values as we understand them. [If it sounds like I've used that as an opportunity to create a stink that's more interesting than the work I'm supposed to be doing, don't be too quick to dismiss that as an idle or baseless speculation.] I appreciate this discussion and I am sure we can make it an opportunity to learn and improve. [I actually don't appreciate it that much -- their part of it, at least -- and I am not the least bit sure that learning or improving will result from it.]

Reformations and Enlightenments

Ed Brayton has an interesting post on the question of whether the Islamic world needs most to undergo the equivalent of the Reformation (Luther, Calvin, etc.) or the Enlightenment (Hume, Voltaire, etc.)

Interesting, yes, but also overcooked -- I think the Islamic World is already undergoing a Reformation, and it looks almost exactly like the one that roiled the Christian World starting in the 1500s, its most prominent feature being factionalism that manifests as everything from disputes between interpretive schools to wars between sects.

Just as Christianity splintered into Catholicism and the many forms of Protestantism (forgetting, for the moment, the earlier split that gave us the Eastern Orthodox Church), Islam is currently split into Sunni, Shia, and other lesser-known schools. Its Reformation is underway, and so is its Counter-Reformation, and it's not good enough. (The Christian Reformation was, likewise, not nearly enough to drag the west out of darkness.)

The Islamic World needs it Humes, Voltaires, and Jeffersons -- its Enlightenment. For the sake of all of us, it needs to stop beheading them and start listening to them.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Books in America

BFD* called my attention to an article in USA Today stating that 1 in 4 Americans didn't read a book last year, and expressed skepticism at the implied claim that 3 in 4 Americans did read at least one book last year. The following was my attempt to rid him of his cynicism:

I think you can get to a figure like 3 in 4 Americans read at least one book last year if you count having read any part of any book. I would bet that, over the last year, 3 in 4 Americans had at least the cover of at least one book in their line of sight long enough to read the title, or part of the title. Some of those titles are printed in really big letters, after all, especially the titles of books sold at Safeway and Wal-Mart, which are, after all, the books we're likely talking about. That most of these don't actually count as books is a snobbish aside that need not detain us here.

I'm not saying they remembered what they read even five minutes after the fact. I'm just betting that 3 in 4 Americans did read (at least part of) a book in the last year.

* BFD = "Balding Fountain of Despair," a coworker of mine. That's not his legal name ... yet.

Nothing Is More Bloggable Than Hand-Wringing About Blogs

Case in point: a blog post on Daily Kos that wrings its hands about a column in the LA Times that hand-wrings about blogs.

And here's another case in point: "The Great Seduction," a blog-that-looks-like-a-blog-but-definitely-isn't-one of Andrew Keen, which consists of a running commentary on the proposition that blogging is destroying the culture because any slack-jawed yokel with a dial-up connection can share his tragically unedited thoughts with a potentially worldwide audience.

Books, magazines, newspapers, CDs, DVDs, and damnnear everything is doomed, hand-wrings Andrew Keen, who has recently published this hand-wringing in book form, The Cult of the Amateur: How today's Internet is killing our culture, which has cracked into the top 2000 of titles currently on sale at Amazon.com.

Here's the trouble cited in the Daily Kos posting (authored by Kagro X, whoever or whatever that is):

Here's the trouble: "when the Internet was not yet a part of everyday life and bloggers did not exist."
From there, Kagro X launches into the salient and true, if slightly hairsplitting point that bloggers have always existed, meaning humans with opinions on political and cultural matters have always existed, and in the same numbers as they do today. The only difference about the contemporary scene, he rightly notes, is the ready availability of blogging tools which these humans are putting to use.

I don't know who's right in this, I just wanted to add to the navel-gazing.

Actually, they're all right. The world of cultural production is entering into a new balance of trade-offs, a new configuration of pros and cons. It may be that, say, the Beatles and Kurt Vonnegut, had they emerged today, would go unnoticed amid all the countless others clamoring for a hearing. It's also true, however, that large volumes of very creative and interesting "content" exists on the web, most of it free, that never would have emerged from the daylight end of the sieve of cultural gatekeeping (talent agents, record execs, editors, experts, etc.)

At the risk of getting even more fatuous, I note this argument is as old as the human urge for self-expression. There was probably hand-wringing much like this when the first person dreamed up the idea of using a burnt stick to scratch drawings into a portable stone slab, thus freeing everyone to step out of the caves when they wanted to draw a donkey. (No doubt 99% of the portable stone slabs turned up not with donkey images but with naked lady images.) The development of the printing press in general and the translation of the Bible into "vulgar" languages in particular was greeted with similar alarums about the death of authority and similar triumphalism about the unshackling of humankind. On balance, I think the triumphalism proved more right, but those changes certainly exacted a price on the prestige and power of those who had previously monopolized authority. And that is not completely without its ugly downstream consequences.

The analogue with printing and "vulgar" languages carries through to this: the web and its openness will not be going away any more than the printing press did. Humans will respond as they always have to the new cultural balance.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The 9th: The Amendment Retards Can't Read

One particular comment stood out in a poorly-reasoned commentary I encountered today about a la carte cable TV:

Never mind that it's simply absurd for the government to be puttering around in America's television sets, as if there's some enumerated right to a certain type of TV. [emphasis mine]
I care a little about a la carte cable TV, but this notion of "enumerated rights" kicks my bee-hive.

The notion that "you don't have a right to X in the Constitution," the retarded talking point most commonly invoked to deny the existence of individual rights that "conservatives" don't like, is expressly contradicted in the text of ... wait for it ... the US Constitution:
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
These words, and their plain meaning, constitute the 9th Amendment.

This misconception would hardly merit a chuckle if it were limited to retarded commentators writing cable industry puff-pieces for ZDNet, but it goes a lot deeper than that. It is associated with the tendentiously misnamed "originalism," a school of right-wing revisionist Constitutional adjudication best known for its association with wingnut Robert Bork.

Ed Brayton has recently posted on this and related topics touching an ongoing debate between Roger Pilon and Matthew Franck. It's interesting stuff if you're in the mood to geek out on the Constitution, although the discussion includes a maddening conflation of originalism and textualism.

It's Not Just You

TV really is getting dumber and dumber. Here's a little something from the Daily Howler, the always informative and insightful blog of Bob Somerby:

But then, we noticed it all over cable this weekend—the reflexive dumbness of our discourse. MSNBC abandons hard news every chance it gets; it played its treasured sexual predator reruns all through the weekend. The History Channel dumped history long ago; they kept playing their “Ice Truckers” stuff. PBS was asking for money from viewers, so they kept airing their doo-wop concerts. Let’s be honest—even ESPN has dumbed down its content. Half the time now, they just show us people playing poker.
Not to mention TLC, which now calls itself "TLC" instead of "The Learning Channel" for reasons exactly analagous to those that cause "KFC" to disavow "Kentucky Fried Chicken" -- because "learning" has as much to do with their non-stop consumerist home decoration programming as Kentucky or chicken have to do with the deep-fried offal KFC slathers into buckets. They could rename it the Home Depot channel without changing a thing.

With every passing year, it is steadily harder to maintain my interest in the NFL, and even though we're barely into the pre-season, this year in NFL-centered TV is already proving repellent based on the noxiously stupid commercials that are packed into every NFL-related broadcast. I refuse to name names, lest I increase these advertisers' publicity by even the three people who read this blog. It's enough to note that the commercials are abysmal, even by the wretched standards of TV commercials, and all the worse for how shamelessly they're repeated during all those countless, prolonged breaks that make NFL football such a "great TV sport."

Jesus, Love, & Hate: A Provocative Cartoon


To this I would add a couple of questions and observations connected with Jesus' desire to send us thought criminals to unceasing torments:

I admit it -- I have a temper. I've been pretty mad at people from time to time, and once or twice (no more than that, I am happy to say), I've been angry enough to harm another person, and I can even admit that in the momentary depth of that anger, I was probably indifferent to the possibility of the harm crossing the line to fatal. But I have never, ever wished unceasing pain on someone. (And I've never actually taken action on any of these impulses.)

Having copped to the occasional bout of wrath, I can't imagine a transgression against me distressing enough to cause me to want the transgressor to suffer agonies for all time. Maybe a week, tops, and only then in the very most egregious cases. Even Hitler -- I really think I'd start to feel sorry even for Hitler himself after he'd been screaming himself hoarse in a big pot of boiling lava for a week or so.

And yet Jesus is supposed to calmly foresee the possibility of unceasing torments for people he presently loves. On some accounts of the workings of Jesus' omniscience -- and actually, I don't know what omniscience can mean if it doesn't entail this -- he already knows which of us will and which of us will not get saved. So, on this account, he's up there smiling down on you with perfect love as you sleep or pee or accidentally pair your black shoes with your navy blue socks (or whatever), but he looks ahead to the exact hour when you die unsaved and begin an eternity of torments. And he looks 18,992 years and 233 days past that and sees your agonies just barely getting started. And he's OK with all of it. This is how Jesus rolls.

Well, I love my son, but my son pisses me off sometimes (he almost never picks up the empty bags of microwave popcorn he leaves behind, for example). I can't imagine being pissed enough at him to wish long-term, let alone eternal, suffering on him. As a matter of fact, the slightest suffering he endures is a great torment to me. Call me crazy, or call me an infidel, or call me a crazy infidel, but I just don't see the word "love" as apt to describe a state of mind in which one can calmly foresee unceasing torments for another person, let alone unceasing torments that are within one's powers to stop at any moment. To my crazy infidel ears, that sounds much, much closer to hate -- indeed, to a level of pathological hate I am happy not to relate to, and would not wish on anyone. No matter what they did. Ever.

Has anyone ever suggested to Jesus that maybe he could use that famous omnipotence and omniscience a little more creatively? I mean, by all accounts he did a great job of devising all the torments of hell we've heard about, but what about the idea of causing the unrepentant sinner to come to a full and complete realization of the pain he caused? Wouldn't forcing Hitler to come to complete subjective terms with the pain he brought to all those Holocaust victims be a nice idea? As in, experiencing those pains from the same perspective as I experience the sufferings of my son? I would think an omnipotent being could pull that off rather easily.

Could someone suggest that to him and let me know what he says? I don't need any credit for the idea. I'm just happy to help.

Race Note

It occurs to me that an earlier statement I made -- "only the natural pastiness of my face, legs, and hands separated me from the typical visual profile of an everyday prowler or serial sex offender" -- could be construed as a racist slur. It wasn't. It was a slur against my preternatural pastiness, an acknowledgement that I have more natural night-glow than most other members of our species, of whatever race. I have no detailed stats on the matter, and don't really care to look them up, but I have every confidence that prowlers and sex offenders come in all races.

Can't we all just get along?

The Startling of the Phalanx

I decided to give the ol' shin splints a test run this morning, so I took them out to the golf course for the sake of the softer running surface. This departure from the normal routine meant that I was out running a little after 5am, and thanks to the time of year and the cloud cover, it was very, very dark, the darkest running conditions I've had to face for at least a few months.

Because I hadn't thought to prepare for dark conditions, and because I had no plans to run on any roads, I had not dressed to be visible to others, but wore darkish gray shorts under a dark blue long-sleeve running shirt. Only the natural pastiness of my face, legs, and hands separated me from the typical visual profile of an everyday prowler or serial sex offender, so I can't blame the shrieking with which a group of three 20-something women greeted me as I passed them on the trail. The one in the middle noticed me first, her shriek coming out just as I was about to call out "excuse me" (I was not yet in the mood for "get the hell out of the way"), followed by the one on the left, who added a much longer and louder shriek to the first. By this time I was past them and not looking back, so I can't say whether or how loudly the third shrieked.

I can understand the startling, and even feel a little rueful for causing it. I have less sympathy in light of the phalanx formation the three had formed, side-by-side with each other and blocking the entire trail. People just can't seem to resist forming a phalanx when running or walking in groups, and I can see why. It enables chatting; it allows the group to organically adjust the pace to suit all members; it creates none of the socially awkward hierarchies associated with single-file formation -- who's leading, who's following, who's setting the pace, whose butt is in whose face, etc. I get it.

But as this morning's incident illustrates, the phalanx formation carries certain risks and imposes certain responsibilities. It blocks both directions of the thoroughfare. And it increases the stakes of paying attention to one's surroundings, which should already be a habit when running or walking.

I don't know if the startling constituted a re-learning of this lesson for them or not, as I didn't see them on subsequent laps. It could be they were so traumatized as to abandon this form of exercise forevermore, which just means more room on the trail for me.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Young People These Days

Concerning my harrowing brush with poor customer service reported in the previous post, I should have mentioned that the service provider was a young man barely, if at all, past the age of majority (36 FUs), still young enough for a well-advanced case of pizza face to go along with his sour demeanor and terrible work skills. I'll bet he gets hit up by military recruiters roughly every six hours of his life.

I would not want to be one of the young people these days.

That doesn't mean I like them.

Three for One

Earlier today at the Fred Meyer store, I came across an employee as he was skimming their selection of magazines, which range in subject matter from crafts and home upkeep to sports and hairstyles to celebrity worship and bikini models splayed over tacky cars.

"Where can I find the safety pins?" I asked.

He gave three quick answers, none of them giving me the information I had requested. "I don't know where they keep those, I work over in grocery, I'm on break."

How could I argue? He probably doesn't know where they are, he probably does work in grocery, and he probably was on break. And I can't argue with the underlying message: he doesn't give a crap where the safety pins are, and doesn't care if I ever find them. Acting on his clue that the safety pins aren't in the grocery section of the store, I found them myself within the next ten minutes of wandering the non-grocery aisles, and to be perfectly honest, finding them wasn't a very satisfying experience. I doubt I'll remember it long enough to get me through the next time I need safety pins from Fred Meyer, and rest assured I go through a lot of safety pins, so it's not as though this will be a long time from now.

All in all, it was typical of what happens when I leave the house, and a good enough illustration of why I usually hesitate to do so.

Shhhh

Please don't notice, let alone mention, the fact that whatever governing coalition emerges in Iraq will be anti-Israel. The anti-Israel position cuts across all the other divisions roiling Iraq -- Shia or Sunni, democratic or Islamist, pro- or anti-Iran, tribal or cosmopolitan, etc.

For all the squawking about "stability," the next regime in Iraq will be part of that miserable tangle of horrors.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Carded at 75 Friedman Units?!?!

This woeful tale needs to be prefaced with another glossary entry:

Friedman Unit, n. -- This is a wonderful term for six months, coined by Atrios to satirize the fact that Thomas Friedman, pro-globalization bootlick and New York Times columnist, has been among the most egregious examples of a political pundit who claims the Iraq occupation will be turning a corner in six months from the time of the comment. I addressed this much-discussed tendency of pro-war talking heads in an earlier post.

But to the topic at hand: upon purchasing a bottle of wine earlier today, I was asked for ID. I am 75 FUs of age! Do I really look like I'm younger than 42 FUs? [This is where I might be tempted to insert a recent photo, but I don't want to be responsible for all those broken monitors.] I realize alcohol vendors are instructed to ask for ID if the buyer looks younger than 52 FUs, but a) this has never made any sense to me, as the legal drinking age is 42 FUs, and if a vendor honestly thinks a buyer looks somewhere between 42 FUs and 52 FUs, he would be wasting everyone's time to ask for proof that the buyer is at least 42 FUs; and if he thinks the buyer looks younger than 42 FUs, then he should just say no in the first place; and if he genuinely can't tell the buyer's age, he should ask for ID. Which brings me to b) I don't think I look younger than 52 FUs, either.

It wouldn't have bothered me but for the fact that my ID is getting so ragged as to be almost unreadable, and the store clerk actually started to decline my wine purchase because she couldn't read the well-worn expiration date. It also annoyed me because I thought I had finally reached my last "can I see some ID?" experience a couple of months ago.

I look too young, I gather. I guess I need to wear more wool, get some cardigan sweaters, grow some stubble and dye it gray, rant about "the young people these days," pull my pants up higher, carry around a digital clock that's flashing "12:00:00" because I can't reset it, and so on.

Glossary Entry

Christianist, n. -- I am deploying "Christianists" to refer to the right-wing Christians who want to drag the USA (and the wider world) into a theocracy based on their favorite passages from Christian lore, as it lends itself to a fitting symmetry with "Islamists," their Koran-loving coalition partners, and as I consider it more wieldy than "Christian fascists," "Christo-fascists," or "Christian reconstructionists." It means, in short, Christians who can't keep their hand out of the cookie jar of a politics that is incompatible with the US Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In this usage I am following the example of Andrew Sullivan, albeit for different reasons: he uses the term as I do, but also to distinguish his warm, fuzzy, snuggly, cuddly, daffodils n' butterflies, pro-gay brand of Christianity from the creed of those who would kill him for not pretending he doesn't commit sexual thought crimes or icky sex acts.

I am sympathetic, I suppose, with Sullivan's efforts to rescue what he likes about Christianity from its more reactionary followers, but on balance, I agree with Sam Harris' take on religious moderates, namely, that by continuing to count "because my faith says so" and "because this special book says so" as valid justifications, they enable the same justification for the uglier outcomes associated with following the book.

I also see "Christianist" in exactly my sense in other places, including PZ Myers' Pharyngula, Ed Brayton's Dispatches from the Culture Wars, and Richard Dawkins' web site.

It's a useful word for reasons of grammar, too -- it can be an adjective or a noun, and it can be nominalized as an "ism." Heck, it might even pass as an adverb: "He frothed, screamed, and pounded his Bible very Christianistically."

Friday, August 17, 2007

Islamic Renaissance?

Taner Edis, who knows whereof he speaks, assesses the state of science and learning in the Islamic world: bleak with few hopeful signs.

The Christianists would love to drag us there. No.

Hooked on Seth

I have nothing funny to contribute right now, but here are two Youtube clips of Seth McFarlane, the creator of Family Guy. Setting up an episode:



From a guest appearance on Crank Yankers:

Against Abstraction

I am against the Iraq War, but I try to limit my criticisms of it to short, digestible bursts because it has long since struck me that the arguments for and against it have been playing in Our National Discourse like a broken record since the first days, if not a few months before that.

Can you remember the last time you encountered an argument about Iraq that you considered the least bit novel? We can all lip-synch the lines of the argument by now, as though we're watching an episode of M*A*S*H playing in syndication for the millionth time.

This feeds cynicism -- as does the fact that for most of us paying for it, this war is abstracted from our lives, being little more than the frequent subject of news items and opinion pieces.

At the risk of reciting another line that we can all lip-synch, I want to note that the Iraq war touches actual human beings, directly and indirectly. It gets in the middle of things, feeds stresses, and carries problems down lots of human streams. Veritably Bare is just one blog from just one life so affected, with links to many more, and it's worth checking out for that reason and more.

Nothing Fails Like Prayer (and It's a Good Thing, Too)

Wiley Drake, a politically-active pastor, exponent of perfect Christian Love™, and complete asshole, has asked his flock to use "imprecatory prayer" to curse an organization he dislikes, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, because they refuse to accept his authori-tah and differ with his insipid Christianist notions.

Since Christianists are so fond of taking credit for Jesus's instruction to "love thy enemies as thyself" when they're separating their creed from the other leading brands (Islam, Hinduism, paganism, etc.), I have to assume that Wiley Drake has often prayed for God to smite himself and his flock.

Happily, nothing fails like prayer. These "imprecatory prayers" plus two bucks will buy a large coffee from Starbucks. It's just more weightless hypocrisy until some member of the flock decides he is the instrument by which the prayers are answered, picks up a rifle, starts looking up addresses, and ... you know the rest.

1569 and 4000

It has been 1,569 days since Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" while dressed so tragically and so comically as a fighting man on an aircraft carrier. That was May 1, 2003.

As of today, 4,000 coalition troops have died in Iraq, including 3,702 Americans.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lest We Forget


Oh, him? A quick search showed I hadn't posted this image since March. Sure, I could leave it up permanently, but that would tend to inure us to its power to appall, and I can't let that happen. I refuse to enable a world in which the sight of a man with a live snake hanging out of his nose is as dull and pedestrian as the sight of, say, bubble gum on the sidewalk or Alberto Gonzales lying to Congress. A blogger has certain responsibilities.

I suppose I should say, "Oh, them?" I continue to grieve for that snake.

Two Visions of Liberty

Vision 1:

Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.
Vision 2:
[F]reedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.
The first is from Thomas Jefferson (link, link), who helped write and ratify the United States Constitution, including the Bill of Rights.

The second is from Rudy Giuliani (link), who is running for President on the strength of having been the mayor of New York City when it was attacked by people who almost certainly agreed with his palsied, cramped vision of liberty.

While I am on the topic of Giuliani: I have read plenty of the back and forth over it, but I still don't see what is so heroic about his response to 9/11. I read the pro-Giuliani encomiums as equivalent to the bar-lowering applied to George W. Bush's embarrassingly stupid performances in debates against Al Gore and John Kerry. Bush's performance in those debates was praised, apparently, because he didn't collapse into a fetal position and wet himself. So it is with "America's Mayor" on 9/11.

The Other Coalition of the Willing

Please pardon the long quote, but here's Ed Brayton, making an observation that's central to the times in which we live:

The ideologies of the radical Muslims and the Christian right in America are distinguished by degree, not by substance. Both believe that the Western world is morally bankrupt and that nations perish if they do not swear fealty to God; that they mean a different god is quite irrelevant. Both believe that gays must be officially oppressed, that women should be in the home and not the workplace, and that criticism of the dominant religion is evidence of "liberalism run amock."

Now, it's also true that the Christian right in the West rarely commits violence, while the Islamic radicals do so as a matter of routine, but that is a matter of tactics, not goals. They share similar goals and ideologies but differ on how to achieve them. And to be fair, Christianity in the West has been humanized as a result of the Enlightenment, with many humanist ideas of freedom and equality being grafted on to the Christian stem; the result is a defanged religion, one that is no longer as virulent or as dangerous. The threat to life and liberty from authoritarian Christianity is nowhere near the level of threat from radical Islam. The ideologies, however, have much in common.
The question is whether the world is going to drift toward reason or cave in to superstition, and this question touches everything else: free expression, the rule of law, the acceptance or rejection of torture, educational standards, the environment, war and peace. The USA and the wider world can go forward based on reason, evidence, and fact -- which involves, among other things, changing the plan as circumstances and evidence dictate, at least now and then -- or it can sink into barbarism, ideology, and tribalism.

I disagree with Brayton's penultimate sentence, which I suspect is there to mollify some of the wingnut commenters who crowd his blog: "[t]he threat to life and liberty from authoritarian Christianity is nowhere near the level of threat from radical Islam." Nowhere near? I'll accept that if qualified with "for the next few months," but I think it's important to emphasize what he said a few sentences before: "[t]hey share similar goals and ideologies but differ on how to achieve them." They do indeed share almost identical goals and ideologies, and their tactical differences are incidental to this larger truth. Both are trying to uproot and destroy modernity, and both pursue that end using what they consider the best available methods, in much the same way that black people in the USA tend to protest by riot whereas white people in the USA tend to protest by ballot. One should not read too much into the comparative civility of the tactics used, but should consider the underlying goals and their foreseeable consequences.

And never forget that the worst of the Christianists can be exactly as destructive as the worst of the Islamists. When the building you're in flies to bits around you, whether you're in Oklahoma City or New York City, the details of the terrorist's creed make no difference.

The other "coalition of the willing" is composed of religious zealots who want to replace open societies with a faith-based political order. I say we should take special care to mind the coalition partners close to home even as we oppose the ones far away.

Joisy in Portland

Yesterday, in the course of a long afternoon's run that aggravated my shin splints just in time for Hood to Coast next week, I saw something that I would normally expect to see in New Jersey or on TV shows set in New Jersey: I saw a very short, very fat, very hairy, very shirtless man in mirrored sunglasses walking down the sidewalk. Sunning his hirsute man-boobs for all to see, without any trace of shame or even self-awareness, he looked at me in my shirt and running shorts as if I was the weirdo.

I was not the weirdo. I was dressed modestly and appropriately for my self-injuring activities. He was the weirdo.

He's probably just in town to carry out a hit, so I don't expect to see him again.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

And That's Why I Use Firefox


I know I'm too easily annoyed, and I don't floss regularly enough, and I drink too much caffeine, and that too many things almost cause me to soil myself, etc. But as I have often said, without pettiness, bitterness, and self-pity, I'd have absolutely nothing to say. Let us pause here at the precipice of the question that begs and pursue the matter no further.

Anyhoo, I hate Internet Explorer 7 and the above image shows why: it throws up half-assed, pointless, exceedingly unhelpful security warnings. Here, I innocently clicked the 'insert a hyperlink' button in blogger, and instead of presenting the requested interface, it gave me that warning in pale yellow:

This website is using a scripted window to ask for information. If you trust this web site, click here to allow scripted windows ...
Sweet Jeebus H. Rove! I fucking know this fucking website is using a fucking scripted fucking window to fucking ask for fucking information! I know! I know this because I pushed the fucking button that is designed to invoke the so-called "scripted window!" I'm the one who did the button-clicking! And I did it because I wanted to insert some "information," in this case a hyperlink address! I know! I know!

And then the plot thickens. There is no keyboard-driven way to respond to the pale yellow warning, so I must reach over to the mouse and scroll the goddamn mouse pointer to the pale yellow warning, click, and then -- sweet Jeebus H. Rove again! -- when I do, I get two options, each more useless than the last:
Temporarily Allow Scripted Windows
or
More information
Note how the first option is presented in foreboding title case, signifying, I suppose, its severe life-altering gravity. It might as well say Don't Click Here Unless You Really and Truly Mean It: How Choosing to Click Here Puts You on a Path to Certain Ruin That Will Definitely Not Be the Fault of Microsoft or Its Shareholders.

The title-case presentation is annoying enough, but then there's the fact that Internet Explorer is lifting its swaddling, smothering protection only temporarily, so I had damn well be quick to insert all the hyperlinks I can think of now, before it decides to suspend trust in my judgment about these unsavory "scripted windows" -- roughly 45 seconds.

The other option, "More information," does not merit title case. It does not merit a goddamn thing. It sends me into the numbing labyrinth of Internet Explorer's "Help" pages, a few minutes of which has to be worse than Gitmo.

If you are moved by my teary-eyed fit of whining, here is a link to download Firefox.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I'm a Whore (With an Urgent Message)



photos courtesy bikeportland.org

I confess I am a whore when it comes to questions of right of way. When I'm a pedestrian, pedestrians have all the rights; when a driver, drivers have all the rights; when a bike-rider, bike-riders have all the rights, etc. I say "etcetera" but those three actually exhaust the ways I get around -- I don't fly in hot air balloons or traffic helicopters, I don't ride horses, yaks, or segways, and I refuse to roll around in a big plastic ball like some kind of man-sized hamster.

My whoring is what it is, but I hope everyone reading this post will closely examine the images at the top of this post and read my very thoughtful interpretation of them. Please take another close look at the images and then return to this point in the post. I'll wait.

Back already? Good. I'll begin with a factual point: these are not just similar to the right-of-way markings on Portland's Hawthorne Bridge, they are the very ones. You will therefore not be expected to exercise your imagination when applying what I am about to say to your everyday experience crossing the Hawthorne Bridge. Just look down at the sidewalk and you will see these very same right-of-way markings.

Notice how one of the markings looks like it has a bike on it and an arrow that is pointing in only a single direction. This means bikes should stay to that side of the lane -- the side of the lane with the bike-looking marking on it -- and should only go that direction -- the same direction that the arrow is pointing. The very wise civil engineers of Portland have foreseen your understandable wish to cross the bridge by bike going the other direction, and have provided for a similar lane on the other side of the bridge, where you'll find extremely similar markings, differing only by pointing in that other direction.

We're almost to the end -- not much reading to go. Hang in there.

Notice how the other marking looks like it has a person on it. This means persons traveling by foot, a.k.a. pedestrians, should stay to that side of the lane -- the side of the lane with the person-looking marking on it.

Pause. Breathe. You've made it.

Now stay the hell out of my way on the bridge.