Sunday, September 30, 2007

"If you try to force things to happen, they can backfire on you."

You've come to the right blog if you were hoping to see an instructional video on portraying Chuck E. Cheese.



There's a disquieting quality to the behind-the-scenes footage of the Chuck E. Cheese costume as it's being put on -- the way the big head just sits motionless on the table, the way the human disappears into the overlarge mouse character piece by piece as she puts on the costume.

More than most instructional videos, this is an allegory of our times. Discuss.

Final Shameless Beg for Habitat for Humanity

I hereby offer my last appeal to contribute to Habitat for Humanity. They do excellent and worthy work -- I know, I've joined them now and then -- notwithstanding their ties to a certain well-known middle eastern death cult. Think of this as a chance to show how a good deed (or a little cash) trumps a million prayers.

I have only a week to go to meet my fundraising target. If I miss it, they take my knees.

OK. I'll shut up about it now.

Jesus Tee-Vee Index: 41 Seconds

From time to time I like to flip over to one of the several religious tee-vee channels and count the seconds until I hear something stupid. This time around, it took only 41 seconds of viewing before none other than Newt Gingrich, speaking in front of a banner that included an Israeli and American flag, told a large audience of armagedden enthusiasts that 90% of Americans "believe in the right to say 'under god'" as part of the pledge of allegiance.

Good for them, I suppose, because 100% of Americans actually have a right to say "under god" when they're saying the pledge of allegiance. In fact, 100% of them have a right to insert the phrase "under god" in every sentence of the pledge, or after every other word if they wish, and not just in the spot where Congress voted to insert it in 1954 (between "one nation" and "indivisible").

The post-1954 loyalty oath is important to so-called cultural conservatives, and never more so than when it's the focus of their sense of contrived victimhood. Newt's applause line was intended, of course, to evoke the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad 9th Circuit Court ruling of 2002, which found that requiring children to say "under god" in tax-funded schools is tantamount to an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

The ruling had absolutely nothing to do with pledges that individuals may make, alone or in groups; nor with pledges that private entitities (political parties, private schools, churches, tent-based revivals, volleyball teams, dance troupes, stamp-collecting clubs, cotillions, etc.) may require of members or participants. It had to do with the kinds of in-groups and out-groups that tax-funded public schools may create on the basis of religious belief. While the ruling is not over a fight I would have chosen to pick, it was right.

If You Need a Sermon ...

It's Sunday, and if you need a sermon, you could do a lot worse than this wide-ranging statement by Christopher Hitchens addressing, mostly, the relationship between god-belief and good morals. Enjoy!

Enjoy Your Week, Gebrselassie!

Sure, sure, Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia has set a new world record for the marathon, finishing the Berlin in a respectable 2:04:26, which works out to a 4:45 pace. Good for him, well done.

I hope he enjoys his week in the record books -- I'll be running the Portland a week from today, and I'll be gunning for that record. Granted, somewhere in about mile two, my progress will be such that breaking this record will be outside the reach of human physiology, let alone my physiology, but still.

4:45 per mile? For 26 miles and change? Amazing.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

From Maverick to Bootlick with John McCain

The time John McCain spent undergoing torture and maltreatment as a POW in Vietnam vividly contrasts with the experience of the likes of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Bill Kristol, Ted Nugent, and well, nearly every famous right-wing baby boomer. McCain has a reservoir of credibility that few with his conservative voting record share, but sadly, he has spent the last few years draining it as quickly as possible.

Case in point: Beliefnet has posted an interview with McCain in which he displays the current sad state of his groveling acquiescence to the far right elements of the GOP wingnut Christianist "base." It seems he wants to be President more than he wants to stand up to bullshit, and that's a shame.

Here's McCain discussing the prospect of a Muslim President:

I admire the Islam. There's a lot of good principles in it. I think one of the great tragedies of the 21st century is that these forces of evil have perverted what's basically an honorable religion.
I don't admire "the Islam," but no one asked me. If I squint really hard and apply my most charitable assumptions, I can read McCain's statement on the "perversion" of Islam as a euphemized statement of regret that not enough Muslims have decided to ignore the barbarities of their founding texts but have instead taken its depraved teachings seriously. So sure, it would be nice if all, most, or at least more Muslims decided to get out the scissors and remove the Koranic passages that hearken for a repressive worldwide theocracy enforcing the arbitary, hidebound dictates of a capricious, vicious god. Not much of the book would be left, and I question the wisdom of the project as opposed to the project of tossing the entire book into the nearest recycling bin, but I grant it would be a step in the right direction.

Beliefnet then asks McCain an incredibly stupid question that is based, evidently, on an incredibly stupid poll question:
A recent poll found that 55 percent of Americans believe the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation. What do you think?
I think this polling question is asinine, and measures nothing more than Americans' ignorance of the historical and ideological circumstances of the USA's founding. But again, no one asked me.

McCain's answers stupid with stupid:
I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation. But I say that in the broadest sense. The lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn't say, “I only welcome Christians.” We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.
Oh? What "Christian principles" are those? Here and in other instances in the interview, McCain avoids naming these Christian principles by modifying them with the word "broad." By classifying the principles as broadly Christian, he walks the sort of cowardly tightrope that "mavericks" are famous for disavowing: on one hand, he throws an applause line to the Christianists, but on the other, he can't be accused of the false claim that the founders invoked or used actual Christian beliefs when writing and ratifying the US Constitution.

The word "broad" allows McCain to get away with the sloppy but common conflation of "Christian" with "that which I find just and decent."

McCain knows, or should know, that the US Constitution owes as much to "Christian principles" as does the warbling of a wren or the contents of this post; and he should also know that a "maverick" tells uncomfortable truths, even to Christianist audiences.

The Politics of Pointlessness

Daily Kos reports that Congressman Udall will introduce a resolution condemning Rush Limbaugh's labeling of insufficiently pro-Iraq-Attaq troops as "phony."

This might expose some GOP hypocrisy, and it will do what Democrats are too often loath to do, namely, to match the GOP punch for punch. Political theater is by definition pointless, but I don't see how it make sense to pretend it doesn't matter in a democratic society. It is necessary to make emotional appeals to voters and opinion-makers, not just well-reasoned, sober, and sensible ones. And it's not as though we're drowning in the latter.

Democrats need to fight, and fight back, and do so with spirit and without apology. Remember how candidate John Kerry made such a big deal about what a fighter he was? That was a big part of what won him the party nomination -- that he would fight back and stand up to GOP attacks in a way that candidate Gore had not. And then when it came time to fight, he did, but not nearly enough -- the shamelessness of the GOP attacks unhorsed him.

Democrats need to stop assuming that the GOP has shame. Democrats need to break out of this form of weakness and realize that the GOP will lie, repeatedly and tirelessly, and will do so with stunning gall. It is not enough to respond with polite factual corrections and smiling encomiums to fair play. Democrats shouldn't lie in response, but they should not hesitate, ever, to match the intensity of their opponents.

The anti-Rush resolution will be, on balance, a waste of time. It raises the spectre of more of the same heading into the election year -- but did someone think we'd be spared this kind of stuff in any case? And the Democrats have to realize that this is the fight they're in, however unsavory.

Friday, September 28, 2007

What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder

ButterfliesandWheels offers this vignette from lives of the god-fearing of the earth:

The ordeal of ill-fated Irshad Bibi, who suffered burns in an acid attack by her husband, seems far from over despite generous offer by an NGO as her very own people blocked her way to accept the help and go for the treatment...[H]er family and relatives stopped her from going to Islamabad for treatment at the expense of the NGO on the plea that “such organisations have the reputation of committing immoral activities and they will use her also for their nefarious designs”...A resident of the area to which the victim belonged defended the family’s stance, saying: “The NGOs are involved in un-Islamic activities and it is a sinful act to get treatment from them”.
Let me get this straight: gay people want to be a part of this disgusting arrangement? This can't be put asunder quickly enough.

Re-read this and consider the oft-repeated argument that belief in god is the foundation of morals. Note the extent to which religion has sanctified and enabled this situation, how belief in an uncompromising god governing an afterlife underwrites this savagery.

Let's have civil unions for civilized people who want to form families and leave the godly excrement as far as possible from love and law.

Fake Outrage Timeout

Serially-lying, drug-addicted, 10lb.-sack-of-shit-crammed-into-a-5lb.-bag, oft-misunderstood Rush Limbaugh labeled US troops who disagree with GOP talking points as "phony soldiers." To be exact, he agreed with a caller who did so, and used the phrase himself.

I have no fake outrage to expend on this. No thinking person cares what Rush Limbaugh or his dumb callers think of US troops they've never met (or ones they've met, for that matter). US troops can handle some insults and some criticism, and if they can't, tough cookies.

Nothing is at stake. It doesn't matter.

The Iran Roll Call

Here is a listing of how Senators voted on Wednesday's "sense of the Senate" chickenshit back-door declaration of war on Iran. I'm glad to see I am represented by an actual Democrat, Ron Wyden, who voted Nay; I was already aware of that other Senator, Gordon Smith, and already intended to vote for whatever Democrat opposes him in 2008, even if it's a yellow dog, a pink heart, a green clover, a blue diamond, a cartoon leprechaun, or an indeterminately-aged box of Lucky Charms.

What are we going to do if Iran actually fights back?

Oh, I worry too much. They'll greet us as liberators and toss roses at the feet of our troops.

Sam Harris on Belief and Evidence

Sam Harris has written a new column, and new instances of his writing never fail to give me something I want to quote because I wish I had said it so clearly myself. Here's the recent case in point:

Reason is a compulsion, not a choice. Just as one cannot intentionally startle oneself, one cannot knowingly believe a proposition on bad evidence. If you doubt this, imagine hearing the following account of a failed New Year’s resolution:

“This year, I vowed to be more rational, but by the end of January, I found that I had fallen back into my old ways, believing things for bad reasons. Currently, I believe that smoking is harmless, that my dead brother will return to life in the near future, and that I am destined to marry Angelina Jolie, just because these beliefs make me feel good and give my life meaning.”

This is not how our minds work. To believe a proposition, we must also believe that we believe it because it is true. While lapses in rationality can often be detected in retrospect, they always occur in the dark, outside of consciousness. In every present moment, a belief entails the concurrent conviction that we are not just fooling ourselves.
This relates to the question of whether beliefs about the world are subject to our free will. Can we choose what we believe and what we don't? I think the answer to this question is obvious -- no, we can't -- but the denial of this is central to the Abrahamic faiths, which set forth rewards and penalties (here and hereafter) for holding and rejecting certain beliefs.

We can certainly make assertions, and identify propositions we'd prefer to be true, and thereafter seek to locate supporting evidence and seek to undermine contrary evidence. In the course of this hunt-and-peck evidence game, we can become more and more adept at decreasing the likelihood of encountering contrary evidence -- instances of the latter would be a Christian who habitally avoids reading David Hume or Sam Harris, and an atheist who habitually avoids reading C.S. Lewis or Lee Strobel.

We can do these things, but this still concedes the link between evidence and belief. Wanting to believe something -- however strong the motivation, up and including the desire to avoid an eternity of fiery torment -- is perhaps necessary, but never sufficient, to flip that switch in our mind that indicates "yes, that's true."

This explains why the faithful so eagerly embrace instances where reputable evidence supports, or appears to support, a tenet hitherto buttressed only by faith. They prattle about faith as the glorious evidence of things unseen, and nanner about 'spiritual truth,' and wax on about a warm Jesus-like feeling in their little hearts, but they come running and salivating when something like the James Ossuary makes headlines. (Then quietly vanish again when it's found to be a hoax.)

Maintaining shaky beliefs requires pushing inconvenient evidence out of sight, but there's an everpresent risk that the contrary evidence, being out of the will's control, will wander back into view. This willing of belief can only take the human mind so far.

But maybe I understate the power of faith and overstate the power of evidence. Maybe, with the aid of a vividly-drawn portrait of hell, you could come to believe (not merely assert) that you don't have eyes or hands, or that you're actually an opposum, or that the last piece of bread you ate became human flesh. I have my doubts.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Non-Binding" My Sweet Keester

Yesterday, the United States Senate declared war on Iran. Granted, they did so in the form of a "non-binding" resolution, a "sense of the Senate" statement, but is anyone naive enough to believe the Bush-Cheney White House won't cite this as the legal warrant for war?

We have not seen the end point of the audacity of which Bush and Cheney are capable. Who thinks this represents that end point? Who is that naive?

Shame on all Senators who voted us into war without any hearings, many of whom were Democrats. The next "non-binding" "sense of the Senate" resolution might as well disband the legislative and judicial branches and declare Bush the Emperor. At least then Larry Craig would go home.

Iraq, 2013, and The Big Three

Self-important phony Tim Russert posed this question to Democrats in yesterday's debate:

Will you pledge that by January 2013, the end of your first term more than five years from now, there will be no U.S. troops in Iraq?
By and large, the liberal bloggers I follow are unhappy with the answers given by the three major candidates:

Obama: "I think it's hard to project four years from now ... "

Clinton: "It is very difficult to know what we're going to be inheriting ..."

Edwards: "I cannot make that commitment ..."

Notably, Chris Dodd did make the pledge that Russert seemed to be fishing for, but this just begged the question of why Chris Dodd still considers himself a candidate for President.

I hate the Iraq war as much as anyone, and want it to end today. But as stated, Russert's question can only admit of the answer the three major candidates gave. It would be foolish for any Presidential candidate to guarantee that there will be zero American troops in Iraq six years from now. Six years is a long time, this is a volatile world, and pledges like this serve no purpose but to set people up for cheap accusations of "flip-flopping" when ugly reality conflicts with pretty notions, as it almost always does. The question was posed in bad faith, but that's Tim Russert being Tim Russert.

Each of the three gave essentially the same answer, and the right answer: if elected President, they will work to end the Iraq occupation as soon as possible. The policies and troop deployments of 2013 will reflect the realities of 2013. This is the only credible anti-Iraq-war answer to this question, and any candidate who gives a different one is either looking in a crystal ball with a proven record of predicting events in the middle east six years down the line, believes he is looking in such a crystal ball, or is making shit up.

Here's a link to the full transcript of the debate from which the above quotes are taken.

The Fourth Amendment Hates the Troops

Parts of the USA Patriot Act have been struck down because, in the words of the ruling, it "permits the executive branch of government to conduct surveillance and searches of American citizens without satisfying the probable cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment."

Yes, we still have a fourth amendment, and just as importantly, we still have a few judges who realize it's still there. It exists, it still matters, and by the way, it doesn't admit of exceptions for cases where the President is a semi-literate who thinks he's in conversation with god, nor for cases where terrorism has made people really scared, nor for cases where Dick Cheney, FoxNews, and the editors of National Review, if they had their druthers, would have it vanish. Note the perfect absence of such caveats and exceptions in its phrasing:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Yay Bill of Rights! Thanks to this ruling, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison are spinning a little more slowly in their graves.

Peanut Butter QED

Every time you open a jar of peanut butter and find that it doesn't contain previously undiscovered forms of life, you are proving that evolution is false and that Jesus Christ is your personal savior. But don't trust me, just watch the instructional video:



Please don't take the point too far -- the jars of jelly you have prove nothing. Nothing at all.

Please Nominate Him



Hey Republicans, could you please do us all the favor of nominating Rudy Giuliani for President? He's such an interesting study in meglomania. This bit of taking phone calls from his third wife while he's giving speeches never gets old; I'd love to see it a few times during the debates with the Democratic nominee.

And after all, he's trying so hard to convince you he is not pro-choice, pro-gay, or pro-gun-control -- at least as hard as Mitt Romney is trying.

Last but not least, he never commits the grievous faux pas of finishing a sentence without mentioning 9/11. He's your man!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Better Late Than Never?

I realize I'm at least two decades late to this realization, but Metallica rocks. They f___ing rock!

Oh well, good is good, and late is better than never. I also came far too late to Bob Dylan, and now I look back on the years before I knew (e.g.) "Visions of Johanna" with a self-reproach bordering on disgust. Here's a big thanks to Andrew for shaming me into finally taking the time to get to know the music of Bob Dylan.

I am not comparing Bob Dylan with Metallica, and I am not not comparing Bob Dylan with Metallica. What would be the point of the comparison? It would be something akin to the tedious habit of sports broadcasters blabbering about the best quarterback, or first baseman, or small forward ever, as if we actually have to choose among them. Most of the time, we don't.

I think we should live by the wisdom of Homer J. Simpson and enjoy all the meats of our cultural stew. Metallica is a fine one.

Of Man's First Disobedience

I have a follow-up question to add to an excellent recent posting on A Whore in the Temple of Babylon blog, a favorite of mine. If Adam and Eve's fall in Genesis is to be interpreted figuratively, she asks, then why did Jesus's death on the cross need to be literal?

I think this is a valid question, but as I say, I have another: has anyone actually read Genesis with an open mind? A fair reading of Genesis 2 and 3 leads to some surprising conclusions. Consider the text:

[Genesis 2:16-17]
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

[Genesis 3:2-7]
And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
Notice, first, what does not appear in the text: end notes and foot notes. There are no annotations telling us "this part should be taken literally" and "this part should be taken figuratively" or words to that effect; nor are there explanations or commentaries on why, for example, god chose to forbid the eating of a fruit, or why he chose the particular tree he did, or how clearly he marked the tree (was there a sign?); nor are there expositions of the puzzling lacunae that critics have noticed in this story for centuries, such as how Adam and Eve can interpret the word "die," which is supposedly beyond their prelapsarian minds.

God's declaration is blunt, brief, and clear: "in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."

Shortly thereafter -- in the text, that is; we are not actually given a sense of the amount of time that has elapsed -- Eve re-caps god's instructions to the serpent (who is nowhere identified as Satan), and gets it mostly right, although she does interpolate a "no touching" rule that isn't supported in the text. This is excuseable when we consider that Eve was actually created after god gave the instructions to Adam, and therefore must have heard them second-hand.

The serpent assures Eve, "that's crazy talk!" or words to that effect: she won't die, she'll just know good from evil.

We know the rest: Eve takes a bite, then Adam takes a bite, and pretty soon they're ashamed of their genitals, dressed in hand-sewn aprons, and chucked out of Eden. From there, it's a downhill slide past Noah's flood, Jesus's visit, the rise of the Church, the Great Schism, Protestantism, the Reformation, and from there, well, rock n' roll, endless OJ trials, and internet porn were matters of arithmetic inevitability.

Comparing what god said with what the serpent said about eating the fruit, can there be any doubt that god was stretching the truth, and that the serpent had it right? Adam and Eve didn't die, let alone "in the day" of the eating. They did gain knowledge of good and evil.

According to the Bible, god is a liar, but serpents tell the truth. Who knew?

Fair enough, but I still wouldn't trust a talking snake. That would freak me out.

Addendum - Format B is Good!

I have an update on the bit of whining intemperance I offered a few days ago about the chickenshit-bureaucratic demand placed on me to transfer a document from one format to another. It turns out the preferred documentation format has a lot going for it, belonging, as it does, to a rather powerful software package with many useful features and redeeming qualities.

That said, it remains true that my 20+ bosses won't read the documentation in its new home, just as they couldn't bother reading it in its old home. It also raises an instance of a well-traveled flaw of this technology-driven world, one that might be regarded as an example of the prisoner's dilemma: a technology's inherent usefulness is attenuated by the breadth and competence of its adoption.

The new home of the documentation has, as I say, a lot going for it, but it lacks one crucial thing: the buy-in and participation of others in my workplace. While I can and will enter relevant information into this tool, and while this tool will turn that information into a logical and orderly flow of oustanding work tasks, many of the people responsible for the tasks do not, and will not, use the tool. Or if they do use it, they'll prove too stupid to use it competently. So the information I enter will sit there in its new home, not only unread but also unused, as inert, pointless, and lifeless as a stone or Alberto Gonzales.

Isn't this the way of things? Say you live out of your cell phone -- all your contact information is there, you do all your messaging from there, and you talk on it constantly. Inevitably you reach a limit in the form of people who hate cell phones, loathe IM/texting, can't ever wear the pants where they left the phone, can't seem to keep their battery charged, or can't even be bothered to save a phone number in their phone's contact list. Or maybe there's someone in your circles who -- gasp! -- still doesn't even carry a cell phone. Now what?

Or say you maintain a fascinating blog and wish to channel all your communication with the world through it -- inevitably someone out there in your social world will expect an e-mail, or a phone call, or (flying spaghetti monster forbid) an in-person, face-to-face visit.

In proportion to the number of non-adopters, the technology is not helpful. It amounts to an extra set of routines and steps rather than a replacement of them, since you still have to go through the old motions for the sake of the non-participants. Filthy luddites!

Can't everyone adopt what I've adopted, and drop what I've dropped? Can't we all just get along -- starting with me as the template and work from there? Is that too much to ask?

Sadly, yes.

New Thingy: Atheist Blogroll

I have included the "atheist blogroll" along the right side of my precious, precious blog. Check that out for an ever-expanding list of blogs that shake their tiny fists at god, religion, heaven, hell, and other supernatural twaddle.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ponca City: Big on Pageants

The first paragraph of this Ponca City News item about Miss Ponca City is thick with the kinds of nuggets that keep me subscribing to the Ponca City News RSS feed:

The Miss Ponca City Queen Contest will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at The Poncan Theatre. Tickets are available from contestants. This annual scholarship contest is being held as part of the Oklahoma Centennial Celebration. The winner of the contest will represent Ponca City as a Visiting Queen in the Arkalalah, Arkansas City's annual Fall Festival, slated for Oct. 25-27. Miss Ponca City also acts as a goodwill ambassador, attends various functions and speaking engagements as her personal schedule allows.
"Tickets are available from contestants" -- so many open questions and troubling intimations in so small a sentence! Supposing an interested party seeks tickets by tracking down one of these teenage contestants, what is the price?

While I appreciate the easy familiarity with Arkansas City implied here -- so unlike the majority of newspaper accounts I read that treat Arkansas City, Kansas, as some kind of obscure backwater -- I note the subtraction of good feeling in the overly explicit definition of Arkalalah. Just who in the hell doesn't already know that it is Ark City's annual fall festival?

No, not everything about the article is wonderful. I don't claim to be an expert in royal titles or pageants, but the title can't be "Miss Ponca City Queen," can it? Doesn't either "Queen" or "Miss" have to go?

Miss Rogers Teacher, who taught me the rudiments of English prose in 10th grade, would mark this passage with no less than three big red P's to indicate passive sentence construction, and would put a big red "not parallel" mark over that last sentence. I daresay her summary mark at the end would be the dreaded frowny face.

These cavils aside, as with all news items appearing in the Ponca City News, this one is really about my fascinating personal history, and in this case, about my forced participation in the "Little Miss & Master Pageant" circa 1976. I say my participation was "forced," but that's really not fair, as I don't think any of the five or six year olds would have entered the contest willingly. I didn't win, and that defeat took me out of the pageant circles for years to come. Indeed, I would never recover.

I didn't want to participate in the first place, and even though this was years before the advent of blogging, I found a way to make it known -- I registered my discontent by spending my time on stage picking at the overly formal pants and underwear that were crawling up my ass crack.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sometimes, Journalism Exists

Oh how I love this! Republican US Representative Blackburn of Tennessee pops onto the tee-vee to repeat all the insipid talking points about the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad MoveOn.org ad printed by the New York Times, and David Schuster responds like an actual journalist!

He lets her work into a lather of fake outrage and then poses a germane question. The transcript:

Shuster: “Let’s talk about the public trust. You represent, of course, a district in western Tennessee. What was the name of the last solider from your district who was killed in Iraq?”

Blackburn:”The name of the last soldier killed in Iraq uh - from my district I - I do not know his name -”

Shuster: “Ok, his name was Jeremy Bohannon, he was killed August the 9th, 2007. How come you didn’t know the name?”

Blackburn: “I - I, you know, I - I do not know why I did not know the name…” [Snip]

Shuster: “But you weren’t appreciative enough to know the name of this young man, he was 18 years old who was killed, and yet you can say chapter and verse about what’s going on with the New York Times and Move On.org.” [Snip]

Shuster: “But don’t you understand, the problems that a lot of people would have, that you’re so focused on an ad — when was the last time a New York Times ad ever killed somebody? I mean, here we have a war that took the life of an 18 year old kid, Jeremy Bohannon from your district, and you didn’t even know his name.”
It's interesting how much she talks about reaching out to the families of the soldiers and working with the military installation in her district in the exact same interview in which she couldn't name the last soldier to die. Did she already forget the family name we're supposed to believe she "reached out to"?

Don't spare yourself the video -- truly wonderful.

In a larger sense, this is pretty far from wonderful. Human beings are dying while right-wing knuckle-draggers blubber about an ad in a newspaper they don't read.

The Senator Craig of the Middle East

President Ahmadinejad of Iran gave a speech at Columbia University today, and offered such colorful lies as "the freest women in the world are the women in Iran" and "in Iran, we don't have homosexuals."

Not long after these comments, he added, no less earnestly, "Senator Larry Craig is not gay. He has never been gay."

I don't think you have to be an unhinged fascist loon to rule Iran, but it probably helps.

Another Profile in Cowardice

Tom Tomorrow rightly hammers Alan Greenspan:

Out of office and wishing to sell books, Alan Greenspan now finds the courage to express a doubt or two about Bush's economic policies and to admit that the Iraq fiasco is by, for, and about big oil.

There's nothing worth saying of this wretched old chunk of meat in a suit beyond what Bob Dylan sang in 1963, lyrics that apply equally well to Bush, Cheney, Rove, and the rest of the craven dead-enders trying to suck the last few cents out of the world before Jesus takes them duck-hunting:

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

Scenes Witnessed

Just moments ago in Portland's downtown, the everyday sounds of conversation, shoes on pavement, and the flow of traffic were broken by the din of a car's automated alarm system, an unmistakeable signal that someone had tripped the proximity sensor!

Jolted into duty, I joined a few dozen fellow citizens in streaming toward the sound, in hopes that we might interrupt a criminal act in progress, or by our vigilant presence prevent its occurrence, our worried facial expressions bespeaking the terrible recognition that crime is not restricted to faraway places, but also the resolve that we share the burden of preserving civic order.

That is exactly what happened, as I am sure it does every time a car alarm goes off anywhere in the USA.

Who Needs Republicans

... when you have Democrats like Dianne Feinstein, who typifies

the establishment-defending, soul-less, belief-less, self-perpetuating "liberal Senators" ... who render the concept of "opposition party" nothing more than a deceitful illusion. Dianne Feinstein is the drained and Bush-enabling face of the 2007 Democratic Congress.
Glen Greenwald is saying something radical here -- that Democrats should be Democrats. I agree.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

I didn't send this in. Honest.



If you haven't heard about Post Secret, swing by there and see what you've missed.

The idea is simple, as the best ideas so often are: people write their deepest, darkest secret on a post card and mail it anonymously to an address in Germantown, Maryland. The recipient scans the most interesting of these and posts them to the Post Secret blog.

Batter my legs, third-longest run

I took my third-longest run ever this morning, a 17-mile jaunt along the banks of the crystal-clear Columbia -- crystal clear, that is, to a depth of roughly 1/8", after which is impenetrably opaque muck, in which lurk such hazards as nutria, beavers, trout, bull sharks, abandoned vehicles, discarded medical supplies, unexploded WWII-era ordnance, and so on.

I have many cavils with these long marathon-prepatory runs. First, they're long, and that translates to difficult. I'd let this go unmentioned if I had any confidence that the point has already been covered in running periodicals or other blogs in which people brag about their running habits, but it's actually rare to pick up a copy of, say, Runner's World and read a straightforward declaration like "let's face it, running 17 miles without stopping is difficult." The running literature tends to focus on product comparisons, inspirational stories, training tips, etc., and let obvious insights like these go unsaid. Not on this blog. A blogger has certain responsibilities.

Second, there are no water stations and no portable toilets. Not one person offered me a cup of water or Gatorade as I ran this morning, and the only Honey Bucket I saw appeared to be connected with the levy construction site between the river and the airport. I didn't check to see if it was open, and I didn't need to go anyway, but I suspect it would have been the crossing of a line had I used the construction site's crapper.

Third, no one wants to race. I pass a person, and they just let it go. I cross paths with someone going the opposite way, and they don't reverse course and try to out-pace me. No amount of my taunting seems to help. It's not a race, but why will no one pretend it is?

I'm tired.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Chickenshit Bureaucracy: An Exemplum

In my workaday life, I report to anywhere from 3 to 45 bosses, depending on the particulars of the work. On Friday, I was summoned to participate in a meeting with around 15 bosses overseeing a particular work initiative whose details are unimportant and thoroughly uninteresting.

The purpose of my participation in the meeting was to affirm that I had taken all the proper steps toward completing this work, and that I had produced the documents that several of the bosses wanted me to produce. The documents summarized both the work itself and the quality-control measures taken along with it.

I showed up at the meeting to discover that they actually wanted me to give a detailed verbal summary of the aforementioned documents, which, as was immediately apparent, they had never bothered to read. (Arguably salient aside: they will never, ever read these documents. If trapped for 96 straight hours in a broken elevator with nothing to do but read printouts of these documents and pee in the corner, they would never read these documents.)

My verbal summary of the documents fell short of their oh-so-very-high standards for completeness and thoroughness when they learned, to their horror, that one of the documents exists in format A rather than format B.

I was dismissed from the meeting and told that the actual work addressed in the documents could not possibly go forward unless and until I recreated the document in format B.

Again, these are documents that will never be read, by these bosses or anyone else, living or dead, present or future. The required documents already exist, just not in the "correct" format in all cases, and have never been read.

Such is workaday life in chickenshit bureaucracy.

Purity Loses to Reality ... Again

"With changing times and life experiences come new opinions ..." Exactly.

I am pleased to see instances where conservatives do the responsible and necessary thinking about their moral intuitions and come around to the side of humanity. Kudos to the conservative mayor of San Diego for this change in how he views a contentious moral question.


Naturally he'll lose the GOP "base" on this, but they deserve to be lost. In my optimistic moments, I believe that in the fullness of time -- a decade or two from now -- all these voters who today vote against gay rights will have vanished. They'll just quietly slip into the liberal moral consensus on this question, in much the same way that the overt racists of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s seem nowhere to be found today, despite the fact that, judging from the census tables, they're still around in numbers. So it will be with gay rights, or so I hope.

More honour'd in the breach than the observance

As a gimmick to supply the premise of a book, A. J. Jacobs spent a year trying to obey every rule in the Bible. He is quoted in a Newsweek puff-piece:

One thing I learned is that the outside affects the inside, your behavior shapes your thoughts. I also really liked what one of my spiritual advisers said, which was that you can view life as a series of rights and entitlements, or a series of responsibilities. I like seeing my life as a series of responsibilities. It’s sort of, "Ask not what God can do for you, ask what you can do for God."
I am just sure that this puff-piece arises from the fierce independence of Newsweek's editorial judgment, and not, say, from a desire to create synergies between the book-publishing and the discount-newsweekly subdivisions of a larger media conglomerate.

"Ask what you can do for God?" What does an all-powerful and all-knowing being need from you, me, or A.J. Jacobs? The question is absurd on its face, and the absurdity is not leavened by the actual answers to it we are said to possess: God "needs" us to follow a long list of patently ridiculous rules, many of which war against the nature with which he endowed us, and to do so without explanation or justification (one of the most fatuous forms of theistic apologetics begins with phrases like "god wants this rule followed because ... " -- fatuous because what comes next almost never comes out of the same source where the insipid rule appears.)

Unless you count "respect my authori-tah" as an explanation, which I don't. But then again, I lack a full appreciation of the basis of morals.

Best Dam Ribbon


I pulled a finish time of 40:37 at the Best Dam 10k along the bucolic Clackamas River, earning a third place ribbon for males in my age bracket.

My finish time pleasantly surprised me in that I forced myself not to run this event competitively, and stuck with this until the mile 5 marker when I decided I was tired of looking at the rear-end of a dude I'd been pacing up to that point. His tight New Balance shorts had lost all their charm, so I flew past him and kept up the effort to make sure he wouldn't catch me, but I still refused to check my time and held my level of effort in check. When I rounded the last corner and saw the course clock just changing over to 40 minutes, I almost soiled myself with surprise.

Speaking of which, I had to pee the entire time as the portable toilets at the start area were cruelly locked. Fortunately it wasn't too urgent, and really, every runner knows that it's perfectly acceptable to just go ahead and pee yourself during a race. It just looks like you suddenly got sweatier, and if anyone is looking that closely in the first place, they deserve to see what they see.

To be clear: I didn't tire of looking at the New Balance shorts guy because he peed himself. As far as I know, he didn't pee himself. And I successfully held my own bladder all the way to the end.

Friday, September 21, 2007

All This Boo-Hooing

I have no great love for Michael Kinsley, but I think he's on the mark with this assessment of the overloud whining over MoveOn.org's "General Betray Us" ad, an ad that a miniscule number of people would have noticed if not for the right wing's week-long pity party over it:

It's all phony, of course. The war's backers are obviously delighted to have this ad from which they can make an issue. They wouldn't trade it for a week in Anbar province (a formerly troubled area of Iraq that is now, thanks to us, an Eden of peace and tranquillity where barely a car bomb disturbs the perfumed silence — or so they say). These days, mock outrage is used by every side of every dispute. It's fair enough to criticize something your opponent said while secretly thanking your lucky stars that he said it. The fuss over this MoveOn.org ad is something else: it is the result of a desperate scavenging for umbrage material. When so many people are clamoring for a chance to swoon that they each have to take a number and when the landscape is so littered with folks lying prostrate and pretending to be dead that it starts to look like the end of a Civil War battle re-enactment, this isn't spontaneous mass outrage. This is choreography.

The constant calls for political candidates to prove their bona fides by condemning or denouncing something somebody else said or to renounce a person's support or to return her tainted money are a tiresome new tic in American politics ...

All this drawing of uncrossable lines and issuing of fatuous fatwas is supposed to be a bad habit of the left. When right-wingers are attacking this habit rather than practicing it, they call it political correctness. The problem with political correctness is that it turns discussions of substance into arguments over etiquette.
The last thing that supporters of the war want to talk about at this point is the war. They'd far rather talk about this insult to General Petraeus. It just isn't done in polite society, it seems, to criticize a general in the middle of a war. (Although, when else?)
Well said, especially the part about "political correctness." The term "political correctness" is lazy slapdash that has been so overused as to be denuded of any potency it might once have held. Now it just signals nothing beyond the fact that someone on the right has decided to notice that someone on the left (or someone accused of being on the left) has taken a principled stand. It is the flip-side of the other lazy slapdash routinely hauled out against the liberal/left, namely, that they're the worst kind of relativists or nihilists, that they utterly lack values and principles, that they'll tolerate anything and everything and won't stand up for anything important.

Histogram o' Morals


My morals are represented in the green bars, as derived from the YourMorals questionnaire. And yours?

I have a very liberal profile -- very low concern for loyalty, purity, and authority, very high concern for harm and fairness.

The thing about purity is spot on -- riding the MAX for several years tends stamp out any standards one might once have maintained in that area. Nowadays, I don't think I'd look twice if someone squatted down and took a dump on the train and then rolled around in the result. Come to think of it, why do I phrase that as a hypothetical?

I read one commentary on this scoring system that noted how conservatives (red bar) score highly across the board, and interpreted this to suggest that conservatives draw from a broader set of moral intuitions and can therefore understand liberals' moral stance better than liberals can understand conservatives' moral stance.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I disagree with this interpretation. Though strongly liberal, I have all those same moral intuitions -- I can 'read' a moral scenario on registers of authority, purity, and loyalty as clearly as can be. What distinguishes my liberal morals -- and this is my interpretation to counter the one offered above -- is that we liberals don't stop there. We can recognize an act as exhibiting defiance, impurity, or disloyalty without automatically allowing that recognition to dominate our moral assessment.

I would go beyond that and assert that the absence of deliberation is the central problem with conservative morals. Conservatives feel moral questions on one, some, or all of these intuitive levels and proceed immediately to a moral pronouncement: "Taking a crap on the MAX is disgusting! It strikes me as icky! It is impure! It is wrong!" The gut has spoken, and there ends the conversation.

I think thought is necessary. I think everyday experience demonstrates that the absence of deliberation and the failure to investigate first-blush moral intuitions creates, itself, downstream -- and often profound -- moral failings.

Take everyone's favorite hot-button moral question, homosexuality. The stereotypical conservative evaluates it thusly: "My mental images of gay sex strike me as icky [impure], therefore homosexuality is wrong and must be forbidden." I don't necessarily disagree with the statement up to the word "icky." But before we proceed to the public stoning, I think we ought to pause to consider how the image of any of us making the beast with two backs registers on the ickiness scale.

There are vanishingly few humans that the rest of us would truly enjoy seeing in the midst of the sexual act, and this has nothing to do with any other opinions we might hold about them. So just how far do we want take this idea of purity? Not far, if we bother to think about it.

Likewise with authority and loyalty -- there are, and ought to be, limits to how far moral/immoral lines up with obedient/rebellious and loyal/disloyal. Screaming "immoral!" at an instance where a young person bridles at the authority of a priest opens the door to enabling that priest to continue raping the child.

To pick an even more topical example, shrieking "support the troops!" at detractors of David Patraeus's testimony about the surge in Iraq overlooks the very real possibility that the troops, however well-meaning, are engaged in a larger wrong not of their making or choosing, and that Patraeus himself, whatever his momentary intentions, might be enabling a very dangerous crossing of lines between the civilian and the military to the long-range detriment of our system of government.

Speaking of loyalty and authority: "My country right or wrong?" Really? This passes for morals? However extreme I am in my liberalness, I am perfectly capable of feeling the stirrings of patriotism, family loyalty, school spirit, sports team fandom, civic pride, and all the rest. I know what people mean when they speak of these things; I feel them myself regularly. But I don't for a moment confuse these impulses with a moral stand, but recognize the abuses they can and do enable if not subjected to rigorous moral reasoning.

Poem of the Day: "Split Needles"

The Shins have released three full-length albums without a single crappy song, and that's amazing. "Split Needles" is from their most recent album, and it has stood out for me from the beginning for the evocativeness of the lyrics and the deceptive complexity of the drumming. Not that I'm the best drummer in the world, but my hands and feet flatly refuse to follow the simple-sounding pattern underlying this song.

I grabbed these lyrics from lyricwiki and made my own edits to bring it into line with what I hear, but I may or may not have it right. Whether I've transcribed it correctly or not, the last stanza never fails to make me want to rewind and play back the entire song from the beginning.

The Shins, "Split Needles"

I've done myself an impossible crime
had to paint myself a hole
and fall inside
if it's far enough in sight and rhyme,
I get to wear another dress
and count in time

Oh, won't you do me the favor, man
of a giving mind
a polymorphing opinion here
and your vague outline

I'll find myself another burning gate
a pretty face
a vague idea
I can't relate
And this is what you get for pulling pins
out of the hole inside the hole you're in

It's like I'm perched on the handle bars
of a blind man's bike
no straws to grab just the rushing wind
on the rolling mind

They want you to decide
eventually it happens
some gather on one side
with all their pearly snapping
they close the basement door
it sets our teeth to chatter
you never saw it before
but now that hardly matters

You're old enough, boy
too many summers you've enjoyed
to spin the wheel
will set you up with some odd convictions
'cause you're finally golden, boy

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Burdunellus

Roman usurper, 5th century CE.

His usurpation didn't get far before they caught him and burned him to death inside a bronze bull, which was apparently a common method of executing usurpers.

I feel sorry for whoever had to clean out that bronze bull between usurper-burnings. What a mess that must have been -- and all this before the advent of today's oven-cleaning solvents!

One of Nature's Cruelest Sights

Daily life rarely exceeds this sight for sheer horror:


Note the fiendishly mocking green of the open signal.

I could compare it with the footage I recently saw of a pack of orcas separating a juvenile gray whale from its mother, drowning it, then bothering only to eat its tongue.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

NYT Blogs Run Free!

Now that the New York Times has opened its content to the web free of charge, we have ready access to Paul Krugman's blog, The Conscience of a Liberal, and to Stanley Fish's blog, Think Again. Yay!

Be careful, though -- Maureen Down, Thomas Friedman, and David Brooks also have blogs. Blech. Dowd and Friedman are often labeled as liberals, and they are liberalish here and there, but more often, they're lazy conduits of journalistic pack mentality and market-worshipping sycophants, respectively. Or both.

If you doubt my assessment of Dowd, hop over to Bob Somerby's marvelous Daily Howler and do a search on her name. There's plenty there on Friedman and Brooks as well.

And just now, at least until I experience a mood swing on the subject or encounter a more authoritative source, I have decided to italicize the titles of blogs and similar web-based thingies with a single title. So this is Faith In Honest Doubt, not Faith In Honest Doubt or Faith In Honest Doubt.

Yes to Spirit

A common objection to atheism is that it neglects the spiritual, but I would like to suggest that this objection is made in bad faith or, at best, from ignorance, by people who have never actually explored what atheists say about spirituality and kindred notions. Sam Harris, for example, devotes a significant part of his most famous atheistic book, The End of Faith, to defining a non-supernatural form of and approach to spirituality. I think he offers a very promising direction in those pages, and he is not alone in making the effort to reconcile naturalism with some notion of spirit.

I don't believe in gods, leprechauns, unicorns, or an afterlife, and my efforts at meditation tend to founder on the shore of narcolepsy (you want me to sit still and quiet and yet remain awake, let alone attentive?!?) but I do have something that serves as spirituality. First, as I've mentioned before, I do practice a form of meditation, I just do it while moving -- running creates a meditative space for me -- and my access to the spiritual is enabled by this meditative practice.

Backing up a step: I don't claim to have a sharp definition of the spiritual, but it amounts to a grasp of something beyond the limits of my time-bound body and mind, something that overlays the everyday world of perception with deeper (and deeper-feeling) significance.

I believe the ways in which the people we cherish persist in our thoughts despite death and distance is an organic consequence of the quality and quantity of loving interactions we had with them when they were present. This persistence is what I call spirituality. When I interact with my mother and granny, which I regularly do despite the fact that both died several years ago, I am interacting with the powerful memories, lingering impressions, emotional associations, and intimate knowledge that my actual, in-the-flesh interactions with them produced. I do not believe I am speaking to them in real time, as from the sublunary end of a cup-and-strings phone system that connects me with them as they pluck a harp on a cloud.

They are gone, but they live in the many profound ways they stamped themselves in my mind and body, ways that I could never full disentangle from my sense of what and who I am, even if I decided to.

Putting it that way makes it sound overly general, but the spiritual connections I have are actually very concrete. (They're also not always tied to people.) I'm not sure I can do them justice with words, but here are a few:

I can't see or think of a black-eye pea without thinking of granny's tradition of eating at least some black-eye peas on every New Year's Day. And I can't think of any of that without remembering that I never enjoyed black-eye peas as a kid, and can't think of that without remembering the tensions associated with food among myself, my mom, and my granny. We never saw eye-to-eye on what 'good food' was -- how to make it, where it came from, what it looked like -- and this was the subject of endless (mostly good-natured) squabbling.

I connect with a moment when granny presented me with a wrist watch I had been admiring in a catalog, and the circumstances surrounding that moment. I connect with a long ride in a car with my mom after a sleepless night that bridged my time in a home I was leaving with the home I never should have left. I connect with a time when mom and granny stood watching me paddling through a neighbor's cow pond in a tiny kayak. I connect with the moment when my mom dropped me off at the threshold of my freshman-year dorm, and how she realized more than I did how profound a parting it would turn out to be.

These moments and countless more like them return to me when I meditate and in any number of occasions when I am not actively courting them, and when they do, I feel myself as part of something larger and deeper, as large and as deep as the nature of things can admit, or ever needs to. This the stuff of poetry, and I am hardly the first to equate the poetic and the spiritual. I find great comfort and contentment, as well as illumination, when I can embrace these moments as they come. Nothing is subtracted from them by their firm seat in material reality.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Bored?

Click this link to get a random wikipedia article. Maybe you'll churn up something interesting; I scored the article on the Indian Porcupine on my third try.

The raw url:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/special:random

I [Heart] the Web

Ask, and the internets giveth: the online tombstone generator.


How has it taken me so long to learn of this?

Homophobia Declining

The Human Rights Campaign has issued a new Corporate Equality Index assessing tolerance of gays in the workplace, and 195 employers achieved a perfect score of 100.

The boycott to preserve The Sanctity of the Family just keeps getting harder to maintain, eh homophobes? You can't even buy yourself a Boeing airplane without caving in to The Gay Agenda!

Free Will Without Sin (& New Teeth)

A piece of Christian apologetics I recently stumbled by on the internets concludes as follows (feel free to read it in its full context):

In reviewing all of the above, we can see that it's possible for man to have free volition in heaven and yet never sin. We have a new, divine nature in Christ.
A whole new nature! Neat! Not that my suggestions are welcome, but I hope this new nature also includes limbs and teeth that grow back. I've always wanted a mouth full of awesome shark-style teeth.

This answer arises in the context of the basic question of theodicy, namely, how to account for evil in a universe supposedly created by a supposedly loving god. One conventional and common answer is that evil enters the universe because of mankind's free will -- either god forgot to shut that particular screen door, or (as it is more frequently suggested) god is only made to feel so very special by his creations if they choose to honor and obey him freely.

But it seems to me this already weak answer is complicated greatly by the prospect of a heavenly makeover, in which we become simultaneously sinless and volitional. Why couldn't we just have that nature now? Wouldn't god still feel just as special if these edited and improved beings honored and obeyed him freely? It sounds like it works for him in heaven. Why not now on earth?

And what does it mean to say a being can have free will and yet not choose sin? That 'will' no longer sounds free.

If the claim is that the new nature will be such that we will never want to sin, then it seems like a pretty weak form of will -- akin to my 'free will' not to poke holes in my tongue with rusty push pins. I don't want to, not even a little bit, so how much credit do I really deserve for it from a hypothetical god who places a high value on choosing not to poke holes through the tongue with rusty push pins?

And again -- why can't god just go ahead and convert us into these shark-toothed limb-regrowing creatures who happen not to desire anything that's sinful, but who nonetheless could, in principle, choose the sinful? What is he waiting for? And why is he not doing so but instead sending the universe down a route that he knows (in his omniscience) will land so many of his creations in eternal torment?

Layout Follies

I've made a change or two to the layout of my precious, precious blog to create less wasted space along the left side -- or rather to shift some of the wasted space to the middle and the right side. If you don't like it, just wait a while. Another layout-changing mood swing is never far away.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Talkie of Note: The Kite Runner



Will this be true to the book or will it be turned to treacly crap?

Now Worth the Price

The New York Times has finally caved in to the reality of the internets and dropped its fee-based "TimesSelect," so henceforth, New York Times content will be freely available on the web. It turns out they can do this profitably with online advertising. Who knew?

Peas as large as beets! No wild animals!



The Ladies' Home Journal got a lot right in this set of predictions published in 1900 about the state of things in the year 2000 (click image to enlarge). Most dramatic, in my opinion: our peas were as large as beets in 2000, but the article glosses over the fact that this is because beets had shrunken so much.

Watch the Contumely, Bub

I just found out I'm going to have to be careful with some of the god talk when I go to Boston next spring, because under Massachussetts law,

Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior.
It's a good thing this law is on the books, because if there is one thing the omnipotent creator of the universe needs, it is the threat of fines and imprisonment for anyone who might dare say a contrary word about him.

I also like that it keeps using the word contumeliously, which is so very underrated and underused these days. How much better would "American Idol" be if that Simon guy gave one of his harsh criticisms, and then one of the other drunk judges accused him of being too contumelious? It would still be unwatchable, but ever so slightly less so.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

In Praise of Trogdor the Burninator


This is the historic cartoon that won me over to fandom of homestarrunner.com, the best place on the web for watching videos of Strong Bad answer his e-mails.

Orca Food

This is not my photo, but I almost blundered into harbor seals exactly like these in this exact spot in Lincoln City, Oregon, during a run this morning (actually I think I recognize a few of them starting with the third one from the right). They like to collect here at the Siletz River estuary for the same reason that so many crabbers like to gather here: Lincoln City is a fine place to catch the crabs.

I wasn't there to catch crabs or blunder into harbor seals nor even watch Orcas flop onto the shore to feast on harbor seals, although the latter would have been really interesting. I was there to watch ol' college buddy Joanne get hitched to her new ball-and-chain, Chip.

Congratulations and much love, Joanne and Chip.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Zurn v. Sloan: Consumer Research

One of my favorite restrooms at my workplace stages a dramatic side-by-side comparison in seeing-eye auto-flush urinals, with Zurn on the left and Sloan on the right.

For those women reading this blog who have never snuck into a men's room, and for those men who fear urinals, a seeing-eye auto-flush urinal is a urinal that uses an optical scan to detect the presence of a urinator, and to initiate an automated flush response when the urinator leaves the scanned area. (After, of course, transmitting detailed photos and DNA samples of the urinator to federal authorities -- hence the paranoid males.)

As examples of artificial intelligence go, this is pretty simple, but as with so many forms of artificial intelligence, it spawns bad habits among its alleged beneficiaries. Now accustomed to seeing-eye auto-flush urinals, I never think to flush when I find myself at a non-automated urinal, such as the primitive toilet systems I have at home. (My home has 36 bathrooms, but none of them use seeing-eye auto-flush urinals.)

Because the Sloan is deeper in the men's room, it gets more use, and this might explain its peculiar tendency to flush repeatedly starting a few seconds after the urinator appears in its visual field, and not stopping the flushings until well after the urinator has left the visual field. At first I thought this was the Sloan trying but failing to detect my (non-existent) soul, but I've since realized that my Larry Craig-inspired wide stance is the problem. I stand too far back from the urinal for the Sloan's seeing eye, so it thinks I've finished my peeing and walked away. But then it catches another brief glimpse of me, decides I'm there, loses me again, flushes, sees me again, loses me again, flushes, sees me again, loses me again, flushes, and so on. It's as though it has a bad case of OCD, and has to say "hello" and "goodbye" 36 times.

I've found that I can make it stop the repeated flushings only by narrowing my stance, closing in so that I am almost folding myself into the urinal basin as I pee. I'd really rather not, but the alternative is to listen to as many flushes as the piece-of-crap Sloan can fit into the duration of my time there at the urinal -- usually something around 36 seconds.

The Zurn doesn't do this. The Zurn works the way it is supposed to work. Zurn puts Sloan to shame. Zurn is easily 36 times better than Sloan.

When I finally break down and get 36 seeing-eye auto-flush urinals for all my bathrooms, all 36 will be made by Zurn.

Today's Compassion Fatigue Courtesy Greenpeace

The guy with the clipboard, the forced smile bespeaking idealism, and the inviting stance is not only the reason I didn't cross the street at this corner, but also today's whetstone against which I sharpened my compassion fatigue.

And do note that he was just exactly this fuzzy in real life; this is not a defect of the photo.

He represented Greenpeace rather than Save the Children dot org, but it's the same tedious fundraising methodology. For all I know the fuzzy dude also has a red shirt and performs the same work for the other group.

I have nothing against Greenpeace -- they seem pretty good at making people angry, and I've given them money in the past, back when I still thought they accomplished something other than making people angry -- but, no, I don't have a moment to save the planet. I don't want to hear what Greenpeace has been doing to raise awareness about mistreated aardvarks, identify vaccines for whale AIDS, and rescue Mother Nature from the sodomizing petrochemical concerns.

No. I gave at the office, the check is in the mail, there's always next year, I just want to be friends, life is short, and above all, right now, I'd just like to walk a bit in the downtown area.

36 Things I Share with George W. Bush

Last night:

The success of a free Iraq matters to every civilized nation. We thank the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq and the many others who are helping that young democracy.
When the so-called President uttered these words in last night's speech, I didn't fall off my chair in a fit of disbelieving not-funny-at-all laughter. Not at all! I didn't because I, too, have 36 of so very many helpful things, and I, too, am sometimes disbelieved when I say so. I know his pain.

Just as Bush has 36 nations contributing forces to his glorious war in Iraq, I have 36 expensive sports cars, 36 stylish suits, 36 original works of Salvador Dali, and 36 priceless original writing samples from figures ranging from Julius Caesar to Montaigne to Charles Darwin to Abe Lincoln to Thomas Mann and Albert Einstein. I ran 36 miles this morning, and will run 36 more miles tomorrow morning. I have 36 years of experience in my career field, on top of 36 degrees and certifications establishing my expertise. I have committed 36 complete plays of Shakespeare to memory. I have 36 loyal dogs, 36 lovely housecats, and in the past year, I have rescued 36 injured birds of prey (one of my 36 volunteer endeavors). My guitar amplifier goes all the way to 36. I have read 36 books in the last month, and I subscribe to 36 distinct magazines and journals. I have 36 really hot girlfriends to go with my 36 really hot wives, all of whom live within 36 miles of my 36 luxurious houses. Right this moment, I have 36 muses inspiring me with 36 more things of which I have 36 to list in this blog post, but I feel I've made my point.

I have told at least 36 brazen lies about all this, and I share that with Bush too.

Grrrr

I hate chickenshit bureaucrats. Unfortunately, 95% of my coworkers are exactly that. They invoke "SOX", "security", "process," and "documentation" in the way that George W. Bush invokes 9/11 -- as a catch-phrase of fear-mongering laziness that allows them to cut through complexity, stop progress and/or continue regression, and permit a return to the couch where they can try to name the cloud shapes, cut brush (literally or figuratively), and await a quiet death.

I'd rather not tempt any more dry heaves by going into more detail -- suffice to say chickenshit bureaucrats should go the way of the dodo, river dolphins, common decency, and the republic for which the US flag was once non-sarcastically said to stand.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Kathy Griffin -- My Goddess!

In her speech accepting an Emmy, comedian Kathy Griffin said

A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus ... Suck It, Jesus. This award is my god now!
Amen!

Naturally, the E! Network is planning to cut these remarks from the broadcast on Saturday, because it would be so very offensive to Christians, the most righteous of whom understand the direct role Jesus takes in the awarding of Emmys and the scoring of touchdowns.

Here's a link to sign a petition in favor of airing her remarks. I signed the petition, but I don't expect the chickenshits to air the remarks, so I am ready to follow my original plan of ignoring the Emmy awards for yet another year. (Whereas seeing her make these remarks might have been a reason to tune in. Oh well, that's what youtube is for.)

The Usual for Blazers Fans

I'm glad to say I had the good sense to look past the hype and abstain from spending money on tickets or anything else Blazer-related: #1 pick Greg Oden will miss the entire upcoming NBA season.

The upside: the Blazers will suck again without Oden, so maybe they'll snag another top draft pick next year.

Burn All Your Compasses



You can use a wrist watch to find south.

The instructions as given: "Hold a watch with 12 o'clock at left. Move your arm so the hour hand points at the sun. The spot halfway between the hour hand and the 12 is south."

I don't really get why you start by holding the watch with 12 o'clock at left -- that seems like a lot of effort that you'll quickly undo by moving your arm to point the hour hand at the sun. And do you really need to move your whole arm to point the hour hand at the sun? I'd rather just rotate the watch, which creates little strain on my arms. The article gives further caveats about the southern hemisphere (as if anyone ever needs to find south there! Just follow the penguins!) and daylight savings time (as if I ever know whether I'm in a daylight savings time part of the year or a daylight wastings time part of the year).

Note: this does not work with digital watches.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My Purity Pledge

I herewith offer my "Father's Purity Pledge" --

I, Thelma's Father, choose before to God to war for my daughter's purity. I acknowledge myself as the authority and protector of my daughter's virginity, and pledge to be a man of integrity as I lead, guide, and pray over my daughter and her virginity – as the High Priest of my home.
Notes:

1) Thelma is my cat.

2) Thelma is dead.

3) Thelma died a virgin.

4) My dead virgin cat, Thelma, is buried under the rhododendrons along the western edge of my property, about three feet away from the fence to the back yard. Without mentioning this, the pledge would seem somehow hollow. It wouldn't be, in a word, sporting -- it would be akin, say, to pledging to protect the virginity of a human daughter that you have subjected to an upbringing in which the level and intensity of anti-sex thinking can admit of taking a pledge like this one in dead earnest. Really, in such a situation, if you ask me, the intactness of your daughter's hymen is the least of your shared problems.

Nothing fails like prayer, so if you really want to take the virginity of my dead cat, you at least won't have that to worry about.

5) I'd make the same pledge vis-a-vis my other dead virgin cat, Tootie, but for the fact that she died on the operating table, and the whereabouts of her remains are unknown to me. So while I would certainly frown on your efforts to take Tootie's virginity, all in all, I won't know about it and I'd rather not know about it.

Sunny Day Chewed Away

I am having to while away this sunny day in a hotel conference room learning about use cases. On one hand, it's a shitty way to use a day, but on the other hand, the class is genuinely useful without being very challenging, and we get free bran muffins, coffee, tea, and orange juice, so I can spend as much of it as I want in the restroom. (That is, I will whether I can or not.)

It's also a reminder that I actually do know what I'm doing at my job more than I sometimes suspect. Sometimes my little corner of the IT world gets awfully abstract and so tied up in "process" (everyone's favorite buzzword) that I lose track of what I'm supposed to be actually, you know, doing in exchange for the money they pay me. A class like this, even though not covering inherently interesting material, reminds me that despite myself I can actually distinguish my ass from a hole in the ground if the situation calls for it.

As it runs into the late afternoon, will the instructor kindly overlook my napping? I trust he will.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

He Doesn't Know

I am tempted to hold a more charitable view than does Andrew Sullivan of today's remarkable exchange between Senator Warner and General Petraeus:

"Do you feel that [Iraq war] is making America safer"?

Petraeus paused before responding. He then said:

"I believe this is indeed the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq."

That was, of course, a non-answer. And Warner wasn't going to let the general dodge the bullet. He repeated the question:

"Does the [Iraq war] make America safer?"

Petraeus replied, "I don't know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind."
Sullivan bites down pretty hard on Petraeus for this:
He's fighting a war that he hasn't even decided is vital or even beneficial to the security of the United States. That's how lost we are in mission creep. That's the depth of the hole in which Petraeus has been ordered to keep digging.
I am tempted to accept Petraeus's "I'm just a soldier, I'm just following orders" answer, because the military should defer to the civilian government on matters of big-picture politics, strategy, and diplomacy.

But on second thought: No. Hell no. This is the same General Petraeus behind which Bush has been hiding for the entirety of 2007. We have been asked again and again by Bush and his flacks to accept Petraeus's assessment of the surge. We have been told over and over to set aside our earned distrust of Bush, Cheney, and everyone else in the White House in favor of Petraeus's hard-earned wisdom on all things surge-related, all things counter-insurgency-related, all things sectarian-violence-related, and in short, all things pertaining to Iraq.

And yet, today, when asked the central question -- is the USA safer because of the occupation of Iraq -- Petraeus scratches his head, pauses, and says he doesn't know.

He doesn't know.

He doesn't know.

He doesn't know.

We can count on the Bush White House spinning the hell out of this by tomorrow morning, and feeding Petraeus and others talking points to fill out and fill in and occlude this paltry non-answer, but in real time, when asked the most basic of questions, Patraeus didn't have an answer.

There is no wizard behind the curtain.

This war must end.

A Note of Thanks

I've been meaning to give a public thanks to Save the Children, the organization that has spent the last several months cramming Portland's downtown sidewalks with college-age clipboard-bearing red-shirted mendicants, and in the process has done more than any other entity -- including even Portland's permanent population of punk-styled street urchin panhandlers -- to hone my compassion fatigue to an amazingly sharp point.

Having been assailed day after day with a smiling come-on like "do you have a moment to save the children?" and usually from an attractive pitch-person who is doing everything she can legally do to flatter me on a public sidewalk, I am now supremely confident and always ready with my firm "No."

Do I have any spare change? No. Do I have a moment to save the innocent starving hordes of faraway continents? No. Do I have the smallest fraction of a single second to hear more about the cause? No. Do I have the time of day? No. Do I possess the ability to give any answer other than "no"? No. Wouldn't it seem unduly contemptuous of me to dismiss this blameless solicitation on behalf of a worthy cause? No.

Thank you, Save the Children dot org. You have helped.

Eminem and Other Navels

I really want to like Eminem, and I consider at least two of his songs, "Without Me" and "Lose Yourself," to be brilliant. The trouble with Eminem -- and pardon me for being several years behind with this piece of unoriginal criticism -- all of his songs seem to be about Eminem: how difficult it is to have his particular mother, the hardships of being a white rapper, the nuisance of being asked the same questions over and over by the people who do reporting on the hip-hop world.

The song "Stan" is touching and well made, but really, I can't relate to having a fan who gets increasingly distraught because he gets no replies to fan letters and decides to kill his girlfriend. That's pretty far from my everyday, which is not inherently a bad thing -- art should present the unfamiliar -- but I'm not sure what he wants the audience to do with this story. Feel sorry for rappers? Feel sorry for rap fans? Stop caring so much about the self-presentation of artists like Eminem? (The latter seems unlikely.)

If you've seen 8 Mile, which I recommend you do, you've seen everything Eminem cares to offer. And that's a shame, because I would love to hear him address his talents to something beyond the framework of that story.

Ponca City's Endangered Playgrounds

Ponca City's local newspaper breathlessly reports that

Roosevelt School was the only school in the Ponca City district which did not have a playground for first- through fifth-graders, the Blantons said.
I don't know who the Blantons are, or which Blanton said this, nor why which was chosen over that, but enough on their graceless prose. Let's turn to some of mine.

Having attended Roosevelt elementary, I can assure you that it did have a playground for "first- through fifth-graders" as late as 1981, a large and dandelion-rich field bordering a blacktop area where distinctions between boys and girls, and between grades, were strictly observed. My feet were planted on this very playground when, in a fit of pre-teen pique in the summer of 1980, I hucked an egg at the window of Ms. Crawford's classroom, with a rebel cry of "teach me about music, will you?!?" Fifteen years later, an Australian ham actor named Mel Gibson would transfigure this scene, converting the rebel cry into "freeeeedom!" and the egg-hucking into a disembowelment by the henchmen of the dying King Edward I. And just as, in Mel Gibson's film, Braveheart got the last laugh by proving to be the true sire of the heir to the English throne, so would I get the last laugh on Ms. Crawford by learning absolutely nothing from her except the words to "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and other old-timey Americana songs.

So what happened to Roosevelt's fabled playground? Was it swallowed up by the orange ooze that's been trickling out of the Conoco-Philips refinery these many years? Was it lost to rising seas from the melt-off of Greenland's ice sheets? And why, pray tell, will it cost $30,000 to restore -- the fundraising goal of these Blantons we've heard so much about? Surely dandelion seed isn't that expensive.

Monday, September 10, 2007

My Kind of Creatively Destructive

I know what I hate, and I don't hate this: artist Martin Klimas photographs clay figures just as they begin to shatter.


This is exactly how I remember the sight of the Hummel figures I broke at grandmother's house as a kid.

Here is a gallery of works in the same series.

I Ran With Pat!

A woman who ran in yesterday's Pints to Pasta 10k race has changed into a dude!

Or so I interpret the fact that as of yesterday, there were 525 male finishers listed in the official race results, whereas today, there are 526 listed, even as the total number of participants has remained constant at 1343.

Welcome to our side, Pat. You'll hate it.

Science: Liberals Smart, Conservatives Dumb

OK, well, my title missed some of the nuance of the findings, but the title accurately depicts how conservatives will interpret it. And they're not exactly wrong, just guilty, as usual, of oversimplification. They're still salt of the earth people, people who cling doggedly to things -- you know, morons.

Such are the differences between liberal and conservative thought patterns, a new scientific study has found: liberals embrace ambiguity and nuance, conservatives do not, and this distinction carries through beyond political matters.

This is a problem.

The Gospel According to Petraeus

I see tangible progress. Iraqi security elements are being rebuilt from the ground up ... Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously in the face of an enemy that has shown a willingness to do anything to disrupt the establishment of the new Iraq ... Momentum has gathered in recent months. With strong Iraqi leaders out front and with continued coalition -- and now NATO -- support, this trend will continue.
Wow! That sounds great until you realize General Patraeus wrote this in a Washington Post op-ed three years ago, long before the "surge", just in time to whore his soldier-man credibility for the service of Bush-GOP electoral politics in fall 2004.

His present bullshit tour before Congress and on FoxNews cameras deploys the same cant phrases, lies, and half-truths, and adds to the same shameless political whoring. What a shame, and what a disgrace.

The Usual, Sadly

General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will be granting an exclusive sit-down interview to FoxNews, at which they'll continue spreading half-truths in favor of keeping the Iraq occupation going until it can be some other President's problem.

This confirms that these two are just part of the GOP bullshit machine, and adds even more to the conclusion that Bush and the GOP couldn't care less about legitimacy.

They don't care if they win "hearts and minds" in Iraq, and likewise, they don't care if they win them here in the USA. Sticking with the happy-talk climes of GOP-TV is a big extended middle finger to the majority of Americans who want an end to the Iraq war -- or at very least some real answers.

There will be neither, and the Bush GOP is committed to doing nothing but kicking the can of this mess down the road while doing as little political damage as possible to the GOP's chances in 2008.

This is astonishingly ugly. Human beings are losing lives, limbs, and sanity as these political games are played.

Confession

Yes, I was still feeling nauseous and weak from the binge-drinking, but there was another thing that slowed me down in yesterday's race: there were at least three instances when I had to choose between passing a slower runner or continuing to watch her run from behind.

Sigh. The scenery along this course on this lovely morning was outstanding in every way. Any guy present who didn't fall in love every few minutes should get his pulse checked.

"Doubt, for lack of a better word, is good"

Bill Maher's "New Rules" feature was especially good this week, and well enjoyed by guests Cornel West and a very high Mos Def. I especially like his closing comments about arrogance, certainty, and doubt, and not just because in his championing of this theme and his use of the phrase "polishing a turd," I can almost allow myself to think he's cribbing from my precious, precious blog (or previous efforts). Almost. Of course he isn't -- his final words allude to the famous lines from Wall Street, and the entire commentary is a fine example of Bill Maher doing what he does so well, saying biting things that need saying.