Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Two Last Things for 2008

Two things for the rapidly diminishing few of us still clinging to 2008 ...

Thing 1: check out the latest Carnival of the Liberals at Rust Belt Philosophy. And I don't say that only because I have a piece or two in it.

Thing 2: make those last few preparations to make for a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2009 for you and those you care about.

Podcasts for WMP for Dummies

Am I right to say there is no built-in or add-in interface to Windows Media Player (WMP) for the subscription, downloading, and indexing of podcasts?


Microsoft is applying a "not invented here" mindset to podcasts? This is 2009 in a couple of hours, right?

I ask because I recently replaced my deceased iPod shuffle -- it had a good run and served me ably -- with a SanDisk Sansa Clip 4GB (wikipedia, Amazon, BestBuy), which I love so far, but which plays best with WMP.

I know, I know, there are workarounds. There are podcast clients like Juice that are designed to handle podcasts. But I already have a client that handles podcasts perfectly well -- iTunes -- if I'm willing use two pieces of software.

I want WMP to do for my Sansa what iTunes did so well for my iPod. Not possible?

Oh well. At least I didn't get a fucking Zune.

Enter Gonzales, Drop Curtain

Alberto Gonzales, the mentally retarded man Bill Maher called "Bush's Mexican Mall Lawyer" has joined the Bush-Cheney junta's self-pitying self-promotion farewell tour already in progress, wailing to the Wall Street Journal:

"What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" he said during an interview Tuesday, offering his most extensive comments since leaving government.
What did he do to merit his reputation as a risible, corrupt, incompetent, doltish tool? Hmmm, I don't recall.

But Think Progress has at least a partial answer to Gonzales's bleat:
Politicized the DOJ: – Gonzales approved the firing and hiring of federal prosecutors for political reasons and lied to Congress about the scandal.

Approved torture: In 2002, Gonzales “raised no objections and, without consulting military and State Department experts in the laws of torture and war,” approved an infamous August 2002 memo giving CIA interrogators “legal blessings.” Gonzales witnessed an interrogation at Gitmo in 2002 and approved of “whatever needs to be done” to detainees.

Lied about warrantless wiretapping: Gonzaled lied to Congress multiple times about the Bush administration’s illegal wiretapping program, saying there wasn’t “any serious disagreement” about the program (there was).

Distorted pre-war intelligence: Last month, the House Oversight Committee revealed evidence showing that Gonzales lied to Congress in 2004 by claiming that the CIA “orally” approved Bush’s claim that Iraq sought uranium from Africa.
There are really only two suitable places for Alberto Gonzales: Hollywood Squares or prison. I'd prefer the latter.

Shorter Dennis Prager

Dennis Prager, "When a Woman Isn't In the Mood: Part II"

  • Ladies, if you're only having sex with your husbands when you're inclined to do so, you're doing it wrong.
(via Rust Belt Philosophy)

'Shorter' concept lovingly borrowed from Sadly, No!

Year-End Cataplexy Blogging: Prom-Night Dumpster Baby

This makes me laugh.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pride or Shame or Something

The NFL has announced that beginning in 2010, the Pro Bowl will be played in the same city as the Super Bowl (rather than Honolulu), and will be played one week before the Super Bowl (rather than one week after). Sports radio is already abuzz with discussion of this change, and for purposes of this post, so too is this precious, precious blog.

This change is sure to increase the number of no-shows to the game, beginning with those players who will be playing in the Super Bowl the week after, none of whom will be dumb enough to risk injury in a meaningless game. Or maybe some of them will be dumb enough, in which case it can only degrade the quality of the Super Bowl, which is already barely tolerable as a football spectacle given the advertising frenzy.

I say abolish the Pro Bowl altogether. I would rather see the NFL follow the NBA and recognize an "All NFL" first, second, and third team for each position, without asking the named players to gather on the same field, don hyperpatriotic uniforms, and go through game-like motions (the NBA has an all-star game, but the all-NBA teams are separate from the all-star teams). This would allow the best players to be recognized even if they are not able to play due to injury, jail, civil trials, paternity testing, etc.

While I'm addressing these important topics, I present the evidence that I have participated in a "pick pool" over the course of the just-concluded NFL regular season, and tied for first place in my group with 171 of 256 games correctly picked. Sadly, no money was wagered.

171 is better than any of the suckers that ESPN considers "experts," with the exception of former NFL running back Merril Hoge and demonic robot AccuScore, which also pulled in 171 correct picks.

Like all American men who aren't already paid to argue about football on tee-vee, I hope someday to be among the men paid to argue about football on tee-vee. But I have a face for radio, a voice for newsprint, and no playing experience beyond high school, so that's unlikely.

Nothing Fails Like Pledges

It turns out that abstinence pledges fail to turn horny, wreckless teenagers into non-horny, sagacious teenagers:

Teens who take virginity pledges are just as likely to have sex as teens who don't make such promises -- and they're less likely to practice safe sex to prevent disease or pregnancy, a new study finds.
While I am loath to flout the convention of holding teenage humans to higher standards than other humans, I wonder if hectoring adults into taking similar pledges would work any better?

Suppose we asked American adults to take a pledge to forswear cake, pie, brownies, fudge, donuts, cookies, ice cream, and candy between, say, Halloween and New Year's Day. No doubt sales of such items would plummet in exact proportion to the number of pledge-takers, all the more if the adults were assured that Jesus would throw pledge violators into a lake of unending fire after they die.

Or suppose we set up an arrangement whereby adults would pledge to have sex with -- if not sexual feelings for -- only one specific person for the rest of their natural lives. I wonder how that would turn out? Spectacularly well, I would guess, and no doubt all who signed on would agree with this more or less representative chastity pledge:
I will become a responsible, mature and truly loving person by keeping this pledge. I will become capable of establishing and maintaining healthy and mutually fulfilling relationships. I will contribute to the betterment of my world by not adding to its problems and by reserving my energies for positive activities rather than the undoing of avoidable mistakes.

Really-Existing Conservatism: Bush's Calamities

I might fault Austin Bramwell on semantics here:

Bush’s idealism, in short, means that he’s not just indifferent to the evil consequences of his actions but positively welcomes them as proofs of his commitment to idealism. In Bush’s mind, the our very failures in Iraq have shown how he has gloriously withstood the test of leadership. For all that other presidents have also claimed the mantle of righteousness, an idealism as fanatical as Bush’s has never been seen before.
I would substitute ideology and ideologue where Bromwell uses idealism and idealist, but that's a quibble. Either way, I take this reading of Bush as the most back-handed of praise; either way, it expresses the fact that Bush makes a mistake that is parallel to the one many left-ish academics make: they read Nietzsche's aphorism that "to be great is to be misunderstood," and they proceed to try to make themselves great by making themselves impossible to understand (cf. the Sokal Affair). Similarly, Bush sees the example of Lincoln standing firm in the teeth of calamity and proceeds to foment and embrace calamity after calamity.

But I have more than quibbles with this comment on Bromwell from Secular Right's David Hume (not to be confused with the real David Hume):
One of the main points which my liberal friends have a hard time grasping is the conservative anger at George W. Bush for not being a conservative. Faith and hope are important human traits, and pure rationality leads to a sterile and indecisive existence (as evidenced in António Damásio’s work). But all things in modest measures. One can not know the mind of a man, but on many an occasion I have wondered as to the similarity between the cosmic visions of liberal audacity and George W. Bush’s belief that if he believes it is so, it is so.
Not that this is the first time I've heard it, but audacity is not the same thing as liberalism, and Bush has borne the standard of conservatism through every one of his calamities. To whatever extent he has defiled that standard, it does not change the standard; and it certainly does not change the fact that Bush worked his calamities with the enthusiastic support of other self-labeled conservatives in Congress, the courts, business, the news media, and beyond.

The Bush legacy is what it is, and it has been conservative from day one. Conservatives own it, notwithstanding the fact that some of them -- some -- have come around to detest aspects of it. To whatever extent liberals deserve blame for the last several years of national disgrace, it is for opposing conservatism too weakly in the name of centrist accommodation.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Is 'Naive' the Word?

A British man has made a confession of sorts:

Vince Acors, 34, and Michelle Palmer, 36, were arrested on a Dubai beach in July and convicted to three-month jail terms in October on charges of public indecency and for having sex outside marriage. Their jail sentences were suspended on appeal and both returned to the UK last week ... Acors admitted he had been "extremely naive" about Muslim law in the Middle Eastern country.
I question whether "extremely naive" captures it. The man was obviously wrong to suspect that it would remain the 21st century even after he passed into an Islamist-ish jurisdiction.

Sex on a public beach is frowned upon in much of the world, but there in Dubai, under the watchful gaze of all-merciful Allah's lieutenants, he's lucky he and his companion were not hauled into a soccer stadium and pelted to death with rocks. I am guessing here, but perhaps they were only given a few months in jail because the woman was completely covered by cloth, not reading any books, didn't have the keys to the car? Maybe they were facing toward Mecca?

Who Cares About the Cultural Altitude?

Norm Geras quotes Cosmo Landesman who cites Allan Bloom:

Allan Bloom, in his 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind, argued that listening to rock music destroyed a young person's ability to appreciate high culture. Could it also be true that an appreciation of high culture destroys a person's ability to appreciate popular culture?
Norm's skepticism of the idea is no match for my outright guffaws at its expense. Can the same person have a taste for both high and low (and middle) culture? Can a cow eat hay?

Yes, obviously, a person can enjoy both high and low culture. Take me for example. For Christmas gifts I happily received a DVD set of films by Ingmar Bergman (Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, and The Virgin Spring); and volume 2 of American Dad on DVD; and the book More Information Than You Require by John Hodgman; and more besides.

I say the Hodgman book alone collapses any high-low distinction even if the rest of it does not.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Lifeless By Two

Granted, having seen 87 of the listed films puts me in the "does not have a life" column, but as the threshold is 85, I feel pretty good about that result. And for what it's worth, I can name several I'd gladly unwatch if that were possible.

And you?

The Service on Hoth: Fed Ex and Waste Management

Now that the snow is finally melting away here in Slush-Town, I really hope things get back to normal -- and by "things" I have a very short list of two things in particular:

(1) My wife insists she bought me Christmas gifts and chose -- and paid for!! -- expedited shipping such that the gifts would arrived by 12/23. It's now the evening of 12/28 and we are still awaiting a visit from the Fed Ex delivery truck. Their oh-so-helpful online package tracking service indicates the shipment has been somewhere in Portland since 12/20, but they've not managed to get it here.

I understand the weather and driving conditions have been horrendous, but is Fed Ex really this incapable of dealing with snow and ice? Do they just close shop during the winter months in, say, Canada? I know Fed Ex has big trucks with big tires -- I have seen them with my very eyes. I also note that others have made it to and along my street throughout Portland's 2008 Death Squall, including but not limited to the US Postal Service. They've managed to put mail in my mailbox every business day despite the Death Squall, and they're shiftless government bureaucrats that make Baby Jesus and Republicans cry!
The non-delivery of Xmas gifts is but a trifle set next to this next entry:
(2) The disappearance of Waste Management (WM). We last saw our waste hauler on Friday, 12/19, when they managed to take away the garbage but not the recycling. Now, fully nine days later, the containers are well beyond full and await WM's mercies.
The snow has been a pain in the ass for everyone, adequate proof of which is that my nine-year-old son is glad to see it finally washing away. But come on, Fed Ex and WM, you have big trucks with big tires. Mightn't we expect them rolling up soon?

Better Ideas vs. The One True God

Presenting himself as a firm atheist sheepishly admitting to truths he would prefer to wish away, Matthew Parris has some rather sweeping things to say about the impact of Christian missionaries in Africa, beginning with the culture they encounter:

I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the “big man” and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the (literal) inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition.

Anxiety - fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things - strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought.
Into these cultural norms Christian missionaries inject, Parris says, a needful corrective:
Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual [sic] framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.
It certainly does not sound like Parris has Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox Christianity in mind, which sweeps quite a wide swath of Christianity from this tidy picture. Nor is it clear what their exclusion suggests to Parris: do African missionaries bearing pre-Reformation, counter-Reformation, and Luther-indifferent forms of Christianity fail to crack the "philosophical/spiritual framework" he describes? Do they deepen it? Attenuate it slightly? Do they, too, "liberate"? He doesn't say.

This is the consequential question for atheism per se. Parris is either telling us that missionaries are changing lives by delivering a new way to conceive the world (individualism) or by delivering news of a savior (Jesus). Is a new set of ideas -- albeit delivered in a religious bundle -- making the difference, or is a particular deity?

If the latter, atheists should indeed take notice.

If the former, theists and atheists alike will see nothing new here. Anyone who has read, say, The Autobiography of Malcolm X will recognize the basic structure. In that instance, the transformative set of ideas came packaged with a variety of Islam, but few clear-eyed observers read that story, as compelling as it is, as proof of the claims of Islam.

More discussion of this piece is at Secular Right: Walter Olson and David Hume; also at The Unreligious Right.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Newspaper Mourning in Perspective

Glenn Greenwald picks up Politico's rundown of the top 10 political scoops of 2008 and does not like what he finds. Politico:

(1) Katie Couric's interview of Sarah Palin (CBS)
(2) McCain can't say how many homes he owns (Politico)
(3) Obama's "bitter" comment (Huffington Post)
(4) Sarah Palin's shopping spree (Politico)
(5) Turmoil in the Clinton camp (Washington Post and Atlantic -- "The behind-the-scenes tension was captured by the reporters in one memorable exchange: '[Expletive] you!' Ickes shouted. '[Expletive] you!' Penn replied. '[Expletive] you!' Ickes shouted again.")
(6) Jeremiah Wright tapes (ABC News)
(7) The Pentagon's military analyst program (NY Times)
(8) Bickering in the McCain camp (NY Times Magazine)
(9) John Edwards' affair (National Enquirer)
(10) Powell endorses Obama (Meet the Press)
Each of Politico's favorite "scoops" is at least a few removes from a matter of substantive public interest. Greenwald draws the contrast between the professional journalists who spent the year focusing on this personality-driven, weightless dreck and a hypothetical news media that might have devoted equal passion and resources to, say,
such dreary, boring revelations as the choerographing and approving of torture techniques at White House Principals Meetings; or the creation of a massive, likely illegal domestic surveillance system of sprawling data bases built and maintained with no Congressional approval or oversight by the NSA; or the issuance of a memo by the Bush DOJ endlessly expanding the definition of "torture" and declaring the Fourth Amendment inoperative to "domestic military operations" inside the U.S.; or the massive contributions received from the telecom industry by Sen. Jay Rockefeller immediately before he became the key advocate of immunity for that lawbreaking industry; or the flagrant abuse of unchecked NSA eavesdropping powers for purely prurient and invasive ends; or the patently false denials by the U.S. military -- bolstered by an ostensibly first-hand report from Oliver North on Brit Hume's "news" broadcast -- of massive civilian deaths in Afghanistan; or the endless holes in the attempts by the FBI to blame the anthrax attacks on a dead scientist; or so many other similar boring disclosures.
All of which serves to contextualize the hand-wringing over the declining prospects of newspapers and the journalistic profession, as in the recent New Yorker piece by James Surowiecki, who finds fault in the internet and the sluggish business responses to it:
Newspaper readership has been slowly dropping for decades—as a percentage of the population, newspapers have about half as many subscribers as they did four decades ago—but the Internet helped turn that slow puncture into a blowout ... many argue that if newspapers had understood they were in the information business, rather than the print business, they would have adapted more quickly and more successfully to the Net.

There’s some truth to this. Local papers could have been more aggressive in leveraging their brand names to dominate the market for online classifieds, instead of letting Craigslist usurp that market ...

These mistakes have been undeniably costly, but they’re not the whole story. The peculiar fact about the current crisis is that even as big papers have become less profitable they’ve arguably become more popular. The blogosphere, much of which piggybacks on traditional journalism’s content, has magnified the reach of newspapers, and although papers now face far more scrutiny, this is a kind of backhanded compliment to their continued relevance. Usually, when an industry runs into the kind of trouble that Levitt was talking about, it’s because people are abandoning its products. But people don’t use the Times less than they did a decade ago. They use it more.
They use it more! (Someone with a combination of business and technological acumen should be able to crack that nut, but I digress.) The faults, Suroweicki goes on to say, lie with ourselves above and beyond the internet bogeyman:
The difference is that today [newspaper readers] don’t have to pay for it. The real problem for newspapers, in other words, isn’t the Internet; it’s us. We want access to everything, we want it now, and we want it for free. That’s a consumer’s dream, but eventually it’s going to collide with reality: if newspapers’ profits vanish, so will their product.
Fair enough -- we will get the journalism we are willing to pay for. But it's worth noting that the journalism we're currently paying for, judging from Politico's ten highlighted moments from 2008, is not worth the price paid. It is, to put it plainly, shit. We are asked to bewail the financial demise of entities that, the year before, devoted substantial time, money, and spittle to inform us that Barack Obama's preacher said controversial things, that people within the McCain-Palin campaign disagreed over campaign strategy, that other campaign operatives exchanged obscenities, that a craven toad endorsed one of the candidates?

No. To these I say -- as I say to my local newspaper, which can't seem to find anything fit to print beyond sale circulars, titillating crime tales, and inaccurate weather forecasts -- good riddance.

This, too, must be seen as part of the reason why paid journalism is declining: its really-existing products are not worth having. If the internet is riddled with unreadable, useless trash -- and surely it is -- at least the price is right.

Holiday Beasts

Wilbur and Columbus don't give a damn about Christmas or New Year's Day or anything of the sort. They do appreciate the can of 'wet' cat food we opened for them as a Christmas morning treat, but that only lasted a few minutes and is, by now, a distant memory.

They're already bored with next Christmas.

Backward Submission

Islam means submission, and its most breathless followers are pleased to run with the idea:

The Taleban have ordered the closure of all girls’ schools in the war-ravaged Swat district and warned parents and teachers of dire consequences if the ban is flouted.

In an announcement made in mosques and broadcast on radio, the militant group set a deadline of January 15 for its order to be obeyed or it would blow up school buildings and attack schoolgirls. It also told women not to set foot outside their homes without being fully covered.

“Female education is against Islamic teachings and spreads vulgarity in society,” Shah Dauran, leader of a group that has established control over a large part of Swat district in the North West Frontier Province, declared this week.
Notice how submission fits equally well whether the person submitting is free or coerced: one submits to the charms of a math lesson, or one submits to the demands of a mugger holding a knife. It's all submission.

Submission to god's will -- this arrangement guarantees that, sooner or later, the will of mere humans will have to yield. God wants what he wants, so schools will need to be blown to pieces, women will need to be terrified into silence and veiled from sight, girls will need to be kept away from books and teachers.

More plainly, Islam means backwardness, privation, and ignorance.


Portland is now a mixture of deep slush and dawning hope that, at last, our cabin fever might end.

Might it?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Wikipedia Wins

As good as they may be, I doubt Funk & Wagnalls or Encyclopedia Britannica have an entry on the chip butty, which is

a sandwich made with bread (usually white and buttered) and chips (french fries), often with some sort of sauce such as tomato sauce (i.e. ketchup) or brown sauce. It was originally considered a working-class meal, served in pubs. The chip butty is a vegetarian-friendly, albeit junkfood, dish and has recently made a comeback. It is more common in the north of England.
Terrible, just terrible, but delicious anyway. All of the same goes for Cap'n Crunch.

Then again, Funk & Wagnalls and Encyclopedia Britannica aren't begging for money as far as I know.

For food and information and beyond, I'm afraid we get the culture we pay for.

Pregnant Assertions and Non-Assertions

The following claims (and claims worded as questions) appeared on the web site of Rick Warren's megachurch as of a few days ago:

Eventually, I came to the conclusion, through my study of the Bible and science, that the two positions of evolution and creation just could not fit together. There are some real problems with the idea that God created through evolution ... Did the Bible teach evolution or did it teach the creation of a first man and woman named Adam and Eve? If we evolved, which human being would have made the choice that brought sin into this world? If Adam and Eve were just allegorical pictures, why did the New Testament place some much importance upon them as responsible and real individuals? Since God clearly says that it is our sin that brought death into our world, how could there have been death for billions of years before the arrival of the first man who sinned on the earth? As I asked questions about this issue and studied what the Bible had to say, I found it to be one of the greatest times of learning in my life as a new believer.
The page also makes fanciful assertions about dinosaurs and humans living together before Eve ruined everything by eating the wrong pear. Or perhaps until Noah absent-mindedly left them off the Ark.

As pregnant with nonsense as these assertions are, it's arguably more interesting to note that they've disappeared from the Saddleback web site, hence the need to fetch them from a google cache. How are we supposed to interpret their disappearance in the context of the controversy over Obama's selection of Rick Warren to participate in the inauguration?

Does Rick Warren no longer believe that Genesis should be read literally? Does he no longer believe that Eve and Adam saddled up dinosaurs and rode them over the plains of Eden? Does he now believe the earth is billions rather than thousands of years old? If so, has he said so explicitly? If so, what changed his mind? What accounts for his unexpected acceptance of science-based reality?

If not -- if he still believes the anti-science garbage that appeared on his megachurch's web site and attributed to its pastors, if he still considers the likes of this a scientific text -- why is he concealing the fact?

Is Rick Warren a scheming social climber or a faith-addled ignoramus? Of course it could be both.

(via Rust Belt Philosophy, which has more on this nonsense)

The Gospels and Perturbation

Christopher Hitchens is filled with Christmas cheer:

If all the official stories of monotheism, from Moses to Mormonism, were to be utterly and finally discredited, we would be exactly where we are now. All the agonizing questions that we face, from the idea of the good life and our duties to each other to the concept of justice and the enigma of existence itself, would be just as difficult and also just as fascinating. It takes a totalitarian mind-set to claim that only one Bronze Age Palestinian revelation or prophecy or text can be our guide through this labyrinth.
Obviously people will agree or disagree with this assessment, so count Ross Douthat in the disagree column:
I'm not entirely clear on Hitchens' meaning here - whether he means that everything would be the same for himself, and other committed skeptics, in the event that the Christian story was inarguably discredited, or whether he wants to make the more sweeping claim that even if one takes Christianity seriously it has nothing to offer on the Big Questions that hasn't been said and thought and wrestled with elsewhere ...

[F]undamentally, the Christian story is evidence for a particular idea about the universe: It recounts a series of events that, if real, tells us something profound about the nature of God, and His relationship to His creatures, that we couldn't have been expected to understand or accept in precisely the same way without the Gospel narratives. [emphasis mine]
Well, no, the Christian story is not really evidence for anything, save perhaps for the fact that people write stories featuring the feats and sayings of gods.

But that aside, yes, the Gospels represent a particular formulation of god and god's relationship to mankind that has perturbed the subsequent course of thinking about those subjects. It's equally true to say that the Aeneid has perturbed the subsequent course of thinking about Rome's founding and that The Canterbury Tales has perturbed the subsequent course of thinking about walking tours of the English countryside.

Everything in Virgil's and Chaucer's great works had been "said and thought and wrestled with elsewhere" -- strictly speaking, it would be hard to argue that either came up with anything genuinely unprecedented -- but the actual stories they told, and how they told them, and when, made them remarkable and enduring nevertheless.

And so it is with the Gospels, but Douthat, of course, dropped in to disagree because he wants more than that. His "if real" is carrying considerable freight here, but it merely begs the question. If real, the Odyssey and Moby Dick tell us potentially significant things about marine biology. But of course they're not real, and yet they remain worth reading, and moreover everything they touch remains "just as difficult and also just as fascinating."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Music, High and Low

I am the last one to be immune from the charms of religious-oriented Christmas music.

Bach's "In Dulci Jubilo":

And in the so-bad-it's-good vein, via Portland Mercury, the sad-throated stylings of Henrietta and Myrna performing "Go Tell It On the Mountain":

Pardon Me

As someone who loves his caterwauling and appreciates its value, I have no complaint about the periodic bout of caterwauling that attends the outgoing president's use of his pardon powers. It's a predictably hideous spectacle we've come to expect every four or eight years here in the USA, always between election day and inauguration day, when a used-up president finds himself in need of nothing more than funding for his pointless eponymous library, so he begins answering all those pardon requests stacked in his inbox.

So it is with the soon-departing president Bush, who is granting pardons that -- surprise of surprises! -- seem questionable in many instances. Fair enough. But then there's this sort of caterwauling, which crosses a line:

The White House said the Justice Department [DOJ] did not review [some cockroach]’s clemency application because it “was filed less than five years after [cockroach] completed his sentence,” thus making him ineligible for a pardon according to the department’s guidelines. Instead, the White House counsel’s office considered [cockroach]’s application as a special case. But not only has press secretary Dana Perino repeatedly stated that the White House would follow DoJ’s pardon guidelines, but so has President Bush himself ...
I suppose I grant the point about hypocrisy -- Bush said he'd follow DOJ guidelines on pardons, now Bush is not following DOJ guidelines on pardons -- but what does the DOJ actually have to do with pardons? If you believe the US Constitution, which actually delineates the pardon power, the answer is nothing. Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1 says that the president
shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
There's nothing about DOJ guidelines there. Maybe they should be; maybe the DOJ guidelines embody oodles of hard-won wisdom on the subject, and maybe the US Constitution would be a better document if it included them. But it doesn't.

We live with the limits on presidential powers we have, not with the limits on presidential powers we wish we had. One of the many reasons it matters greatly whom we elect as president is the open-ended, plenary nature of the pardon power.

Merry, Bright, Stuck in the Driveway

The plan to visit family in Seattle ended at the bottom of the driveway, beyond which the car refused to go. No doubt it's for the best since at least another few feet or inches (who knows?) has fallen since the car pulled its mule routine. Better stuck at the bottom of the driveway than somewhere in the Bigfoot-infested hills and dales of the I-5 corridor.

Don't ask me what made me think it was a good idea in the first place because I don't know. It was never a good idea.

Merry Christmas to all!

Update: this is how the same scene looked just a couple of hours later.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Soup That Eats Like a Gay

The American Family Association (AFA) is upset that homosexuals are receiving advertisements for soup that don't explicitly condemn their lives:

Campbell Soup bought two 2-page ads in the December and January issues of The Advocate, the nation's largest homosexual magazine ...

Randy Sharp, AFA's director of special projects, says concerned consumers should contact company officials and ask them to stop endorsing homosexuality.

"When you specifically target a homosexual magazine, then your company is basically endorsing these activities; you're endorsing the lifestyle," claims Sharp. "And in one ad, which...clearly shows two lesbians who say they are married, who say they have a son together, ...the Campbell Soup Company is saying 'we approve of homosexual marriage.' There is no question whatsoever of what the intentions of the company are."
While the image of Campbell's Soup Cans is notoriously open to interpretation, maybe the act of presenting them to a group of people does evince an endorsement of those people above and beyond an acknowledgement that you consider them capable of buying your product. If the Campbell Soup Company placed ads in white supremacist magazines or jihadist magazines or Mini-Truckin', I'd probably say it implies that Campbell Soup Company sees nothing objectionable about white supremacists or jihadists or idiotic teenagers.

It's also possible that Campbell Soup Company is acknowledging that being gay is as volitional as being, say, red-haired or left-handed or over six feet tall.

Either way, I salute Campbell Soup Company for counting gay people as full-fledged members of the human community, and in the spirit of the holidays, I remind the American Family Association that it should take its bigotry and fuck off. Almost soon enough, its members and spokespersons will come to regret the anti-gay garbage it propagates today. Almost.

(via Ed Brayton)

A Very Yo La Tengo Christmas Eve

Yo La Tengo, "Today is the Day" -- the slow version:

There is also a faster version of the song, as played live here.

Yo La Tengo is responsible for one of the few perfect recordings in the annals of music, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, as well as one of the best album titles of all time (and a pretty good album to boot), And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out.

Here is one of the songs from I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, "My Little Corner of the World":

Atheistic Christmas

You might think that for an atheistic household like mine, the Christmas holiday is full of the exotic, the unexplained, the unexplainable, and above all, the grimly mirthless. Here are some of the ways we're observing the holiday, so judge for yourself:

  • We have erected a conifer in our living space and bedecked it with all manner of lights and baubles.
  • On Christmas Eve, I shall quiz my son on the cultural origins and various traditions of the Christmas holiday, making sure that he knows of Jesus, the star of Bethlehem, Hanukkah, the winter solstice, Yuletide, Saturnalia, Santa Claus, and the more recent tradition in which televised news broadcasts bitch and moan about sluggish holiday sales.
  • We shall exchange gifts on the morning of Christmas, and I shall use a video camera to record the opening of the gifts. Later, I will bore myself and others with the re-showing of this video.
  • We shall enjoy a special meal on Christmas Eve, including but not limited to a lasagna-like concoction and apple pie.
  • If the weather clears, we will visit family in Seattle.
  • Surrounding all of this, there shall be much snacking, and we might take in a few movies.
Atheists are weird.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Eve Eve Tool Blogging - Pandora

I didn't expect to, but I like pandora, the free online "internet radio" music thingy that claims to exist for the pursuit of the Music Genome Project, an algorithm that can predict musical preferences, whose description is almost interesting, high-minded and science-y enough to occlude the aim of pushing web ads. Almost.

But that's the great thing about pandora -- yes, it does serve up ads, but it's not so very intrusive, certainly nowhere near as intrusive as actual radio. Its library of music seems sufficiently capacious to match its ambitions, and arguably best of all, it plays through the web browser without requiring extra software.

UN and Defamation: Something of a Scandal

I've been slow -- slower than Edmund Standing, Ophelia Benson, or Ed Brayton, certainly -- to take note of the latest idiocy from the United Nations:

The U.N. General Assembly condemned defamation of religion for the fourth year running on Thursday [12/18], ignoring critics who said the resolution threatens freedom of speech.

The non-binding resolution, championed by Islamic states and opposed by Western countries, passed by 86 votes to 53 with 42 abstentions ...

The seven-page text urges states to provide "adequate protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general."

Critics said its provisions strike at basic rights of free expression and opinion. One clause states that exercise of those rights "carries with it special duties and responsibilities and may therefore be subject to limitations."

Islamic states say such resolutions do not aim to limit free speech but to stop publications like the Danish cartoons showing the Prophet Mohammed that sparked bloody protests by Muslims around the world in 2005.
Behold the action portrayed in this description: the measure seeks "protection" against the likes of "hatred," "discrimination," "intimidation," and "coercion," all of which "result from" people saying or writing or drawing unkind things about religious beliefs. But that's not all: saying bad things about religion "sparked bloody protests" in this or that case.

It would be equally true to say that believing that god exists and cares deeply about whether he appears in cartoons "sparked bloody protests." Or, more generally, it would be equally true to say that believing that god exists and persists in a volatile, belligerent, peevish, verge-of-wrathful mood creates the difficulty with human expression. So where's the UN resolution limiting belief in captious, petty, tyrannical deities?

This nonsensical resolution flatly contradicts the principles of free speech and free belief as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), ratified in the same UN at a saner and wiser moment. Notably, while both expression and religion co-existed at the time it was ratified, the UDHR does not assume that the rights to these live in tension with one another, nor does it favor religion over expression in the face of that alleged tension -- note the absence of carved exceptions for "special duties":
Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Free and civilized people should accept no diminutions of these rights.

As for the one targeted here, the principle underlying free expression is not difficult to grasp. In another case in which circumstances called for its explication, Noam Chomsky asked that we recall
Voltaire's famous words in a letter to M. le Riche: "I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write." ... it is elementary that freedom of expression (including academic freedom) is not to be restricted to views of which one approves, and that it is precisely in the case of views that are almost universally despised and condemned that this right must be most vigorously defended.
Shame on the UN for abandoning this essential principle.

Happy Festivus!

The holidays really get going today with the celebration of Festivus. Tonight is the feast featuring the airing of grievances and the feats of strength. And don't forget the pole!

Instructional video:

Monday, December 22, 2008

It Writes Itself. I Wish It Wouldn't.

Sigh. Will Farrell will be appearing in a film version of Land of the Lost, which, as a matter of arithmetic inevitability, will be terrible. They might as well release it straight to non-selling, discount-bin DVD right now, and spare everyone the tedium of the trailers, tee-vee spots, and publicity tour.

In fact, I hope we can just jump straight to the hand-wringing over the fact that this Big Name Film's failure to attract huge audiences or spawn enormous DVD sales portends more trouble for a movie industry already reeling from the recession or whatever it's already said to be reeling from.

While we're at it, let's jump right to and a little beyond that -- let's place ourselves in that fortunate moment after we've managed to forget that this piece of shit was ever conceived or made. We're already most of the way there vis-a-vis the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, right?

Actually: I retract that slightly. I think Will Farrell in Land of the Lost can suffice to generate an entertaining trailer. The trailer might even be good enough to spawn a momentary sense that the film will be worth watching. It won't be, not at all, but I can see a fine trailer out of this.

(via Portland Mercury)

Destroying God's Movie?

With budget overruns run amok, sniping amongst the crew, and everyone going off script, Key Grip Ratzinger is worried about the state of the production:

The pope said humanity needed to "listen to the language of creation" to understand the intended roles of man and woman. He compared behavior beyond traditional heterosexual relations as "a destruction of God's work."

He also defended the Church's right to "speak of human nature as man and woman, and ask that this order of creation be respected."
If I understand Key Grip Ratzinger properly, he means to say that the production will run short of extras for the final dramatic scene if we don't play the reproductive roles for which Director Jesus cast us.

I realize I'm knocking low-hanging fruit off the tree of knowledge here (and mixing a few metaphors), but don't nuns and priests live, in their abstinence-only cloisters, pretty far afield of nature? At least as much as gays, they do not "listen to the language of creation" inasmuch as they do not breed.

I remain unclear on what a key grip does, why he gets listed in the credits, and why we should care.

Population Bombs

Try as he might, Ross "every sperm is sacred" Douthat cannot locate

a "key insight" about population growth in Ehrlich's book [The Population Bomb] that's anodyne enough to qualify as "elementary" and irrefutable ...
This vexes Douthat because it is no less than John Holdren, Barack Obama's new science advisor, who claimed to have found such a key insight in his 2006 address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The sustainable well-being of humankind -- damn liberals! -- was the subject of Holdren's address, the chief hindrances to which he cited as the following:
  • Poverty
  • Preventable disease
  • Impoverishment of the environment
  • Pervasiveness of organized violence, including terrorism
  • Oppression of human rights
  • Wastage of human potential
As nearly every word of Holdren's address attests, human overpopulation is "not the sole cause of any of the shortfalls listed, [but] makes the remedy of all of them more difficult." It is indeed at this apparently hard-to-find and evidently delphic moment of the address that Holdren cites the selfsame "key insight" in Ehrlich's book.

But with the sacred honor of every sperm at stake, Douthat redoubles his fuzz of focus and refutes Holdren thusly, with an invocation of a famous bet:
In 1980 Dr. Holdren helped select five metals -- chrome, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten -- and joined Dr. Ehrlich and Dr. Harte in betting $1,000 that those metals would be more expensive ten years later. They turned out to be wrong on all five metals, and had to pay up when the bet came due in 1990.
Damn straight! It's laughably obvious that every commodity in the world will continue to fall in price unto the end of time, which is why trading in commodity futures is performed by extremely simple computerized algorithms that never fail.

And the same exceedingly predictable dynamic obtains in connection with human population and its various effects on the biosphere and on the well-being of humankind. Human population is something about which responsible scientists and policymakers do not concern themselves.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

54 Million

"More than one in five Americans" is often the beginning of a grim statement about the current state of things, and this recent poll result is no exception:

As far as you know, does the earth revolve around the sun, or does the sun revolve around the earth?

Earth revolves around the sun 79%

Sun revolves around the earth 18%

No opinion 3%
No opinion? For every one-hundred people we pass on the street here in the USA, three have no opinion on the earth-sun relationship? They go back and forth on the question and never quite settle on one side or the other before the train of thought is interrupted, or the complexities become too much and the matter has to be deferred? They still feel there are a few more sources to check?

18% works out to around 54 million people -- 54 million people who made it all the way to adulthood and developed the ability to answer questions over the telephone, but have somehow missed the earth-orbits-sun factoid. Or maybe got the factoid but also got instructions from a preacher who warned that believing in reality will land them in a place of hot fire and bitey lizards, so best to pretend that reality is something other than it is. God will be fooled by this pretense and will send the abstemious souls to the ultimate vacation destination, after which they can, presumably, forthrightly acknowledge the earth-orbits-sun factoid.


Portland is Canceled

It's the Winter Solstice and Portland is canceled until further notice.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Forms of Mildred Pierces

For the sake of this blog post, I assume that everyone has a certain number of songs that played so repeatedly in one's personal musical playlist that they are forever embedded in the memory. So it is with me with Sonic Youth's "Mildred Pierce," for which the band, surprisingly, made a video:

Only today I got around to watching the film to which the song alludes, and it turned out to be the best film about class in America, mother-daughter relationships, and grease-as-synecdoche I've seen since, well, um, Star Wars. (Note: I just say Star Wars when I need to name a film but can't think of the right one.)

Most Ambitious Crap-Wrapping of the Season

If only because the weather has turned Portland into the Land of Shivering Shut-Ins, my Christmas "gifting" is done, so this magnum opus of crap-wrapping represents my final statement of the 2008 holiday season.

I am proud of the way the shards and bits of wrapping paper -- as well as some miscellaneous scrap paper found in the vicinity of the crap-wrapping studio space, where the magic happens -- fail to conceal all the surface area of the cardboard box housing the gift of [expurgated] for the wife. I have no particular reason to feel proud of it, but I do. It's how I roll.

Running on Hoth

With temperatures well above 20 Fahrenheit and steady snowfall pressed to the horizontal by a stiff east wind, I can't imagine why I didn't see more people running at the park this morning. They might have seen my cheeks at their absolute reddest, running as though chased by wampas or chasing a tauntaun to cut open for warmth.

Assuming you can avoid falling down, that you have plenty of layers to put on, and that you can keep your feet dry, running on Hoth (or Hoth-like conditions on a planet near you) is not so bad.

Hapless Portlanders on Ice

There's a lot of that oh-my-god-I'm-not-controlling-this-car-I'm-driving feeling here in Portland these days, and if the forecasts are to be believed,* there's more to come in the days ahead.

This is the scene from a couple of days ago along a more or less representative stretch of hilly street:

Of course, that has nothing on the definitive classic of the genre, filmed roughly a year ago:

The sun is still up there and emitting warming radiation in the usual amounts, right? I realize it's extremely cold in much of the United States, but this is Portland, and we are world-class weather wimps here.

Pity us.

And stay out the path of our cars until we're well clear of this cold snap.

* This is Portland. We get the bottom 2% of the meteorology schools or something,** so no, the forecasts are not to be believed.

** I should be more generous. The big brains at the National Weather Service and weather dot com do no better at forecasting weather in this area. The locals do no better and no worse.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Crap-Wrapping is the Reason for the Season

With this latest tour de force of crap-wrapping -- this time concealing [expurgated] for the wife -- I've decided I love it. Crap-wrapping has turned a tedious chore into a tedious chore that results in a unique creation on par with any of the rage-based outsider art works that briefly catapulted Homer Simpson into the heights of the Manhattan Capitol City art scene.

This latest creation uses four wrapping paper styles and no less than nine distinct scraps -- I lost count amid the half-assed spirit of the exercise.

I want to meet Jasper Johns.

Time for Shrillness

Here is a petition you can sign directed to the incoming Attorney General that begins

We the undersigned citizens of the United States hereby formally petition you to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute any and all government officials who have participated in War Crimes.
And here's the badge:

Petition Badge
Get Badge

War Crimes are bad, m'kay? Even when American officials commit them, m'kay? Even when our tax dollars fund them, m'kay? Especially when our tax dollars fund them and they're done, as they say, in our name.

If you're not feeling outraged to the point of shrillness over this, I daresay you're not paying attention.

Equality, Feelings, and the Harm Principle

Here is Andrew Sullivan consoling himself about Rick Warren:

.... [I]f we cannot work with Obama to bridge these divides, none of us will be worthy of the great moral cause that this civil rights movement truly is.

The bitterness endures; the hurt doesn't go away; the pain is real. But that is when we need to engage the most, to overcome our feelings to engage in the larger project, to understand that not all our opponents are driven by hate, even though that may be how their words impact us. To turn away from such dialogue is to fail ourselves, and to miss the possibility of the Obama moment.

It can be hard to take yes for an answer. But yes is what Obama is saying. And we should not let our pride or our pain get in the way.
Pride? Pain? Bitterness? Hurt? Sure, those are in the mix, but it is a category mistake to reduce inequality to feelings.

The question at hand is whether gay people will be treated as full, complete, rights-bearing human beings. The emotional reaction to their treatment does matter -- it's the most salient and common proximate cause behind making change happen -- but it matters less than the actual absence or presence of equality. It's a very good thing that it matters less, because if this were legitimately about feelings and perceptions, then it would be nothing but a popularity contest, and gay people would stand little chance of winning their rights on those grounds, just as African Americans stood little chance of winning the white majority's good favor before the law made their good favor irrelevant.

There is a question of justice at stake which does not hinge on perceptions, emotional or otherwise. Which is to say: even if every gay person standing laughed and nodded along when a sack-of-crap pastor compared their unions to pedophilia, incest, or bestiality, it would still be wrong to deny the rights and equality of gay people. It would be wrong because gay unions differ from the others listed in the only important way that heterosexual unions differ from them: that they involve the volitional acts of adult human beings.

When, in a free society worthy of the name, we've established that a given relationship involves competent adult human beings acting freely and without doing harm to others, we've reached the end of legitimate exertions of state power. What individuals feel, believe, or opine about the relationship is undeniably interesting to those individuals and perhaps to others, but it's not the business of government.

Via proposition 8, a slender majority of California voters deprived gay people of rights and privileges routinely granted to non-gay people, and thus demoted them to a secondary status. This unjust notwithstanding anyone's feelings.

Maturity - Showing Versus Telling

In an interview with Ann Curry, Rick Warren reveals that he considers homosexuality to be a problem best solved by discipline and maturity:

CURRY: If science finds that this is biological, indisputably…would you change your position?

WARREN: No. … We all have biological predispositions. … You say because I have natural impulses to the same sex, I shouldn’t have to reign them in. Well I disagree. I think that’s part of maturity, I think that’s part of delayed gratification, I think that’s part of character.
This strikes me as a very easy thing to preach to others. Will Rick Warren demonstrate these virtues by staying wholly sexually abstinent for, say, the rest of his life, starting today? I suppose it would be parallel for him to agree to abstain from sex involving women for the rest of his days. He can still screw cantaloupes* or whatever.

The Catholic clergy famously tries this sort of thing (abstinence, not cantaloupe-screwing), with what I take to be predictable consequences.

Actually, I am completely indifferent as to the future course of Rick Warren's sex life, so long as he restricts his interactions to other consenting adults. I would be quite content never to think of his sex life again, in fact. But as he upholds a different standard, one based in the idiotic prejudices of his favorite god, and one that trades in specific notions of "maturity," "delayed gratification," and the "reigning in" of impulses, he should put those notions into practice or, better yet, shut the fuck up. Shutting the fuck up about these matters has been an option for him from the start, incidentally.

* My apologies to cantaloupes and the people who grow and harvest them, who did nothing to deserve being dragged into this.

The Perils of Symbolism

And thus did the overheated discussion of the Obama inauguration go off the rails, with Andrew Sullivan as the star-crossed conductor:

Here's an idea. A reader notes that one of the other Americans honored at Obama's inaugural will be Itzhak Perlman, the great musician and violinist. Rick Warren compared one of Perlman's daughters to someone practicing incest or pedophilia, and argued forcefully that her marriage be nullified. Perlman, for his part, made a moving commercial against Proposition 8 in defense of his daughter's marriage, dignity and humanity.

Would it not be appropriate for Obama to invite Perlman's daughter and her wife to share the podium with her father? If the inaugural is to be inclusive, wouldn't it be a good gesture - and an olive branch to the gay community - to invite a lesbian married couple to the stage?
The tediousness sets in soon after the opening of "here's an idea." Yes, it is an idea, but the idea sprawls so wildly and so quickly -- now we have at least two more people on the stage, these bearing the symbolic weight of Respectable Lesbian Marriage, whose presence can only open the way to the suggestion of more Symbolic Presences -- every variety of hyphen-Americans, Self-Identified Dish-Satellite-TV Subscribers, Fencing Enthusiasts, Birders, Drunken Men Who No Longer Care, etc.

I don't mean to burden Sullivan with this; I don't even disagree with his suggestion. Everyone agrees the selection of Rick "Crap Sack" Warren is symbolic, not least Obama himself, who characterizes it as an embrace of national diversity. Sullivan just took the next logical step, but the problem is, there's no obvious place for this symbol-wielding to stop. The stage is only so large.

The reliably more-cynical-than-thou Tim Dickinson chimes in with a corrective bit of perspective on Crap Sack's delivery of the invocation:
The sum total of the invocation from 2001?: 435 words.

Attention Span Stress-Out: Coleman-Franken Update

In Minnesota's Senate race, Al Franken has taken the lead over Wide Stance incumbent Norm Coleman:

Franken gained his advantage as the board weighed challenges by the Coleman campaign. But as many as 5,000 withdrawn challenges from both campaigns won't be awarded until Monday, and the lead could change again.

The board has also rejected a request by Coleman to exclude some ballots his campaign had argued were duplicates.
There is still so much counting and lawyering left to be done, with no end in sight. Will the final count be finished before the six-year Senate term expires? Can our tee-vee-forged attention span handle the wait?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Case of Richard Cizik

Not content to see his nominee for "top climate communicator" be summarily chucked to the refuse pile by the same people at whom his supposedly masterful communications were directed, Matt Nisbet now wants him to be given a prominent role in the Obama administration or -- he said it, I didn't -- the Center for Inquiry.

The communicator in question is Richard Cizik, who was Vice President of Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals until last week, when he resigned (or rather "resigned") over the furor (or rather bed-wetting outrage) he caused by not hating gays vocally enough and articulating a faith-informed position on something other than despising gays and cherishing blastocysts.

Cizik's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad utterances appear to have been the following, which he let fly during his appearance on NPR's Fresh Air with interviewer Terry Gross:

GROSS: So, in that younger group that you're describing, is gay marriage not a priority issue?

Rev. CIZIK: It's not as high, no. In fact, if you look at some figures, these younger evangelicals, they disagree quite strongly with their elders on that subject.

GROSS: Do you think that that's in part because younger people are growing up in an environment where they know gay people? There are so many gay people who are out, and once you know gay people who are out, maybe it's not so threatening.

Rev. CIZIK: Absolutely. The influence of their generational peers is clear. Four in ten young evangelicals say they have a close friend or family member who is gay or lesbian. And so, much different than their elders, younger evangeli-cals they, well, 52 percent favor either same-sex marriage or civil unions. But it's not just on this issue, Terry. For ex-ample, fully two-thirds of younger evangelicals say they would still vote for a candidate even if the candidate disagreed with them on the issue of abortion. And that's in spite of the fact that younger evangelicals, they are decidedly pro-life. But they also rank other issues, economic issues, the environment, these other issues are very important to them. In fact, healthcare is just as important to the younger evangelicals as is abortion. And so they have a more pluralistic outlook than older white evangelicals, and they have a decidedly different posture with respect to the role of government here and abroad.
The lessons seem clear enough. It's difficult to imagine a person better-placed than was Richard Cizik to build bridges between American Christianists and sane people. He had the position of authority, vast areas of agreement, countless professional and personal connections. But when he stopped reciting their favored lines in public, however briefly and reasonably, he was cast out. If he can't widen the ideological blinders from the inside, it seems delusional to expect more from would-be communicators approaching from the outside.

To the extent he makes sense -- and he does here and there -- sane people will listen to Richard Cizik. But his erstwhile fellows bear a Manichean ideology which, like its Islamist fraternal twin, equates conciliation with surrender and compromise with defeat. They want to return to the 12th century more than they want to build any bridges or even complete any bridges already mostly made. The needful task is exposing and widening cracks in the foundation of the ideology.

Moderates Who Aren't: Rick Warren

Well-fed Christianist pastor Rick Warren can certainly dance. He was vocally supportive of California's prop 8, which destroyed same-sex marriages in his home state; and here he is correcting his original dodge of a straightforward question about civil unions:

But a civil union is not a civil right. Nowhere in the constitution can you find the "right" to claim that any loving relationship identical to marriage. It's just not there.
If you're scoring at home, that's a double bonus load of batshit: first, he's unambiguously against civil unions even though they don't involve the precious word marriage and therefore don't threaten to "redefine" it; and second, he hews to a theory of constitutional jurisprudence under which the enumeration of certain rights in the constitution is construed to deny and/or disparage other rights not so enumerated. Whereas the ninth amendment to the US Constitution states:
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
So I gather former constitutional law professor Barack Obama wants to be seen as "reaching out" to bigots who consider the Constitution as optional, perchance as toilet paper. Or perhaps Rick Warren knows that the ninth amendment was metaphorical? (More on his powers of metaphor divination later.)

Warren's verbal dancing continues:
BELIEFNET: What about partnership benefits in terms of insurance or hospital visitation?

WARREN: ... I favor anyone being able to make anyone else the beneficiary of their health or life insurance coverage. If I am willing to pay for it, I should be able to put a friend, partner, relative, or stranger on my coverage. No one should be turned away from seeing a friend in the hospital. But visiting rights are a non-issue in California! Since 1999, California has had a domestic partnership law that grants gay couples visiting rights and all the other rights. Prop 8 had no -zero -effect on those rights.
How generous! Rick Warren wouldn't cancel or re-write existing insurance contracts if he had the opportunity, even if their terms were found to bind icky gays. And that part about what proposition 8 didn't do to rescind existing rights of hospital visitation is simply precious in its combination of evasiveness and defensiveness. Quelle surprise that Matt Nisbet should adore his brand of not-moderate-at-all moderation.

Careful students of Rick Warren shall forever treasure this line:
I've eaten dinner in gay homes.
This leads us all to ask, perhaps for the first time: am I living in a gay home? Were any of my former homes gay? Not to mention: what about lunch and brunch? Has Rick Warren eaten brunch or lunch in any gay homes? Supper? Breakfast? Nighttime snack? I do hope so. I do. So much depends on it.

Delving further into Rick Warren's fascinating and oh-so-moderate view of all things heavenly and earthly:
The Designer of sex has clearly and repeatedly said that he created sex exclusively for husbands and wives in marriage. Whenever God's parameters are violated, it causes broken hearts, broken families, emotional hurt and shame, painful memories, and many other destructive consequences. There would be so STDs in our world if we all played by the rules.
And thus we have confirmation, if we needed it, that STDs -- AIDS but not only AIDS -- result from human sin. If people would just eat dinner in gay homes and stop the icky gay sex and cease the extra-marital screwing, STDs would vanish. (In fairness, the nature and origins of disease is entirely a bull-session abstraction with no real-world consequences, so why pester the well-fed pastor over it?)

Lest we forget, Pastor Rick Warren denies evolutionary science in favor of bronze age fable:
If you're asking me do I believe in evolution, the answer is no, I don't. I believe that God, at a moment, created man. I do believe Genesis is literal [sic], but I do also know metaphorical terms are used.
And you need not even ask: he knows exactly which parts are metaphorical and which parts are to be taken literally. This is an entailment of knowing that metaphorical terms are used.

Thanks, Barack Obama, for inviting this sack of crap to join you on the stage to pray over your inauguration. I can see less reason than ever for having bothered to vote for you over that Bush-miming dotard and his hick Alaskan girlfriend.

Planes Like Bees

This video, as useless and interesting as the day is long, shows the flight path of every commercial flight on earth, compressing all 24 hours of flying into 72 seconds of yellow bee-like objects flowing over a map. It was put together by the Zurich School of Applied Sciences, henceforth the world's leading provider of bees-as-planes viral web videos.

Actually the planes look like the pollen attached to bees' legs, if anyone can remember back when we still had bees. Whatever.

(via 3QD)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Confessions of a Crap-Wrapper

I present visual proof that I am an unapologetic crap-wrapper when it comes to the ritual of adding an extra layer of packaging to Christmas gifts.

Here we see a gift for my son -- shhh, it's a [expurgated] -- that is wrapped in a few leftover pieces of wrapping paper, a red Santa-themed paper and a green ornament-themed paper. Sure, I start out with the goal of making it look tidy and neat, but I lose patience with that approach somewhere in the ninth or tenth second and wind up with something like this.

I tell myself that this crap-wrapping approach boosts my eco-friendly bona fides by minimizing paper waste, but I don't believe that and I recommend you don't either.

I will say this in favor of crap-wrapping of this sort: it does make it very difficult to unwrap the gift, check what's inside, re-wrap it, and feign surprise on Christmas morning. When I was a pre-teen and teenager, I heard of other kids who made a habit of doing that. Each feat of crap-wrapping results in a unique creation that can never be duplicated, even by the original crap-wrapper, so it would be extremely difficult to reassemble the original mess. Of course, this assumes the original crap-wrapper actually remembers the look of the mess and can distinguish it from a re-do.


Stunning New Beasts

Are you tired of the world's current lineup of fauna, with its appalling lack of tauntauns, bigfeet, jackelopes, and leprechauns? I can't do anything about the tauntauns, bigfeet, jackelopes, or leprechauns, but I can offer you the chance to look at an amazing gallery of amazing new-to-us beasties recently discovered in Southeast Asia.

This millipede is just one of the new creatures -- there's also a gigantic new spider, a new pit viper, and a new type of rabbit.

Obama [Hearts] Rick Warren?

For reasons that escape me, sack-of-crap right-wing Christianist pastor Rick Warren will be delivering a prayer at Barack Obama's inauguration. Think Progress reports:

While he is a recognizable celebrity and best-selling author, Warren also advocates a number of deeply anti-progressive views. He supported California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 and has likened gay marriage to polygamy and incest. He is strongly anti-choice, and has equated abortion to the Holocaust.
Why? In hopes that he'll wheeze something about climate change while he prays? I expect he won't.

This is not a matter of tolerance or intolerance; of all the religious leaders in the country -- many of them more or less reasonable and genuinely compassionate human beings -- Obama is inviting this particular sack of crap to join him on the same stage from which he'll accept the keys to the White House.