Sunday, November 30, 2008

Have You Found Tarvu?

A bold new answer to life's enduring questions is afoot. Do you believe as Tarvuists believe?

* Tarvu is our Lord God
* There are two universes
* The Tarvunty is the Holy Book
* We should all "be nice"
* Men and women are equal (to each other)
* Tarvu's Prayer should be said every day
* Octopuses are holy creatures
* Everyone has an invisible guardian from Universe A.
"Holy" is quite a loaded word, but there's certainly a lot to admire in octopuses. It's a start?

Unlike so many of the leading gods, the founder of Tarvuism appreciates the challenges of undersea life:
When Tarvu landed in the oceans as a baby boy, he was rescued by an octopus, named Oobu. Oobu and his family cared for the baby Lord, taught him how to swim (Tarvu was excellent at backstroke) and fed him barnacles and squid ink. They also taught him how to speak Octish, the language of octopuses. Without Oobu, Tarvu may well have perished, although, since he was the Almighty, this may not have happened.
Here's hoping Tarvu will do something to undo some of the pain and suffering in Mumbai after the recent attacks conducted in the name of gods who evidently approve.

Update: Perhaps you're wary of joining a new religion upon the advice of a single blogger. Well, what if I refer you to two more? Read John and the Wife's stirring testimonial and feel the anxiety melt away.

(H/T I kid you not)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Saturday Tautology Blogging: Sex Is Trouble

The Dalai Lama thinks sex is, all things considered, a bad idea, possibly threatening his popularity among the I'm-not-sure-what-I-believe-but-I'm-very-spiritual set:

The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual and temporal leader, on Friday said sex spelt fleeting satisfaction and trouble later, while chastity offered a better life ... "Sexual pressure, sexual desire, actually I think is short period satisfaction and often, that leads to more complication," ... "Too much attachment towards your children, towards your partner," was "one of the obstacle or hindrance of peace of mind," he said.
All Mr. Lama has really said here is what every viewer of Cheaters and Nanny 911 already knows; which is the same thing that every reader of Shakespeare or Jane Austen already knows; which is, in fact, an insight that people have to work pretty hard to avoid no matter what sort of culture they absorb and reflect: that sex, love, and family are rife with risk, compromise, and conflict.

To say that life would be more serene without sex is something like saying elephants would make splendid house pets if not for their size, or that winter would be just as pleasant as summer if not for the poor weather. Dude needs to waste his life in orange gowns and a shaved head only to arrive at tautologies?

Nobody, "Nobody", and the Financial Crisis

Responding to Robert Rubin's self-serving claim that "nobody was prepared for" the collapse of Citigroup, Matt Yglesias makes a very salient point about these huge firms and the extremely well-paid people who run them:

Presumably the reason the top executives at a giant financial services firm get paid such extravagant salaries is that it’s their job to be prepared for the stuff that “nobody” is prepared for. If the idea is just that you make money while the market goes up, and then when the market goes down the government steps in to rescue you, probably a lot of people could do the job. And if a lot of people could do the job, there’s no need for compensation packages to run into the tens of millions of dollars. But if there is a need for compensation packages that run into the tens of millions of dollars, then people have a responsibility to prove themselves to be super-genius titans of capitalism who can navigate the shoals of the global economy flawlessly.
Likewise, "nobody" can catch a piece of inflated pig leather while running at Olympics sprinter speed, chased by men just as fast who are also strong enough to bench-press multiples of their body weight. A rare few can, such as Randy Moss and Terrell Owens, and they are paid millions for it. "Nobody" can write as well as Philip Roth or Cormac McCarthy, "nobody" can act as well as Sean Penn or Meryl Streep, "nobody" can play cello like Yo Yo Ma, and so on. There's "nobody" and then there's nobody.

If it's true that nobody -- as in, not even the best-trained, most experienced, most knowledgeable human beings on the planet -- can manage the complexities inherent in these firms in such a way as to anticipate and avoid calamities of the sort we're experiencing, it must be a strong argument for fundamentally re-thinking the rules by which these firms come to exist in the form in which they now do.

And it certainly means people like Robert Rubin are getting paid to do work they manifestly have not been doing and apparently cannot have been doing.

Firms that are too big to fail are, or should be, firms that are too big to exist. Likewise, firms that are too complex to manage should be firms that nobody -- the actual, literal version of nobody -- should have to worry about.

Playing Along with Rush

I don't know who Jesse Koblentz is, but I admire his ability to play along with Neil Peart and Rush as they play "Jacob's Ladder" from Exit ... Stage Left, their famous-to-every-living drummer live album from 1981.

Friday, November 28, 2008

'Tis the Season

The season for peace, love, and charity opens in earnest with two incidents:

In the first, a temporary Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death in a rush of thousands of early morning shoppers as he and other employees attempted to unlock the doors of a Long Island, New York, store at 5 a.m., police said.
Trampled. To death. Because things are discounted at the goddamn Wal-Mart and that temp wasn't unlocking the door quite fast enough.
In the second violent incident on what is historically one of the year's busiest shopping days, two men were shot dead in a Toys "R" Us in Palm Desert, California, after they argued in the store, police said.
Shot dead, they were, because tempers flared amid the meretricious trash stacked on shelves at a Toys R Us. I wonder. Was the shooting accomplished with firearms sold there at the Toys R Us, or with guns brought by holiday shoppers?

Either answer and both incidents give fresh reasons for despair at the state of our species in the state in which it currently inhabits the North American land mass.

Cold-Calling for Souls

Moments like this are probably frequent when you go door to door to hector people about their religious beliefs. Sometimes I plan out a trenchant rebuke such as this one, but when the moment comes, and someone is actually on my stoop hoping to make me a fan of the Home Team in the Sky, I chicken out and just tell them "no thanks" and close the door.

Suppose Record Companies Weren't Loathsome

I speculate that a world in which big record companies were not loathsome would be a world in which they do not re-release landmark albums and characterize the re-release as "remastered" or "deluxe" or something else that suggests an improvement over the original. Rolling Stone chooses to play along for some reason, as seen in this review of a re-release of REM's Murmur:

Twenty-five years later, the album that invented "alternative rock" still sounds great: anthemic on a bedroom scale, danceable but not robotic, experimental without being oblique. And Michael Stipe's nasal muezzin-croon pulses with brooding emotion even when the lyrics are unintelligible. The bonus disc captures a 1983 Toronto club gig that strips Murmur's sound bare. It's sloppy but thrilling, with outbursts of Stipe's unhinged vibrato and a perfect cover of "There She Goes Again," by the Velvet Underground — patron saints of a sound that R.E.M. developed into something bigger and longer-lived than anyone would've guessed.
To paraphrase that without the bullshit: for another $22, you get the same songs you already knew plus a live performance that's so compelling that they've been squirreling it away in the archives for a quarter-century instead of selling it. Neat!

I adore Murmur so much that I've paid full retail price for it twice in my life -- once for the cassette tape, and once for the CD. Twice is plenty.

And while I'm on it: I have paid all I am ever going to pay for the Star Wars films, the Lord of the Rings films, and the Godfather films, to list only a few of the big franchise media products. You can take your blu ray and whatever succeeds it and cram it.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pro Forma Thanksgiving Musings

I am thankful for family, friends, health, music, edgy animated tee-vee series, burnt orange, science, marine mammals, books, human creativity, beauty, truth, garlic, beer, and all the rest of that crap that sometimes makes life seem worth living.

I am also thankful for the fact that very few, if any, NFL teams have ever been as shitty as the Detroit Lions. What a waste of great uniforms.

As an atheist, who am I thanking for all this? Mostly I am thanking other people, on whose shoulders we all stand in so many ways, but I think there's a valid intransitive use of the verb to thank. It just refers to the way things are, and it's worthwhile to take a moment to be mindful of all the good in the world.

Framing and Publicity

Matt Nisbet, keeper of the Framing Science blog, seems to be staking his career on the adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity so long as they spell the names right. Behold the magic of framing or whatever:

  • Begin with a post that foretells a bold new line of argument soon to be loosed upon the enduring political and social struggles over science:
    My heads up on a forthcoming segment at Public Radio International's The World has generated a discussion about the communication misfires that science advocates create when they use terms such as "denier" and "anti-science."
  • When the radio segment airs, make the even bolder claim that the case presented against the scare-words has achieved such broad and deep acclaim that merely listening to the segment will convince you never to use the scare-words again:
    Correspondent Jason Margolis does a terrific job in synthesizing research and comments from various experts on why the use of the label by science advocates is likely to be a major blunder. My comments come at about 7 minutes and 15 seconds into the archived audio.

    What do readers think? Convinced yet that "denier" should be dropped from our lexicon?
    Note the rhetoric: the powerful argument won over Jason Margolis and "various experts" and derives from an awesome synthesis of research, but readers may yet be unconvinced. Such reprobates!

    Note that as of this stage in the publicity gambit, very little in the way of actual argument has been advanced. Nor have the assertions that constitute the "argument" actually won any converts, either Jason Margolis or anyone else. Worry not! This is the root of the gambit's sexy frisson -- this is what will get replies from people who don't agree ...
  • ... which, like clockwork, appear from Mark Hoofnagle, Orac, and Mike the Mad Biologist. And certainly don't fret over the fact that their responses take the form of actual arguments that deploy exotic things like reason, evidence, logic, experience, and so on.
  • Why fret, after all, when your ploy has played out to perfection -- you've generated buzz for an upcoming talk you're going to give about these topics, which you make sure to mention in your slightly self-pitying but argumentatively non-responsive response to your terrible, horrible, no good, very bad critics who remain obdurately unconvinced by your assertions. And don't worry -- you still don't need to argue for your assertions since pimping your various works, not making an effective argument, has been your goal from the start:
    Two video segments from the Big Think interview explain the basics of the research and the arguments I have published in recent articles and book chapters. The first segment is on communication and framing generally. The second segment on climate change specifically.

    These topics and more will be the focus of my talk next Thursday at the New York Academy of Sciences. The event is free to the public. Already more than a 100 attendees have signed up. It should prove an interesting discussion with reception to follow.
No doubt that talk, with its more-than-100 attendees, will be a humdinger of a hootenanny.

Those links again to the rebuttals of Nisbet's latest nonsense: Mark Hoofnagle, Orac, and Mike the Mad Biologist.

My response: truth in labeling is good. People who deny things despite evidence are legitimately labeled "deniers." People who are anti-science are legitimately labeled as "anti-science."

Southpaw's Lament (Small Arms Edition)

The charitable reader will draw no untoward inferences from the fact that I was browsing for rifles when I had, just a post before, blogged of patience-trying houseguests and in favor of Buy Nothing Day. Sometimes 2 + 2 is something other than 4.

Anyhoo, review this image of a Remington Model 700 XCR. Can you spot what has so annoyed me that I've been moved to add another entry to this precious, precious blog? Go ahead and try; I don't think you'll get it.


Is it that guns are used to kill living things? No. (Besides, only if you aim well! Am I right? Ha ha ha.) Is it that people with guns and who shop for guns are creepy? No. Is it that I am easily annoyed? Well, yes, but that's not what I meant.

It's that this image was gotten to by clicking a hyperlink located directly beneath a heading of "Select Your Left-Hand Firearm" on a page titled "Remington Left-Hand Firearms." Does that look like a firearm for a left-handed shooter? Well, does it, punk? Do you feel lucky? No. It doesn't look like that, and I can tell you don't feel lucky. The bolt is sitting directly in the left-handed shooter's face -- exactly the sort of design characteristic that flags a rifle as an ungainly right-handed tool when it comes into the hands of a peace-loving, easygoing, handsome, charming, modest left-handed shooter.

Dammit. They can't even get the image right. Some simple mirroring of the image would have done it, something like this:



That, my dear sweet Remington Arms company, is what a left-handed rifle looks like in profile. It took me roughly six seconds to generate that image based on your half-assed original, and I assure you I have barely enough knowledge to get confused and angry when it comes to graphics manipulation on the computer machine.

So, now that I've fixed Remington's web site, I get a free Remington Model 700 XCR, right? What are the chances I can get it by Friday?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Emoting on Cue: Buy Nothing Day

I think this year's Buy Nothing Day posters (PDF versions), aren't quite as cool as last year's, but my heart is still in the same ambivalent place about the value of the observance.

It's true the landfills are quite full enough already with long-forgotten, never-useful plastic thingies made in remote places by people we'll never know under conditions we wouldn't wish on people we know.

I have no illusions that observing Buy Nothing Day stands to reduce consumption -- the ongoing global economic calamity is taking care of that on Friday and beyond. Those observing Buy Nothing Day will, I would expect, just buy all the same things on a different day. But as emote-on-cue gimmicks go, it's far from the silliest idea out there; it looks downright staid by the standards of Wikipedia's list of unofficial observances.

Setting aside a day to stay out of the malls is, in and of itself, a good thing since malls are such hell-holes. If it creates a little space to reflect on the wisdom of USA-style consumption -- how it serves us individually and collectively, how it doesn't -- then all the better.

That said, Friday is looking rather star-crossed for buying nothing: I'm nearly out of raisins, I don't have enough beer to survive my houseguests, my son lost the mouse to his laptop, and I doubt the stores will be open tomorrow due to Thanksgiving -- which, by the way, may or may not actually increase the aggregate volume of thankfulness within the borders of the nation-states that observe it. Such are the perils of emoting on cue.

One Post on Three Posts

Granted, it's not my place to tell anyone what to read, but ... oh wait. I'm a blogger, so I assume what people read is some of my business. In that spirit, please stop wasting your time on this precious, precious blog and go read three of the best damn blog posts ever set to pixels, all of which appeared within the last few hours:

Each of these posts in its way will make you a better person.

Of Space Aliens and Trust

The most recent Point of Inquiry podcast features James McGaha, a retired US Air Force pilot and astronomer who delivers, upon seemingly sound observation, experience, and reasoning, the buzz-killing message that the earth has not been visited by space aliens, either of the anal-probing or the non-anal-probing kind.

The discussion with D.J. Grothe concludes on an awkward note, when Grothe asks McGaha why skeptics, scientists, podcast listeners, irascible bloggers, or anyone else should bother worrying about irrational beliefs in space aliens. In reply, McGaha rightly notes that belief in UFOs often accompanies a background story involving nefarious government conspiracies and media cover-ups, and the persistence of these feed what he labels, without further qualification, a "distrust of institutions."

Distrust of institutions is a bad thing? I'm surprised Grothe let that pass. Doesn't it very much depend on the context, which includes the nature and interests of the parties to the proposed trust relationship, the relevant history or 'track record,' what's at stake in granting or withholding trust, and so on? Isn't trust a privilege that has to be earned and re-earned over time, whether for people or institutions?

I trust Grothe and McGaha would agree with me on that important qualification even though neither bothered to make it -- don't I trust that?

(photo source)

Change I Can Believe In

This is what I had in mind when I voted for Obama:

Fox News has not been allowed to ask a question at any of the four press conferences that Barack Obama has held since winning the election ...

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs insists that there's "nothing nefarious" going on. "I would tell them, get a good question and stay tuned," Gibbs said of Fox News.
Fox News is not a real news organization, so its employees should not be involved in presidential press events. It's ridiculous to pretend otherwise.

Attention Paid

CNN has posed a profound series of questions:

Are we citizens of Earth alone in the universe? It's a question that has long fascinated astronomers, sci-fi authors, kids with backyard telescopes and Hollywood executives who churn out spectacles about alien encounters. Polls have found that most Americans believe that some form of life exists beyond our planet.

"It's a fundamental question," said Tarter, the real-life inspiration for Jodie Foster's character in the 1997 movie "Contact." "And it's a question that the person on the street can understand. It's not like a ... super-collider or some search for neutrinos buried in the ice. It's, 'Are we alone? How might we find out? What does that tell us about ourselves and our place in the universe?'
One would naively expect a news organization to present such questions and give them prominence in their science coverage in connection with an exciting new research finding or bold new undertaking. But I didn't label that expectation naive for nothing: there is no new finding, and no new initiative, save for a titillating new five-part series, "In Search of Aliens," airing on -- mark the coincidence! -- CNN.

This kind of petty manipulation of our conscious attention is now so commonplace that we barely even notice it, which of course makes it that much more effective.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Holy Crap a Bald Eagle!

This very day I spotted a gigantic bald eagle (is there any other kind?) at the Oaks Park Wildlife Refuge here in dear Puddle-Town.

He was sitting alone in the upper branches of a tree overlooking the wetland near Oaks Amusement Park, well within sight of the crystal clear waters of the Willamette River. As I got closer, the white head and brown body came clearly to view, and as I still watched, he took off in flight and left no doubt as to his bald eagleness.

I now offer my guide to viewing bald eagles in the Portland area, such as it is:

  • Go somewhere near the river -- Columbia, Willamette, whichever. Man, this guide already sucks.
  • Make sure it's a terrible day -- like, say, about 40 degrees (F) and rainy, to ensure that no other people are anywhere nearby. It helps if you're literally too stupid to come in from the rain.
  • Be very, very quiet. When I saw the eagle, I was not yelling or singing or banging pans together, and I have to believe this helped.
  • Have a camera. Posts like this are totally lame without a photo.

Reading It Only For the Logs

Brad has visited Ponca City and is stunned to report on something there that is not an insult to whatever it's an example of -- free broadband internet access for the entire town:

I was fairly impressed with the service provided, as none of the things I attempted to access were blocked (IM, video chat, Skype phone calls, e-mail, BitTorrent), and web browsing appeared to be unfiltered, too. I tried YouTube, hulu, and even some porn sites (just to see if the network was filtered) and all loaded normally.
Of course, Brad! I, too, only browse porn sites to check on network filtering and for other high-minded technical-sounding reasons.

Alas, the porn surfing technical testing over Ponca City's free wi-fi probably ends here, now that Brad has crossed that line for what is surely the first time ever from that network, given the god-fearing milieu of its end-user base. The administrators, now grimly aware of the existence of depravity on the internets, are surely working hard to institute sensible content filters. By this time tomorrow I expect everything will be blocked except WorldNetDaily and the home page of Oral Roberts University.

Quizzes Galore!

Via Pharyngula, here's a video quiz assessing the godliness of your morality. And without godliness, wherefore morality? The Big Cheese in the Sky calls the moral shots, right?



And via 3QD, here are my result from a fairly challenging American civics test -- 31 out of 33.



I think one of the two I got wrong is bollocks, and I could certainly quibble with the political axe-grinding embedded in a few of the questions, but I'll take the result. Somewhere along the way in my schooling I learned to stop arguing once I had an A.

Playing Knifey-Spooney

The New Yorker has a profile of Master Bladesmith Bob Kramer, who achieved that designation, in part, by using one of the knives he made to accomplish

four tasks, in this order: cut through an inch-thick piece of Manilla rope in a single swipe; chop through a two-by-four, twice; place the blade on his forearm and, with the belly of the blade that had done all the chopping, shave a swath* of arm hair; and, finally, lock the knife in a vise and permanently bend it ninety degrees.
That's one hell of a knife. Presumably Ron Popeil presides over the Master Bladesmith certification.

* I'm delighted to see The New Yorker use the word swath where others would erroneously use swathe; it's almost enough to cancel out their annoying practice of putting book and film titles in quotes. Almost.

Monday, November 24, 2008

College-ing It Up: OU v. Boise State and the NFL



Matt Yglesias posts this video of some fun moments from one of the more entertaining football games in recent memory, the 2007 Fiesta Bowl between Oklahoma and Boise State, and adds:

[I]f you’re going to watch college football it’s much more entertaining to see teams that really college it up with options, trick plays, and generally goofy stunts that you couldn’t get away with against the too-fast, too-athletic NFL defenses.
The line about the futility of such plays against "too-fast, too-athletic NFL defenses" is the conventional wisdom on the matter, familiar to anyone who has wasted even a modest portion of his life watching men argue about football on tee-vee.

I am not convinced. The limiting factor on the halfback pass is not, it seems to me, the athletic abilities of NFL defenders but the passing abilities of NFL halfbacks, which in turn results from a failure to practice. When it is coached and practiced and attempted in games, it tends to work, as in the case of LaDainian Tomlinson, who, Wikipedia notes, has "completed eight career passes, seven of them for touchdowns [for] a career passer rating of 154.4."

It's not that the halfback pass or any other so-called "gadget play" is a sure thing, or even 7/8ths of a sure thing, but I think NFL coaches -- perhaps players too -- consistently underestimate the value of surprise, misdirection, and guile.

It seems a good time to make clear that I will seriously consider all offers to serve as a highly-paid offensive coordinator for any football team. My thinking is not just deeply but also polymorphously offensive.

Shifting Baselines

Lewis CK is funny and dead right in this.



Great stuff! He's dead right but that's not to say I'll give up the whining.

Which Union Is Blameworthy for Citigroup's Travails?

On our collective dime, Uncle Sucker is stepping in to rescue Citigroup:

First, the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) will backstop some losses against more than $300 billion in troubled assets.

Second, the Treasury will make a fresh $20 billion investment in the bank. The government has already injected $25 billion into Citigroup as part of the $700 billion bailout passed by Congress in October.
It's all over but the finger-pointing, which naturally raises the question of which union we should blame for Citigroup's financial hardships. Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers? Teamsters? Wobblies?

We know, for example, that GM (with its peerless management) as well as Ford and Chrysler would make awesome cars to rival anything by Toyota or Honda if only the United Auto Workers would stop crippling them. It stands to reason that Citigroup would not need handouts if not for the clutches of some labor union or other.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Uses and Abuses of Matthew

Anthony McCarthy cites a few passages from Matthew 25 and then admonishes fellow liberals:

It’s too bad that pride and antiquated conformity keep liberals and leftists from pointing out these things. Can’t understand why we shouldn’t. Like it or not, it makes no difference, Christianity is the equivalent of a natural force in our political life. We’re not under any constitutional prohibition from citing whatever furthers our purpose.[enphasis in original]
If you accept the premise that tendentious cherry-picking of Bible verses (or any other text) is a valid move in the game of politics, and further recognize that plenty of self-labeled Christians want to associate themselves with the warmer fuzzies of the Gospel of Matthew, I suppose there's something to this.

So I guess I take the cold pricklies side of this -- or "pride and antiquated conformity" or whatever -- when I decline. I decline because this seems like a cynical and dishonest use of the text, and more fundamentally, because the text in question is not worthy of its reputation. Here is the passage from Matthew 25:31-46 as quoted by McCarthy:
Jesus said, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, `Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, `Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, `You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, `Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, `Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
The apparent niceness of this comes at the price of not asking any detailed questions about it.

To wit: were there, perhaps, legitimate reasons that the 'goats' of this parable -- the ones Jesus is planning to cast into eternal hellfire -- declined to give comfort to strangers, visit prisoners, or hand out food, water, and clothing to everyone who claimed to need it? I hate to be the pooper of this pity party, but I need to know more about the situation before I can get dewy-eyed and nod along with Jesus's vision of charity as set forth here.

It does happen from time to time, despite Jesus's tacit admission that the moral order of the world he supposedly created is so fucked up that "the least" should be assumed to be the innocently wronged or the blamelessly luckless, that the least actually deserve to be the least. Once in a blue moon -- and more often than that when we really try at it -- just desserts are allocated right here on Jesus's own cracked world.

To pick some obvious cases, I see no duty to visit child molestors, rapists, and murderers in prison unlesss it's to verify that they're locked away securely, suitably miserable, and, where possible, on the path to contrition and amends. I don't feel badly about what finally became of Saddam Hussein or his blood-soaked sons. On the other hand, I have donated to the Innocence Project and strongly support their work because the innocent should be truthfully distinguished from the guilty, after which the innocent should go free and the guilty should be punished in some proportionate manner. This is justice. The guilty and the innocent deserve to be treated differently, Matthew 25 notwithstanding.

As for dealing with strangers, befriending everyone and assuming the best about them is a proven method for getting swindled, brutalized or killed. A healthy skepticism of strangers is simple prudence, and yes, it does entail an unknowable number of 'false positives.' If Jesus disagrees, Jesus is wrong.

I'm less skeptical of giving water, food, and clothing without being so very particular about the recipients, although it would be irresponsible to pay no attention to the circumstances.

So back to McCarthy's proposal to make use of a text such as this one: thank you, but no. We have better books. Pretending that bad and vague books are not bad and vague only enables the failure to ask necessary questions about right, wrong, charity, and justice.

Here is some excellent further reading on the Gospel of Matthew by Edmund Standing, "The Gospel of Matthew: A Book for Today?" -- well worth a slice of your time (I kid you not).

Michael Jackson Goes Muslim?

Christians rejoice! Michael Jackson has reportedly left your team and has signed with the reigning middle-east divisional champions, Islam:

The 50-year-old pop star, who changed his name to Mikaeel, pledged allegiance to the Koran at a friend's house in Los Angeles. An Imam was summoned from a nearby mosque to hold the shahada, the declaration of belief in Allah and Mohammed's prophecy.
Do we dare to hope that Michael Jackson will do for Islam what he previously did for insane self-mutilating child molesters, namely, make it even less appealing?

Maybe so. But I'm afraid the bad news outweighs the good news, as is often the case. First and foremost, this news confirms our collective supicions that Michael Jackson still exists as a headlines-producing entity, and dashes our hopes that he had been abducted for a ransom no one would ever pay, or had altered his appearance to a point that he was completely unrecognizable, or had himself sealed in something and sent to the moon or the bottom of the sea, or had simply, at long last, run out of good will and landed in prison where he belongs.

Sigh.

(via I kid you not)

Knowing Your Halal From Your Haram

If you read only two blog posts this holiday season that dispel the equivocation and clarify the distinction between right/wrong and halal/haram, make sure the recent one by Ophelia Benson is one of the two. Here's a taste:

There's a huge difference, and a difference that could hardly be more important. What is 'permitted' [i.e., halal] can be profoundly wrong and cruel and wicked; what is 'forbidden' [i.e., haram] can be entirely harmless or enormously beneficial. To many people, girls going to school is haram, and stoning girls to death for being raped is halal. Confusing the concept 'permitted' with the concept 'right' is a recipe for the worst kind of moral blindness and stupidity.
Certainly. The distinction points up the damage god-addled ethical schemes can do to ethical schemes, in that right and wrong get distorted, crimped, and reduced to mean that which god abides and that which god does not abide.

What does a god character in a fable permit? What does the god character forbid? Who cares? No one concerned with right and wrong, that's who.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Obvious(?) Trouble with Christianism

At Obsidian Wings, Publius has stated the blindingly obvious about the Christian right and why some of us oppose it so strongly. I say it's blindingly obvious, but maybe I'm wrong about that. This is all blindingly obvious, right? If it isn't, it should be:

The Christian Right position would require every single person in a given jurisdiction to give birth. (Yes, some would argue that it’s simply about letting the states decide – but still, they prefer this position because many states, and virtually the entire South, would ban abortion). Thus, the decision-making power here would belong to the government. Individuals would no longer be free to decide.

The pro-choice position, by contrast, ensures that individuals – not the government – will ultimately make these private decisions. Individuals remain free to have, or not have, abortions as they and their God see fit. And everyone remains free to persuade their fellow citizens of the values of bringing all pregnancies to term. But in the end, the individual – and not the state – would make the final call.

This pattern repeats itself across a number of issues. For example, gay marriage doesn’t require anyone to do anything. It merely allows consenting gay adults to be married. Gay marriage bans, by contrast, grant that decision-making power to the state.

Similarly, rights to contraception don’t require anyone to do anything – the ultimate decision remains with the individual. Contraception bans, by contrast, allocate the decision-making power to the government.

Same deal with school prayer. Banning school prayer in public classes doesn’t prevent anyone from praying privately at the school. But allowing public prayer, by contrast, would force non-Christians to sit through prayer sessions in a publicly funded school. Again, the decision to participate in prayer would be made by the state, not the individual.

The larger point is that these examples illustrate why many people fear social conservatives – simply put, many of the latter’s preferred positions would use the state to intrude on people’s lives and dictate very private and personal decisions to them.
Exactly! Right?

A blogger has certain responsibilities, among these being the boldness to state the obvious.

Discrimination and Hurt Feelings

Bob Jones University, the finest fundamentalist cow college in the world named after Bob Jones, has apologized for having banned interracial dating as recently as 2000 CE:

Though no known antagonism toward minorities or expressions of racism on a personal level have ever been tolerated on our campus, we allowed institutional policies to remain in place that were racially hurtful.
I'm intrigued with this idea that BJU's racism was "hurtful," as though the extent of the damage done was to the feelings of particular non-white and white people who wanted to go a-courtin'. This implies that BJU's ban on interracial dating* would have been acceptable, and nothing to apologize for, if the parties affected by the ban experienced no hurt feelings over it -- if they had been, for example, so thoroughly inculcated in the school's brand of batshit fundamentalism that interracial dating would never have occurred to any of them, or if it had, it would have struck them as repulsive.

But surely this is the wrong way to look at it; surely there is more involved in discrimination (race-based, sex-based, age-based, eye-color-based, whatever) than hurt feelings. Rather, the wrong of discrimination lies in the way it parcels out rights, privileges, opportunities, and protections based on arbitrary, non-chosen characteristics. It creates in-groups and out-groups, higher and lower tiers of persons, and does so for bad reasons. If this is right, then discrimination is unjust and wrong whether or not anyone is moved to complain about it, whether or not anyone's feelings are hurt by it, indeed whether or not anyone perceives it as discrimination as opposed to, say, the way things have always been.

BJU should therefore be apologizing for the injustice it perpetuated, not for the feelings the injustice gave rise to.

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* BJU's discrimination and its characterization of it is by no means exceptional; I highlight it because BJU is intrinsically risible and because I like writing "BJU."

Friendly Reminder: The Gays and the Bible

If you're gay, the god of the Bible hates you and wants his followers to kill you. If you have a gay child, sibling, parent, grandparent, uncle, cousin, friend, coworker, etc., the god of the Bible wants that person dead forthwith. Leviticus 20:13:

If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
They must be put to death. The randiness for killing gays carries forward to the New Testament's new and improved god character, in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6, where Paul's cherry-picking of Hebrew lore explicitly retains the murderous homophobia.

It's a good thing, then, that the god of the Bible does not actually exist. If he did, any of us should be pleased to get in line for stoning rather than to genuflect before such a capricious, hateful monster.

Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church are roughly half right. The choice is exactly as they portray it: you can believe in the god of the Bible or you can believe gays deserve to continue living, but you can't believe both. They err in how they decide between these alternatives -- they've convinced themselves that the petty tyrant of the Bible should be followed in this.

Yes, yes, there's no end to the special pleading that can disappear the anti-gay Bible passages while retaining the "good" passages. Likewise, I suspect Eliot Spitzer, Larry Craig, David Vitter, and Pastor Ted Haggard prefer versions of their life stories that leave out the extra-marital sex with strangers, and if he were alive today, John Wilkes Booth would probably decry the paucity of information in history books about his acting career.

I realize I've made this point before, and probably better.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Two Requests

I begin with a request for prospective parents: please, please give your children names you intend for them to use. If you want little Susan to go by Sue or little Nate to go by Nate, please just name her Sue and name him Nate in the first place. Leave Susan and Nathaniel to parents who want to refer to their children as Susan and Nathaniel.

Put the name you prefer on the birth certificate; put the foreseeable go-by name on the birth certificate; put the charming, appealing diminutive or variation on the birth certificate.

And for the sake of everything worth cherishing in this life, use the common spelling. Don't render Jake as Jayk, Jonathan as Johnathan, Michelle as Mychele. If you're not sure what the common spelling is, pick a different name, because your uncertainty is as good a signal as any that there is no common spelling, or that the common spelling is unsettled -- Stephen/Steven, Kathy/Cathy, endings with y/ie, etc.

Or suppose you decide to name your son or daughter after yourself and hope to escape the ambiguities of having two people of the same name in the house by calling the child something else. Stop there! Reconsider the whole idea! Don't fix the ambiguity by prompting the child to go by the middle name, or a nickname, or a diminutive, or a variation, or the initials. Same name means same name, yes? Go all in on the idea of "named after" or don't bother.

Step back from that abyss -- rest assured it is an abyss, trivial though all of this may sound. We live in an information age, which means we live in a literal, case-sensitive, relentlessly spell-checked age. Consider that every time your child's go-by name does not match his or her legal name, you've dropped your child into a nontrivial bureaucratic morass.

The card's name and billing address don't match? Well, not exactly -- the name doesn't quite match, and good luck tracing the malfunction to that in under an hour. Have you ever given blood or applied for credit under a different name? Well, yes and no, perhaps, if you are legally Terence but you've been called Terry since birth. You've been removed from the voting rolls? Well, yes and no -- the person with your legal name has been removed because the person at your address uses the diminutive. That these are actually the same persons does not compute because computers are stupid.

I close with a request to all six readers of this blog, parents and non-parents alike: please consider the request of Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis, owner-proprietor of the fine Zehnkatzen Times blog, to whom fortune has been unkind lately.

In a roundabout way, these two requests are related. Maybe some time later I'll be calm and centered enough to explain how.

Sigh.

At Long Last, Beavers Can Get a Good Can of Bitter

The fat-tailed bark-chewing overgrown water rats of the world no longer have to settle for what Budweiser and Coors call beer:

For the first time in 400 years, the beaver has returned to Great Britain.

Four wild beaver families arrived at London's Heathrow airport Thursday night, the first step in an effort to reintroduce the mammals -- probably hunted to extinction around the reign of King James I, in the 16th or 17th century -- to the British countryside.

The beaver families, which were trapped in Norway after several months of careful observation, will be quarantined for six months before being released in western Scotland.
The beer is still quite good, but beavers will return to an England much changed in these 400 years. The Stuarts-Tudors rivalry is ancient to the point of quaint; Scotland and England are now united in a single kingdom called, colorfully enough, the United Kingdom; the French aren't so much hated as considered nuisances, like excessive rain or a nagging rash.

On the other paw, dental care is still fair to middling, and the royals are still twits.

I like the thought of beavers in Britain. Maybe someone there will appreciate their fierceness and base a team mascot on them, which will help spread the embarrassment of the Oregon State University Beavers.

Listening In?

I think the Married to the Sea people have been monitoring my son and me judging from how closely the lower half of this cartoon resembles our recent conversations.

I assume my son is kidding when he complains about running, much as my mom assumed I was kidding when I complained about the way she smoked in the car. She had the good sense -- and really, the decency -- not to try convincing me that second-hand smoke would build character or improve my health.

Friday Theodicy

This is from a recent comment to a long-ago post of mine about theodicy:

A perfect God cannot due to his perfect nature coexist with rebellion/evil/sin without this sin being "paid for." This is the very essence of justice - that evil actions are punished.

Free will as we now experience it is hopelessly entangled with sin. But once the price has been paid in full by the death of the perfect God in human form, there is apparently a new potential for free will to be detangled from sin and a perfect God can therefore coexist with his free-will creatures ...
I stumble on the very idea of vicarious atonement. In fact, it's fair to say I've fallen and I can't get up.

It's well and good to issue an airy abstraction like "the price has been paid in full by the death of the perfect God in human form," but when I think concretely of the debt and of the offered payment, I fail to see proportionality, equivalence, or justice.

Consider the 9/11 attackers: what they did, and the thoughts with which they did it. Jesus having died on a cross several centuries before would somehow atone for that?

Consider the Nazis who divided people deboarding from a train into two lines, one directly to their execution, the other to slow death by slave labor and malnutrition. Jesus was crucified way back when entails exactly what settling of this horrific debt?

Assume one or two jihadists and Nazis from the cases cited entertained last-second pro-Jesus thoughts -- they decided, in your terms, to accept the payment.

As a result of that acceptance, your favorite god might think more highly of them, but I most certainly do not.

Why would I? Because god is bigger and stronger and might smite me if I don't? That sort of logic doesn't justify Castro, and it doesn't justify the Castro of the imaginary world beyond the stars.

Because god sees something in that acceptance that I cannot? Please, do point it out. Until and unless god's mysterious moral scheme is clarified, I will continue to regard it as monstrous.

Surely death by crucifixion was exceedingly terrible. The horror of it should actually shock us more, and likely would if we hadn't spent most of our lifetimes surrounded with blithe representations of it, e.g., plastic "flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark," crosses on every street corner, every third Medieval painting, etc. But no crucifixion, and no set of opinions about a particular crucifixion, can change evil to good.

Another Clip Ruined

Lady Also's incoherent sputtering totally ruins this instructional video on modern-day turkey slaughtering techniques.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"You look like a fag"

"You look like a fag" was the charming greeting a panhandling gentleman gave me today as I passed him by, ignoring his pleas for change. Being everpresent on the sidewalks of downtown Portland, panhandlers barely penetrate my consciousness any more than blowing leaves, but this was an instance of a mind game we sometimes play.

The game goes like this: I walk by, say nothing, refuse eye contact. I know from comparable experience, as a telephone poll-taker making cold calls to people who despised me for it, that no response is far better than a snide one. But once in a while, the panhandler will throw out something snide of his own, e.g., "you look like a fag," hoping to get a rise out of the party and thus establish in each contestant's mind that the non-answer was a ruse. So I've long since honed the I-don't-even-notice-the-panhandler ruse to such a point that I anticipate this sort of thing and know not to react. I didn't react, I just kept walking with eyes ahead, pretending to listen to my iPod, which wasn't actually powered on at that time.

I took it as a compliment, actually. Aren't gay men always the most stylish?

GIGO of the Day: The Typealyzer

According to the newest web-based thingy whose fame has roughly 14 minutes to go, The Typealyzer, I am one of the "mechanics":

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generelly prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.
Penetrating! It's as though they know me, or some ideal type whose features I share, more or less. But the fun hardly ends there. How I pine for the days of May 2008 when this precious, precious blog revealed me to be a "thinker":
The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.
But what was my true essence back in the early days of this venture, February 2007? Eureka! I was an "artist":
The gentle and compassionate type. They are especially attuned their inner values and what other people need. They are not friends of many words and tend to take the worries of the world on their shoulders. They tend to follow the path of least resistance and have to look out not to be taken advantage of.

They often prefer working quietly, behind the scene as a part of a team. They tend to value their friends and family above what they do for a living.
Switching gears slightly, all my posts tagged with "conceits" reveal me to be a "performer":
The entertaining and friendly type. They are especially attuned to pleasure and beauty and like to fill their surroundings with soft fabrics, bright colors and sweet smells. They live in the present moment and don´t like to plan ahead - they are always in risk of exhausting themselves.

The enjoy work that makes them able to help other people in a concrete and visible way. They tend to avoid conflicts and rarely initiate confrontation - qualities that can make it hard for them in management positions.
Truly I contain multitudes. Or whatever.

Scary Image of the Day

Does this remind you of anything?


It took me a while to figure out what this image of the Pope called to mind -- overdressed in white, more than slightly menacing despite being seated, wearing a gigantic ring made for kissing -- it's Don Ciccio from one of the flashbacks in The Godfather: Part II, the old fart that the young Vito returned to Italy to kill in order to avenge his father.

The parallels go only so far; enough said.



(via Andrew Sullivan)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Pain" and Other Great Movie Lines by Mr. T

Joe Dudman over at the Run Oregon blog has put up a survey about pain and running, but I wonder if he has asked the right questions. The questions:

  • How high is your tolerance for pain?
  • How do you respond to pain?
I don't have the slightest idea how high my tolerance for pain is -- 6? 19? 133? Orange? What scale are we using and how do I use the scale? It's a mystery wrapped inside an enigma on an unknown planet circling an unknowable sun, all of it enmeshed in unspeakably black and turbid mists of unfathomable origin. I might as well speculate about the final thoughts of the last twelve frogs eaten by leopards!

So I answered "moderate."

I like the second question better -- "how do you respond to pain?" I just run through it unless it's a worrying sort of pain. I'm endlessly amused with the advice to runners, "you shouldn't run through pain." This translates to "give up running."

Yankee Talibanism, Sans Talibanism

Call me a sucker for any opinion column that speaks of "the gorilla in the pulpit," but I think Kathleen Parker makes a valid point or two in her account of what ails the Wide Stance party (alternate link).

[T]he evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn't soon cometh.

Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party. And, the truth -- as long as we're setting ourselves free -- is that if one were to eavesdrop on private conversations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that.
There's an intelligentsia in that party? Who knew? But seriously, I kid because I hate. And Parker has correctly identified the headwaters of that loathing:
So it has been for the Grand Old Party since the 1980s or so, as it has become increasingly beholden to an element that used to be relegated to wooden crates on street corners. ... Which is to say, the GOP has surrendered its high ground to its lowest brows.
Testify, sister! While I can conceive of voting for a libertarian-leaning sort of politician hailing from the rightward end of the political spectrum given the right moon phase, wind speed, mood swing, blood-alcohol level, and lousy Democratic candidate, it's the anti-intellectual god-bothering stuff that keeps Wide Stance candidates -- perhaps especially the ones that go out of their way during campaign season to talk up their "moderate" bona fides -- firmly in the unthinkable category. I will never vote for the Taliban, either the Islamic variety or the home-team brand. Never.

That said, I am somewhere between confused and amused at Parker's "erstwhile conservative" and the implication, if I understand her correctly, that the party's Christianism represents a tragic departure from some lost conservative Eden, especially when she herself traces the anti-thinking rot to the 1980s. I've only been politically aware since the 1980s and its so-called "Reagan revolution," so claims that there exists a strain of conservatism not dominated by, or at least strongly seasoned by, know-nothing crypto-theocracy spiced with a few pecks of racism strike me as vacuous nostalgia for a long since bygone age.

If she is referring to some pre-1980s conservatism (Teddy Roosevelt? Hoover? Eisenhower? Nixon? Nixon?), she has done a poor job of outlining what it is, how it might be relevant going forward, or how it might appeal to existing and foreseeably existing American voters.

Subtract the Yankee Talibanism and what's left of the Wide Stance? The US Chamber of Commerce and its never-ending whine to allow business to avoid paying taxes or following rules -- in short, the Libertarian party, or a version of the Libertarian party that avidly embraces the chickenhawk martial virtues. I would be delighted to see this tried as the basis of a national party, and for the racists and Christianists to be forced to form a splinter party -- or better yet, relocate en masse to Israel where they can more directly prepare for Armageddon.*


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* Not that I would wish that on the people currently living in Israel.

Fresh New Lament

Scientists in New Zealand -- it's uncanny how many depressing news items begin with those words -- have found the remains of a previously undocumented species of penguin that humans exterminated a few centuries ago:

The research suggests that the first humans in New Zealand hunted the newly found Waitaha penguin to extinction by 1500, about 250 years after their arrival on the islands. But the loss of the Waitaha allowed another kind of penguin to thrive -- the yellow-eyed species [pictured] that now also faces extinction, Philip Seddon of Otago University, a co-author of the study, said Wednesday.
Evidently the yellow-eyed penguins weren't so delicious to those early settlers of New Zealand -- not a bad trait to have if you can manage it.

It would be a shame to see more penguins go the way of the Waitaha. Penguins are hilarious.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Law Finds Cheney and Gonzales

I strongly doubt it will go anywhere, but it's a fine start:

A South Texas grand jury has returned multi-count indictments against Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on charges related to the alleged abuse of prisoners in Willacy County’s federal detention centers
The indictment of Cheney relates to self-dealing, while the charges against Gonzales concern his status as a special-needs yes-man:
The indictment stems from Cheney's investment in the Vanguard Group -- an investment management company that reportedly has interests in the prison companies in charge of the detention centers, according to The Associated Press. It also charges Gonzales halted an investigation into abuse at the detention centers while he was attorney general.
I expect George W. Bush has already drafted the open-ended pardon of both of these filthy clowns, but again, it's a good start.

Being Cephalon's Pawn

I can't tell you how delightful it is to be a pawn in this game:

It works like this: Knowing that Provigil will face generic competition in 2012 as its patent nears expiration, Cephalon [Provigil's maker] is planning to launch a longer-acting version of the drug called Nuvigil next year. To convert patients from Provigil to Nuvigil, Cephalon has suggested in investor presentations it will price Nuvigil lower than the sharply increased price of Provigil.
Provigil is one of a small number of effective treatments for narcolepsy.

The manipulation of price is only the cherry atop this treat; the fact that Cephalon either has, or will soon be more loudly claiming to have, a longer-acting version of the drug means they've been pushing a less effective treatment all this time.

Neat!

The Canucks Close In

I have more or less recently learned that both my boss and my son's school teacher are Canadians -- the former from Manitoba, the latter from Ontario. And it turns out there's even a wikipedia article on Canada. Eh?!?!

What next, will there be Canadian celebrities?

If I had a paranoia about Canadians, this sudden closing in of Canadians from all directions -- mostly from the north -- would fuel it greatly. But that would be crazy! I have no paranoia about Canadians at all. A healthy fear, yes, but not paranoia.

I, for one, welcome our Canadian overlords.

A Quick Cave-In

The first of many what will surely prove to be many craven pre-shots-fired surrenders, Democrats have used their increased majority in the Senate to allow Joe Lieberman to retain his committee chairmanships, including that of the Homeland Security Committee:

Democrats didn't want to drive him from the Democratic caucus by taking away his chairmanship and send the wrong signals as Obama takes office on a pledge to unite the country. Lieberman had indicated it would be unacceptable for him to lose his chairmanship.
Exactly how would this scary "unacceptable" have manifested itself? I'm interested in what it would have meant for Lieberman to have been "driven from" the Democrats. Would he have changed his votes on some public policy question or another? If so, is this the kind of guy you want to keep around -- a Senator whose stands on public policy are up for barter?

Elections have consequences?

The Cursed Web-Based Rabble

Here's Andrew Keen waxing iconoclastic about the web's effects on culture:

... the web is fragmenting society into a billion intimate hamlets, dragging it back into a discordant pre-Enlightenment dark age where all truth is personal and all knowledge local.
To whatever extent it is genuinely difficult to distinguish expert opinion and analysis from novice bloviating, the problem existed before there was an internet and will exist for as long as people interact in group settings.

In fairness to Keen, the parallel objection applies to the pro-internets boosterism side of the argument: the mere fact of more content that's more readily available to more people does not, ipso facto, increase the odds that any web-browsing individual will successfully pluck a valuable insight from the morass.

The web can be seen as an enlarged, accelerated version of the water cooler at work, the town square, the county library, the television, the radio, etc. It's a place where people can go to get better informed or to get considerably less so.

Keen continues:
Digital utopians have crowned the“citizen-journalist” as their bereted hero of the insurrection – the Trotsky 2.0 of this brave new digital world. But, rather than the self broadcaster, my hero of the Internet age is the citizen who acknowledges his ignorance about things, who keeps her mouth shut, who uses media to learn about and enjoy the world from other better informed and more talented than themselves.
Keen's distrust of utopians and their -isms is sensible enough, but it fails to carry the weight Keen wants it to carry. It fails to validate his distaste for the caucophony of voices the web's openness makes possible, and moreover gives off a strong scent of straw. There is unquestionably a great deal of idiocy and navel-gazing on the web: any five-minute stretch of miscellaneous browsing around youtube, let alone myspace, will establish that to anyone's satisfaction. But is there really someone out there making the argument that all the squalor and noise of the web is creating a utopia? Or more modestly that it is rendering education -- or judgment, or critical thinking, or checking sources -- obsolete? If so, the only person taking such claims seriously would seem to be Keen himself. The rest of us clicked away from that nonsense a long time ago.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sullivan Stares into the Abyss

Andrew Sullivan on Mormons and the Mormon church:

I respect their right to freedom of conscience and religion. In fact, it is one of my strongest convictions. But when they use their money and power to target my family, to break it up, to demean it and marginalize it, to strip me and my husband of our civil rights, then they have started a war. And I am not a pacifist.
In context, he's referring to the Mormon church's support for California's proposition 8, but he fails to explain why the 'they declared war and I am not a pacifist' line applies to the bigotry headquartered in Salt Lake City but not to the bigotry founded in Rome, Mecca, or Wittenberg. Nor why, for that matter, anti-gay animus is the first and last item on the war-worthy list, but not any of a dozen other forms of fear-driven backwardness. This is as close as he can bring himself to it:
The Mormons are not unique in this persecution of their own gay folk. My own church has recently capitulated to bigotry in its own hiring practices, even as the Vatican is run by so many psychologically scarred gay men.
Recently? Recently capitulated? In hiring practices? Take a deep breath and let yourself look over the ledge, Andrew: it's not a capitulation when they openly avow it, it's not recent when they've embraced it from the start, and it goes well beyond hiring practices.

Success in war requires distinguishing allies from enemies.

Handjobs for Fish. Is America Ready?

The existence and wording of the sign indicate that people have complained about the way salmon semen is extracted at the Bonneville fish hatchery. The extra underlining of very graphic indicates there have been multiple complaints.

This sign is posted just outside the facility where they do the shocking deeds in full public view. If the America I know is actually the America I know, they'd get considerably more visitors if they posted exactly the same sign on the freeway just before the exit to the hatchery. In fact, I doubt they're set up for the volume of visitors they'd attract.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Detroit Bailout Tableau

I still lean ever so slightly in favor of a bailout of "the big three" US-based car makers. There are strong arguments for and against, and big risks no matter what.

Some good reading on it -- and this list is hopelessly partial:

More or less predictably (not to say unreasonably), Megan McArdle is against, a view strongly seconded by Will Wilkinson; to which Publius and then Hilzoy reply forcefully. Freddie chips in some good commentary about the blurry line between economics and theology, and Matt Yglesias more or less splits the difference.

New Humanist Symposium

There's a new Humanist Symposium up at Disillusioned Words, but it all seems beside the point since new scientific findings have proven the existence of god beyond all doubt.

Happy reading.

Girls and Rocks, Marriages and Votes

Karen Armstrong finds religion uplifting and loving and so on:

"My religion is kindness," says the Dalai Lama; faith that moves mountains is worthless without charity, said St Paul; the Golden Rule was the essence of Torah, said Rabbi Hillel: everything else was "only commentary". The bedrock message of the Qur'an is not a doctrine but a summons to build a just and decent society where there is a fair distribution of wealth and vulnerable people are treated with absolute respect.

The religions also insist that it is not sufficient to confine your compassion to your own group. You must have what one of the Chinese sages called jian ai, "concern for everybody" – honouring the stranger and loving your enemies.
Indeed so. Just as all true Scotsmen are strong and virtuous, the true essence of the religions is compassion and justice.

But Armstrong is broad-minded enough to allow that it does not always seem that way:
Why, then, do we hear so little about compassion from the religious? Because whether they are religious or secular, people often prefer to be right rather than compassionate. Certainly the religious traditions have a deeply intransigent strain.
The intransigence comes along with the introduction of a new character onto the stage of human affairs -- a big, bold character with vast powers and even vaster demands. Since he doesn't deign to appear onstage, the other characters scramble to deliver his lines, each with supreme confidence that they're imparting his "true essence."

It's worthwhile to take a clear look at actual cases where being compassionate and being right come into conflict. Which wins? What are the stakes? In the recent election, Christians in California chose their god's truth about marriage over any sense of compassion for gay people's lives by a 2-1 margin. The Muslims who gathered to hurl stones at the head of a thirteen-year-old rape victim were willing to smash the bedrock of decency like so much skull-bone and discard the "absolute respect" for "vulnerable people" of which Armstrong rhapsodizes but they were not willing to question the truth-claims on which their religion insists.

How this truth-versus-compassion choice comes out is not an academic question; the course of lives hangs on it. The actual scenes and characters in the stage-play are opened to severe distortion and debasement when the imaginary offstage character is assumed to have a role. All the world's a stage, sure, but it's a play with real blood.

Ophelia Benson has more on this.

A Tradition, Updated

With today's high fuel prices, how can you affordably terrorize the non-whites, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, homosexuals, environmentalists, liberals, and other undesirables in your neighborhood with a traditional burning cross? The American Family Association has your answer!

Looking for an effective way to express your Christian faith this Christmas season to honor our Lord Jesus? ... Light up your front yard, porch, patio, driveway, business, organization or church this holiday season with a stunning Christmas cross.
Well, yes, stunning is one word for it.

(H/T Balloon Juice)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Teensy Bailouts

Wikipedia Affiliate Button
Since I borrow [clearing throat] their images and information so often -- always with attribution, I must add -- I went ahead and threw some money at Wikipedia. If your life would be as hollow as mine without it, maybe you will decide to do the same. And maybe you won't. If you want to do so, the blue button on this post will take you to a magical place where they'll take your payment information. Donations are tax-deductible in the USA.

I'm not sure if this counts for or against the nostrums of Andrew Keen, who thinks all the free stuff on the web, and especially Wikipedia, threatens to Destroy Us All.

Well, it's no longer free for me.

Is 'Strange' the Right Word?


Strange Maps has posted this amazing image showing the pattern of cotton production circa 1860 (the dots) versus the pattern of red-blue voting in the 2008 election. (Follow this link to see the cotton map separated from the voting map.)

To a surprising degree, after nearly 150 years, African-Americans continue to live in large numbers in the same counties where their slaveholders placed them. Strange? Sad? Telling? Tragic?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Holy Crap a Chukar!

My wife and son swear they spotted a living, breathing, hopping, not-flying-so-much Chukar in our front yard this morning. What is a Chukar?

The Chukar, Alectoris chukar is a Eurasian upland gamebird in the pheasant family Phasianidae of the order Galliformes, gallinaceous birds. Other common names of this bird include 'Chukker' (sometimes misspelled as 'Chuker'), 'Chukar Partridge', 'Red-legged Partridge', 'Rock Partridge', 'Indian Hill Partridge', 'Chukka', 'Chukkar', 'Chukor', 'Chukore', 'Chikone', 'Kabk', 'Kau-Kau', and 'Keklik'.
In other words, a Chukar is a lovely chicken-ish bird with a long list of go-by names that enrage this text editor's inline spelling checker. While my front yard is very close to my house and thus far distant from the uplands of Eurasia -- no, I cannot see the uplands of Eurasia from my front porch on even the clearest of days -- there is an explanation:
A native of southern Eurasia, the Chukar was introduced into the United States from Pakistan to be a game bird. It lives in arid, rocky terrain across the western United States and southern Canada.
People brought Chukars to this region so they could shoot them dead and stuff their carcasses. I wish I had seen it -- the living bird itself, not the shooting and carcass-stuffing.

Death is about choices.

I won't say I'm completely fond of the idea of converting the remains of the dead into functioning pencils, but I know it sounds better than, say, putting the recently-deceased's ashen remains in a plastic box and dropping that box into the waters around the San Juan Islands only to find that it doesn't sink. And to find that the trash bag that someone inexplicably threw in with the floating plastic box only adds to the ungainliness of the sight, not to mention the floating-versus-sinking problem.

I'm just saying.

Four Long Years of Imprecatory Prayer

Remember that exponent of Boundless Christian Love® who publicly longed for John McCain's "speedy death" soon after being elected so that Lady Also could take over and rescue all the blastocysts?

Well, since That One won the election, Lady Also is now just another GOP governor positioning herself for 2012, so the exponent of Boundless Christian Love® faces a greatly expanded list of speedy deaths to be praying for, including, but not limited to, the speedy deaths of Charlie Crist, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, that Minnesota guy with the televangelist hair, and countless other lunkheads.

For good or bad, nothing fails like prayer, so all of the above are expected to be alive, well, and thralling everyone with their acumen by 2012. May it be a long, long four years.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Spinanes

I shall go no longer without mentioning The Spinanes on this precious, precious blog. I can't be the only person who loves them, defunct though they are. They gave the world such marvelous drumming and singing, and don't even get me started on the catchy hooks.

The Spinanes, "Sunday"

Good Riddance to Stale Crackers

This is a problem?

A priest at St. Mary's Catholic Church in downtown Greenville has told parishioners that those who voted for Barack Obama placed themselves under divine judgment because of his stance on abortion and should not receive Holy Communion until they've done penance.

The Rev. Jay Scott Newman told The Greenville News on Wednesday that church teaching doesn't allow him to refuse Holy Communion to anyone based on political choices, but that he'll continue to deliver the church's strong teaching on the "intrinsic and grave evil of abortion" as a hidden form of murder.
The threat is to withhold the servings of enchanted crackers? Priestly coercion just isn't what it used to be (well ...).

To Obama voters now "under divine judgment" for angering that priest's favorite imaginary sky-scold, I remind you of the many fine foods available during all hours throughout the Lent season, that the money wasted on tithes will serve even better for Christmas presents (and bill payments), and that the hours spent in Mass are every bit as pointless as you've sometimes permitted yourselves to suspect. This sounds to me like as good an opportunity as any to make a clean break and let this attempt at priestly coercion succeed in coercing you right out of the flock.

(H/T to LOLTheist on the cracker poster)