Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It's Time to Criminalize Extroversion

Another day, another sunrise, another blowhard declaring introversion a pathology:

The researchers also ... found that the women who contribute to the online encyclopedia exhibit unusually high levels of introversion. Women in particular, they suggest, "seem to use the Internet as a compensative tool" that allows them to "express themselves" in a way "they find difficult in the offline world."
Oh dear gawd! Someone start charging the electroshock apparatus and readying the strongest possible doses of SSRI pharmaceuticals! Somewhere in the world, a person, quite likely a woman, is on the verge of expressing herself on the internets in a way that she finds difficult to do in real life! This must be stopped!

Along with Nicholas Carr, I pine for a return to the good old days when such abominations were not made visible to tender old people and innocent children; when, instead, the world's wretched, socially-retarded, maladjusted psychopaths either remained in absolute silence or wrote out their filthy excretions on little scraps of paper and hid them around the house -- out of view of decent people, such that extroverts of the day would not be disturbed by them as they blabbered on about nothing, swaddled in the adoration of their own precious speaking voices. Carr continues:
The study is consistent with other research into the motivations underlying online social production. Last year, researchers at HP Labs undertook an extensive study of why people upload videos to YouTube. They found that contributors are primarily driven by a craving for attention. If the videos they upload aren't clicked on, they tend to quickly exit the "community." YouTubers view their contributions not as pieces of "a digital commons" but as "private goods" that are "paid for by attention." .... the findings do lend a darker tint to the rose-colored rhetoric that surrounds online communities. A wag might suggest that "social production" would be more accurately termed "antisocial production." [emphasis mine]
I share Nicholas Carr's bottomless contempt for cretins who "crave attention." Is there anything more despicable or pitiable in the realm of human social interaction than someone who not only desires attention, but takes action to garner it? Sweet Michael Jackson's pederastic Ghost (too soon?), can't we all just stay silently to ourselves and stop looking for others to notice us, talk to us, respond to us, and otherwise validate our petty interests, trivial preoccupations, idiotic priorities, and brittle self-constructions?

Oh dear. Now I'm not sure if I'm for or against extroversion. Or introversion. I will need someone very, very talkative to help me through this. Goodness knows I shouldn't be looking to the web for any guidance -- the sort of people who post things to the internets are fucking crazy.

Sarcasm aside*, if I've learned anything from watching countless hours of televised sports, it's that the best defense is a good offense, and that defense wins championships, so fellow introverts, if we're going to win this thing, it's time we go on the offensive and begin a movement to criminalize extroversion. People who love the sound of their own voices? Hard time. People who "just stop by to catch up"? Life without parole. People who gin up conversations with perfect strangers? Meet all your new best friends on the chain-gang. People who live for being the life of the party? There's a party in The Big House. People who can't manage to shut the fuck up for any five-minute stretch of time while other human beings are present? Unleash the heart-stabbing sting rays.

Shame on you if you have read this far, for by doing so, you have enabled my contemptible craving for attention. Damn you!

* Not really - more like switching to another level of sarcasm. My pathologies run deep. I mean, you are reading this on the internets, aren't you? Q.E.D.

Spiking the Lukewarm

Andrew Sullivan posted this video of Ross Douthat posing a long-winded question to a liberal theologian, Robert Wright.

To spare you the five minutes of Douthat's prolixity, it comes to this: doesn't liberal theology fail as a substitute for the more definite, specific, and concrete claims of literalist / traditionalist / fundamentalist / pick-your-term theology? Don't people who take the step of believing in a god almost universally choose to take the follow-on step of believing that god cares about them, responds to their prayers, smites their enemies, rewards the righteous, etc?

Wright's brief answer -- "probably" -- says all we need to know about liberal theology. The video:

Monday, June 29, 2009

Proclamations, Oklahoma Style

Once again, a far-flung correspondent, DP, has confirmed the truth behind a development I had vainly hoped was an extended typographical error: Oklahoma politician Sally Kern has cranked out a "morality proclamation," claiming, in part, that

we believe our economic woes are consequences of our greater national moral crisis; and

WHEREAS, this nation has become a world leader in promoting abortion, pornography, same sex marriage, sex trafficking, divorce, illegitimate births, child abuse, and many other forms of debauchery; and

WHEREAS, alarmed that the Government of the United States of America is forsaking
the rich Christian heritage upon which this nation was built ...
And so it goes, on and on, filling its deficits of accurate history and sane policy with surpluses of audacious bombast and unhinged nostrums, each outrageously stupid claim piling on the last like so many mass-buried charred heretics.

But not to worry. DP kindly reassures us that
not all Oklahomans believe like this. It's only the voting majority that do.

I Don't Need No Stinkin' Autopsy

An important off-blog conversation* about griffin sightings was the occasion for an appearance of the word coloration, to wit (quoting myself):

As I've thought about it, yes, it was definitely a griffin. The confusion stems from the fact that I didn't get an ideal view, and it was also a female judging from the drab coloration. When you look for griffins, you tend to look for the characteristic blue and gold streaks, and the orange dots, but of course, those are only present on the males.
Coloration: I can't encounter that word without thinking of TV's Steve Irwin, who spoke so frequently and so excitedly of the coloration of the dangerous animals he was bothering, and thereupon to the threat posed by heart-stabbing sting rays. I am never far removed from thoughts of heart-stabbing sting rays.

All of which serves as introductory material to the substance of this important blog post: namely, my confident prediction that Michael Jackson's autopsy will reveal that he was stabbed through the heart by a sting ray. I further predict that once again, the mainstream media will label this an "accident," the act of an innocent animal provoked in the wrong way at the wrong place and the wrong time.

But you and I, gentle reader, will know better: finally! Something successfully killed that child-buggering, self-deifying freak!**

* As if!
** Too soon?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Finding New Music

Zennalathas has made some valid points in reply to my post about Billy Bob Thornton's declarations about the quality of Rock Music since 1980.

It occurs to me that Thornton is speaking from an understandable lack of awareness -- understandable, not to say excusable -- and that this can be an opportunity to explore the ever-expanding ways that people can find new-to-them music. I've found Pandora and the aggregated new release ratings at metacritic to be excellent resources for this.

Other suggestions? What else works?

The Sun, the Heat, the Fretting

Clipped from weather dot com, this is not the forecast I want to see for July 4 -- too much sun, too much heat. I'll be out exerting myself for interestingly long stretches of that day, and were it up to me, the day would feature Portland's famed overcast skies and light rain.

Oh well. Weather forecasts are almost never accurate around here, right?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Saturday Musical Mood Swing Blogging - "Mote" & Prelude 23-5

Whatever it might suggest -- I'm honestly not sure -- Sonic Youth's "Mote" captures my mood today better than anything else I've encountered:

Here is a high-quality live performance of the song from 2007 -- though I suspect those who listen for lyrics might quibble with the "high-quality" characterization. Then again, those who listen for lyrics likely have limited interest in Sonic Youth in the first place.

Related or not, here's a moody performance of a Rachmaninoff's moody Prelude Opus 23 #5.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Billy Bob Thornton - Profiles in Boomers Run Amok

In answer to Billy Bob Thornton, who appeared on this evening's Bill Maher show and issued a variation of the shopworn claim that "music died in [some year of personal significance to the party issuing the claim]," here are some musicians who came to fame after 1980 and who will be remembered, or will prove to be artistically influential, for decades to come -- and this list is hopelessly incomplete and completely unordered:

  • Stereolab
  • Ben Gibbard
  • The Decemberists
  • Pearl Jam
  • Nirvana
  • Soundgarden
  • Metallica
  • Liz Phair
  • Beck
  • Damnnear everything labeled hip-hop. Thornton is aware of hip-hop, right?
  • Neko Case
  • Sarah McLachlan
  • Natalie Merchant
  • Sonic Youth
  • The Pixies / Frank Black
  • The White Stripes / Jack White
  • Radiohead / Thom Yorke
  • Pavement / Stephen Malkmus
  • U2 (Thornton acknowledged this one)
  • R.E.M. (Thornton acknowledged this one)
  • Wilco / Jeff Tweedy
  • David Lowery
  • Cat Power
  • Bjork
  • PJ Harvey
  • The Smiths / Morrissey
  • The Cure
  • The Violent Femmes
  • Massive Attack
  • Portishead
  • Yo La Tengo
  • Lucinda Williams
  • Cowboy Junkies
Could I go on? Yes! Does my list overlap significantly with my own musical tastes? Yes! Would every human being my age agree with my list? No! Does my list subtract anything from the undeniable musical greatness that originated in other generations? No! In ten years' time, or possibly ten minutes' time, will I myself come to regret some of the items on my list? Yes!

These emphatic yes's and no's illustrate why these "music died after [year]" are so goddamned idiotic. So let's not, OK?

Sweet Michael Jackson's child-buggering ghost (too soon?), Billy Bob! Pull your Baby-Boomer head out of your Baby-Boomer ass! I admire your work -- really, I do -- but people named "Billy Bob" should take special precautions against sounding provincial.

We'll always have Monster's Ball and Sling-Blade; nothing can take those away, with the possible exception of overly vigorous, pushily intrusive defenses of intellectual property rights. And having just added Billy Bob Thornton's music to my Pandora profile, and not having rejected any of it after a good hour, no serious harm has been done.

Doubt - Er, the Mental State, Not the Movie

Here's Anonymous, the most frequent commenter to this precious, precious blog:

Sometimes religious folks have passing doubts about their faith that come and go. Do atheists ever have doubts about their doubt?
For purposes of this blog post, I speak for every atheist -- living or dead, past and future, near and far -- when I respond to this question as follows: sure, why not?

Sure, I have doubts now and then. Most often these take the form of hopes that I'll be reunited with lost loved ones, something that's only possible if there's an afterlife. It would be nice to catch up with my mom, and to count the minutes until I'm tired of her again. (If you're a betting sort, the smart money places the over/under on that at 120.)

Another kind of hope -- less pressing, to be sure -- is that I'll have the chance to meet all the interesting people who have died. Who wouldn't want to meet William Shakespeare? Who wouldn't want ten or eleven minutes with a tire iron and the 9/11 attackers, Adolph Hitler, Michael Jackson (too soon?), and each member of our respective inner circle of long-departed betes-noires?

Other times it's fear-based: a scary movie or disturbing news report has been known to put me in a "gosh, I'd sure hate to go to hell since it's probably something like that or worse" state of mind.

Note the pattern: wish-fulfillment of different kinds fomenting doubts. Suffice to say the power of wishes, undeniable as it is, has a terrible track record for producing sturdy truth claims.

Most of the time, the real answer is no: I don't spend much time wondering if there really is a god (or group of gods*) watching over me and making entries on some naughty-nice list. There are countless situations where the question has no discernible impact and no association: for example, when one of my cats yowled for no reason at 4am this morning, and I threw a bundled pair of socks in the general direction of the yowl, no thoughts of eternity crept into the calculus or increased the subjective melodrama. The same is true of the moments spent not long after dressing for the day, and so on.

Interestingly enough, I think the same is true of believers. I suspect even the most devoted of believers are functionally atheistic most of the time: except for brief snatches of time here and there, whatever god(s) they follow is entirely irrelevant to what they're doing and thinking.

Maybe the more fruitful answer is to turn the question around and ask believers how often and under what circumstances they entertain the possibility that their religious beliefs are wrong, and whether all those committed believers of other faiths are right. Do devout Muslims worry that the Christians might be on to something? Vice-versa? Do both worry that the Hindu gods might be the universe's actual custodians? Do all three wonder if the Jews have it right?

It has often been said, so here's one more: an atheist is someone who rejects all the gods you reject plus one more.

* What is the proper group name for deities? bundle? satchel? pile? congeries? majesty? sum? herd? procession? index? tribe? murder?

The Story of Your Disbelief

The Doubtcasters want to hear your story:

We're looking for your stories and your reasons for joining the ranks of the godless. When did you lose your faith? Why did you lose your faith? Did you ever have faith? What are the arguments you ran into that started you down your path to disbelief? What books did you read, what friends did you make, or what events did you go through that helped you embrace the natural over the supernatural?

If you'd like to share with us your "Gospel of Doubt," send us an essay of 200 words or less that addresses some of the issues above to doubtcast@gmail.com.
They are also interested in hearing your story in recorded form, and it sounds as though they'll be incorporating some of these recordings into a forthcoming Reasonable Doubts podcast. You could be famous!

Presumably, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and other believers have their disbelief stories too. Maybe the doubtcasters would be interested in hearing how they came to reject all the other sects and all the other religions?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Zenith: "Billy Jean"

On the occasion of his passing, this is as nice as I'm ever likely to be about Michael Jackson - Thriller was an amazing and groundbreaking album, something I confirmed by tuning out the tediously breathless news media saturation and forcing myself to take in the video for "Billy Jean. It began as a weird tribute but became a confirmation that I know what I hate, and I can't bring myself to hate this. That's the best R.I.P. I can offer this strange, creepy, and tortured figure.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

It Turns Out Gov. Sanford Wanted Stimulus After All

Evidently only getting started burnishing his reputation as a phony and a chiseler by trying to pretend to decline federal stimulus funds, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford also supplements his moral crusading with adultery.

For all I know, Jesus still loves this passionate-advocate-of-family-values-for-others -- it's hard to say anything definitive about the loves, hates, likes, and dislikes of fictional characters -- but non-fictional observers will temper their reception of him by noting that he's a complete hypocrite:

“The issue of lying is probably the biggest harm, if you will, to the system of Democratic government, representatives government, because it undermines trust. And if you undermine trust in our system, you undermine everything.” [Sanford on Clinton, CNN, 2/16/99]

Sanford has also been an opponent of same-sex marriage, saying in 2004, “As Jenny and I are the parents of four little boys, we’ve always taught our kids that marriage was something between a man and a woman.” [The Post and Courier, 2/11/04]
Add more pages to the annals of political biography that reads like bad fiction.

"Mooting" Abortion Rights?

Since I wrote this, it follows I am implicated in this criticism leveled by Secular Right's David Hume:

the outrage that some liberals feel when one moots the idea of aborting a fetus if they are of a particular racial combination or sex shows that the “rights” and “liberty” based reasoning of the pro-choice movement is often relatively shallow. Abortion is meant to empower women in a positive sense of freedom, a consequentialist rationale, not to reinforce prejudice, discrimination and oppression. Making abortion a right is in fact a form of legislating morality and inculcating values about how women relate to their bodies and society. Interestingly Nixon’s qualms about abortion were consequentialist. Rather than the sanctity of life he seemed to be elucidating a view that abortion was another instance where the sexual revolution rolled back individual responsibility in favor of license. Instead of murder, it seemed a problem of moral hazard.
For starters, I'm unsure of how strong a version of "mooting" Hume has in mind for reasons of sexual or racial selection; if he's claiming that liberals on abortion would re-criminalize abortion for these reasons, I believe he's wrong -- but it is, after all, an empirical question: do polls show pro-choice people taking this position?

Speaking for my pro-choice self, when I say I want people to retain autonomy and authority over their own reproductive fortunes, it comes with a strong measure of resistance to inquiring into people's motivations for either bearing children or deciding not to. To be pro-choice is to assume that people have their own reasons, priorities, and values; and therefore that their reasons, priorities, and values may not be mine given similar circumstances. The legitimacy of the right does not turn on the quality of the reasons behind the exercise of the right. At the same time, the existence of the right does not obligate other people to approve of any given exercise of the right.

In much the same way, the pro-free-speech position would imply a strong reluctance for the state to ask "why do you want to read that book?" or "why do you want to write a blog?" or "why did you think it was a good idea to say that?" And at the same time, while we have a right to free expression, we do not have a right to be agreed with.

Then there's this, requoted from above:
[m]aking abortion a right is in fact a form of legislating morality and inculcating values about how women relate to their bodies and society.
Nonsense. No, legalizing abortion is a way -- the only way, as far as I can tell -- to create the space for free people to enact and inculcate varying values about, among other things, how women relate to their bodies and society. Likewise, making choosing against abortion a right -- which it is under the pro-choice position -- creates space for various values to flourish and spread.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Peek at the Good Old Days

I'm not old enough to have any distinct memories of Richard Nixon's presidency, but a sense of his infamous charm comes through in this newly-revealed colloquoy about abortion shortly after the Roe v. Wade decision:

Nixon worried that greater access to abortions would foster “permissiveness,” and said that “it breaks the family.” But he also saw a need for abortion in some cases — like interracial pregnancies, he said.

“There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white,” he told an aide, before adding, “Or a rape.”
Coming well after the GOP's embrace of racism but still a few years before its embrace of the Christianist obsession with abortion, it is blunt, tasteless, heartless, crude, vile, and utterly amoral.


Monday, June 22, 2009

This, Not That: Legalization

What we are, we are, but I would prefer to live in a world in which people stopped saying things they don't mean, to wit, the advocacy of legalizing and taxing pot:

It's not the best argument for legalization, says Miron, who has estimated that U.S. governments could save almost $13 billion annually if they no longer arrested, prosecuted, or imprisoned marijuana buyers or sellers. But in an era of falling tax revenue, it may be the most effective one.
I find traces of sincerity in exactly half of this argument, the half that advocates legalizing pot, as it tends to originate from libertarians and libertarian-oid figures such as Andrew Sullivan, Bill Maher, Drew Carey, Willie Nelson, P.J. O'Rourke, and, well, most of Hollywood.

Perhaps someone fresh off the boat will find sincerity in the "and tax" portion of the argument, but that's the trouble with being fresh off the boat. Those of us who have been immersed in the USA's political climate for at least a week will realize that in whatever jurisdiction pot is first legalized and taxed, there will be howls of fist-shaking, red-faced outrage about the and taxed part.

The pot legalization crowd -- of which I am a member, by the way -- doesn't want to tax pot; it wants to decriminalize it. There are fundamental questions of liberty and the proper bounds of government here, and the sufficiency of tax revenues is nowhere in the vicinity.

We should say what we mean and mean what we say.

(via Andrew Sullivan)

New Rules: No Glad-Handing Right-Wing Hypocrites

Bill Maher's show on Friday had more highs than lows (his "New Rules" segment, embedded below, is worth taking in) but I want to call out one particular low: the curious glad-handing of Nevada Senator John Ensign, the most recent avatar of shameless moral hypocrisy originating from the Christian right.

Both Maher and guest Paul Begala were much too quick to grant Ensign the privilege he has so loudly denied others, namely a private life neatly cordoned off from his public conduct. Whereas Ensign voted to impeach President Clinton for his private misconduct; he was eager to run Larry Craig from office for his private conduct; he touts himself as a defender of "traditional marriage" and "traditional values."

No, no, no. A thousand times no! Politicians of this ilk, who stake so much of their politics on the sexual morality of others, invite the highest standards and the most detailed scrutiny of their own conduct.

Senator Ensign merits the unsparing demand that he follow his own standards and leave office forthwith. Ensign must go. End of discussion.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Hangover - There is a War

I finally got around to watching The Hangover, a film I had been blithely overlooking on the assumption that it was yet another funny trailer expanded to 90 minutes of painfully inept laugh lines. I had been on this course until the critical reviews came out so favorably and The Film Talk podcast (Jett Loe and Gareth Higgins) had such a lively disagreement over it. Gareth:

Jett’s of the mind that ‘The Hangover’ is a subversive and thoughtful movie; on the other hand, I experienced it as a celebration of idiocy and selfishness that lionises ‘an absurd childish ritual involving sex drugs and a waste of money. It’s in love with a particular kind of youthfulness, it also manages to be both homophobic and racist, and it underlines the individualism that is at the root of why community has broken down. It made me feel sick to my stomach even though I was laughing every minute.’

As for Jett: ‘It’s pro-community and a wonderful celebration of different cultures coming together. It’s about joining community and growing up. It’s a brilliant, transgressive picture. I didn’t just laugh during this film, I laughed harder and louder than in recent memory…[It's] occupying a mythic space of our consciousness. Feels very Greek to me.’
Who could resist stepping in to adjudicate such a stark stalemate? Someone not willing to toss $8 into the opportunity? Sure. Someone who genuinely doesn't care? Obviously. But not this blogger.

It turns out I think both are wrong, but I think Gareth's dismissal is more wrong: this is not a film to jettison with sniffling about homophobia, racism, sexism, childishness, or similar easy-bake insights. On the other hand, I question whether Jett's use of "transgressive" imparts anything beyond a belief that he counts himself on the inside of one or more inside jokes, and I especially question whether the film affirms any idea of "growing up."

I do think theories of maturity are at the center of the film, and that the film works through these theories only to conclude, in the end, that ... there are contending theories of maturity.

The film follows the Shakespearean formula of altering the scene from the city -- Los Angeles, the locus of parents, kids, jobs, marriage, etc. -- to the wilderness -- Las Vegas, the locus of free-wheeling capering, spending, lust, etc. -- before bringing the lessons of the wilderness back to the city.

True to form, the film ends with a successful wedding back in the city, but the wedding scenes pointedly exclude the "I do" moment, declining that conventional climax and replacing it with a very different male-female interaction in which one of the men back from the wilderness declares I don't before the assembled wedding party to his domineering, uncompromising girlfriend. In this, he affirms the need for mutual compromise between the sexes, one that includes, yes, finding the deus ex machina (or series of them) necessary to be on time and in place for one's obligations but also, without apology, space for an independent wilderness where the rules will not necessarily be followed, and where even disclosure of the violations should not be expected.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, even in the context of a high-flying, affluent, status-conscious Los Angeles family. The justness of this is underscored not only in the happy resolution but more explicitly by the bride's father, who willingly sacrifices a cherished material possession for it (shades of Ferris Bueller's Day Off), having lived long enough to recognize that such is the inevitable collateral damage of what this film casts, fairly or unfairly, as an eternal conflict between male- and female-coded visions of maturity.

All well and good, but The Hangover was genuinely funny from first to last, so it's worth seeing on that level.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wolverines in Time and Space

For the first time in decades, a wolverine has been spotted in Colorado:

Wolverines live in Alaska and Canada, and “we know they used to be in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, California and Washington,” said Robert M. Inman, who directs the Greater Yellowstone Wolverine Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society ... The largest land-dwelling member of the weasel family, it is strong, tenacious, sharp-toothed and cunning. Although adult wolverines typically weigh only about 30 pounds, they are stocky and bearlike, and easily prey on far larger animals like sheep.
I'm no cartographer, nor am I a biogeographer, but I am the only person with the permissions to post on this precious, precious blog, so I have to point out that it seems unlikely that a creature that is known to have lived in California, Idaho, and Washington did not also live in Oregon.

Damn you, evidence-based science! Can't we just assume that these creatures existed here in Oregon? And really, if we're going to go that far, can't we just go ahead and assume they still live here?

(via Bouphonia)

Offered Without Further Comment

Laura Kipnis:

Yes, we weary ambivalent huddled masses of discontent will frequently be found scraping for happier consciousness in the discreetly soundproofed precincts of therapy, a newly arisen service industry owing its pricey existence to the cheery idea that ambivalence is a curable condition, that "growth" means adjustment to prevailing conditions, and that rebellion is neurotic -- though thankfully, curable.

But no rest for the weary when you're in therapy! Resenting the boss? Feeling overworked or bored or dissatisfied? Getting complaints about your attitude? Whether it's "on the relationship" or "on the job," get yourself right to the therapist's office, pronto. The good news is that there are only two possible diagnoses for all such modern ailments (as all we therapy-savants know): it's going to be "intimacy issues" or "authority issues." The bad news is that you'll soon discover that the disease doubles as the prescription at this clinic: you're just going to have to "work harder on yourself." If a nation gets the leaders it deserves, can the same be said for its therapies?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Of Footwear and Fate

This is an image of the ASICS GT-2130 in its Onyx/Black/Lightning color scheme, the right-foot shoe unless Photoshop chicanery has mirrored a left-foot shoe.

This so happens to be the image of my newest running shoe, a shoe that I hope will take me to terrible new heights of running achievement. It is a shoe I've admired for a good long while, and why wouldn't I, given its many advanced-sounding qualities and features?

Comfortable and durable, this new addition to ASICS vaunted 2000 series delivers when it comes to performance and fit. The GT-2130® features IGS®, a gait-optimizing Space Trusstic System®, DuoMax® Support System, and Solyte® Midsole Material.
I don't know what any of that means, really -- several of those terms could be replaced with any comparably futuristic-sounding term and I wouldn't perceive any difference -- but I will say that the profusion of ® symbols suggests that ASICS thinks highly of it, and I cannot deny the appeal, superficial though it may be, of "a gait-optimizing Space Trusstic System," whatever the hell that might be. I have also long admired the word vaunted.

If I were a more superstitious person or a believer in fate, I would wonder at how to interpret the fact that this exact shoe in this exact color scheme appeared at one of my regular shoe-buying haunts at just the moment when I was needing* a fresh pair of shoes; while on the other hand, at the exact moment I completed the purchase, the skies over Portland gave forth an uncharacteristically sudden and heavy rainfall.

As I am exactly as superstitious as I am, and believe in fate exactly as much as I do, no more and no less, I do not wonder at this. Not much.

* I recognize that I do not need new running shoes, now or ever; that arguably no human being in history has genuinely needed running shoes. Still, this is not the first nor will it be the last time I abuse the word need by attaching it to a consumerist trifle. This is America! It's how we roll!

Poem of the Day: "The Snow Man"

This has become something of a pattern -- Norm Geras posts one of his weekly profiles of a blogger, in this case Matt Yglesias; the profile includes, among other things, a listing of the blogger's favorite poem; Norm links to the poem; I read the poem and realize, remember, or newly appreciate how much I love it.

And thus is a new post under the poetry rubric born to this precious, precious blog, this time for a poem by Wallace Stevens, whose work can't be too highly celebrated. The success with which this poem establishes atmosphere is almost magical -- the sense of quiet and solitude is palpable, as though Stevens has placed us in a remote place with nothing but the wind and a snowman of unknown origin: a "mind of winter" in which a small scene unfolds.

Wallace Stevens, "The Snow Man"

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

The Law and the Truth: The Osborne Case

I knew I could look to Ed Brayton for a thoughtful analysis of yesterday's Supreme Court ruling in the Osborne case, in which a 5-4 majority left to the whimsy of state legislatures whether, when, and how convicts can present DNA evidence establishing their actual guilt or innocence. The self-styled "conservatives" in the Supreme Court professed to find nothing contrary to Constitutional due process with that. Brayton:

Yesterday's court ruling in Osborne was simply one of the most absurd and appalling rulings I have ever read. Chief Justice Roberts should be ashamed of himself. Because of his ruling, innocent men are going to die in prison or via the death penalty. It really is that simple. What is absolutely shocking about the ruling is how utterly dishonest it is. Roberts is usually a careful judge who at least can state the legal issue accurately. In this ruling, his portrayal of the facts and legal questions in the case is one dishonest statement after another.
A little further down, by way of example, Brayton cites a shockingly obtuse passage from Roberts's opinion, then gives the obvious rejoinder:
[Roberts:] There is no long history of a right of access to state evidence for DNA testing that might prove innocence. "The mere novelty of such a claim is reason enough to doubt that 'substantive due process' sustains it."
[Brayton:]Of course there's no long history of a right to access DNA evidence for testing. You know why? Because we've only had DNA testing for a couple of decades.
I honestly do not understand the disdain for truth in matters of criminal guilt; it seems to me that getting it right should trump all. Imprisoning the innocent not only gravely injures the innocent party but entails that the actual criminal remains free to kill, rape, or abuse anew. Why anyone should consider this a good outcome for anyone -- victim, criminal, the incarcerated, the legitimacy of the legal system -- escapes me.

The Innocence Project, which represented the prisoner in this case, issued this statement:
The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, said Osborne’s rights were not violated because of the specific facts of his case and Alaska’s procedures for post-conviction appeals. The decision erroneously asserts that Alaska has an adequate process for granting DNA testing to people who have been convicted. Alaska is the only state in the nation with no known case of a prisoner receiving DNA testing, either through a court order or a prosecutor’s consent.
The state of Alaska should do better than this, and so should the federal courts. Truth should matter.

Neko Case on OPB

While she was in Portland a couple of weeks ago, Neko Case sat down for an interview and an in-studio performance with OPB Music, which can be heard online now or, for those in the OPB listening area, over the radio Saturday (6/20) at 9pm Pacific time.

I have not had a chance to listen to it yet, but I know it will be good because every recording with Neko Case is a good one.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hood to Coast 2009: Why I Am Loath to Read Manuals

I made the mistake of reading the latest Hood to Coast newsletter (apologies, PDF format) and have renewed my longstanding conviction that instruction manuals should only be read in cases of life-threatening emergency. And really, by the time there's a life-threatening emergency, it's too late.

The trouble occurs before the first paragraph has concluded, which I reproduce below to spare my six readers the ignominy of fouling their computing experience with a goddamn PDF:

"The best part about the model" it confidently declares, "is there is no way to cheat the system. A slow/fast team time does not guarantee an early/late finish."

Um, isn't the time-honored way to cheat the system to add minutes to everyone's actual 10k time in order to create the impression that the team will finish later than it actually will, or shave minutes off everyone's actual 10k time to create the impression that the team will finish sooner than it actually will?

And what is meant by "a slow/fast team time does not guarantee an early/late finish"? All else equal, a slower team will finish later, and a faster team will finish earlier. I assume the newsletter's authors are using these key words in all their standard ways --- kilometers, slow, fast, time, minutes, start, finish, team, early, late, etc. Do they actually mean something different by some of these words? If so, do they also mean something different by such words and phrases as no beer is permitted on the course?

Isn’t the idea simply this –- based on 10k times and the specifics of the legs, a time is calculated representing how long the team is expected to take to cover the 197-mile course. They want every team to finish within a specified window of time, and they want to minimize congestion of the ~1,000 team vehicles along the way. Therefore they arrange the start times such that the teams will finish within the window, and such that the vans will be reasonably spread out over the 197-mile span, which should mean that slower teams are assigned earlier start times and faster teams are assigned later start times.

Apparently not. Not this year. A whole new algorithm is afoot, or something.

I stopped reading there, as it can only get worse. The 10k time I entered is as accurate as I know to make it; the organizers and the fates can sort out the rest. It goes to show that instruction manuals are to be avoided, and that thinking and running are anathema to one another. I should stop touching hot stoves.

The Fierce Urgency of "Gay Uproar"

Is your uproar gay or straight? Or do you maintain a don't-ask-don't-tell stance toward your uproar? All or part of my uproar is gay, judging from the title of this news item, "President Obama fails to quell gay uproar" -- as indeed he does with his chickenshit half-measures:

President Barack Obama's announcement Wednesday offering limited benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees failed to quell growing anger in the gay community that gay rights issues were getting short shrift at the White House.
I cherish all my uproar whether it turns out to be gay or straight, but putting aside the confusions and snark value that attend identity politics, the president needs stop patting himself on the back for his chickenshit half-measures and live up to the terms of his own White House's page on civil rights:
President Obama ... believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. He supports full civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples and opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. He supports repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security, and also believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation.
That now in "the fierce urgency of now" is now. Now. Not after the Sarah Palins of the world have been convinced; not after a majority of Confederate-Bloc Senators have agreed to it; not after state-by-state plebiscites have imposed it. Now. Today.

No president can do it all, but a president can do a lot, and a president who actually believes as this one claims to believe can do a lot more. Now is the time.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

This Is Why You're Fat and/or Nauseated

The dimly-perceptible plate in this photograph is weighed down with something called "Kentucky Nachos," described as

[p]otato chips covered in barbecued pulled pork, blue cheese, coleslaw, cheddar cheese and sauteed onions and peppers.
This may or may not be the most distressing entree featured on "This is why you're fat," the web site for people who are seeking to abandon the practice of eating food.

The Problem with Madeleine Bunting

Are religions corrupted by their patriarchal history – yes of course, as I've written on this site before. Does much of that patriarchy still survive – yes, in many places but in many others it is being challenged. Does it sometimes become misogyny – yes.
So Madeleine Bunting concedes in a confused criticism of Ophelia Benson, the latter having kicked the former's beehive by co-writing a book-length treatment of the question, Does God Hate Women?, and daring to conclude that, yes, based on the evidence at hand, god hates women.

It seems to me that if religion has been "corrupted" by its patriarchal history, this implies the existence of a pre-corrupted state, which leads immediately to the question: where do we go to observe the character and qualities of this pure, uncorrupted state? When we go there -- wherever it might be in time or space -- do we find something that isn't redolent with suspicion, scorn, and outright hatred of women?

If so, Bunting can't be bothered to specify the time or place, nor any other details regarding this pre-patriarchal purity. And if so, she can't possibly be talking about the reputedly god-given revelations found in the Koran, Old Testament, or New Testament. These books disagree on many questions of theology and history, but they agree that women are beneath men in status: lesser, secondary, weaker, rightly subordinate, means rather than ends, not the sorts of people who should be making any unsupervised judgments or occupying any leadership positions in mixed company.

The trouble with Madeleine Bunting is that god and religion are, for her, as she would prefer them to be, not as they demonstrably are. If patriarchies have appropriated god for their women-hating ends, it is not because they have corrupted anything but because they have found in religion and god a thickly-stocked reserve of authority for doing so. She zooms past the ways god and religion have been and continue to be used to justify the inequality and oppression of women in order to reach a happier place where god is as pro-women and pro-equality as she is. God has not followed her there, and that place was made in spite of the teachings attributed to him.

Ophelia Benson has her own ideas about the problem with Madeleine Bunting.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Now Tweeting the Revolution

Andrew Sullivan published this list yesterday of twitter accounts currently working to get information on the happenings in Iran to the world at large:










Users that have not twittered for +1 hour:

http://twitter.com/mohamadreza (Have protected updates)


If you do the twitter thing, these people could use your follow and your encouragement.

They Voted in Iran

I wouldn't pretend to know exactly how the Iranian people voted, but this simply fails the smell test, and no amount of theocratic thuggery can make it more credible or more palatable.

The rulers of Iran should know that the whole world is watching.

(via FiveThirtyEight)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Truth Versus Manipulation

Ophelia Benson does what she does so well -- states matters clearly:

The fundamental blankness behind this way of arguing seems to be a complete blindness to the fact that some people prefer trying to get at the truth to trying to manipulate other people. Over and over we keep coming back to this 'whatever you think the truth is, you should say that science and religion are perfectly compatible, for purely instrumental short-term reasons' idea. It's depressing. It's tawdry. It's as if all of life were an endless US presidential campaign, where the only goal is to win and no lie is too gross if only it might win West Virginia.
Incidentally, the temporizing and sputtering and backsliding is not going to "win West Virginia" -- it is not going to succeed in obscuring the existence or depth of the conflict behind a comforting haze of moderation. At best, it may reach people who are devotedly not paying attention; as soon as they tune in to assemble the terms of this moderation, it will vanish under their gaze. If they do not tune in, nothing has been gained.

Such gestures don't whisper moderate as much as shout confused, incoherent, and self-contradictory. To say that life on earth began 4.5 billion years ago and yet that the Bible's six-thousand-year timeline is legitimate (or "has something to offer," or "speaks to something important," or whatever fuzz you like) only shows that the speaker profoundly misunderstands one of the terms of the discussion, leaving open only the question of which term -- life? time? billion? thousand? year? Bible?

It's better to try to get to the truth and to promote the truth as the ideal after which to strive.

Deboarding the Bandwagon: DADT

Whatever remained of the presumptive Obama supporter in me died on page 42 of the legal brief the Obama administration filed in favor of dismissing a legal challenge to the execrable "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy, under which otherwise qualified members of the US military are dismissed for having the wrong sexual thoughts and refusing to lie about these thoughts.

DADT is an affront to legal equality and a degradation of military readiness:

[M]ore than 58 Arabic linguists have been kicked out since “don’t ask, don’t tell” was instituted. ... In addition to those translators, 11,000 other service members have been ousted since the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was passed by Congress in 1993. Many held critical jobs in intelligence, medicine and counterterrorism.
Reversing its clear campaign promise, the Obama-Biden administration has decided to promote discrimination and diminish military readiness. Its legal brief branches into a discussion of the ever-more execrable "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) law and pretends to find it acceptable. Quoting:
The Court [in Loving v. Virginia] had little difficulty concluding that the statute, which applied only to "interracial marriages involving white persons," was "designed to maintain White Supremacy" and therefore unconstitutional. ... No comparable purpose is present here, however, for DOMA does not seek in any way to advance the "supremacy" of men over women, or of women over men. Thus DOMA cannot be "traced to a. . . purpose" to discriminate against either men or women. ... In upholding the traditional definition of marriage, numerous courts have expressly rejected an alleged analogy to Loving. [emphasis mine]
DOMA cannot be traced to a purpose to discriminate against men or women -- agreed. Likewise, it cannot be traced to a purpose to discriminate against Jews or Catholics; nor to a purpose to discriminate against native-born Haitians or Canadians; nor to a purpose to discriminate against the elderly, speakers of Mandarin Chinese, or people with fair skin and freckles. No, it explicitly targets people with sexual thoughts that a majority of Congress didn't like at the time it passed, and places them in a second-class status.

The most charitable thing I can think to say about this legal argument -- which, by the way, I do understand as harping on the existing categories of "protected classes" -- is that it is the kind of thing that makes people despise lawyers. My less charitable and more honest read of it is to say: fuck off, you cowardly bigots.

I don't even disagree with another major premise of this abomination, namely, that Congress needs to roll back anti-gay laws to the maximum extent possible. What Congress does or fails to do is not a barrier.

President Obama found no difficulty shuffling taxpayers' money to churches under the auspices of the "faith based initiatives" garbage, notwithstanding the absence of enabling legislation from Congress. Facing a similar situation in 1948, President Truman racially desegregated the military using his lawful powers as President by issuing an executive order. Surely President Truman did so in the face of arguments very similar to those heard today about DADT; he did not wait for the courts or the Congress.

President Truman, alas, was no coward in the face of rank bigotry. President Obama has shown himself to be that -- and worse, a cowardly bigot who demonstrably knows better.

The legal brief in question, in all its disgrace, is shown below.

Obama's Motion to Dismiss Marriage case

(via Andrew Sullivan)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Neglected: Keeping Ourselves in Practice

A better version of me would match every hour spent on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest with an hour spent on Henry David Thoreau -- not because he was right in everything he said, but because so much of what he said is so starkly at odds with what we take to be common wisdom today:

The best books are not read even by those who are called good readers. What does our Concord culture amount to? There is in this town, with a very few exceptions, no taste for the best or for very good books even in English literature, whose words all can read and spell. Even the college-bred and so-called liberally educated men here and elsewhere have really little or no acquaintance with the English classics; and as for the recorded wisdom of mankind, the ancient classics and Bibles, which are accessible to all who will know of them, there are the feeblest efforts anywhere made to become acquainted with them. I know a woodchopper, of middle age, who takes a French paper, not for news as he says, for he is above that, but to "keep himself in practice," he being a Canadian by birth; and when I ask him what he considers the best thing he can do in this world, he says, beside this, to keep up and add to his English. This is about as much as the college-bred generally do or aspire to do, and they take an English paper for the purpose. One who has just come from reading perhaps one of the best English books will find how many with whom he can converse about it? ... Most men do not know that any nation but the Hebrews have had a scripture. A man, any man, will go considerably out of his way to pick up a silver dollar; but here are golden words, which the wisest men of antiquity have uttered, and whose worth the wise of every succeeding age have assured us of; — and yet we learn to read only as far as Easy Reading, the primers and class-books, and when we leave school, the "Little Reading," and story-books, which are for boys and beginners; and our reading, our conversation and thinking, are all on a very low level, worthy only of pygmies and manikins.
To sharpen the distinction between Thoreau's thinking and our zeitgeist of constant connection, consider "Solitude" from Walden, nearly every sentence of which is a rebuke:
I have a great deal of company in my house; especially in the morning, when nobody calls. Let me suggest a few comparisons, that some one may convey an idea of my situation. I am no more lonely than the loon in the pond that laughs so loud, or than Walden Pond itself. What company has that lonely lake, I pray? And yet it has not the blue devils,(9) but the blue angels in it, in the azure tint of its waters. The sun is alone, except in thick weather, when there sometimes appear to be two, but one is a mock sun. God is alone — but the devil, he is far from being alone; he sees a great deal of company; he is legion. I am no more lonely than a single mullein or dandelion in a pasture, or a bean leaf, or sorrel, or a horse-fly, or a bumblebee. I am no more lonely than the Mill Brook, or a weathercock, or the north star, or the south wind, or an April shower, or a January thaw, or the first spider in a new house.
If transported to our time and exposed to our ways for a few days, I think Thoreau would only go to Walden pond long enough to chain himself to a rock in order to sink to the bottom of it.

I am not, alas, that better version of me. I also don't use "pygmies" as exemplars of mankind's baser tendencies, but as I said, Thoreau has his failings.

I must go -- an e-mail notification tells me someone has responded to one of my Facebook comments.

New Rules: More Audacity Needed

Bill Maher's "New Rules" segment finished very strongly this week -- the entire ~8 minute clip is fine, but it really gets going at about 4 minutes in.

Exactly. Whatever happened to those stirring invocations of "the fierce urgency of now"?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Saturday Music Blogging: Live Sonic Youth, Satanic Neko Case

This performance of "Sacred Trickster" by Sonic Youth on the Letterman show kicks ass:

The same applies to this version of "What We Know" performed on the Jools Holland show:

With the addition of bassist Mark Ibold (formerly of Pavement) to the band, Kim Gordon's role as guitarist appears to be smaller, or maybe just different; but her vocals are as strong as ever, especially on two especially strong songs from The Eternal, "Anti-Orgasm" and "Massage the History."

More excellent Sonic Youth performance videos from the new album (mostly) can be found at dentakinado's youtube site.

In other music news: a person with a keyboard and a web connection but not so much in the way of perceptiveness thinks Neko Case is "satanic."

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Comfort Wipe - Telling Versus Showing

A blogger has certain responsibilities, not the least being not only to present the boldest new products but to call attention to the shortcomings of their promotional campaigns. The "Comfort Wipe" undoubtedly holds great promise, but this ad leaves wide open the question of whether it promises heretofore unknown benefits or disasters, and it leaves this question unanswered on the most basic of grounds: it provides no clear product demonstration.

We are shown the Comfort Wipe repeatedly letting a piece of dry toilet paper lilt gently into the toilet, but in my experience -- maybe I'm doing it wrong? -- this is not a realistic simulation of the regular use of toilet paper. I mean, sure, as a pre-defecation ritual, everyone lets a couple of pieces of toilet paper lilt into the toilet basin, but that's ceremonial, mere prelude.

This ad fails because it does not depict the Comfort Wipe used in the delivery of an actual wipe. I'm slightly relieved at this, to be sure, but then again, in for a penny, in for a pound, right? Why do this half-assed? The ad is already prevailing on the viewer's sensibilities. I say the ad is a miserable failure unless and until it shows rather than tells.

It needs graphic, detailed representation of the product's promise -- if not HD video, then at least high-quality CGI.

(via Portland Mercury)

Offense in the Defense of True Offensiveness Is No Vice

People, people. This image of President Obama is not offensive. I will give you something to be offended about.

Address yourselves to something truly offensive, of which the world is never short. Get over it. Move along. Shut your idiotic mouths, you whining, mewling infants. Go fuck yourselves with a broom handle.

Am I getting there? If not, add the soles of shoes, a few depictions of your favorite god, some pages ripped from whatever book you consider holiest, and the three national flags most precious to you to the broom handle scenario.

Norm Geras has a more measured response.

Neko Case on Conan O'Brien

Neko Case performed on last night's Conan O'Brien show; NBC's tiresome online video streaming doesn't seem to allow embedding, but it does force-feed its victims ads for execrable Eddie Murphy films and The Olive Garden, so all is not lost.

Here is a link to the video. Once you suffer through the ads, you're given a way to navigate to the show's chapters, the last of which is an oddly mixed performance of "This Tornado Loves You." It's odd in that every microphone on the set seems to be turned down too low except the one nearest the piano.

I know, I know, I've made a powerfully compelling case for watching this video.

Sigh. Her performance of the same song on the Letterman show was much better.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Green Giant Will Devour Their Cummerbunds

This terrifying image (via Found in Mom's Basement; click to enlarge if you dare) is dated to 1953 -- safely post-war and yet still in the days when people dressed formally for meals that included mass-produced canned vegetables -- and provides, if nothing else, powerful evidence for the claim that LSD is a powerful drug and no small boon to advertising.

While the nice people seem to be maintaining their manners despite the fact that the Green Giant has already devoured the person who used to wear that bib and sit in that chair, the comity can't last long. Once the food on the table has been cleared, these people will be devoured, formal attire and all.

Somewhere along the way, images of forbidding terror dropped from mass-market advertising -- we no longer see man-eating giants, ghastly talking syrup bottles, blood-red pitchers crashing through walls, or mysterious tiny chuckwagons that taunt dogs. It has made for a less enchanted world.

The Exhaustion

I have been exhausted in recent days, and once I actually thought about it, it proved to be not so difficult to explain. Let me count the excuses ways:

  • I am at the peak of a training cycle for a marathon. This means my weekly long run is in the vicinity of 20 miles, give or take a few, and that my ho-hum, everyday, falling-out-of-bed training runs are 7-11 miles each.
  • That I should be in this peak makes now a perfect time to have undertaken a new car-free commuting regime -- now I take the bike for part of the journey. While a proper cyclist would snigger at the distances I cover, this is more bike-riding than I've done since I was, oh, twelve or so. I am glad to be doing it for a variety of reasons -- it's fun, it's interesting, it's a new challenge, it means my bike is not just moldering in a corner, it Saves Planet Earth, etc. -- and I know I will adjust, but for now it stresses muscles that running does not, adds new psychological stresses (which lane? WHICH LANE!?!?), and it therefore expends its share of battery life.
  • Sleep is always a problem; when everything else gets harder, it becomes a bigger problem.
  • Various people continue to expect me to pay bills, show up on time, fulfill obligations, answer inquiries, and so on. I was really counting on that kind of stuff tapering off over time, once I had established that I could do it. It just keeps coming! WHY WASN'T I WARNED!?!
  • Today is Jung's birthday; she is upwards of 50 years old. I find this unbelievable. When I met her, she couldn't have been a day over 48.
  • Something tells me this list is omitting something(s) important, but I'm too exhausted to enumerate any more items, whether the wacky kind or the so-called real kind or the real-wacky hybrids.
In short, I'm tired.

Update: I neglected to add to my list of wearying sorrows -- surely the saddest of its kind in the written history of our species -- that I donated blood yesterday. I went in hoping to talk them into letting me give three pints, since I never know where I'll be when the next blood drive comes calling, but after some haggling, we came back down to the original level of one pint. I am not a good negotiator. Negotiating wears me out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


The new Sonic Youth album The Eternal includes a song, "anti-orgasm," that, for a brief few seconds at its beginning, sounds like something the Pixies or Pavement would release, which is by no means a bad thing. Quickly it becomes unmistakeably a Sonic Youth song, and while it's nothing I expect tomorrow's schoolchildren to be singing, it's fantastic (on the record and also played live and loud).

It's a little more than everything you could reasonably want from a song titled "anti-orgasm" -- the title provides a strong hint that it won't be reasonable to expect, say, a classic lullaby, a devotional hymn, or a wistful remembrance. I say anything that's anti-orgasm should be required to balance that sentiment by being this great.

The image above, which may or may not refer to the song, is titled "Anti-orgasm" by Flickr's ffrederic.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Health Care: A Prevarication, An Analogy

America's tireless batch of movement conservatives are fond of asserting the USA currently enjoys "the best health care system the world has ever known" and words to that effect. In a way, this is outright false.

But with just the right amount of squinting, it's easy to see that it is a prevarication rather than a lie.

To say that the USA has the best health care system is exactly as true, and in the same way, as the analagous assertion that the USA has the best transportation system in the world if by the latter you mean Lexus cars are widely available in the USA.

They are, of course. No one in the United States is very far away from a Lexus dealer -- many of us are fortunate enough to live or work within walking distance.

It is absolutely true to say that any American not currently satisfied with his transportation options is within his rights to purchase a Lexus, which, by every account I've ever heard, are superbly-crafted, masterfully-engineered vehicles. Likewise, it is absolutely true to say that people with enormous wealth are within reach of world-class health care in the USA. And to them I say: good for you, and I don't even mean it sarcastically.

I realize I'm not the first to make this point, and probably not even the first to make it using the example of Lexus, rather than, say, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Ferrari, or whatever. We'll all stop making it when movement conservatives stop issuing the corresponding lie prevarication.

These Penguins Make Baby Jesus Cry

John at Obscene Desserts has all the sinful details of how The Homosexual Lifestyle has infiltrated the ranks of penguins.

What next, lions? Hyenas? Dragonflies? Assorted apes and birds? Well, yes -- not that there's anything wrong with that.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Imprecations Abounding

Some pray for healing, rescue, wisdom, the lifting of famines, or the cure for diseases, but Pastor Wiley Drake wants something very different. No, his mash notes to his favorite god beg for the deaths of those he dislikes:

“I think it’s appropriate to pray the Word of God,” Drake said ... "What I am doing is repeating what God is saying ... Colmes [Drake's interviewer] restated the question, “You would like the president of the United States to die?” Answered Drake, “If he does not turn to God and does not turn his life around, I am asking God to enforce imprecatory prayers that are throughout the Scripture that would cause him death, that’s correct.”
The trouble with attention-whoring god-bothering sociopathy is not so much predicting it -- Drake has made waves this way before -- as curbing its foreseeable effects in a context in which fanatical rhetoric is reaching demonstrably volatile audiences (cf. Wichita).

It's easy to condemn Drake as a despicable, hateful cretin; it's not so easy to do so without condemning the Bible. This is a problem for Christians.

For Reasoned Dialogue

I think a close cousin to the genetic fallacy is lurking in David Hume's discussion of "conservatism as disposition" -- or maybe it's just rank fatalism:

What is the moral, so to speak, of these research projects? One implication is that much political talk (though not all) about the axioms which drive our orientations are simply plausible stories which our conscious pre-frontal cortex generates as a “reasonable” facade on top of deeper emotionally driven commitments. The model that politics derives from explicit principles, as opposed to intuitive dispositions, naturally results in attempts of reasoned “dialogue.” But talking may ultimately be as futile as a discussion about why two individuals differ in their preference for the taste of watermelon.
There is a basic confusion between inputs and outputs here: what politics "derives from" is not as important as where it arrives, nor are we doomed to commitments that are as shaky as the inputs that gave impetus to them. There are steps between impulsive inclination and final conclusion, and these steps make all the difference.

To extend Hume's watermelon image: people seem to have a strong inclination to favor foods loaded with sugar and fat. Most people, left to nothing more than their base inclinations, would choose the chocolate ice cream over the wedge of watermelon. That's the trouble with base inclinations!

People exposed to "reasoned dialogue" on food intake can gain a clear understanding of the importance of good nutrition, and the consequences of following nothing but base inclinations in eating. They will never outright reverse the preference for ice cream over watermelon, but they can, with the application of discipline and reasoning, form better habits.

Politics and all areas of belief can work the same way. It's useful to know how and why people form their ideas, convictions, beliefs, etc.; it's useful to know (if true) that some ideas are more firmly fixed than others. It does not follow that rigorous examination of ideas is futile. People can be firmly, stubbornly convinced about something and yet be wrong about it, and reasoned dialogue is the way they'll winnow the true and valuable from the false and meretricious.

Simplicity Itself

The Bird and the Bee's "Birthday" is such a simple love song.

I particularly like the verses that restate a question:

Who knows your limit?
Who knows your highest?
Who knows your lowest?
Who knows your end?
Who knows that bottom?
The bottom of your heart

Here is a nice live version of the song.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sunday Bibliomancy Blogging

Ralph Waldo Emerson from Nature:

The production of a work of art throws a light upon the mystery of humanity. A work of art is an abstract or epitome of the world. It is the result or expression of nature, in miniature. For although the works of nature are innumerable and all different, the result or the expression of them all is similar and single. Nature is a sea of forms radically alike and even unique. A leaf, a sun‑beam, a landscape, the ocean, make an analogous impression on the mind. What is common to them all,—that perfectness and harmony, is beauty. Therefore the standard of beauty, is the entire circuit of natural forms,—the totality of nature; which the Italians expressed by defining beauty “il piu nell’ uno.” Nothing is quite beautiful alone: nothing but is beautiful in the whole. A single object is only so far beautiful as it suggests this universal grace. The poet, the painter, the sculptor, the musician, the architect seek each to concentrate this radiance of the world on one point, and each in his several work to satisfy the love of beauty which stimulates him to produce. Thus is Art, a nature passed through the alembic of man. Thus in art, does nature work through the will of a man filled with the beauty of her first works.
Emerson didn't always trouble himself to slow down enough to make sense, and reading him is always a tussle between marveling at his wisdom and finding it ridiculous. But he is nearly always interesting.

They Learned from Jesus (Just Ask Them!)

Last week, three famous troglodytes gathered together to do and say as troglodytes sometimes do and say:

Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Oliver North visited Rock Church in Hampton Roads, Virginia to give a three-hour long lecture on “Rediscovering God in America.” The speakers warned the audience about the “continuing availability of abortion, the spread of gay rights, and attempts to remove religion from American public life and school history books.”
Granted, I am working from this very partial transcript of the affair -- the judicious reader will suspend final judgment until reviewing the fuller version in the next issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Knuckle-Dragging Theocrats -- but isn't this thumbnail portrait still revealing? Here as often, a preoccupation with other people's groins (abortion, the gays) predominates, leavened only by a pining for a blatantly unconstitutional mingling of church and state. It's far from clear how this topical emphasis squares with the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Bible.

Mind you, I am not a fan of Jesus -- his qualities as a moral teacher have been greatly oversold -- but compared with his self-proclaimed followers, he deserves praise for finding time, now and then, to consider something other than the sex lives of others, and he drew a fairly straightforward line between god's kingdom and Caesar's state. Would that his noisiest followers could scour his works -- or someone's -- and find something new to flog.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Breaking Bad - Tee-Vee That Doesn't Suck

I am sad to report that AMC's Breaking Bad has concluded its second season, meaning a long wait for new episodes. This program is for you if you like quality drama, or if you ever want to get into television, or into acting, or into directing. If you are such a person, I say study it closely and consider it a model.

The acting in this series is especially outstanding. Breaking Bad is consistently well-acted from one cast member to the next, and its quality is such that it redeems a story that is compelling, yes, but not without its occasional flaws and flubs. To call attention to its superb acting is not the damnation of faint praise -- this series is very much worth watching in every important respect.

This is just one amazing scene of dozens over two seasons:

Neko Case in Portland

For a few hours last night, the fell blight of Rose Festival parted and this town was a place of all that's beautiful and bright thanks to the live company of Neko Case, who played Portland's Crystal Ballroom.

Highlights included absolutely mesmerizing performances of "Vengeance is Sleeping," "Red Tide," "Prison Girls," and "Deep Red Bells" but ranged well beyond.

I was, to a close first approximation, the only person of the few thousand there who did not violate the no-photography, no-recording rule, so I have only the ticket image for show and tell. I expect a rich bootleg bounty to start showing on Flickr and youtube soon.

It was brilliant. She plays a second date tonight in the same venue -- the power to lift the blight of Rose Festival for another few hours is within reach for all beleaguered Puddle-towners.