Friday, April 30, 2010

A Dispassionate Look at the Arc of the Universe

After stepping through a few paragraphs consisting of twaddle interwoven with banalities -- read Norm Geras for a fuller guide to all that -- Stephen Clark concludes with that appears to be the whole of his argument. Step for step:

Is that all there is to say about God? Believing in God is merely believing in the possibility of Justice?
No, but that bit of fuzz is as common as it is misleading.
There is after all a catch, which Michael [McGhee] perhaps ignores. How easily can we believe in Justice, how easily pray to "Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love" (as Blake had it), if we also insist that we are accidentally evolved hominids?
Quite? Yes: I say quite easily.
How can we believe in the value, or the possibility, of our finding out the truth of things, let alone founding a just society?
The answer to this is to look around and see it happening, at which point we realize it's difficult to miss. We do it constantly, and have done it for at least as long as we have taken to putting things in writing. There is no god -- or, if you like, even most religious people would agree that there is precious little direct, unambiguous, hour-by-hour, step-for-step intersubjectively observable guidance from any god -- and yet we envision and aspire to a better tomorrow. This is how we have always done, and there's no mystery to it.
Isn't the merely naturalistic story bound to erode those beliefs? If we are to trust in the possibility of Justice, must we not also believe that there really is such a thing, and that it will indeed prevail?
This is wrong in almost every way. "Trusting" in the possibility of justice sounds like an invitation to complacence, and in turn to neglecting the effort necessary to achieve and preserve it. Whatever its particulars, justice requires work and care, and strife over its particulars is integral to that work and care.

As is evident from opening the nearest newspaper or history, justice lurches forward, lurches back, and so on according to the ongoing struggles among people.
Must we not, in fact, believe that God, the Spirit of Justice, does indeed exist, and that He will repay?
I believe we have covered this, but the answer is no. But on its terms: if this strife-filled, pain-filled, maintenance-needy, uncertain world is the result of a justice-assuring and really-existing god, then that justice is demonstrably not a justice we recognize. This is unchanged by even the most emphatic assertions about the shape or inevitability of 'repayment' in a life hereafter.

The arc of the universe is long -- as long as the eye can see and written records can attest -- and it bends where we push it.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

More Blood Meridian

Here is a passage from Blood Meridian on war (as read aloud here) that gives an idea of the tone and spirit of the work:

It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way. [Somewhere in the annals of The Wire, Marlow says something very much like this last part.]

He turned to Brown, from whom he'd heard some whispered slur or demurrer. Ah, Davy, he said. It's your own trade we honor here. Why not rather take a small bow. Let each acknowledge each.

My trade?

Certainly.

What is my trade?

War. War is your trade. Is it not?

And it ain't yours?

Mine too. Very much so.

What about all them notebooks and bones and stuff? [The judge is, among other things, a naturalist.]

All other trades are contained in that of war.

Is that why war endures?

No. It endures because young men love it and old men love it in them. Those that fought, those that did not.

That's your notion.

The judge smiled. Men are born for games. Nothing else. Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard. Games of chance require a wager to have meaning at all. Games of sport involve the skill and strength of the opponents and the humiliation of defeat and the pride of victory are in themselves sufficient stake because they inhere in the worth of the principals and define them. But trial of chance or trial of worth all games aspire to the condition of war for here that which is wagered swallows up game, player, all.

Suppose two men at cards with nothing to wager save their lives. Who has not heard such a tale? A turn of the card. The whole universe for such a player has labored clanking to this moment which will tell if he is to die at that man's hand or that man at his. What more certain validation of a man's worth could there be? This enhancement of the game to its ultimate state admits no argument concerning the notion of fate. The selection of one man over another is a preference absolute and irrevocable and it is a dull man indeed who could reckon so profound a decision without agency or significance either one. In such games as have for their stake the annihilation of the defeated the decisions are quite clear. This man holding this particular arrangement of cards in his hand is thereby removed from existence. This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification. Seen so, war is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one's will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at least a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god.
Yes, this could be an amazing film.

Nature Looking Lovely

The Guardian has selected the greatest nature photographs of all time, and weirdly, the snake with the man's nasal passages swaddling it did not make the final list.

Notwithstanding this embarrassing gaffe, the photos are beautiful, wistful, evocative, inspiring, and all that other mellifluous crap you hope to be able to say about photographs of nature.

I do have a cavil, as both of my readers have come to expect from any post. I love polar bears as much as the next fur seal, but really, The Guardian? Two polar bear photographs have made this very short list? And not a single chicken? Not a single extreme close-up on a hideous, menacing, thank-gawd-they're-not-larger flea, tick, spider, scorpion, or centipede?

(via Why Evolution Is True)

There Will Be Blood (Meridian)

It looks as though Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian will be adapted for film in 2011. There are many ways for this to go wrong in the move from book to movie -- it could be reduced to a Tarantino-ish, obscenity-rich hyper-violent romp, for starters -- but here's hoping it works, and the measure of that will be whether it leaves the viewer reeling in suspicion over whether humankind, considered as an unconscious experiment of natural selection, can ever succeed. Or, to put it differently, whether the best in us should wish the experiment to go forward given the worst in us, or if it would be better to call down an Alaska-sized comet and let evolution start over with the few microbes that survive the impact and the century-long ashen winter to follow.

It ought to be that sort of film since it is that sort of book -- like Bridges of Madison County or The Secret only more explicit in evoking the horrors to which we are, by nature, prone.

I don't mean to prejudge the film or, for that matter, oversimplify the book. It is very much worth reading and I look forward to the film adaptation.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rick Perry, Bane of Coyotes

Opportunistically secessionist wingnut Governor Rick Perry has told a tale so tall and asshole-ish, it could only have come from Texas:

[H]e needed just one shot from the laser-sighted pistol he sometimes carries while jogging to take down a coyote that menaced his puppy during a February run near Austin.

Perry said he carries his .380 Ruger -- loaded with hollow-point bullets -- when jogging on trails because he is afraid of snakes. But when a coyote came out of the brush toward his daughter's Labrador retriever ...
Thus did He-Palin pull the Ruger from his sweat-wicking microfiber running holster and fell the demon coyote and its legion of pestilential rattlesnakes with a single laser-guided round.

I'm skeptical. I think his armed escorts gunned down the coyote at least an hour before he arrived, that they used AR-15s, and that his holster doesn't wick sweat at all.

Our Common Barrel

In reply to David B. Hart's restatement of The Courtier's Reply to the slings and arrows of 'new' atheism, Kevin Drum called bullshit rather more effectively than I did.

Not one to let this sort of twaddle go dishonored, Andrew Sullivan brings fresh fallacies:

Look: human nature being what it is, most religious people will be a dreadful example of the best version of faith you can find. Drum permits what Hitch's book was: a grand guignol of anti-clerical, fish-barrel-shooting. It's easy; it's way fun; mockery of inarticulate believers has made my friend, Bill Maher, lotsa money. But it's largely missing the real intellectual task by fighting a straw man, rather than a real and living and intelligent faith. Part of that is the fault of believers. We've done a lousy job of delineating a living faith for modernity.
I will be kind enough not to focus on the cheap cui bono, its assumption being risible enough on its face, namely, that atheism is selling tickets and books in a degree that belongs in the discussion with the last few thousand years of religious money-making. Could Maher's entire gross from Religulous equal even six months of Rick Warren's pizza budget? When added to Richard Dawkins's income from book sales, could it buy the artwork in the three shabbiest visitor's restrooms in the Vatican?

No, the problem with Sullivan's comment is more fundamental. Sullivan speaks of the mass of believers as though they're getting the 'best version of faith you can find' wrong in approximately the way that a semi-interested generalist like me gets population genetics or quantum mechanics wrong.

Not so. The analogy fails because the mass of believers do not agree with these 'best version of faith' experts. They say different things, and they mean them. In the teeth of the philosophical problems that high-minded academics (and 'new' atheists) have cited, everyday believers insist that their faith is the foremost truth of the cosmos, and that other faiths, and even seemingly close approximations of their faith, are illusory if not directly opposed to the exclusive, singular truth of the cosmos. Such believers are extremely easy to find, e.g., this, this, this, this, and this, to pick only a few from the vast gazoogle annals.

They aren't puzzling over these beliefs in the way that we non-experts might struggle with abstruse topics in math, science, or philosophy: they understand the theology they espouse clearly enough, thank you very much, well enough to devote their lives to it and confidently share it with everyone who will listen.

Whether one can truly be said to believe that which doesn't add up to a coherent, internally-consistent, logical whole is (arguably) an interesting question, but surely one whose implications reach 'unsophisticated' and 'sophisticated' theologies alike, and, for that matter, extend well beyond anything to do with religion.

It cannot be disputed that these 'unsophisticated' beliefs are regularly avowed and vigorously promoted in the world, with very real consequences for the lives of people and the course of history.

If Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, Maher, and other 'new' atheists are shooting fish in barrels, it is because the barrel, consisting of the worldwide mass of believers, minus a small minority in liberal-ish denominations and faculty lounges, is full to bursting with them.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Of Gifts and Twaddle

Andrew Sullivan has seen Theo Hobson's mess (Cf.) and added these limpid insights:

I think the real question on, say, the resurrection is: what does it actually mean? The imperfect scriptural accounts are full of contradictions. Jesus is both clearly bodily resurrected when Thomas places his hand in his open wound. Yet on the road to Emmaeus, Jesus is somehow incarnated in a different body and the recognition comes only at the breaking of bread. Elsewhere, Jesus appears as some kind of ghost, at others like flesh and blood person. And what of the Transfiguration? Are these metaphorical stories? Are they literally true and yet contradictory?

What Pascal called the "usage et soumission de la raison" is the best approach. But, yes, in the end, faith is a spiritual gift, not a logical conclusion.
So, for any who doubt the clarity or power of all that, the Gospel's contradictions on what are purported to be its principle historical claims constitute "a spiritual gift."

Well, gifts were great when I was a kid, but age and experience have taught me two things about them. First, it really is the thought that counts -- its quality, its sense, its resonance, its connection to the human reality to which it aims to respond. I have also come to realize that if I want something, I should go out and get it myself, assuming it is within my means, rather than trying to gain it by dragging others into a tedious, manipulative hint-dropping melodrama.

On both counts, reasonable people will decline Sullivan's "spiritual gift."

Confusion, Bad-Faith, or Both - Debts and Puppies

When it comes to reducing government debt, Americans tend to love the idea, but the answers they give when asked detailed questions betray confusion, bad-faith, or both. Kevin Drum:
The Economist asked if they'd rather tackle the federal deficit by cutting spending or raising taxes, and the runaway winner was cutting spending, by a margin of 62% to 5%. So what are we willing to cut? Answer: pretty much nothing.

As you can see, there wasn't one single area that even a third of the country wanted to cut back on. Except ... foreign aid ... [which] "makes up less than 1% of America's total spending."

Beyond that, there were only four areas that even a quarter of the population was willing to cut: mass transit, agriculture, housing, and the environment. At a rough guess, these areas account for about 3% of the federal budget.
By and large, Americans want government debt eliminated, but they don't want to pay more taxes to achieve it. They support "cutting spending" as a rousing slogan, but not "cutting spending" as a definite reality. This betrays confusion, bad-faith, or both.

The last time I posted on this topic, another blogger accused me of bad-faith, but the structure of this poll eliminates the slender thread of plausibility on which he hung his criticisms: note how The Economist poll expressly permits the respondent to indicate a desire for reduced spending in some, none, or all of the categories.

Wanting debts eliminated is fair enough. Wanting debts eliminated without a plan for doing so is akin to wanting a puppy without a plan for feeding or cleaning up after it. It indicates -- shall I repeat myself again? -- confusion, bad-faith, or both, and whichever of these it may be, there are numerous elected figures and paid gas-bags who make careers from exploiting and perpetuating it.

First Aid and Beyond

According to this definitive 5-part quiz on first aid, I am 80% proficient in the dark art of saving the lives of desperate strangers. I admit they made the quiz easy for me by never offering the option of "look around with a panicked look on my face for someone who knows what to do," which is almost certainly the thing I'd try if faced with a genuine stranger in peril, but is actually not the recommended practice.

Speaking of bodily harm, recommended practices, online quizzes, and the sport of baseball, this is now the way to reach home safely in baseball:



This is the best post ever.

The States Have Gas

I like this map (via Infrastructurist), and not only because it makes Oklahoma smaller and isolates it from the teet of Texas and throws its hideous shape into stark, unrelenting relief against a blank background.

I also like how it makes Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas into tiny morsels that might soon be devoured by the suddenly gigantic states of New Jersey and Maryland; on this scale, even pathetic, easily-forgotten Delaware (the first state or whatever!) could threaten those.

Texas remains a large eyesore at bottom center. It is big in every way except all the good ones.

Having spent the better part of several minutes grousing about it, it turns out I don't like this map at all. Something something gas consumption.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Of Boobs and Quakes

Russell Blackford is for it; Jerry Coyne is against it; Amanda Marcotte splits the difference. I speak, of course, of today's baring of chest flesh intended to mock the Iranian cleric who blamed women's sexuality for earthquakes:

The prayer leader, Hojatoleslam Kazim Sadeghi, says women and girls who "don't dress appropriately" spread "promiscuity in society."

"When promiscuity spreads, earthquakes increase," he says in a video posted Monday on YouTube, apparently of him leading Friday prayers in Tehran, Iran, last week.

"There is no way other than taking refuge in religion and adapting ourselves to Islamic behavior," he adds in the video.
Let's assume the idiotic cleric is right, and we can either have a world without earthquakes or a world without sexually-autonomous women. Does anyone consider this a difficult question?

Yes, earthquakes are terrible events, as we have seen recently in Haiti, Chile, and China, but we have plenty of ways to mitigate their dangers.*

Meanwhile, we have a good idea of what it's like for women to live, or try to live, inside the boundaries of strict sharia.

This is an easy choice: dump sharia, enforce sensible building codes.


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* I will thank the reader not to return to this post in a 'told you so' spirit when the Cascadia subduction zone, on the orders of Allah, gets fighting mad at boobs and levels the entire Pacific Northwest.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Working the Gelatin Smithy

Theo Hobson seems committed to arranging a nonsense-free form of Christianity:

[T]he counter-rationality of faith corresponds to the absoluteness of its idealism. Faith rejects reasonability in the sense of sober realism, the common-sense view. Faith is an attitude of unwarranted affirmation; it holds that all things are possible. Ultimately it means trust that the kingdom of God is coming, that the world will be transformed into some scarcely imaginable state of perfection. It is not a rationally defensible position to hold that all will somehow be well thanks to some sort of divine victory over evil and death. Christianity commits us to this embarrassing mythological language. In practical terms Christians do not have to reject science, but they have to speak in a way that starkly breaks the rules of reasonable discourse. Let's admit it.
Fine. It is freely admitted.

But what Hobson offers with one hand he removes with the other: Christianity is counter to rationality, violative of the rules of reasonable discourse, freighted with embarrassing mythology; at the same time, it promises a perfected end state of the world coinciding with a "kingdom of God" complete with a victory over evil and death.

The latter are definite attributes attached to what the former declares to be a vacuous discourse. It will be a "kingdom of God," not a republic of equals, a blissfully harmonious anarchy, or an enchanted reign of philosopher-kings; it will end evil and death (whatever that would mean), not bring more plentiful food, more beautiful scenery in all locations, a general increase in artistic tastes, athletic ability, or mathematical acumen.

Let's admit it: what is formless, soft, and vague should not be confused with that which is rigid, firm, and clear. If Christianity can't live within the bounds of reasonable discourse, then it should only appear there long enough to be dismissed.

(via Normblog)

Poem of the Day: "In a Dark Time"

April is National Poetry Month, which is not without its applications.

Theodore Roethke, "In a Dark Time"

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood—
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks—is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is—
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

Rainbows and Wild Grass in Seaside

This is a rainbow -- they really do exist in nature!

This is wild grass beside the beach.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Shorter David Hart

David B. Hart, "Believe It Or Not"

  • True atheists -- by which I mean the kind I like to debate, the famous ones who died in 1900 in Röcken bei Lützen -- are desperately sad, hopeless, despairing, and syphilitic, and trace all of the above to atheism.

___________________

Nietzsche does make life easy for Christians in a way, for in at least one of his moods, he was prone to extrapolating from "Christianity is bullshit" (not his words) to "mankind exists in a gyre of meaningless and despair" (also not his words).

This misses how yelling about god exemplifies the intentionally provocative nature of his approach to philosophy -- how better to get the attention of complacent Europeans than to declaim against their chief idol (this still works, by the way). Never mind that, says Hart: crazy Fred said god is dead, and he was pessimistic to the point of nihilism at times, so he fits the Christian's preferred vision of atheism.

Sadly, no: the pessimistic strain in Nietzsche was polymorphous, and, notwithstanding the hopes animating this little tributary of pro-Christian argumentation, considerably more interesting than "life is a bummer without god" (it's worth noting that even if god did make life in the cosmos more emotionally satisfying, it wouldn't count as evidence that he/she/it exists). Nietzsche's pessimism had any number of illustrative symptoms and manifestations, not just god: love, democracy, history, progress, morality, art. God was, for Nietzsche, among the several layers of nonsense and "bad faith" people use to muffle, distort, and ultimately worsen the realities of the cosmos and our place in it.

Hart's concern-trolling has predictably left Rod Dreher and Ross Douthat swoon-drooling on their keyboards with effusive glee; LarryNiven is decidedly unimpressed.

Cf.

'Shorter' concept lovingly borrowed from Sadly, No!

Birthday for Shakespeare

Had he lived to see it, Shakespeare would turned 446 today, and Geekosystem has been kind enough to offer five geeky ways to honor the day, none of them especially good until the last two: read some actual Shakespeare and improve your vocabulary.

The latter cites Kottke.org:

In his collected writings, Shakespeare used 31,534 different words. 14,376 words appeared only once and 846 were used more than 100 times. Using statistical techniques, it's possible to estimate how many words he knew but didn't use.
This means that in addition the 31,534 words that Shakespeare knew and used, there were approximately 35,000 words that he knew but didn't use. Thus, we can estimate that Shakespeare knew approximately 66,534 words.
Some of those words, such as eke and withal, have sadly dropped from usage.

As to reading Shakespeare, that's a fine recommendation as far as it goes, but a much geeked-up version is to drag in the vocabulary suggestion and use the Shakespeare concordance to find every instance where Shakespeare used a particular word. That's how a real modern-day geek appreciates Shakespeare.

Pug Needs Kiss

I never feature photographs of pugs in swing sets, but fortunately, bitte ein kuss does from time to time, along with a stunning variety of things equally strange and beautiful.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Compromise of 2010

Some of the commentary I have seen accompanying this unscientific poll result seems confused, but it's really straightforward enough: respondents in the greener states prefer the right to vote; those in the redder states prefer the right to fondle guns.

Even throwing the middle (yellow) states to the GOP -- Florida, Kansas, and New Hampshire -- and even tossing both Alaska and Hawaii to the GOP (Hawaii seems a stretch), and then assuming the non-voting states are automatically counted as GOP votes, the Democrats get 309-229 victory (souce) in the electoral college. Not long after which, of course, we change the system to a simple majority-rules system for choosing presidents, but that's for later.

So here we are, with a compromise that suggests itself: in exchange for no longer voting, people in the gun states get to pack heat at all hours and in all places. Those of them that survive the cleaning accidents, road rage incidents, and escalated drunken squabbles would see a national politics no longer obstructed by the GOP.

Win-win.

Another One in the Can

Jeffrey Sconce, if that is his real name,* has declared in favor of crap:
One of the few benefits afforded by the mass production of culture is the opportunity for odd, bizarre, and otherwise demented “filler.” If a production company must by contract cough up 32 hours of television each year—even if one hour involves little more than all the characters sitting around remembering clips from the previous 31 hours—there is almost an iron-clad guarantee that at least one or two of the episodes will go off the rails in some interesting fashion. Remember when Beaver Cleaver made friends with the son of the garbage-man, causing June to freak out about class-mixing and the possibility of junkyard rat bites? Or when Kramer accidentally mocked the Puerto Rican Pride parade on Seinfeld? Or when Danny Bonaduce joined the Black Panthers on The Partridge Family? None of these jaw-dropping moments in our televisual heritage would have been possible without the crushing demands of sheer volume. Each required a harried producer or show runner to look at his watch and say, “To hell with it….I have Dodgers tickets for tonight. Just get it in the can by next week.”
Cousin Oliver is the personification, the allegorical authentication, the man-flesh synecdoche of this insight. His pale, flopping locks got the makers of the Brady Bunch through the remains of their side of the contract, without which viewers would have been asked to choke down storylines asserting either that Bobby and Cindy were still childishly cute, or, worse, that Bobby and Cindy had entered the trials of puberty and would brave the hardships in ways not previously charted in the show's annals. Or, still worse, we might have had more Johnny Bravo.

Whatever else might be said of these alternate lines of desperate improvisation, none of them would have spawned the grotesque toy-child renaissance that inspired such programs as Diff'rent Strokes, Webster, and Silver Spoons -- which is to say, the doe-eyed, toe-headed thread of Family Affair might have died out without the bridge formed by the squeaking vocalizations of Cousin Oliver.


---------------
* Actually, this is so whether or not that is his real name, and whether or not he is truly a he.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

New Page - Songs

I have added a new page, Songs, that will showcase songs that have been on my mind of late. I plan to update it now and then, but of course, planning is for suckers.

Enjoy!

Roughly 420 Mostly Credible Things

I'm really not a 4/20 kind of guy. Honestly, I had managed to remain oblivious of the observance until my trip to Boston in 2008, a year on which 4/20 fell on a Sunday, so I was greeted by a smell I recalled from rock concerts of the past wafting through the air of Boston Common as I fretted over the next morning's famous running event.*

So, yea, I grew up amid four older free-spirited sisters parading about with a motley collection of sketchy boyfriends, and in a town where there has never been anything to do besides take mind-altering chemicals and/or await death; I listened to bands such as Rush, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and Van Halen in high school; I went to Reed, for FSM's sake, which included four Renn Fayres, which by all rights should still be showing up in blood screenings; and yet, for all that, I didn't realize there was a 4/20 observance before 2008. I have some idea of where this ranks on the all-time least believable claims ever to pass through this precious, precious blog, but there it is.

But Jupiter's cock in blue jeans, people! The continuing criminalization of marijuana is absurd, idiotic, and indefensible. Believe that.

This post scheduled to air at 4:20PM on 4/20. Neat.

Apophatic Attic agrees, as does LarryNiven, as does Andrew Sullivan, as does Sarah Mirk at the Portland Mercury, and so on.


-----
* Speaking of all that, the 2010 Boston Marathon happened yesterday, and the winner, Kenya's Robert Cheruiyot, finished in 2:05:52, which works out to a 4:48 min/mile pace. Now, I do a lot of running -- 18.1 miles this last Saturday, 9.5 miles on Sunday, a little over 8 today (I'd say I'm not bragging but I'm trying to be thoroughly truthful in this post) -- but I am pretty sure I could not manage even a single mile at that pace. I am way past gobsmacked at the thought that someone maintained that pace over 26.2 continuous miles, and that over the particular 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon course.

Walk Away

Which of several scapegoats will the Catholic Church blame today for their crimes and depredations? Click to find out!

Speaking of all that, Russell Blackford has a solid suggestion for befuddled, well-meaning laity everywhere:

You're not to blame, folks. I may disagree with you about many things, but I don't say that you are bad people. Most of you had no idea what was going on. Still, you've been duped and betrayed - and it's time to vote with your feet. Just leave the Church. Stop giving them your money. Stop giving them your support. Stop listening to their excuses; and whatever you do, don't protect them. Just leave. Go anywhere at all, within reason, because you can't do much worse. Walk away.
If nothing else, do what England did under Henry VIII -- gin up a sect that's Catholic in all but name (and perhaps ease of divorce) and give it a snappy new name. League of Anti-Molestation Catholics (LAMC)? The Very Nearly Catholic Church? Those may sound inelegant, but they probably sound better in Latin or Greek.

It's your call, of course. I say you have nothing to lose but the taint of systematic child rape, but opinions differ. Maybe you'd prefer to keep paying for these priceless evasions and the lawyering that keeps the pope and his inner circle yes-men out of legal depositions and in freshly starched dresses. Spend your money and devotion as you like.

Monday, April 19, 2010

That Jingle Mail is Good Mail

In Milton Friedman's day, it was still convenient to glibertarian fancies to draw a sharp and clear line between corporations and moral entities:

[T]he doctrine of "social responsibility" taken seriously would extend the scope of the political mechanism to every human activity. It does not differ in philosophy from the most explicitly collectivist doctrine. It differs only by professing to believe that collectivist ends can be attained without collectivist means. That is why, in my book Capitalism and Freedom, I have called it a "fundamentally subversive doctrine" in a free society, and have said that in such a society, "there is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use it resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud."
In his book Capitalism and Freedom, that is, Friedman was at pains to expose the rat-infested gulag lurking behind every mingling of 'being good' and 'conducting business.'

Time and circumstance have brought sweeping change to the convenience of glibertarian fancies, notably underscored in the recent Supreme Court ruling that equated corporations with rights-bearing persons. Only a few nay-sayers openly disagree, and no one likes them anyway. (Michael Moore is fat!!!)

Dean Baker is willing to upset the tender balance of glibertarian fancy not by denying its terms but by extending them to actual human persons:
We did calculations recently that showed that homeowners who bought near the peak in many bubble markets could easily save themselves more than $1,000 a month by renting equivalent units. This means that these underwater homeowners could be throwing out more than $12,000 a year in a desperate effort to keep up on their mortgages. Since most of these homeowners will never have any equity in their home, the mortgage check they send to the bank is money thrown in the garbage ... Not only would it benefit millions of homeowners to send the keys back to the bank, it would also benefit the economy. The money that homeowners save by not paying their mortgage is money that could instead be used to support consumption and boost the economy. If 5 million underwater homeowners saved an average of $10,000 each by becoming renters, this would free up $50bn a year for additional spending. This would have the same impact on the economy as a $50bn tax cut. If we assume a multiplier of 1.5 on these savings, the 5 million walk-aways will generate close to 750,000 jobs.
If persons are entitled, let alone required, to direct their attention solely to the bottom-line, and if this focus will most efficaciously and directly promote the public good, then underwater homeowners should be sending in their jingle mail as early as possible.

Springtime Non-Fiction

Jerry Coyne has opened a thread asking for reading recommendations:

Please recommend one nonfiction book that you think everyone should read, and explain in no more than three sentences why we should read it. The book need not be about science, though those entries are welcome too. The only books excluded from this contest are mine and Darwin’s Origin, which has been done to death.
There are several recommendations I might have made if someone hadn't already -- Montaigne's Essays; Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel; Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea (forgive the excess of consonance); assorted titles by Stephen Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Carl Sagan.

I threw in for Twain's Letters from the Earth, without which no reading life can be said to be complete. Sorry, but that's just the way the universe turns out if you carry it all through rigorously, not unlike the value of Pi or E = mc2. Don't hate the player, hate the game. (And don't hate the game -- it won't help.)

The thread closes on 23 April, so don't dawdle if you have suggestions to make. Reading the recommendations of others is its own reward, but the best recommendation submitted via comments to Jerry Coyne's post wins an autographed copy of his own excellent book, Why Evolution is True.

You have nothing to lose but a dull reading season, and quite possibly your chains.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fan of Piggies


My appreciation for red-haired women has a history dating to well before my discovery of Neko Case; it began with my mom, whose natural hair color was red,* and to my sister, Riki.

When Riki was just out of high school, her boyfriend at the time rode a motorcycle -- incautiously, as it turns out, as the both of them took a spill they barely survived. At the time, Riki's doctor's were sure she'd never have children or regain the use her left arm. Suffice to say she used her left arm frequently when caring for the three children she went on to raise.

Something of that indomitable quality -- another inheritance from my mom -- explains why, in recent years, Riki has returned to motorcycles. There are other qualities in the mix, and those, too, come from my mom, but that's a different matter.

A few weeks ago, a careless driver hit Riki as she rode her motorcycle, severely fracturing her foot. How has she responded to the several surgeries, the long rounds of physical therapy, the prospect of months without the freedom to put her weight on her foot, let alone return to motorcycling?

She has responded in a way that epitomizes her and has inspired this post -- by stepping past the misery, refusing self-pity, and managing to find humor in the situation.

I speak of the "Piggies" photo series now appearing under her Facebook profile, in which she imagines her injured foot -- the "piggy" toes peeking above cast -- as a character in everyday situations. The one at the top, with the caption "Piggies undressed," suggests the severity of the injuries and something of the creative possibilities of the "Piggies" genre.

A few more examples:

"Piggies love/hate relationship" --


"Piggies decisions, decisions" --


One of my very favorites, "Piggies confused" --


My mom would love that I'm writing this on what would have been her 67th birthday, as she loved seeing her kids get along at least as as much as pairing us in a jar, shaking it, and watching us fight.** But in the face of Piggies, there is nothing to fight and everything to admire. In its small and informal way, it shows how the best of us can stand and face the worst that life throws at us, even if we have to balance ourselves on crutches for a time.



_____

* Probably. Who knows?
** Not only would my mom appreciate the quip about the jar and her hair color, it's probably closer to the mark to say I am subconsciously stealing the material from her.

Lion vs. Bug

I look at my photographs, such as this one I took of the male lion at the Oregon Zoo, and I think, "that's a decent photograph." And for the effort I put into it -- you might be surprised at how few directions I yelled at my subject -- it is a decent photograph.

I mean only to say you can easily tell that it shows a lion standing on a rock, the colors are a more than fair approximation of the colors as the eye perceived at the scene, there's even some evidence of framing and balance.

Then I see the photographs of bugs assembled at John Hallmen's flickr site, and I realize that my photographs are an insult to the practice of photography, and that in a just world, I would have my camera taken away from me -- or, minimally, forbidden from showing any of my photographs in public.

I can especially recommend his photographs of ticks in the Arachnida sub-collection, which might be the tick's single best chance ever to be beautiful in the eyes of human beings.


(via Institute of Jurassic Technology)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Shook on Myths

John Shook has entered the "myth" fray only to declare it much ado about nothing:

Must a biology textbook also mention every other nonscientific origin story just to label it myth too? Does Myers think that history textbooks must launch criticisms against the pseudo-historical myths in the Old Testament, or that astronomy textbooks must launch criticisms against the pseudo-cosmological myths in Hindu scriptures? Classrooms are becoming more diverse, after all....

The best way to prevent religion from getting into the classroom is to prevent it from getting into the classroom. [emphasis in original]
This is so distressingly naive. No, it is not necessary to spend time in biology class enumerating every creation myth and categorizing them as such, and not only because it would be tedious. It is not necessary because of the countless dozens of creation myths people have put forward over time, only a few are being forcefully shoved into public view and promoted as alternatives to the prevailing scientific understanding.

To the extent it is happening, identifiable people are pursuing the forceful shoving on behalf of only a few traditional accounts of life's origins. The pursuit is deliberate and unsubtle. Perhaps John Shook has heard of Expelled, the film that is representative-enough of the spirit, tone, and techniques of this well-funded, aggressive, seemingly tireless anti-science movement? Maybe he has heard mention of the Discovery Institute? If not, he should tune in to present-day reality.

Moreover, let's play through Shook's desired scenario in which a biology curriculum abstains from all mention of competing non-scientific accounts. Imagine this predictable classroom exchange:

Student: Why aren't we talking about Genesis?
Teacher: This is biology class, not religion class.
Student: Are you saying the Bible is false?
Teacher: Oh goodness, no. I am saying we don't discuss religion in science class.
Student: Religion? Who said anything about religion? I'm talking about Genesis, the word of god. Genesis is the truth of how the world and all life began. Aren't we going to be learning the truth in this class?

It's clear enough where this is heading. Either here, or one or a few reactions before, any self-respecting huckster, public relations operative, communications professional, "framing" expert, or marketing hack could give a dozen verbal workarounds by which to spring the teacher from the trap and exit the conversation in a way that, in that moment, offends no one, accommodates every religious conviction, poses no risks to any personal relationships with Jesus.

And yet ... let's get real. Whatever felicitous words are exchanged, any moderately clever true believer will see through the rhetorical occlusions and recognize the clear implication of the curriculum's pattern of inclusions and exclusions, namely, that science has standards that their beliefs don't meet. Whether or not the scare-word myth is used, the student will realize that biological science pointedly excludes their deeply-held convictions about the origins of species.

Whereupon we will be where we are now: engaged in a debate in which some will organize and agitate to shove their religious nostrums into science classes -- and, on the available evidence, too many people who should know better will blame the conflict on science advocates.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Get a Dog

Massimo Pigliucci is tired, so very tired, of all the outrageous invective directed at his friend who Fox-Newsily spun the word myth into an elaborate and specious theory of church-state separation:

It isn’t a matter of defending a friend, who is perfectly capable of doing so himself. Or to attack PZ personally — I never met the guy, and I occasionally enjoy his antics. But this to me represents the latest example of an escalation (downwards in quality) in the tone and substance of the discourse on atheism, and I blame this broadly on the rhetoric of the new atheism (the only “new” aspect of which is precisely the in-your-face approach to “reason”). With few exceptions (mostly, Dennett), what we have seen in recent years is much foaming at the mouth, accompanied by a cavalier attitude toward the substance, rationality and coherence of one’s arguments. And now we have seen a new low consisting of childish insults to a fellow atheist and writer who is clearly fighting the same battle as the rest of us.

I am often told by my non-activist friends (pretty much all of whom are agnostics or atheists themselves) that the problem with the new atheism is that it looks a lot like the mirror image of the sort of fundamentalist rage that we all so justly abhor. I always shrugged at this accusation as being overblown and missing the point, after all we — unlike them — are on the side of reason and true human compassion. Now I’m not so sure.
It's difficult to imagine a clearer form of a "cavalier attitude toward the substance" than whining that science and non-science can't be accurately distinguished in a science classroom.

Beyond that, notice how the whining has morphed. Usually the anti-"new atheist" plaint is that harsh invective will repel believers who might be amenable to a cool, calm approach. Now, apparently, those nasty "new atheist" are being too mean even when squabbling with other atheists.

No more harsh words or ... or else what terrible calamities will befall the gregarious, dulcet climes of the freethought community? Some will get tummy aches, forget where they left the car keys, feel an urge to punch something, shake their tiny fists whilst raging at the empty heavens? Atheists will find each other unpleasant from time to time? RSS feeds will drop from aggregators?

Or here's a thought: perhaps they'll become passionately engaged, find themselves forced to think through matters critically and skeptically, refine and revise ideas and arguments. Call me a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

As the saying goes, if you want a friend, get a dog.

Something Lawless

Apparently Lucy Lawless was famous before this year -- who knew? I have come to know her as Lucretia of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, the guilty pleasure from Starz (the tee-vee cable network, not the misspelled pluralization of star) that's presently nearing its first season finale. The smart money says there will be blood.

From what I've seen, I declare this Lawless woman stands a good chance of going places. I'd go so far as to say she is the Neko Case of blood-sport cable melodrama of her generation.

Both regular readers of this blog will recognize that the comparison with Neko Case represents no small compliment.

[Clearing throat] I am speaking of Miss Lawless's singing talents, naturally.

Speaking of which, here's Neko Case with some Josh Pyke guy performing "Long Time Gone":

One of these things is not like the others

The Silver Jews, "Pretty Eyes" -- a simple-sounding song that builds in intensity:



I suppose you'd prefer a video of a vocalizing robot:



Arguably, The Matrix toyed around with Nietzsche, Kant, Descartes, Plato, and Baudrillard:

The NBA Playoffs


And here it is (via this entry), my bracket for the 2010 NBA playoffs. As you can see, I place few hopes in the local team, as they can't seem to keep healthy bodies on the floor from one night to the next. I think the Willamette-river-water-instead-of-Gatorade training regimen is proving out rather badly -- or something is. Remember Greg Oden? Yea, I don't either. I trust calls have been placed to Sam Walton, Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey, and Kiki Vandeweghe so the team can lose to the Suns with five warm bodies, and no one should be surprised if coach Nate McMillan has to don a uniform and function as player-coach.

It's for the best. The Suns are a better team, and the sooner the Blazers exit the playoffs, the sooner the cycle of off-season surgeries and new injuries can be renewed; and, more importantly for the integrity of the team's hallowed traditions, the sooner the front office can get to the difficult, grinding, uncertain work of finding the next next Sam Bowie in the 2010-2011 draft class.

I have not followed the NBA closely this season, so while my bracket seems fine, I won't be crying myself to sleep, soiling myself with outrage, or flinging any scat if it doesn't bring me the fame, riches, and glory that comes with predicting sports outcomes.

The rockiness begins in the opening round. The Celtics and Heat are inherently unpredictable, and for me at least, the Hawks and Bucks are complete mysteries. Does Glenn Robinson still play for the Bucks? Do Dominique Wilkins and Tree Rollins still play for the Hawks? As I said, I've lost the NBA thread of late, especially with the middling teams of the eastern conference.

As always, so long as a team eliminates the Lakers, the season shall not have been in vain. Go [team currently playing the Lakers]!

I don't know when I'll address the NBA again, so as much as it pains me, I must show this "own goal" by my still-favorite NBA player, Rasheed Wallace:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The USA's Comparative Advantage Illustrated

The fertile minds at KFC have surveyed the world of fast food, seen its appalling shortfalls of variety and abundance, and have responded:
The Double Down is a product offered by Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). The Double Down contains "bacon, two different kinds of melted cheese, the Colonel’s secret sauce... pinched in between two pieces of Original Recipe chicken fillets." ... KFC describes the Double Down as a "sandwich" although it does not have bread.
Who says America doesn't make things any more?

Really, if you think about it, and then think about it some more, and then think about it a little longer, the KFC Double Down transcends meat. It is meat beyond meat -– meat that refers back to meat, signifies meat, represents meat representing itself. It is meta-meat.

Where Ignorant Titans Clash By Night

I don't frequently agree with Anthony Lane's film reviews, but he hits the target with his review of Clash of the Titans, which concludes:
[W]hat is at stake here is not an enlightening quest, or a Homeric journey, but a series of levels, each one tougher than the last. That is why I am, in all honesty, reviewing “Clash of the Titans” three months too soon. On July 10th, it will be released on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, and only then, I feel, will it truly come into its own. The film, diverting but far from Titanic, is no more than a task to be completed along the way.
I gather it is only from a fear of repetition that this insight is not applied more widely -- there are large numbers of films that make sense only when seen as the extended trailer for the inevitable video game version, and the remake of Clash of the Titans is certainly an instance.

It also exhibits the tendency of violent action films to include humanoid characters who aren't quite human, especially not quite human in the synchronization between lip movements and vocalizations. This is a boon to video game developers and to foreign distributors who will need to dub in voices from other languages. A trifecta is achieved in the film's Djinn character, who in addition to bringing the two advantages mentioned above, represents a multi-cultural bone thrown to the Middle-Eastern audiences. Apart from the story's need to charm giant scorpions, which is apparently a talent known to Djinn, the onus is on the skeptic to otherwise account for the insertion of this character.

Not so its noble antecedent, the 1981 version starring the thinly muscled Harry Hamlin and even more thinly muscled Burgess Meredith, as well as an evidently financially strapped Sir Lawrence Olivier. Because I genuinely love the 1981 version even as I have no trouble enumerating its flaws, I can't bring myself to loathe the version now playing in cinemas, even in 3-D for some reason. I saw the 2-D version, and that's as many dimensions as anyone should enter the theater expecting.

It's terrible but good, in the way of your granny's home-made pickled cucumbers: if you somehow came to love them as a child -- say, by being all but force-fed them hundreds of times -- you'll always cherish them, and all mushy, unevenly-colored pickled cucumbers you encounter thereafter.

The remake is something like that: a wretched pickle you can't stop eating.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Not Voting Tory, This I Know

I am surprised -- am I not suprised? -- that, according to this questionnaire, I'll be voting for the Liberal Democrats in the forthcoming British elections.* The utterly unthinkable alternatives include (a) that I should hesitate to draw conclusions from the questionnaire since I'm not steeped in the particulars of current British political controversies or (b) that I should gainsay the results of a web-based poll.

Because these two alternatives are so unacceptable, I will vote for the Liberal Democrats, though I may cast my second vote for the Greens.**

Generally, I would have thought myself a Labour voter. I didn't leave Labour, Labour left me.

While I realize American politics and British politics track one another only so closely, I am genuinely surprised at how many questions in this poll seem unfamiliar -- more exactly, to my culture-war-weary American eyes, the questions were surprisingly bland, or what we label technocratic here in the USA.

At the risk of running amok with Anglophilia here, the questions in this poll suggest a national politics featuring political parties that want to pursue more or less distinctive policy ends. Here in the USA, by contrast, we are increasingly accustomed to one party that fights within itself over policy, set against another party that needs tranquilizers and bite-masks to keep it doing only as much harm as is done by scrawling insipid, misspelled slogans on walls using its own shit. I'm looking right at you, Libertarian party of the USA, but I actually mean our straightjacket-ready friends in the GOP.


----
* I am neither a resident nor an eligible voter in Britain, as far as I know.
** I don't plan to vote a second time -- unless, of course, I vote a first time, which I don't think is likely since [see first note].

Coddling Faitheist Inanity

Michael De Dora detects a constitutional breach in a biology textbook's reference to “the biblical myth that the universe was created by the Judeo-Christian God in 7 days.” De Dora claims that in the context of a public school science class, the word myth as used runs afoul of the principle of church-state separation:

[O]ur government -- and thus our public schooling system -- is supposed to remain neutral on matters of religion. Federal and state governments cannot aid one religion, aid all religions, prefer one religion over another, or prefer non-religion to religion. This means that while I agree with Myers that the Biblical creation story is a "myth," the public school classroom doesn't seem to be the place where our message should be pushed. More specifically, the purpose of biology class is not to reject religious ideas; it is to inform students about biology. [emphasis mine]
Did you notice the leap there? De Dora jumped from a claim made in a high school biology textbook to opinions in PZ Myers's (excellent) blog, yet Myers had no role in writing the textbook behind the controversy.

It's too bad for De Dora's argument that he could not successfully link the textbook's claim to PZ Myers, since it is an unimpeachable canon of American constitutional jurisprudence that PZ Myers, with his every utterance, and in his very bones, constitutes a walking, talking, blogging, squid-loving abridgment of the 1st Amendment. (The same is true of the 12th Amendment, and Article 1, Section 10, but I digress.)

De Dora clarifies, or claims to try to:
Even if biology courses were going to teach background on the theory, as I would admit they probably should to some minor extent, then textbooks obviously have to acknowledge the existence of dissent. But I don’t see a church-state issue with merely mentioning that religion exists. Denying religious ideas is the step that puts us in a bind.
Sigh. It's generous of De Dora to grant biology classes the freedom to teach some background on scientific theories. Sarcasm aside, there are cases where schools would do a terrible job of teaching the science if they did not cover some background on theory -- in particular, in cases where people are working so hard to blur the line between science and non-science, or in other words, between science and myth.

And there's the salient point: science contrasts with myth not, or not necessarily, in its veracity, but in its methodology and its epistemology -- how its practitioners derive knowledge and on what grounds they establish it. This is a crucial contrast to draw, especially in science classrooms.

Scientific literacy requires distinguishing science from myth, and this distinction includes the insight that even truth-bearing myths* do not qualify as science. Likewise, countless tales about the origins of life, including the Bible's, happen to be false, but that's not what makes them non-science. Excluding non-science from science classrooms is right, proper, necessary, and -- even if PZ Myers's cooties get up in everything -- constitutional.

There's more on De Dora's muddled nonsense from Ophelia Benson and -- watch out, 12th Amendment! -- PZ Myers. Jerry Coyne -- from whom I've borrowed the term faitheist -- has also addressed De Dora's confusions, including this bit, which reinforces my take on it:
[T]eaching evolution and dispelling creation gives students a valuable lesson: it teaches them to think scientifically—surely one of the main points of a science class. They learn to weigh evidence and show how that evidence can be used to discriminate between alternative explanations. It’s of little consequence to me that one alternative explanation comes from a literal interpretation of scripture. Indeed, it’s useful, for this is a real life example—one that’s going on now—of how alternative empirical ideas are fighting for primacy in the intellectual marketplace. What better way to engage students in the scientific method?
What better way indeed? A myth is one of many terms for that which proper science pedagogy distinguishes from genuine science. Others in the category include creation myth, story, tale, fable, just-so story, guess, educated guess, blind guess, intuition, rumor, tradition, lore, folklore, common sense, hypothetical, what-if story, assertion, claim, opinion, WAG (wild-ass guess), counterfactual, and many others. Whatever the uses of these, and whatever their resonance or applicability, they are not science, and belong in science classes only as a means of fleshing out the contrast between science and non-science.


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* A broken clock tells the right time twice a day, right? Or, better: suppose a local tradition claims that whales' ancestors were terrestrial predators. This happens to be true, but not science. It's still only a just-so story, a tale, a fable, a guess, or a myth unless and until it is hitched to an explanatory framework of supporting reasons and evidence.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Prospects Creatively Destroyed


There's no cure for stupid, but that's not to say there's no rationale for broad-based discontent. What the chart doesn't explain is more than adequately covered by Ezra Klein and Richard Trumka. Klein:
[C]onsider the way elites have treated the decline of journalism jobs and the decline of manufacturing jobs. Both sectors are fundamentally suffering from the same thing: A technological revolution that has made the large, well-paid workforces of yesteryear into a competitive disadvantage in the modern economy. But where the decline of manufacturing was greeted with sanguine talk about "retraining," the decline of journalism has been greeted with something akin to grief. ... "[C]reative destruction" isn't easy to explain, and it's not very comforting to the destroyed.
I admit I haven't been sympathetic toward journalism's decline (Cf. here, here, and here) but whatever schadenfreude may be found there -- and I do cop to some of that -- arises from a disgust at the abysmal quality of the product, not from some undying faith in the great good god of "creative destruction."

If a large number of the gutless hacks in big-name media companies have to scale back and settle for imitation ivory back-scratchers, or gawd forbid find a different line of work, my face won't grow wet with tears over it.

But seeing no deus billowing out of any machinas, hearing no approaching hooves of magic ponies, I don't have the slightest idea what line of work to suggest to them -- or to the millions of sacked workers who formerly produced tangible goods and noticeable services in this economy, such as it still deserves to be called.

MLK Jr. on the Mall

Even as some are working to obscure the history of race relations in this country, as by falsely erasing slavery from the understanding of the Civil War's causes, others are doing the good work of embracing reality by honoring people who have made reality more just.

One such effort is devoted to building a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington DC:



The monument is planned for the Washington Mall, which is appropriate since MLK Jr. hallowed that ground with a certain speech, though brave women and men, living and dead, have consecrated it above even his power to add or detract.

The foundation is close to its fundraising goals, and welcomes your support. Did you know that you can contribute to this cause by sending a text? Now you know! Put MLK in the body of a text to 20222.

"Home," the Song

This is how it looked and sounded when Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros played "Home" on the Letterman show a short while back:



It's hard to know what to make of this music. I like it's slightly out of control quality, and it's just plain catchy. It's a cross between The Arcade Fire, the lovely-then-funny duet between Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters in The Jerk, and something you might have tried to avoid watching on Hee-Haw. I hope the two singers are just play-acting about their love for each other -- we all saw what became of Fleetwood Mac. For purposes of this blog post, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks broke up, the plane crashed over the Andes as a result of one of their violent rows, and Stevie Nicks alone survived on the flesh of snow-sloths and band-mates. Good times.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Good of the Universal Church: Pedobear-Approved

In 1985, Ratzinger, then a cardinal and now the pope, signed a letter in which his office declined to defrock a child-raping priest:
This court, although it regards the arguments presented in favour of removal in this case to be of grave significance, nevertheless deems it necessary to consider the good of the Universal Church together with that of the petitioner, and it is also unable to make light of the detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke with the community of Christ's faithful, particularly regarding the young age of the petitioner.
Whatever else might be said of the ruling and the letter -- its reasoning, its conclusions, its mastery of Latin -- there can be no doubt that it enjoys the approval of pedobear.

In fairness, the Vatican has been right about some things all along.

Burn Your Paper Bird Guides!

National Geographic has helpfully converted all your antiquated paper-based bird guides to fuel for the next bonfire: I speak of the backyard bird identifier. It also works on birds witnessed in front and side yard settings!

I checked it to see if it could correctly identify a Spotted Towhee (shown), a Cassin's Finch, and a Northern Flicker, and it could, though it takes a little playing around with the color and size selections.

Birds are no longer as mysterious as they had been. Frankly, with the advent of this web-based utility, they're getting a little boring.

Happy book-burning!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Race for the Tulips

On the theory that sometimes it's the race you don't run that makes you stronger, I declined to run this year's Race for the Roses, despite my positive experience there a year ago. I give my congratulations to all the finishers, who had the good fortune of superb weather today.

Instead, over this weekend, I ran what I'll call my own Race for the Tulips, which consisted of a 16.7-mile jaunt through a few neighborhoods yesterday, followed by a 9.5-mile closer today. 16.7 and 9.5 sum to 26.2, a number that pops up frequently in the world of distance running, so while I will genuinely miss the absence of the bib on my wall o' bibs, and while I tremble to think I turned down a race t-shirt -- how can I manage with only the meager scores I have? -- I can't fault the weekend's effort.

I love tulips for the ten or fifteen minutes after they spring up and before they vanish. I love running.

Neko Case Collaborations

As is already known to everyone with the appropriate google alerts, Neko Case is currently touring with Jakob Dylan in support of Dylan's new album to which she contributed, Women and Country. What I've heard of that album sounds a little too languid for my tastes, but since Neko Case is involved, it's probably worth having.

This brings me to consider the collaborations I would like to see from Neko Case, and first on the list is Stephen Malkmus, singer/guitarist of Pavement and maker of four excellent solo albums, Stephen Malkmus, Pig Lib, Face The Truth, and Real Emotional Trash.

The promising point of contact I see between the two, and one that a collaboration could take in potentially interesting directions, is the tendency to break out of conventional pop structures and create songs with discernible movements,  not so unlike the movements in a traditional sonata or concerto.

A good example of Stephen Malkmus's use of movements is "Baltimore," which takes an interesting turn or two along the way:



Neko Case's "Polar Nettles" is a good enough instance of the tendency:



Just to reassure both of my readers that Malkmus and Neko aren't so far apart, here is Malkmus covered Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man," and Neko Case covered Bob Dylan's "Buckets of Rain" on Live From Austin Texas.

 Maybe, maybe not. I know I would love to hear this collaboration.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Friends Who Inspire

A new social networking "friend" has set a new mark for speed to nuisance by recommending this video to address a question I didn't ask, "how can I believe in a god who is so narrow-minded?" Not that an open-minded one hangs together any better, but here goes the video:



Neat. A few -- very few -- observations seem in order:

  • ~1:30: "I will cover this creature's nakedness." Why is "this creature's nakedness" a problem in need of covering? Didn't the video just say that god made "this creature" in his own image? It sounds like a god with some deep self-image problems, but it's not clear why these problems should concern the creatures he cooks up in the lab.

    I realize it's a stretch of an analogy, but when I've sheltered cats who gave forth litters of kittens, I have managed to keep my shyness vis-a-vis public nudity separate from their lives as kittens. I let them go nude right up until I gave them away, and as I look back on these experiences, I feel no wrath over the kittens and find no flaw in my approach. I'm not sure where this went so badly awry for you, but dude, you might want to get that looked at.
  • ~1:50: "My only begotten son." Um, yea. Hey, Bible god, here's a thought: what if you just have some more sons? Granted, this 2,000-year-old pity party you've thrown over Jesus's execution has had a good run. Large numbers of people have killed and died for its sake, written voluminously about it, organized their understanding of the cosmos in reference to it, devoted their waking lives to it. I realize "have some more sons" sounds more than a little crass, but you have to admit it's less crass than, oh, say, telling your followers to tell your non-followers that everyone who doesn't wave the prescribed party favors in celebration of your pity party will spend eternity in torment. I would expect someone bearing the same basic image as the rest of us to realize that threatening people into loving you and attending your parties is a bad idea -- bad on pragmatic grounds, bad on principled grounds. In short, it makes for prima facie evidence that you are a complete asshole.
As the old saying goes -- purposes of this blog post it goes this way -- we can't choose our friends.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Price of Tea in Tennessee

I am reliably informed that this flyer was strewn in numbers on the sidewalks of Nashville, Tennessee today. Fairness and what-not compel me to acknowledge that by the prevailing standards of teabonics, the spelling is impeccable, though I could cavil over the misplaced quotation marks. I think I will do so now: who, exactly, is the flyer quoting as having said "yo B.O. where did two trillion dollars go?" and "keep going brother finish the job"?

I suspect "yo B.O. where did two trillion dollars go?" is meant as a chant that alludes to "hey hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" in a way we are to take to be sly and subversive. Yet there was a metrical rhythm to the anti-Vietnam chant that's so absent from the teabonickal update that it's fair to question whether the half-wit who invented it ever tested it out loud. Had the teabagging cohort been more observant of social change over these many decades rather than just erecting, furnishing, and decorating their paranoia against it, they would know that the better chants are always tried at home before they go on a sign. This is protesting 101.

Again, though, the spelling is spot-on, and it's something approaching admirable that its creator managed to forestall the overtly racial themes until the very last part, with its something something "illegal aliens" and "good boy."

Finally, because the first shall be the last, Tea Party Jesus: