Saturday, July 31, 2010

Cascade Lakes Relay in progress ... Altimeter and thermometer needed. Also- mosquito repellant & lack of dignity recommended.

For 31 July 2010

For further study: eye dialect.

For your consideration:


Salvador Dali, Dali at the Age of Six When He Thought He Was a Girl Lifting the Skin of the Water to See the Dog Sleeping in the Shade of the Sea, 1950

Friday, July 30, 2010

Day 30 — Your favourite song at this time last year

My favorite song this time last year was the same as it is now, "Remember the Mountain Bed." Back then, I had Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and Rush's 2112 in heavy rotation, apparently in the thrall of 1970s earnestness rock.

I also recall that at about the time of last year's bike calamity, which was close to exactly a year ago, I had only just discovered the acoustic version of the Foo Fighters' "Everlong."

Plus ca change ...

This is part of the 30-Day Music Meme.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Heat, No Light


For the next couple of days, I will be off a-tromping through distant and not-so-distant places for reasons I can't be bothered to dredge up. There will be heat.

Here on this precious, precious blog, a post or two is queued up to keep the dismal tide in something like its regular motions. Whatever this is stands to resume Sunday.

(photo of mosquito via Gustavo)

Ladies of 1938 - Read This Now


Nag on the Lake has shown the way to this illustrated guide for single ladies, which, it seems fair to suggest, was as timely and accurate in 1938 as it is today. The image above suggests that women should avoid using the car's rear view mirror to adjust their cosmetics as this will annoy the assumed-to-be-driving man, especially when he has to turn his head to see behind the car.

Arguably, the more curious assumption is that anyone is driving the car -- what if they're just playing Driver and Passenger as a prelude to a genteel evening of similar high-brow entertainments? What if the car is stalled, or perched on cinder blocks? What if the car has sunk to the bottom of a deep, frozen lake? In that case, can't the woman be forgiven for adjusting her cosmetics in her final dying moments before the water pressure collapses the cabin? And can't the man be trusted to devote his energies to something other rather than bitching because he has to crane his neck to confirm there is no visible escape behind the car, but only more unforgiving inky blackness? This make-up tip leaves so many warrantless assumptions and begged questions unaddressed, it's all I can do to resist the idea that this guide is of no practical use at all.

Maybe another will brighten my appraisal?



Ah yes, much better -- this next one is important. "IF YOU NEED," it justifiably screams, "a brassiere," it more calmly continues, "wear one. Don't tug at your girdle, and be careful your stockings are not wrinkled." It cannot be emphasized enough that tugging at your girdle and wearing wrinkled stockings marks you as a complete whore, or possibly a drag queen who isn't trying hard to seem like an actual woman. The former is great, but the latter is a risk you would do well to avoid.

Notice the man's hand-blinder gesture and his look of revulsion. He has begun to wonder if the woman in his company is actually a man in drag, and given those wrinkled stockings and all the girdle-tugging, he is right to do so.

Or is that too much revulsion by half? Some fellows (so I am reliably informed) enjoy the badly-impersonated woman look -- and not just the look, if you catch my meaning. Tastes and inclinations vary, today and no less in 1938.

"Who is Don Draper?"

Here is the very brief version of season 4, episode 1 of Mad Men -- to say there are spoilers here is to state the blindingly obvious:



Sterling-Cooper died last season. Or maybe before that, I don't know.

Season four opens a few months into the formation of the new Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Price (SCDP), but more pointedly, it begins with the question at the title of this post, finding Don in an interview with Advertising Age which he does not handle with his characteristic charisma, to the detriment of his reputation and the fortunes of the new firm. The question of identity redounds through every scene of the first episode, ending on a tentative conclusion that one's identity is that which one articulates and enacts. Thus Don and the rest find themselves at the rise of existentialism and explicitly self-aware identity politics, or in other words, the closing weeks of 1964.

The theme of identity -- what is real and fake, where boundaries lie, who occupies roles and what those mean -- manifests endlessly in the episode:

* Don's sudden celebrity is based on an ad that has made waves by blurring the line between cinema and TV advertising.

* The firm has a new office and logo with no conference table -- no center around which the principals can meet -- and an ersatz second floor.

* Peggy and SCDP's new artist, Joey, spend a couple of scenes play-acting some Stan Freberg dialogue: "John," she says; "Marsha," he answers. Parody and camp are ramping up at SCDP and the wider world of advertising.

* Peggy stages publicity stunt in which two actresses posing as shoppers fight over a canned ham. What begins as a staged fight becomes a real fight with real injuries and legal consequences, and ends in publicity coup for the ham's maker (SCDP's client).

* Betty, Don's ex-wife, is now re-married to Henry, but they inhabit the home in which Don used to live and that he is still paying for. In this, we see Don and Betty struggling to accept their new situations, however freely chosen they have been.

* As though he would a classmate, Sterling sets Don up for a Thanksgiving date -- Don is moving back through time.

* For their part, Henry and Betty have a Thanksgiving dinner with Henry's mother as though they're lovers home from college having a meet-the-parents ordeal.

The central instance of the identity theme concerns Don's reaction to Jantzen swimwear, a potential SCDP client. Explicitly reinforcing the ersatz second floor motif, Don's pitch consists of a woman whose bikini top area is concealed behind a placard reading "So well built we can't show you the second floor." This doesn't make sense and deliberately flouts Jantzen's stated aims to appeal to a "wholesome" market; it only makes sense as a wry reference to SCDP and to Don's personal struggles to define his identity in the new world he has made in and beyond SCDP. "What separates a bathing suit from underwear?" he asks, and then answers "cut and cloth and some sort of gentlemen's agreement." Shortly thereafter, still talking more about himself than about Jantzen swimwear, he says "You need to decide what kind of company you want to be: comfortable and dead, or risky and possibly rich." Jantzen's executives are nonplussed, and Don testily throws them out before they can definitively refuse the work. Amanda Marcotte:

In most cases, his temper tantrums actually resulted in him getting his way, either immediately (as with the Brits) or after he smoothed things over (as with Rachel). But all this is just more reason I think that Don may have planned this bigger, more explosive temper tantrum. After all, his previous tantrums weren’t nearly as over the top, and he rarely ended them with a delighted instruction to a secretary to capitalize on what just happened. Last season, Don spent months bowing and scrapping to Conrad Hilton, and he got shit for it. He’s realizing this is a new era, where the advertisers are going to be the stars and the clients are going to line up to be a part of it all. So he staged the temper tantrum, and attacked clients that we know for a fact are having meetings with every advertising firm in town. In other words, he made sure that when he exploded, he did so in a way that the news would spread all over town in minutes.
The episode closes with Don in an interview with Wall Street Journal reporter, consciously crafting his own legend. He appears to have learned, and rather quickly, that he will be risky and possibly rich rather than comfortable and dead. This is to suggest an answer to the question with which the season began, but as we have seen throughout the course of Mad Men, and as we know by looking over the broader political, social, aesthetic, and philosophical changes that "1964" signify, people's ability and willingness to learn, adapt, and change is very open to question. The struggles over identity can only fairly be said to be underway -- or perhaps to say that more exactly, open to explicit dispute.

------
On a related note, Mad Men's creator, Matthew Weiner, appeared on NPR's Fresh Air this week and affirmed, as he has before, that while he is the chief writer of the series, he does not claim to have all the answers as to the inner motivations of the characters. He writes what he finds to be true based on his observations and experiences, and then tries along with the rest of us to understand the underlying reasons why these characters do as they do. I adore both this approach and his candor about it.

Day 29 — A song from your childhood

Ah, sweet sweet childhood -- a succession of idylls, each more fondly remembered than the last. One idyll was an impossibly hot upstairs room where my sisters overplayed the 8-track of Peter Frampton Comes Alive, which included whatever this is; a second idyll was a different impossibly hot shared bedroom across town where my step-brother overplayed a vinyl LP by The Rolling Stones -- whichever one has "Miss You" on it. Neither of these recordings will ever leave my head completely, and all things considered, it could be worse. Or so I assume.

It was also roughly this same time when I got on sing-along terms with the soundtrack to the Olivia Newton-John - John Travolta edition of Grease. That, too, is not leaving my memory any time soon, though I wouldn't mind if it did.

This is part of the 30-Day Music Meme.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

One Ought Not Hype the Roos

This cladistic diagram of marsupials, showing the branching that took them from a common ancestor in South America to their present variety, is attached to a write-up of a scientific finding that is, unfortunately, overdramatized:
More than 300 marsupial species live in the Americas and Australia. The critters are famous for their pouches, built-in baby carriers where they keep and feed their young. They are the closest kin of placental mammals, such as humans, but they branched off to form their own group 130 million years ago. They settled predominantly in South America and Australia, which at the time were part of a supercontintent known as Gondwana.

DNA sequencing and the fossil record tell two different stories of how that settlement went down. The DNA suggests that a single South American ancestor swept into Australia before the continents drifted apart, and the marsupials on each continent then evolved on their own. Fossils, however, support a more complicated picture in which some ancestors made the return journey to South America, meaning that some South American species might have arisen in Australia.
Fascinating, but the article could do better to emphasize that the two land-masses involved belong in scare-quotes. The combination of plate techtonics and time has a way of doing this to land masses.

Back in the heady days of a few hundred million yesteryears, going from "Australia" to "South America" was hardly the dramatic peregrination we picture when imagining a little marsupial family making its way through thousands of miles of rough, windy, shark-infested seas, clinging to a forlorn patch of soil and driftwood, arguing over which of them will be forced to eat the other when starvation sets in.

Back then it would have been more like crossing from Oklahoma to Kansas, or maybe from Oklahoma to Nebraska by way of Kansas, which -- trust me on this -- is not a dramatic thing to do.

Day 28 — A song that makes you feel guilty

There are songs that make people feel guilty? I have my share of guilt over the usual everyday kinds of things, but music doesn't figure in those. I can't even report anything as interesting as songs I've avoided over the guilty feelings they conjure.

Maybe the closest to this is "Man in Black" and "Folsom Prison Blues," two of Johnny Cash's classic songs that remind me to be courageous and principled, even in matters as frivolous as the choice of clothing.

This is part of the 30-Day Music Meme.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sic Semper Tyrannus


This sign seen recently in Indiana is notable for how it quotes the Bible accurately -- Leviticus 20:13 really does say that -- and I will charitably assume it accurately transcribes the address of "Cross Bearer Ministry" in Indianapolis.

The only license it takes is with the two nooses, which serves perfectly well to illustrate the idea of putting the offending gay men to death -- indeed, it is milder than what could easily be imagined in its place. Still, for those who care what the Bible says and does not, it is worth noting that death by hanging finds no explicit Biblical warrant: drowning, stoning, poisoning, bludgeoning, decapitation, crucifixion, or shooting could equally fulfill the Biblical demand. The Bible god wants what the Bible god wants, and here, no particular method was prescribed.

Hanging offenders is perhaps a little old fashioned, but it has all the power it ever had for sending a stern message to the public.


As confirmed in both the sign and an on-site interview there in Indiana, at least some members of the Yankee Taliban are willing to take the Bible god's view of the matter: that people engaged in same-sex relationships deserve the same ending as any genocidal tyrant, and will, on that same account, endure the same eternal fate after death.

Unnamed Person Says No


The Minnesota Independent, the leading journal for independents from Minnesota (or so I assume), brings this titillating snippet of public dialogue:
George W. Bush - Miss me yet?
Unnamed person with spray paint - No
So it's not Shakespeare, Wilde, Bergman, or Tarantino, but it will do. Even those of us ready to vomit with disappointed rage at the constant stream of chickenshit flowing from the Obama-Biden administration do not miss the judicially-installed stylings of George W. Bush and the lying monster at his side who so often seemed to be orchestrating all the pointless wars, tax cuts for rich people, and torture definitely legal-and-useful interrogations. I checked the googles and can confirm that as of this writing, according to a spate of reasonably recent news items, the monster Cheney remains medically alive.

Not even a little bit do we miss George W. Bush. That unnamed person with spray paint speaks for most of us, I daresay. The Obama-Biden team would do well to stop eating into the margin of favor they continue to enjoy over their predecessors. Those margins are running thin, and that shouldn't be.

Dueling Fascists

Remember that banjo kid from Deliverance? Well, OK, that's likely not the first thing you remember from Deliverance, but surely he's in the top three. You'll be happy to know he's all grown up now, put down the banjo, gained 280 pounds, moved to Tennessee, and decided to run for governor:
Asked about the "threat invading our country from Muslims," Ramsey first said that he is "all about freedom of religion," proclaiming fealty to the first amendment to the Constitution. But he went on to add that "you cross the line when they start bringing Sharia Law in the state of Tennessee, the United States."

"Now, you could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, a cult, whatever you want to call it," Ramsey said. "But certainly we do protect our religions, but at the same time, this is something we are going to have to face."
If only Ramsey had stopped at that Sharia part, I probably wouldn't have needed to write this blog post. But the one thing we know about this Ramsey guy is that he just won't stand down from a challenge -- not when a Yankee challenges him with a guitar, and not when others seek to out-bat-shit him in a political race. You can take the yokel off the backwoods porch in Georgia, but you can't take the Georgia backwoods out of the yokel.

Now they don't know much down there in the backwoods, but they know what they know, and they are even more certain of what they think they know, and they know -- or think they know -- that any "religion" that doesn't begin and end with Jesus is a sleazy cult, or possibly a one-world-government plot, or maybe just a way to meddle in their ways down there. Or something.

It would be merely humorous if this Ramsey fellow didn't actually support Sharia by another name -- the Christian-branded form of it.

(via Ian)

Day 27 — A song that you wish you could play

I wish I could play the guitar and the piano in the way that I wish I could speak German: I'm not willing to put in the work, but it would be delightful if the knowledge just showed up my head one morning. I have more interest in playing the drums, and it will shock every drummer approximately my age to hear that I regard "Tom Sawyer" by Rush as a benchmark. Every detail of it is right there in my head every morning, but I am many, many long hours of practice away from approximating it competently.

Not so this guy, who nailed it along with the Exit Stage Left version (!!) of "YYZ." Impressive!

The point is, if I could play those, I am confident I could play a lot of things that appeal to my inner percussionist in some way that's difficult to pin down -- say, "Weird Fishes / Arpeggi" by Radiohead, "Mistaken for Strangers" by The National, or "Split Needles" by The Shins.

This is part of the 30-Day Music Meme.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Diversity as a Species of Happy-Talk

And thus 'because it's traditional practice' ends another argument:

Some 500 to 2,000 British schoolgirls will be genitally mutilated over the summer holidays. Some will be taken abroad, others will be "cut" or circumcised and sewn closed here in the UK by women already living here or who are flown in and brought to "cutting parties" for a few girls at a time in a cost-saving exercise.

Then the girls will return to their schools and try to get on with their lives, scarred mentally and physically by female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice that serves as a social and cultural bonding exercise and, among those who are stitched up, to ensure that chastity can be proved to a future husband.
This is why sensible people will reach for a vomit bag (perhaps a revolver) when someone suggests the idea of honoring diversity. Maybe yes, and then again: which diversity? Not every diversity is a good one worth honoring; some forms of diversity need to be expunged from human society yesterday. I will not honor the diversity of cutting children to pieces because an idiot years later will check for scars, physical and emotional, to prove a woman's "chastity."

Don't dare listen to me, though -- I have a bad attitude, and a terrible habit of finding the flaw in every diamond shard on every unsanitized surgical bit. Barbara Ehrenreich explains:

Stunning Math

Tom Friedman does the math to calculate the result of aggressive nihilism and palsied advocacy -- zero:

We’ve basically decided to keep pumping greenhouse gases into Mother Nature’s operating system and take our chances that the results will be benign — even though a vast majority of scientists warn that this will not be so. Fasten your seat belts. As the environmentalist Rob Watson likes to say: “Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology and physics. That’s all she is.” You cannot sweet-talk her. You cannot spin her. You cannot tell her that the oil companies say climate change is a hoax. No, Mother Nature is going to do whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate, and “Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats 1.000,” says Watson. Do not mess with Mother Nature. But that is just what we’re doing.
This is one of those areas where people of the future are going to look back in amazement and disgust: the presidency and large congressional majorities go to the party that advocates dealing with the threat of climate change; a four-month period of that electoral alignment is dominated by a daily reminder, complete with live-feed video footage, of the horrors and risks of doing nothing; an ever more untenable and unpopular two-front war across the world magnifies the urgency of stopping this madness; and the final outcome of all that is, somehow, nothing.

All I can say to the people reading this years from now is that large numbers of people living today share your amazement and disgust. I can add that I realize that does not help at all.

Day 26 — A song that you can play on an instrument

I can barely -- only barely -- scratch out the bass tabs to "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes, but with that said, I don't know enough about playing bass to properly insult good bass players. I am more confident in saying I can handle the drum part to that song, along with several other songs by White Stripes.

I can play the drum part for quite a few AC/DC songs, especially from Back in Black, e.g., "Hell's Bells" and "You Shook Me All Night Long," which is not much more than to say I have a drum kit and know which things to hit with which ends of the sticks.

If I ever bothered to practice, I could play more complex parts. There have been points in my life when I would have been justified to give a longer list of more difficult songs than the above, but not today. I have an absurdly large mental inventory of drum parts floating through my head -- including songs I don't even like and have never liked -- but the coordination needed to produce the sounds I know to expect needs constant tending.

And of course, I don't claim that knowing a part in this sense translates into the ability to play it -- there are plenty of professional drummers whose playing I could never match no matter how much practice I put in -- Lars Ulrich and Neil Peart, to pick two easy examples -- and not only because my drum kit (pictured in all its neglected glory) is more limited than theirs.

This is part of the 30-Day Music Meme.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Day 25 — A song that makes you laugh

I had a phase eons ago when I was drawn to bands that consciously tried for humor, like The Dead Milkmen (e.g.) and King Missile (e.g.), but that phase didn't last long. Music is well-suited to talky folk parody of the kind Roy Zimmerman makes so well, e.g., "Jerry Falwell's God," and no funny music list would be complete without mentioning the Monty Python classics "Every Sperm Is Sacred" and "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."

But as it is in life, so it is in music: the funniest things weren't intentionally so, or at least not obviously intentionally so. I love The Smiths in no small part for the way some of their songs go so far toward the lugubrious that they emerge at the humorous: "Unhappy Birthday" and "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" are good enough instances.

This is part of the 30-Day Music Meme.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Oppressing for Jesus

When we regard the interaction of an oppressor and an oppressed, the two obvious options are to sympathize with one of the other -- favor the whale or the plankton, the cheetah or the gazelle, the priest or the child, the jack-booted thug or the placard-carrying marcher. Alternatively, we can decline to take a side and call down a pox on all houses.

Newt Gingrich sides with the oppressors:

There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.
Here, Gingrich could have railed against the legalized exclusions, barriers, and inequalities that non-Muslims face in Saudi Arabia, and this would have pleased the slobbering far-right cohort he's trying to flatter. But he knew that what he did here would flatter them even more: portray Christians as the oppressed and vow to oppress back, leaving conspicuously unexplained how the idea of oppress back squares with the idea of turn the other cheek, let alone equality under the law and freedom of religion.

I don't mean to suggest that Newt Gingrich is the first to place totalizing belligerence on the list of Christ-like qualities, and not only because it would be ridiculous to credit him with any novel ideas. No, long before Gingrich even embarked on his series of marriages (each more sacred than the last), Christians were reserving love your enemies, turn the other cheek, and the like for pep talks given to those whose meekness would facilitate the day's oppressions.

The principled response to arbitrary religious discrimination would be to oppose it and call for its end in all places. This is how the US Constitution answers it, and it pinpoints where Saudi law fails. Gingrich and the knuckle-draggers he wants to attract are not interested in principled responses since these are so stubbornly binding on all sides.

For the Benefit of the Misguided People of Vermont

A blogger has certain responsibilities, among these being post titles that include sweeping generalizations and fixations on small irritations converted to posts. In that spirit, I herewith expand on my powerful, timely, and world-important rejoinder to the Vermont resident who wrote in to the New Yorker to complain about Pandora. (Apparently I want to be an insufferable fan-boy of Pandora for some reason.) 

It took me precisely five moves -- five mouse clicks, if you want to break it down that way -- to arrive at this point (pictured) in Pandora, where I am presented for the first time in my whole very important life with the music of new-to-me performer Balmorhea.

The Pandora interface adds the names of several other new-to-me artists that are, according to its algorithm, similar to Balmorhea: David Nevue, Dustin O'Halloran, Jon Brion, Eluvium, and Karen Marie Garrett.

How did I get here without the swaddling cuddles of a DJ based in New Jersey? Here's how:

I began with my existing Cat Power station. Cat Power begat a song by Sigur Ros.

I am slightly familiar with Sigur Ros, but only enough to call myself a potential fan of theirs -- I haven't formed an opinion either way. I added a Sigur Ros station.

Sigur Ros begat a song by Mogwai. I have heard of Mogwai, but I wouldn't say I am familiar with their work. Again, I have no basis for liking or disliking them. 

From Mogwai, just because the tool permits it and it sounds interesting, I added a station based on the song rather than the artist, and that gave me a station called "A Slow Dance Radio."

"A Slow Dance Radio" begat a song by Hammock. I have heard of hammocks, but not of the musical entity that calls itself by that name.

Hammock gave forth Balmorhea.

This entire sequence of events took less than five minutes. Because I was simply trying to use Pandora to branch into uncharted-by-me musical territory, I didn't pause to listen to the music for more than a few seconds along the way. Had I done so, even if I had registered some likes and dislikes along the way, it would not have changed the basic structure of the trajectory, namely from known to unknown.

It so happens I like what I hear from the Balmorhea station, which by now has taken me to a work by new-to-me artist Brian McBride. And just as I typed that, it gave forth a song by new-to-me artist El Ten Eleven.

So far, I have heard nothing I strongly dislike, and many things I tentatively like.

Dear Letter Writer - You're Doing It Wrong

I report that an opinion with which I disagree has appeared in a magazine. The magazine is the July 26 2010 New Yorker, and the speaker is a letter writer from Vermont:

It [Pandora] might be fine for research, but a steady diet of music based on tunes you already know and like is a sure way to limit one's musical horizons. On the occasions I've visited Pandora, I was hungering for escape within fifteen minutes. All this new technology has yet to improve on the old radio model: putting yourself in the hands of independent, passionate, and deeply knowledgeable disk jockeys -- the likes of which can be found at New Jersey's incomparable WFMU, for example -- and following them blissfully into the world of unknown and unexpected sound.
Dearest Vermonter, you're doing it wrong, and by that I don't just mean the shift from "you" to "one" in the first quoted sentence.* I mean Pandora: if you want Pandora to expand your musical horizons, then use it to do that.

How? By inserting some channels for performers you have barely heard about. When Pandora's like-begets-like algorithm tosses forth another performer that seems even more obscure, make a channel for that one, and continue in this fashion for as long as you wish. The point is, there's no reason you have to use the tool to go from like to like -- you can just as easily use it to go from known to unknown. Voila.

Speaking of all that, the point about technology is especially weak given that thanks to the internets, I can listen to New Jersey's incomparable WFMU any time I want; without it, I would have had to travel hundreds and hundreds of miles to its relatively small broadcast radius to do so. In turn, this means that my musical horizons are now mere mouse-clicks away from the cuddling hugs of the DJs of New Jersey's incomparable WFMU.

I am not suggesting Pandora renders expert DJs obsolete. I'm not even sure Pandora is suggesting that, and for now at least, I am not aware of any compulsion or even strongly-worded request to choose between them. I enjoy both, and I see nothing stopping others from the same.


-----
* I have never, ever made this mistake.

Day 24 — A song that you want to play at your funeral

Leonard Cohen's "Stories of the Street" has, to my ears, a wistful, funereal air to it, though I would be the second or third to admit it's no quintessential dirge.

If there's a desire for maudlin, observers might consider the music of Laura Cantrell. Her covers of "Oh So Many Years" and "When the Roses Bloom Again" seem as if synthesized in a laboratory to produce melancholy, and "The Way It Is" exhibits her voice at the height of its beauty and power.

That said, I really think death rites are for the comfort and aid of the living, so I am reluctant to get too uptight detailing the soundtrack, visual effects, or production values. Whatever works.

The last time I checked, bagging up my remains and leaving them at the curbside would only cost around $100 extra for that month, provided someone calls to let them know to expect the extra weight, and so long as it's out there by 6am, clearly separated from the yard debris, not mingled with any household toxins, and not oozing. $100 is not cheap, but it's better than getting dinged for illegally disposing of the carcass in the river or an empty lot, and considerably less expensive than a typical plot burial or cremation.

Whatever the guys are playing on their iPods as the garbage truck pulls up and hauls away my remains is fine with me. I mean, within reason -- please no Lionel Ritchie, Phil Collins, Steve Miller, or Kenny fucking G.

This is part of the 30-Day Music Meme.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Inequality Is Not An Abstraction

Legal inequality is not an abstract problem but harmful to human beings who are doing nothing worse than pursuing their own happiness.


Thank You For Your Call from Shawn Nee / discarted on Vimeo.

Inequality results in tangible and unjustifiable human suffering. Inflicting such suffering is wrong, and it would still be exactly as wrong if people approved of it 100%-0. Every passing minute during which this discrimination continues disgraces and degrades this society, its laws, and all of us.

(via Portland Mercury)

Mad Men Season Four


As of this writing, season four of Mad Men, the best and most generous with eye-candy of all current tee-vee dramas, begins in less than 48 hours.

For those pitiable wretches not willing or able to waste improvident sums of money on cable, or for those who haven't yet recognized MM's greatness in time to have watched all the episodes for seasons one, two, and three, there probably isn't time to gather up all the DVDs or downloads and catch up properly. Since I assume everyone, even the most pitiable wretches among us, will have to do some sleeping between now and Sunday evening, I offer these paltry alternatives:
  • AMC's official Mad Men site presents the usual runaround and fake-outs intended to push advertisements into your face, but offers loads of video and commentary if you're willing to fight through the chaff.

  • Wikipedia offers a very brief summary of all the episodes from season one to now.

  • Television Without Pity has a an archive of more detailed, more opinionated, and more thorough episode recapitulations.
These are only a few of many ways to get caught up and, as Don Draper has said many times, move forward.

Day 23 — A song that you want to play at your wedding

I already had a wedding so there's no question of wanting this song or that song to be played at it, but if I were to advise prospective wedding participants,* I would insist they play the Mountain Goats insta-classic "No Children." I don't like the phrase no-brainer, but this is a complete, perfect, and absolute no-brainer.

More than that, I would advise that the charmed couple replace the insipid vows normally served at weddings and instead recite the lyrics to the song, preferably in unison so as to save time and allow all the guests and attendants to loosen their starchy, too-hot wedding clothes and start the binge-drinking:

I hope that our few remaining friends
Give up on trying to save us
I hope we come up with a failsafe plot
To piss off the dumb few that forgave us
I hope the fences we mended
Fall down beneath their own weight
And I hope we hang on past the last exit
I hope it's already too late
And I hope the junkyard a few blocks from here
Someday burns down
And I hope the rising black smoke carries me far away
And I never come back to this town
Again in my life
I hope I lie
And tell everyone you were a good wife
And I hope you die
I hope we both die

I hope I cut myself shaving tomorrow
I hope it bleeds all day long
Our friends say it's darkest before the sun rises
We're pretty sure they're all wrong
I hope it stays dark forever
I hope the worst isn't over
And I hope you blink before I do
Yeah I hope I never get sober
And I hope when you think of me years down the line
You can't find one good thing to say
And I'd hope that if I found the strength to walk out
You'd stay the hell out of my way
I am drowning
There is no sign of land
You are coming down with me
Hand in unlovable hand
And I hope you die
I hope we both die

This is part of the 30-Day Music Meme.

-----
* I don't recommend taking my advice in this area.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Of Curses and Deuteronomy

The musings of David Goldman illustrate the mind-warping, life-wasting quality of theology better than anything I've read in the last few hours:

There is a Deuteronomic duality to the sex act, a blessing and curse. Human beings don’t couple like animals. Unlike animals, we know that we are mortal, and that bearing children is the precondition for conquering mortality. The culmination of sexual relations, the petit mort, recalls our mortality, for we produce children precisely because we know we are going to die; the sex act for its own sake is redolent of mortality without the promise of immortality. The subordination of sex to family relations within a faith community whose premise is the conquest of mortality, and the sublimation of sex into romantic love are the means by which civilization links sex to live. Take sex out of this context and it becomes a curse rather than a blessing.
Neat!

Suppose all this overheated bleating is right and therefore something something sex is "a curse rather than a blessing." So what? I am reliably informed that, under the most orthodox of Christian orthodoxies, we humans are born pre-fitted with a terrible, terrible curse that goes all the way back to that unspeakable fruit crime in Eden. Cursedness is the air we breath, the water we drink, the omnipresent falling short that ensures that all our timbers are crooked and all our glasses darkly opaque. This being so, David Goldman needs to bring something more intimidating than yet another curse to add to the gigantic heap.

Besides which, sometimes we all need a good solid night or two of non-stop curse. Am I right?

It's often been said that sex is like pizza: even when it's bad, it's good. I'll sign on to that, even if signing on to that commits me to something that isn't "Deuteronomic" or Deuteronomickal or whatever. While I'm on that, having read that piece of twisted power-and-torture porn more than once, I have a pretty low opinion of that book. Consider these delightful passages from Deut. 28, verses 20-35:
The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. The LORD will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess. The LORD will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. The LORD will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.

The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth. Your carcasses will be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten them away. The LORD will afflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors, festering sores and the itch, from which you cannot be cured. The LORD will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind. At midday you will grope about like a blind man in the dark. You will be unsuccessful in everything you do; day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you.

You will be pledged to be married to a woman, but another will take her and ravish her. You will build a house, but you will not live in it. You will plant a vineyard, but you will not even begin to enjoy its fruit. Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will eat none of it. Your donkey will be forcibly taken from you and will not be returned. Your sheep will be given to your enemies, and no one will rescue them. Your sons and daughters will be given to another nation, and you will wear out your eyes watching for them day after day, powerless to lift a hand. A people that you do not know will eat what your land and labor produce, and you will have nothing but cruel oppression all your days. The sights you see will drive you mad. The LORD will afflict your knees and legs with painful boils that cannot be cured, spreading from the soles of your feet to the top of your head.
If you can't feel the love in that passage from the most Deuteronomic of books, it only shows you haven't done enough self-warping via the study of theology.

Ahem. For my part, at the risk of adding another curse to the pile, I will happily embrace my non-Deuteronomickality.

(via Rust Belt Philosophy; image from the superb Brick Testament)

The Burqa II: The Re-Burqa'ing

In follow-up to the mush of a prior post: having thought it through more, with a big dollup of help from Eli and Norm, I cannot support any sweeping France-style burqa ban. I can see particular situations where facial coverings create problems of a degree that can legitimately interest the state, e.g., while giving testimony in courts, but those are exceptions that shouldn't govern the matter generally.

The proper "dress code" for open, free societies should be that individuals are free to choose their attire for their own reasons or no reasons at all; and exceptions to this principle can be carved out based on a strong showing of cause, after which the rules along with their carve-outs apply to all equally, and according to consistent principle.

If women are pushed around in private for religious or cultural reasons -- and this does happen, within and beyond Islamist circles -- shortening the list of legal clothing is not the way to rectify the resulting injustices. It won't liberate them in any clear way, and it may restrict that which they genuinely and legitimately wish to do.

As always, this is not to be confused with the notion that the choice to wear a burqa automatically merits the approval, celebration, or respect of the state or anyone else. Making choices in a diverse and open society entails the risk that others will not agree with the choice, and that public institutions will not reflect or enshrine that choice.

As it happens, other free people may even say harsh things about the choice. I, for one, think burqas are absurd, degrading, ugly, and irredeemably pointless.

Congress 2.x

A new entry is made in the worldwide treasury of very sketchy ideas:

Great developers are systems fixers and systems hackers. There is no system more ripe for elegant process hacks than the United States House of Representatives. Put a developer in Congress, and they’ll start exposing data on their own. They’ll build systems to make it so they can hear from their constituents better. Just as Ted Kennedy had his staff make the first Congressional website, a developer in Congress will seek to use new technology to make their job easier. That’s what hackers do.
Web developers have their positive qualities, but they are also the creatures centrally involved in The Oatmeal cartoon excerpted below:


Great developers are exactly the ones who should continue their great developing -- the world needs that more and more. That leaves the fair to middling developers, and suffice to say Congress is feckless enough already without an influx of people who have spent vast portions of their professional lives sitting in meetings doing nothing but playing endless rounds of "who can use the most buzz words per unit time"?

If it's any consolation to the politically aspiring developers out there, I am confident they would do extremely well at buzzwords-per-unit-time in Congress, so well as to set all kinds of new records -- unless and until, of course, Congress receives an influx of project managers.

Day 22 — A song that you listen to when you're sad

I covered a pretty major swath of my sad listening habits in the day 4 post in this series, but another instance of the same dynamic, applied to a different set of remembrances, attaches to anything in the soundtrack to The Piano by Michael Nyman. "The Heart Asks Pleasure First" will do nicely enough.

For whatever it's worth, I only barely remember the film by now, except that it starred a very young Anna Paquin and one of my favorite actresses, Holly Hunter. It is one of only two film soundtracks I have ever purchased, the other being the soundtrack to JFK, which is better than the movie, or certainly better than the movie's historical verisimilitude.

By now The Piano's soundtrack is, in my head, utterly detached from the movie and instead to real characters from my real life I dearly miss. Anything from it reduces me to tears almost immediately.

This is part of the 30-Day Music Meme.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Burqa

Mona Eltahawy has a fine rhetorical point but not necessarily a strong argument:

What really strikes me is that a lot of people say that they support a woman's right to choose to wear a burqa because it's her natural right. But I often tell them that what they're doing is supporting an ideology that does not believe in a woman's right to do anything. We're talking about women who cannot travel alone, cannot drive, cannot even go into a hospital without a man with them. And yet there is basically one right that we are fighting for these women to have, and that is the right to cover their faces. To tell you the truth, I'm really outraged that people get into these huge fights and say that as a feminist you must support a women's right to do this, because it's basically the only kind of "right" that this ideology wants to give women. Otherwise they get nothing.
Yes, so the answer is not to remove the one right the bigoted fanatics willingly grant to women but to champion a comprehensive set of rights for women -- all the same rights as men, no exceptions -- placing particular emphasis on the rights the fanatics would deny them.

The argument is weak but I am unconvinced that burqas are a purely private matter. For now, I will say that if the French do ban the burqa, it won't sadden me and I won't rail against the ban. I don't accept the asinine dogmas that vilify and reduce women, and I question whether the laws of open societies should give cover to bullying and privation directed against women within "communities" or otherwise kept in cloisters. 


(via Ophelia Benson)

Reza Aslan - America's Next Top FauxNews Contributor?


Circling back a few posts to Reza Aslan's lazy slam of 'new atheists': the truly audaciously dishonest part of Aslan's rant lies in how it skates right past the realization that Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell is advocating, in less cloudy terms and at book length, exactly what Aslan seems to be trying to seem to be advocating, at least in part: namely, the idea that there are fruitful ways of thinking about religion, and they start with abandoning the dumb and unhelpful idea that its texts, traditions, customs, taboos, and rituals are "sacred" and deserving of reverential, kids-gloves treatment.

Dennett's subtitle and his proposal is treating "religion as a natural phenomenon." The book holds up religion not for ridicule but for clear-headed, cross-disciplinary, twaddle-free, reality-based humanistic inquiry that is perfectly compatible with dropping all the same names and jargon as Aslan dropped and dozens more beyond those.

A minimally rigorous critic of Dennett would pick this up by breezing through the table of contents of the book, if only by using Amazon dot com's "look inside this book" feature. Here's a small snippet from Dennett's 13-page bibliography:

Here is a snippet from Dennett's 21 pages of index:


The clip at the top of this post comes from the "Surprise Me!" feature of Amazon's applet, and here's the point: the most cursory look at Dennett's book shows that he has devoted serious and sober attention to religion's place in human affairs, and has called on scholarship from a variety of fields for that inquiry.

Aslan didn't notice. He couldn't be bothered to glance through the book -- nor the books of the other "horsemen" -- as he typed out his lazy boilerplate, e.g., "... the principle error of the new atheists lies in their inability to understand religion outside of its simplistic, exoteric, and absolutist connotations ..."

Whether Aslan agrees with Dennett's conclusions or not, he is astonishingly lazy, and here has shown a FauxNews-worthy capacity for projecting his own flaws onto his preferred demons: he whines at others for not end-noting the books he think they should read while in the very act of proving he has not read the books he claims to be criticizing.

It's difficult to make sense of this. Aslan seems to want it both ways: he wants to be admired in the faculty lounge for all the name-dropping, but he still wants the loony believers to see him as an ally.

Aslan is deeply confused, or lying, or both -- in short, the sort of person who seems to be trying out for regular appearances on FauxNews.

Day 21 — A song that you listen to when you're happy

Beck is perfectly capable of sad songs, but I enjoy the silliness* of the up-tempo songs from Odelay, such as "High Five (Rock the Catskills)", "Where It's At," and "Devil's Haircut." They make me happy, or fit a pre-existing happy mood, or some of both.

This is part of the 30-Day Music Meme.


* Silliness should not be taken as shallowness -- Beck doesn't do shallow, but only references and mines it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Never Tell Him the Odds

At the risk of taking things in an awkward direction -- oh, what the heck, you only live once or thereabouts: Jason Rosenhouse, you complete me:

If I may speak in Bayesian terms for a moment, between the hypotheses “This ancient text is a purely human production,” and “This ancient text is the Word of God,” surely the former assumption gets assigned a far higher prior probability. When we update our probabilities in the light of the new evidence that the Bible contains nothing that human beings of the time could not have produced, I do not think we should revise upward the probability that we are reading the Word of God.
There is more, much more, where this came from. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I'm not sure if Jason Rosenhouse is staying with ScienceBlogs; if so, he might end up being the last to do so. Sad, sad, sad, and so on. Even the mighty flagship Pharyngula is on the brink.

I hope they all appear visibly elsewhere, and soon.

Well Beyond "Snooker"

A public servant spends the day being trashed all over cable tee-vee and the internets, then gets fired from her job, but not to worry -- at least the NCAAP has issued a light-hearted mea culpa:

With regard to the initial media coverage of the resignation of USDA official Shirley Sherrod, we have come to the conclusion we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias. [emphasis mine]
"Snookered"?

How precious, cute, adorable, and darling. She lost her job, which might be a bad thing if the economy were in the toilet or something. Giggles all around -- it reminds me of the time in kindergarten when I tied some classmates' shoes strings together during circle time. They fell over, we all giggled, and I had to stand in the corner for a while.

At least the NCAAP has shown the decency to admit their craven credulousness. Maybe they'll check more closely the next time FauxNews spends the day repeating alarmist man-bites-dog inward-one-and-a-half-reverse-racist bullshit accusations. (Tomorrow.)

Will President Chicken-Shit order his chicken-shit Secretary of Agriculture to reverse this travesty -- if not now, a millisecond after all the relevant facts can be firmly established? It seems we're there already, but it's worth getting it right.

Liars lie. Fools play along.

Hey Blogger, Try Harder (BONUS: Turkish Flying Man!)


Granted, I have quite a few posts on this precious, precious blog (PPB), but then again, blogger is now one of the google's spider arms, and the google is all about whirling through massive metric tons of text and bringing back accurate search results.

So why am I consistently getting this self-pitying, question-begging "request took too long" error message -- too long for what? too long for the end-user's emotional contentment? too long for the good health of some database? too long to keep the earth's orbit going as expected? too long to bring balance to the force? whuh? -- every time I try to find something on my own blog? To be clear, I get this from the "edit posts" interface, not from the search window thingy in the upper-left corner of the public-facing manifestation of this PPB.

I have my reasons why I want to search the "edit posts" interface, and they are excellent. The blogger interface appears to embrace and anticipate those excellent reasons by putting a search function right there in the "edit posts" interface.

The support forums suggest I am not alone in this deeply upsetting flaw. You would be wrong, dear reader, to suppose that helps.

Last and never least, this video inspires the bat-shit dreamer in me:



Hey blogger, be like that insane Turkish man. Try harder. Believe you can fly and then shock the world by doing so.

Day 20 — A song that you listen to when you're angry

Anger? Anger is an indulgence of weak-minded people.

Don't you just despise d-bags who say things like that? I do. Statements like that make me angry, and when I'm angry, I reach for something with loud guitars, loud vocals, loud drums, loud-whatever-other-instruments, a fast pace, and within easy reach because the last thing I want to do when I am already peeved is to go digging through the CD collection, MP3 library, or internets for something I imperfectly remember.

The angry listening moment is not for precision, and also not one meant to dwell on lyrics; I go for songs that feel angry musically, whether or not the lyrics have anything to do with anger, the thing I happen to be angry about, or anything else.

Songs that help me believe I am, in some way, punching something that deserves it include "People of the Sun" or "Bulls on Parade" by Rage Against the Machine, nearly anything by Ministry (this or this will do fine), "Milk It" or "Floyd the Barber" by Nirvana, "Bodies" or "X.Y.U." by Smashing Pumpkins, "London Calling" or "Know Your Rights" by the Clash, "Bullet the Blue Sky" by U2, "Run to the Hills" by Iron Maiden, "Ride the Lightning" by Metallica. And so on.

Neko Case specializes in a melancholic sort of anger with which I can strongly relate in many instances, though it doesn't harmonize with the straightforward punch-something anger outlined above: "Dirty Knife," "Hold On, Hold On," Red Tide," "Vengeance is Sleeping," "Mood to Burn Bridges," and so on.

It's probably not a good sign that this list of angry songs could go on and on and on.

This is part of the 30-Day Music Meme.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Barely

Monday is not fun-day:

  • Earlier today I quipped on twitter -- tweeted on quipper? quit on tweeper? twipped? -- that I thought the dentist had injected novacaine directly into my brain. I was barely joking at the time and in hindsight it's no longer funny. I think the fucker injected novavaine directly into my brain. It sounds fun (arguably) but it isn't. Oh, the things we endure for the sake of making amends for the teeth we've allowed to rot by not bothering to take proper care of them. If you still have any teeth left, you should floss or whatever so you won't have any novacaine injected directly into your brain.
  • I trust someone has already alerted Karen Armstrong, Reza Aslan, and Madeleine Bunting to the shoddy, impertinent scholarship and deep unseriousness of Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck, who defined Christianity in these terms:

    The essence of the Christian religion consists in the reality that the creation of the Father, ruined by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God, and re-created by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God.
    How disappointingly simple-minded! If he hadn't been such an amateurish scribbler, Bavinck might have understood that the faith to which he devoted his life has nothing to do with propositions about the cosmos. It's only about being kind, manifesting stuff through other stuff, and the 99 names of transcendence.
  • I refudiate everything until my brain is no longer so numb.

Day 19 — A song from your favourite album

The thought of naming one favorite album brings to mind plane crashes over the open sea, followed by a rough night on a raft clinging to only one CD (and presumably a CD player), washing up the next morning on a barely-mapped island, and spending the next several years listening only to that album while getting very good at spear-fishing, self-administered dentistry, and coconut recipes.

In the chaos of the plane crash, I hope I would grab from a bag filled with all my favorite albums -- I don't have only one -- and if so, I could do worse than to pull out Neko Case's Blacklisted. One of the fantastic songs from that album is "Pretty Girls," which is likely something I'd spend a lot of time thinking about while alone on that island.

The lyrics to this song might serve to remind me that, even for people not stranded on an island, even for pretty girls, life is difficult. "Deep Red Bells" from the same album, referring as it does to the Green River killings, would powerfully underscore the validity of that, especially for the pretty girls affected.

This is part of the 30-Day Music Meme.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Sights, Their Uses


Anyone familiar with the current appearance of Seattle's Space Needle will find this image arresting. It was taken some time in the 1961-62 period when the structure was being built in support of Seattle's hosting of the 1962 World's Fair.

Granted, you're supposed to begin with a bad photo to get the effect outlined here, but I think it works just as well with a good one:



Image via Vintage Seattle; photo credit goes to Josh Salwitz.

Day 18 — A song that you wish you heard on the radio

Since I don't listen to much radio music, I don't use up many calories pining for songs to hear on it, but I distinctly recall the early days of Portland's "alternative" radio, KNRK, when radio guy Gustav would accept song requests by fax. I think it was a lunch hour thing, or a "3 at 3" idea, or something, but I consistently caught it from my radio at work.

Many times -- not every day, but frequently enough -- I faxed in requests to play "Country Death Song" by Violent Femmes, "Mary-Christ" and/or "Tunic (Song for Karen)" by Sonic Youth, and something from Jesus and Mary Chain's Darklands -- say, "Down on Me" -- or something from the Pixies, such as "Bone Machine."

These requests were never fulfilled. I was under the mistaken impression -- naive in hindsight -- that the word alternative signified something akin to its dictionary meaning, implying an approach to radio programming that was willing to depart from tired formulas and formats (3-minute pop songs, America-the-band/Steve Winwood song cycles, yokels a-yearning -- back then I had zero patience for country music). I soon realized "alternative" radio was just there to try to scare up a paying audience for increasingly embarrassing Nirvana knock-offs -- Stone Temple Pilots, Goo Goo Dolls, Silverchair, Bush, Nickelback, on down the line.

I'm not sure what KNRK and "alternative" radio is there for now; overall, I would say it's a little less ridiculous and a little more settled in its canons, which while not exactly adventurous, are at least reasonably broad. They even now dare to say they are giving attention and airtime to local and little-known acts, and maybe so.

That said, I don't like KNRK's between song segue-ways when it hearkens back to, say, 1983 or 1977 and declares that "[world event] happened" or "[product] only cost [smaller amount]" and "... this was playing on the radio," followed by something that was emphatically not playing on the radio at the time (I do not count 150-watt college radio setups or avant garde pirate radio outfits in London, LA, and New York): early R.E.M., Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Velvet Underground, early U2, non-idiotic David Bowie songs, and so on.

For whatever reason, "alternative" radio seems to be trying (in part) to gin up an "alternative" history of radio music in which to fit itself. No. "Alternative" radio was a departure from what radio had become by the late 1980's-early 1990s, a needed one even if an imperfect one. May it continue to wax alternative-er, while preserving the best of what it has grown up on.

This is part of the 30-Day Music Meme.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

That Reality Bats Last

Think Progress has highlighted the appallingly dumb musings of a gubernatorial candidate in Georgia:

A [the candidate]: I think that for a child to be in a household — in a family in a household with a situation where the parents are not married, as in one man and one woman, is not the best household for a child.

Q: Is it better or worse than a single parent household?

A: Doug, I’m really trying to be straightforward with you but I’m not going to debate all the nuances. I’ve made it abundantly clear that I think that marriage is between a man and a woman. And that’s what I believe, and I don’t know what more you would like me to add to that.

Q: I guess I want to know why you think gay parents aren’t as legitimate as heterosexual parents.

A: Because I don’t. [emphasis mine]
The fuller video has this and more like it, so there's no need to take my word when I say she never gets around to speaking more thoughtfully than this.

While I think this exchange evinces something important about the tiny, shriveled, blackened, bigoted heart of contemporary American movement conservatism (try Ta-Nehisi Coates for more on that), I think it points up deeper flaws in our species.

Candidate Dumbass is all but announcing that while she has strong convictions on the subject of the legal equality of gay people, and would love to see those opinions enacted in binding law, she really has never given them any thought. She has never bothered to think through their ramifications, and has never taken even a few minutes to sort through the most elementary arguments and objections, pro or con. Hence she regards the broaching of basic counterarguments to far-right Christian views as dabbling in tiresome "nuance."

She wants to dismiss the implications of her moronic simple-mindedness with an exasperated sigh; if I were a nobler person or one less jaded by the chewing-gum-commonness of her ilk on the American public scene, I might withhold from observing that she wants to dismiss vast swaths of reality, past and present, human and material, with that exasperated sigh and "move on" gesticulating.

And more than that, she has avoided thinking about the ideas she so lazily tacks to her political ambitions by the rutted path of repeating dogmas unquestioningly: she returns a couple of times to "the Bible says"-type justifications for both her conclusions and the justifications of her conclusions. Beyond that, she has nowhere to go other than "because I don't." She may or not even realize that that is not an answer to the question -- it's not even in the form of an answer -- and it's abundantly obvious she doesn't give a damn if it is or not.

She just wants to push the button and get the peanut. The button is to wear the right make-up while complaining about gays, citing the Bible, and coddling those who spend their spare hours lying on the couch bleating for tax cuts and TV-friendly wars. The peanut is high office and political power.

Given the state of human technology and the natural ecology, either this brand of brazen intellectual rot will persist in high places or our free society, or perhaps our species, will persist. Sooner or later, one or the other will have to yield.

Poem of the Day: "Cancer"


I love the way this poem traces connections between the smallest and largest of things -- "now to see what wasn't seen before" -- as in the first lines where the speaker imagines the origins of a cancer. Also, somebody forced to find things to talk about in an interminable poetry seminar might focus in on the paired words in this poem: cancer/Cancer, throne/thorn, star/start, ribbon/river, druid/dying, dark/half-dark, coloring/cornflower, and what those pairings suggest. Mostly, though, one should focus especially on all the sublime lines and phrases starting with "Star, therefore, to start," without, of course, neglecting the beautiful lines and phrases leading up to it.

Stanley Plumly, "Cancer"

Mine, I know, started at a distance
five hundred and twenty light-years away
and fell as stardust into my sleeping mouth,
yesterday, at birth, or that time when I was ten
lying on my back looking up at the cluster
called the Beehive or by its other name
in the constellation Cancer,
the Crab, able to move its nebulae projections
backward and forward, side to side,
in the tumor Hippocrates describes as carcinoma,
from karkinos, the analogue, in order to show
what being cancer looks like.
Star, therefore, to start
like walking on the best day of your life
to feel this immortal and living thing inside you.
You were in love, you were a saint,
you were going to walk the sunlight blessing water,
you were almost word for word forever.
The crown, the throne, the thorn--
now to see the smoke shining in the mirror,
the long half-dark of dark down the hallway inside it.
Now to see what wasn't seen before:
the old loved landscape fading from the window,
the druid soul within the dying tree,
the depth of blue coloring the cornflower,
the birthday-ribbon river of a road,
and the young man who resembles you
opening a door in the half-built house
you helped your father build,
saying, in your voice, come forth.


image source

Day 17 — A song that you hear often on the radio

I barely listen to the music-playing portions of the radio because they're so wretched, and I came to that conclusion back at a moment of "classic" rock radio when the playlist alternated between America-the-band's signature bongo-accompanied nightmare "Horse with No Name" and even more deliriously awful crap I hope I never remember by Steve Winwood. It's bad enough that I remember his name, and compelling testimony to the repetitiousness and narrowness of the playlist as it existed at the time.

Back then -- early to middle 1980s -- I already possessed the tedious habit of expecting words to be used in keeping with their meaning, so it never made sense to me that a then-contemporary performer like Winwood would be getting such non-stop airplay on radio stations that claimed to offer "classic" rock. This begs the question of why his music would seem suitable for any radio playlist, but whatever.

These same "classic" rock stations would not, at the time, deign to consider works by Velvet Underground, Beach Boys, Rush, Tom Waits, or Leonard Cohen, let alone the likes of U2, R.E.M., Talking Heads, the Police, the Cure, Blondie, the Clash, or anyone else who didn't sing of nameless horses or appear in the vocalist credits of Steve Winwood singles. It was rare even to hear Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Dylan, or the Beatles played on "classic" rock stations in those days; no surprise, in a way, since wedging their songs into playlists ranging from "Horse with No Name" to whatever Steve Winwood last farted into a studio microphone is an impossibility.

Do I repeat myself? So did "classic" rock radio in the 1980s. It is fucking annoying, isn't it?

I had forgotten how much I dislike Steve Winwood's music until I composed this post. Thanks, post!

This is part of the 30-Day Music Meme.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The 'Write An Anti-New-Atheist Screed' iPhone App and Its Users

Ophelia Benson has already covered the extravagant unoriginality of Reza Aslan's recent swipe at 'new atheists,' and she is right, but she appears to miss one novel aspect of Aslan's effort.

To appreciate the mildly original part, you have to begin with this section, which surely emerged verbatim from the 'Write An Anti-New-Atheist Screed' iPhone app:

The principle error of the new atheists lies in their inability to understand religion outside of its simplistic, exoteric, and absolutist connotations. Indeed, the most prominent characteristic of the new atheism--and what most differentiates it from traditional atheism--is its utter lack of literacy in the subject (religion) it is so desperate to refute.
From here, the iPhone app is designed to crap out a sneering coda, make a final check for updated hackneyed memes in the data cloud, and finding none, to send the finished article to any of several discount newsweeklies and sclerotic newspapers, where it is published immediately.

This time, instead, Aslan expends a little effort expounding on what the 'new atheists' are failing to understand -- a little effort:
Religion, however it is defined, is occupied with transcendence--by which I mean that which lies beyond the manifest world and towards which consciousness is oriented--and transcendence necessarily encompasses certain theological connotations with which one ought to be familiar to properly critique belief in a god.
OK, so it starts out spectacularly badly, with a blast of verbal chaff bearing an immediate self-contradiction -- shorter Aslan: no matter how religion is defined, it is defined thusly -- followed by rank question-begging -- the manifest world is declared to distinct from, and apparently uninteresting to, consciousness. Or something.

It gets a little sharper -- a little sharper -- without, of course, bothering to address the question of god's existence, or ceding the relevance of the question:
One should, for example, be cognizant of how the human experience of transcendence has been expressed in the material world through historically dependent symbols and metaphors.
Here, I agree, or I agree with a better way to put that: one should be cognizant of art, literature, and the humanities. People who are not cognizant of art, literature, and the humanities are missing out on vast amounts of interesting and enlightening material. Aslan means to say religion is the thing to be cognizant of, but religion can either join as one of the humanities or, worse for Aslan and his ilk, enter the fray as a competitor with science.

I would add -- and here I part with Aslan -- that art, literature, and the humanities can and should be understood as reckoning with more than "transcendence" -- sure, it's on the list, but the list stretches on from there. And I see no benefit to warping things like, say, love, honor, excellence, and memory until they seem to be transcendence, or warping transcendence until it is so broad and vague as to cover everything. Why do that? For shorter dictionaries? Well, it would be even shorter if we cut everything out except dude and deep.

Next comes a festival of name- and jargon-dropping:
One should be able to recognize the diverse ways in which the universal recognition of human contingency, finitude, and material existence has become formalized through ecclesiastical institutions and dogmatic formulae. One should become acquainted with the unmistakable patterns--call them modalities (Rudolph Otto), paradigmatic gestures (Mircea Eliade), spiritual dimensions (Ninian Smart), or archetypes (Carl Jung)--that recur in the myths and rituals of nearly all religious traditions and throughout all of recorded history. Even if one insists on reducing humanity's enduring religious impulse to causal definitions, dismissing the experience of transcendence as nothing more than an anthropological (e.g. Edward Tylor or Max Muller), sociological (think Robertson Smith or Emile Durkheim), or even psychological phenomenon (ala Sigmund Freud, who attempted to locate the religious impulse deep within the individual psyche, as though it were a mental disorder that could be cured through proper psychoanalysis), one should at the very least have a sense of what the term "God" means. [Emphasis mine]
Note that last part, in which Aslan wags his finger at believers and non-believers alike over what the term "god" means. He knows it means something snagged in all those pretty words and amid all those fancy names (and yet all, on his account, reducible to transcendence); he is exasperated that 'new atheists' are so simple-minded as to understand the term "god" by reading the books and commentaries that billions of believers have, over centuries, so carefully preserved and carried forward. How ridiculous of them!

Those billions of believers participate in the same simple-mindedness, of course, but the iPhone app that writes these diatribes doesn't have a routine for noting, let alone finding fault with that -- Aslan's novelty definitely has its limits. No, the iPhone app is designed to tell the world, over and over, that literalist interpretations of ancient lore became a problem worth observing when Sam Harris wrote The End of Faith six years ago. Neat!

Aslan concludes with self-pity masquerading as humility:
Then again, maybe the patterns of religious phenomenon signify nothing. Maybe they indicate little more than a common desire among all peoples to answer similar questions of "Ultimate Concern," to use the Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich's famous phrase. The point is that, like any researcher or critic, like any scientist, I'm open to possibilities.
Not like those filthy 'new atheists'! Zing!

Death by Race


There are two reasons I will not be participating in this year's Mt. Tabor Doggie Challenge, one real and one fake. The fake one is more interesting so I'll cover it in depth.

The chart above shows a typical arc of the daily temperature here in sunny Puddletown in July -- the salient point being that the day reaches its maximum temperature at around 5pm, and the other salient point being that this year's Doggie Challenge has been unaccountably scheduled to begin at 6:30pm, rather than the more conventional morning start time for running events.

This puts the event quite close to the zenith of the day's heat, and incidentally it would be more than fair to assume that its date, July 28, will get hotter than the temperatures shown here, although the day's temperatures can be expected to follow the same arc as tomorrow's (shown here).

Having run it a couple of times before (I, II), I know the Mt. Tabor Doggie Challenge to merit the "challenge" in its name. It is no Fueled by Wine half marathon, mind you, but then again, nothing in my experience matches that beautiful beast for degree of difficulty. The point is, five miles over the steep inclines and declines of Mt. Tabor will make a body tired, and running up and down hills during the heat of the day is a fantastic way to kill yourself. No, really -- if you're going to kill yourself, pushing your body way past its limits on Mt. Tabor sounds like a pretty good way to do so. I'm just saying.

Bad doggie.

If you do run the MTDC -- and for all my caterwauling, you should because it is low-pressure, well-organized, located in one of the best little places in the universe, for the benefit of a good cause, and a lot of fun --  be careful .Take it reasonably slowly. Don't use this as a means of killing yourself, if only because that would ruin it for everyone else. They'd probably cancel it for next year in that case, and I just want them to move it back to the morning.