Monday, February 28, 2011

The Evils Men and Women Do

If you think the intentional infliction of suffering is the epitome of evil, maybe it's only because you haven't properly considered the intentional infliction of pleasure. Ronald Conte explains:

The love of God and neighbor requires that each and every sexual act be marital, unitive, and procreative. When a sexual act is non-marital or non-unitive or non-procreative, then the act has a deprivation in its moral object, making the object evil and the act intrinsically evil.

An unnatural sexual act is intrinsically evil because this type of act is not procreative; it is inherently ordered toward the procreative meaning intended by God for each and every sexual act. Unnatural sexual acts are also not truly unitive (even if there is a type of mere physical union) because this is not the type of union intended by God for marriage. So even when the two persons committing the unnatural sexual acts are married to each other, the procreative and unitive meanings are absent, making such acts intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.
Lest you take away the crazy idea that these moral assessments apply only to the married, watch out, unmarried!
All non-marital sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. All non-unitive sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. All non-procreative sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.
Be sure to keep that in mind the next time we receive news that someone is, say, being killed with stones for adultery -- maybe that's harsh, but remember, adultery and other non-unitive, non-procreative, non-whatever sexual acts are gravely immoral, intrinsically evil deeds.

Watch what you do with your tongue, hands, or, gawd forbid, both. Profound evil lurks there.

(via Ophelia Benson)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Flimsy Anecdotes on Big Questions

Dan Chiasson, "Father and Son"

Only much later did they see, the two of them,
that, never knowing one another, there was nothing

not to know; that not being to begin with meant
those later, more drastic negations negated nothing;

this was to be the poignant part of it. The nothing
nevertheless would someday end; and the wish --

he wished it in a priory, he wished it in a mall --
was that the ending to this nothing might be,

if not an event, at least a non-event.
Which, in the end, when it happened, it wasn't.

I present this poem because it is a lovely and poignant distillation of a believable interaction -- believable, I suggest, because it's a fair approximation of the nullity that exists where a relationship with my father might be. I mention that fraught relationship, in turn, because it explains my atheism, or so say the armchair-psychological proclamations of Jim Spiegel:

External factors may also hamper the natural awareness of God and contribute to a descent into atheism. In [some book Jim Spiegel found convincing, the author], a onetime atheist, examines the lives of the major atheists of the modern period, including Hobbes, Hume, Voltaire, Feuerbach, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, Russell, and Freud. He found they had something in common: a broken relationship with their father. Whether by death, departure, abuse, or some other factor, the father relationships of all these well-known atheists were defective.
My paltry effort at extending Spiegel's name-dropping campaign is to paraphrase Christopher Hitchens's maxim: that which can be flimsily established with weak anecdotal evidence can be flimsily refuted with anecdotal evidence. So here goes a little of that.

My most religious sister is actually a half-sister, and she can boast a "broken relationship" with not one but two fathers. So maybe the even-numbered troubled paternal relationships drive a person to god-belief? I confess I am not familiar enough with the mechanisms of Jim Spiegel's favorite author's half-assed armchair musings to give a judgment on it, but Jim Spiegel and I agree (for purposes of this tedious digression): scattered anecdotes are the rightful foundation of all truth claims.

And yet, beyond that digression and back to reality, we do not agree. Anecdotes, even when joined with confident assertions, prove nothing. In particular, chatter about the psychology of individual believers and nonbelievers does nothing to settle the question of god's existence. The proof of god's existence stands or falls on the presentation of evidence -- the same kinds of evidence that establish the existence or non-existence of anything else -- and to date, that evidence suggests god is imaginary.

Because Shame Is Not A Brake - Support Planned Parenthood

It is no longer a question of abortion, gender equality, and gay rights -- the theocratic strain of the American right, which is more and more indistinguishable from the American conservative movement, is proving its willingness to curtail access to contraception and basic health care services.

Surely this exaggerates the matter. Surely they won't go that far. When these thoughts creep in, remember how the Bush-Cheney era's embrace of torture translated almost immediately into a movement-wide embrace of it, and thereon to a deplorable mainstreaming of support for it. We have seen more than enough to know that shame, decency, established practice, and legal precedent are not brakes on the aspirations of contemporary movement conservatism. They are moving toward a business-friendly Christianized Sparta. Imagine the Taliban, subtract some of the beards, add some pork, vastly increase the weapons capability, shift the setting, and swap out the mosques for churches and you're picturing their preferred future state.

This is a moment to stand in support of Planned Parenthood and the important work they do upholding freedom and autonomy.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The DudeMance Ideology

I want to start off by declaring my agreement with Roger Ebert: Hall Pass looks like the waste of two hours he suggests it is. Its lasting contribution will be to go to DVD and give passersby a brief, indifferent pause wondering which of several indistinguishable bromance-mumblecore-dude -- dudemance -- movies it was. The one where Seth Rogan or Jack White or Owen Wilson played a fumbling, wise-cracking stoner? Or was it the one where Steve Carrell or Ed Helms played a naif? Didn't Ben Stiller or Michael Cera play a star-crossed neurotic?

That said, I wish Ebert had not gone here in his review:

When was the last time you saw a man under 30 in the movies who had a stable marriage, a job, children, and a life where he valued his wife above his buddies?
I think we should try to be the change we want to see in the world, and if we want to see a cessation of movies that wrench comic and dramatic value from the equation of maturity with sexual probity, we can start by not quite so emphatically reaffirming that equation.

I prefer to take my cinematic meditations on maturity straight, so to speak: Stepbrothers, The Hangover, and Greenberg represent grown men acting like adolescents, but manage to do so without putting the matter strictly in terms of sex -- there are, these movies show, distinctions between adolescents and adults that don't involve the relative placements of penises, vaginas, and marriage licenses.

But to answer Ebert's question, I could mention Mel Gibson's character in Braveheart; Sean Penn's character in Mystic River -- or for that matter, Tim Robbins's character in Mystic River; Liam Neeson's characters in Rob Roy and Taken; the father character from Funny Games (both the German version and the more recent American version); Leonardo DeCaprio's characters in both Inception and Revolutionary Road; Ben Stiller's character in the Fockers movies. It would be easy to go on listing examples. Granted, several of these men are well over thirty, or seem to be, but each is devoted to wife (if alive) and family (if alive) well above their male friends (if alive / extant).

The direct answer to Ebert's question is recently and often, and the elaboration of that direct answer is and it is neither exceptional nor rare. It is an aspect of characters, settings, and scenes from which different kinds of dramatic or comic conflicts ensue and develop. The abundance of dudemance films in recent years is, if anything, a minor aberration that will be soon enough forgotten as it evolves into something else or fades away unmourned. Meanwhile, we will do ourselves a favor to recall that the moment's prejudices, predilections, pet-theories, and ideological constructions are, when false and unhelpful, worth contesting rather than perpetuating.

More on these topics from Eli Horowitz here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

There Is A War (cc: Neko Case)

There is something in the American Psyche® -- a figment of our lingering Puritannical cultural trappings, maybe? -- that keeps bringing people to connect sexual morality with maturity. It's difficult to know what Judd Apatow and Seth Rogan would do without it, so as questionable as the link may be, it at least keeps a few people gainfully employed. I touched on the connection as it played out in The Hangover, and Kay Hymowitz provides a more recent instance, in which she holds forth on the terrible quality of men today:

[P]re-adults differ in one major respect from adolescents. They write their own biographies, and they do it from scratch. Sociologists use the term "life script" to describe a particular society's ordering of life's large events and stages. Though such scripts vary across cultures, the archetypal plot is deeply rooted in our biological nature. The invention of adolescence did not change the large Roman numerals of the American script. Adults continued to be those who took over the primary tasks of the economy and culture. For women, the central task usually involved the day-to-day rearing of the next generation; for men, it involved protecting and providing for their wives and children. If you followed the script, you became an adult, a temporary custodian of the social order until your own old age and demise. [emphasis mine]
Ah, the Goode Olde Dayes, when men reached statutory maturity and got straight down to the business of eagerly awaiting their death whilst impatiently checking a pocket watch over and over as their wives popped out babies. These days, according to Hymowitz, more and more men seem to be declining the obvious and compelling charms of this vigil well into their twenties. Weird!
What explains this puerile shallowness? I see it as an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men. It's been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing. [emphasis mine]
A phrase like "puerile shallowness" indicates that for all her commendable effort to locate cause and effect in the material circumstances of the people she's describing -- exactly the right place to look for it, methinks -- there's an element of a far older script being re-told here, namely the one in which men and women disagree over sex and love. Men complain about women; women complain about men; it was ever thus, and the tragedy is that both sides have a good case to make. We are a species of assholes, or for those who prefer to tag "asshole" with a masculine connotation, I'll clarify that we are a species of assholes and bitches, and words like maturity and immaturity are little more than two of the common glosses we use to articulate the details.

In another re-telling of this ancient script, Ann Friedman awkwardly runs right past the fact that I'm sitting right here and argues, of all things, that Neko Case Can't Get Laid:
It’s true that everyone in the world thinks everyone else is having more sex than they are. Especially people they consider attractive. I am here to tell you that this is probably not the case! And it is definitely not the case when it comes to accomplished and funny and beautiful women who would like to be having sex with men.

Are you shocked by this news? Yes? Welcome, heterosexual male readers!

Some evidence to support my statement, because I’m unwilling to go personal on this one: Neko Case can't get laid. Neko fucking Case! An accomplished musician who, even by rigid mainstream beauty standards, is gorgeous. Salon diagnoses the problem as a dearth of male groupies.
I read that bit in Salon dot com when it was first published, and my reaction today is the same reaction I had then: I am prepared to prove otherwise. Call me, Neko. Seriously. You're My One, i.e., my wife says she won't mind -- I say the same thing for her with respect to Denzel Washington. It's really OK. Call. Write. Stop by. We can fix this.

Some call it love, I call it service.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Victory for Equality

Here's an unexpected fresh breeze of change:

The Obama administration says a federal law that bans recognition of same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and has directed the Justice Department not to defend the law anymore in court cases across the country.

The decision announced Wednesday represents a big victory for gay rights activists.
It's nice to see the Justice Department recognize that defending our system of laws requires opposing rather than advocating legalized inequality. Though the idiotic and patently unjust DOMA law remains in effect, this is a victory for actual justice.

As is my wont, I inject a small cavil: I wish news outlets (here, NPR) would pause before assigning such victories to "gay rights activists," or comparable victories for women's rights to "feminists," or comparable victories against racism to "civil rights activists." Not to say that activists aren't important -- they are tremendously important -- but the advances they struggle to attain for equality and human rights apply to everyone. It's not as though the Justice Department will take this pro-equality view of the law only if the claimants are activists, but continue advocating legalized inequality when the claimants are non-activists.

Disney Worth Watching

Right, OK. Blah blah had the meme first something something poseur something hipster something. I say the important truth to convey and appreciate here is that these reimagined Disney characters are hot.

I think there are two representations of Cinderella here, along with a Snow White. Yes, I'm quite sure the one in the center is Snow White, with possible Cinderellas immediately above and below. The one in the upper right is, I think, Ariel from that mermaid movie, but I wouldn't swear to it. The one in the lower right seems to be the girl from that production with all the goddamn singing cups and saucers.

The others look vaguely familiar as screechy and/or whiny cartoon characters that have annnoyed me, if only over the course of interminable movie trailers preceding a movie I paid to see, but I am not the one to match names since I go to considerable effort to avoid Disney movies. I'm just saying maybe I wouldn't try so hard to avoid them if they put a few of the female characters in eyeglasses and gave them a world-weary edginess. And if, long before the first drawings, they took an axe to the the first storyboard with a singing dish.

But then they wouldn't be Disney movies, now would they?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fastest Faster

The Boston Marathon, that mother of all wicked pissas, just got considerably more wicked:

Officials with the Boston Athletic Association, the event's organizer, on Wednesday unveiled a performance-based registration system beginning with the 2012 race. It will allow runners who qualified by the largest margin to enter first.

In addition, time standards for the 2013 race have been lowered by five minutes.

Runners must attain certain qualifying time standards for their age and gender in order to participate in the event. For 2012, runners who have beaten those standards by 20 minutes or more will be able to sign up when registration opens on Sept. 12. Three days later, those who beat their standards by at least 10 minutes will be allowed to register.
To be clear, "lowered by five minutes" means that a faster finish time is required, not a slower one. For my purposes, that five minutes might as well be an hour.

Oh well, I had a good run. I'll continue to count it as a goal, but realistically it is now at the margins of my ambitions.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Siding with the Corner

I have no totalizing metanarratives, only scattered observations affixed to bullet points:

  • New colors abound on this precious, precious blog. Yawn.
  • I can't even remember how many years (Cf.) I have been making substantially the same point that Matt Yglesias makes here:
    [O]n an adequate level of generality everything is a pyramid scheme. Imagine a country with no Social Security. People would still presumably want to structure their lives such that for a while they produce more than they consume, and then later in life when they’re old they consume more than they produce. The only way for this to work is for them to save money in vehicles that earn a positive rate of return and the only way for that to happen on average is for the future economy to be larger than the present economy. That, in turn, relies on population growth and productivity growth. If population growth slows, you’re going to have a problem. In a pyramid scheme, everyone makes money until you run out of new people to bring into the scheme. Similarly, if you imagine a country with no children and no immigrants then clearly the economy is going to go bust once it starts running out of new workers. But the fact that it would go bankrupt if the country ran out of people doesn’t make Wal-Mart a “pyramid scheme” and Social Security’s no different from Wal-Mart in its implicit assumption that there will continue to be new people in the future.
    Yglesias lost track of the point along the way there, so to clarify: Wal-Mart is a pyramid scheme because all growth- and profit-seeking ventures are pyramid schemes. 
  •  The movie Leaves of Grass combines a number of things I would generally find appealing, or at least interesting -- it features performances by some of my favorites (Ed Norton, Susan Sarandon, Steve Earle);  it is set in Oklahoma, and makes particular mention of places I know well, including Idabel, Hugo, Broken Bow, and, yes, even Ponca City (a brief mention); the Sheriff wears the outfit of McCurtain County, the county containing three of the aforementioned four; the principle character is a bookish guy who left Oklahoma as soon as he could, and who goes back only grudgingly -- something I can relate to -- and talk of poetry was afoot. For all this, it turned out to be less than the sum of the parts, and in some moments, seemed to be grasping a little too much to seem Coen-Brothersy, getting only close enough to call attention to its falling short. That's probably unfair, but there it is. It was a good film, but it could have been better. I have to think "Little Dixie" isn't going to get many more chances at Hollywood glory, so I am tempted to say it should have been better for the sake of a misbegotten sector of Dogpatch (curiously and wrongly labeled "Little Dixie" in this film*).
  • It is a "whose side are you on?" moment and I take the side of the workers of Wisconsin. For that matter I am already on labor's side in the labor-management dispute after next, no matter the time or place.
May all your figurations stabilize.

* By which I mean: yes, that term is used, but I was taught from knee-high to abjure, reject, denounce, renounce, repudiate, and scorn it. And so I did, and still do.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

No Happier State

A commenter to this precious, precious blog observes as follows (quoting verbatim):

Ya got that right. I will go long in Heaven. God throws a football from here to the length of Eternity, pal, where we can and will have anything and everything. Lemme explain --- Doesn't matter whether you believe or not, pal, you're STILL gonna croak - we’re all in this together, we’re all doing our lifelong demise; then, while our mortal bodies are recycled after our Finite Existence, our indelible soul rises-up to be judged at the General Judgment. Here’s the point I want you to consider before you leave this world: sex in Heaven. Why not?? Can’t God provide everything? The Trinity is just as happy you made it to the realm where we can have anything we desire for eternity rather than the realm where we can have absolutely nuthin; if Almighty God provides everything else, why not passionate, intimate love make’n or a quickie for the length of eternity? Besides worship on ‘Sunday’, dunno bout you, but I want that. See, God knew the ol El Diablo would lie like a rug and trick U.S. into believing love make’n wouldn’t be possible in Heaven, so why not git a buncha ho’s and condemn yourself? Lookit Eminem. ‘Sex is just for earth’ you say? WRONG. If you have the desire, anything and everything is possible in the Great Beyond. So, dream big, America. God loves that. God loves U.S. to ‘pull Him down outta the sky’ and fantasize about where we’re going. God can and will provide if we have a seed of faith. God will water. I have faith in you, too. God bless you with discernment. -1 Peter 4:8-
I like to start off with the positive (for purposes of this blog post), so I note that the mention of "go long" near the beginning of the comment has a logic to it, albeit a perverse logic, since the apposite post was about "Go Long," the Joanna Newsom song.

The rest of the comment doesn't have much going for it. Inasmuch as it's saying something about Christian theology -- and charitably assuming that saying something about Christian theology is a valid form of saying something consequential -- I prefer Milton's version from book IV of Paradise Lost for its display of the poet's penchant for stem-winding:
This said unanimous, and other Rites
Observing none, but adoration pure
Which God likes best, into thir inmost bowre
Handed they went; and eas'd the putting off
These troublesom disguises which wee wear, [ 740 ]
Strait side by side were laid, nor turnd I weene
Adam from his fair Spouse, nor Eve the Rites
Mysterious of connubial Love refus'd:
Whatever Hypocrites austerely talk
Of puritie and place and innocence, [ 745 ]
Defaming as impure what God declares
Pure, and commands to som, leaves free to all.
Our Maker bids increase, who bids abstain
But our Destroyer, foe to God and Man?
Haile wedded Love, mysterious Law, true source [ 750 ]
Of human ofspring, sole propriety,
In Paradise of all things common else.
By thee adulterous lust was driv'n from men
Among the bestial herds to raunge, by thee
Founded in Reason, Loyal, Just, and Pure, [ 755 ]
Relations dear, and all the Charities
Of Father, Son, and Brother first were known.
Farr be it, that I should write thee sin or blame,
Or think thee unbefitting holiest place,
Perpetual Fountain of Domestic sweets, [ 760 ]
Whose bed is undefil'd and chaste pronounc't,
Present, or past, as Saints and Patriarchs us'd.
Here Love his golden shafts imploies, here lights
His constant Lamp, and waves his purple wings,
Reigns here and revels; not in the bought smile [ 765 ]
Of Harlots, loveless, joyless, unindeard,
Casual fruition, nor in Court Amours
Mixt Dance, or wanton Mask, or Midnight Bal,
Or Serenate, which the starv'd Lover sings
To his proud fair, best quitted with disdain. [ 770 ]
These lulld by Nightingales imbraceing slept,
And on thir naked limbs the flourie roof
Showrd Roses, which the Morn repair'd. Sleep on
Blest pair; and O yet happiest if ye seek
No happier state, and know to know no more.
Emily Dickinson possessed a different form of eloquence and got to a similar idea far more economically:
WHO has not found the heaven below
Will fail of it above.
God’s residence is next to mine,
His furniture is love.
Common to each of these unverifiable, rather weightless assertions about the relationship between theology and sex is that otherwordly joy, whether heavenly or prelapsarian, uncannily resembles earthly joy. Sex is widely regarded a good thing here on earth -- certainly this is so if we go by what people do more than by what they're sometimes inclined to say -- and so it is declared to be in god's favored, untainted places. If it has somehow become, over the ages, controversial to suggest that people will still want to fuck in the for-good-people-only precincts of the afterlife, then so much the worse for the credibility of theological controversies and the misanthropic nostrums on which they're founded.

(image via)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

New Radiohead (Good Radiohead)

Radiohead has released a new album, The King of Limbs, that's now available for purchase and download. The .WAV format files cost a little more, but the files are "lossless," meaning they will sound exactly as Radiohead made them unless you're playing them through audio components that are subject to some diminution of sound quality, i.e., unless you're playing them through something that cost you less than the combined GDP of any six Southern-hemisphere nation states (I exaggerate only slightly).

Lossless though they may be, I find also they come without the convenient metadata that allows software such as iTunes and MediaMonkey to associate the songs with an artist, title, album, bitrate, and other fascinating attributes:

This li'l technical shortcoming aside, Radiohead makes consistently excellent music. To live is to gamble, and in that spirit, having never heard it, I confidently post the video for "Lotus Flower" from the new Radiohead album:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Self Confessions

I am not totally sure, but I believe this represents the opportunity to watch moral responsibility pass a threshold beyond which it becomes the negation -- if not the assertion of the impossibility -- of moral responsibility:

I am partly responsible for every sin anybody has committed at least during my lifetime.

Here's why. I have sinfully acted in ways that made my prayers less deep, less frequent and less effective. But chief amongst the things I should be praying for is that God rescue me and my neighbor from sin. When my neighbor sins and I did not pray for my neighbor as I ought to have, I am partly responsible for my neighbor's sin—I have at least negligently failed to do something that, as far as I know, would have decreased the probability of my neighbor's sinning.

There are two general ways this has happened. First, there are the many cases where I directly failed to pray as deeply or frequently as I should have. Second, there are many cases where I sinned through something other than neglect of prayer. In the latter cases, I made myself more wicked through the sins, and hence made my prayers less effective—it is the prayer of the righteous that, it is promised, avails much—and made myself be less good at prayer. Besides, often, I could have spent in prayer the time during which I was sinning.
Believers are apparently required to be up in their neighbors' business, if only for the sake of monitoring the severity and quantity of sin, which in turn serves as a gauge of the supplicant's prayer. But note how the requirement to be officious comes attached to a particular, rather narrow duty, namely: pray. If you look around and find that the world continues to be full of sin, the thing to do is to count this a personal failing and pray more fervently. If you look around and see that the world continues to be rife with sin, that people continue starving, going without proper clothing, and dying from preventable illnesses such as malaria, the thing to do is to count this as a personal failing and pray more fervently. If the world is full of sin and countless thousands in Haiti are still living in rotting tents, people are locked in dark cells or killed with rocks for having the wrong political, religious, or sexual thoughts, and cancer ravages the deserving and undeserving alike, the thing to do is to pray harder. You're not praying hard enough.

Wow. Whether you take Alexander Pruss to be abjectly reviling himself or pridefully affirming his significance, it is narcissism on a cosmic scale; either way, he is central to the drama of his unnamed neighbor's unspecified sins. No one asked me (for purposes of this blog post), but I say a single good deed is worth a dozen lifetimes of perfervid supplication to a distant power, let alone one who supposedly made the world and has, by now, been begged more than enough to establish that we have our answer, and it is one of the following: no distant power was ever there to answer in the first place, or no, fuck off.. It seems clear that we are the ones we have been praying for, and that the time spent on mere prayer has been squandered utterly. Hands have better uses.

Strangled Darlings - Not a Timid Folk Act

Nosirreee, the Strangled Darlings are not timid, nor tame, nor dull. They play familiar instruments and sing familiar English words, but combine them in diverting ways -- I quote this bit of press because I happen to agree --

the beautiful, sad and absurd woven together ... make Strangled Darlings unique in their approach to taking pop music out of its safety zone and into a naked examination of faith, mortality and really hot sex.
Press releases will be press releases, but the music merits a listen or three:

The Devil In Outer Space: An Operetta by Strangled Darlings

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Watson v. Meat

Further to Eli's thoughts on "Watson's" display of trivia-quiz prowess on Jeopardy, where it has handily defeated the two humanoid Jeopardy-winning machines, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, I observe that The Watson Episodes -- as future game show historians, I am confident, will come to label them -- are unwatchable.

Mind you, these episodes are not unwatchable in the usual, everyday, grating, why-won't-Alex-Trebek-please-stop-talking way, but in that they are little more than an infomercial for IBM. If I want to watch an infomercial for IBM, I assume my cable provider has thoughtfully bundled an all-hours IBM infomercial channel somewhere among the high three-figure channel numbers, and that I am already paying for having it there.

Notwithstanding the mild kerfuffle over whether Watson's success owes to response time as much as quiz-answering -- I think there's something to that objection -- the computer is undeniably impressive in its ability to process natural language. My hope is that on the strength of this victory over English-speaking humanity's greatest trivia masters, Watson will be elevated to host of Jeopardy, and that Alex Trebek will be returned to Canada, or somewhere else where they don't have televisions or microphones.

It turns out I posted on Watson once before. Who knew?

Monday, February 14, 2011

So Many Sundays

There's "a year of Sundays" qua idea -- a way of thinking of the passage of time -- and "a year of Sundays" the expression -- used to convey the aforementioned idea and/or to spice a salty tirade with a little PG-rated emphasis -- and now there's AYear of Sundays, a new Portland-based blog with an avowedly jaundiced and snark-rich take on religion. In the menacing words of Daniel Plainview, "this makes them my ... competitor," but then again, I recognize no peers. Um, yea ... I think I'll just let that one hang there awkwardly.

Anyhoo, I know what I hate, and I don't hate this -- take, say, the blog's treatment of a rather high-hanging piece of fruit in the tree of criticizing religion, Universal Universalistickal Universalism or whatever:

As far as I can tell after three visits, and this time on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of all days, the downtown PDX U.U. church doesn’t quite live up to its promise. They seem to define liberalism as: abstaining from gun ownership, getting the United States out of Afghanistan and hoping that more black people will join the church. I, on the other hand, define liberalism as: "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to paraphrase Voltaire." That difference made me and my fellow pew-warmer a very small minority. On the other hand, for these smug, predominantly white people singing "Amazing Grace" like they held a fresh turd in their mouths, liberalism is just another form of fundamentalism.

Closed, self-referential and piously tautological, the service we attended was as intellectually conservative as they come. That's too bad. Taking place on the only U.S. holiday dedicated to overcoming race divisions, it was an auspicious day to go to a liberal church, but between the self-congratulations over their membership in cash-for-guns group Cease Fire, the (African American) minister William G. Sinkford spent the balance of his sermon complaining about the dearth of dark-skinned members of the church. If the church was truly liberal, why stop there? Why aren't they wringing their hands over their failure to attract politically conservative and Libertarian members? Why aren't they handing out leaflets at NRA meetings, Tea Parties or army bases? THAT would be true liberalism – true **cough cough** UNIVERSALism. (For the record, I vote all the way down the Democrat ticket. So I’m not saying, I’m just saying.)

The only clear message I heard at the U.U. service was that GUNS ARE BAD. Maybe they are and maybe they aren't – it’s not as big a deal for me as it is for my Pink Pistol-advocate girlfriend. But I certainly didn't get up dressed up and haul my hungover ass downtown on a Sunday morning just to find out. Regardless of what I think, however, millions of Americans disagree with Sinkford about gun control – and that supposedly "Universalist" minister as much as told them they weren't welcome here.
Whatever small quibbles I might cite here -- can't we find the generosity within us to let the UU Church proceed as though Libertarians and Tea Partiers are best left unacknowledged? Can't we? -- they had me at Voltaire shortly after already having me at tautological, and those were embellishments of the having-of-me in the very premise of the blog. Namely, the co-authoring couple will visit Portland-area churches over the next year and write up their findings. Upon the evidence presented to date, they will do so entertainingly.

I'll be reading.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ideas Worth Casting Aside

Ophelia Benson declines to take seriously the ontological argument:
I don't get the need to grapple with the ont. arg., because it has no purchase on me to begin with. It starts with premises that I see no reason to start with. I "simply cast it aside." I don't see how saying "but a perfect being that didn't exist would be imperfect and we can conceive of a perfect being therefore that being exists" causes anything to happen. I know I've garbled the argument, but this is where the suspected not understanding comes in. I seem not to understand how the argument is anything more reasonable than that. I seem not to understand why anybody has ever thought that an ability to imagine something plus logic can cause the something to exist.
I don't think she has garbled the argument, nor do I think the argument deserves to be taken seriously. It seems an extrapolation of the claim that for any perfect X, that X must necessarily exist. Therefore the perfect puffer fish must exist. The perfect hand-written arabic 5 must exist. The perfect issue of Mini-Truckin' magazine must exist -- I leave to the reader its relationship to the necessarily existing perfect publication, reminding the reader that the perfect book, too, must exist, and also the perfect novel, the perfect compilation of short stories, the perfect anthology of poems, the perfect autobiography, the perfect essay collection, the perfect history of the Abyssinians, the perfect reference work, the perfect scientific treatise, and so on.

The perfect animal must exist. The perfect plant must exist. The perfect solid must exist. The perfect reductio ad absurdum illustration in the course of a lightly-argued philosophical argument must exist. (Was that it?)

For any perfect X, X must exist? For any perfect X, its hypothetical instantiation is necessarily less perfect than its actual instantiation? Existence is a predicate of perfection? Since when? Says who? How? Why?

Ophelia Benson is right. The ontological argument is a verbal confusion with nothing inside --- a husk.

Fanconi Anemia Valentines 12K 2011 - Guided by (Unexpected) Wire

The mind goes to unexpected places during a road race, and for me today, during the Valentine Fanconi Anemia 12K, some unexpected musings took my mind off the various aches and pains I was feeling as I came through the finish chute in 54:26 (7:19 min/mi pace, official).

When Neko Case's "Guided by Wire" came flitting across the MP3 shuffle, it called to mind, of all people, my Grandpa Ed, the grandparent of mine who proved the most stubborn in a competitive field of grandparents before finally dying last year.

I say this was an odd turn for my thoughts because I was never terribly close with Grandpa Ed. In my few interactions with him, I realized that a good share of my mom's stubbornness and inner strength came from him, and whatever part of that I inherited helped me salvage an adequate -- merely that -- finish time today.

The lyrics to "Guided by Wire" suggest the fit between the situation and the thoughts, though I was not quite up to cheetah status.

I congratulate my fellow competitors and thank the event's organizers and volunteers. I am especially grateful for the selection of purple for the event's shirts and hoodies --- it's about time someone gave out a purple shirt!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The News Is Not All Bad

At last, Mubarak is gone -- good riddance, and just in time for Valentine's Day, or as it might be unfortunately abbreviated, "VD."

Did you know the internets contain thousands of playable songs with themes relevant to romance, love, lust, sex, all that? It's true! I here present a few songs on the bleaker, more heart-rending side of love, if only because it sets VD up for a redemption. What else is love good for, if not redeeming its own pain?

Sleater-Kinney, "One More Hour":

Joanna Newsom, "Does Not Suffice":

The Beatles, "Julia":

The Postal Service, "Nothing Better":

Thursday, February 10, 2011

For Angry Times

I am finding that The Dead Weather is excellent theme music to pervading anger. Here's a live performance of "Blue Blood Blues":

This is "Hustle and Cuss":

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Got Bangalore II: The Revelation Phase

At the risk of turning this blog into a tedious journal of some guy's struggles at work in cutthroat times, I think I'll go ahead and do so for purposes of this blog post. I hope this won't become a regular feature, but then again, I hope a lot of things. Hope is cheap.

An interesting quality emerging from The Situation lies in the cliche, "Crisis doesn't build character, it reveals character." Cliches become cliches because they're often true, and so it is with this one, as I am observing in the contrast of two characters -- neither of them me -- I will designate H and F.

H has gone out of his way to find something, anything, positive to say about our shared situation. He has offered insights gleaned from experience with similar instances of corporate parasitism, most of which contribute to the theme that, difficult though it may be to see now, life will resume and better times will come. He has posed trenchant but reasonable questions that in no way serve to endear him to the very "superiors" who might, soon enough, put him out on the street. When he gets an answer, he shares it. When he does not get an answer -- answers being suddenly scarce, or tending to the vacuous -- he does not add insult by pretending otherwise. He simply draws what sensible inferences he can from what is known and what is vaguely offered, and does not overstate the solidity of the inference. Above all, he acknowledges the human side of the situation, and he himself acts and speaks as a person.

By contrast, F has gone out of his way to serve up claims that are implausible on their face, and has cushioned the lying by emphasizing what we, the soon to be outsourced, can and should do to make our defenestration a success for the company. When in an "Open Forum" I questioned the business rationale offered (poor sales) by citing publicly available facts, he replied by shifting the rationale to a different financial measure, which he promptly misrepresented. He claims he has no details on who will be dropped and who will stay because he claims to have no specific goals in mind, when his modus operandi since his beginnings at the company has been to focus obsessively on metrics. He says around when he should say on, of, about, for, concerning, or something of the kind, thus converting a perfectly admissible word into tedious jargon. Above all, he speaks of The Situation with all the human concern that one would use to describe changing the radio station. He has emerged as something of a piece of shit.

I am a whiner, but "no whining" is very lightly enforced on this precious, precious blog. Life will resume and better times will come.Countless millions of people are presently struggling with far worse than all this.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Got Bangalore?

Much as I hate blog posts about why there aren't more blog posts on a blog, this will be one of those. I have recently learned that my job is one of many that my employer is planning to outsource to India.

A big part of the fun is in how I have no idea, and obviously no input on -- this is America! workers have no say, and we're damn proud of it! -- the final decisions. My job may go untouched, or it may not. I'll know when I am assigned a desk partner with an Indian name, and instructed to teach him or her how to do the work I do. Alternatively, I'll know when others around me are assigned their desk partners while I am not. It could go either way. We've been given very little to go on -- just "be afraid." By November I could be out on the street after 15 years with my employer. Or I could end up among the dubiously lucky few who survive -- this time.

The usual reasons are given -- we only increased sales by 15% last year, and in these economic times, I gather we would have seen an increase of 1015% if only the IT staff hadn't been so goddamnn shiftless and so annoyingly focused on work that doesn't contribute to sales-promoting capabilities. Or something. (I am not kidding about the 15% figure, though I am rounding it up from the 14.9% figure reported to shareholders; nor am I kidding when I say lack of sales growth was the chief business justification given.)

So what does this have to do with this blog? Not much, I agree. I have kept my work life and this blog very separate, and deliberately so. I don't want to break down that barrier, though I make no promises. Clearly, though, this has sent a shock through my world that I had not expected. It's difficult to think about anything else when the means by which my son gets health care insurance and dental care insurance is on the line. (Speaking for myself, I'd welcome an excuse never to "get to" go to the dentist again.)

Of course I can get another job. Of course. Jobs are as plentiful as the waving wheat in Kansas. It's a good thing the economy is zooming along so nicely, or this development would really fucking suck.

I'll do what I can.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Switzerland - A Must See for All

Switzerland has so much to offer to visitors -- the legendary beauty of the Swiss Alps and Lake Geneva, winter sports, world-class hospitality, fine cuisine, vibrant night life, cultural attractions -- in short, all the conveniences and luxuries one could hope for. Surely Switzerland belongs on the short list of every traveler.

I do hope our hard-working former presidents can find a way to get there soon. The reception they'd receive there is the least they deserve for all the years of public service.

(Photo sources: Lake Geneva, Matterhorn)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

That "Conservatives" Are Authoritarians

Amanda Marcotte somehow manages to answer the witheringly cogent arguments presented in this video, and along the way, adds a few significant insights:

I sometimes still find that people on the liberal, or at least thoughtful, side of the fence still think that global warming denialism and creationism are discrete things borne out of an emotional need not to believe either in global warming or evolution, and while that's true, I think it's deeper than that. I think that science itself is under attack, and that the reason that conservatives are so eager to lash out against it has to do with an anti-modernist bent. This is especially true when you understand that science really is a threat to religion. A lot of people say it's not, because science doesn’t address "spiritual" needs, but said folks are really overrating the importance of spirituality for most people---or assuming that this urge isn't better scratched by loving others and enjoying life. Religion really draws its power from explanation. It gives order to the world. And science is poaching that territory rapidly, which pisses off authoritarians, because they rightfully understand that if they lose the power to create facile goddidit explanations for everything from gravity to the problem of evil, they will lose their power over people. Thus, the attack not just on specific scientific theories, but on science in general, and most of academia, as well. [emphases mine]
Had Marcotte stayed with "conservatives" instead of switching to "authoritarians," and had she said "deeply-felt sense of who they are" rather than "power over people," she still might have salvaged some agreement with the "framing" crowd. But she also would have departed from the clear truth of the matter, and that would be deplorable, because the truth she's highlighting here is an important one.

As always, I hate to quote myself, but I don't hate it very much:
I gather it is disquieting to be told that your pro-freedom rhetoric is belied by your anti-freedom commitments; I'd blanch a little too. Still, the authoritarian label fits. Once again, the truth has a distinctly anti-conservative bias.
Even as far back as the mists of August 2009, it was clear that "conservative" -- certainly in the contemporary US context -- is a favored euphemism for "authoritarian."

The conservative disdain for science, selective though it is, plausibly owes to authoritarian leanings -- leanings deeply felt and bound up with the self-perception of millions, perhaps, but no less dangerous or worth contesting for that. It is no justification, after all, merely to point to what is.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Bad Day Wordled

This was my day, wordled.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Want Porn? Go to Church

Just today, the man who took the seat next to me on the MAX proceeded to do a spectacularly poor job of concealing his pornographic magazine within the covers of another magazine. Verily porn is everywhere these days, even in churches:

This Super Bowl Sunday, church may be as jarring as a quarterback sack for some worshippers who, after settling into their pews, discover that the subject of the morning's sermon is pornography.

More than 300 churches are expected to celebrate National Porn Sunday on Feb. 6.
Something tells me that "subject of sermon is pornography" does not equate to "sermon includes pornography," but by the usual standard of efforts to put butts in pews and dollars in donation plates by the use of attention-grabbing hotbuttons, I have seen worse. Salaciousness sells, even if it does make baby Jesus cry.

All that will be as it will be, but I would be remiss not to quote the following verbatim, since it offers so much to the genre of alarmist, trollish porn reportage:
According to a survey by Pastor Rick Warren's website,, 54 percent of pastors have looked at pornography in the past year. Gross says evangelicals have plenty to say about sexual morality — as well as infidelity, sex before marriage and homosexuality — but when it comes to pornography, they need to do more than lob arguments.
Yes indeed, it has it all -- a mention of crap-sack pastor Rick Warren; the revelation that Pastor Crap-Sack conducts opinion polls; the weird insinuation that there exists such a thing as a 'pastors dot com' for some reason; the name "Gross" appearing alongside the mention of pastors gawking at porn; the casual naivete with which the claim that barely more than half of pastors have gawked at porn in the last year is presented as fact; the strong, if not ineluctable, implication that 46% of pastors have spent the last year gawking at porn almost non-stop; and, of course, the mammoth in its room, the fact that the subject matter is porn. Somehow, even "lob arguments" starts to sound tantalizingly lewd by the association with the rest.

If this year's National Porn Sunday does not eliminate pornography from the thoughts and deeds of all who attend the participating sermons, it will have achieved nothing of consequence. If it causes many or even just a few people to re-think the relationship between pornography, Jesus, and morality, by this time a week from now, it will have achieved nothing of consequence. To summarize, National Porn Sunday promises nothing of consequence. And too bad, because I would have gladly settled for something as trivial as never having to sit by the same creep on the MAX again.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Delicately Balanced Pyche is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Beer lovers take heed! It turns out the nightmare that wouldn't leave my thoughts all day was not a dream at all:
Walgreens has released its own brew of beer, called “Big Flats 1901,” which it is selling for 50 cents a can, $3 for a six pack.

The product is in 4,600 of the chain's 7,655 U.S. locations ...

"In this tough economy, consumers are looking for value and ways to make their money go (further)," a Walgreens spokesman told the Tribune.
Evidently, consumers are looking for an inexpensive beer that will delegitimize the very idea of beer -- that is to say, more inexpensive than Coors or Michelob. That is now as close as the nearest Walgreens store, which, for those of us living here in the greater Portland area, means we are no more than 1,000 feet away (I'm pretty sure it's required under a regional zoning ordinance). Hooray?

Speaking of all that, or some of it, or just around the bend from it, this is a substantial and damaged portion of my psyche encapsulated in a brief cartoon:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Made in China

The image above is Shanghai in 1990; the image below is Shanghai in 2010 (via) as photographed from the same location. I think this sort of transformation used to happen in the United States, but over the twenty years between 1990-2010, the only thing in the USA that grew at that kind of rate is, well, the prevalence of "Made in China" markers on goods sold in stores. And, it must be said, web-based pornography and average portion sizes.

The 'free trade' enthusiasts insist this is a good thing for all concerned -- not the portion sizes or porn, I mean, but China's explosive growth by way of producing goods for consumption in the USA and beyond. (Never mind that China's growth has come with a push from a rather visible and authoritarian hand -- this, like so many facts and facets of reality, is powerless against 'free market' boosterism). The change has obviously been a good thing for many people and institutions in China and the USA. How, whether, and when that translates to "good for all" -- here, there, and beyond -- is very much in question.