Sunday, December 23, 2007

Jessica Simpson's security entourage

This is really sickening. It's a shame that the onlookers weren't willing to gang up and subdue those out-of-control bully security guards.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

It doesn't matter

I'm so sick of seeing early polls, like this from Zogby:
UTICA, New York - Illinois Sen. Barack Obama would defeat all five of the top Republicans in prospective general election contests, performing better than either of his two top rivals, a new Zogby telephone poll shows.

His margins of advantage range from a 4 percent edge over Arizona Sen. John McCain and a 5 percent edge over Arkansas’ Mike Huckabee to an 18 percentage point lead over Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, the survey shows. Against New York’s Rudy Giuliani he leads by 9%, and against Fred Thompson of Tennessee he holds a 16 point edge.
 RomneyHuckabeeGiulianiMcCainThompson
ObamaObama leads 53%-35%Obama leads 47%-42%Obama leads 48%-39%Obama leads 47%-43%Obama leads 52%-36%


Remember the 2000 election? Bush was ahead of Gore from practically 1998 until the eve of the election, and still....

Oh, hell, nevermind.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Censorship vs. turning your television off: an early chapter

I got to thinking during my last post, actually, that it always surprises me how the debate about garbage in the media is framed. It usually looks something like this: one side (in Amerika, we call this side the "conservative" side) complains that there is way too much unregulated garbage on TV that is accessible to impressionable young minds. The other side says, well, the First Amendment kind of bars government censorship. Sorry. These two points get repeated over and over again in idiotic three-minute cable segments, as if there isn't any other solution, or even any other side to the issue. It reminded me of this exchange between Frank Zappa and John Lofton on CNN's crappy show Crossfire:



First, the thornier side, is about sex. The viewing public loves sex. So, naturally, the racier the sexualization of television, the more viewers you'll get. Whether in Utah or Los Angeles, people watch complete garbage.

The pro-censorship guys

Then, of course, there's a powerful section of the population, maybe waning in power now, that wishes to impose what might be described as a neo-Christian (or neo-Judeo-Christian*) morality on the public. John Lofton is an early example. In the 1980s, he was playing the quintessential American 1980s conservative: angry, dumb, beedy-eyed, wearing large-rimmed glasses, and ready to sink his teeth into anyone who dares to disagree with him (which, to him, is probably tantamount to disagreeing with the Bible). Today, he runs a blog after having left the Republican Party because they're too unbiblical.

It's said neo-Christians ("Christian right") have theological motivations at times, though I somehow doubt theology was ever the overarching motivation. If they resemble an earlier Christian movement, it's the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages—people believed in them, and they believed in Jesus, but not too many people really knew what they were talking about. In the jolly Middle Ages, there wasn't much in the way of enforcement of rules, but there was a lot of talk about rules. Hell was reserved for pretty serious heresy (or Jews). Like the 1970s-1980s, capitalism and borrowing was the new vogue. The bourgeois become popular in government because they were able to manage finances. The church was a big receiver of income (in the climax of the neo-Christian movement, in the early 2000s, there was a lot of talk of federally-financed, likely unconstitutional "faith-based initiatives"). While this was going, the church backed off from its restrictions on usury, as secular governments found themselves needing to borrow to finance wars and later explorations. It was only in the early modern era that religion surged in violence again (maybe that's next in the 21st century?).

In any event, neo-Christians weren't necessarily fundamentalist Christians, and some still aren't. Most are Republicans, but occasionally there's a Democrat (Joseph Lieberman) or Libertarian thrown into the mix. Most subscribe to some form of evangelical, highly eschatological Christianity, but some are Catholics or even Jews (Leiberman again, or Bill Kristol). Heck, some are Mormons—witness the recent idiotic speech by Mitt Romney, who preaches religious toleration to a point.

If anything, neo-Christians may not even agree about very much. They agree that abortion should be banned, they agree that federal power can be used to enforce morality (to varying extents), and they agree that at least parts of the First Amendment really shouldn't have any teeth or no heed should be paid to it at all. In all other ways, they have wide-ranging beliefs, though it often seems otherwise because they're willing to sacrifice almost everything else over their core issues, allowing other interest groups to fill in the vacuum (this is where people like Kristol and other Republican Party sects like big business come in).

The neo-Christian guys first cropped up definitively in the 1970s, though elements of their theology and even influence certainly can be traced back decades, if not centuries. They were around before Roe v. Wade (1973), though Roe certainly boosted them. Pat Robertson had The 700 Club in the 1960s and The Late Great Planet Earth (by ex-riverboat captain Hal Lindsey) was written before Roe (1970). Less polemical, but also at least on the fringes of that movement, was Billy Graham.

By the 1980s, after hot issues like the Vietnam War and Watergate had cooled down, these neo-Christian guys took Washington and the airwaves by storm. They never had full control of the House and Senate until 1994, but they set the legislative tone from 1980 until 1992, and then from 1994 until 2007. They only managed full control of both the Congress and the White House for most of the period between 2001 and 2006. There was a short lull from late 2001 until early 2003 when Vermont Republican Senator Jim Jeffords left the party and handed control of the Senate over to the Democrats (he decided not to seek reelection).

Regardless, from the 1980s on, neo-Christians set the social agenda, and deferred to other sometimes overlapping, sometimes contradictory sections of the Republican Party to set the economic agenda. Their power to persuade was unprecedented because they learned to master the airwaves as a tool for spreading memes. Constant, non-stop repetition of their ideas made their ideas popular, even when those ideas were obviously stupid. Ronald Reagan's moronic economic policies, which we're still paying for in 2007, sounded great: cut taxes, cut spending, cut regulations, get the government out of our lives, spend a lot on the military (I know, but they don't quite contradict). Either way, he really only managed to cut taxes and some regulations. Meanwhile, Ronnie had no problems using the federal government to thrust social policy on people: he presided over raised drinking age to 21. Meanwhile, the neo-Christians managed to poison to the 'L' word and keep the focus of dialog solely on their beliefs until at least 2005, arguably with a break around 1992 when the mess made in the 1980s and early 1990s was really to much.

Keep in mind, however, this movement was a lot more earnest early on than it was by the 1990s, or even in the 2000s when it was partially eclipsed by neoconservatism.

* I'm just going to stick to neo-Christian as the term, because it's short.

Is "getting speared" a euphemism for something?

From The New York Times ("TV’s Perfect Girl Is Pregnant; Real Families Talk"):
High school girls here wondered aloud on Thursday why no one was talking about contraception. Parents across the country, on the other hand, commiserated over the Internet about how, thanks to Ms. Spears, they were facing a conversation with their 8-, 9-, and 10-year-olds about sex.
How terrible! It's absolutely awful for children to understand how to avoid pregnancy before they're faced with it!

Seriously, maybe Jamie Lynn's mom, who recently canceled a book on parenting, ought to have had the talk at that age.

And yeah, why isn't contraception being discussed? Good job, New York Times, you get a cookie.

Of course, none of this means an end to the usual doom and gloom as neo-Puritanical parents and right-wing politicians lament that children are getting pregnant at younger ages (quick: how old was your average girl when she had her first child in 1600s New England?). Why, it's almost like it's the television's fault that these poor little children hear all this disgusting filth about penises going into vaginas, squirting, and coming back out and smoking a cigarette:
“Nowadays, nothing’s safe, not even cartoons,” Diana Madruga, who has an 11-year-old daughter, said as she wrapped up her shift as the manager of a Dunkin’ Donuts here in the Boston suburbs.
Here's a hint for you, Mme Madruga: turn off the goddamn television! And don't have your kids read the Bible, whatever you do. There's filth in there too.

Of course, I'm jumping the gun a little. Only some of this is part of that age-old (that is, going back to circa 1980) shouting match between frightened, goonish right-wingers and the few people simultaneously both courageous and influential enough to stand up for free speech. There is also a hint of an actual social problem here, expressed so eloquently by a 17-year-old:
High school girls who had already had their hearts broken by the all-too-public life of Ms. Spears’s older sister, Britney, known as a hard-partying mother of two, worried that their younger sisters would be devastated by the news — or, worse, that their sisters might think it was “cool” to be 16 and pregnant.
What? Maybe some of the problem here is teenage girls don't have good role models anymore. Wonder Girl never got pregnant (correct me if I'm wrong).
“She’s the idealistic little girl,” Alicia Akusis, 17, said of the television character Zoey between classes at Concord-Carlisle High School here. “She does perfect in school. Boys like her because she’s pretty, but she doesn’t deal with boys. She’s really smart, she’s really cool, she’s an empowering girl character.”
She's the "idealistic little girl" who "does perfect in school"? Maybe Concord-Carlisle should work on its grammar curriculum, but I digress.

Anyway, empowering female figures have sex drives too. From the sounds of it, nobody can fairly accuse Jamie Lynn Spears of a moral failing. She was 16 and practically living with her older boyfriend. Uh, yeah, they're going to have sex, and probably not safely. Mama Spears should have looked up from the typewriter that she was using to write a book on parenting occasionally to spend time constructive time with her daughter. And, oh yeah, maybe not let her live with her boyfriend. Seriously, Mama Spears was so shocked that all she could do was muse that her daughter had never missed curfew, as if sex couldn't be had before curfew.

Maybe some good could come from this. Nickelodeon could do a docudrama show about teenage pregnancy and postpartum life. Some of the dialog could be awesome, showing what it's really like when you have an infant. Like, not being able to hang out with your friends, or get boozed up, or whatever 16-year-olds do nowadays. Actually, Nick kind of did have that idea:
Dan Martinsen, a spokesman for Nickelodeon, said Thursday that “Zoey 101” was one of its most popular shows among viewers 9 to 14.

“Nothing about the content, characters or the storytelling on our air has changed at all,” Mr. Martinsen said. He said that Nickelodeon was discussing a special on the issue with Linda Ellerbee, the television journalist who is the host of “Nick News.” “Whenever an issue becomes so prevalent that it’s inescapable,” Mr. Martinsen said, “her show is where we turn to help kids navigate and interpret and understand it.”
And, of course, this Times spiel ends on a note of attempted irony:
Greg Moseley, 18, said he was sick of hearing the name Jamie Lynn Spears. “Why do we care about Britney Spears’s little sister?” Mr. Moseley said. “Why does it make a difference? What does it mean? Nothing.”

“All this stuff is impossible to get away from,” he continued, “unless you go to Alaska and live in the woods.”
Or, turn of your television and skip the headlines about it on the Internet and in the paper. Mostly worked for me, except I guess I sort of just ranted about it.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sex ed. delays intercourse?

"Study: Sex Education Works to Delay Intercourse." The only thing that makes me doubt it is that Fox reported it.

Also:
[Jamie Lynn] Spears, who turned 16 on April 4 and says she is 12 weeks into her pregnancy, told the magazine she plans to raise her child in Louisiana, "so it can have a normal family life."
...of eating possum and shagging sheep?

Now you know they had her best interests at heart

This is extremely f'd up ("Heat on Halliburton over 'gang rape'," AP, published in The Sydney Morning Herald 2007-12-20):
Jamie Leigh Jones, now 23, said that she was gang raped inside the Baghdad Green Zone in July 2005 while she was working for the Halliburton subsidiary KBR Inc, which has support contracts with the US military.

...

Jones' KBR contract however included a clause which prevents her from suing her employer, Poe said, which will likely force her into arbitration, which he described as "a privatised justice system with no public record, no discovery and no meaningful appeal".

There are many laws that the Department of Justice (DOJ) "can enforce with respect to contractors who commit crimes abroad, but it chooses not to", Democrat Robert Scott said.

The DOJ "seems to be taking action with respect to enforcement of criminal laws in Iraq only when it is forced to do something by embarrassing media coverage," he added.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More on what a slimeball Mitt Romney really is

From Frank Rich's column in The New York Times ("Latter-Day Republicans vs. the Church of Oprah," 2007-12-16):
Mr. Romney didn’t fight his church’s institutionalized apartheid, whatever his private misgivings, because that’s his character. Though he is trying to sell himself as a leader, he is actually a follower and a panderer, as confirmed by his flip-flops on nearly every issue.
It's nice that columnists have to do the job of the newsmedia nowadays. This, really, is just one more way that Mitt Romney is a bigot who wouldn't stand a chance on the ticket of a major party in a civilized country.

(By "institutionalized apartheid," Rich is referring to the fact that the Church of Jesus F. Christ of Latter-Day Saints institutionalized racism until the late '70s. Just one more bit of immutable wisdom that, in retrospect, didn't seem like such a good idea.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Minutemaniacs: Failing to Stop Immigration!

More immigration madness from Arizona!

Of course, if anybody wants to stop illegal immigration, it'd be easy: just raise the minimum wage exorbitantly for illegal immigrants. That would punish the employers who hire them sufficiently so they won't be hired. Then, when such workers get hired under the table anyway, enforce it when employees come to the authorities and demand their pay. Illegal immigrants would be doing the policing for the government. The jobs would dry up, and the problem would be negligible.

Of course, concern about illegal immigration isn't rooted in common sense or concern for American workers, no matter what anyone claims. The root cause is racism, jingoism, xenophobia, ignorance, and stupidity.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Huckabee strikes at more Mitt Romney idiocy

From "Romney Hits Huckabee for Criticizing Bush" (by Michael D. Shear, 2007-12-15) on The Washington Post's The Trail blog:
Sensing an opening in his desperate effort to retake the lead in Iowa, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney on Saturday pounced on comments by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in which he characterized President Bush's foreign policy as an "arrogant bunker mentality."

Campaigning in Iowa, Romney accused Huckabee of sounding more like a Democrat than a Republican.

"It sounds like something Barack Obama or John Edwards would say -- not what you hear from someone running for president as a Republican," he told reporters. Huckabee made the comments in the latest issue of the journal Foreign Affairs.
First of all, Bush does have an "arrogant bunker mentality" to his foreign policy. The fact that Bush still has supporters is just astounding. Who are these people, and who ties their shoes in the morning? The fact that a seemingly intelligent man like Mitt Romney would still support Bush shows how morally bankrupt he is. He's not presidential material.

However, the odder part is that Huckabee is somewhat right—Republicans and Democrats are often sounding very much alike. But then, let's not forget that some Democrats thought it was a good idea to "authorize" the smirking chimp to attack Iraq, believing he wouldn't do it without good reason.

What Democrats, with their spinelessness, don't understand is that it's not good to behave like a Republican. Democrats may never really have stood for anything, but pretending to be Republican to win votes while abandoning the people who would never vote Republican is a terrible way to win elections.

I'm not letting the Republican Party off the hook. It is quite possibly the largest, most powerful politically organized scum party on the planet today—sure, it's possible to point to fascist parties in Europe, but they're marginal and the result of Europe's more democratically representative elections. Republicans actually have the power and influence to do terrible things all over the world. It's the mission and cause of the Republican Party to be destructive—it's their very nature, not something to be emulated.

Some may say I'm overreacting, but the mentality of the current crop of GOP leaders shows that they don't belong in power. Indeed, most probably belong in prison. Making people disappear to "undisclosed locations," unprovoked invasions, torture, and denying habeus corpus (apparently even to American citizens, in some cases) are marks of fascism.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Doll lovin'

A documentary about Real Dolls and the men who love them. Definitely one of the stranger modern, uh, relationships.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Wild game will carry me away

From The New York Times ("Locavore, Get Your Gun," by Steven Rinella, 2007-12-14):
Hunters need to push a new public image based on deeper traditions: we are stewards of the land, hunting on ground that we know and love, collecting indigenous, environmentally sustainable food for ourselves and our families.
Stewards of the land? Like Mohicans and Cherokee and stuff?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Maureen Dowd on Doug Feith

Doug Feith is one of the little-known neo-conservative goons who helped draw the United States to war with Iraq. Here's an excerpt from Maureen Dowd's recent New York Times column ("The Dream Is Dead," 2007-12-12) about him:
Feith told Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker that “My family got wiped out by Hitler, and ... all this stuff about working things out — well, talking to Hitler to resolve the problem didn’t make any sense to me. The kind of people who put bumper stickers on their car that declare that ‘War is not the answer,’ are they making a serious comment? What’s the answer to Pearl Harbor? What’s the answer to the Holocaust?”

What’s the answer to bin Laden? According to Feith, it was an attack on an unrelated dictator. He oversaw the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, whose mission was to amp up links between Saddam and Al Qaeda.

It defies reason, but there are still some who think the chuckleheads who orchestrated the Iraq misadventure have wisdom to impart.

The Pentagon neocons dumped Condi Rice out of the loop. Yet, according to Newsweek’s Mike Isikoff, Condi has now offered Wolfie a job. It wasn’t enough that he trashed Iraq and the World Bank. (He’s still larking around town with Shaha, the sweetheart he gave the sweetheart deal to.)

Condi wants Wolfie to advise her on nuclear proliferation and W.M.D. as part of a State Department panel that has access to highly classified intelligence.

Once you’ve helped distort W.M.D. intelligence to trick the country into war, shouldn’t you be banned for life from ever having another top-level government post concerning W.M.D.?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Ray Comfort with the Banana

Ray Comfort's banana demonstration is about the gayest thing ever. EVER!

I stole the video from here.

Wikibullshit

Stuff like this is what I can't stand about Wikipedia: "Not expressed as an ideology"? What is it expressed as then? A sonnet?

Anti-authoritarian? Only its rhetoric.

I know Wikipedia has major problems inherent to any group effort on a mass scale, but for some things it's just not so bad. For issues relating to politics, however, it's virtually worthless. Of course, there are bigger jokes out there.

Links:

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Annoying the Fcuk out of you

From Germany and Japan!

Mitt Romney and Religious "Freedom"

Ah, religious freedom! My favorite subject. Here's to Mitt Romney, and all others who cure diseases with heavy doses of poison:
"Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone," he said.
This statement has some interesting implications. First of all, God is perishable? I guess the Catholics would agree. And then, who wouldn't, as long as you have the correct religion?

Second, would Mitt Romney ban atheism? But permit worship of Cthulhu or the Spaghetti Monster (not to say they're all that different)? Curious indeed: this would be the first time in American history, I think, where not believing something would be against the law.

Third, and most revealing, we can conclude that Mitt Romney is more batshit nuts than I thought. He communes with God? Is it a two-way conversation? If so, Mitt belongs in Bellevue, not the White House.

Mitt Romney is a bigot. It's time for people to stop electing charlatans, like Romney and Bush, who play lip service to belief in God, while doing all they can to hurt the public. If you aren't going to make it easier for the poor and middle class to send their children to a good school, you're not "pro-family." If you're driving up the costs of healthcare for those who can least afford it, you're not "pro-life." And, if there is a God, believing in "Him" doesn't make you any less of an asshole.

More fun:
Update 2007-12-14: Roger Cohen wrote a great piece about religion in American politics in The New York Times yesterday. See "Secular Europe’s Merits." The relevant part about Mitt Romney:
Romney allows no place in the United States for atheists. He opines that, “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.” Yet secular Sweden is free while religious Iran is not. Buddhism, among other great Oriental religions, is forgotten.

He shows a Wikipedia-level appreciation of other religions, admiring “the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims” and “the ancient traditions of the Jews.” These vapid nostrums suggest his innermost conviction of America’s true faith. A devout Christian vision emerges of a U.S. society that is in fact increasingly diverse.

...

Jefferson’s “wall of separation” must be restored if those who would destroy the West’s Enlightenment values are to be defeated.

Hard drinkin' 8th graders: how kids should handle booze

Let's see. What kills the most teenagers in that 15-19 age range? I'm going to guess HIV, since clearly most of them are hookers walking Castro Street.

All right, let's see if I was right. This popped up to tell me.

Damn! It's suicide. Of course, it doesn't really relate that back to the original subject of the ad, which is that kids drink. But I guess setting up a meaningless correlation between alcohol consumption and suicide in teens is perfectly honest, right?

I'm really getting tired of ads like this everywhere. And you know what the worst part is? These ads probably feed the problem. They're free advertising for alcohol companies. They're a constant reminder to every kid who sees one that there's this terrible, evil, forbidden fruit known as alcohol that has mind-altering effects.

Here's the proper way for kids to learn about alcohol: have mommy and daddy sit down with them when they're around age 13 and pour them a shot of Wild Turkey 101, preferably a little bit before dinner on an empty stomach. Tell little Bobby or Suzy to shoot it as fast as possible, so it all gets down before the gag reflex kicks in. Mention that burning sensation inside the stomach, and that creeping sensation to vomit. Within a few minutes, a pretty strong buzz ought to set in. This is known as "drunkenness" and it's accompanied by a marked reduction in cognitive ability and spacial reasoning. And that's just one shot, widely believed to be about an appropriate level of consumption in the course of a few days (depending who you ask).

Later on, or perhaps the next day, when little Bobby or Suzy has sufficiently sobered up (it really shouldn't take too long), it's time to explain what that crazy shit was. Wild Turkey is a high-proof booze, roughly 50% alcohol (2 proof = 1% alcohol). Different beverages have different proof ratings, ranging from low (beer) to moderate (wine and some spirits) to high (stronger spirits). Drink sizes are standardized in most of the world based on how much alcohol you take in per drink; for instance, if you ask for a shot of Whiskey, you're getting about the same amount of alcohol you would get from a glass of beer. Mention that most drinks don't need to be that strong, and that enjoying alcohol usually means having a drink that isn't so strong—a glass of wine, or a beer perhaps. Drinking doesn't need to be about getting drunk. You can, and should, enjoy alcohol without getting grossly intoxicated. Things like hangovers are no fun.*

Alcohol consumption should be a public affair. It provides a stigmatization against acting like a complete fucking moron. Ads with cute little kids somberly telling you they're heading down the path to alcoholism makes me want to drink.

* If you do drink too much...

If you do drink too much, try to have a vitamin supplement heavy on vitamin B mixed with lots of water before you go to bed. You should wake up feeling pretty good; a lot of the hangover is caused by a lack of vitamin B and dehydration. (Of course, while you're drinking, it's best to stagger your drinks with glasses of water anyway.)

Personally, I suggest 1-2 packets of Emergen-C mixed with at least 1 tall glass of water, preferably two. Click here for the supply on MotherNature.com; you can also find it on Amazon.com and in most major drug stores. My favorite flavor is orange. Any vitamin supplement heavy with vitamin B should do the trick, but I'm not aware of anything that works as well as Emergen-C. I'd love a heads up if anyone can suggest one.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Save Tucker?

I never really understood how cable news "stars" rise and fall. I guess it usually comes down to a few gimmicks: sarcasm (Keith Olbermann), yelling at people in lieu of making a point (Chris Matthews, Bill O'Reilly), being just borderline racist/nationalist enough to still get away with it (Pat Buchanan), exuding a sense that you know what you're talking about even when you probably don't (Bill Schneider, Jack Cafferty), hating immigrants (most of Fox News, Lou Dobbs), being inflammatory while looking like a hooker (Ann Coulter), having a funny name (Wolf Blitzer), blind partisanship, being batshit insane (most everyone). One thing's for sure: being thoughtful or bright isn't helpful criteria. You pretty much have to be either a frothing right wing nut, or a center-right buffoon acting as an unwitting foil to a right-wing nut. Some guys, like Olbermann, get by on humor and being slightly inflammatory, but they're a minority. But, fitting a mindless platitude into a 30-second soundbyte is a talent too, right?

Before I continue, I guess I need to lay out the cable news industry as I understand it. In the beginning, in the 1980s, there was CNN, and it wasn't really all that good. But, 24/7 news had finally gone online (before "gone online" was even a cliche). Then, around 1996, along came MSNBC and Fox News. MSNBC was supposed to be hip and interactive, backed with money from Microsoft and featuring a mix of news and allegedly hip tech-oriented shows. Ratings never really worked that way, and MSNBC later tried other formulas (11 years later, they're still experimenting*). Fox News, on the other hand, found its niche by catering to a massive, angry swath of American society that doesn't quite understand why it's angry—these people are among the incongruous masses who call themselves conservatives without knowing what the term means.

By the 2000s, Fox and CNN were at each other's throats as the two heavyweights in the cable "news" business. Fox News actually managed to exceed CNN's ratings sometime in the third millennium. Through it all, MSNBC was sort of like the yappy little chihuahua that got to watch. After every meal, after the two big dogs would eat the entirety of the meal, little MSNBC got to live off the entrails and feces of the kill. Because of low ratings, MSNBC often got left with the worst hosts, the worst personalities, etc.†

Tucker Carlson is one of those guys who really fits a lot of those criteria I mention in the first paragraph: if he's not dumb as a rock, he's pretty damn close. Tucker even has a unique gimmick: a bow-tie, like Jimmy Olson! He says he's not blindly partisan, but he probably is. I guess he rose to stardom on CNN, and was thrown off the air circa 2005 when the so-called Cable News Network realized it hadn't reported any news in years.

So, what's this I hear about having to save Tucker?
Liberals want to save the whales. Environmentalists want to save the Everglades. Conservatives want to save the Confederate flag but we just want to SAVE TUCKER.

MSNBC executives are considering cancelling 'Tucker' with Tucker Carlson which airs on MSNBC at 6:00pm EST weekdays.

This decision by MSNBC will silence a conservative voice, part of a move by MSNBC to swing left and become "FOX for the Liberals," dropping any pretense of objectivity or balance. Tucker Carlson is a conservative who brings a tone of civility and his unfailing good-humor to political talk television. Quirky and unpredictable, we love Tucker.
Silence a "conservative voice"? The majority of their pundits aren't enough? I guess Pat Buchanan is more of a paleoconservative, to Tucker's neoconservatism. Yikes! And we still have Joe Scarborough. Jesus Christ, I guess there are no conservatives to be heard at all. It must be hard fitting conservative voices between segments about the latest dead blonde woman to hit the airwaves.

"Objectivity or balance"? Do right-wingers think the only way to have objectivity or balance is to have nothing but Bill O'Reilly clones on all the time on every channel? How many frothing fanatics with shitfaced grins does society need hijacking our airwaves before far right Republicans will be pleased? I'm guessing anything less than 100% saturation is, to them, "unbalanced." There is virtually nothing even watchable for anybody left of Genghis Kahn on television.

The video they post on their web site is precious. Introducing himself, Tucker says, "I'm a journalist." Huh? Is spouting partisan rhetoric make you a journalist now? Why, every blogger must be a journalist!

Here's an idea: no more fucking "news" opinion shows. Get Tucker, Pat, Ann, Chris, Lou, Bill, and every other right-wing nut off the air, and shut down the TV after the news is reported. I'd say we should get the left-wing nuts off the air too, but I don't really think we have any, contrary to media claims about liberals and Vermont being left-wing.‡ I'm talking about what the networks should do, not the viewers. The viewers should read a newspaper, and then go outside and play, and stop watching the idiot box. Get the facts, and think for yourself. Yeah, sometimes newspapers are biased, but at least the better ones aren't myopic.

* Last I saw, they were playing non-stop discussions about dead white girls.

† It isn't just MSNBC that slummed for the "worst." Many of Fox News' right-wing hosts started out on MSNBC (John Gibson, for instance) before making their way to Fox. Democratic fanboy Paul Begala become CNN's token "liberal" (whatever that is) after his show with Ollie North was cancelled (Ollie went on to work at Fox as a news correspondent). But MSNBC seems to pick up a lot of the crumbs the other guys can't stand anymore.

‡ It's perplexing that there really aren't "left" or even moderate-liberal voices on television, but the reason probably is that most people intelligent enough to think Bill O'Reilly is an authoritarian windbag probably aren't the biggest viewers of cable news. Sadly, they probably watch sitcoms.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Closing Time, Texas Style: "Texas Judge's Decison To Close On Time Lead to Immediate Execution"

Of course, Michael Richard is in no position to say his right to due process was denied—because he's in Hell now! Texas has some bizarre customs indeed ("Judge: 'We Close at 5'; Texas Judge's Decison To Close On Time Lead to Immediate Execution," ABC News, 2007-10-12):
Four words -- "We close at 5" -- enforced by Texas judge Sharon Keller led to the almost immediate execution of convicted murderer Michael Richard.

Three hours after Keller refused to keep her courthouse open past closing time to receive the condemned killer's request to stay his execution, Richard was executed.
...
What happened? Richard's attorney's computer broke down, so he needed a little more time to finish an appeal.
Richard's attorney's computer broke down, and when they called the courthouse asking for a little more time, just 20 minutes more, Judge Keller ordered the court clerk not to wait for the appeal that could have at least temporarily stopped his execution.

After the execution, prominent defense attorneys from across Texas signed an official complaint against Keller, asking the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct to disciplined or fire her.
It sounds like Keller was just really eager to execute someone.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Jackass makes scene tearing down Mexican flag

Here's an "unedited video" on YouTube. A creepy looking veteran decided to tear a Mexican flag because it was flown atop a pub above an American flag. He left the Mexican flag on the ground, and ran off with the American flag. According to Infowars.net, the man said, "I'm Jim Brossert and I took this flag down in honor of my country with a knife from the United States army. I'm a veteran, I am not going to see this done to my country. If they want to fight us, then they need to be men, and they need to come and fight us, but I want somebody to fight me for this flag. They're not going to get it back."

Apparently, some wingnuts think the actions undertaken by the nutcase on the video was, uh, okay. (Apparently, wingnuts think stealing is okay under certain circumstances.)

First of all, if you're so hyper-patriotic that the position of the flag relative to another flag matters to you, get your head checked. Also, the owner of the bar apparently didn't mean any insult to the United States. He was flying an American flag; he probably knows there are jingoistic asholes like Mr. Brossert who have such small dicks that they'll start a fight because of a perceived swipe at their country. I doubt he wanted trouble.

Finally, the one thing nobody is remembering, is that the First Amendment guarantees you the right to fly the flag any which way you choose. So, when it comes down to it, the only crime that was committed was vandalism and theft, and that was by Mr. Brossert.

If you care, here's the federal law about displaying the flag.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Stupid laws

"Strange laws on the Suncoast" from mysuncoast.com (2007-10-11) had the be the most poorly written article ever, but some of the choice quotes in it were great. A local moron was swearing in front of children, so he got arrested for leaving a mud puddle in front of his house for more than 24 hours?
Sarasota's city attorney says some of the laws in the miscellaneous section of the city code need to be updated. Some of them need to be changed and some removed completely.

Same thing in Bradenton. Should you really go to jail for leaving a mud puddle in front of your house for more than 24 hours?

When 45-year-old Christopher Haupt was arrested Saturday at the grand opening of Payne Park for swearing in front of a group of kids, some people were surprised that such a law existed.

Sarasota city attorney Bob Fournier says it may be a little old fashioned, but probably here to stay. "I certainly don't want to condone that type of behavior and I don't think city commissioners do either, so I'm not so sure that one is antiquated."
The site should be myfuckingidiotcoast.com. Never use terrible grammar and diction like this in front of your kids:
Most people we spoke to agree with him. "It's a rule you have to have because some people go nuts won't stop and at that point doesn't freedom of speech get involved with other people especially minors," says Jay Warren.
Thank you for that nugget of wisdom, First Amendment Savant Jay Warren. (God, I hope that's a misquote.)

Here's another bit of local wisdom:
There are other strangely-worded laws. For example, one city ordinance prohibits a woman with a reputation for bad virtue from lounging about and behaving in an inappropriate manner. "See now you've got to define questionable virtue and bad reputation. Are you going to ban Lindsey Loman and Britney Spears and how about Hilary Clinton," said another resident.
Holy shit, kids! Britney Spears and Lindsay "Loman" being compared to "Hilary" Clinton? Does Hillary walk around dressed like a hooker now? (Guess which one of the three is running for President of the United States.)

For more dumb laws, dumblaws.com used to be fun. Now, of course, just check to see what the latest White House initiative is.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The "Left"

So, Congress is getting a little concerned that the war isn't going well. Even some Republicans have pulled their heads out of that orifice where most of the Republicans' ideas come from. Great idea, I guess. Of course, I love when The Washington Post ("House Passes Bill on Pullout," by Jonathan Weisman, October 3, 2007) tries to report on something political:
The House, with overwhelming, bipartisan support, voted yesterday to give the Bush administration two months to present to Congress its planning for the withdrawal of combat forces in Iraq.

The 377 to 46 vote was the first salvo of a new legislative strategy adopted by House Democratic leaders, away from partisan confrontation and toward a more incremental approach to war policy that can bring Republicans to their side. The withdrawal-planning bill had met fierce opposition this summer from ardent Iraq war foes, who scuttled an earlier vote by saying it would do nothing but give Republicans political cover for their support of President Bush's policies

This time, amid the stirrings of a bipartisan centrist coalition on Iraq, Democratic leaders stared down the antiwar left and went forward with the vote. With Senate leaders stymied in their efforts to force a change of course in Iraq, House Democratic leaders faced a choice of whether to continue pushing firm timelines for troop withdrawals, as many liberal Democrats want, or to search for bipartisan comity, even after the Senate had failed to find it.
Wait a second. A 377 to 46 vote to give the administration two months to present a plan about withdrawing troops from Iraq is staring down the antiwar left? What the hell is the anti-war left anyway? Everything to the left of Rush Limbaugh?

What is The Washington Post saying? First of all, one thing is clear: antiwar in this case means being against the current debacle in Iraq. It doesn't mean being against war in general. Some pretty hefty Republican troglodytes have come out against this war, including no doubt some that might have loved many other wars including Vietnam, Desert Storm, Korea, Afghanistan, and maybe some that haven't even happened, like a hypothetical nuclear holocaust during the Cold War that would have hastened the Second Coming.

More accurately, The Washington Post was trying to say that the motion to withdraw wasn't as strong as some who are against the war would have wanted. Some would like the U.S. out of Iraq in two months. They could have just said that without using the loaded term "antiwar left." I expect that from Fox News or The New York Post, not a respected newspaper.

Frank Rich on Clarence Thomas

Great title: "Nobody Knows the Lynchings He’s Seen" (by Frank Rich). Oh, seriously, I'm not going to read Clarence Thomas' book. The guy, frankly, bores me. Heck, Scalia may be a right-wing nut, but at least he's colorful. Thomas, on the other hand, generally comes across as a not-so-thoughtful bullshit artist at best.

One of Thomas' big gripes in life is affirmative action. Ironically, he likely benefited from it. Which, I guess, makes him one of affirmative action's biggest mistakes. He made it all the way to the Supreme Court, after all.

One bit piqued my curiosity:
Mr. Thomas seems ignorant of this changing America. He can never see past his enemies' list, which in his book expands beyond his political foes, Yale and the press to "elite white women" and "paternalistic big-city whites" and "light-skinned blacks." (He does include a warm mention of Mr. Thurmond, a supporter in 1991, without mentioning that the senator hid away a child fathered with a black maid.) Always eager to cast himself as a lynching victim, Mr. Thomas is far more trapped in the past than the 1960s civil-rights orthodoxy he relentlessly demonizes.
Light-skinned blacks? Paternalistic big-city whites? What the f—?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Moms pissed off

I love hearing stories about pretentious suburban mothers getting hosed over nothing. And it happens all the time in allegedly "liberal,""progressive" Los Angeles. Like, this non-issue about some Disney Channel star on some movie that I've seen billboards for somewhere getting pissed off because an actress in it was seen nude:
(Sept. 7) - The wholesome image of Vanessa Hudgens, star of the made-for-kids TV movie hit "High School Musical," was under fire on Friday because of a nude photo circulating on the Internet, creating a new publicity challenge for the Walt Disney Co.

...

"She's damaged," Renee Rollins-Greenberg, a Los Angeles mother of two, told Reuters. "She's got this teeny-bop audience, young pre-teens and younger, who are admiring her and thinking she's this wonderful, pure innocent person. Eighteen is awfully young for this kind of display."

"I'm devastated because I have an 8-year-old for which I now have to have an explanation," said another Los Angeles-area mother, Rosie Konkel. "She's always looked at this character as a very smart and proper young lady."
No, she's not damaged. She's damaged when she does a nude pictorial in Penthouse. That's when you know your body is buying you a star on the Walk of Fame anymore.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Yahoo! News Story: Bridge falls into Mississippi River

This must have sucked.
MINNEAPOLIS - The entire span of an interstate bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River during evening rush hour Wednesday, sending vehicles, tons of concrete and twisted metal crashing into the water.

...

A burning truck and a school bus clung to one slanted slab, while at least eight cars and a truck were submerged in the river.
Slanted slab?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Government Secrecy in Missouri

From The New York Times ("After Flawed Executions, States Resort to Secrecy" by Adam Liptak; July 30, 2007):
A Missouri doctor who had supervised more than 50 executions by lethal injection testified last year that he sometimes gave condemned inmates smaller doses of a sedative than the state’s protocol called for, explaining that he is dyslexic. “So it’s not unusual for me to make mistakes,” said the doctor, who was referred to in court papers as John Doe I.
My first instinct on reading this was surprise that a doctor, sworn to preserve life, would help a state—especially a barbaric state like Missouri—execute a prisoner.

So, what does a government do when its unethical behavior is challenged? Pass a law to protect itself!
A new law, signed this month by Gov. Matt Blunt, makes it unlawful to reveal “the identity of a current or former member of an execution team,” and it allows executioners to sue anyone who names them.
Hell, if we're going to have execution, why can't we be honest about it? Government activities should be publicized, afterall. Of course, the answer about why we can't be honest about it is it would turn people's stomachs if they saw it happen publicly.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

White House Using President's Biography To Spread Political Propaganda

I found myself reflecting on what a miserable failure Bush is today, and decided to see if the whole Google bomb thing was still going on. Sadly, it's not. However, if you read the president's biography on WhiteHouse.Gov (as of today) you'll find a very glowing review of his mediocre presidency. It's also riddled framed terminology designed to spread party propaganda. Here's an annotated text of the biography with the propaganda terms (at least the ones I caught) in bold:
George W. Bush is the 43rd President of the United States. He was sworn into office on January 20, 2001, re-elected1 on November 2, 2004, and sworn in for a second term on January 20, 2005. Prior to his Presidency, President Bush served for 6 years as the 46th Governor of the State of Texas, where he earned a reputation for bipartisanship2 and as a compassionate conservative3 who shaped public policy based on the principles of limited government,4 personal responsibility, strong families, and local control.

President Bush was born on July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut, and grew up in Midland and Houston, Texas. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University in 1968, and then served as an F-102 fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard. President Bush received a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School in 1975. Following graduation, he moved back to Midland and began a career in the energy business.5 After working on his father’s successful 1988 Presidential campaign, President Bush assembled the group of partners who purchased the Texas Rangers baseball franchise in 1989.6 On November 8, 1994, President Bush was elected Governor of Texas. He became the first Governor in Texas history to be elected to consecutive 4-year terms when he was re-elected on November 3, 1998.

Since becoming President of the United States in 2001, President Bush has worked with the Congress to create an ownership society and build a future of security, prosperity, and opportunity for all Americans.7 He signed into law tax relief that helps workers keep more of their hard-earned money, as well as the most comprehensive education reforms in a generation, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. This legislation is ushering in a new era of accountability, flexibility, local control, and more choices for parents, affirming our Nation’s fundamental belief in the promise of every child. President Bush has also worked to improve healthcare and modernize Medicare, providing the first-ever prescription drug benefit for seniors; increase homeownership, especially among minorities; conserve our environment8; and increase military strength, pay, and benefits. Because President Bush believes the strength of America lies in the hearts and souls of our citizens, he has supported programs that encourage individuals to help their neighbors in need.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked our Nation. Since then, President Bush has taken unprecedented steps to protect our homeland and create a world free from terror. He is grateful for the service and sacrifice of our brave men and women in uniform and their families. The President is confident that by helping build free and prosperous societies, our Nation and our friends and allies will succeed in making America more secure and the world more peaceful.

President Bush is married to Laura Welch Bush, a former teacher and librarian, and they have twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna. The Bush family also includes two dogs, Barney and Miss Beazley, and a cat, Willie.
One could only hope that someday a future administration will replace the above with a more accurate biography.

Notes

  1. Implies he was elected the first time around. The result of the original election was closely contested, and an honest result likely wouldn't have been in Bush's favor.
  2. Also debatable, although Bush wasn't really well-known outside of Texas before he was elected. His father was something of a high-level bureaucrat within the government and Republican Party apparatus, however. Oh, his father was also president from 1989-1993 and is also named George Bush.
  3. Bush's administration has cut back benefits to the poor. Bush also supports the death penalty, and opposes life-saving stem cell research. "Compassionate" is an interesting term to use.
  4. This term is especially interesting. While Bush has cut taxes and privatized government functions, he has also expanded the federal budget to a record size and increased national debt drastically. Some of the functions formerly handled by the civil service have been bidded off to contractors. This has, ironically, raised costs and decreased efficiency in some cases (although it arguably decreased the size of the government).
  5. If memory serves, he never really had a single successful drilling venture.
  6. Bush was likely benefitting from his father's connections. Either way, this venture made him quite wealthy when the team was sold. However, the idea that Bush took a strong leadership role in this venture is unlikely.
  7. While only the term "ownership society" in this section constitutes an example of carefully crafted, framed propaganda, the rest of the sentence is interesting too: Bush's actions have enraged large portions of the world, and his war in Iraq has proven to be a spectacle of American weakness. Likewise, his cuts to benefit programs have likely reduced opportunity and most certainly have increased poverty.
  8. Here we have an outright lie.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

New York Post : Anti-New York?

Lee Anthony Nieves is leaving New York. He couldn't take all the godless liberalism, gun control, high utilities, and "ceaseless left-wing extremism." And he's taking the wife and kids with him.

Who is Lee Anthony Nieves? I don't really know either. Some guy who wrote an op-ed in The New York Post ("Ex-New Yorker: Why I'm Gone," May 29, 2007). Says the post, "Lee Anthony Nieves was a lifelong resident of The Bronx. He resigned recently as deputy director of the Mayor's Office of Veterans' Affairs." The best part of the whole thing is the terrorism hook.
And then there's the liberal political culture of Bush-bashing and anti-conservative hatred. No matter what the White House does to protect New Yorkers in particular and the nation as a whole, it's either never enough, wrong, illegal or stupid. It's as if the Republicans (I'm one) are the real enemy, not Islamic jihadis.
Can't we have more than one "real enemy"? Just because Islamic jihadis are dangerous, authoritarian troglodytes doesn't mean that Republicans aren't too.

Bye, Lee. Take The New York Post with you.

Master debaters

I don't watch the Republican debates usually. It's not really worth my time to see a bunch of overly made-up old men masturbating over who likes Ronald Reagan the most. So, I just read about the debates afterwards.

There was one nugget of complete insanity ("Republicans clash on immigration," BBC News, June 6, 2007):
The 10 candidates also debated the possibility of military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.

All candidates agreed that Iran needed to be prevented from developing nuclear weapons and there was criticism of Democratic rivals over their willingness to hold direct talks with Iran on the issue.

California congressman Duncan Hunter was the most explicit, promising that he would be prepared to authorise a tactical nuclear strike if necessary.
Great, let's just turn Iran into a glass parking lot. It sure solved all our problems every other time we did it. Luckily, even Reagan wasn't batshit nuts enough to push that button.

So who's running anyway? He's a list for those wanting to stay updated:
  • Sam Brownback—religious nut
  • Jim Gilmore—governor of Virginia, big fan of execution ("pro-life")
  • Rudolph Giuliani—mediocre mayor of major city, tough on crime, guest starred on Law & Order
  • Mike Huckabee—former fatass, current religious nut
  • Duncan Hunter—batshit nuts war hawk
  • John McCain—war hawk has-been
  • Mitt Romney—goofy Massachusetts Mormon
  • Ron Paul—Texas authoritarian ("libertarian")
  • Tom Tancredo—anti-immigrant, anti-choice
  • Tommy Thompson—starred on Law & Order

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pelosi running for President in 2012 or 2016, then saving world?

Well, unless the Republicans nominate a New York politician too, it's a fairly safe bet that the Democrats will lose in 2008. Between Hillary and Rudy, I'm guessing Hillary would be the better of the two Republicans in the running.

California, though also having a (largely underserved) reputation as a fairly progressive state, somehow was lucky enough to have their delegate of House of Representatives' 8th district also be Speaker of the House. The 8th district of California covers most of San Francisco, the city that is probably largely the reason for California's (largely undeserved) reputation as a progressive state.

So, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been running around the world meeting almost everyone she can. On a Congressional tour of Israel and Syria, Pelosi tried to be a go-between for the Israelis and Syrians to discuss peace.

Now, she has met with Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, to discuss climate change ("Merkel and US House Speaker Pelosi Debate Climate Change," Deutsche Welle, May 29, 2007):
Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday after meeting with US House of Representives Speaker Nancy Pelosi that she would continue to press for binding targets to combat global warming ahead of the G8 summit in Germany.

"We need multilateral agreements to deal on a global basis with the challenges facing humanity," Merkel said after a meeting with Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives.

Pelosi, for her part, stressed her commitment to "save the planet" and said she supported cooperation on climate change as she met with Merkel.
I wonder if she's shoring up on foreign policy experience to see if she can take a stab at running for President in the next decade or so. It's a common tactic of less-than-qualified career politicians.* George W. Bush didn't bother, of course, but it was the tactic Bill Richardson used for years before he decided he was going to run for the nomination in 2008. She'd have an opening in 2012 if the Democrats manage to steal defeat from the jaws of victory again.

* I always feel that the best candidates for President of the United States are the ones most quickly disqualified. First of all, I would expect them to be fairly effective governors of medium-to-large, influential, highly bureaucratic states. As far as foreign policy is concerned, having economic, cultural, and in some cases even political ties to other countries couldn't hurt. California has a large immigrant population from Latin America and Asia; New York has many European immigrants as well as the United Nations. Even Illinois, because of its immigrant population, and Massachusetts fit the bill to some extent. Also, it's not that I appreciate bureaucracy, but the federal government is the biggest bureaucracy of all. Unfortunately, such states, even as they often are tax donors to smaller states (meaning their citizens send income taxes to the federal government, which then get redistributed to other states), often have a reputation for being economically rigid. Thanks to media ostracization, potential candidates from such states tend to be taken out of the running early. Part of the reason for the said media ostracization is that these states tend to not really fit the media's prevailing image of "real America"—that is, predominantly white, Protestant, politically conservative-populist (at least on paper). As a matter of fact, they tend to be as politically hegemonic as allegedly conservative-populist states. As a result, we often end up with mediocre options from states that maybe shouldn't be states at all.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Disgusting, disgusting, and that's all you can say about it, and it shouldn't happen; it shouldn't be allowed to happen and the government should ensure that laws are put in place to stop these type of things happening.
—Noel McNamara, Crime Victims Support, Sydney (see Virginia Tech killing game anger)

I of course don't like the idea of such a "game," but I also don't like the idea of censoring people for making what is apparently a political statement of some sort (albeit, a poorly constructed one). Yeah, the game's concept is disgusting, but the United States Federal Government and State of Virginia are also disgusting for allowing Seung-Hui Cho to get a gun. Why don't we ban them?

What Noel McNamara sees to be gained from banning a mockery of something that happened across the world in a foreign country is beyond me. Even the United States isn't so authoritarian as to ban this game—at least not yet.

Then, we all have to put up with things that we find distasteful. I find most "victims' rights" groups distasteful. As a matter of fact, I find them to be one of the biggest threats to civil liberty out there. Of course, I'm not familiar with McNamara's organization, but here in the U.S., "victims' rights" groups frequently push for unconstitutional restrictions on individuals, including ex post facto laws. Furthermore, they're dangerous in that they try to treat justice as a personal matter, rather than as a social virtue (as even Plato and Aristotle saw it). Of course, McNamara probably thinks I should have my blog shut down for saying that.

The game appears to be available from NewGrounds.com here. If you don't like it, don't play it. I didn't.

Friday, April 06, 2007

E. J. Dionne, Jr. on atheism

E. J. Dionne, Jr., wrote a somewhat interesting article about the so-called "neo-atheist" movement. He describes the movement as a reaction against modern religious fundamentalism, and somewhat a re-kindling of the post-Age of Reason religious skeptics of the late 19th and early 20th century ("Answers To the Atheists," April 6, 2007).

The article begins:
This weekend, many of the world's estimated 2 billion Christians will remember and celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

While some Christians harbor doubts about Christ's actual physical resurrection, hundreds of millions believe devoutly that Jesus died and rose, thus redeeming a fallen world from sin.

Are these people a threat to reason and even freedom?
No, they often are not. And not very many people think they categorically are. The problem with Christians, as with any other massive, wide-ranging group, are the ones that are batshit nuts. Here in the United States of America, we have a lot of those. A hell of a lot. Elsewhere, there are other Christians who are batshit nuts to the point of crucifying themselves. And then there are groups that are just plain strange (I include the Catholics and Mormons in this category).

Oh well. No problem. Religous freedom, right? Yep! So, why did Dionne ask if devout Christians are a threat to reason and freedom? Well, apparently, somebody made what sounded like a categorical statement that they were:
It's a question that arises from a new vogue for what you might call neo-atheism. The new atheists -- the best known are writers Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins -- insist, as Harris puts it, that "certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one." That's why they think a belief in salvation through faith in God, no matter the religious tradition, is dangerous to an open society.
What if the believer just believes that he'll get salvation? He may not be certain. And I don't think all religious people are so certain.

Belief and faith, to me, are two forms of uncertainty anyway. That's the primary reason I call myself an atheist. I don't believe in God, and I don't have faith in God or any particular religion claiming to speak for God. On the other hand, I don't believe there is no God. I withhold judgment on the question of God due to lack of evidence. My atheism, personally, is rooted in the technical meaning of the term: a- (greek root for negating something) and theism (belief in the existence of God or gods). Other atheists will categorically state that there is no God, which strikes me as just as silly as saying there is a God.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who not only believe there is a God, but that this God (usually referred to with the proper pronoun "He") actually speaks to them. These people are often certain because they actually hear God's voice in their heads. I have a hard time not thinking these people don't belong in Bellevue, personally (okay, I'm being a little ironic here—a little).

On the other hand, Dionne brings up a good point here (inadvertently). What believers are the most dangerous ones? The certain ones or the uncertain ones? In fact, it may well be the uncertain ones who are the most threatening. These people are more likely to be insecure in their belief systems, often hold political power, and often exercise their political power at the expense of others. The United States Republican Party is crawling with these types of people. There isn't any reason to try to institutionalize your religion and impose it on others if you're at least pretty sure you're right—or at least secure enough in your beliefs to accept that you might be wrong, and are respectful of people who might draw alternative conclusions.

Then again, I don't have access to the thoughts of believers who exercise power at the expense of others. Sometimes, however, I'm convinced their very sure about their beliefs. That doesn't mean they're not insecure (intolerance of innocuous beliefs or lack of beliefs—and I hold lack of belief in God in and of itself to be innocuous—seems like a form of insecurity to me). However, it's hard to think that these people are uncertain sometimes. Fred Phelps and his family/church are so certain that God utterly hates homosexuals that they're willing to go to remarkable lengths to tell everybody. What reason do I have to believe that Fred Phelps isn't certain? He's certainly wrong (even if God exists, why would God hate homosexuals?), and he would probably be pretty dangerous if he held actual political power, but he's not uncertain.

Another example of certainty in your belief system are probably the 9/11 hijackers, who, in a religion-inspired frenzy, decided that God wanted them to suicide bomb some skyscrapers with airplanes. It seems to me that you need to have a lot of certainty in the afterlife to do something like that. You may be batshit nuts for doing it, but it still takes certainty.

So, what is the problem with the neo-atheists? Are they certain or uncertain? Dionne says they're certain:
The problem with the neo-atheists is that they seem as dogmatic as the dogmatists they condemn. They are especially frustrated with religious "moderates" who don't fit their stereotypes.
For one, there's nothing intolerant about being frustrated with people you disagree with. I get frustrated all the time with people I disagree with. Ultimately, the challenge is to remember that you have to allow people to think (even believe) what they want, even stupid things.

It even seems fair to be frustrated when people are utterly disregarding established practice because they simply don't understand it. The evolution v. creation debate is a great example. I'm not sure that idea escapes Richard Dawkins, even if he at times does seem to have a bit more zeal than he needs. (I for one don't care if people believe in creationism, although I take exception to having it imposed on me, and also take exception to the way that many people refuse to modify their beliefs in the face of other factors. If anything, evolution gives us a pretty good explanation for why the world wasn't created in seven literal 24-hour days. And if God is so omnipotent, why couldn't he have created the world in one second? Seven days seems awfully arbitrary.)

Take a look at this exchange between Dawkins and Bill Moyers (from December 3, 2005, on NOW With Bill Moyers):
MOYERS: Even as you speak about the four billion years of evolution, I can hear minds going off in the audience that says, "Yes, but we can't think that long. We're concerned right now with this controversy in this country."

One of the largest school districts in Georgia created a real stir, not long ago, when they insisted on putting a warning sticker on biology books saying, and I've got the exact quote here, "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered." What's your response to that?

DAWKINS: All materials should be studied with an open mind, studied critically, etcetera. I'm all for that. What's wrong is to single out evolution as though that is any more open to doubt than anything else. Of course, in science, there have been sort of open to doubt and things that need to be discussed.

And, of course, everything needs to be approached with an open mind. But, among the things that science does know, evolution is about as certain as anything we know. And that, of course, as you know, is accepted by responsible educated churchmen, as well as scientists.
Evolution is a fascinating case of something that is frequently cited as blurring the line between faith and fact. I never really hear Dawkins give a great explanation of what the theory in the theory of evolution really means. I'll try to explain it the way I believe most scientists see evolution. First of all, we're dealing with something that can't quite be proven to the point that you can reproduce it completely in a lab. Now, you can demonstrate natural selection in a lab. That's pretty easy; you could probably do it in your kitchen with fruit flies. But evolution is more than just natural selection, and the idea of evolution predates natural selection. Likewise, natural selection, as described by Charles Darwin, predates by almost a century the explanation for natural selection. It wasn't until the mid-20th century, well after the development of some pretty sophisticated medicines (vaccines, antibiotics, happy pills, birth control pills) that we discovered that there was actually a coherent unit of natural selection, genes, that passed traits from parents to offspring, and that these genes could even mutate (even identical twin brothers don't have the exact same genes).

As a result of what we have learned about evolution (dating back to before Darwin), natural selection (dating back to Darwin), and genetics (dating back to the mid-20th century), human beings have discovered some remarkable applications. These applications range from understanding our ability to adapt to our environment (e.g., what role does genetics and blood types play in a heart surgery?) to solving crimes (remember O. J. Simpson?). Yet, evolution continues to be dismissed as "just a theory" when convenient for creationist zealots.

Naturally, the term theory in the theory of evolution doesn't mean the same thing that theory means when it's used in everyday language. When you use the term theory in everyday language, you're talking about a guess or hunch. Not so in science. A theory in science is more like a framework. There might be pieces of the framework that need to be altered in the face of new evidence (Einstein did this to Newton, for instance; Newton's equations describing motion don't take into account variations in time, and don't necessarily have to, since time is a rather insignificant variable at low speeds). A good explanation of the differences between theories, laws, and hypotheses can be found on Wilstar.com ("Scientific Laws, Hypotheses, and Theories"). Another good example comes from the Online Gadfly ("We're Not in Kansas Anymore"):
So folks, here it is again. As we all know, in ordinary speech, "theory" means "a hunch." And as we gather practical evidence, that "theory" may "grow up" to be a proven fact. (The scientist uses the word "hypothesis" in roughly this sense). In contradistinction, to the scientist, a "theory" is a complex model of reality, composed of "facts," laws (generalizations), and a carefully defined vocabulary of concepts, all woven into an intricate structure of implication and mutual support. Scientific theories are no more capable of "growing" (dare we say "evolving"?) into "facts," than a raisin cake is capable of "growing into" a raisin, a solar system into a planet, or a molecule into an atom. In science, facts are ingredients of theories!

This is why it never occurs to most people to discount Newton's theories of motion and gravity, or atomic theory, or the theory of relativity, or numerous other scientific theories, as "mere theories, not facts."
So, how does scientific theory play into religion? If you ask me, it shouldn't. If anything, scientific theory should supersede previously held religious dogma. But science could never replace religion. They aren't compatible, and near as I can tell, don't overlap. Religion is supposed to offer spiritual fulfillment, not factual certainty. Debunking evolution no more proves there was a "creation" of the cosmos than debunking relativity disproves motion. God might have created the world five minutes ago, with all our thoughts and memories intact, if God was so inclined.

However, the elegant thing about science isn't that it provides certainty. Science provides a posteriori answers to questions. The rules of logic come into play, but there is a method to science as well. The method is experimentation and observation. These methods don't provide certainty, however. Take the claim, the sun rises every day. That seems like a pretty well-established fact. But, is it universally-descriptive? Not really. Observing the sun from Baltimore, Maryland, you might think it is. The sun does rise every day in Baltimore, Maryland (discounting overcasts and crazy volcanic eruptions, anyway). On the north pole, the sun may not set for months, so it doesn't rise every day. We, therefore, have to modify the description, perhaps to places north and south of a certain latitude. The sun rises every day in southern Ontario, but it might seem to rise earlier in northern Ontario.

At the end of the day, I don't ever really see Dawkins harping on religious folk like Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr.. There is room, however, to criticize religious moderates. They often believe things that must be fundamentally wrong (they often believe in opposing theologies, so at least somebody has to be wrong). Often, they allow room for interfaith dialog, however. The moderates aren't killing each other. Sometimes they're debating each other. Sometimes they're joining together to improve the effectiveness of their humanitarian efforts, however.

Sam Harris may be a bit more critical of the so-called moderates. As Dionne says:
In his bracing polemic " The End of Faith," Harris is candid in asserting that "religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a terrible dogma: they imagine that the path to peace will be paved once each one of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of others."
I don't see where that's such a scathing criticism. I know it may not make a lot of people happy to think that religious moderates have to, at least logically speaking, be incorrect in their belief systems.

But, something also tells me that there is a danger to categorically refusing to accept that moderate people can hold personal religious beliefs. Primarily, I think there's something that we all have to grapple with, even if we personally don't like religion: religion isn't going away. As reported in The Washington Post ("Atheist Evangelist," October 26, 2006):
Nobody has ever accused the man of being subtle. Harris is straight out of the stun grenade school of public rhetoric, and his arguments are far more likely to offend the faithful than they are to coax them out of their faith. And he doesn't target just the devout. Religious moderates, Harris says in his patient and imperturbable style, have immunized religion from rational discussion by nurturing the idea that faith is so personal and private that it is beyond criticism, even when horrific crimes are committed in its name.

"There is this multicultural, apologetic machinery that keeps telling us that we can't attack people's religious sensibility," Harris says in an interview. "That is so wrong and so suicidal."
Van Harvey is quoted in the article as a critic of Harris:
"I think this country needs a sophisticated attack on religion," says Van Harvey, a retired professor of religious studies at Stanford University. "But pushing moderates into the same camp as fanatics, that seems like a very crude mistake."

According to Harvey, not only has Harris picked a fight with those who could be on his side, but his solution -- let's all ditch God -- is laughable given the role that religion plays in so many lives. Others say that he has taken these "Old Books" at their literal word, instead of studying the way that the faithful actually engage the scriptures. Put more simply, he doesn't know what he's talking about.
I'm inclined to agree that religious moderates perhaps don't alter their beliefs based on evidence. I find the idea of bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is somewhat silly. I just can't help that. But Christianity doesn't have to monopolize religion, or belief in God. God could easily exist independently of Christianity.

In closing, I think the key point that Dionne missed was that atheism itself is a very poor thing to identify with. Atheism is an assertion that you don't believe in God, and perhaps an assertion that God doesn't exist in its more dogmatic forms. God may or may not exist, but even if God doesn't exist, why base your political or spiritual identity around the matter? Maybe the worst thing Harris and Dawkins do is just that. But that doesn't make them worse than those who base their identity around the belief that God does exist.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Newt Gingrich is a bigot

From Boston.com (April 5, 2007):
WASHINGTON --Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is mulling a presidential bid, said his "word choice was poor" when he equated bilingual education with "the language of living in a ghetto."
The headline of the article is hilarious: "Gingrich clarifies 'ghetto' word choice." Clarifies? Very charitable headline.

Today's Fuckery Round-up: Drunk Driving Horseback

Drunken horseback riding from the Associated Press, printed on Boston.com ("Ala. woman on horseback charged with DUI," April 4):
SYLVANIA, Ala. -- A woman used a horse to ram a police car during a midnight ride through town and was charged with driving under the influence, police said. DUI charges can apply even if the vehicle has four legs instead of wheels, Chief Brad Gregg said Tuesday.
Sex paper in high school ("Parents Protest H.S. Sex Newspaper," March 30):
HAMPTON, N.H. Mar 30, 2007 (AP)— Some parents are protesting the "sex" edition of the student newspaper at Winnacunnet High School. Several said they were especially offended by a photograph of two women kissing under the headline, "Why men love women who love women," a quiz question about anal sex, and an interview with an unnamed custodian who said he had found a vibrator in the girls' shower.

...

"I don't want to discuss personnel," Wood said. "I want to discuss the paper. "I thought it was a vile, disgusting piece of pornography I wouldn't want to be in front of children, let alone paid for by taxpayers."

...

The student paper's editor in chief, Katie McCay, and managing editor, Lisa McManus, said they wanted to educate students, nearly half of whom are already having sexual intercourse, according to a 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey at the high school. The true or false quiz was particularly enlightening, they said.

...

In an editorial, McManus wrote that the students were aware they were dealing with a taboo.

"These stories have been edited and re-edited for content and delivery, keeping in mind that the job here is to inform, not shock," the editorial said. "It's about sex. Deal with it.

"It is something parents hope their children remain ignorant about until after marriage. It is something faculty members and administrators hope not to deal with, but something that almost all students have experienced or been exposed to."
Bribing little boogers not to drink ("MADD and Nationwide(R) Kick Off Prom With Music by Bow Wow at Sam Houston High School," April 5):
Schools participating in the THINK.Prom program receive a pledge pack that includes a giant pledge signing banner, individual pledge sheets, a powerful DVD to show in the classroom or to an entire assembly, artful awareness posters, ID cards, event hand stamp and giveaways such as penny stickers, party mints and rear-view mirror tags. Schools also receive safety posters for spring break and graduation. Through the THINK Web site, students can receive rewards for making good choices including free Napster downloads, text messaging, screensavers and cell phone wall paper.
(6000? What the hell is an underage-drinking related cause?)
Alcohol is the No. 1 drug problem among youth killing more young people than all other illicit drugs combined. More than 6,000 young people die each year due to underage drinking-related causes. In 2005, 2,035 15-20 year olds were killed in alcohol-related traffic crashes-an average of six deaths per day. Of those deaths, 1,387 youth aged 15-20 died in crashes involving a 15- 20-year-old alcohol-impaired driver.
(Don't fall for it, kids. Drink up, and take mass transit.)

From July 28, 2006: Happy map (Danes Are the Happiest, Study Says):
FRIDAY, July 28 (HealthDay News) -- Piecing together information from more than 100 studies in the growing field of happiness research, a British psychologist has produced what he says is the first world map of happiness.

It ranks 178 countries, with Denmark at the top and the African nation of Burundi at the bottom. The United States comes in 23rd.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Your Own Chocolate Jesus

So, a brief recap: Catholics have their panties in a bunch again. Somebody made a sculpture of Jesus. Okay, that's not so bad. But the sculpture was made out of chocolate. Okay, that's...tasteless? But not that bad. So, what was so bad about the statue that it attracted the attention of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights? (As a side note, just remember that the League has very little to do with religious rights and just about nothing to do with civil rights.) Here's what was so bad: Chocolate Christ was missing the loin cloth. (BBC News: "Chocolate Jesus exhibit cancelled," March 21, 2007.)

Elsewhere on the crossroads between religious fanaticism, oversensitivity, and censorship, here's a nice little gem from the UK:
Schools are dropping the Holocaust from history lessons to avoid offending Muslim pupils, a Governmentbacked study has revealed.

It found some teachers are reluctant to cover the atrocity for fear of upsetting students whose beliefs include Holocaust denial.

There is also resistance to tackling the 11th century Crusades - where Christians fought Muslim armies for control of Jerusalem - because lessons often contradict what is taught in local mosques.
So, that makes sense. Take the one chance to instill something other than iman-endorsed lies into the minds of impressionable young children and just piss it away ("Teachers drop the Holocaust to avoid offending Muslims," by Laura Clark of the Daily Mail, 02-April-2007).

Monday, March 12, 2007

Christians against Sarah Silverman!

Oh oh ("Offensive Sex Scene with 'God' Upsets Christians," 09-March-2007):
Comedy Central, home to controversial shows such as South Park and Drawn Together, rebroadcasted an episode of the Sarah Silverman Program on Thursday in which the female comedian has sex with “God.”
Dear The Christian Post:

I'm not sure South Park or Drawn Together are particularly controversial anymore. They're sort of like how The Simpsons were by 1995: mainstream.

Sorry!

And the only controversy I see here is this: why would Sarah Silverman want to even pretend to have sex with a crusty old man who Michaelangelo seems to think looks like Santa Claus? (At least Michaelangelo made him into a swarthy Santa Claus.) Next, maybe she can copulate with Odin—who is much less swarthy, although he is missing an eye.

The Bible: Georgia in the news again

From the Associated Press ("Ga. close to OKing Bible classes," The Associated Press, March 8, 2007):
Georgia is poised to introduce two literature classes on the Bible in public schools next year, a move some critics say would make the state the first to take an explicit stance endorsing — and funding — biblical teachings.

The Bible already is incorporated into some classes in Georgia and other states, but some critics say the board's move, which makes the Bible the classes' main text, treads into dangerous turf.
I say, cool! Anyone who actually reads the bible isn't going to come out believing a lot of that crap anyway. Learning the Bible properly is a critical component of understanding our culture and traditions, and why many of them are so goddamn ridiculous.

While many might be skeptical of teaching the Bible, it must be remembered that it doesn't need to be taught in a way to indoctrinate the youth to make fundamentalists happy. This might even backfire for religious fundamentalists. Fundamentalists depend largely on teaching their own interpretations of the Bible in churches, newsletters, party propaganda, and on TV. I'd really be quite surprised if fundamentalists actually wanted their congregations to read and understand the Bible. When they do the interpreting, it's easy to just ignore the really absurd passages like:
Deuteronomy 23:1 He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.
Some may scoff at the degree to which religious fundamentalism is taught, but it really should be remembered that the Catholic Church depended on keeping scripture esoteric for centuries. Part of the reason the printing press was seen as so dangerous was because it actually made mass production of ideas, including religious ideas, viable. When scripture was translated from Latin to colloquial languages, scripture became accessible to the masses.

When students actually have to read the text of The Bible, or at least significant portions of it, they'll inevitably draw their own conclusions. Naturally, as happens when students actually are stimulated to think for themselves, the conclusions they'll draw about the Bible won't make some people very happy.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Sweet, innocent, little girls go bad!

Stuff like this really bugs me:
ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- The mother of a 19-year-old arrested in a bank theft scheme said Monday that her daughter isn't a bandit, she just fell in with the wrong crowd and made a bad choice.

Joy Miller said her daughter, Ashley Miller, is sorry for what she did.

...

"I want (people) to know that her and Heather both are not bandits," Joy Miller told ABC's "Good Morning America" Monday." "They're little girls that made a bad choice."
That's from CNN ("Mom: Giggling bandits 'little girls that made a bad choice'," March 5, 2007). What I didn't paste from the article is that both these "little girls" were 19. The father of the other daughter, Ashley Johnston, had something possibly even more mindless to say:
Johnston's father, Edward Johnston, has said his family was in shock.

"God gives us free will and it's up to us what we do with it," he said. "Any adult has to make decisions and live with them -- good, bad or indifferent."
Well, at least he acknowledges that his sweet "little girl" was actually an adult. Though I'm not sure any offering from God plays into this. Perhaps it was determinism!

Don't forget this is Georgia. These "little girls" should feel lucky that they're white. At least they'll get off easy, as long as the feds don't get involved. Hell, if you get away with bank robbery, the rewards are probably great.