"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Science Tuesday

Anti-Evolutionary Dead End

In a defeat for critics of Darwin, the Utah House of Representatives on Monday voted down a bill intended to challenge the theory of evolution in high school science classes.

The bill had been viewed nationally, by people on each side of the science education debate, as an important proposal because Utah is such a conservative state, with a Legislature dominated by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But the bill died on a 46-to-28 vote in the Republican-controlled House after being amended by the majority whip, Stephen H. Urquhart, a Mormon who said he thought God did not have an argument with science. The amendment stripped out most of the bill's language, leaving only that the state board of education "shall establish curriculum requirements relating to scientific instruction."

It was Republicans what killed it. This comes on the heels of defeats for IDiots in Ohio (legislature), Pennsylvania (courts), and Wisconsin (bill to outlaw teaching ID). Prediction: Kansas will revise its state science education standards -- again -- after the next school board election.

Oh, by the way: the Discovery Institute is now saying that it's merely a "local issue" for Utah.

The Pompeii of the East?

Next year, Dr. Sigurdsson expects to extend the radar survey, searching for traces of the rest of Tambora and perhaps the king's house. If Tambora is indeed like Pompeii, which was buried in an instant by the erupting Mount Vesuvius, the scientist said, "all the people, their houses and culture are still encapsulated there as they were in 1815."

Pharyngula on Theoscience:

An informative comment by PZ Myers at Pharyngula about the publishing history of the Discovery Institute:

The DI has long had this goal of getting their work published in mainstream science journals; unfortunately, they don't want to bother with that unpleasant business of trying to do real research. Give Up Blog has examples of their prodigious output: 5 abstracts that have been published in science journals. That's it.

For those of you who might have forgotten, the Discovery Institute is the "scientific think tank" involved in pushing creationism and now ID into public schools. Myers' post is worth reading just to note the reaction the IDers get at scientific meetings.

Another One From Pharyngula:

OK -- he seems to miss one detail here:

So here goes. To the evolutionists: First, evolution claims that humans and apes have a common ancestor. But since apes are not still evolving into man that notion is debunked without performing a single experiment.

The jump from "common ancestor" to "apes evolving into man" seems to me to be the real howler, either betraying a distinct lack of cognitive ability, or a touching belief in such a lack in everyone else.

However, don't bother with the "Darwin is Dead "symposium" he links to unless you have a very, very high tolerance for smug stupidity. Make that "stubbornly smug stupidity."

Monday, February 27, 2006

Christianity versus Democracy

Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola has my vote for this week's Satan Incarnate. He's not so different, really, from the Catholic hierarchy in this country, particularly Archbishop (now Cardinal) O'Malley of Boston and our own Cardinal George of Chicago, both of whom lobbied (illegally, be it known) against gay rights. Akinola is just more outspoken, because repression plays well in Africa.

Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, primate of the Church of Nigeria and leader of the conservative wing of the communion, recently threw his prestige and resources behind a new law that criminalizes same-sex marriage in his country and denies gay citizens the freedoms to assemble and petition their government. The law also infringes upon press and religious freedom by authorizing Nigeria's government to prosecute newspapers that publicize same-sex associations and religious organizations that permit same-sex unions.

Were Archbishop Akinola a solitary figure and Nigeria an isolated church, his support for institutionalized bigotry would be significant only within his own country. But the archbishop is perhaps the most powerful member of a global alliance of conservative bishops and theologians, generously supported by foundations and individual donors in the United States, who seek to dominate the Anglican Communion and expel those who oppose them, particularly the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Failing that, the archbishop and his allies have talked of forming their own purified communion -- possibly with Archbishop Akinola at its head.

Because the conflict over homosexuality is not unique to Anglicanism, civil libertarians in this country, and other people as well, should also be aware of the archbishop and his movement. Gifts from such wealthy donors as Howard Ahmanson Jr. and the Bradley, Coors and Scaife families, or their foundations, allow the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy to sponsor so-called "renewal" movements that fight the inclusion of gays and lesbians within the Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches and in the United Church of Christ. Should the institute succeed in "renewing" these churches, what we see in Nigeria today may well be on the agenda of the Christian right tomorrow.

This is something deserving of more thought, but it raises an idea that's been at the back of my mind for a while: the Abrahamic religions can very easily become anti-democratic and work to the destruction of Western culture. I realize as stated some people will see that statement as incendiary, but I think there is more than a little truth to it. (Note that the law that Akinola supports is very similar in concept, at least, to the notorious Proposition 2 that was passed in Colorado some years back and found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, which advanced the radical idea that the state cannot summarily remove a group of citizens from the political process without a damned good, rational reason.)

In bare outline, take a religion that is based on belief in received wisdom, received, mind you, from an unassailable source -- God. These are religions that originated in societies in which hierarchy and obedience to authority were the norm, the idea of the king as a god and a priesthood who were the only ones able to mediate between God and the people. Tack on the rather bizarre idea that the holy writings are literally factual in all respects (granted, that originated with a splinter group, but seems to be gaining currency as rational thought falls more and more into disfavor).

Now, plop that down into a social system based on the rule of laws arrived at by rational, open discussion and consensus -- government by the governed. Authority rests in the will of the people (as restrained by their founding principles), with mechanisms to assure that all viewpoints can be heard and all citizens have equality under the law.

Now, ask yourself, what, in the United States, is most under assault right now? It is guarantees of freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, privacy, and the right to make personal decisions without government interference. And where are these attacks coming from? Mostly from the so-called "Christian" conservatives, who also support the likes of Peter Akinola as he uses his influence to destroy the Anglican Church and turn Nigeria into a theocracy. (Granted, the radically PC left also has a grudge against free speech, but they're pretty laughable as a force in American society at this point.)

So, in essence, Christianity as espoused by its conservative elements (most of them, at least -- there are notable exceptions) is un-American. Even anti-American.

A bare sketch, but certainly worth some thought.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Real Bankruptcy of America

The more I read of things at Asymmetrical Information, the less satisfied I am with the arguments (except the very technical economic treatises, which I don't follow all that well). This one, for example, looks really impressive:

Is the left out of ideas?

That gets batted around every so often, and it (understandably) enrages liberals. And yet, it seems to me that there's a kernel of truth there. Not in the literal sense: liberals do not vote Green or Democrat just because they like the logos. But the left, as a movement, does not have any very coherent Big Idea that it can sell. The Movement doesn't agree on much, except that it hates George Bush. Orwell to the contrary, hate does not sell particularly well in American politics.1 Fear . . . now, fear sells. But only if it's at least quasi-believable, which, to the vast swath of the American public, "George Bush is planning to lynch minorities and put everyone else in illegal detention camps" doesn't. Fear only works if the majority of American voters believe that whatever they are supposed to fear will happen to them, not some comfortably anonymous nobody in a far-off state.

It looks like we're in for a solid critique, once you get past the "Bush-hater" meme-wannabe (tired -- so very, very tired), and the ludicrous notion that hate doesn't sell in American politics -- look how much use the Christianists are finding it. She's right about fear, though. (And it would have been interesting to see her take on the relationship between hate and fear in American politics.)

And yet it just becomes another case of neo-theo-con apologetics. It's only partly that the Left is out of ideas -- and I'm not really sure that's the case. I think the Left is hampered by its philosophy, which is rational and nonconfrontational and basically honest, when confronted by a machine that is none of the above. The Left has not, however, regained a consistent vision, now that their traditional vision is part of daily life. There are a lot of new paths to follow, though, and they're not picking up on it.

Think about it for a minute.

Start with the basics: technology, economy, jobs, environment, energy. There's a lot there that can be melded into a great vision that will resonate. The Right isn't picking up on it. They don't want a new path (nothing that Bush has done has been new -- it's all old ideas that are finally having their day, and for most of them, their day is already past. They're not particularly good ideas -- they're just marketable, which is part of the point, I guess, but let's face it, she's not looking at her assumptions -- the Right is Good, the Left is Pointless -- very carefully.)

I think the underlying problem is that the Democrats need to do some deep thinking on their issues, some rational analysis of what has worked and what hasn't, and from that develop a program that can be reduced to soundbites and photo-ops. That's what the American people will sit still for.

And that shows just how much of a failure everyone's vision has been. (The cynic in me, of course, says that was the whole point.)

(A further thought about hate and fear. Galt [we'll call her Jane Galt, since that's how she bills herself on the blog] avoids that relationship, actually, which only does more to convince me that the piece is nothing more than an apologetics for the Right. Pity.)

Saturday, February 25, 2006


This is my heavy-duty response to the clueless woman in the Denver suburbs from "Dear Amy," exacerbated by comments from a discussion at Epinions Addicts and this piece of news from the BBC:

London's mayor has been suspended from office on full pay for four weeks for comparing a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard.

Here is Livingstone's statement, with some context:

Their papers were not, as some have reported, guilty of "a brief flirtation" with Adolf Hitler in the l930s.

In truth these papers were the leading advocates of anti-Semitism in Britain for half a century.

Beginning a hundred years ago with their campaign to stop Jewish refugees fleeing to Britain from Russia they carried on right the way through the rise of Hitler and even after the start of World War II still felt free to peddle the lie that Germany's Jews had brought the holocaust upon themselves.

I have set out in detail the record of the Daily Mail group in my formal response to the London Assembly.

Whilst it is true the Mail group no longer smears Jews as bringing crime and disease to the UK it is only because they have moved on.

After a decade of pandering to racism against our citizens of Black and Irish origin they have moved on and now describe asylum seekers and Muslims in similar terms.

For the Mail group the victims may change but the intolerance, hatred and fear pervade every issue of the papers.

This ties in with the brouhaha over the Danish newspaper cartoons. This article from the Seattle Times discusses the reactions of some moderate Muslim Americans:

"The cartoons border on hate speech. If people depicted Jews in that light, people would be very upset. If you look at them, they are very similar to cartoons drawn of Jews in Nazi Germany," said Dega Muna, 40, a Somali-born Muslim who grew up mostly in the U.S. and Canada and who coordinates a "progressive Muslim" group that meets weekly in New York City.

"I agree it's free speech, but with free speech comes responsibility, and knowing the consequences of your actions. They were provoking ... and this is the reaction they got. Unfortunately, it kind of proves their point, that Muslims are violent."

I might point out that the Islamic press portrays Jews in that light and worse on a regular basis. I don't recall hearing reports of Israelis burning the Egyptian embassy, or threatening to behead Syrian journalists.

After thinking about this a bit, I still see this as a veiled threat. What they're saying, in effect, is "cater to our sensibilities, change your own traditions and customs to suit us, and we won't burn you out. Maybe."

What it boils down to is that political correctness is running amok. Everyone's personal sensibilities take precedence (hence the suburban lady with the gay neighbors), which obviously is a situation that's not going to work. That's why we have right-wing Christians claiming to be persecuted in a country that they are running. Why? Because other people get a hearing. That's why people can be tried for anti-gay remarks in Canada -- because someone's offended. That's why outraged Muslims can burn Danish embassies and have ready-made apologists blaming the Danes. (And the apologists are not necessarily Muslim themselves.)

And people will use this, as we can see from the cartoon riots. They're offended. Y'know what? That's the price of democracy. As someone said (and I wish I could remember who -- it might have been Andrew Sullivan, or someone he quoted), living in a democracy takes a thick skin. Get over yourselves.

My take: Everyone gets a certain amount of respect just for surviving as long as they have. You deal like a real mensch -- fairly, honestly, with dignity and respect for others -- and you get to keep it, and maybe earn more. You come on like an asshole, and it's gone. Getting it back is the devil's own work, because at that point, I know you're an asshole and you have to prove that you're not.

Not easy.

(The picture? Completely off-topic. Or maybe just a reminder about what's really important in the world: it's Barkeria spectabilis, a Mexican orchid that grows in near-desert conditions, related to Epidendrum, Cattleya and that whole group. I needed something that was not going to make me angry.)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Cooking the Science Books

Report Finds Accounting Practices That Start at the Bottom Line.

The first thought that struck me when I read this headline was "That's how the Christianists approach science."

U.S. financial markets are supposed to be the most transparent and heavily regulated, with numbers you can trust. But as a 2,652-page report released yesterday shows, government-chartered Fannie Mae, one of the nation's largest and most scrutinized financial companies, was able to create the numbers it wanted.

The article is about Fannie Mae, and that's not what this post is about. It just draws a remarkable parallel with the way that "research" has been carried out by advocates for social repression -- the anti-evolutionists, the anti-gay rights activists, the anti-feminists, and the like.

It starts with cherrypicking data.

A great example of this is Paul Cameron, head of the Family Research Institute (which has been listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a "hate group," by the way). Cameron periodically comes out with "studies" that show gay men with a higher incidence of disease, shorter life spans, and a host of other presumably undesirable traits. Unfortunately, his results are all bogus because he picks and chooses the data he wants to use, which is not how science works. (Conspiracy theories aside, that is the reason he was censured and tossed out of the American Psychologicl Association -- bogus research, on a regular and consistent basis. It was not a conspiracy by gay activists, no matter what Donald Wildmon tells you.)

Study any creationist tome, or any tract on intelligent design, and you will find the same phenomenon. They start with the idea of creation then work back from there. (Check out Talk Origins to get a number of good examples of this approach at work.) That's if they can come up with anything original to begin with. Somehow, "God did it" doesn't really meet scientific standards of methodological rigor.

The "studies" so often cited by opponents of gay marriage and gay-parent adoption also play this game. The anti-gay apologists repeatedly start off with "Scientific studies show that children do better in homes with a mother and father." Nope. In most cases, they've taken studies that compare single-parent households with heterosexual, dual-parent households and present that as "evidence" against gay parenting. That's the only evidence they have, the stuff they make up. What studies actually show is that children raised by same-sex parents are exactly comparable to children raised by opposite-sex parents, except that they may actually be better at establishing and maintaining interpersonal relationships. I have lists of studies in this area, and I haven't found one that actually tests that question that supports the anti-gay arguments. Not one.

I remember a citation of a "study" conducted by a right-wing, anti-gay Christian group a number of years ago that "proved" that only 1% of the population was gay. (This was in the days when they were still trying to make the numbers argument: there are so few of them, the rest of us don't need to give them any rights.) It turns out the "study" was an exit poll at Baptist churches in the south after Sunday services. What's striking is that they still got 1% of respondents who would, under those circumstances, confess to being gay.

I've also seen the references to studies that abortion causes cancer. I haven't really seen anything definitive in that area, but just on first reading, I'm dubious. It's very easy to publish an impressive bibliography, and I suspect that the authors are relying on the fact that very few people will go back to the primary sources. And, as we've learned in the recent Korean stem cell research fiasco, if data is falsified, it's very hard to spot.

And do we really need to go into the Kansas school board's rewriting of science education standards that included a new definition of science as simply "a means of studying the universe." Astrology 101 is being offered in the fall. It's of a piece with the new "critical analysis" approach that is ID's new false moustache. I guess no one told them that's the way science operates anyway.

Here's how you prove a hypothesis if you're a Christianist: you start with the idea, for example, that God caused the earth to be covered in a flood. Then you go back and you find evidence that supports your conclusion, such as fossilized trees that extend through more than one geological layer. You ignore the other evidence, such as indications of rapid deposition of sediments, especially if the sediments were wind borne or riverine (oceanic sediments are OK, because they fit the conclusion of a world-wide flood). Voila! You have a "scientific study."

Cooking the books: it's not just for accountants any more.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Ask Amy

The Chicago Tribune is not the most liberal paper in the world, but it has its moments. Another reason I love living in Chicago.

From Ask Amy, by Amy Dickinson:

Dear Amy:

My husband and I have lived in our quiet suburban Denver neighborhood for six years.

About two years ago two young gay men moved in across the street. They've taken the ugliest, most run-down property in the neighborhood and remodeled and transformed it into the pride of the street.

When it snows, they shovel out my car and are friendly, yet they mostly keep to themselves.

Last month I went out to retrieve my newspaper and watched them kiss each other goodbye and embrace as they each left for work.

I was appalled that they would do something like that in plain view of everyone.

I was so disturbed that I spoke to my pastor. He encouraged me to draft a letter telling them how much we appreciate their help but asking them to refrain from that behavior in our neighborhood.

I did so and asked a few of our neighbors to sign it.

Since I delivered it, I've not been able to get them to even engage me in conversation.

I offer greetings but they've chosen to ignore me.

They have made it so uncomfortable for the other neighbors and me by not even acknowledging our presence.

How would you suggest we open communications with them and explain to them that we value their contributions to the neighborhood but will not tolerate watching unnatural and disturbing behavior. -


I sometimes think things like this are made up. I mean, this is a joke, right? No one is really that stupid.

I guess not:

Dear Wondering:

You're lucky that these gentlemen merely choose to ignore you.

Your neighbors could respond to your hospitality by hosting weekly outdoor "gay pride" barbecues and inviting all of their friends to enjoy life on our quiet suburban street.

I can hold out hope that they will choose to do this, but I'm spiteful in that way. Your neighbors sound much more kind.

In your original petition to these men, you basically stated that while you value them when they are raising the standard on your street and shoveling your driveway, you loathe them for being who they are.

The only way to open communication with your neighbors would be to start by apologizing to them for engaging your other neighbors in your campaign. Because you don't sound likely to apologize, you are just going to have to tolerate being ignored.

The only thing I can add is that the pastor deserves a good kick in the ass. But then, sometimes I'm not very nice.

(Thanks to towleroad for the heads up. Made my day.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


I've heard the name Richard John Neuhaus, but had never really run across any of his commentaries until Andrew Sullivan linked to this post at First Things. I obviously need to study more of his thinking, but on the basis of these comments, I'm not sure I can even justifiably call it that. I may start a new award: Horse's Ass of the Week.

I took the plunge and read this article on the recent Vatican Instruction on homosexuality and the priesthood. It's a very interesting article that seems to support the idea that the Catholic hierarchy's doctrinal decisions take precedence over everything -- including the will of God. (Or at least, in keeping with what seems to be one of the conceptual bases of the Church, Neuhaus dismisses the idea that God's call to the priesthood can be valid without being vetted by the hierarchy.)

Quite possibly the most irritating thing about Neuhaus' comments is his supercilious and condescending attitude toward those who do seek substantive answers to moral questions.

There are some unintentional howlers here. Neuhaus quotes Bishop John D'Arcy:

To be happy, a priest must be convinced in his heart that he would be a good father and good husband. Like marriage, the priesthood involves making a gift of oneself to another. Pope John Paul II called it an officium caritatus, that is, an Office of Love. It cannot be an escape for someone who is afraid of marriage, believed he would not be happy in marriage or would not be a good spouse or father. The priest gives up something very beautiful—a lifelong relationship with a good woman, children, and grandchildren. [These are] needs that are deep within our humanity. He gives it up for something beautiful—to be a priest and shepherd after the heart of Christ. He must believe that Christ is calling him. It is a sacrifice. It’s supposed to be a sacrifice. It is not a sacrifice in the same way for a person with deep-seated homosexual tendencies. He is not drawn to marriage in the same way. Thus, immediately, there is a division in the priesthood.

There's a flaw in this statement that just jumped out at me on first reading, which is simply the assumption -- and it is only an assumption, not justified by anything based in the real world -- that by definition, a gay man cannot be a good father and good husband. Sorry -- I realize Catholic doctrine tries to avoid reality whenever possible (something that Neuhaus seems to support), but the rest of us are more or less stuck with it. To paraphrase the feminists of the '70s and '80s, a man needs a woman like a fish needs a bicycle. The statement about those who are "afraid of marriage," considering the context of the times, is hysterically funny and just goes to show how far out of touch the Church is to the realities of the world and how its positions on sexuality simply can't be justified by any sort of logic. If gays fear marriage, why are so many of them fighting for the right to be married?

Neuhaus himself:

Those who are sharply critical of the instruction are slicing and dicing definitions of “transitory” and “deep-seated” same-sex desires, and disingenuously claiming to be puzzled by what on earth the instruction can mean by “gay culture.” By “gay culture” the instruction means the culture of which many of these critics are part.

He doesn't attempt to define "gay culture" because he can't. Anyone who has any acquaintance with the history of gays in this country knows that there never has been a gay culture and that what Neuhaus and his ilk in the Church would like to hold up as gay culture has not been a reality for many men, possibly even a majority.

This is absolutely outrageous:

The truth is that, by the criteria set out in the instruction, many who are priests today would not have been ordained. The further truth is that many of these men have turned out to be good and holy priests, despite the temptations attending the disability of same-sex attraction. The yet-further truth is that many are not good and holy priests. Rome has made a prudential judgment: With respect to giving candidates the benefit of the doubt, too many risks were taken in the past. The benefit of the doubt must now be given to protecting the integrity of the priesthood. With the new “normalization” of homosexuality in the general culture, with the acceptance of that normalization by many priests and not a few bishops, and with consequences such as the sex abuse scandals, the Church simply cannot afford to take the risks that were taken, frequently with the best intentions, in the past. (Emphasis added)

This is an argument that cannot be, by any standard, other than a matter of self-serving politics. Of course, in light of the Church's avoidance of reality, it makes perfect sense to scapegoat as a deflection from one's own moral dereliction, and yet even there, even supposing that the sexual abuse of children was a result of homosexuality among the priesthood (and there is absolutely no evidence to support such a conclusion, and a great deal of evidence otherwise), that still does not address the question of the Church's complete moral failure in this area: why wasn't it stopped, regardless of the cause? (Neuhaus points out that Bishop D'Arcy, quoted above, raised the alarm in Boston in the 1980s. His reward was to be "exiled" [Neuhaus' term] to Fort Wayne, Indiana. This paints an ugly picture of the Church hierarchy and its attitudes.)

Neuhaus' comments on the "mendacity" of the objections to the Instruction are also more than a little self-serving. (The irony here is that he objects to the dissenters "slicing and dicing" the terminology of the teaching while doing the same thing himself.)

Here is the crux of my objections to Neuhaus' argument and Church teachings on the subject in general:

With many of the critics, it is possible to cut through the obfuscation by simply asking whether they accept the Church’s teaching that homosexual desire is disordered and homogenital acts are intrinsically immoral. The emphasis here is not on the disorder but on the act. If it is agreed that the act is immoral, then it follows that the desire to commit the act is disordered. One cannot have a rightly ordered desire to do wrong.

It completely misses the point, in my view, as to what morality is. It is a prime example of what has become endemic in far-right Christianity (as well as the most radical Muslim and Jewish pronouncements): morality is reduced to a set of behaviors that in and of themselves are wrong, including behaviors that may not be any such thing. I'm going to be accused of moral relativism here, which is again is missing the point: in spite of William F. Buckley's howler that "morality is absolute," it's not. Immoral acts are culturally determined, and always have been. They are codified in a number of different ways -- religious teachings, laws, customs, and the like -- and they are subject to revision. To justify the Church's teachings on homosexuality by reference to its consistency over 2000 years (which is not, in what history I've seen, completely accurate itself) is a big "So what?" To typify the expression of one's deepest -- and, by most standards, most admirable -- desires as a "desire to do wrong" is just completely outside the known universe.

More self-serving statements, far outside of reality, from Neuhaus:

The statement by Niederauer that attracted most attention, however, was this: “Also, some who are seriously mistaken have named sexual orientation as the cause of the recent scandal regarding the sexual abuse of minors by priests.” This is nothing short of astonishing. One can agree that it was not the cause, meaning the only cause. There is, for instance, the negligence and complicity of bishops, and of the seminaries in their charge. But to deny, as the bishop seems to be denying, a causal relationship between homosexual priests and the sexual abuse scandal is, well, astonishing. Research commissioned by the bishops themselves shows, as the whole world now knows, that more than 80 percent of the instances of abuse were with teenage boys and young men. It does not require a Ph.D. in psychology to recognize—although a Ph.D. in psychology might be helpful in denying—that men who want to have sex with boys are more likely to have sex with boys than men who do not want to have sex with boys.

Again, this is completely insupportable. Bishop Niederauer is absolutely correct, and Neuhaus is absolutely wrong, betraying a deep misunderstanding of human sexuality (which, coming from an orthodox Catholic apologist, doesn't really surprise me at all). It is well established that the overwhelming majority of child molesters who identify with a sexual orientation aside from children identify as heterosexual (as in slightly more than 98%). And once more, his history is off-base: there are strong indications that the sexual abuse of minors was endemic in the Church long before priests started leaving to get married, which is one of the ultimate causes Neuhaus cites. (Really. He does.) As far as the research he cites that 80% of the victims were boys and young men, well, to put it crudely, what other holes were available? In a rampantly misogynistic institution, you're not going to find a lot of altar girls. Neuhaus' statement then is part wishful thinking, part deflection, and part simple, and perhaps willful, ignorance. (I'm being more than generous here. Essentially, Neuhaus' argument and the Church's position as a whole on the pederasty scandal are a pack of lies.)

Again, I'm not impressed with the quality or caliber of Neuhaus' argument. Even given that Church teaching is almost completely self-referential and that he is an apologist, his concern does not seem to be with the issues under discussion -- they are apparently as much a pretext as anything else. In fact, it's obvious that his concern is solely about the maintenance of the authority of the hierarchy absent any meaningful dialogue.

It's self-evident to me that if one is in authority and is meeting dissent, one must address the dissent by some standard other than "I said so." (Anyone who has had to deal with a five-year-old can attest to that. Of course, this lesson comes from reality, so it may not apply.) Otherwise, authority erodes. What Neuhaus, and the Curia, seem to miss is that using authority to justify authority just doesn't cut it if you are dealing with an audience with any degree of maturity. Of course, the idea of the faithful as a group of adult, thinking, responsible human beings would seem to be somewhat foreign to the hierarchy's thinking.

(A caveat: As a practicing Witch, I suscribe to a religion that emphasizes free inquiry and careful thought, as well as prayer. Moral issues are for me a matter of careful thought in the context of daily life, based on fundamental principles. It's no surprise, then, that I am suspicious of arguments from authority unless that authority can demonstrate some contact with reality. And even then, I prefer to do my own thinking. One of my basic problems with Neuhaus' article is what I can only call its shallowness: he's not asking the right questions, but then, that's not really his purpose, I guess.)

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for alerting me to this.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A Plug

I occurs to me that I haven't mentioned here a place where I spend a lot of my time online, Epinions Addicts. We get into some interesting discussions, and they're even civilized.

This thread is pretty interesting. Wide range of viewpoints.

Check it out.

Day Off (Hah!)

A very interesting article from Joel Kotkin on "The Multiculturalism of the Streets."

Contrary to the concerns of some conservative critics, or the hopes of P.C. campus radicals, the emerging American national reality will not be shaped by the pronouncements of either left-wing academics or conservative political warlords. The new America will be more the product of the street-level trends that operate below the radar of intellectuals—just as it always has. If we’re smart, we’ll let what comes most naturally to American society take its course.

He's right, you know.

That's it, folks. I have to write today. I have to write many, many things. See you if I ever come up for air.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Religious Left,

Or, If You Want To Know What a Rabid Is Up To, Listen to What He's Saying While He's Pointing at Someone Else.

Glenn Reynolds, citing Marshall Wittman:

While Greenwald suggests that "loyalty" to Bush is the requirement for the right, the standard to to be a member in good standing of the liberal/left community is hatred of Bush. The Moose opposes most of the economic agenda of the Administration. However, he critically supports the President in the war on terror - including the NSA program. This has won the Moose the visceral opprobrium of the left. Because in the left wing universe, one must oppose everything the President supports. The truth is that a good part of the left believes that George W. Bush is a greater threat to America than Osama bin Laden.

This is what I've taken to calling a "faith-based argument." It's not that the so-called War on Terror has been mismanaged, or that we invaded a country based on cherry-picked intelligence and money earmarked for that war has gone right into the pockets of Bush supporters, or that the economy no longer serves the majority of workers, or that Bush has displayed open contempt for constitutional guarantees of individual liberty, not to mention the balance of powers. Nope. It's that the left has a deep-seated and unreasoning hatred of a complete nonentity who has failed at everything he's ever done. There's the whole problem.

I have sad news: there are many, many people who don't hate Bush and still think he's a complete nightmare in the White House, just based on the record of the past five years. Look at the numbers.

Megan McArdle's comments, from the same post (I actually recommend that you read the original comments at Asymmetrical Information. It's a very interesting post, and not nearly so partisan as Reynolds' quote would have us believe. I still don't agree with it entirely):

[Ann Althouse], and Instapundit (who is also being singled out for opprobrium), have criticized the administration; it's just that when they criticize the administration, it's in a tone of "The Bush administration is doing something I don't like", rather than "The Great Satan is again unleashing the powers of Hell to destroy a Once Great Nation." I haven't noticed her, or Instapundit, criticising the administration's conduct of the WOT, but--I'm going out on a limb here--maybe that's because they generally agree with it, not because they're "apologists" for the administration.

OK -- If you agree with the administration and support its policies publicly and often, then you are by definition an "apologist," particularly if, as McArdle states, you refrain from criticizing the conduct of the war, when it is obviously inept and ill planned. How many people who disagree with the policies are doing the same? Duh.

Oh, and please note the "Great Satan" mantra again. That's just way too easy. It's as though Michael Moore were the only person on the left. Hell, I'm not even particularly left, by any classic definition, and I think Bush is a disaster across the board. Of course, I tend to do things like look at evidence. We all know where that leads -- godless liberalism.

And then there's just bald assertion (this from an op-ed that Reynolds wrote for The Guardian, which is itself very interesting):

The language of righteousness and sin, if not that of redemption and grace, remains a hallmark of the purportedly secular left, though I find it no more attractive than the language of the religious right.

I don't fit into the religious right or the religious left. But, in America, you don't get to choose a major political party that does not have some sort of religious strain to it.

I wish I had emoticons on this blog. This one would be called "jawdrop." There's a certain level of internal coherence, along with some point of contact with reality, that I expect before I will even subject a statement to scrutiny. This one is nowhere near. Let's just take it as a given that religiosity is a hallmark of American thought. I mean, remember who the first European settlers were (at least, the ones we've mythologized). To ascribe something like that to the left (in a comment on Hillary Clinton, who is, if I may use the term, the right's new avatar of Satan Incarnate) is really -- let's be moderate -- special pleading. And somehow, describing the values of the Puritans as akin to those of the left is stretching it a bit. I may do another post on this article itself, it's so full of holes. An argument based on elision.

All this is via Andrew Sullivan, whose own comments are equally fuzzy.

No right-wing group has picketed a book-signing with posters depicting my face behind the cross-hairs of a gun, as the gay left did. No one on the right has gone nuclear on my private life, as the gay left did. No one on the right has threatened to find me in Ptown and split my skull open, or called me the anti-Christ, as some on the gay left have. Yes, I get homophobic hate mail from the right all the time; and many conservative blogs have blackballed or slimed or smeared me in various ways. But that's, sadly, what you get for being provocative and opinionated on the web.

In other words, it's OK if the right is homophobic, because that's what we expect from them. However, to feel a sense of betrayal because Sullivan has supported (until recently) the most overtly homophobic administration in history is unacceptable. On the other hand, I suppose the gay community is supposed to support Sullivan no matter what, just because he's out.

Lord, what fools these mortals be.

And please note, while reading through Sullivan's post, how the "religious left" suddenly becomes the "gay left." The two by no means share an identity. Scam artists call it a "bait-and-switch."

In point of fact, one reason the left has been so ineffectual in the past decade or two is that they are too reasonable. The left, as a group, tend to rely on rational arguments, evidence, free inquiry. That puts them dangerously close to the philosophy of the Founders, come to think of it. But of course, when the left even hints at adopting tactics of the far right, there's a ready-made group of attack poodles (I still love that term) ready to start barking. Just because commentators like Reynolds, McArdle, and Sullivan have reputations for some degree of moderation doesn't mean they don't have their heads up their butts on certain issues -- for example, the Iraq war. Yes, it's a fait accompli at this point, and there's really no point in might-have-beens, but to justify the methods used to drag us into this on the basis that it was "necessary" is a little much (it was not in the least necessary from any rational standpoint), particularly when they are seemingly symptomatic of a very troubling attitude in the administration as a whole. (OK, OK, so they don't claim to investigate first causes. I do. I am also, in case you were wondering, an artist, which in this context simply means that I put things together that other people might not recognize as belonging together. The Blog as Collage.)

I will hand Sullivan one point: I think he is a man of principle, and I think his record shows it. The cognitive disjunct comes from expecting the extremes to have any respect for that.

I am still waiting for a fiscally responsible, socially progressive centrist to gain some prominence, from either party. We've got Judy Baar Topinka in Illinois, whom I sincerely hope will be our next governor -- she's the only Republican who managed to stay in office in the last election, and she's good.

In the meantime, I read stuff like this and just have to laugh, even though it's coming from a group of commentators that I respect highly. It's that or drink a lot. Unfortunately, I'm in non-drinking mode lately, so laughter it is.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Ugly Realizations

Scootmaroo is in despair, for reasons that have been making more and more of an appearance in the blogsphere and even in the news: a president who is out of control and a government apparatus that is going along with it. What sparked it in his case was this e-mail on Andrew Sullivan:

When I saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib (and Gitmo?) my eyes filled up and I began to weep slowly. For my country. Americans don't do things like this! (Yes, I remember My Lai but when it was revealed, the country was shocked and outraged.)

Spencer Windes, at LeftCoastBreakdown, has a more general complaint. Call it politics burnout. I'm close to what he's been feeling, which is why the posts here have been wandering a little bit. (I can't summon up the energy to comment on Shotgun Dick, except to note that, with all the other stories that should have been screaming on the front pages, to be pushing this one smacks just the least little bit of "deflect, deflect." Just a bit.)

You hit a point where it all just blends into one big nightmare of graft, corruption, incompetence, stupidity, arrogance, venality, and on and on. Separate issues just don't register any more.

And you sit there and think, "We voted for this." Not all of us, but you can't really say "he's not my president." He is. We're all being tarred with this brush, and we're stuck with him for another couple of years, unless he manages a coup of some sort -- and he's well on his way. He now has the White House, Congress, the courts, and Diebold. What's left?

And frankly, think about the alternatives -- Frist? Santorum? Romney? Kerry? Clinton?

What alternatives?

I, however, am the eternal optimist. Not only an optimist, but an optimist with a fair acquaintance with history. History is a series of reactions. As communications get better, the reactions happen faster. What we're in now is a reaction to the 1960s and 70s, in which liberalism was king and anything went. Granted, the Bush administration is a nightmare, but we've had those before and survived them. What's going to happen is that the totalitarians and Christianists are going to get tossed out, one way or another. The Republican party is already starting to fragment, as Bush's ratings continue to drop and those in office start to figure out that they're really, really vulnerable the more they are identified with him.

I'm not so depressed about the courts, mostly because federal judges tend to get really independent once they're on the bench. It was, after all, a Bush appointee who nixed intelligent design in Dover, PA. Of course, you have clowns like Scalia and Thomas who never should have been confirmed to start with, but look at Kennedy and Souter. They didn't turn out so bad, all things considered.

The Republicans will lose their majority within the next two elections, if the Democrats can keep from fucking it up, which is by no means assured. (Pushing Hackett out of the Senate race in Ohio was really stupid, but there is hope of getting rid of Santorum in Pennsylvania. I am somewhat smug, because Illinois is smart enough to have two Democrats in the Senate, one of whom, at least, is a hell-raiser.)

We survive it all, somehow. One thing that's always true is that the majority can be swayed. That's how we got into this mess in the first place. If over 50% of the people think that Bush is doing a lousy job and that the Republicans are a bunch of crooks, that sort of gives you an indicator. Of course, they'll try to steal the next election, too, but I think too many people will be watching for them to get away with it. Even the brain-dead are starting to get it.

What you need to look at is not what's happening in Washington, which is, after all, the national circus, but what's happening outside Washington. A legislator in Wisconsin wants to outlaw teaching intelligent design in science classes. Florida is actually moving toward repealing its anti-gay adoption law. (Slowly, but the subject has been broached.) The governor of Utah has established domestic partner benefits for state employees. The Florida and California anti-marriage amendments couldn't get enough signatures to get on the ballots. The government has repeatedly been blocked from drilling in ANWR.

It's going to get nasty for a while, and the next administration is going to have a lot of repair work to do, not only in getting rid of Bush's policies across the board, but in convincing the American people that the government is worth having.

That's going to be the hardest.

So, cheer up, Scoot. It'll get better.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Writers talk about being blocked. Anne Lamott says it's really being empty, but I've found that it can be both.

If I'm empty -- no ideas, no focus, no words -- that's fairly easy to deal with. I just do something else for a while. That's probably a major reason that I've explored not only visual arts and writing, but dance, ceramics, flower arranging, sewing and cooking. It comes from an almost pathological need to be making something coupled with an inability to sit still for very long. (I can sit still if something is really, really engaging my mind -- a good book, a good movie. But that's what it takes. Otherwise, constant motion. I fidget.) Soon enough, the batteries are recharged and I'm back at work.

The real problem is when the words or images are there but I can't make them come out right. I call it brain clog, when it's all just in there screaming to get out but gets jammed up at the door. I really write some crap when that happens, if I can write at all, which is by no means necessarily possible, and Lord help me if I'm on a deadline. I can't seem to get focused enough to get a clear thought out.

One thing about other mediums -- you can always dance, or at least take class. It may not be a good class, but you can do it. You can always make a coffee mug. It's creative donkey work, but at least you're making something. If you can't get the words to come out right, or an image to resolve itself, you're screwed. All you've got is blind leads.

And if it goes on for any length of time, there are bad consequences. I get depressed. I mean really depressed. I've talked to other artists about those times when you can't work. One friend, a painter, told me he gets angry and violent. I just drink a lot. And smoke too much.

So that's why this post is so brief. I certainly hope it makes sense.

(I'm thinking of redoing Hunter's Eye completely and folding the Writer's Blog into this one. Hunter at Random, after two years and several false starts, has finally found its voice, and I think there's no reason to keep the two blogs separate any more.

I'm thinking about it.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Christian Armies

After a much-publicized revision of its policies to ensure religious freedom at the Air Force Academy, the brass has backpedaled bigtime, at the command of guess who -- Focus on the Family. From WaPo:

Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, an Albuquerque lawyer who is suing the Air Force over its policy on religion, questioned the sentence allowing commanders to share their faith when it is "reasonably clear" that they are speaking personally, not officially.

"Reasonably clear from whose perspective, the superior's or the subordinate's?" asked Weinstein, a 1977 Air Force Academy graduate. "When a senior member of your chain of command wants to speak to you 'reasonably' about religion, saying 'Get out of my face, sir!' is not an option."

John Cole at Balloon Juice has full coverage. It seems that the services aren't too happy about the whole issue either. See these letters from Stars & Stripes, responding to this one, from a chaplain.

The chaplain's letter is more revealing than he expected, mainly from this assertion:

Our country was founded by Christians on the principles of the Holy Bible, not the satanic bible, by pagans or Wiccans.

He flunks history. This is a statement that has become another mantra for the Christianists, even though it's demonstrably not true. The country was founded by Deists who were very suspicious of organized religion, at best, and especially Christianity. (I had a whole list of quotes from Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, etc. about this, but I don't feel like spending the next two days trying to find them. I blogged on it way back when. Trust me.)

So, if an army chaplain, either through ignorance or deceit, comes out with a statement like that, how responsible can we expect him to be when it comes to respecting others' beliefs?


We know the preznit has made political use of the military (see this bit from Josh Marshall), but apparently he's now thrown that option open to the Christianists as well.

I shudder to think of the damage these goons have done to this country.

Monday, February 13, 2006

At Random, 2/13/06

Northern Pork:

There is apparently a perception that Alaska is greedy. From NYT:

Gov. Frank H. Murkowski says it is time for an image makeover. He wants the state to hire a public relations firm to change the perception of Alaska and its people as greedy for federal money and too willing to plunder the environment for profit.

Ultimately, Mr. Murkowski, a Republican, wants to sway public opinion in favor of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Most Alaska politicians favor drilling in the refuge, which would fill the state's treasury as the trans-Alaska oil pipeline has done for decades. But environmentalists have fought back for a quarter-century, and in December the state was thwarted again in Congress.
. . .

Alaska is one of the top recipients of federal largesse. In 2003, the latest year for which figures are available, Alaska received $1.89 in federal spending for every $1 the state paid in taxes to Washington, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan research organization. The state ranked second, behind New Mexico. Alaska ranked highest in per-capita money received from the federal government that year, the group reported.

Maybe the answer is not to hire a public relations firm to convince everyone that Alaska is not greedy. Maybe the answer is just to stop being greedy. Y'know, there is such a thing as "enough."


I thought this story was a stitch. From NYT:

But the editors of Science were not alone in telling the world of Dr. Hwang's research. Newspapers, wire services and television networks had initially trumpeted the news, as they often do with information served up by the leading scientific journals.

Now news organizations say they are starting to look at the science journals a bit more skeptically.

I find it highly ironic that the science editors of newspapers are so much more sceptical of journal articles than the political editors have been of White House press releases. Fraud in science is relatively rare. Misleading the public has become this administration's SOP. (I'm sure we all remember the NYT's coverage in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq and how carefully it was vetted.. Well. Can you say "Judith Miller"?)


Check out this post at cabanaboyscoot. Ideas have a way of proliferating.

Did He Do It On Purpose?

Headlines of Cheney accidentally shooting a fellow hunter are eclipsing other, more important and more interesting news items, such as the report by a Republican study committee in Congress that slams the administration for its response to Katrina.

I guess they figured a terror alert was passe.

Responds to Positive Reinforcement:

My review of Avram Davidson's Adventures in Unhistory got a blink at Locus Online. It's a good book. And I certainly appreciate the recognition.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

We The People

An editorial from today's NYT:

We can't think of a president who has gone to the American people more often than George W. Bush has to ask them to forget about things like democracy, judicial process and the balance of powers — and just trust him. We also can't think of a president who has deserved that trust less.

This has been a central flaw of Mr. Bush's presidency for a long time. But last week produced a flood of evidence that vividly drove home the point.
. . .

Spin-as-usual is one thing. Striking at the civil liberties, due process and balance of powers that are the heart of American democracy is another.

It makes a good pendant with this, also from today's NYT:

If [Daniel] Webster were here, he would be clamoring, as many Americans now are, for leaders willing to look beyond party affiliation. The great wordsmith was never more eloquent than in his screeds against excessive partisanship. "The party which, while in a minority, will lick the dust to gain the ascendancy," he warned, "becomes, in power, insolvent, vindictive and tyrannical."

No further comment

Gay Adoption: A Bit

From 365Gay.com

A bill to ban gays, bisexuals, and transgendereds from adopting, that was proposed this week by 10 far-right Republicans, is dead in the water GOP and Democratic party leaders said Saturday.

The bill's chief sponsor, Ashville Republican Ron Hood, said if the measure does not make it to the floor this session he will re-introduce it again and again until it does.

"Studies have shown that the optimal setting to raise children in is a traditional setting with a mom and a dad," Hood said.

I'll be very kind and say that this is misleading. The implication is that the scientific evidence points to a "traditional" setting as the best, when in fact, it doesn't. One ploy the anti-gay hate groups have used is to compare studies of single-parent households and dual-parent households and then claim that the "evidence" shows that children need a mother and a father. No. It just shows that kids do better, in general, with two parents. Duh. (There are actually indications that lesbian couples make better parents than straight couples.) This is what happens when you let far-right wingnuts encounter science: there's a certain amount of integrity involved in the practice of science; there apparently is not in the practive of wingnuttery.

Hood claims that children raised in gay households are at "increased risk" of physical and emotional problems.

That's simply not true. In fact, the evidence shows that children raised in gay households are exactly equivalent in most areas to children raised in straight households, and likely to be better at interpersonal relationships because they are more tolerant and easygoing. The only "increased risk" of physical and emotional problems is from attacks by homophobic bullies -- such as Ron Hood.

What's most interesting about this is that the Republican leadership in the Ohio senate is quashing the bill. Another indicator, perhaps, of what I've been saying for a while: the Christianists are hysterical because they know their time is past.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Another Brokeback Bit

Excellent commentary from Commonweal (link courtesy of cabanaboyscoot). Be sure to read Scoot's comments, too.

American Values in Headlong Retreat

From NYT:

But a month after the performances [of Grease] in November, three letters arrived on the desk of Mark Enderle, Fulton's superintendent of schools. Although the letters did not say so, the three writers were members of a small group linked by e-mail, all members of the same congregation, Callaway Christian Church.

. . .

One letter, from someone who had not seen the show but only heard about it, criticized "immoral behavior veiled behind the excuse of acting out a play."

. . .

But challenges to longstanding literary or artistic works are not unusual, said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the American Library Association's office of intellectual freedom. Complaints generally are growing; in 2004, the last year for which figures are available, 547 books came under fire, an increase of nearly 20 percent over 2003, when 458 books were challenged.

"That a literary work is a classic does not protect it from being challenged, or even removed from a particular community," Ms. Caldwell-Stone said.

. . .

For the moment, Dr. Enderle acknowledged, the controversy has shrunk the boundaries of what is acceptable for the community. He added that "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was "not a totally vanilla play."

But asked if the high school might put on another Shakespeare classic about young people in love, "Romeo and Juliet," he hesitated.

"Given the historical context of the play," the superintendent said, "it would be difficult to say that's something we would not perform."

Read this whole article. I don't think I need to comment at all, except to note that three people in a town of 10,000 are dictating what's acceptable for everyone. (They cancelled The Crucible. Offhand, I'd say this is a community that needs to see that play, but I doubt that a lot of them would get it.)

This is traditional American values? Censorship by a cabal of the weak-minded?

OK -- I am going to comment. I realize I'm getting a little shrill, but I am thoroughly outraged by stories like this. Yes, people do have the right to object to things they find offensive -- that's exactly what I'm doing here. My outrage is directed at the idea that the school district has just thrown in the towel without, as you will note if you read the article, public discussion, no sense of what the community at large thinks about the situation, and way too much willingness to pander to the most ignorant and small-minded.

Three complaints. Three. One from someone who hadn't even seen the production.

To my mind, the only appropriate response is, "Trot on down to WalMart and get a life."

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Science Is Not Settled

About global warming: this is part of what we stand to lose:

It's Encyclia tampensis, an orchid native to Florida. Yeah -- one of ours. So I was happy to see this story in NYT. It just reminds us that no group is monolithic.

Despite opposition from some of their colleagues, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, saying "millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors."

However . . .

Some of the nation's most high-profile evangelical leaders, however, have tried to derail such action. Twenty-two of them signed a letter in January declaring, "Global warming is not a consensus issue." Among the signers were Charles W. Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; and Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

OK -- the "consensus issue" thing is kind of loopy on a couple of counts: the overwhelming majority of governments in the world think that global warming presents enough of a danger that we need to take steps. That's enough of a consensus for me.

Second, it's just a sloppy statement. What do we need consensus about, specifically? The fact of global warming? More and more indicators seem to point that way. Agreement on the steps to be taken? See the paragraph above: cut emissions of greenhouse gases, per the Kyoto Accord.

I also find it instructive that the people opposed to this particular initiative are among those who are most ideologically extreme and the most politically driven on the right. They also represent that segment of the Christian community who still hold that the world is here for our exploitation, which is not only selfish but short-sighted. However. . . .

E. Calvin Beisner, associate professor of historical theology at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., helped organize the opposition into a group called the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance. He said Tuesday that "the science is not settled" on whether global warming was actually a problem or even that human beings were causing it. And he said that the solutions advocated by global warming opponents would only cause the cost of energy to rise, with the burden falling most heavily on the poor.

I'm not going to rely on a historian of theology to make that assessment for me without knowing a lot more about his qualifications. Besides, science is never settled. It's not dogma, no matter what some from the Christianist camp (which includes, as far as I'm concerned, those mentioned as opposing this move) would like you to believe. Of course, I can see how those who believe so strongly in authority and received wisdom would fall into that error. [/end snark]

At any rate, I am very happy to see the evangelical community get behind something besides stripping gays and lesbians of basic human rights and rewriting science to suit scripture, and I'm even happier that this is getting some coverage in the MSM. It's about time we heard about some of the positive things coming out of the evangelical camp, because there are many good things that evangelicals are doing.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


A little history. When I started blogging a couple of years ago I was on a proprietary "free Web space" site that wouldn't let me install a counter, even though I had the code. I finally got fed up (Trellix does have its advantages, particularly in placement of photographs, which you may have noticed periodically take some prominence here, but it also has its disadvantages. In short, I don't particularly like it.)

So, I had no idea whether anyone was actually reading my blog because, like so many of you, almost no one ever commented to me about it.

So, somewhere in the night, I reached 1000 hits. I guess I'm not just being terminally solipsistic, after all. (And yes, some of you are kind enough to leave comments, which I'm pleased to report are mostly complimentary. I'm waiting for my first wingnut.)

OK, so I'm not Atrios or someone like that, but this is very exciting.

Thank you.

At Random, 2/7/06

Thinking about "un-American." Thinking about how people who want to gut the Bill of Rights, impose their own worldview on the rest of us (not through the free interchange of ideas, but by stifling dissent and free expression for everyone else), who want to rewwrite the bases of our culture, are so ready to call the rest of us "un-American." (Actually, see my comments below about cartoons.)

Think about that for a while.

Ethics Reform, McCain/Obama Version:

From the Chicago Tribune.

Last Wednesday, a group of seven Republicans and three Democrats met in McCain's office to work through proposed lobbying reforms. One day later, Obama sent a letter thanking McCain for his efforts, but suggested that "creating a task force to further study and discuss these matters" would cause an undue delay and said the Democratic plan seemed the best approach.

It was that letter, aides said, that infuriated McCain. When he returned from a weekend conference in Germany, he fired off a letter to Obama in which he accused him of "self-interested partisan posturing."

The fact that the House Republicans have chosen John Boehner as their new Majority Leader is more-or-less indicative of how seriously the GOP takes ethics reform, which is to say, what we'll get from them is a whitewash and business as usual. Boehner reportedly is at least as tainted as anyone else in the House (well, not as tainted as DeLay, but DeLay is an exceptional man). From Obama's record, his plan probably is the best one, which means in this Congress it will never see the light of day.

If you'd like to see statesmanship in action, read the excerpts from Obama's response at the end of the article. Yes, he's my senator, but I don't agree with all his positions and I think he can be a little wishy-washy (but then, he's a Democrat), but the alternative was Alan Keyes.

I should note that I lost a lot of faith in John McCain when he sold himself to campaign for Bush in '04. Look at the history there: to campaign for someone you know from first-hand experience is a sleazeball in order to maintain the power of a party that is hell-bent on destroying the country is a little much.

Some Thoughts on Cartoons:

There have been, needless to say, not only a spate of headlines about the Muslim reactions to the Danish cartoon of Muhammed, but a plethora of comments on the blogosphere and in discussion groups. There was also a briefer but almost as sharp set of reactions to the Tom Toles cartoon in WaPo criticizing Rumsfeld. The comments seem to run the gamut, but center on ideas of fairness, freedom of expression, "good taste," offense to religious beliefs.

What I don't think anyone has mentioned is the way that personal beliefs, particularly of the religious variety, shape our world views. The majority of Americans, for example, are, at least nominally, Christian. I suspect that's one reason that a substantial number of Americans feel that the First Amendment goes too far. I've probably broached this idea before, but relgions that rely on received wisdom and an almighy creator are not going to be sympathetic to the spirit of open inquiry (you do remember Galileo, do you not?). The scientific method, on which so much of Western thought is based, runs "evidence-analysis-interpretation-answer." The thinking of hierarchical religions seems to run "authority-answer-evidence."

What this means in terms of real life, like burning embassies and such, is that authority has what I can only consider undue influence in such a system, and let's face it -- they're only human, so their perceptions can be just as warped as anyone else's. Thus we get so many Catholics actually thinking the Pope can find his butt with both hands on questions of sexuality and morality, and your local neighborhood mullah calling jihad on the target-du-jour. A Witch, on the other hand (and I'm not really doing any special pleading here -- this attitude is one reason Witchcraft makes so much sense to me) is more likely to look at what's actually happening and draw conclusions from that. (Not that I'm completely rationalistic -- those observations are going to be filtered through my own attitudes, of course. It's just that I'm so much more reasonable than most people.)

So the Muslims in question don't necessarily see freedom of the press as an overriding concern, just as many Americans think that public discourse should be tailored to their attitudes.

I think it was Andrew Sullivan, or one of his correspondents, who pointed out that you need a thick skin to survive in a democracy. There you have it.

NASA Update:

George Deutsch, the science-in-the-service-of-Bush boy from NASA, has resigned. It seems he didn't actually graduate from Texas A&M. (Of course, his resignation has nothing to do with that or the major embarrassment he's proven to be to NASA.) How strange. (You can follow this story in some detail at The Scientific Activist, which was instrumental in outing the flack.) Deutsch was, of course, a Bush appointee whose main qualification seems to have been that he was a Bush supporter. Start to sound familiar?

Deutsch has been all over the blogosphere lately, but the most entertaining summary of his career is at World O'Crap.

Later. . . .

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Brokeback Mountain: To Be and Not To Be

Yay! Found the missing post from two days ago.

This article from the New York Review of Books almost makes a point that I've not managed to pin down, although the writer actually doesn't pin it down either. But at least it got me thinking.

The real achievement of Brokeback Mountain is not that it tells a universal love story that happens to have gay characters in it, but that it tells a distinctively gay story that happens to be so well told that any feeling person can be moved by it. If you insist, as so many have, that the story of Jack and Ennis is OK to watch and sympathize with because they're not really homosexual-that they're more like the heart of America than like "gay people"-you're pushing them back into the closet whose narrow and suffocating confines Ang Lee and his collaborators have so beautifully and harrowingly exposed.

There's a connection there that I missed -- or rather, that I was looking for and never quite managed to clarify. No, those who say Brokeback Mountain is not a gay movie are not wrong, whatever their motivations. As I said at one point, its reach is far beyond that. However, the blanket statement that it is a gay movie strikes me as somewhat akin to saying that West Side Story is about gangs.

Yes, of course there is a lot of relevance to gays, and a lot of identification there. Correspondent I.S. Ball noted:

I will say no movie has ever captured what being gay in small town America is like until this movie. Ennis was like so many guys in the South, Midwest, and other rural areas of America. Who learns that they are but have it pounded into them that this is not right to find out in their heart and in their bodies that it is right and true. I have seen very few movies that have touched me like this movie and how a lot of it is true to life.

It's this very slippery thing that people do of using words with various shades of meaning as though they didn't have those nuances. If it were a "gay" movie in terms of identity and culture, of course, it would not have the reach it has. The writer's own example of a love story about two interior decorators in New York in the 1970s nails that one. At the same time, its overt subject matter is "gay" in normal parlance.* What happens, and what I was trying to say in a number of places and didn't quite manage, is that the film goes beyond that easy idenfication. (But then, we all do.) I came close with the comment that maybe it tood a straight woman to have enough distance to write the story and make it real. A gay man could not have done it, I think.

So, Brokeback Mountain is and is not a gay movie.

See, you can have your cake . . . .

(*Stray thought, speaking of nuance: I wonder if creationists have thought about the ramifications of trying to reduce their inerrant Scripture to "only a theory.")

(Another stray thought -- "nuance" itself might be worthy of being blogged. We'll see. It's so totally unfashionable that I really am attracted to the idea.)

Foonote: We Don't Need No Stinkin' Culchah:

So now a teacher in Colorado is in trouble for introducing children to opera:

Tresa Waggoner showed approximately 250 first-, second- and third-graders at Bennett Elementary portions of a 33-year-old series titled "Who's Afraid of Opera" a few weeks ago.

The video features the soprano Dame Joan Sutherland and three puppet friends discussing Gounod's "Faust." Waggoner thought it would be a good introduction to opera.

. . .

Another parent, Casey Goodwin, said, "I think it glorifies Satan in some way."

Casey Goodwin needs to remove head from inside butt and figure out what's going on. It's really just another Christianist tactic -- the idea that the mere portrayal of something is somehow an endorsement. Of course, from the level of commentary on phenomena like this, I find it hard to believe that some of these people can walk and breathe without close supervision, much less deal with questions of how something is portrayed.

World of Wonder

I haven't said much about conservation or ecology in general here, which is remiss of me. It's very important to me for a lot of reasons.

I really object to the idea that nothing on earth has value until it enters some corporation's balance sheet, which is an attitude that's embodied by our present administration. (Of course, in their considered judgment, the corporation should be a major contributor as well, just to keep things in the family.)

Consequently, I consider things like drilling for oil in ANWR impermissible on a number of counts. I do recognize that energy is a critical area, but I consider plundering every possible square inch of the world in order to find a few more drops of oil the wrong answer. Why aren't we going full-bore toward alternatives? (And what progress have we made on hybrid vehicles, by the way? You remember -- the preznit thought it was a bid deal a couple of years ago. Oh, wait -- that was a couple of years ago. I do note, buried somewhere in the news a while back, that some legislatures are actually considering tax rebates on them. Now if they can just stiffen up their manhood enough to vote for surtaxes on SUVs, we might start getting somewhere. Of course, I'm sure that won't make Exxon-Mobil very happy.)

We can take a different approach. It's possible. From NYT:

"It's like a revolution," said Merran Smith, director of the British Columbia Coastal Program of Forest Ethics, an environmental group. "It's a new way of thinking about how you do forestry. It's about approaching business with a conservation motive up front, instead of an industrial approach to the forest."
. . .

Once Mr. Armstrong sat at the opposite side of the bargaining table from the environmentalists, but now he works closely with them. "This needs to be celebrated — it's a big, big deal," he said. "Everyone had a greater interest in resolving the problems than continuing the conflict."

The point being that we've developed an industrial approach to everything, and considering the state of American industry, I think that says enough right there. We don't need to do that. (Let's see the "traditional values" loons tackle that one -- what about the value of honest labor?)

Because if you can take that approach, there are still wonders in the world::

Indonesia - Scientists exploring an isolated jungle in one of Indonesia's most remote provinces discovered dozens of new species of frogs, butterflies and plants - as well as mammals hunted to near extinction elsewhere, members of the expedition said Tuesday.

There's also this story in NYT. Check out the photographs. I thought this one was great.

Just think about the idea that there might be an orchid that no one's ever seen before. (Of course, there are so many that people see rarely anyway.)

By the way, I'm a little dotty about orchids. Being me, of course, I like the little brown funny-looking ones, and find the big showy hybrids in general pretty uninteresting. Here are a few orchids native to places you might not expect.

Cypripedium acaule is native to North America, and can be found as far north as southern Alaska. It's one of our native Lady's Slippers. It is, of course, endangered, as so many treasures are. The worst problem is not really overcollecting -- it's habitat destruction. Duh.

Ophrys apifera is a European orchid. This speciment is from a nature reserve in East Kent.

Cryptostylis erecta is from Australia. Australian orchids are pretty fascinating all by themselves -- there's one that spends its entire life cycle underground --it even blooms underground. (Needless to say, pictures of that one are hard to find.)

I may do a whole thing on orchids. I think they're totally fascinating, not only because the flowers are unusual, but because of their history and evolution. Really remarkable critters.

In the meantime, think about the world as something that doesn't have to show a profit. And do an image search on Google for "orchid species."

That should keep you occupied.

Sunday, February 05, 2006


AmericaBlog says that Blogger was weirded out yesterday, and I just realized that yesterday's post is gone, although it was there yesterday.

Maybe I can reconstruct it -- this was one of those rare instances where I actually composed a lot of it on the template, so I'm not sure if I have a file on it.

That'll teach me.

Cartoons is as cartoons does.

I was going to write this whole post on fundamentalism versus the liberal tradition, but I'm not writing well the past couple of days and I'm on deadline and have to concentrate on other things.


Josh Marshall came up with this, which says a lot of what I wanted to say and actually makes sense (which I wasn't doing).

So read it.

Friday, February 03, 2006


This cartoon is generating a lot more controversy than it deserves.

Editor and Publisher has the story:

A Tom Toles editorial cartoon published in The Washington Post on Monday and on its Web site has drawn a very rare and very strong protest letter to the editors from all six members of The Joint Chiefs of Staff, E&P learned Wednesday.

The letter was published in the Post on Thursday, along with a separate column by Howard Kurtz in which Toles, and Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt, responded. Hiatt said, "While I certainly can understand the strong feelings, I took it to be a cartoon about the state of the Army and not one intended to demean wounded soldiers." He added that he doesn't "censor Tom."

Kurtz also quoted Dave Autry, deputy communications director for Disabled American Veterans, saying he was "certainly not" offended by the cartoon.

Here's a link to the letter in question.

What's my take? The cartoon is certainly unpleasant, but I don't know that I'd call it "beyond tasteless." The situation is unpleasant, so I don't see how an editorial cartoon commenting on it could be otherwise. I see more than a little deflection in the Joint Chiefs' letter -- the cartoon is not criticizing the troops, it is quite obviously criticizing Rumsfeld and the military establishment, who, after all, have not shown up well lately. To write a letter demanding an apology for something that people didn't do -- well, maybe I've gotten a little jaded, but that has become too much of a pattern for this administration. Nor would it be the first time that the military brass has ducked an issue -- in fact, that happens way too much. ("A few bad apples"?) I think Aravosis calling it "censorhip" is a little ridiculous, but not that far out of his usual mode. It is, however, interesting to note that a letter signed by the entire Joint Chiefs, on official letterhead, has now somehow become an expression of "personal opinion."

There is an interesting discussion at Black Five on this one, unfortunately generating more heat than light. (I've been called a troll because I noted the issues pointed out above; fortunately, most of the commenters are more reasonable.) I've found it a little more difficult than usual to avoid biting people in the Comments, but so far, I think I've managed.

The conflict seems to be, in the Black Five comments at least, between an almost automatic deference to authority (which has never been one of my problems) and a willingness to look behind the obvious, or at least to avoid having one's perceptions molded by that authority. It leads to some interesting speculations about the differences between those who have been subject to military discipline and those who have not, which I'm not going to pursue. It is interesting to note that Dave Autry of Disabled American Veterans was castigated in those comments for not finding the cartoon offensive. I get a faint whiff of "holier than thou" here, when I would think that a more appropriate reaction might be the willingness to at least consider the possibility that more than one point of view is legitimately possible.

One wonders. One really does.

I am also reminded of a thread at Epinions Addicts about the latest Christianist wingnut campaign against AOL. My summation of that was "anything is offensive if you want it enough."

I think this, as is so often the case, is being blown way out of proportion, and the Joint Chiefs are the ones doing it. It's not like there hasn't been criticism of the Pentagon's war preparedness before this, or that people have been ignoring the whole "armor, lack of" issue. (It is, however, interesting to note that the debate in that area has now morphed to "more is not necessarily better," with the Pentagon trotting out all the objections to more complete armor, when the primary issue has been "not enough armor to go around." I guess we're to believe that the lack of body armor leaves you with enough mobility to dodge the bullets.) However, cartoons can be a particularly potent medium, and I would guess that this one had a little bit too much sting, as well as a convenient handle.

Of course, the truly cynical would note that the Joint Chiefs' letter concerns itself almost entirely with the putative "disrespect" shown to wounded personnel, while trying desperately to ignore the real thrust of the cartoon, which is the general lack of competence in our conduct of the ground war in terms of supply and basic equipment. (And we won't go into the awarding of contracts or billing irregularities by well-connected contractors. No. We won't mention it.) I don't know that I'd go so far as to say that the military has become politicized, in spite of the president's use of soldiers as "audience" for several of his speeches during the last campaign (complete with custom-made T-shirts, which is another issue we won't get into, considering the side-show at SOTU), but I would go so far as to say that the military brass is not above playing their own combination of "CYA and point at someone else."

I hadn't really intended to comment on this issue, but it's become hard to ignore.

OK -- I've had my say.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

At Random, 2/1/06

Read this:

From Joe. My. God.

Just So You Know:

I'm not really a wild-eyed leftist. In fact, I'm more a "compassionate libertarian" than anything else (and I know I'm laying myself open using the "c" word -- the difference: I know what compassion is). Societies exist for the mutual benefit of their members; the rule of law, based on overriding principles and developed through the will of the people, is the only workable basis for a society; a just society requires mechanisms for us to take care of each other; and otherwise, we should learn to butt out.

That's my political philosophy in a nutshell. ("Pure" political philosophies make nice intellectual exercises. Past a certain point, though, it's like having a passionate relationship with your right hand. Or your left.)

In other words, I like our system. I think it's a good one.

But the longer I have to deal with the Dubyah and his Christianist handlers, the more I start to feel like a wild-eyed leftist.

I've read excerpts of the State of the Union.

Lord. Love. A. Duck. (Or, in the parlance of today: "Wash, rinse, repeat.")

The Numbers:

Interesting graph comparing Bush and Nixon, with Clinton thrown in for reference. My inner Michael Moore finds this very comforting. Via Andrew Sullivan.

Gonzales Lied:

Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) charged yesterday that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales misled the Senate during his confirmation hearing a year ago when he appeared to try to avoid answering a question about whether the president could authorize warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens.

And this is news exactly how?

Apropos of Nothing:

The topic came up in a discussion board the other day about being ogled. Some of us were commiserating about not being ogled any more (yes, gay men are ageist).

The last time I was ogled -- and I mean really ogled -- it was by a straight guy at the place I had just started working (not all that long ago, actually). Read "hard cruise." That sort of thing always intimidates the hell out of me, because I don't know how to respond -- I get all embarrassed. Consequently, it took several months for us reach the point of speaking. He's a nice guy. Beautiful eyes -- terminally beautiful eyes.

But I started thinking back over experiences with straight men. They seem to have one of two reactions to me: either total and utter panic (I once had a potential client leave his jacket in the office in his rush to get out; it was March), or total and utter fascination (and that has happened any number of times, to the point of some seriously mixed signals).

Go figure.

I've actually been busy -- barely home for the past three days, and about to take off again. I have four books sitting here that I've read but haven't had a chance to write up yet. Not to mention all the First Causes sitting in my "blog topics" folder. (There are even a couple of ruminations.)