"Pretty dang fair"

Those are the words Wayne Kerschner used to describe himself as an Alachua County Sheriff's Office corrections officer. Mind you, he's an active member of the Ku Klux Klan, blogs regularly on a KKK website, and is an officer in the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. But he's a "pretty dang fair officer." Or was--he's been fired.

I wonder how he's using "fair" here? Does he mean he's slightly better than average at his job, as in "he's a fair second baseman, decent range but not much pop in his bat"? Or does he mean he's even-handed in his treatment of the people he's in charge of as a corrections officer? Or is he describing his complexion? He's a white-supremacist, after all.

Okay, the last one isn't likely.

I can't say I'm shedding any tears for Kerschner here. He was fired for "violating a departmental ban on subversive or terrorist organizations" (presumably, it's membership in those organizations which is banned), and I'm fine with that. The Klan has been linked with hate crimes and terrorism for a long time, and I'm glad to see that law enforcement is calling them that.

Another interesting thing to me on this story is Kerschner's defense--he's claiming that the Klan is a "faith-based organization." I wonder how mainstream Christian churches would react to that claim? Most would probably deny any connection vehemently, much like they do the rabid Phelps family. And that would be fair--the Klan no more represents mainstream Christianity than, oh, the Taliban represents mainstream Islam. Something for those people freaking out about the underwear bomber to consider, perhaps.

Spelling and Usage

I tweeted this link last night with the message that I'd be passing it along to my students in the spring, perhaps even testing them on it. It's titled "10 Words You Need to Stop Misspelling," which is funny because there's only 3 actual spelling errors they listed--wierd for weird, definately for definitely (though they missed the far more common, in my experience, defiantly), and alot for a lot. The rest are all usage errors--fairly common ones too, though I have no idea how some of them are happening.

For instance, when did loose become mistaken for lose? I've seen this error for a couple of years now, and Andrew Shields, on my Facebook wall, said he thought it was only his German-speaking students who had that problem. Nope, Andrew--apparently it's widespread.

The inability for some of my students to distinguish between "then" and "than" is also a pretty recent phenomenon, and it's also pretty freaking aggravating because the error throws off the whole meaning of a sentence at times (makes the writer look like a dumbass the rest of the time).

And when I get "weather" for "whether," I start drinking, because it's going to be a loooong paper to grade.

The Incertus blog has been gathering tumbleweeds for a while, now, and Brian's already mentioned some reasons why: he's been tweeting, po-editing at the Rumpus, and then there's just the exhaustion. My only excuse is the exhaustion. And the source my exhaustion is my own damn fault: it's the way I've been living my life.

Technology has been changing our brains for a long time, and overall I think that's great. In societies without writing, people can remember verbatim not just innumerable myths and legends, recipes and folk wisdom, but the receipts of commerce going back several years. I can't even tell you what my co-pay for a specialist is, and I've paid it several times.

But in the end, it's better overall to have writing than to have super-awesome memories. And we could all improve our memories if we really wanted to. But, ya know, Mythbusters is on, and I want to see them test the earwax candle while playing Bejeweled Blitz and watching my friends' Facebook status updates, although I'll really be thinking about the 50 things I need to do that I'm not doing.

In other words, just like so many others, my focus has decreased beneath the length of a tweet, and I've been sucked into the vortex of modern life in which tasks whirl about at the ends of my attention and the end of my every rope is frayed.

Because it's changing my life, I decided to do some research on the subject. It took me a while though, because I did it while doing 20 other things. ;) I've discovered that, contrary to popular wisdom, younger people who multi-task by habit are not "better at" it, not even at Stanford, and that by making ourselves so distracted we're increasing our chances of death. There's more: frequent multitasking so stresses the body it makes us age faster by pumping us full of cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol also makes us gain weight. And when we do two or more things at the same time (or try to) we're less productive and the work gets done less well. Multitasking even shifts tasks to a part of the brain that doesn't retain memory, meaning you'll go through your work like an Ambien-amnestic, waking to discover you have no idea what you've read or done. It's all a big clusterfuck of best intentions gone horribly awry: as forgetting was brought to us by writing, all this was brought to us by technology too.

But while writing was probably worth the loss of our full memorizing ability, is being able to play games, chat with friends, and be entertained in multiple ways at the same time worth getting old, fat, incompetent, and amnestic before our times? And what of the corroding effect on our relationships? How many of us are now in love with someone who must struggle to put down his iPhone and laptop and whatever else just to look us in the eye?

I think, after all, having these fantastic technologies at our fingertips is less like the advent of writing or some other useful technology than it is simply the decadence of over-abundance. We are like children let into the eternal candy shop, and we do not know how to show restraint. There is a pain welling in our bellies telling us to slow down, to stuff fewer things into our faces, but everything tastes so yummy and there's always another treat we haven't yet tried.

In the Star Trek universe, they have the holodeck, a room where real-as-life computer-generated people, places, and things allow people to live novels, go skiing, or relax on an alien beach. It took a long time for Trek's authors to address the idea that some people might get addicted to that world, might not be able to show restraint. The suggestion is that most people could handle it; just one or two would have "a problem." But that flies in the face of what we know of human nature: in our world, few are able to show any restraint at all. If we had holodecks, only a few people would live in them, but most people would frequent them to distraction. Very few would naturally show restraint.

And that's where we are: a smorgasbord of delights abounds around us, and we're making ourselves miserable with them. Some say technology is changing what it means to be human, but so far, that's not true: nothing could be more human than the way we indulge, the way we sacrifice our long-term happiness to achieve short-term desires. If there is to be a change in human nature, it would be this: that we develop an extraordinary ability to self-control, a machine-like regularity in how we indulge or refuse to, in our ability to focus on a subject or task absolutely when we are required to. We would have to develop these new abilities, because the technology's not going away, and there will only be more and more, and soon.

So my goal is to grow as a human being, to evolve to meet the needs to the technology around me. That doesn't mean making myself more available to it; that means developing the ability to refuse. Hopefully I will slow my consumption, and I will do only one thing at a time, and I will be less exhausted, and I will have the attention to write a blog post longer than a tweet. That's what I hope.

Stealing Books

Side note: last post was number 3,500 here at Incertus. Holy hell we can jabber on about stuff.

Via The Rumpus, Margo Rabb has a funny piece in the NY Times about book theft. As anyone with a wry sense of humor might expect, the Bible is the most-stolen book around, even in Christian book stores (where it might be the only thing worth reading).

These paragraphs near the end got me thinking a little, though, in large part because my own book is being published (fingers crossed) in 2010, and though I doubt there's going to be much of an issue with digital piracy--I can only hope that I'm in demand enough that people would want to steal it--I am interested in using the web as a marketing tool for my work.

Many publishers and authors fear that piracy, and the general transition from print to digital media, will cause irreparable harm to the book industry, as it has in the music world. The writer Sherman Alexie, who has refused to make his fiction available in digital form, agrees. “The open source culture is coming for us,” he told me, “and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.”

John Palfrey, a co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and the author of “Born Digital,” is more optimistic. “The way young people enjoy music is very different from the way they enjoy books, and I don’t think that we’ll see the same pattern of piracy emerge that we’ve seen in the music industry — at least not in the near future,” he said.
There's little doubt in my mind that the transition will force the publishing industry to evolve, and that the companies which currently dominate the landscape will mostly fail to do so. The companies will survive in some form or another, but they'll be the IBM's of a generation ago--once-powerful, now an afterthought.

Palfrey is correct--for now--that the way young people (and middle-agers too, for the record) access music is different from the way they enjoy books, but that's going to change, and I think the switchover will come when e-book readers become textbooks for schoolchildren. Adult readers stick to books now because that's what we're comfortable with. Read the arguments against e-books and one place they always hit is the tactile sensation of turning pages, of the smell of the paper and ink, the must of age in the cover. You lose all that with an e-book, absolutely. But if you've never really had it? If your first book was a child-proof Kindle or Nook or Tablet? Then a paper book will be a curiosity, but it won't evoke the same emotional attachment it does for us.

And once that's the expected way of accessing books, then piracy will grow quickly. We have a generation of people who are adults now who may have never accessed music other than via a computer, and we're getting that way with movies. The DVD has a top end life span, I'd wager, of ten years, even with the introduction of HD versions. Streaming delivery is the model of the future. So why not with books?

That's why I'm interested in making my book available in digital format, even if I never sell a copy that way. I'd like it to be open-source, though my publisher will no doubt have objections to that--but whatever agreement we come to, I want it to be available on as many readers as possible (so no Amazon-proprietary format no matter what happens). For the current generation of young people, and the ones that follow them, if it's not online, it doesn't exist. Writers have to acknowledge that--Sherman Alexie is right when he says open-source is coming for all of us, and that we can't stop it. The question is how we engage with it.

One thing publishers need to do in order to survive this evolutionary moment is do a better job of selling the costs of publishing. The music industry failed badly in this respect because it allowed the frame of "a blank CD costs pennies; why does a music CD cost 17 bucks?" to become the focus of the debate. The fact that the record companies exploit new artists horribly and that they were raking in billions of dollars while churning out some of the least interesting music ever didn't help much, but where they really failed was in making the case that producing songs is expensive, even if you don't see it in the end product.

Publishers need to make the same case. Right now, the argument goes that a digital download costs next to nothing compared to a printed book--therefore, a digital download ought to cost next to nothing. And for some books, namely, those in the public domain, I agree completely. But making books--and I'm not taking about the physical making here; I'm talking about the writing and editing and formatting and selling of books--is expensive. But most readers don't get that, because the costs are hidden, and because they haven't actually tried to do it themselves, they have no idea how hard a job it is. I've never done a job as tedious as copy-editing, and I worked in a grocery warehouse pulling cases for 3 years.

Publishers have to pay people to do these jobs, and those of us in the industry would like to earn a living wage doing it. And in order to do that, publishers have to set a price point for electronic books that's higher than the average person might expect. Amazon hasn't helped matters with its Wal-Mart-esque bullying of publishers, but in the end, it's publishers who control the content, and right now, the market is malleable enough that they can still exert some control if they're willing to fight for it. And one of the ways they can do that is by making the case that there's value in the book itself, regardless of the format. Don't ask me how--I'm not a marketer. I don't even expect to make more than beer money off this book. But I know this is where we're heading, and if publishers want to thrive, they'll have to find a way to convince people to buy their books.

Bunch of Commies

When I read this piece on financial planners using the Bible to back up their advice, I thought about Leviticus 25, and the Jubilee. Okay, my first thought was that the "financial planners" were reading the Bible the way people interpret Nostradamus's quatrains or the way psychics read Tarot cards (and it looks like I'm right, if the examples in the story are par for the course).

But after that, I pulled one of my Bibles down from the shelf (yep--an atheist with multiple Bibles) and looked at Leviticus 25 again, and I was surprised. I'd forgotten just how anti-capitalist this section is. For example, property sales were to be considered temporary, and the price was to be pro-rated according to how many years were left before the next Jubilee, because in the Jubilee year, all property was to be returned to its original owners. And the seller had the right to redeem his property within a particular time frame, regardless whether the purchaser wished to sell it back or not. There were land use restrictions, as well as bans on the selling of certain property.

It's verses 14-17 that I really find interesting, though:

14 "'If you sell land to one of your countrymen or buy any from him, do not take advantage of each other. 15 You are to buy from your countryman on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And he is to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. 16 When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what he is really selling you is the number of crops. 17 Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the LORD your God.
The theory of capitalism, as I understand it, is that all sides in any deal are doing their best to get the deal that is most advantageous to their side. In practice, this means that all sides are trying to take advantage of the other participants in the deal--it's a zero-sum game. The exception is when you get groups playing a non-zero-sum game, where everyone benefits as the result of a deal, but even in those rare circumstances, there are generally some zero-sum games being played in the background.

But the whole theory of the economic system described here in Leviticus is one which precludes the zero-sum game. Even if one party were in a position to take advantage of the other, the law required that they not do so. I have little faith that this requirement was honored much in practice--greed is one of our more common characteristics across cultures--but it's interesting to me that this culture tried, at least, to codify the fair deal as an ideal of conduct.

This section also exposes just how out of keeping with the Old Testament tradition the Prosperity Gospel is. From the article I began with:
For instance, in the gospel of John, Jesus says "I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full," which some "prosperity gospel" preachers see as a promise of material wealth to faithful givers. Others say it's an assurance of joy or contentment.
The Jesus portrayed in the Gospels was educated in the Levitical Law, and some theologians argue he referenced the Jubilee in Luke 4:19-26. To portray Jesus as a capitalist, as the Prosperity Gospel movement does, is to ignore the foundation of the society he was raised in.

Which is a little beside the point, frankly. We live in a global economy that's intricate in ways even the wisest people in the world 2,000 years ago couldn't have imagined. Anyone who's using a book from that period to justify the advice he or she is giving on financial issues is banking on the willingness of the mark recipient of that advice swallow the appeal to authority. If the advice is good, let it stand on its own. Don't hide it in hokum.

It's Just a Game

Dear NFL Fans:

I'm one of you. I've been a fan since I was a kid, since I first started to get a grasp on the game. And I'll continue to love it well into the future. But it's time we had a talk about the relationship that exists between us, the fans, and the NFL ownership.

Let me put this bluntly. I will not attend an NFL game held in a stadium financed with public money, which means I won't be attending an NFL game any time in the foreseeable future. And this story is a good illustration of why. (This argument extends to Major League Baseball and the NBA as well, though in all honesty, I don't attend many sporting events in the first place.)

The article is about how the owners of the Cincinnati Bengals screwed over the city of Cincinnati financially, and how the city is really starting to feel the pinch now.

In 1996, voters in Hamilton County approved an increase of half of one percent in the sales tax that promised to build and maintain stadiums for the Bengals and the Reds, pay Cincinnati’s public schools and give homeowners an annual property tax rebate. The stadiums were supposed to spur development of the city’s dilapidated riverfront.

But sales tax receipts have fallen so fast in the last year that the county is now scrambling to bridge a $14 million deficit in its sales tax fund. The public schools, which deferred taking their share for years, want their money.

The teams have not volunteered to rewrite their leases. So in the coming weeks, the county plans to cut basic services, lower its legal bills and drain a bond reserve fund with no plan for paying it back.
This for a team which in 2007 was estimated to be worth $912 million, with 13% of that worth coming from the stadium, and whose record since 1990 is 110-193-1. (I'm assuming that a more successful team on the field might be worth a little more money.) So how did the Bengals get such a sweet deal on their stadium?
The 1996 proposal to build stadiums for the Bengals and the Reds had plenty of proponents. The economy was growing, Riverfront Stadium was outdated and the Bengals were hinting that they would move, as the Browns had done.
For some time now, I have felt that the only proper answer to this argument is "be seeing you," and I think that answer is even more appropriate now, because we have real problems in our cities and states that require tax money to fix--decaying infrastructure and underfunded education systems are at the top of the list, but there are other issues as well--and making NFL owners richer than they already are shouldn't even be on the list.

Because here's the thing--there really aren't a lot of options for NFL owners when it comes to cities which are able to support an NFL team in the manner to which they are accustomed. And the one city the NFL owners want desperately to put a team in--Los Angeles--really isn't in a hurry to snag one. Cities hold more cards in this game than most people seem to realize. Pro sports teams of any stripe don't do a lot to bring in tax money--a smart city would tell owners they have to pony up if they want access to the dollars a thriving city can provide in terms of gate and merchandise revenue. None of these NFL owners are losing money--they're raking it in, at the expense of the citizens who support the team with both tax money and disposable income.

I'll watch the Saints on tv when I can, streaming online when it's not being aired, and other football games as the mood suits me, but I won't support a team playing in a publicly-financed stadium. I'm paying for it once--that's enough.

So let me get this straight

Miller is saying that Miller Lite is indistinguishable from urine?

Thanks to Ian from Brother Tucker's for showing us this commercial. Best place to get good beer in the Fort Lauderdale area, bar none. And the soup! Gods, the soup is incredible.

Fundamentalist Atheism

I've been thinking about this (again) since I read Amanda Marcotte's piece on Houston electing its first openly gay mayor. She writes:

What’s it going to take to get people to stop misusing the word “believe”? If you think homosexuality is a sin, then you think that it exists, and therefore you absolutely believe in it. I’m usually sanguine on the way that words shift meanings, but in this case, I have to protest. People are using the word “believe” instead of the more accurate words “approve” or even “accept”, because they want cover for their bigotry. They hope the word “believe” puts their bigotry into the Religion Zone, therefore above criticism.
She's responding to a woman who said she doesn't "believe in homosexuality," and her analysis of where the usage comes from is spot-on, so far as I can tell. That's why, for instance, I refuse to say I believe in evolution--I say I understand how evolution works instead, because 1) I do, and 2) belief in it is sort of beside the point. It happens whether I believe in it or not, and this is proven by the fact that evolution happens around us every day and the lack of belief by a (sadly) significant percentage of the population has no effect on that.

It's this misuse of words that has me upset (again) about the notion of fundamentalist atheism; well, that and the people who, in my experience, tend to use the term. Let's start with the term, though. When used to describe a religious group, fundamentalism refers to those worshipers who claim to revert to the fundamentals of the faith. In Christianity, they tend to be Creationists who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, and they come in lots of flavors--Jehovah's Witnesses are fundamentalists, for example, along with many of the charismatic Protestant sects. Ultra-Orthodox Jews are fundamentalists, as are the more radical Muslim sects. What these groups all have in common is that they claim to be the purest form of a religious tradition which stretches back centuries, and which they claim has been corrupted by modern thinking and secularism.

So in order for a group to be fundamentalist, there has to be a dogma, and that dogma has to have changed over time, so that there is a desire to return to a simpler, more fundamental era. Which is why there's no such thing as a fundamentalist atheist. Atheism lacks a dogma, which means its dogma can't have evolved (heh) and therefore there are no fundamentals to return to. There are no tenets of atheism, no liturgies, no ethical requirements or suggestions for behavior. There's simply the lack of belief in a personal God who is involved in the affairs of humans.

One could argue, I suppose, that all atheists are fundamentalists, if they all hold to that basic definition, but that would be like saying that everyone who believes Jesus was divine is a fundamentalist Christian. The definition would be so general as to be meaningless, since fundamentalists generally separate themselves from the mainstream.

But just as the woman Amanda quoted didn't mean "believe" when she said she didn't "believe in homosexuality," people who refer to those of us who openly espouse our atheism as fundamentalists don't really mean "fundamentalist." No, they mean something a bit more hurtful--they're just too cowardly to use the word they mean.

In my experience, the people who call atheists like Richard Dawkins or P.Z. Myers or Amanda Marcotte "fundamentalists" really want to call them "assholes." We're assholes because we point out that religion isn't always a force for good, and in fact, it's often quite damaging to societies. We're assholes because we refer to religion as magical thinking even though that's what it is. We're assholes because we we're not ashamed to not believe, and we're especially assholes because we've been a bit more vocal about that lack of belief in recent years.

And to be fair, some of us are assholes. Christopher Hitchens is a loud and proud atheist, but he's also Prime-Cut quality asshole. Many's the time I've read an opinion piece by him and I've thought to myself "why on earth does he get to be the spokesperson?" because I really don't want to be associated with him. What can I say? There are assholes in any group. I'm sure there are Catholics who cringe every time Bill Donohue opens his piehole and who would love to distance themselves from that douche-hound's version of Catholicism.

But that's not fundamentalism.

The reason that people who use the term "fundamentalist atheism" use it is because they see themselves as moderates in the great religious debate, and calling us fundamentalists is a way of distancing themselves from those noisy people who make jokes about the Flying Spaghetti Monster. They often identify as agnostic, and claim that just as one can't prove the existence of a personal god, one can't disprove the existence of a personal god, as though those are two equally valid propositions. They erect straw atheists who claim absolute certainty about the non-existence of any manner of deity, from a universal consciousness to Yahweh, and then call them as extreme as people who believe the earth is only 6,000 years old, and they do this so they can play the part of the open-minded sage, inoffensive and mild, who no one could ever object to. It's the safest position to take. No one can ever accuse them of extremism.

But I accuse them of dishonesty, of misusing language, and of cowardice. Don't tell me what I believe or don't believe in. Ask me, and when I tell you, take me at my word. When I say to you that I see no reason to believe in a personal God who interferes in the affairs of humans, don't distend that definition to mean I don't believe in the possibility of some as-yet-undiscovered connection between all matter in the universe that you call God. And most of all, if you honestly think I'm an asshole for being open about my atheism, just call me one. I can take that a whole lot better than I can being called a fundamentalist.

Happy Holidays, Everyone

From Amy and Brian, from Eliot, Wally and Romana, and most importantly, from little Optimus Prime laying in the manger. Have a good 2010, and may it be better than 2009.

Artwork by Amy, Master of Photoshop!

I'm coming up on six years of blogging next January, and I'm not sure there will be a seventh--the world of the internets has changed on me, and my life has changed too--I don't have the time or the energy to follow or get worked up about politics the way I have in the past, and I'm way more likely to just tweet links than write a whole post like I used to.

Of course, I could just need a little break from it and I'll come back with a vengeance afterward. I doubt that I'll shutter the site or take it down--Google owes me a little ad money, after all--and I like having access to all the ridiculousness I've written over the years. Or maybe I'll rebrand it--you never know.

Last week, I went 8-8 here, 9-7 on the Facebook pick 'em, since I changed my Pittsburgh pick to Baltimore there. Not a good week. But the Saints won in convincing fashion, and that makes everything good. Winners in caps.

NY Jets at BUFFALO Which Jets team will show up? Which Bills team? This could be a blowout either way or a tight game at the end. Buffalo has been playing a little better than the Jets have lately, and they're at home.

Tampa Bay at CAROLINA So, we get to see Carolina's backup quarterback finally. Wonder who they'll draft in the first round next year?

NEW ENGLAND at Miami When Indianapolis beat the Patriots after Belichick's controversial 4th and 2 call, the word (from me and others) was that the Jets would feel their wrath the following week. And they did, to a point--the Jets kept it respectable until late. So the assumption will be that the Pats will try to pour it on against the Dolphins after their dismantling by the Saints Monday night, and I suspect they'll try. The Fins are two games back in the division and need this game to have a shot at the playoffs--and the fact that I can say "playoffs" here is pretty amazing given how the season has gone for them--but I don't think it will happen this week.

Detroit at CINCINNATI Should be a piece of cake, but Cincinnati has already laid one egg against a team they should have handled easily. Watch out.

Houston at JACKSONVILLE These two teams have been the bane of my picking existence this season, so I figure this week, I'll get a tie out of them.

Oakland at PITTSBURGH Roethlisberger is probably for this game, but I'd pick them even if Dixon was starting again.

PHILADELPHIA at Atlanta Starting QB, RB, and 3 WRs out or questionable for Atlanta this week. Philadelphia is erratic, but this shouldn't be too tough for them.

St. Louis at CHICAGO The Bears have to win this game if Lovie Smith is going to keep his job. They might have to win out, but at the very least, they have to win this one.

Tennessee at INDIANAPOLIS I think this is the week Vince Young falls off the fun train.

DENVER at Kansas City Denver has beaten the teams they're supposed to all season long. I know they don't do well traditionally at Arrowhead stadium, but I think they do okay this week.

NEW ORLEANS at Washington I think this game might be closer than many expect. It should be a blowout, but the Saints have had tough games from lower-tier teams all season long, and they're coming off a really emotional Monday night win. I wouldn't be surprised to see this as a slow-out-of-the-gate, come-back-hard win.

SAN DIEGO at Cleveland San Diego is currently the three seed in the AFC. I expect they'll be number two by the time the playoffs start. And no one, it seems, is talking about them as a potential Superbowl team. That's a mistake.

SAN FRANCISCO at Seattle This is the crappy Sunday game of the week. Tonight's game is just as crappy, but it's on the NFL Network, which means almost no one will watch it.

DALLAS at NY Giants Dallas continues in its quest for the 3 seed in the NFC, and the honor of losing in the playoffs yet again.

MINNESOTA at Arizona Kurt Warner is probably back, which makes this the battle of near-retired, future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. The Vikings are the better team, though the Cardinals are certainly capable of beating anyone.

Baltimore at GREEN BAY It took the vaunted Baltimore defense overtime to beat a Pittsburgh team led by a third-string QB making his first start. I think the Packers romp here.

Pick 'em Thanksgiving edition

I told Amy this morning, after I saw her status giving thanks for secular holidays, that if we started an online petition to put Jesus back into Thanksgiving, we'd get hundreds of thousands of signatures. Anyone down?

Had a good run last week--went 12-4. I expect I'll follow that up with a wretched one here. Winners in caps.

GREEN BAY at Detroit Detroit always plays on Thanksgiving. They won on Sunday in spectacular fashion. Unfortunately, that was against a team even worse than them, and it took a miracle finish to beat them. Plus, Matthew Stafford is likely out with a shoulder injury, and... wait. Why the hell am I going into this level of detail for this crappy of a game?

Oakland at DALLAS Oakland has won three games this season, but two of them have been against Philadelphia and Cincinnati. Any chance they pull another upset? This is Dallas, but it's not December yet, when Dallas typically collapses.

NY GIANTS at Denver I have to pick the Giants here, even though if they win, every football pundit in the world on tv will talk about how awesome Eli is and how New York just knows how to win and how they're getting hot at the right time. It'll be cliché-mania. But Denver hasn't played well lately, and with a combo of a dinged up QB and a backup who was so bad that the injured starter finished the game, I don't see them doing much to stop the Giants.

Cleveland at CINCINNATI This is the equivalent of last week's Patriots-Jets game, only Cleveland isn't as good as the Jets, and the Bengals might be even more mad than the Pats. This could get ugly.

Washington at PHILADELPHIA On paper, Philly should win this game nine times out of ten. But both teams have been erratic this season, so much so that if Washington won by ten I wouldn't be surprised.

MIAMI at Buffalo Miami proved me wrong last week against Carolina. I think they're going to make a run at the playoffs this year, though I think they'll come up just short. Watch out for them next season though.

INDIANAPOLIS at Houston I'm picking Indy until there's a reason not to.

CAROLINA at New York Jets This should be the battle of two running games, and I think Carolina's is just a hair better. This ought to be an entertaining game to watch.

Seattle at ST. LOUIS How bad do I think Seattle is? St. Louis's quarterback is out and I'm still picking them. And if the NFL puts this in any markets other than St. Louis or Seattle, viewers ought to take pictures of their middle fingers and send them to the league office.

Tampa Bay at ATLANTA I must admit that I've enjoyed seeing Atlanta play badly the last few weeks, even though I've picked them more often than not. This week they should win, which would revive their flagging hopes for a playoff spot.

JACKSONVILLE at San Francisco The Jags are better than I thought, and the Niners are worse. You do the math.

Kansas City at SAN DIEGO I hope the Chiefs savored that win last week.

Chicago at MINNESOTA I would love to be wrong, not because I like Chicago, but because I'd like the Saints to have a little breathing room in the race for home field in the playoffs. Yeah, I'm looking ahead a little.

ARIZONA at Tennessee Two things. A lot was made of Warner's decision to pull himself early in last week's game after he got his bell run because he didn't feel perfect. I think the fact that his team was leading 21-3 had a bit to do with that. If the game had been close, Warner would have probably stayed in. Second, Tennessee is hot, but Arizona has been a road team this season, and I think they keep that up.

PITTSBURGH at Baltimore Big Ben also got his bell rung last week, but their backup, Charlie Batch, broke his wrist. I'm saying that I really think this game is a tossup, and it all depends on how badly Roethlisberger got kicked in the head last week. Baltimore's defense has just fallen off the cliff.

New England at NEW ORLEANS I have some papers to grade during this holiday break, but they will either be done by game time Monday, or they will be done afterward. If I were one of my students, I'd probably want my paper graded beforehand, just in case things didn't go well, but I'm a little on the risk-averse side. But if things go well, and the papers haven't been finished, well, the leftovers might look a little better is all I'm saying. If the Saints lose, well, there's always a grade-forgiveness policy. :-)

Performance Art?

Okay, this may come as a surprise to some readers, but I'm actually excited by non-traditional groups co-opting and adopting hip-hop and rap as a musical form to express themselves, even if the message they're sending is, well, if not antithetical to what hip-hop and rap originated, is at least oblique to its purposes. So it's not in the spirit of mockery of the form or the attempt that I post the following video.

Christian Side Hug from The Fathers House on Vimeo.

It would be easy for me to mock the message here as well--that there's something immoral about face-to-face hugging because of the proximity of the naughty bits when that goes on--and so I will, though gently. That's low-hanging fruit, though.

No, it's this line which really deserves the attention: "I'm a rough rider, filled up with Christ's love." If you don't know what a rough rider is, slang-wise, and if you don't feel like guessing, then you can get the down and dirty here. And it is exceedingly down and dirty.

But this isn't the first time that an evangelical group has had this sort of mixup. Remember "Two Million for Marriage" or 2M4M? Or, though only tangentially connected, the teabagger movement? Urban Dictionary isn't an obscure website, and it doesn't take a particularly dirty-minded person to come up with at least the suggestion that "rough riders" might be a euphemism for something a little salacious.

So I wonder, might these "accidents" actually be intentional? Could there be a group of moles working on the inside to make these folks look even more ridiculous than usual? Or could it just be that they're so sheltered, that they so limit contact with anyone not of their group that they really don't know what's going on in the outer world?

It's probably the latter, if it's either. The proliferation of christian schools and the evangelical university system has made it possible for fundamentalists to keep their children almost completely separated from the rest of the world--I say almost because any truly determined kid can find ways around his or her parents' limitations. And with that separation comes a lack of contact with slang and sexual euphemism, which can make for some truly hilarious communication blunders at times.

There was some talk when I was growing up of the Witnesses establishing their own school system, and members openly wondered why we didn't do it, since it would remove kids from the temptations of the secular world. The response I remember was that as adults, we would have to live in the world, so school served as a good training ground to build up our resistance to temptation. It probably worked as often as it failed, maybe a little less, and I've wondered in the now 14 years since I left the church if they've started to reconsider. I hope not. But I would be interested in what they make of the Christian Side Hug.

Some Hope

Ole Miss probably isn't the first place you think of when you hear the words "racial harmony." After all, it's in Mississippi, and the school's mascot is a delightful southern gentleman who looks a bit like Colonel Sanders, and which is named the Rebel. It's a celebration of white southern masculinity and all the racist garbage that notion entails. And yet, recently, the school's student student council voted to ban the chant "the South will rise again" from one of the school's fight songs, and when some in the student body refused to comply, the chancellor banned the band from playing the song, thus crimping the styles of young white supremacists on and off the campus

But here's the cool thing about this story. This past weekend, the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan showed up at the campus to protest what they called an attack on their "Christian, southern heritage and culture" and to prevent the student body president--who is black--from fulfilling his desire to "shape Ole Miss into yet another liberal sodomite college."

Now, you might figure that if the Klan is going to pull a supportive crowd anywhere, Mississippi might be a pretty good place to bet on. Not quite. From Deadspin:

The KKK's hour-long protest against tolerance and common sense lasted about 10 minutes before the hooded wonders were booed off Mississippi's campus.

As noted earlier, the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan were peeved that their state university has banned the song "From Dixie With Love" because they actually believe the South will somehow rise again. (Mississippi: 50th in education eight years running!) So ten dudes in hoods stood on the steps of Fulton Chapel before the LSU game on Saturday and shouted things like "white power"—only no one could hear them because they were outnumbered by 250 people booing and calling them idiots and cowards.
This is not to say that the feelings expressed by the Klan had no purchase on the Ole Miss campus--the fact that the chancellor felt the need to ban the playing of "From Dixie With Love" because students wouldn't stop the chanting is proof enough that there were some sympathetic ears for the Klan's position. But it is good that such open, obnoxious, toxic racism has become so socially poisonous that it can't even garner public support for the singing of a traditional fight song. It's a tiny step in the large scale of race relations, but it's still a step.

Long day on no sleep, no real desire to blog, and a mountain of grading awaiting. I can worry about that stuff tomorrow. Tonight it's football picks, and then possibly an early night. Though knowing me, I'll be up until 2:00 screwing around with something stupid. Had a decent week last week going 10-5. Let's see if it starts a trend.

Miami at CAROLINA This already looked like a tale of two teams going in opposite directions, but with Ronnie Brown out for the rest of the year, it really looks rough for the Dolphins. Forget the Wildcat as an effective option now--a big part of the reason it worked is because there was no single person to key on. Defenses had to account for both Williams and Brown, and now--Pat White? Don't think so. This game should be close, but I think the Panthers are playing better ball now and have fewer issues to deal with.

INDIANAPOLIS at Baltimore The Colts could be in for a letdown after the big game last week with New England, but Baltimore's defense is, well, not what it used to be. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if the Ravens won, but I don't think it's likely.

Cleveland at DETROIT Ugh.

Buffalo at JACKSONVILLE I don't trust the Jags, but I never pick a team that's just dumped its head coach and has made it clear that the interim guy is purely interim. There's little reason for the players to buy into a system that they know won't last.

Seattle at MINNESOTA I guess the Seahawks have a slugger's chance, but I don't see them winning this game.

NEW ORLEANS at Tampa Trap game? Given that the Saints take on the Patriots the following week, sure. But I think the Saints got their scare last week with the Rams, and the Bucs aren't sporting a former Pro-Bowl quarterback and maybe the best running back playing this year. This shouldn't be close.

Washington at DALLAS The cliché "throw away the records" comes into play here, but there's no reason this game should be close.

San Francisco at GREEN BAY Who the hell knows?

PITTSBURGH at Kansas City This should get ugly, which means, of course, that KC will win on a lsat second field goal.

Atlanta at NY GIANTS Both of these teams are reeling, and the winner will get a leg up in the move toward a wild card. The Giants still have a shot at the NFC East, while the Falcons are pretty much out of the NFC South race, but both teams need a win desperately. This could be a really good game.

ARIZONA at St. Louis Last year, I'd never have picked the Cardinals because they were horrible on the road, but this year, the Cards are road warriors. It helps that they're playing the Rams, who looked pretty good against the Saints, but the Saints defense was down 4 starters and is an okay unit at best.

NY Jets at NEW ENGLAND Everyone is saying that the Patriots will be taking out some anger on the Jets. In this case, everyone is probably right.

SAN DIEGO at Denver I hope it's a close game. I also hope I don't have to watch it.

CINCINNATI at Oakland Last year, this would have been the crummy game of the week. This year, it's still a crummy game, but only because it should be a blowout.

PHILADELPHIA at Chicago The Eagles are the up-and-downest team I've ever seen, but the Bears stink out loud it seems.

Tennessee at HOUSTON The Texans have gotten better and better as the season goes on, and if I had to guess, I think they'll be the 5 or 6 seed in the AFC, though the difference between 1 and 6 is closer than most will think come the playoffs. Vince Young comes back to earth this week.

The Golden Rule

My title is not referencing the Biblical version--treat others as you would be treated. Rather, it's the more cynical version--who's got the gold, makes the rules--and the group trying to enforce that version is the Catholic Church. Fresh off their victory in the battle over women's reproductive systems, the Catholic Church in Washington DC is now getting their gay hate on again, threatening to stop contracting with the city over administrating some of their charitable works. Professor Patrick J. Deneen of Georgetown University was asked if the city should just call the Church's bluff and find other non-profits to provide the same services. Deneen responded this way:

There may be other providers, but in many instances the grants from the District are only partial grants - the Church "leverages" those grants (including some $10 million in additional funds, much provided by donations by parishioners). There is also a network of volunteers who have longstanding commitments to the relief of the sufferings of the poor and needy. The idea that these funds - but more, these services and the religious commitment and motivation that underlies them - can be easily replaced is at best an optimistic view, at worst a dangerous wager.
In other words, nice charitable system you got there. Shame if anything were to happen to it.

And this proves two points to my mind. The first is that, contrary to what libertarians say, you can't count on private charity to step in where government will not, unless you're willing to play by the charity's rules--and in many cases, the rules of churches which run those charities. We've seen this in numerous instances overseas--churches going in to disaster areas and offering relief to people who convert and neglecting the rest. Never saw how that was a sound strategy for long term conversion, but whatever.

The second is that there is no upside to government partnering with churches to provide any sort of social services, because you can't count on them to be an honest partner. The Catholic Church here, whether it knows it or not, is making a far better case for a strict separation of church and state than any secular body ever could. And they're doing it using old-fashioned extortion. Jesus would be proud, I think.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Are there similar arrangements in states where same-sex marriage is legal? Does Massachusetts have the same religious exemption DC does, or is it stronger, more akin to what New Hampshire has? And will the dioceses in those states support their DC counterparts? I think we could see some major backlash between this and the abortion move in the House of Representatives.

It's that time of year again, when the NFL decides it is so determined to make its own cable channel successful that they put a weekly game on a channel no one carries. Brilliant marketing strategy. Fortunately, for this week at least, it's a suckfest of a game, so no one will really miss it. But it means I have to put my own picks up a day earlier, thus taking away what I would normally blog about on Friday. Damned NFL.

The shameless self-promotion: I'm this week's reader over at Linebreak and my poem at Redheaded Stepchild has the second most hits of any from this issue. Number one is the first poem--I'm near the bottom, which tells me that I rock. Or something. I like pretty much everything about that journal, by the way--the hit counter next to your poem, the philosophy that they only want to publish poems that other journals have rejected, the name of the journal, the site itself, which is clean and easy to navigate. It's a good example of what an online journal needs--it has personality, and isn't ashamed of its online-only status.

On to this week's picks. I still haven't had a week below .500 yet, but I continue to creep ever closer. Last week was 7-6--I had a brutal evening, as the only late game I got right was the Seattle win. I thought that as the season progressed, I'd get better, but the reverse has been true--steady decline, much like the amount of hair on my head. Winners are in caps.

Chicago at SAN FRANCISCO We should call this the "team which will hang in the wild card race until week 16 needing seven things to go right to get into the playoffs" bowl, because seriously, this game sucks. It's not the suckiest game on the schedule, but it's a tease because these are teams that are somewhere between mediocre and unlucky. If either one gets into the playoffs, it's probably a road game against the NFC East champion where they get smeared all over the stadium. The Niners are at home and I used to live there, so I choose them.

NEW ORLEANS at St. Louis This is the first of what should be two walkovers for the Saints--they have Tampa next week. I will still be terrified while watching it, assuming I can get it to stream on my backup computer, since my Powerbook probably won't be back from the shop yet and it won't be on tv down here. Maybe it's for the better, since my papers seem determined not to grade themselves.

Detroit at MINNESOTA This should also be a walkover, even if Favre isn't playing possum about his 40 year old hamstring.

ATLANTA at Carolina The Falcons are just a better team. Yeah, the Panthers have played better of late, and it's a division game so the records don't mean as much, but Atlanta is just the better team. Man that hurt to type.

Buffalo at TENNESSEE Believe it or not, this isn't the suckiest game of the week either, though it's close. It would be closer except that the Titans have rediscovered their running game. That could disappear again, so I'm not saying this is a lock, but these teams seem to me to be on different trajectories right now.

CINCINNATI at Pittsburgh Flip a coin here. That's what I did.

Tampa Bay at MIAMI The Fins are a team on the edge of being good--they're competitive most weeks, but they can't close out games yet. Henne is the real deal, with some experience. Tampa is where the Fins were two years ago. Hope they stay there.

Jacksonville at NEW YORK JETS Everything I wrote about Chicago-San Francisco could apply here--two marginal teams, both flawed in enormous ways, but with enough talent at key positions to make things interesting going at each other. Jets are at home, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Jaguars take it.

DENVER at Washington The Broncos have taken it on the chin for the last two weeks, but that was against good teams. Washington is not a good team.

Kansas City at OAKLAND This, my friends is the suckiest game of the week, the unmovable force versus the inert object. And yet this is the game that will be on late down here in south Florida, since Fox has the Fins game at 1:00. No one outside of the Missouri/Kansas border and northern California should be subjected to this. It's cruel.

Seattle at ARIZONA Arizona's at home, which means I should pick against them, as they're 1-3 at home this year. But this is Seattle they're playing, which means what would be an otherwise easy call now blows chunks. Ugh.

Philadelphia at SAN DIEGO If the Chargers keep playing like they have been the last couple of weeks, they'll challenge Denver the rest of the way. But this is a Norv Turner team, which means logic and sense have nothing to do with the discussion.

DALLAS at Green Bay This shouldn't be close--Green Bay is not nearly as good as everyone (myself included) thought they were at the beginning of the season, and Dallas isn't as bad as I thought they were after the Giants game. So the Packers will win by 24.

New England at INDIANAPOLIS I hope this game isn't close. I hope Indy wins it by 20. Probably won't happen.

BALTIMORE at Cleveland I wonder what it feels like in Baltimore right now, to have your once-feared defense be exposed as aging and yet have a good enough offense to still keep you in games. The Saints were like that near the end of the Mora era, but the Dome Patrol, good as it was, never had the rep that the Ravens have carried for the last ten years it seems. The Ravens are looking like the odd team out in the AFC North this year, but they're not going to let Cleveland be part of the reason for that.

I Love the Cloud

I learned a long long time ago to always back up my data--I still have disks from my last PC, which I got rid of in 2003, though I have no idea why I still carry them around. Habit, I assume. I'm so conscious of it that I upgraded my Powerbook's operating system when Time Machine became available, simply because it made backing up data so much easier.

Which is why I didn't freak when I woke up Saturday morning and my Powerbook was nonresponsive. Gray screen of death. Blinking file folder with a question mark on it. Happy 41st birthday to me indeed. It's in the shop now being outfitted with a new hard drive in large part because I can't afford a new computer right now, but I'm pleased that my data is safe on my Time Machine.

Or rather, I assume it is, since I've never done a system restore using it. I'm hopeful and confident, but I won't be completely sure until I actually have it up on the screen.

But since I'm paranoid, I also keep a lot of stuff in the cloud. My poems and reviews are almost exclusively on Google Docs now, and my gradebooks as well, which is important, because even if the data on my Time Machine is safe, it's not accessible right now, and the end of the semester approacheth at a fast pace. Put simply, I'd be boned if I weren't in the cloud right now, because at least some of my students have tossed quizzes they've gotten back, not to mention essays and midterms. I'd have to reconstruct an entire semester worth of grades, which would add a triple load of suck onto an already tiring semester. I had to do that once--about 4 years ago when I dropped my laptop, the one I'm typing on now while my newer one is in the shop. Cloud computing is awesome.

You'd think that with the meager amount of blogging I've been doing of late that I'd relish the chance for two separate blog posts, but no--I'm going to combine these two. First with the promotion: new poems in Measure (complete with author's photo and .mp3 of me reading the thing) and the Waccamaw Journal.

On to the picks--I went 8-5 last week, and the longer this season goes on, the more I'm convinced that my early success was just a fluke. I might as well flip coins for some of these games, I'm convinced. Here's how I think they'll go this week. Winners in all caps.

Washington at ATLANTA When the Falcons lost to the Saints last week, it was the first time in over a year that they'd lost two games in a row. I don't see much chance of them losing three in a row, even wth Washington coming off a bye week.

Kansas City at JACKSONVILLE I'm picking the Jaguars but with absolutely no confidence. They're the kind of team that makes picking games hard, because they're consistently inconsistent. They could win or lose this game by 30 and I wouldn't be surprised either way.

GREEN BAY at Tampa Bay I suppose Josh Freeman could have the luck of the rookie starter and Tampa could steal this game--Green Bay isn't as good as a lot of the preseason folks thought they would be, after all--but I think it's more likely Freeman will get pounded pretty hard.

Houston at INDIANAPOLIS The Colts, like the Saints, are almost certain to lose a game this season, and Houston is a better team than the one which drove me out of my game-picking mind early this season, but I still like the Colts in this game.

Arizona at CHICAGO Two deeply flawed, slightly better than average teams. Chicago's at home, so I'll pick them.

Baltimore at CINCINNATI When the Ravens beat the Broncos last week, the pundits were all talking about how the Ravens were desperate for a win and so played better. I've never bought into that notion--desperate teams play poorly and give up big plays because they're taking stupid risks. Baltimore was just the better team that day. Cincy is at home and they match up better with the weaknesses in the Baltimore defense. The over in this game might be 70.

Miami at NEW ENGLAND This is my "would love to be wrong" pick. New England is getting how, and Miami is young and improving. I wouldn't be surprised to see Miami win--they're certainly good enough to compete-but New England at home is a tough game in any circumstance.

Carolina at NEW ORLEANS Carolina has some sort of insane winning streak in the Superdome, and they played well against the Cardinals last week. The Saints should win handily, but it wouldn't surprise me if they didn't. Note to Stuart Scott of ESPN: after the Monday night game, you said Saints fans were chanting "who dey say they gonna beat them Saints?" "Who dey" is the chant of the illiterate Cincinnati Bengals fans. Illiterate Saints fans chant "who dat."*

Detroit at SEATTLE No matter who wins, football loses.

Tennessee at SAN FRANCISCO "A tale of two quarterbacks" is how this will probably be pitched to the seventeen people who watch the game.

San Diego at NY GIANTS This will also be a "tale of two quarterbacks" storyline, but more people will watch it because one of the QBs is named Manning.

Dallas at PHILADELPHIA Three weeks ago, I'd never have believed these two teams would be tied at the top of the NFC East. Dallas has gotten healthy of late on some weak competition, and Philly is at home, so I'm going with them.

Pittsburgh at DENVER Should be a good game in general. Denver's at home.

* Can you imagine the grammatical train wreck if the Saints and Bengals met in the Superbowl? I can see chant-offs, t-shirts, fisticuffs. Hmmmm.

On Hating the Yankees

Last night, my friend from grad school Paul, a midwesterner who lived and worked in New York before taking his MFA and also a Yankees fan, tweeted the following: "will quietly accept that my team is reviled... and winning." I responded with "that's because Haterade is so delicious," and I think there's some truth to that, but I also think that there's more to it.

But I have to start by saying that I don't hate the Yankees--I don't feel much of anything for them, honestly. I don't carry the same passion for baseball that I do for football, and maybe even for NBA basketball. I expect a large part of that is disillusionment. Corporate baseball, which has been the model for most of my adult life, seems bent on two goals--soaking cities for all the revenue they can get, and...okay, one goal. Football has this goal as well, but their league model is a bit more socialistic on the revenue-sharing and player salary sides, so there's not as much disparity in free agent signings between small and large market teams.

If you're a baseball fan, you probably recognize where this is going, at least in part. Yankees hate is based, for many, on the notion that the Yankees, by virtue of their position as the primary team in the nation's largest city and television market, can always buy the best players and so will always factor in the championship discussion, even in the years when they don't win it. And that hate, especially if you're a small market team or if your local ownership group refuses to spend even the money it makes from revenue sharing on quality players (like the Florida Marlins, for example), has a legitimate basis, because here's your local team, sucking up valuable tax dollars (and they never generate as much as they take in--sorry) who, if they're going to win it all, has to put together a magical season to do it, while the Yankees can simply flash a bankroll and get stars to show up.

The funny part, of course, is that this is the first time since 2000 that the Yankees have won it all using that method. Other teams have done it as well--the Red Sox are no slouch in the spending department--but it's the Yankees who are reviled for it.

It's the fact that the Yankees are always in the discussion that engenders the hate--there's no similar hate for the Giants, Jets, Knicks, Islanders, Rangers or Mets, in large part because they all scuffle, some for longer periods than others--but the Yankees never do. There's this feeling that the Yankees never have to pay the full price for making a bad decision because they can always buy someone else's good eye for talent.

If only they'd go through a down period for a couple of years, we think--and by down year, we don't mean barely missing the playoffs. We mean losing 95 games. We mean being down by 15 at the All-Star break. We mean having one selection to the All-Star team, and that person getting the nod because there has to be a Yankees player on the team. If only--and this is the important part, I think--there could be a period where the discussion wasn't about them.

Because sports fans love a redemption story. We're suckers for the melodrama that sports can provide that fiction can't. There's no magic in a Yankees championship run because they're expected to be there every year.

But there's one other factor at play here--the sports media. And that was really driven home to me in 2000, which is where Paul comes back into this story. We were grad students, office-mates, first-year MFAs in northwest Arkansas, both adjusting to a new place. In my case, I was living in the largest city I'd been in since I was an infant--and that's saying something since Fayetteville was 60,000 people at the time--while Paul had moved in from New York (I believe)--a bit of culture shock for both of us, though undoubtedly more for him. As the baseball season drew to a close, Paul got more and more excited about the prospect of a subway series, and when I watched Baseball Tonight or SportsCenter, the talk was very much the same--Mets-Yankees all the time, and oh how amazing a Subway Series would be, et cetera.

I remember the day Paul told me how excited he was about the Series that year, and I think I shocked him with my reply. I said that baseball season was over, that New York had won. Admittedly, I was giving him a bit of the needle, because I knew he was a huge Yankees fan, but I really did believe that, because I didn't care about the differences between Yankees and Mets fans. It didn't matter to me.

And here's the really awesome thing about it--it didn't matter to the rest of the country either. Sportscasters were dumbfounded by the fact that tv ratings everywhere outside of New York were some of the lowest ever. It didn't matter to us--New York had won. For news media, New York is the goal--it's where you get to the top of your profession--so from that perspective, it makes perfect sense to be excited about a Subway Series. For the rest of us, meh.

The funny thing is that eventually, the Yankees will scuffle again. They have three certain future Hall-of-Famers on their roster right now in Rivera, Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, but those players are aging and will fall off, and there's no guarantee that they will be replaced with equal talent. My advice? Rebuild for a couple of years. Let the sheen wear off some. Stay down long enough for the rest of the country to see your return as a comeback story. We're sports fans. We're suckers for that stuff.

RedState, Come On Down!

Let me be among the first to welcome you to the Sunshine State, where hopefully you will interfere just as effectively in next year's Senate race as you did in the NY-23 Congressional race.

For all intents and purposes, NY-23 is a trial run for Florida. And in Florida, the conservative candidate is operating inside the GOP. If John Cornyn and the NRSC do not want to see Florida go the way of NY-23, they better stand down.
I'm serious here--I want you to do to Charlie Crist what you did to Dede Scozzafava, and worse. I want you to crush him, to destroy him, to go scorched earth on him. I want you to try to make Marco Rubio the second coming of Jesus/Reagan/Glenn Beck, and pitch him as such. Let the Florida voters hear--in the general election campaign, of course--just what Rubio stands for. Have him be loud and proud and conservative as all hell. I'll even give you a place to stay while you're down here stumping in Broward County* on your mission to give the Democrats back the seat Mel Martinez won in 2004 when Democrats pulled something similar by submarining Janet Reno in the primary.

And a few months later, I'll be celebrating the election of Kendrick Meek to the US Senate. Come on down, y'all.

* I won't. But I can point you in the direction of a nice bridge or two to camp under.

Pick 'em Friday

Morning, everyone. The coffee's brewed, the cats are fed, and the pumpkins we carved last week are puddles of goo on the back porch, so I know what I'll be doing this afternoon. I was 9-4 last week, which puts me at 71-32 for the season. That's a little above average for this sort of thing, but not superior, which means I won't be heading to Vegas to make my living any time soon. Anyway, here are this weeks picks, winners in caps. Maybe I'll have one of those magical weeks where everything goes right. I'll buy a lottery ticket just in case.

Cleveland at CHICAGO Chicago reminds me of the Saints last year--solid enough to beat the teams they're supposed to beat, but not quite sure enough of themselves as a team with a passing game to win against good teams. Cleveland is not a good team.

DENVER at Baltimore At some point, Denver will lose a game, and when they do, I'll stop picking them to win every week--I've picked against them twice now and they've proven me wrong. I'll go with them as winners until I have reason otherwise.

St. Louis at DETROIT Who cares?

San Francisco at INDIANAPOLIS The Alex Smith/Michael Crabtree era begins in earnest in San Francisco. The Niners almost pulled off an impressive comeback last week, but I think the Colts will handle them.

Seattle at DALLAS Dallas may be the least convincing 4-2 team I've seen this year, and I really think it's a case of the Cowboys not living up to the impossible hype thrown at them because of the new stadium Ozymandias Jerry Jones built in honor of his ego. The Cowboys should win this game pretty easily.

HOUSTON at Buffalo This is not a pick that shows confidence in Houston--it's a pick that shows no confidence in Buffalo.

MIAMI at New York Jets If you only looked at last week's scores, you'd think the Jets are going to win this in a walk, and they still might, but the Fins played the Saints tighter than the score said, while the Jets beat the snot out of the Raiders. The Fins are probably still a year away from true contention, but their second-half schedule sets up nicely for a run, and it starts with this game.

NEW YORK GIANTS at Philadelphia Put me down as one who thinks Eli Manning is a tremendously overrated quarterback. He's a league-average QB who has a great name, plays in the biggest market around, and who got hot at the right time a couple of years ago. But he's no Payton. He's not even a Donovan McNabb. But the Giants are a better team right now, and that will be enough this week.

JACKSONVILLE at Tennessee Vince Young is in at QB for the Titans, which I thought should have happened a couple of weeks ago when it became clear they weren't going to do anything this season. I don't think much will change for the team, though Jacksonville is just inconsistent enough that a Tennessee win here wouldn't be a huge upset.

Oakland at SAN DIEGO The line on this game is something like 16.5 points. I've never seen a line that big for division rivals who are only a game and a half apart in the standings.

Carolina at ARIZONA Can't work up the energy to snark at either team.

MINNESOTA at Green Bay At least this part of the Brett Favre storyline will end once this game is over, because it's unlikely that the two teams will meet again in the playoffs.

Atlanta at NEW ORLEANS I'm doing my best to remain subdued here, but it's killing me that this game is on Monday, because I don't want to wait for it. I'm going to have to grade my ass off to be done in time for kickoff, but it will happen.

Trevor Keezer, Idiot

What else to say, really, about a person who claims to have been fired for wearing a pin which said "One nation under God" on his Home Depot work apron? Let's see how this really played out, shall we?

Earlier this month, he began bringing a Bible to read during his lunch break at the store in the rural town of Okeechobee, about 140 miles north of Miami. That's when he says The Home Depot management told him he would have to remove the button.

Keezer refused, and he was fired on Oct. 23, he said.

"It feels kind of like a punishment, like I was punished for just loving my country," Keezer said.
Well, when you put it like that, it sounds like Keezer is being treated unfairly. What's that?
A Home Depot spokesman said Keezer was fired because he violated the company's dress code.
Oh, so he isn't. He decided that his right to wear a particular pin superseded the store policy which said "only company-provided pins and badges can be worn on our aprons."

It gets better.
Fishel said Keezer was offered a company-approved pin that said, "United We Stand," but he declined.
Oh, so Keezer had a chance to keep his job, and was even given another pin to choose from, but decided not to take it. I don't call that being fired; I call that quitting. If my employers decide it's a condition of my employment that I wear a necktie (please don't ever do this to me, okay?) every day, then I can either wear a necktie or I can lose my job. That's the way it works.

Here's the payoff line, though. "Keezer said he was working at the store to earn money for college." Might want to work on those critical thinking skills while you're hunting for another job. And don't expect much out of that lawsuit either. A blanket policy like Home Depot's is pretty hard to touch.

Guest blogger Amy here, writing to weigh in on the recent ascent of Seth Abramson's impressive and long-labored MFA rankings to the P&W throne: if you hadn't heard, Seth Abramson, poet and blogger, recently had his MFA rankings (which have been up and available and thoroughly explained on his website for years) adopted by Poets & Writers, a magazine, organization, and all around powerhouse of influence and resource among writers.

This has of course resulted in some blowback, in part because (as Brian so succinctly put it in his Poetic Lives Online) those rankings were not in danger of becoming "gospel" when they were on Abramson's site, but now that they wear the P&W imprimatur, few will question them, or how they were devised. And frankly, if you think those "Top 10 Most Rockinest Hairdo's of the 80's" shows on VH-1 are subjective, you haven't tried ranking locations where groups of artists gather, some as teachers, some as students, and try to get along, financially, personally, artistically, and in every other way. And while I'd love to see Andy Dick hurl out a few one-liners about Giffel's Auditorium in Old Main (it's Arkansas - are these people expecting an audience with the Queen?), this is also a very niche interest - essentially of interest to exactly one group: writers who go to MFA programs.

I went to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, as did Brian (it's where we met), which Poets & Writers (nee Abramson) ranks at 36. I think that's too low, so I've taken the liberty of moving us up a little.

Just a few things I want to point out:

1. Apparently UArk is more selective than Iowa. Eat that beeches.
2. Apparently UArk also funds better than two of the top three. Stick that one in your pants and smoke it.
3. Not having a Non-fiction program isn't that unusual (see #s 2 and 3), but UArk does have the Programs in Translation, which, IMHO, makes the whole creative writing program worthy of a bump. I wasn't in that program, but as an MFA student I had access to classes with John DuVal, which were some of the best classes I took at Arkansas - or in my life, really, and yes that is a high bar to clear. Students who go today have access to classes with Geoff Brock, too. Hullo, awesome!
4. UArk is listed at #36, but in every measure scores higher than this: 31, 25, 24, 18, 17.... er, 45. Okay, whoops, in ONE measure UArk scores lower: the Fiction program. Gee I wonder why that could be. Gee I sure do. I mean I know I went there for fiction and everything and spent half my time taking classes in poetry and translation not to mention lit classes with the PhD faculty so that my teachers would stop making comments on my boobs and actually remember my name and stuff, but I really can't imagine why UArk is listed lower for fiction than for everything else. I wonder if that means that they should conclude that the fiction side is holding them down, and maybe self-examine and self-analyze and try to determine if the way they do things might in fact not be the best way of doing things? Maybe?


I've said my piece.

Cartoon Femininity

The news hit a few weeks ago--Marge Simpson would be on the cover of the November issue of Playboy. And she is, well, on some of them, anyway--Alina Puscau is on the rest, though Marge gets the centerfold section in all of them. Some commentators have wondered about the choice, from both sides. Why would The Simpsons, which satirizes the patriarchal world Playboy celebrates, put Marge in this situation? Why would Playboy think this a good marketing strategy toward twenty-somethings who haven't found The Simpson family edgy, well, ever?

Sarah Churchwell, writing in The Guardian attempts to answer the first question.

If The Simpsons occasionally lampoons feminism, however, it much more frequently satirises the objectification of women for commercial purposes: in one episode Marge and Lisa watch a television ad in which a man at a petrol station is approached by three scantily dressed sexy young women, strutting to pop music; one of them leans over to reveal a cross dangling in her cleavage, and a voiceover intones: "The Catholic church. We've made a few … changes."

Playboy is trying to claim the same thing in promising to reveal the devil in Marge Simpson. But Marge has been showing her devilish side for years. When she shut down the Maison Derrière, she warned Belle, its proprietor, that she was about to learn that "the two most dangerous words in the English language are 'Marge Simpson". And, actually, in 2004 Marge was featured on the cover of Maxim – in a negligee, on all fours, scrubbing the floor – so it's hard to conclude that she's letting the sisterhood particularly down by appearing in Playboy.

If Marge has always been a figure for sending up cultural questions about women's roles, then one could argue there is nowhere more appropriate for her to end up than on the cover of Playboy, the magazine that emerged in the very era – the American 1950s – that The Simpsons was born to burlesque. Playboy represented the flipside of that fantasy of domestic stability: instead, the magazine offered a sentimental fantasy of sanitised promiscuity. And of course Hefner has long been nothing if not a cartoon himself, a smirking parody of the vacuous consumption and mindless sexualisation he promulgated.
This, of course, is only a small snippet--the whole thing is worth reading. I don't have an answer for the second question I posted above, and neither does Churchwell. The notion that a Marge Simpson cover is going to pull in twenty-something readers is, well, ridiculous. It seems like a scene out of Mad Men where a bunch of middle-aged white men are trying to figure out what will sell to housewives, only with young adults as the pitchees this time. "The Simpsons--that's still edgy, right? The kids love edgy!" And Playboy has done this a lot recently, with "spreads" of women characters from video games and the like--although those made sense for the Playboy aesthetic, given their absurd dimensions and featureless faces. Whatever the reason, if the idea was to pull in twenty-somethings, it was a bad idea--maybe forty-somethings would be intrigued by it enough to buy a copy, but I'd be surprised if they see much of a bump at all.

Pick 'em Friday Saturday

I'm a day late on these, y'all. Sorry about that, but this weekend's already been more hectic than most, and the really busy part is yet to come. 8-6 last week, which means I'm continuing to slip as the season progresses. You'd think that as the teams sort themselves out, I'd get better at this. Maybe I ought to try to coin flip method instead. Here are my picks for this week, winners in all caps.

SAN FRANCISCO at Houston I've been burned by Houston so many times this season, I might stop picking their games altogether and just take the loss. At least then I'd feel a little less hosed.

INDIANAPOLIS at St. Louis Last week, I said of the Philadelphia-Oakland that picking some games was easy. See how that worked out? I don't think the same thing happens here.

Minnesota at PITTSBURGH I have no real reason for this pick, other than that the game is in Pittsburgh. The Vikings have been better than I expected, Brett Favre has played out of his head, and the Steelers are an up-and-down team. But I think the unbeaten streak for the Vikings ends here.

NEW ENGLAND at Tampa Bay Tom Brady threw for five touchdowns in one quarter last week--in the snow. It won't be snowing in Tampa, but the opposing defense blows chunks.

SAN DIEGO at Kansas City This game makes me a little nervous. San Diego is coming off a tough loss to Denver and travels to Kansas City on a short week. I keep hearing the Chargers are a talented team that always starts slow--I'm waiting to see some evidence of the former.

GREEN BAY at Cleveland The Packers are an okay team. The Browns stink out loud.

NY JETS at Oakland Is this the week the San-chize recovers from his recent bout of rookie-dom? Will the Raiders make it two in a row? Will anyone outside New York and Oakland even bother to watch?

Buffalo at CAROLINA If it weren't for the Jim Zorn story, Dick Jauron would be the leading candidate for the "who loses his job first" award. Carolina isn't miles better than the Bills, and certainly has dysfunction of its own, but the Bills look like they could implode any second.

Chicago at CINCINNATI Who the hell knows with these two teams? If Cincy shows up at home, they should win this game.

NEW ORLEANS at Miami This has all the makings of a trap game--New Orleans is coming off a big win over the Giants, and has a huge rivalry/division game on Monday night next week against the Falcons, and they're playing a Dolphins team which has a terrific running game and a strong-armed young (but inexperienced) quarterback and a serviceable defense. I still think the Saints will win this one pretty handily, but it wouldn't completely shock me if they lost it.

ATLANTA at Dallas Dallas has lost its two games by a total of 9 points to teams with a combined 11-1 record, which should indicate they're a pretty competitive team. But they've won their three games against teams with a combined three wins. Atlanta is stout. I don't think this one will be close.

Arizona at NEW YORK GIANTS The Giants are at home and looking to regain a little swagger after last week's game. Arizona is unpredictable. Giants at home.

PHILADELPHIA at Washington There shouldn't be any doubt about this game, but the Eagles dropped a turd on the field in Oakland, so now nobody is sure about them. I'm sure of this--Washington stinks, and the Eagles should win pretty easily. I'm also sure of this--if McNabb plays like he did last week, the howls for Kevin Kolb to take over will be heard on Mars.

That's it. Tune in to see just how wrong I am next week.

The Also-Rans

I've never really been a fan (in the fanatic sense of the word) of a championship team at any level. I focus on teams because it's something completely different to be a fan of a particular player--I'm a fan of Tiger Woods, for example, and I was a fan of both Andre Agassi and John McEnroe in their primes. The individual performer is easier for me to relate to than the team.

Part of this comes, no doubt, from being exposed to hapless teams from a very early age. I went to my first baseball games when I was in first grade (I think). We got free tickets to see the Houston Astros, and I really don't remember much other than the scoreboard lighting up when someone--I don't even know which team, much less the player--hit a home run. The Astros weren't very good at the time--this was the mid-70's--and I never really developed an affinity for them because I was too young to understand the sport, especially since my parents weren't the kind to let me play little league.

My first team experience was the New Orleans Saints; I moved to Louisiana when I was seven, just before starting the second grade, and the Saints were bad--as they had been and as they would remain for many years afterward. They were also the only game in town, mostly, and the other games in town were also bad. The New Orleans Jazz were creeping slowly toward respectability, led by Pistol Pete Maravich (probably the least-known all-time-great basketball player in history), but they still lost more than they won. There was no baseball team, and New Orleans's contribution to college sports was Tulane University, not exactly a hotbed of excellence.

I felt an affinity for the Saints. They came into the league the year before I was born, and seemed as hapless on the field as I did on the playground before school and during recess. I was not an athletic child--glasses in kindergarten and asthma will do that to you--but I loved playing all the same, even though it meant trips to the optician and learning how to repair broken glasses with tape and paperclips. Steve Bartkowsi's Hail Mary against the Saints to complete an incredible comeback still stings thirty years later. I turned 12 the year the Saints went 1-15 one year after going 8-8, knocking on the door of what was their elusive first winning season. They beat the Jets. I remember being nervous before the Saints played the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were 0-26 at the time going back over two seasons, desperately hoping the Saints wouldn't be their first victim. I took no solace in the fact that the Bucs would win their next game, and would then make the playoffs the following year.

The story of Saints futility is a long one--thirty years before even having a winning season, and only 8 of 41 winning seasons total. Only three head coaches in the team's history have winning records: Jim Mora, who led the team to their first continued success; Jim Haslett, who led them to their first playoff victory; and Sean Payton, who has them currently at or near the top of most power rankings. Other teams have had really bad eras--the Cardinals had a really crappy couple of decades recently--but no team has ever defined futility over the long haul like the Saints.

So it's no surprise, given my love for the Saints, that when I started hunting for a baseball team to adopt (since we had no New Orleans team) that I would gravitate toward one which felt familiar. I shifted from team to team as a kid, mainly following players--the Dodgers of Steve Garvey and Ron Cey, the Cardinals of Willie McGee and Tommy Herr, George Brett's Royals (I still have the glove I got after Brett's .390 season)--but didn't really follow a team until I was an adult. I'm a Cubs fan.

When the Red Sox ended their run of World Series futility a few years ago, lots of commentators suggested that Boston fans would finally have to give up their fetishization of losing, because they had nothing to complain about. That's not going to happen--Sox fans will continue to internalize their status as losers until the Sox have won as many World Series as the hated Yankees, which will probably happen about the time the head of Richard Nixon wins the presidency of Earth.

Cubs fans are now alone in their celebration of mediocrity, at least in baseball. I don't celebrate it, though. I would love to see the Cubs win the Series, just as I am hoping against all hope that the Saints pull it off this year. And I wouldn't feel like a part of me is missing if that happens. I don't root for also-rans because I'm celebrating crappiness--I root for them because they're all I know how to root for. The Saints trained me to have hope just so it could be dashed. I don't know any other way to react as a fan.

Forget Richard Dawkins, forget PZ Myers, forget Bill Maher, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett or any of the other prominent atheists out there. The best proponent for atheism today is William Donohue, President of the Catholic League. He penned an amazing parody of conservative Catholic thought in the Washington Post today. Hilarious stuff. Check this stuff out.

Sexual libertines, from the Marquis de Sade to radical gay activists, have sought to pervert society by acting out on their own perversions. What motivates them most of all is a pathological hatred of Christianity. They know, deep down, that what they are doing is wrong, and they shudder at the dreaded words, "Thou Shalt Not." But they continue with their death-style anyway.
It's brilliant the way he completely ignores the Catholic Church's long history of aiding and abetting the sexual misconduct of its own priesthood, both with children and with adults. Check out some more of it.
There was a time when Hollywood made reverential movies about Christianity. But those days are long gone. Now they just insult. And when someone finally makes a film that makes Christians proud, he is run out of town. Were it not for Mel Gibson, there would have been no "Passion of the Christ."
Did you see how he skipped the whole anti-Semitic rampage Gibson went on, as well as how much stuff Gibson has in production at present, both as an actor and as a producer? Good thing this is parody. What else?
Catholics were once the mainstay of the Democratic Party; now the gay activists are in charge. Indeed, practicing Catholics are no longer welcome in leadership roles in the Party
Yeah--well, there's Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House...and President Obama just put Sonia Sotomayor on the Supreme Court...Joe Biden is Vice President...Pat Leahy is a major committee chair in the Senate...and Congressional Catholic Democrats outnumber Catholic Republicans 2 to 1. I'm starting to think he's serious.
The culture war is up for grabs. The good news is that religious conservatives continue to breed like rabbits, while secular saboteurs have shut down: they're too busy walking their dogs, going to bathhouses and aborting their kids. Time, it seems, is on the side of the angels.
Oh, great way to close the deal with the parody, because you know, with all that breeding going on, there's no way atheism is growing, right? I mean, you never hear of the kid of religious parents turning away from religion and becoming a non-believer do you? Doesn't happen--you get born into a church, you stay there forever, I guess.

Except that he's serious about all this. Incredibly, completely wrong, but serious. He's the Christopher Hitchens of Catholicism as far as pompous dickholery goes, but without the (slightly) redeeming ability to write well.

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