The Young Cons

When I first saw this video--and I wish I could remember where that was because I'd love to give someone a hat tip for it--I watched it a couple of times, trying to be sure that it was for real and not an elaborate parody. Give it a look.

"The Young Cons", I thought, could be doing double duty--short for both conservative and confidence men--and I thought that would be clever. The other reason I leaned toward parody is because of the cognitive dissonance in so many of the lyrics. For instance:

I hate when,
government dictatin, makin, statements, bout how to be a merchant,
How to run a restaurant, how to lay the pavement
Bailout a business, but can't protect an infant
I'm going to set aside the aesthetic choice to try to rhyme merchant with restaurant as they do in the video and simply note that they don't seem to understand that one of the results of government regulation of businesses and restaurants (among others) is that not only infants, but the population as a whole, are protected from things like unsanitary kitchens or substandard construction. People who subscribe to this philosophy are more rightly called "pro-birth" than "pro-life," because it's pretty clear they're not worried about government protection once the kid is out of the mother's womb (and they're not much worried about the mother at all).

I suspect, though, that most people who aren't plugged into the blog world either left or right won't understand half of what's going on in this song. That's because the Young Cons are speaking in shorthand most of the time. Here are some other select lyrics:
Terrorists were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay,
Now they're in our neighborhoods, planning out doomsday...

I don't speak lies but I spit the facts
28% the new capital gains tax
Porkulus bill lacks a few stats...

AIG was hooked up by Chris Dodd
A classy gift ain't an Ipod
The standards of my crew ain’t republicans dude
I'm reppin Jesus Christ and conservative views
Study history and true conservative moves...
I wonder how many people outside of blog readers would know what Porkulus is referring to? Or the iPod line? Or get that the Young Cons are arguing that conservatism hasn't failed, but that Republicans have failed conservatism? The first line is the one that's gotten the most mainstream play because of the ads the Republicans have been running and the news coverage of the Senate not giving President Obama the money to shut down Guantanamo Bay, but that's not completely clear from the line--I had to add a lot of outside information to get that meaning. For lots of people, those lines might as well be gibberish.

But it's this line that probably sums it up best:
Three things taught me conservative love:
Jesus, Ronald Reagan, plus Atlas Shrugged
In the comments on their website, they try to make Jesus and Ayn Rand fit together by saying that Jesus was asking for personal commitments as opposed to government intervention, but that's about all they have. Nothing on Rand's glorification of selfishness or ego, and Reagan just gets left out of the discussion completely--not surprising since he lacked both Rand's commitment to smaller (or no) government and Jesus's love of the poor and downtrodden. But he's a conservative icon and so must be included in any conservative statement. I'll pass on that conservative love.

So at this point I'm fairly sure it's not a parody unless it's an Andy Kaufman, so deep in the act that no one is for sure style parody, and if it is, then it's got a lot of people suckered in. More likely it's a true rendering of the attitudes of a very limited number of people, a sliver of today's Republican party.

I don't get nostalgia

Especially when it comes to the desire to hold on to an old, crappy product in favor of either a new, improved version or a reworked, improved version of an old one. Especially when it comes to food.

Look at this article, for example. I'm going to give you two descriptions of pizza from the article and I want you to honestly tell me which one you'd prefer to eat.

The traditional 10-inch discs grew to 18 to satisfy American appetites; hard flour replaced soft, producing crust that kept for hours on a takeout counter. Soon came processed cheese, prefab sauce and fast-food franchising....

The pie that emerges a mere 80 seconds later is exquisite, with the acidity of crushed San Marzano tomatoes complementing the milky tang of fresh mozzarella di bufala atop an airy, chewy, slightly salty crust.
If the way food tastes matters to you--and for the love of all that's holy in this world, why wouldn't it--then why on earth, outside of purely economic concerns, would anyone opt for the first pie described there?

And yet the writer quotes people making an argument for it:
"The New York slice is in danger," warns editor Adam Kuban. "These highfalutin places are great, but they're a different thing. Losing the killer slice joints means we'll lose a way of life—walk in with $3 and eat your pizza on the street."
Not to get all elitist here, but some ways of life? They suck. I mean, are you going to argue that the Hungry-Man Salisbury Steak TV Dinner ought to become a family staple again? Isn't it bad enough that McDonaBKWendyTacoBell is everywhere?

I'm with Michael Pollan--we need better food, and given the option between a a pizza made with canned sauce and cheese food type substance or one made with real tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, I think we'd be all be better off with the second option.

Sex With Ducks

These two have become some of my favorite YouTube viewing lately. I'm also a fan of "Pregnant Women Are Smug."

About a year and a half ago, a woman knocked on our apartment door and asked me a question I never expected to hear: would you be interested in being a Nielsen family? Thought about it for a bit, chatted it over with Amy, and a couple of weeks later we watched a couple of technicians spend a couple of hours wiring up our apartment to measure what we watched, listened to, watched without listening to, and so on. We were also told not to tell anyone that we were a Nielsen family, unless we had people over; then we were asked to input their information into one of the boxes installed on the tv.

We mostly did what they asked--the information might have slipped out a few times at parties--but no one ever approached us offering big bucks to watch their show. That would have been nice.

I'm sad to say that, barring some incredible coincidence, the following shows will probably lose a blip of ratings numbers: Democracy Now!, Antiques Road Show, Nova, Frontline, Eureka, Doctor Who, reruns of Star Trek Voyager (when they're on), Lucy Daughter of the Devil, and maybe It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Mythbusters, Leverage, and Pardon the Interruption. Those last four are popular enough that I figure there's a chance they'll keep getting the ratings points.

American Idol might pick up a blip, as will pretty much anything on prime time broadcast network television since we haven't watched that in years. Cable news might get a hit, since we only had CNN and Fox News (and the latter was added to our satellite package after we'd bought it) and I refuse to watch any of them. I get the Olbermann and Maddow podcasts since we don't have MSNBC. I'd say C-SPAN will lose some viewers, but Nielsen doesn't meter them since there's no advertising on the channel. (That might also be the case for PBS as well, which might make us the lamest Nielsen family ever given the list above.) That probably did wonders for their numbers during the election season last year since we watched everything on C-SPAN, from debates to inaugural coverage.

I have to admit, I'm kind of glad my meager contribution to the measurement of American taste in television is coming to an end, and I think Amy is too. It's not a weighty responsibility or anything--it's just television ad rates, after all--and I know I didn't have anything to do with the rise of Two and a Half Men or whatever is the top-rated sitcom these days. But it does start to wear on you after a while.

They measure what you watch and, if you have a DVR, what you record, and they know if you don't watch it, so all those back episodes of Bill Moyers Journal haunt me whenever I push the button to see what I have recorded. The Daily Show almost never gets backed up, but I recorded The Number One Ladies Detective Agency weeks ago and have still only watched the first episode. And I wanted Generation Kill to get more attention than it did, but I fell down on the job there too. I'm still going to watch it one day, but now no one will know.

I guess I could start a twitter feed and tell even more people.

Good Question

Planetizen asked their readers for ideas about what ought to be done with the coming glut of real estate that will result from the closing of hundreds of auto dealerships around the country. The result was fairly unsurprising:

As of May 21, 2009, these were the top five ideas:

1. Ask the local residents about what the community needs (228 votes)
2. Urban gardens (213 votes)
3. Create walkable, vibrant places and improve current communities (141 votes)
4. Farmers’ markets and local events (124 votes)
5. Solar and wind energy park/vehicle charging stations (109 votes)
The first idea is the best one as far as I'm concerned, at least in the abstract. Who knows better than the locals what ought to be done with public lands? The downside is that it's fairly easy for a company with money to get a lot of influence for a fairly low investment in a few politicians--that's part of the reason Fort Lauderdale has a huge number of high-end condos with no market to support them right now. Lots of real estate developers and people with ties to them in the city and county government will do that. And we are talking about privately owned land here--I don't foresee city governments rushing to make eminent domain claims so they can turn commercial property over to community gardens, awesome as I think that would be.

The real question, it seems to me, has to do with convincing the owners of these properties to put them to some other sort of use. Local and state governments could encourage the conversion by offering some sort of tax incentives, perhaps, and the owners might be more willing to listen since it's clear that, for the near term at least, their real estate is going to be worth far less than it has been in the recent past. Commercial real estate is hurting as well in this economy, and I've got to figure that businesses looking for office space are going to be less interested in the infrastructure offered by a closed auto mall than they will be by your standard issue office building.

If state and local governments had any money right now, I'd suggest that they use the down economy to try to buy up some of this land and convert it to public use. There's a big plot of land--a former dealership--that abuts a park close to where I live. I wish the city could afford to buy that land and extend the park--it would be a great deal more attractive than a giant parking lot surrounded by fences is, and it would make the surrounding townhomes and condos even more attractive. But that's not going to happen any time soon.

Still, it doesn't hurt to start the conversation. As a nation, we haven't done a good job of talking about land use issues, and now we're going to be faced with the reality of a glut of commercial real estate that will need major expenditure to transform it into something other than what it has been. Might as well start talking about what we can do with it.

Irish Hero

Some are calling this man the "Hero of the Day" -- I say it's more than just the day -- maybe the month, or year.

Learning to Hate Haidt

I've had a story rambling around in my head for years, and one of these days I'm going to write it: it's about a right-wing ideologue who starts a nation-wide self-help group whose mind and life exercises are designed to subtly, over time, re-make all the new age-y liberals who participate into cold, hardened conservatives.

"They're so open-minded, you can just reach right in and change their brains for one you like," he'll say. 

I worry when I see good, well-meaning people touting the books of, say, Malcolm Gladwell, because while his sloppy logic and rhetorical tricksterism is appealing (and connected to such cool catchphrases!) and while he doesn't draw evil conclusions--in fact his conclusions are usually very positive, if obvious--he is training the brains of innumerable readers to ignore reason and read only for what "feels" right.

But Malcolm Gladwell is Blaise Pascal compared to Jonathan Haidt, who, I am convinced, is the devil if ever there were one. Haidt is known as someone who "researches morality," but his damage doesn't come from his research, it comes from his classification. Unfortunately, he uses all the cute pop tricks of someone like a Gladwell, and his writing is appealing to some wonderfully open-minded people who oughtn't have let just anyone rummage around in their brains.

The latest victim is (the otherwise wonderful) Nicolas Kristof:
...conservatives are more likely than liberals to sense contamination or perceive disgust. People who would be disgusted to find that they had accidentally sipped from an acquaintance’s drink are more likely to identify as conservatives.

The upshot is that liberals and conservatives don’t just think differently, they also feel differently. This may even be a result, in part, of divergent neural responses.


One of the main divides between left and right is the dependence on different moral values. For liberals, morality derives mostly from fairness and prevention of harm. For conservatives, morality also involves upholding authority and loyalty — and revulsion at disgust.
And there's the rub: Haidt creates this appealing sounding "how can you tell if you're a liberal or conservative" dichotomy game that's just too fun to play. And then he mentions that obedience to authority and revulsion at things you find disgusting are actually moral values!

This is an expansion of the definition of "morality" to include two things that lead to incredibly immoral behavior: obedience and revulsion. Picture if you will a Nazi guard: this person wakes up every morning, showers, shits, and shaves, and then goes out and murders carloads of people at a time. All in a day's work! The guard feels right and just in doing this: after all, the authority figures are telling him to do it, and he's always found those stinking Gypsies, Jews, and Homos revolting anyway.

According to Haidt, this is one very moral Nazi, with wonderfully conservative strong moral values. Never mind the murdering! Moral, moral, moral!

A much more reasonable interpretation is that obedience to authority and disgust at perceived "contaminants" are animalistic reflexes, and that moral behavior comes into action when we over-ride these reflexes to act on behalf of a moral good: we disobey authority, hard as that is, because it is moral to refuse to hurt other human beings, we force ourselves to break bread with a person of another race, whom we've been taught is "dirty" and "other" and we ought to hate, despite that revulsion, because it is moral to treat all people as equals.*

Does anyone really believe it is moral to be disgusted by a man with a disfiguring disease? Or is it moral to force yourself to ignore those immoral feelings and shake his hand as though his skin were clean as a Ken doll's? 

The Milgram Experiment is of course the classic example of how obedience to authority makes people behave in an immoral way, but Haidt would have you believe those subjects who went on shocking (they believed) another human being all the way up to the highest setting, despite screams of pain and pleas for help and then finally a disquieting silence from the next room, that those people were in fact the height of conservative morality!!

Is he trying to excuse conservative behavior, or cause disgrace to the idea of "conservative morals"? I suspect it's the former, but the result seems to be the latter.

Haidt argues that humans are the only animals that feel "disgust," and implies that that exclusiveness makes it a moral impulse. (He makes no such claim about obedience to authority.) But even my cat shows evidence of feeling revulsion at certain things: for example getting wet by small amounts of perfectly clean water. He runs and sneers, shakes it off himself, cleans the offended patch of fur. One suspects this is one of those claims that, like humans being the only animals to use language, will turn out to be false--but even if it doesn't, is every uniquely human behavior now a moral one? Does that mean the construction and use of nuclear bombs is a moral behavior? My cat's never done that. How about the reclassification of immoral impulses into the realm of moral behavior? Once again, kitty innocent.

Haidt's reclassification of obedience to authority and revulsion at perceived impurities as moral behaviors is absurd, but there are many open-minded people who let these horse pucks right on in. I hope with this post to cast a counter-spell: morality asks us to act against our interests on behalf of a greater good; there nothing about being a good little soldier or in feeling (or acting on) disgust that leads us to act against our interests for others. In fact, these are usually two tremendous roadblocks to moral behavior.

Simply put:
Obedience and disgust are to morality what lust and desire are to chastity.
Haidt is certainly making a name for himself, with his twisting and torturing of ideas and language, but who is he helping, other than himself?

*This is a reference to a story told by Lillian Smith in Killers of the Dream, about how Southern women raised to believe that Blacks were "dirty," but who wanted Jim Crow segregation to end, would dine, once yearly, at a big event, with Black women, and how they admitted to actually feeling nauseated at the dining table, so deeply ingrained was this taught revulsion. Their morality came from their acting in defiance of these feelings--certainly not from their having these feelings.

Shameless self promotion

Only this time, I'm not promoting myself, but Amy--she's got a review of/interview with Ana Menendez up at the Rumpus. Menendez's new book, The Last War, has just been released, and Amy got an advance copy and the chance to converse with Menendez. It's a terrific review and I'm looking forward to reading the book. Go by and take a look.

The pushback on Judge Sonia Sotomayor is about what you'd expect from a party that hasn't quite figured out why women and people of color don't tend to vote for them in large numbers--that Judge Sotomayor is an affirmative action pick (Pat Buchanan), that she's a racist (Tom Tancredo), that she's an unabashed liberal (Karl Rove), and so on.

The easy answer is that Judge Sotomayor is not qualified in the eyes of these people simply because President Obama chose her, and that Jesus Christ wouldn't be acceptable if he'd been offered the job by a Democrat, and that any consideration given to a nominee's gender, race, ethnic background, sexual orientation (i.e. anyone other than a straight, white male) is necessarily a limiting factor in just how seriously we can take this person as a candidate. Because straight white males never have a hand up in this world, they hint, straight white males are by default always in the running for the title of "Most Qualified Candidate."

Consider for a moment how silly the suggestion that a "Most Qualified Candidate" for anything actually is. Even in those areas as quantifiable as athletic competition, it's nearly impossible to come up with a consensus as to who is the very best at any given moment. Tiger Woods is the exception that proves the rule, and even he hasn't been the best golfer in the world since his return from knee surgery. So why should we assume that there's a "Most Qualified Candidate" when it comes to a Supreme Court nomination?

A few weeks ago, when Justice Souter announced his retirement, Mark Halperin (or his headline writer, one) suggested "white men need not apply" for the job, and the howls of the defenders of privileged white men everywhere were loud and long. "Find the best candidate first," they screamed. "You shouldn't choose a nominee just because of skin color or gender," they yowled, as though restoring a woman to the Court (to bring it all the way up to 2) would be the height of injustice.

These people act as though there's a single superstar judge toiling away in the minor leagues of Federal Appellate Court just waiting for someone in the bigs to blow out a knee so he can be called up and have his chance to shine in the Big Show. The reality is that there's an enormous pool of people who qualify for the job, and a President's job is to find one of them he (and in the future, she) feels will do the job.

One reason that the defenders of the straight, white male judge flame are howling so loudly over this is that this move on the Court is just the latest sign that their (our, since I'm one too) era of unquestioned dominance is over, and our unassailable privilege is leaking away too, and quickly. They don't like that because it makes them actually wonder if their accomplishments came as a result of merit or as a result of an old boy's network that rewarded straight, white masculinity in the way they imagine Affirmative Action rewards skin color or Title IX rewards being a woman or ENDA would reward being gay (if it ever passes). They can't deal with that challenge to their egos, so they lash out and prove themselves to be just what we thought they were--out of touch and frightened of the future, hanging onto a mythical view of the world and thinking that if they just say what they believe long enough and loudly enough, it'll be true.

I'll be the atheist who explains Biblical metaphor.

Ed Morrisey, aka "Captain Ed" of Hot Air has this to say about the California Supreme Court's ridiculous compromise position on Prop 8 announced earlier today.

In what looks like a Solomonic and almost unavoidable conclusion, the California Supreme Court acknowledged that voters in the state properly amended the Constitution to bar single-gender marriage. The ruling signals a victory for democracy over judicial fiat, as Proposition 8 reversed the same court’s declaration of the right to gay marriage. The court split the baby, figuratively speaking, by reaffirming the marriages conducted by California in the interim:
So let's get this straight--Captain Ed is saying that the California Supreme Court made a good decision because they "split the baby," by giving the right wingers the Prop 8 holding they wanted, but by keeping the marriages that occurred while they were legal as valid.

Let's look at the Solomon story, though, to see what the real point was. 1 Kings 3:16-28:
16 Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17 One of them said, "My lord, this woman and I live in the same house. I had a baby while she was there with me. 18 The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us.

19 "During the night this woman's son died because she lay on him. 20 So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. 21 The next morning, I got up to nurse my son—and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn't the son I had borne."

22 The other woman said, "No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours."
But the first one insisted, "No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine." And so they argued before the king.

23 The king said, "This one says, 'My son is alive and your son is dead,' while that one says, 'No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.' "

24 Then the king said, "Bring me a sword." So they brought a sword for the king. 25 He then gave an order: "Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other."

26 The woman whose son was alive was filled with compassion for her son and said to the king, "Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don't kill him!"
But the other said, "Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!"

27 Then the king gave his ruling: "Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother."

28 When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.
So what are the major differences here? In Solomon's case, there's one baby that's being fought over--it's a zero-sum game in the sense that only one person can actually have the baby--and the question is over which woman deserves the child. Solomon's job is to determine who the child belongs to, not come up with a compromise. His decision to threaten to split the baby is a thought experiment, not an actual solution, because a split baby doesn't satisfy justice. Solomon uses the threat to discern who the actual mother is, assuming that the mother would rather lose a live child than see a dead one split in two.

So what does this have to do with same-sex marriage in California? Not much. Captain Ed seems to be claiming that same-sex marriage is the baby being split in two. Why doesn't that work? Well, in the Solomon case, the woman who isn't the mother wants the baby cut in half, but Prop 8 supporters didn't want that. They wanted the baby cut into tiny pieces, spat on, burned, kicked, burned again, crapped on, and then force-fed to gay people while they sat around and looked pious. In the Solomon case, the real mother of the child was willing to cede the child to let it live, but if same-sex marriage is the child here, Prop 8 opponents weren't willing to cede anything of the sort, and in fact, the reaction of Prop 8 opponents to today's decision has been overwhelmingly negative. Next, Solomon used the threat of splitting the baby to try to elicit a reaction from the parties that would help him make his decision, but the California Supreme Court didn't do that. It wasn't acting as an arbiter in a property dispute here, trying to determine who had a legitimate claim to ownership.

But most importantly, Solomon didn't split the baby in half. He didn't compromise in his search for what as fair and come up with a nonsensical decision like the California Supreme Court did. If Solomon had done what the Calfornia Supreme Court had done, the baby would have lost a couple of limbs and been given to both women in a joint custody agreement, with the real mother only getting supervised visitation for an hour once a month. That's how one-sided this ruling is.

Liberated Women Are Sad

Says Ross Douthat, or rather the study he cites:

In the 1960s, when Betty Friedan diagnosed her fellow wives and daughters as the victims of “the problem with no name,” American women reported themselves happier, on average, than did men. Today, that gender gap has reversed. Male happiness has inched up, and female happiness has dropped. In postfeminist America, men are happier than women.

This is “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” the subject of a provocative paper from the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers. The paper is fascinating not only because of what it shows, but because the authors deliberately avoid floating an easy explanation for their data.
He then goes on to dismiss two interpretations and then suggest precisely two:

A strict feminist and a stringent gender-role traditionalist alike will probably find vindication of their premises between the lines of Wolfers and Stevenson’s careful prose. The feminist will see evidence of a revolution interrupted, in which rising expectations are bumping against glass ceilings, breeding entirely justified resentments. The traditionalist will see evidence of a revolution gone awry, in which women have been pressured into lifestyles that run counter to their biological imperatives, and men have been liberated to embrace a piggish irresponsibility.
It does not occur to him that the freedom to be honest and complain is actually a part of that revolution he's talking about. "Being unpleasant" and "being unattractive" are heavy weaponry when used against a group of people who must make their way in the world by being pleasant and attractive, as opposed to by their intelligence, strength, and hard work. A woman in the 60s who sat down and said, "my life is unfulfilling and I am unhappy," would have to deal with the consequences of "being that way." A woman today has less to worry about. It's even (almost) fully acceptable today (in certain circles) to complain about how motherhood sucks and having children ain't all it's cracked up to be. This is a case where freedom equals the ability to mention that you're unhappy.

So perhaps there's maybe just one more way to interpret that data after all.

(Oh, and as for men's happiness inching up, has he considered how much smaller a percentage of the male population today is made up of war veterans who've had to deal with killing people, watching friends die, and fearing death themselves in battle zones? Just a thought.)

Yur downloadz iz slo

Just because it's Memorial Day doesn't mean I stop feeling snarky on Mondays. NBC Miami has a "story" on the new living communities for first year students at Our Fair University, and it sounds like it was written by someone who'll be living in one of them. For example:

This year, about 160 students are signed up for the nine LLCs are planned and include such groups as foreign languages, nursing and pre-med. Predictably, some communities were more popular choices than others.
A mid-paragraph verb tense shift and a disaster area of a sentence--awesome. That might be the high point of the piece. Here's the rest:
The big winners: Business and Engineering, which are both at capacity.

The big loser: the drug and alcohol-free community, which was, not surprisingly, discontinued due to lack of interest.

Some communities still have vacancies left: social justice, "green" and peace (now students know where to score their weed).

Our favorite, though, is the "undecided" community.

Otherwise known as the campus bar.
I really love that.

Pithy, one line paragraphs.

That may or may not be sentences.

And that make no sense in the context of the article. Seriously, it's an article about living communities for first-year students, the overwhelming majority of whom are in the 18-19 year old range, so is the writer suggesting that the campus bar (which does exist) is serving underage consumers? (By the way, any perceived outrage over what this article says is based on how it's saying it, not on what it's actually saying.) If the writer was going for funny, maybe she could have switched the list around. If you put the vacant ones first, then you can follow the weed joke with one about knowing where to score your cocaine and adderall. It's like using the jab to set up the right hook.

My real snark, though, isn't directed at the writer here; it's for the editor who posted this thing. I know that the costs of publishing on the web make it seem like space isn't really valuable, but come on, have a little pride in your work.

Via Balloon Juice, this gem from RedState diarist roetenks:

It’s likely even Jesus would have OK’d water boarding if it would have saved his Mom. He would’ve done the same to save his Dad, or any one of His disciples. For that matter, He even died to save all humans.
Now I may be an atheist who doesn't believe in the divinity of Jesus, but I think it's fair to say I've got a better understanding of what Jesus stood for than this guy does. In fact, I'll let the Bible handle the response. Matthew 26:51-53 should do the trick:
51 And behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said unto him, Put up again thy sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. 53 Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?
And of course, in the following decades after Jesus was presumably risen and while his followers were suffering horrible persecution at the hands of non-believers, Jesus didn't use violence to protect his followers. He allowed Stephen to be stoned to death and allowed Paul to get chased out of any number of cities--the list of just early church members who died for their beliefs is quite long, so it's more than a stretch to suggest that Jesus would have "Ok'd water boarding if it would have saved his Mom...his Dad, or any one of His disciples;" it shows a complete lack of understanding for the kind of person Jesus was and what he stood for. Jesus certainly would have undergone water boarding himself in order to spare others, but he'd never have ordered it on another person.

Oh great

Another website I'll have to keep up with.

Imagine the news coverage

If this had happened in the US.

BEIJING - Chen Fuchao, a man heavily in debt, had been contemplating suicide on a bridge in southern China for hours when a passer-by came up, shook his hand — and pushed him off the ledge.

Chen fell 26 feet (8 meters) onto a partially inflated emergency air cushion laid out by authorities and survived, suffering spine and elbow injuries, the official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday.

The passer-by, 66-year-old Lai Jiansheng, had been fed up with what he called Chen's "selfish activity," Xinhua said. Traffic around the Haizhu bridge in the city of Guangzhou had been backed up for five hours and police had cordoned off the area.
I imagine that CNN would have helicopters circling the scene, Fox would have a segment asking if the liberals had made the country meaner, Keith Olbermann would have a special comment and Perez Hilton would be asking if the guy doing the pushing supported sae-sex marriage.

Ive been waiting for this piece to run at The Rumpus ever since I saw it in the queue. Since I'm an editor there, I could have gotten a preview, but I wanted to see the finished project, and I'm glad I waited.

The piece is a memoir of sorts, using now-closed movie theaters as a way of marking out significant moments in the writer's life. Here's a sampling:

We drove down University from our town house in Davie, passing orange groves and cow pastures. In the dark we couldn’t see any cows or the creatures Mom called their mascots, the ducks who would sit on their backs.

Soon after the scene where Dustin Hoffman throws the little boy’s French toast into the garbage, Edward got up and went out of the theater. We assumed he was going to the bathroom, but when he didn’t come back, we started getting worried.

Finally Dad went out to look for Edward, but he wasn’t in the men’s room or at the candy counter or in the tacky little lobby. Eventually Dad found Edward watching Steven Spielberg’s 1941 on another screen.

Later I’d think that as young as he was, Edward knew that something was up between Mom and Dad. He didn’t want to see a movie about divorce. It was easier for him to watch something from the past.
Go read the whole thing, especially if you've been in Broward County a long time.

I saw this piece a couple of days ago and have been waiting to write about it because I didn't want this to just be a snarky rant, and I think that the debate deserves better. President Obama showed that you can take a middle ground of sorts on abortion and I'm going to try to follow his advice on not reducing opponents to a caricature. But when you come up with this kind of silliness as an argument, sometimes it's hard to respond with much more than a razzberry.

Here's the basic argument--people who oppose torture ought to oppose abortion because abortion is at least as bad, and could be worse. Here's the crux.

There are, of course, differences between these two events. For example, the CIA employed waterboarding – under the ludicrous and self-serving legal pretence that it was "not torture" – on only two men that we know of: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah. These are both people involved in a terrorist organisation committed to mass murder. By contrast, the target of abortion is a person – or pre-person – who is as innocent of harm as anyone can be. The risk such a life-form presents is only that of growing to full term, and thus being born.

There is a second difference, equally obvious. The target of the abortion is eliminated altogether, whereas the CIA deliberately chose a method which causes no visible physical damage to the sufferer, with doctors in attendance, just to make sure – as they were when the Spanish Inquisition practiced an identical method of interrogation.
There are two major factual errors in this argument. I'll take them one at a time.

Medically speaking, pregnancy is a pretty serious condition. There are all sorts of ways it can go wrong and cause not only long term damage to the mother, but can also kill both the mother and the fetus, so let's not play like pregnancy is all rainbows and unicorns and sunshine. And we're not even getting into the potential for future hardship once the baby is born--everything from postpartum depression to economic hardship and beyond. A fetus is a huge risk to the mother, and a far more real and immediate one than that of an average American citizen faces from Middle eastern terrorists.

Now, about waterboarding: it's interesting to see how Lawson focuses on the "visible" part of physical damage caused by waterboarding. No denial that it causes physical damage--just that it isn't visible. Does that somehow make it better that it's hidden? And what about the long term mental damage? I assume he concedes that waterboarding does mental damage--it would take a leap worthy of Lebron James to carry that one off.

So Lawson has done two neat things here--he's marginalized both the danger of pregnancy and the horror of waterboarding, which makes it easier for him to conflate two completely unrelated matters and make them seem relatively equal. What does that tell you about the strength of his argument, if he's having to do this just to make it close?

Well, it tells you that his argument is weak for starters, and I suspect he knows it. And it doesn't get any stronger. Here's his closing:
The most powerful argument for abortion rights is privacy – the right of the mother not to have the contents of her womb the subject of legal injunction. Dick Cheney takes an exactly similar view about what went on in Abu Ghraib.
First of all--how can two things be "exactly similar"? That seems like a bit of an oxymoron to me.

Anyway, the difference between the two is pretty obvious. The mother is an individual protecting the most personal possession she has--her body. The only way Dick Cheney is protecting his body is if you figure that by fighting to keep the story of what happened to detainees hidden he keeps his ass out of jail, but that's not what Lawson is arguing for. He's saying that personal privacy is equivalent to government secrecy about violating the human rights of people in its power, and that's just silly.

Whatcha scared of?

Been making this argument for a while now, but it's as salient as ever.

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And Harry Reid? What the hell does this even mean?
REID: I'm saying that the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans, do not want terrorists to be released in the United States. That's very clear.

QUESTION: No one's talking about releasing them. We're talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States.

REID: Can't put them in prison unless you release them.
You've got to do better than that.

And it's just a silly little thing, but still...

Moviegoers likely will sit in crowded theaters to watch the new "Star Trek" movie, which premiered on May 8, but not NASA astronaut Michael Barratt. He will have the opportunity to watch the film aboard the International Space Station, while he and two crewmates fly 220 miles above Earth. The only thing missing will be the popcorn.

Paramount Pictures transferred "Star Trek" to NASA's Mission Control in Houston, which then uplinked the film to the space station on Thursday, May 14. Barratt plans to watch the film on a laptop computer inside the Unity module.
I wonder how many sequels into the new franchise they'll be when Richard Branson can start showing it as his in-flight movie? Now all I need to do is win the lottery so I can afford a ticket.

Donald Rumsfeld

Facebook has an application called "Living Social" that's basically a list maker which searches for pictures to go along with your answers. It's fairly popular among the people who are on my friends list, and I've done a few myself. I've always skipped the suggestion "Five people I'd like to punch in the face" list because I like to be funny about these things when possible--on my list of people I'd want on my side in a bar fight I put Bjork, after all--but after this story about Donald Rumsfeld, I might have to revisit that policy.

When Frank Rich talked about this story in his Sunday column, he focused on this side of Rumsfeld:

But Draper’s biggest find is a collection of daily cover sheets that Rumsfeld approved for the Secretary of Defense Worldwide Intelligence Update, a highly classified digest prepared for a tiny audience, including the president, and often delivered by hand to the White House by the defense secretary himself. These cover sheets greeted Bush each day with triumphal color photos of the war headlined by biblical quotations. GQ is posting 11 of them, and they are seriously creepy.
They are, and that part of the article is seriously disturbing, but it's another part of the story that hits me closer to home.
a final story of Rumsfeld’s intransigence begins on Wednesday, August 31, 2005. Two days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans—and the same day that Bush viewed the damage on a flyover from his Crawford, Texas, retreat back to Washington—a White House advance team toured the devastation in an Air Force helicopter. Noticing that their chopper was outfitted with a search-and-rescue lift, one of the advance men said to the pilot, “We’re not taking you away from grabbing people off of rooftops, are we?”

“No, sir,” said the pilot. He explained that he was from Florida’s Hurlburt Field Air Force base—roughly 200 miles from New Orleans—which contained an entire fleet of search-and-rescue helicopters. “I’m just here because you’re here,” the pilot added. “My whole unit’s sitting back at Hurlburt, wondering why we’re not being used.”

The search-and-rescue helicopters were not being used because Donald Rumsfeld had not yet approved their deployment—even though, as Lieutenant General Russ HonorĂ©, the cigar-chomping commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, would later tell me, “that Wednesday, we needed to evacuate people. The few helicopters we had in there were busy, and we were trying to deploy more.”
The section on Rumsfeld and Katrina goes on for another page and a half, and it only gets worse. Rumsfeld actively resisted putting active duty soldiers to work in the relief efforts after Katrina, while people were suffering and dying all along the Gulf Coast. You really need to read the whole thing.

And yeah, I'd punch Rumsfeld in the face if I got the chance.

Empathetic Judges

In the argument over who should be the next Supreme Court Justice, liberals in general and Barack Obama in particular have taken no small amount of crap for their desire to have justices who are empathetic. Conservatives have screeched about the need to focus on the impartiality of law, etc. As I noted both in this post and in
the comments
which followed it, the notion that a judge can be anything approaching objective is a myth, a fallacy. It's very similar to the notion that our media can be objective--it's not in human nature.

Dahlia Lithwick and Doug Kendall make that argument very well in Slate this morning by pointing out that conservative judges play the empathy card all the time, as do the conservative activists who bring lawsuits. (They also give a really lucid breakdown of the Ricci case.)

Pity poor Frank Ricci. You probably already do. Ricci is a white firefighter from New Haven, Conn., who is the plaintiff in an important civil rights case before the Supreme Court this term. Ricci suffers from dyslexia, which made passing a written exam established by New Haven for promotion to lieutenant especially challenging for him. He studied hard and got the sixth-highest score on the exam—qualifying him for one of the eight open spots. But despite all that, Ricci still hasn't received his promotion, which is the basis of his lawsuit.

What does Ricci's dyslexia have to do with the law? Very little, actually. The city of New Haven threw out the results of the test he took because it feared that the examination was discriminatory. That's because none of the African-American candidates, and only two of the 50 minority candidates, who took the test would have been eligible for promotion based on the results. Regardless of how you and I may feel about Frank Ricci or how much he deserved to be promoted, discriminatory results like that can run afoul of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And in this case the results of the test far exceeded the statistical cutoff that suggests a constitutional violation has occurred.

When the case was argued before the Supreme Court last month, all of the justices seemed to agree that New Haven had to comply with valid federal statutes. Mr. Ricci did not challenge the constitutionality of Title VII. So the only real question before the court was whether New Haven had reason to believe that if the city used the test results it would be sued under Title VII. Mr. Ricci's specific circumstances—his race, his dyslexia, and his professional aggravation—have no bearing on that legal question at all.

So why did every report on the case begin and end with Ricci's compelling employment story? Might it have something to do with the fact that the conservative organizations supporting Ricci used his sympathetic tale as the centerpiece of a successful media blitz leading up to oral argument before the court? Could it be that they wanted to make sure the justices understood just how Title VII could impact the lives of ordinary Americans like Frank Ricci? Could they—oh the horror!—have wanted the justices to empathize with Ricci's plight?
Of course they did, and as Lithwick and Kendall explain, Ricci's lawyers would be poor lawyers indeed if they didn't try to exploit Ricci's story for every bit of sympathy it could engender.
Every time Justice Antonin Scalia writes a habeas opinion that begins with the depiction of a gruesome murder, he is evincing empathy toward the victim. When Chief Justice John Roberts battled for the rights of white schoolchildren facing arduous bus trips and educational hardship due to school integration programs in Seattle and Kentucky, he was evincing empathy for the white "victims" of affirmative action. It's a patent falsehood that liberal judges weep and bleed for their plaintiffs while conservative jurists treat plaintiffs with stony indifference. And smart advocates on either side, knowing that, seek out "sympathetic plaintiffs" for litigation precisely because they are attempting to appeal to some part of the court's lizard brain; the part that does more than mechanically apply the law to the case.
Exactly. What Lithwick and Kendall are describing here, I think, is an extension of the phenomenon we've seen play out in the media between liberals and conservatives over at least the last forty years. It's what's gotten us the ridiculous argument that Republicans are the daddy party, all discipline and strictness, while Democrats are the mommy party, all softness and love. The reality is that there is no dichotomy here--there's only a difference in who gets empathized with, and even that varies depending on the particular circumstances. Well, and the intellectual honesty one brings to the table, i.e., whether one is willing to admit to being empathetic or pretends to be otherwise.

From Wired's discussion of George Lucas's biggest hits and flops.

The lesser Star Wars films would probably rank among sci-fi's finest if they didn't have to stand in the shadow of the greater Star Wars films, which changed the world, no hyperbole intended.
Ummm, no. There is no universe in which The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith would rank among the finest sci-fi films ever made. For crying out loud, Attack of the Clones is about as bad as Star Trek 6: Stroking Shatner's Ego. The Phantom Menace probably wasn't as bad as I remember it being, but it certainly wasn't a great movie, and Revenge of the Sith benefited from just not sucking as bad as Clones did. But none of them were great movies, and perhaps only the first of the three can lay a legitimate claim to even being good.

Weak Sauce

This will be my only post even tangentially related to the ridiculousness over Carrie Prejean, aka Miss California. The news this morning was that Shanna Moakler, a former Playboy model, has resigned from her position as Miss California USA Executive Director, saying "I cannot with a clear conscious [sic] move forward supporting and promoting the Miss Universe Organization when I no longer believe in it, or the contracts I signed committing myself as a youth." No real detail as to why she came to this decision, though I expect she'll be asked to clarify at some point. But that's not stopping Robert Stacy McCain from coming with the weak sauce.

Thank you, Miss December 2001 and divorced mom. As "a role model for young women," your quest for another reality-TV contract and friendship with Perez Hilton will surely be an inspiration to millions.
What is it, do you suppose, that bugs him more--that she started her career getting naked for the pleasure of men much like him and yet hasn't been sufficiently ashamed of herself for his liking, or that she's divorced, and therefore isn't submissive enough to the men in her life? Weak, either way.

I have to admit, though, that the slap at the divorced mom part bothers me more. The sneering "Miss December 2001" is just the typical Christian-Taliban fetishization of women as purity objects garbage that none but the most hardcore are even bothering with anymore. But going after her because she's a divorced mom, when there are millions of divorced moms in this country of all political leanings? Is there really any shame in being divorced these days? Certainly not if you're a Republican politician, but I guess if you're the former Executive Director for Miss California USA who wandered into Robert Stacy McCain's line of fire because you just might possibly disagree with what's been happening at your place of business--and the statement is ambiguous in all the ways you'd expect, by the way--then I guess being a divorced mom makes you the sluttiest slut in all the slutty world. I'm sure Ms. Moakler is going to lay awake nights wondering how she can redeem herself in McCain's eyes.

Oh please please please

Let Florida's Republican party follow the path laid down by the national party and start purging anyone they consider remotely moderate. That would be awesome. Ftom the Plumline, here's an attack ad from Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio on Governor Charlie Crist--both are running to replace Mel Martinez in the US Senate.

I understand why Rubio is doing this--Crist has a lot more name recognition and his favorables are still relatively high, though they've dropped in recent months (as have most governors' ratings)--and Rubio certainly can't run to Crist's left in the Republican primary. But if he can eat into that massive lead that Crist will open with, if he can drag Crist right, that might move this race from difficult-to-win to possible. Florida's not a conservative state; it's a divided one, fiercely divided, with lots of hardened partisans on both sides, and it'll be interesting to see if Rubio can convince enough of the hard-right that it would be better to go for the Senate seat with one of their own and possibly lose than have a squishier Crist almost certainly win.

That's too bad

I'd have totally bought this app.

The app, called Me So Holy, involves using the iPhone’s camera to snap a mug shot of someone, which can then be scaled and cropped to replace Jesus’ face. Apple rejected the app, saying it “contains objectionable material,” according to Me So Holy developer Benjamin Kahle.
The only problem with the article is that it focuses on the ability to make you or your friend into Jesus, and doesn't mention that you can do it with multiple religious figures, including nuns and Buddhist monks, stained glass windows and a kid at a bar-mitzvah. I think that, for some people, that detail might make a difference in how they felt about the propriety of the application. I'd roll with it regardless, but that's me.

Seriously, Lupica?

You don't see the difference between what David Feherty and what Wanda Sykes said?

Feherty, for those who missed the story, suggested that if you gave any US soldier a gun and put him in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Osama Bin Laden, Pelosi would be shot twice and Reid and Bin Laden would be strangled to death. (By the way, Lupica--Pelosi was right when she said that was insulting to the troops. That you don't understand why says loads more about you than her.) As a result, there are people calling for Feherty to lose his job. Lupica excuses Feherty's words, not completely, but a bit by noting that Feherty is an advocate for injured soldiers. Whoopty freaking do. There's a lot of us. That doesn't give you license to suggest that the military is made up of Republican wingnuts who would frag the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate given the opportunity. I dare say 90% of the population of the US would shoot Bin Laden, given the chance. I'd at least try to wing him and collect the reward. I could just about buy a house with that kind of money.

Sykes, of course, went off on Rush Limbaugh at the White House Correspondents Dinner Friday, calling him the 20th highjacker too looped on Oxycontin to make his flight, and saying "Rush Limbaugh hopes the country fails? I hope his kidneys fail, how 'bout that?" Tacky? Tasteless? Sure. Any worse than the sort of crap Limbaugh says on his show on any given day? Not even close.

Feherty suggested that soldiers would kill Pelosi and Reid given the chance. Sykes wished Limbaugh would have to go on dialysis--kidney failure isn't necessarily fatal, after all. Feherty linked prominent Democrats with Osama Bin Laden and suggested soldiers hated them equally--depending on how you look at shooting Pelosi twice. One could argue he thinks they'd hate her more than either Reid or Bin Laden; it's not very clear. Sykes suggested Limbaugh was in cahoots with Bin Laden. At worst that's a push. Feherty aimed his comments at people who not only have real responsibility, but who also have to deal with death threats from political extremists. Sykes aimed hers at a radio talk show host who routinely spouts invective far more incendiary than anything Sykes said last night.

In short, Lupica, the fact that one statement took place in a magazine interview and the other at the White House Correspondents Dinner isn't the difference in context you think it is. The difference is in the target and the outcome, and it's yet another shining example of how conservatives just don't get comedy.

Monday Morning Snark

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Sorry for the lack of posting lately, and for the occasional testiness in the posts. I don't know what to say, other than that I've been at this a long time and I'm really feeling burned out right now. Maybe it's the stresses of work or the the other projects I've taken on or just doldrums of some sort, but I really haven't been feeling it of late, which translates into subpar blogging. I'm not shutting the place down or anything, and will probably still update at least once a day, though I make no promises.

Stanley Fish and Terry Eagleton pushed someone else's buttons it seems. Matt Taibbi:

I listened to this argument at least five times and at the end still had absolutely no idea what the hell Eagleton was talking about. I thought at first he might be saying that faith does not require certainty, but then again nobody who wanted to say that would bother with all that extra verbiage. Anyway this is the kind of stuff that permeates Eagleton’s work: a lot of masturbatory semantics and naked goalpost-moving buried in great gnarled masses of old-world sneering and unnecessary syllables.
It's hard to excerpt just a small part of the piece because it's so interlocked, but suffice to say, Taibbi doesn't have much use for the arguments Eagleton and Fish churn out on this subject either.

Flying the Nerd Flag

I've been thinking about this off and on for months now, but it didn't really crystallize into anything until the last couple of days--I'm not even sure it's done yet, but I want to get it out there anyway.

It seems to me that the definition of the word "nerd" has significantly broadened recently. When I was a kid, the word dealt with a pretty limited subset of people--hyper-intelligent in one subject, socially inept, physically clumsy, almost always male, with a complete lack of fashion sense or style. Their appreciation of art was limited to either fantasy or science fiction, theremin music or lutes. Sports was assumed to be a waste of time for these folks.

That's changed, I think, to the point where the nerd tag can be attached to any specialist in a particular area of cultural knowledge, even the most mainstream areas--it's completely possible to be an "American Idol" nerd now, for example. Tony Kornheiser is one.

Yesterday, on Coates' Open Thread, a commenter named Cash asked, in the context of passing, if as kids, other nerds had taken up interest in activities or subjects that hadn't really interested them in order to seem more normal or mainstream.

I spent a lot of time in my childhood and adolescence being teased and occasionally knocked around for being a bookworm/comics fan/Tolkien nut/D&D player. I also spent long hours of reading up on NFL/MLB history and practicing my jumper, but I sometimes wonder how much of that practice and dedication was done out of a sincere love of sports and how much was done out of a desperation to be accepted by my less nerdly peers.
I was already an outsider with no hope of ever being accepted as anything other than a nerd--being a bespectacled Jehovah's Witness who loved to read and had no tact will do that to you--so I think the interest I took in more mainstream fare, like sports, was real. I wasn't particularly good at any of them, but I liked taking part, even if it meant my glasses were near-broken all the time. (You want to know what innovation really changed the quality of my life? Lenscrafters--but that's another story.)

And that's carried over into my adult life as well, I think. Of course, it's easy to be a nerd now. I work in a university English department--you've got to fly the Nerd Flag way high to stick out of a group of people who can quote page after page of Shakespeare from memory or who can tell stories of the personal disagreements between various Romantic poets. No wonder I feel at home in this world. In fact, my answer on that thread noted that I'm more likely to cover up my mainstream tastes than my odd ones--I'm fine geeking out about poetry or science fiction, but don't talk much about NASCAR at work. And I'm not even a NASCAR nerd, though those unquestionably exist.

This is what I'm talking about, I guess--"nerd" has come to encompass "fan" to some extent. Anyone who becomes obsessive over a subject can become a nerd for that subject, especially if he or she shows off that encyclopedic knowledge in an audience of non-fans, or worse, if there's a fellow-traveler in the group and the two veer off into an esoteric, jargon-filled conversation that leaves everyone else wondering what the hell just happened. It doesn't matter if the subject is World of Warcraft or the Dodge Hemi, Doctor Who or VORP--show off that knowledge in a group of lay people and you're a nerd.

But that doesn't cripple you socially like it might have in the past, because on some level, I think enough people have embraced their inner nerds that we're not afraid to dork out on occasion. I think the computer generation coming of age has helped a lot, and it might be interesting to see how the nerd as a character on tv and film has morphed over the last thirty years or so to become more mainstream. The continued rise of identity politics also might have something to do with it--as more minority groups celebrate their differences, that gives a sort of permission for everyone to come out about their joys and passions in a way they might have felt pressured to hide before. I wish I had the time to look at it closely myself.

Star Trek!

There are MAJOR spoilers about the new Star Trek movie below. If you don't want to know the shocking details stop reading now!!

First of all, let me start this review by stating that I was very suspicious of this new movie. The only "prequel" the Star Trek franchise attempted was the TV series Enterprise, which was so bad that I couldn't even watch it. (I heard that it got good right before it got canceled, but it was too late -- it had grounded "the franchise.")

The new Star Trek is nothing short of brilliant, however, and all viewers with a pulse and a brain will absolutely love it, whether they are traditionally fans of "the franchise" or not.

You've probably noticed by now that I'm putting "the franchise" in scare quotes. That's because I disapprove of the lumping together of all things Trek. Mainstreamers tend not to get subcultural things, but Star Trek is the most mainstream of subcultures: not because it has the most members, it does not, but because it's the subculture that everyone's been at least a little exposed to, no one's scared of criticizing (Trekkies, Trekkers and otherwise being, of course, dangerless nerds), the one that everyone feels like they "own" a little, even if they've only seen parodies and references, and never actually watched an episode. (Or they watched a movie, but it was 1, 3, 5, 9, or 10, which everyone knows do not count. The only real Star Trek movies are The Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home, The Undiscovered Country*, Generations, and First Contact -- and now 2009's STAR TREK).

The many worlds of stories that have been told under the name of "Trek" vary in their intent, theme, politics, and fan base. For example, fans of Star Trek: Voyager and of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are virtually exclusive groups with very little in common. Your average DS9 fan is more politically to the right and has more interest in war, politics, and vice (the ideal DS9 viewer is the person who, upon first seeing the concept of the holodeck in The Next Generation, thought "sex with holograms!" and then immediately started musing about who on the ship was low enough on the totem pole to be the one to mop up the spooj). The average Voyager fan is more politically to the left (is okay with a woman captain, for starters), and can embrace a plotline less about war than about bringing old enemies together and making them learn to live in peace.

That's just one contrast (I don't want to get too obscure for a non-Trek fan, here). The point is that every series has attempted to take parts of what is established in previous "Treks" and then create a whole new world of stories with it. The new movie does that too. But the reviewers seem to believe that the new movie is the first "reboot," the first "reimagining," the first time someone kicked a bit o' modernity into that dusty ol' relic from the 60s. Which is simply ignorant.

The various series have also all been the products of their times. To use the examples above, DS9 premiered in 1993 -- after a time of recession and overseas war. Voyager premiered in 1995 -- and reached its creative peak in the openness of the Clinton-era late 1990s. The Next Generation had the optimistic self-confidence of a 1980s America that saw itself as the beacon of light for the world. The original series wielded the cowboy socialism of 1960s sci-fi. The new Star Trek is ALSO very much a creature of its time, and so it seems new and fresh and far more relevant than any of the others. 

My point is, I object to this sense that this movie is some huge break with how things have been done with "the franchise" in the past. Star Trek movies and TV shows are always changing, evolving to reflect their time and the visions of their directors and writers. That all said, I believe this is probably the best "Trek" film to date.

~~Spoilers get really bad now, Beware!~~

The new Trek takes a bolder step than most because it creates an entirely alternate timeline. Because of an intervention from the future Trek universe we're more familiar with, the life histories of Kirk, Spock, Uhura, hell, the Planet Earth (and especially the Planet Vulcan), deviate WILDLY from what has been established before. In other words, this movie re-writes Trek history. In the new version, Captain Pike (of the original series' pilot, and "The Menagerie") still ends up in a wheelchair, but in a completely different way (and he's neither disfigured nor mute). Kirk and Spock still end up friends, but again, how they get there is different (Spock's the captain, Kirk a nobody), and what led them to this point (especially what happens to their parents -- Kirk's father killed the day he's born, Spock's mother killed the day that the planet Vulcan is destroyed -- yes, destroyed, obliterated, Vulcan is no more) is all changed. Kirk especially is a very different person from who he would have been had the universe unfolded the way "it was supposed to."

There is a point in the movie where you might be tempted to believe that all of this damage is going to be undone, that they will go back in time (well that's what they would have done in TNG!!) and prevent the new timeline from forming in the first place, but that does not happen. So this movie ends not by adding to the Trek universe, but by replacing it, fully, with an entirely new timeline in which anything could happen. This is bold, this has never been done before, but it is certainly in keeping with the kinds of things that happen in the world of Trek. (When I saw how badly they'd screwed with the timeline, my first thought was "Janeway would be proud" -- Captain Janeway, of Voyager, never met a timeline she thought was above a little improvement.)

Now if I may geek out for a moment: this new timeline is almost assuredly a closed loop. The new timeline was created when Spock failed to save Romulus from the nova of its sun and an aggrieved and bereaved Romulan ends up in the past, ready to make Spock pay for what he'd done. But knowing, now, 120+ years in advance, that such an attempt to save the sun will fail, every life-loving man, woman, and child on Romulus will surely flee, which means that the trauma that starts the timeline will not happen, which means that the timeline will not happen, but it must happen for if it doesn't happen it will happen (paradox), which creates the closed time loop.

In other words, the Star Trek universe as we know it still exists outside of this closed time loop, and the time loop is very much sealed off from what happens in the regular universe, unless a door is opened -- hm. "Mirror, Mirror" anyone? Perhaps this is how "evil Spock" and "evil Kirk" got their start. No matter. Evil Spock went soft and screwed all that up, and Cardassians make unsavory overlords. Done geeking out now. Back to the film.

What this film does BETTER than any other Trek film is to truly make characters out of Uhura (finally giving her a first name was a good start!), Chekov, and Sulu. Scotty remains a bit of comic relief, but these three are much better developed than usual, especially Uhura. Chekov is just delightful as an underaged cadet thrown onto the bridge controls during an emergency, and Sulu... ah, Sulu. Skydiving, fencing Sulu. John Cho, Harold of Harold and Kumar Sulu. Harold and Kumar go to Vulcan. Sulu and Chekov go to White Castle. The jokes are irresistible, but the man plays this role like a pro. Traditionally the movies have centered on Kirk, Spock, and Bones, "The Triumvirate" Brian calls them, with very little left over for these other characters. The new movie is still centered on Spock and Kirk, primarily, but somehow they still found enough for the other characters to seem real and whole.

All of the roles are played well: Brian thought the Spock was dead-on and the Kirk a bit forced. I thought the Kirk was dead-on and the Spock a bit forced. In the end I just have to conclude they were all great. But there was one actor, a man I've never heard of before tonight called Karl Urban, who should get a frickin medal -- or an oscar -- for his portrayal of Leonard "Bones" McCoy. He owned, owned, that role. He was a thing of beauty. He made me love him.

The movie is brilliant, you simply must see it. But when you see it, do not think it is brilliant because of how well the director and writers "escaped" the past Star Trek films. Recognize instead the truth: that when these stories are done well, they are always new and always true. This story is both. It is incredibly well-executed at every imaginable level, and it is bold and it is brilliant. Did I mention it's brilliant? Go see it. Right now! :-)

I'm still unsure how I'll react to this reboot of the series, but I have to admit, I'd really love to have that "I Grok Spock" t-shirt to go along with my Klingon scanner iPhone app.

SNL Get A Life

As long as I'm geeking out, here's a story about the Klingon language.

Because I might have to join the Guitar Hero/Rock Band folks for this one.

You may all commence the mockery.

Careful now

Don't dislocate anything being all enlightened, there, Senators.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday he could consider a gay nominee for the nation’s highest court.

“I’m not inclined to think that’s an automatic disqualification,” Sessions said of a gay nominee. He said he intends to consider only the nominee’s legal judgment when deciding his support for Justice David Souter’s proposed replacement....

“It’s something I’d have to think through with respect to whatever issues might be forthcoming that the court may have to consider,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.).

"I have never, frankly, thought about that situation," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the GOP standard-bearer in the 2008 presidential election.

“I’ve never thought about it,” said Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.). “But I don’t look at things through that lens in regards to the type of position we’re talking about."
I'm willing to bet that if President Obama nominated an openly gay person to the Supreme Court, most if not all of the people quoted here would find some example of "activist judging" that would make it, so sorry, impossible for them to support such a person's nomination, but to be fair, I expect most of them will do that no matter who the President nominates. He could bring Bork back and most of them would wonder if Bork had turned.

And here's part of the reason why--warning: that's a Free Republic link.
In my opinion, Sessions is totally wrong. An avowed homosexual judge by definition has their values system screwed up. Would we allow an out-and-proud alcoholic judge or an out-and-proud druggie judge (remember, for most of our history, homosexual sodomy was a crime). I think it shows a major lapse in judgement.

Oh, no. Just as you think this pile of !@(*# we’re in couldn’t get any worse...

You’re right, to allow a discussion of such an appointment shows a huge shift in judgment. To argue with the insane is to grant them a measure of sanity that they don’t possess. And at the very least the homosexual orientation is disordered. That’s so obvious that it is appalling to hear such nonsense considered.

There’s no way a gay supreme could be impartial.

Jeff needs to join the Rat party of snakes Homos and Pedophiles.

Let’s be honest. When you consider what Barry is likely to send up as a Supreme Court nominee, who or what they like to sleep with is probably going to be one of their least problematic aspects.

If the judge has a history of gay activism or decisions in that vane... his “legal judgment” would disqualify him. Sessions is just avoiding a leftist attack... something we must do until we are strong enough to attack back... which we are not at the moment.

Alright Alabama, go after this guy. Bury him with phone calls and emails.
Classy people, those Freepers.


I made a photomosaic of a hamburger out of pictures that come up on the internet when you put in the word "cow."

Click HERE if you'd like to see a close-up showing all the individual pictures. Warning, not all the cows are alive, nor happy, nor are they all cows.

Ross Douthat's latest is helping convince me that he's not much of an upgrade over William Kristol for the NY Times. Okay--that's not quite fair. For instance, Kristol never wrote something as lucid as this:

Political debates are often framed in binaries: Middle-of-the-roaders versus hard-liners, moderates versus ideologues. But American politics is more complicated than that. There are multiple rights and lefts, and multiple middles as well. So-called extremists can serve the country well. And self-conscious moderates can be intellectually bankrupt.
He's absolutely right about that. The problem is that Douthat then sets up a false premise and uses it as a stick to bash these moderates with.
Others, like Collins and Snowe and (until last week) Specter, are simply horse-traders and deal-cutters, whose willingness to cross party lines last month to vote for $800 billion dollars in deficit spending tells you most of what you need to know about their supposed fiscal conservatism. They’re politically savvy but intellectually vacuous. Their highest allegiance isn’t to limited government. It’s to meeting the party in power halfway, while making sure that the dollars keep flowing to their constituents back home.
The problem, of course, is that Douthat just described pretty much every Senator, not just Snowe, Collins and Specter. Does anyone seriously think that if this plan had been put forward by a President McCain that Senate Republicans wouldn't have been lining up to vote for it and would have challenged the integrity of any Democrat who dared question the tiniest part of it? Seriously--we lived through the last eight years; we know the answer to that.

And as to the whole "limited government" canard, I think the national mood has pretty much killed that as an argument. Americans are more big-government now than at any time since Nixon. We want a working FEMA; we want clean air and water; we want more food inspectors; we want more IRS agents going after corporate tax cheats; we want universal health care; we want government help with our mortgages; we want government economic stimulus.

Even conservatives don't really want limited government--the government grew exponentially under conservative control, both fiscally and socially. Unless by "limited" they mean "limited to Republican control." Okay, that makes sense.

So where does Douthat recommend the Republicans look for inspiration?
And so in place of hacks and deal-makers, the Republican Party needs its own version of the neoliberals and New Democrats — reform-minded politicians like Gary Hart and Bill Clinton, who helped the Democratic Party recover from the Reagan era, instead of just surviving it.
I think there's a legitimate argument to be made that in terms of the party, Bill Clinton fought a holding action at best. Democrats didn't really start to recover from the Reagan era until around 2004 when it became clear that Reaganism really wasn't going to work and that Democrats had better start saying so. And we saw some political gains from that attitude starting in 2006.

At least Douthat isn't arguing that the Republican party needs to become purer, though. Most of the people he suggests--Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, Jon Huntsman--are, by Republican standards, fairly moderate. (Jindal is a restaurant-quality nutbar.) Of course, moderate by contemporary Republican standards is a pretty low bar to clear, but then again, that's why they're in such a tiny minority.

Consistently bad, that is:

If funding for Tri-Rail isn't approved, Tri-Rail will slash the number of weekday trains from 50 to 30 on Oct. 5, the start of the next budget year. All weekend and holiday service will be eliminated.

Under that scenario, Giulietti said Tri-Rail can survive another 18 months. If no funding is found, all Tri-Rail service would end.
Mind you, Tri-Rail is setting ridership records for the first time, the trains are running reasonably on time and the cars don't smell like fecal matter anymore, which makes this the perfect time to make sure that we kill the thing once and for all. Oh, and the fare hike isn't going to help matters in any significant way.
Tri-Rail currently recovers about 18 cents of every dollar it spends on annual operating costs. Even with the increase, that is only expected to climb to 21 cents and still below the national average of 25 cents.
On the plus side, people who travel to FAU won't have to pay the fifty cents for the return trip to the train station on the shuttle, so that's something. Of course, if the train stops running completely, that won't matter, and if Tri-Rail cuts twenty trains a day--presumably ten each way--that will make an only marginally convenient mode of transportation considerably less so.

Here's my personal example: during the Spring, I left my apartment at 7:15 a.m. to catch the 7:40 northbound train--I'm a little neurotic about being early and my drive crossed several school zones. If the train was on time, I got into Boca about 8:10, caught the bus within about ten minutes and was on campus about 8:30. Delays in the morning were rarely more than ten minutes. Driving would have been quicker, assuming that I-95 didn't back up to hell and back, especially since I couldn't take the HOV lane, so some days yay and some days cursing for miles. The longer trip generally meant I was in a better mood once I got to work. But if I missed that 7:40 train, there was another one at 8:10, which would make my trip tighter but still doable.

But if Tri-Rail cuts ten trains, suddenly I have fewer options, because maybe a train that would come thirty minutes later now comes forty or fifty minutes later. And if you travel during a low traffic period, half an hour is an hour at least, and you're in trouble if you miss your train.

What I'd really like to see someone do--and I'd do it if I had the expertise--is put the costs of a working public transportation system alongside what we spend on roads, police to patrol those roads, emergency services, etc. and see which one is more cost-effective. I'd bet that public transportation is competitive at the very least.

Oh no, they're all yours

I can certainly understand why Robert Stacy McCain would just as soon that Jeb! disappeared from the political scene--if my party had driven the country into a ditch in the last eight years and reduced itself to a laughingstock, I'd want to do everything I could to remove all traces of that party's leader during that period from view. And I even share the sentiment to a certain extent--if Jeb! were to disappear and never be heard from again, I'd be perfectly content with that.

But you can't just rewrite history:

The first President Bush betrayed the Reagan legacy and handed America to Bill Clinton.

The second President Bush betrayed the Reagan legacy and handed America to Barack Obama.
Poppy continued the Reagan legacy and we wound up in another recession. Dubya put it on steroids and we wound up with the current catastrophe. They didn't betray the Reagan legacy--they fulfilled it.

Besides, if history does repeat itself, we're in for a pretty sweet eight years at the very least. What are you griping about?

Poor, Poor Stanley Fish

After reading Stanley Fish's "review" of Terry Eagleton's book (along with this one by Andrew O'Hehir) on the always tiresome and completely false notion that the modern atheist is just like the modern fundamentalist, only with Science as God, I'm tempted to spend some time in a bookstore reading it, or finding a pirated e-copy somewhere so I can see for myself if it's as loaded with straw-men and inaccurate assumptions about the New Atheism (which is really nothing more than atheists saying publicly that they're atheists, and not a creed as so many critics seem to desperately wish) as it seems to be.

The biggest problem with this argument is that Fish and Eagleton--and I include the former in this discussion because he makes clear who he sides with at the end of his column today--are stuck in dichotomy of Science/Reason versus God and assume that atheists look to the abstract notion of scientific progress as some sort of mystic leader that's going to tell us "what it all means," and I'll concede that if you look at science or reason in that way, then Fish and Eagleton are describing you accurately.

But most of the atheists I know don't look at it in those terms. Here's what I mean--from Fish's column, discussing Eagleton:

That is where science and reason come in. Science, says Eagleton, “does not start far back enough”; it can run its operations, but it can’t tell you what they ultimately mean or provide a corrective to its own excesses. Likewise, reason is “too skin deep a creed to tackle what is at stake”; its laws — the laws of entailment and evidence — cannot get going without some substantive proposition from which they proceed but which they cannot contain; reason is a non-starter in the absence of an a prior specification of what is real and important, and where is that going to come from? Only from some kind of faith.
Eagleton makes a ridiculous assumption here, that atheists are looking to science to tell us "what it all means." Speaking only for myself here, I'm not looking to science for that sort of information at all--a big part of my atheism is that I don't think there is a grand, over-arching meaning to the universe. I think it just is, and that we're damned lucky to have developed at all, that this life is all we've got and that we'd better make the most of it.

And I think this is the ultimate disconnect between religious people who rail against atheism and atheists who refuse to be quiet about it--people like Fish and Eagleton just can't seem to grasp the concept that there are humans who are willing to accept a purposeless universe. I am. The universe is transcendent, it's awe-inspiring, and it seems, to me at least, to be completely unconscious of me and the rest of humanity. It doesn't have plans for me; things don't necessarily happen for a reason. We just are--we struggle through each and every day, trying to make the best lives we can for ourselves and those close to us, and in some cases, for the rest of the human family, and for those animals we have chosen to take into our care. Some of us dedicate our lives to nothing more than that; some take on the creation of beauty through art; some seek after scientific knowledge; some seek a purpose for a universe which baffles or even terrifies them; some try to make the world a better place for everyone; some try to make the world better for only themselves.

What's most aggravating about Fish's, and if Fish is talking about it accurately, Eagleton's argument, is that when you boil it down to the basics, it's the same old crap:
and we are where we always were, confronted with a choice between a flawed but aspiring religious faith or a spectacularly hubristic faith in the power of unaided reason and a progress that has no content but, like the capitalism it reflects and extends, just makes its valueless way into every nook and cranny.
I can't tell you how tiresome and insulting it is to have God-bags tell me that my value system is emptier than theirs because I don't consider ancient writings to be Holy Writ. Why is it that religious belief aspires but reason is unaided and progress is contentless (not to mention, apparently, a laissez-faire capitalist)? What's worse--a scientific reason that is aided mainly by observation of the physical world or a religious reason that's aided by the writings of ancients who were struggling to make sense of a world that terrified and confused them? Not to get all scientific on you, but I think we're working with better data today than Moses and Mohammed and the writers of the Vedas (just to name a few) were. Hubristic? Compared to religionists who claim to have the answers to the questions of not only this life, but an as yet unproven next one, I'd say atheists are about as humble a group as you can find, even if we don't act like it at times.

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