Wednesday, December 31, 2008

But Blowing Things up is Fun...

From BBC News:

Hundreds of Neapolitan women have pledged to go without sex unless their men promise to refrain from setting off dangerous illegal fireworks.

Local authorities are backing the women and have sent out text messages urging the men to "make love, not explosions".

I love people! My first thought was: what kind of sacrifice are these Italian women making? You would have to interview on a case by case basis to determine whether they were legitimately concerned about the men's safety or if they were just jumping on a bandwagon that amounts to the best ''headache'' excuse ever. My next thought was disappointment. The women of Naples decision to withhold sex from their partners if the men engage in illegal fireworks festivities demonstrates the absurdity of knee-jerk reactions. We all know that watching things explode is entertaining. jeesh.

2008 is sticking around just a little longer

It seems that 2008 will be a moment longer than 2007. A "leap second" is being added to atomic clocks to account for "wobbles" by the Earth.


Digging up the Past

From CNN:

Archaeologists believe they have unearthed only a small fraction of Egypt's ancient ruins, but they're making new discoveries with help from high-tech allies -- satellites that peer into the past from the distance of space.

Images from space have been around for decades. Yet only in the past decade or so has the resolution of images from commercial satellites sharpened enough to be of much use to archaeologists. Today, scientists can use them to locate ruins -- some no bigger than a small living room -- in some of the most remote and forbidding places on the planet.

Growing up I was a huge fan of the civilizations of antiquity and the field of archaeology. It's pretty exciting - at least for me - to read about new ways to learn even more about ancient societies.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy New Year

Well, it's been quite a year. Political coverage dominated my life from the Iowa caucuses in early January straight on through to election night in early November. Though I didn't join the DI Opinions staff until August, I got my blogging feet wet this summer and have been posting a wide variety of material ever since. It's really been a lot of fun. However, I'm signing off until January 2, as I'll be on the road quite a bit until then. But there will be plenty of new posts in 2009. In fact, the plan is to have more original content alongside the material I bring in from other sources. So stay tuned. You're in for a wild ride--I promise.

Note To The Israeli Military

CNN reports:
An Israeli patrol boat struck a boat carrying medical volunteers and supplies to Gaza early Tuesday as it attempted to intercept the vessel in the Mediterranean Sea, witnesses and Israeli officials said.


The incident occurred in international waters about 90 miles off Gaza. The Israelis ordered the vessel to turn back, and it headed to Lebanon after the collision.

The boat was carrying boxes of relief supplies, volunteers and journalists to Gaza, the Palestinian territory now subject to an intense Israeli bombing campaign. Among the passengers were physicians from Britain, Germany and Cyprus and several human rights activists, including former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney.

"I would call it ramming. Let's just call it as it is," McKinney said. "Our boat was rammed three times, twice in the front and once on the side.

"Our mission was a peaceful mission, but our mission was thwarted by the Israelis, the aggressiveness of the Israeli military."

Responding to Palestinian militants' rocket attacks with radically disproportionate force is already a violation of international law, but attacking a boat carrying medical supplies, journalists, and a former U.S. congresswoman is just a really bad idea. It's not only immoral but also immensely stupid in terms of public relations.

I have some vague hopes that Obama will put his foot down and tell the Israelis to knock this shit off, but we'll see. There's yet to be an American president who actually played hardball with them.

You Know Your Party Is In Trouble When...

...this is a headline at CNN: GOP divided over 'Magic Negro' song.

What other difficult issues are the Republicans furrowing their brows over in an attempt to decide on an official position? Whether doctors who perform abortions should all be executed? Whether gay men should all be castrated?

Seriously, it's long past time to throw the far-right extremists under the bus, drive the bus back and forth over their corpses several times, and return to the American mainstream.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Farm Subsidies Waste Resources

About this Cato Institute video:
President-elect Obama has pledged to go through the federal budget “line by line” to root out waste. In this new video, Cato analysts Chris Edwards, Sallie James and Daniel Ikenson explain why the Department of Agriculture is a great place to start.

More Cato Institute videos can be found on their YouTube channel.

The Times Of Harvey Milk

The entire documentary is now available at Hulu--check it out:

Click here if the embedded video doesn't work--or if you want to watch it in full-screen mode.

(Via Towleroad.)

David Gregory No Better Than Tim Russert

Glenn Greenwald writes:
Several months before he was named as moderator of Meet the Press, David Gregory went on MSNBC to categorically reject Scott McClellan's accusations that the American media failed to scrutinize the Bush administration's pre-war claims. Gregory vigorously praised the job which he and his "journalistic" colleagues did in the run-up to the Iraq War -- the period which Salon's Gary Kamiya called "one of the greatest collapses in the history of the American media." Proclaimed Gregory, with a straight face: "Questions were asked. I think we pushed. I think we prodded. I think we challenged the President. Not only those of us in the White House Press Corps did that, but others in the media landscape did that." Most revealingly of all, Gregory said:
I think there are a lot of critics who think that...if we did not stand up and say this is bogus, and you're a liar, and why are you doing this, that we didn't do our job. I respectfully disagree. It's not our role.

Indeed. Perish the thought that a reporter should point out when government officials are making "bogus" claims and are lying a country into a war. That is "not their role," says the New Tim Russert (and, unsurprisingly, the Old Tim Russert wholeheartedly agreed). I don't know whether Gregory's public advocacy for a meek and polite press corps that would never be so rude as to point out when government leaders are lying is what sealed the deal for his new promotion to Meet the Press -- a show which centrally depends on having powerful politicians know that they can come on and, as Dick Cheney's top communications aide put it, "control the message." But I'm quite sure that it didn't hurt.

Continue reading.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Race, Sex, And Other Exciting Issues


Topics covered:

Richard says Obama isn’t black—he’s brown... Prop 8’s real purpose: denying the possibility of homosexual love... Why are Americans so sad? Why are Mexicans so happy?... The angry young men who could destroy the world... How the Catholic view of sin engenders sympathy for immigrants... Will the Internet ruin or rescue American letters?...

Frank Rich On Obama And Warren

You’re Likable Enough, Gay People (via Slog):
Barack Obama has little in common with George W. Bush, thank God, his obsessive workouts and message control notwithstanding. At a time when very few Americans feel very good about very much, Obama is generating huge hopes even before he takes office. So much so that his name and face, affixed to any product, may be the last commodity left in the marketplace that can still move Americans to shop.

I share these high hopes. But for the first time a faint tinge of Bush crept into my Obama reveries this month.

As we saw during primary season, our president-elect is not free of his own brand of hubris and arrogance, and sometimes it comes before a fall: “You’re likable enough, Hillary” was the prelude to his defeat in New Hampshire. He has hit this same note again by assigning the invocation at his inauguration to the Rev. Rick Warren, the Orange County, Calif., megachurch preacher who has likened committed gay relationships to incest, polygamy and “an older guy marrying a child.” Bestowing this honor on Warren was a conscious — and glib — decision by Obama to spend political capital. It was made with the certitude that a leader with a mandate can do no wrong.

Continue reading.

I'm glad to see that this controversy is not going away.

Naomi Klein Writes Fiction

In this installment of
In Defense of Global Capitalism author Johan Norberg explains just how off-based Naomi Klein's critique of free markets and Milton Friedman is.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict In American Public Discourse

Glenn Greenwald writes:
Opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute are so entrenched that any single outbreak of violence is automatically evaluated through a pre-existing lens, shaped by one's typically immovable beliefs about which side bears most of the blame for the conflict generally or "who started it." Still, any minimally decent human being -- even those who view the world through the most blindingly pro-Israeli lens possible, the ones who justify anything and everything Israel does, and who discuss these events with a bottomless emphasis on the primitive (though dangerous) rockets lobbed by Hamas into Southern Israel but without even mentioning the ongoing four-decades brutal occupation or the recent, grotesquely inhumane blockade of Gaza -- would find the slaughter of scores of innocent Palestinians to be a horrible and deeply lamentable event.

But not The New Republic's Marty Peretz. Here is his uniquely despicable view of the events of the last couple of days:
So at 11:30 on Saturday morning, according to both the Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz, as well as the New York Times, 50 fighter jets and attack helicopters demolished some 40 to 50 sites in just about three minutes, maybe five. Message: do not fuck with the Jews.

"Do not fuck with the Jews." And what of the several hundred Palestinian dead -- including numerous children -- and many hundreds more seriously wounded?

Continue reading.

Egypt's Fate After Hosni Mubarek

Thomas P.M. Barnett writes:
Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarek's "emergency rule" is deep into its third decade, with modernizing son Gamal teed up as the pharaoh-in-waiting. While Gamal's efforts to open up Egypt's state-heavy economy have progressed nicely the past few years, so has Mubarek the Elder's repression of all political opponents, yielding the Arab world's most ardent impression of the Chinese model of development.

But with the global recession now reaching down deeply into emerging markets, serious cracks emerge in the Mubarek regime's facade. Unemployment is - unofficially - somewhere north of 30 percent. Worse, it's highly concentrated among youth, whose demographic bulge currently generates 800,000 new job seekers every year.

Ask young Egyptian men, as I did repeatedly on a trip, what their biggest worry is, and they'll tell you it's the inability to find a job that earns enough to enable marriage - a terrible sign in a society becoming more religiously conservative.

Continue reading.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

"Please Don't Divorce Us"

Slog's David Schmader writes:
A heartwarming anti-Prop-8 photostream compiled by the Courage Campaign.

See all 422 entries here. (For those craving but a wee sample, here's one of my faves.)

These pictures make a uniquely compelling case for marriage equality in general as well as for not annulling the roughly 18,000 same-sex marriages already performed in California. Please take a long look at these images and pass the link along to as many people as possible. Everyone should see the faces of those whose lives are being destroyed by fundamentalist religious activists like Rick Warren.

How Babies See The World


Topics covered:

Can a baby tell how many fingers you’re holding up?... Arthmetic sans parietal cortex: not as easy as it sounds... Counting from infancy to adulthood... Are humans born racists?... The value of knowing your psychologically built-in limitations...

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Year In Government Bans

View more Reason videos here.

On Tolerance And Equal Rights

Though I have already explained the reasoning behind my views on Rick Warren and other activist religious leaders, I will attempt to make them even clearer so as to end the confusion several commenters seem to be suffering regarding this issue.

I wrote in my most recent column:
I'm well aware that the U.S. remains a country in which many people are devoutly religious. This is fine with me. Though I think many of such people's beliefs are tragically misguided, they have the right to believe what they want. And, as the president-elect, Obama is free to invite whomever he wants to pray at his own inauguration. I couldn't care less.

Some gay people are far more sensitive than I am regarding the offensive analogies between homosexuality and child molestation offered up by Warren and his ilk. Of course I take umbrage at such perverse comparisons, but I'm secure enough in my identity to brush off such nonsense and then proceed to throw equally strong invective right back at them. This live and let hate situation could continue forever, for all I care.

But what's not appropriate is allowing these fundamentalists' religious precepts to override the equal-protection guarantees of the federal and state constitutions. Contrary to Warren's claims, civil-marriage equality has nothing to do with religion or sectarian morality. Religious conservative don't have to approve of gay marriage, but they shouldn't be able to block it.

Thus, it's quite apparent that I'm not intolerant at all. I'm perfectly willing to tolerate religious lunatics as long as they don't engage in political campaigns to write discrimination against me into the law. I don't like them and I don't expect them to like me. However, I don't attempt to legislate against their equal rights, so I expect the same courtesy from them.

Regarding my use of harsh language in responding to fundamentalists, earlier this year I wrote:
There will always be people who are slow to follow along as society's collective conscience gradually grows more attuned to the rights of minorities. Ridding oneself of long-held prejudices is a difficult process, and it is only fair to sympathize with those who lag a bit behind, particularly older people who formed many of their opinions in a radically different era. The best thing to do is engage with such people and persuade them through experience that gays are, except in the realm of sexuality, fundamentally the same as everyone else - and unquestionably worthy of equal treatment by the government.

The most vocal and proactive opponents of gay rights, as opposed to those who are simply set in their ways, don't warrant such gentle treatment. Truly reactionary, regressive political arguments must be countered with overwhelming rhetorical force. We must fight ferociously in the ongoing ideological struggle to move society further forward in its recognition of and respect for individual rights. And in doing so we have to be far less defensive.

Merely characterizing gay-rights opponents as homophobic or intolerant isn't enough. Doing so cedes too much rhetorical ground, implicitly allowing our adversaries to argue that gays are so inherently scary or repellent as to require one to have a strong stomach merely to put up with us at all. No, we must turn the tables completely.

I decided upon the ideal rhetorical device to attack those who agitate against gay rights in a discussion I had with a straight friend and colleague of mine who writes for a paper in Minnesota. After a long and rugged night filled with drink and debate, my friend and I concluded that right-wing culture warriors are perverts. They doth protest too much against gays, calling us a perverted minority in a desperate attempt to hide their identity as just that.

The perversion at the heart of anti-gay activism is readily apparent: voyeurism. The prospect of right-wing ideologues leering in through people's bedroom windows, straining to see exactly what sort of sexual practices they engage in with other consenting adults is gross and frightening. But that's effectively what these perverts advocate. Having no regard for privacy or basic decency, they obsess over other people's sex lives to the point where they barely seem able to think about anything else.

In order to disguise their depravity, these false moralists generally include feel-good words such as "family" or "Christian" in their fetid organizations' names. Don't be fooled. The preachers and politicians who work tirelessly to make sure gay people remain second-class citizens spend far more time worrying about gay sex than about helping American families.

Some of these sick bastards may even spend more time talking about gay sex than the vast majority of gays do. In fact, they've created an entire industry around their repugnant voyeurism, actually making money ceaselessly ranting about their disapproval of other people's sex lives. It's beyond disgusting: It's deranged. Rational people attempt to distance themselves from circumstances they find unpleasant, not dwell on them.

Opinion polls show decisively that our society is finally reaching a level of maturity in which we realize that people's sex lives are their own business, but we need to remain vigilant in maintaining forward momentum. So the next time you go toe-to-toe with these creeps, don't settle for offering up effete denunciations of their bigotry; instead, go for the jugular and call them out for what they are: pernicious, pathetic, window-peeping perverts.

As long as the likes of Warren continue to preach that granting equal rights to gays is immoral, then I will continue to refer to them as idiotic assholes, corpulent poisonous toads, perverts, and any other slur I deem appropriate. If it's a culture war they want, it's a culture war they'll get. I refuse to be the victim and plead pathetically that the big bullies play nice and stop calling me names. It's much more empowering to fire back with everything I've got.

My invectives are no more aimed at converting undecideds than the fundamentalists' are. The goal is rallying the troops and arming those who agree with me to fight back instead of always playing defense by merely whining about the need for tolerance, as though being gay were some terrible thing that other people need to try really hard just to put up with.

Ultimately, as I've said numerous times, I couldn't care less what these troglodytes think of me. The only real point of contention here is that they keep on lobbying against equal rights for gays and lesbians. So, no, me colorfully expressing my distaste for Warren and his political agenda is not the same thing as what he's doing because I'm not trying to take away his marriage. Anyone who is too stupid to grasp that distinction ought to be sent back to elementary school.

Media Technology Breakthroughs In 2008

Wired reports:
The economy may be tanking, but innovation is alive and well.

When it came to products, incremental improvements were the name of the game this year. Phones got faster (iPhone 3G anyone?), notebooks turned into netbooks and pocket cameras went from recording standard-definition video to HD.

Not all of the technological developments on Wired's top 10 list are related to the media, but those that are will be having an enormous impact over the next couple of years.

One example is the flexible display:

This year, the research moved from the realm of science fiction to plausible reality. With help from the U.S. Army, Arizona State University's Flexible Display Center has created a prototype for soldiers, and hopes to have the devices in field trials in the next three years. Startups like Plastic Logic and E-Ink have been developing similar technologies.

Meanwhile, Hewlett Packard announced a manufacturing breakthrough that allows the thin-film transistor arrays to be fabricated on flexible plastic materials, enabling manufacturers to "print" displays on big, newsprintlike rolls. Samsung showed off a mobile phone prototype with a flexible display that folds like a book.

Another major development is the creation of the previously purely theoretical memristor:
The discovery will make it possible to develop computer systems that remember what's stored in memory when they are turned off. That means computers that don't need to be booted up and systems that are far more energy efficient than the current crop. Researchers also hope the memristor can help develop a new kind of computer memory that can supplement or ultimately replace dynamic random access memory, or DRAM — the type of memory used in personal computers.

And of course there's also the explosion in mobile operating system platforms:
Until this year, mobile app developers lacked an easy way to get their software into the hands of consumers, forcing them to make deals with finicky and power-hungry carriers if they wanted to get any distribution at all. Apple's App Store changed all that. It made creating and distributing mobile applications for cellphone users easy — jumpstarting the mobile-app development market and creating clones such as the Android Market. It even forced Research in Motion to offer a BlackBerry Application Storefront. For thousands of programmers, the cellphone is the new PC.

Those who learn to make full use of these new technologies will thrive and build an amazing new media ecosystem. Those who don't will go out of business. Bring it on.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Albert Hofmann In The Sky With Diamonds

As part of a series commemorating influential people who have died during the past year, the New York Times examines the career of the man who first isolated LSD (via DoseNation):
In the circles where LSD eventually thrived, the moment of its discovery was more cherished than even the famous intersection of a fine English apple with Isaac Newton’s inquiring mind, the comic cosmic instant that gave us gravity. According to legend, Dr. Albert Hofmann, a research chemist at the Sandoz pharmaceutical company, fell from his bicycle in April 1943 on his way home through the streets of Basel, Switzerland, after accidentally dosing himself with LSD at the laboratory. The story presented another example of enlightenment as trickster. As a narrative it was very fondly regarded because so many of us imagined a clueless botanist pedaling over the cobblestones with the clockwork Helvetian order dissolving under him.

At Sandoz, Hofmann specialized in the investigation of naturally occurring compounds that might make useful medicines. Among these was a rye fungus called ergot, known principally as the cause of a grim disease called St. Anthony’s Fire, which resulted in gangrene and convulsions. Ergot had one positive effect: in appropriate doses it facilitated childbirth. Hofmann set out to find whether there might be further therapeutic applications for ergot derivatives. Indeed, he discovered some for Sandoz, including Hydergine, a medication that, among other things, enhances memory function in the elderly. Most famously, of course, Hofmann’s ergot experiments synthesized D-lysergic acid diethylamide tartrate, LSD. On April 16, 1943, he apparently absorbed a minuscule amount of the lysergic acid he was synthesizing through his fingertips. He went home (he doesn’t say how) and subsequently submitted a report to Sandoz.

Continue reading.

More information on this fascinating substance can also be found in the always informative Vaults of Erowid.

It's tragic that the American government remains so irrationally hostile to this drug. Yes, there is potential for abuse, but that's true of almost everything. Perhaps someday a more rational drug policy can be established that will allow further scientific, artistic, and spiritual experimentation with LSD.

An Excellent Reason To Be Thankful This Holiday Season

Despite my serious misgivings about what sort of economic policies the Obama-Biden administration will enact, I'm thrilled to be getting rid of Cheney-Bush and their gang of torture-happy goons.

Out with the old:

And in with the new:

Noon on Tuesday, January 20, 2009 can't come soon enough.

Excuse Me?

By the way, WTF?

Man In Santa Suit Goes On Shooting Rampage At Christmas Eve Party

CNN reports:
At least three people were found dead after a man dressed as Santa Claus started shooting at a Christmas Eve party in suburban Los Angeles, police said Thursday.


When police arrived at the two-story house, they discovered a fire that caused "significant damage." Authorities found three people dead inside but said they do not know how the three died. Their identities had not been released Thursday morning.

Now that's what I call a war on Christmas.

O'Reilly Love Him the Torture

So, hunched at the breakfast table letting a few hundred cc's of coffee kick in, waiting for the rest of the family to wake up and this whole Christmas cavalcade to come rolling on through, I let my eyes stray across the opinions page of the Murfreesboro local paper. Oh my, am I glad my grandmother was puttering with the turkey in the kitchen, and she didn’t hear the scree of really un-holiday-seasonal expletives break out of me. The article I was reading was a reprint of Bill O’Reilly’s Christmas Eve column.

And on top of the article itself, I love that Murfreesboro (a town about twenty minutes’ drive from Nashville proper, in a setup kinda like Chicago and its satellites but decidedly less irritating in its sprawl) chose to print it in their Christmas issue, ensuring that all these lovely people, yawning, watching their children destroy wrapping paper, popping Xanax, carry around an O’Reillyist slant on this, the day of birth of our Lord. The feelings of holiday joy, spiritual buoyancy and family values are now associated with fearing the evil-doers and terrorists who’ve just been waiting for Obama’s internal security weak-sauce to take office…which is nothing new, it just makes me chuckle a bit to see it in action.

William Burroughs' Christmas Special

Merry Christmas, everyone! Enjoy:

(Via Reason.)

(Cross-posted at D-(eye) on Arts.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wright, Pinkerton, And Yuletide Cheer


Topics covered:

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?... Rick Warren and Obama’s base-dissing tendencies... Can Rahm and Obama escape Blago’s taint?... Detroit bailout pits libertarian Jim against populist Jim... Madoff and Blago as sympathetic characters... Somali pirates, Chinese imperialists: Get the connection?...

American Intellectuals Continue To Serve As Torture Apologists

Glenn Greenwald keeps on hammering away as only he can:
Behold the now-solidified Smart, Reasonable American Consensus on torture: the agreed-upon method for dismissing away -- mitigating and even justifying -- the fact that our leaders, more or less out in the open, instituted a systematic torture regime with the consent of our key elite institutions and a huge bulk of the American citizenry, engaging in behaviors which, for decades, we insisted were inexcusable war crimes when engaged in by others:

Sure, it was wrong. OK, we "crossed some lines." Yeah, we probably shouldn't have done it, etc. etc. etc. (yawn). But . . . . when American leaders did it, it was different -- fundamentally different -- than when those evil/foreign/dictator actual-war-criminals did it. Our leaders had good reasons for doing it. They were kind and magnanimous torturers. They committed war crimes with a pure heart. They tortured because they were scared, because they felt guilty that they failed to protect their citizens on 9/11, because they were eager -- granted: perhaps too eager -- to keep us, their loyal subjects, safe from The Murderous Terrorists.

Here are Tufts University Political Science Professor Dan Drezner and Stanford Philosophy Professor Joshua Cohen demonstrating how good-hearted, profoundly reasonable, oh-so-intellectually sophisticated Americans diligently struggle with -- torture themselves over -- what they have convinced themselves is the vexing question of whether our leaders should be considered "war criminals" by virtue of . . . . having committed unambiguous war crimes:

Continue reading.

Rick Warren’s Double Life

Amy Goodman reports for Democracy Now:
President-elect Barack Obama is drawing criticism from many supporters for his choice to deliver the invocation at next month’s inauguration. Obama has selected the Reverend Rick Warren, a leading evangelical opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage. Warren supported California’s recent gay marriage ban and has compared abortion to the Nazi Holocaust. In a recent interview with the website, Warren said he thinks gay marriage is comparable to incest, polygamy and child abuse. We speak to investigative journalist Max Blumenthal.

Click here to listen to the interview or read the transcript.

An article Blumenthal has written about Warren can also be found here.

Pat Robertson: Political Opportunist

Appearing on CNN, the televangelist turns on Bush and praises Obama:
“Well, it's hard to assess blame, but I, over the years — I hate to be critical, I mean I am a Republican, and this is the president of the party that I'm a member of — but I think we've had some serious goofs along the way,” he said on the Situation Room Tuesday.


Robertson said Tuesday he was optimistic about the incoming Obama administration. “I am remarkably pleased with Obama,” he told Malveaux. “I had grave misgivings about him. But so help me, he's come in forcefully, intelligently. He's picked a middle of the road cabinet. And so far, if he continues down this course, he has the makings of a great president. So, I'm very pleased so far.”

I'll hand it to Warren and Robertson--they certainly know how to gauge the direction of the prevailing political winds. And given just how strong those winds are regarding social issues, I expect the next generation of evangelical leadership to endorse gay marriage. Just give it another 20 years.

Christmas As A "Secular" Holiday

Writing for Reason, Jacob Sullum makes an excellent point:
A couple of years ago, perceiving a giant, light-covered fir at the Capitol in Olympia, Washington, as a symbol of Christmas, the Jewish organization Chabad of Seattle sought to erect a menorah to commemorate Chanukah. A local real estate agent, perceiving the menorah as a religious symbol, decided to sponsor a Nativity scene.

This year the Freedom From Religion Foundation, offended by the Nativity scene, retaliated with a large plaque in the Capitol declaring that "religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds." The provocative plaque attracted nationwide criticism and inspired various rejoinders, including a sign announcing that "atheism is but myth and superstition" and a five-foot aluminum pole marking Festivus, the fictional holiday invented by George Constanza's father on Seinfeld.

Continue reading.

Rick Warren Versus YouTube

Sorry, Rick, in the age of YouTube you can no longer get away with such blatant lies about what you have and have not said in the past.

(Via Towleroad.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

That Warm Fuzzy Feeling

My grandfather has been sliding deeper into his own skull for about four years now. I remember the keen, glittering lines of tension strung around the family dinner table like lights around the Christmas tree as Ray Gilbert muttered yet another non sequitur. I remember how his face flushed red when we didn’t understand, how he talked louder, even less coherently, when we asked him to slow down and try again. I remember him throwing his chair to the floor and storming out of the dining room, repeating that same random phrase on which his mind had gotten so hung up. Tension, and anger, and frustration, and a sense of disconnect—this has been the general atmosphere of the holidays for me for awhile. Not anymore.

We went to see him today at the VA hospital, a little outside Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The receptionist chatted with my grandmother for a moment, a pleasant woman wearing a thick sweater embroidered with snowflakes, before she buzzed us into the main lobby. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is gentle by comparison. Even the listless crazies drifting the psych ward seem to have a corporeality that the veterans don’t. A few of the higher-functioning wheeled themselves around the nurses’ station, and a desiccated woman draped in a pink blanket rolled up to me and grasped my hand in her claw, not unkindly, and began to speak about her husband’s sore feet. But on the whole they aren’t there, in a physical sense, they don’t seem to inhabit their own space: they lay stricken across the chairs in the TV room, some of them staring up at an episode of “Hogan’s Heroes” squawking tinnily in the ceiling corner, some staring elsewhere.

We found Ray in this room, one of the few paying attention to the TV (but only in the way that toddlers notice the bright colours and interesting sounds). His eyes lit up when he saw my grandmother, became uncertain when he saw my father and me. Something in the vein of recognition when his son spoke to him, and simply uncomprehending regard when I did. A nurse helped us take him back to his room so we could spend some time with him. I was following behind when a withered man looked up at me and said hello. I nodded and smiled, and he waved me to his side, where in a conspiratorial whisper he said he had a present for me, and gave me a ripped-open Christmas card. I asked if he was sure, he said yes, just take it, just take it. I wanted to read it, keep it, but decided in the end to return it to the nurses at their counter.

A green sticker next to Ray’s name on the door meant he was a “falling risk,” and he was tethered to his wheelchair by a clip-cord that would send out an alarm if he tried to hoist his body to its feet. A photo of his WWII company on the wall, and a picture-book on the windowsill (Rainforests of the World). A brief bleating of alarms from the corridor when someone attempted to stand up, followed by the nurses shushing and settling him back down.

The three of us sat around him in his little room, and though we occasionally talked mostly we just watched CNN on his TV. When he did speak, it was in a mixture of slurred nonsense and dreamy, detached memories. But he was lucid. He was somewhere inside that skull, he was making sense to himself, he simply couldn’t transmit it to us. The lights were on, and someone certainly was at home, but all the doors locked, all the windows barred. I wished I was back at that Christmas dinner years ago, the last one he attended. I wished he could get angry and storm off, and keep himself to his tortured thoughts in defiance of his illness, I wished he had enough of his physicality that he had some mode of expression available to him. Because now he, his consciousness, has no interface with reality, no means of being in the world, only of it, and the very fact that he is no longer enraged by his circumstances shows how truly shut in he has become. I long for the old feeling, the brittle boiling-over. I want him the way he was fifteen years ago, the strong, bright geologist who liked his bourbon a little too much. I want him to die. Anything but this.

Merry Christmas.

Ted Haggard Still Likes The Cock

Big surprise!

(Via Towleroad.)

Borrowing a useful rhetorical device from Dan Savage's arsenal, I have a question for anyone who says they think gays can become straight. Would you want your daughter marrying a guy who claims to be an ex-gay? No? Would that by chance be because you don't really believe he's changed? That's pretty smart of you. Now if you'd just leave gay people alone and let us marry each other, none of this would be an issue, would it?

Marijuana Gets Safer; Peyote Already OK

Wired reports:
Modern agriculture hasn't just made beef cows beefier and corn cornier, it's also made pot more potty.

The potency of marijuana, measured by the presence of its (psycho)active ingredient, THC, has tripled since 1987, according to the latest figures from the Department of Justice's National Drug Intelligence Center.

Anyone who finds this news to be alarming clearly doesn't know much about marijuana users. People are likely to simply smoke a smaller quantity of plant matter if its THC content is higher. This makes marijuana less of a public health concern by decreasing the damage the average smoker causes to his or her lungs.

In other drug-related news, Medpage Today reports (via DoseNation):
There seem to be no mental or behavioral problems associated with long-term use of the hallucinogenic substance peyote (mescaline), at least among Native Americans.

That's the conclusion of researchers at the McLean Hospital here and Harvard Medical School, who found that among the Navajo who take peyote legally as part of their religion, long-term drug users did just as well as non-users on standard neuropsychological tests. On some measures, they did even better.

The study, led by John H. Halpern, M.D., of the McLean Hospital, was partly funded by the National Institute for Drug Abuse. It was published in the November issue of Biological Psychiatry.

So now we'll no doubt see a serious reevaluation of federal anti-peyote policy, right? Oh wait, that would assume that the drug war has any foundation in science or reason. And anyone willing to make that assumption must already be under the influence of some pretty strong drugs.

Finding The Origins Of Humanity

( Zeresenay Alemseged: Finding the origins of humanity)

There's little doubt in my mind that some of America's religious insanity could at least be moderated if all schoolchildren learned the truth about evolution.

Rick Warren Anally Rapes His Own Children*

(Title explained at the end of the post.)

Another day, another ridiculous comment on my column from last week...
so is obama [sic] an asshole because he agrees with Rick Warren that marriage should be between a man and a woman?

I'll say that Rick Warren is at least as tolerant as the author of this article, who apparently resorts to vitriolic name calling because he disagrees with Warren.

No, Obama is just a moral coward/typical politician who is willing to triangulate on foundational civil rights issues.

And the idea that Warren is at least as tolerant as I am because I am willing to fight back against Warren's smears doesn't even come close to passing the laugh test.

Seriously, did this commenter even read my column? Or, if he did, did he have the comprehension skills required to understand it? The answer to one or both of these questions is obviously "no."

But allow me an attempt to understand the reasoning at play here, which goes something like this...

The California Supreme Court ruled that the state's legislative prohibition on gay marriage violated its constitution's equal protection guarantees. Warren and his allies flipped out over this and waged a vicious smear campaign in which they compared gays to people who rape children or animals and did their best to convince the average Californian that his or her children were going to be shown instructional videos on the subject of anal sex in health class if they didn't vote to end marriage equality. This scare campaign was effective enough to get about 52 percent of California voters scared enough to vote to take marriage rights away from the gay and lesbian citizens of that state. And, not satisfied with the harm to people's lives they'd already caused, these same fundamentalist bullies are now dedicating their resources to nullifying the marriages of the roughly 18,000 same-sex couples who wed while they were legally able to do so. As a result of all of this, I have gotten extremely angry and lashed out in the strongest terms I could against these travesties of justice. And somehow me calling Warren a few unkind names make me (at least!) as guilty of intolerance as Warren himself.

Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit!

I'm sorry, but Warren used his position of religious authority to back a smear campaign that equated all gay Americans with child rapists and people who fuck barnyard animals and pass a ballot initiative that will likely result in the destruction of 18,000 loving couples' marriages. This affects me because it fuels ignorant people's distorted views of what it means for me to be a gay man--and because I no longer have the right to get married if I happen to wind up living in California.

And me getting mad about these outrages and calling Warren an idiotic asshole and a corpulent toad is somehow equivalent to the underlying outrages themselves? Seriously? Only through some truly hollow and twisted moral calculus could anyone come to such a preposterous conclusion.

Warren says I'm the moral equivalent of a pedophile and it's rude of me to retort that he's an idiot?

Give me a fucking break.

Telling me that I should be nice to Warren regardless of the legal and social consequences of his political crusade against my right to be treated equally in this country is pretty damned insulting. It's the equivalent of telling Rosa Parks that she should just go quietly to the back of the bus. Maybe, just maybe, if she's nice and polite enough to the good white folk, maybe they'll eventually reconsider and let her sit where she wants. Maybe if she just addresses all white people politely enough and says "yes, sir, master" just politely enough, then maybe they'll decide to let her vote with being intimidated. And rather than going to the U.S. Supreme Court and demanding the right to marry, maybe interracial couples could have achieved the same result by engaging in constructive, friendly conversation with the racist bastards who saw their unions as impure.

As I made clear in my column, Warren has the right to call me names all he wants. I'll happily return the favor. What he doesn't have the right to do is deny me marriage equality. Civil marriage rights are not supposed to be subject to the veto of sectarian ideologues. I demand equality and I demand it now. Asserting that I'm wrong to do so puts a person solidly in the company of bigots throughout history. It's no more defensible than was favoring the maintenance of racial segregation. That is the moral nature of Rick Warren, corpulent poisonous toad that he is.

* And, no, I don't think Warren actually anally rapes his own children. But that's the kind of name calling he engages in when he speaks out against gay rights. Note how tame most of my invectives are by comparison. Furthermore, to actually be as bad as Warren I'd have to not only assert that he anally rapes his own children, but also take away his marriage. So, please, stop claiming that I'm as intolerant as he is.

Poop and Ha-ha

Well before the crude humor of South Park, humans were thoroughly amused by fart jokes. The BBC reports that the oldest known joke is a Sumerian proverb circa 1900BCE. The topic? Flatulence of course.

Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap

Personally, I found the Roman smear against Augustus' mother – a first century CE version of “yo’ momma’ perhaps – to be the funniest of the antediluvian gags.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Religion Versus Free Speech

After I poked fun at Christianity in last week's column, a reader questioned whether I'd be willing to do the same to Islam. As the reprinted cartoons in this post show, I am.

Reason reports:
A "Defamation of Religion" resolution sponsored chiefly by Islamic nations passed yesterday in the United Nations General Assembly by a vote of of 86 in favor, 53 against and 42 abstentions. It declares that governments should:
"adequate protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general."

A specific example of "acts of hatred" that should be outlawed was the publication by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten of some of these cartoons of Mohammed:

This resolution is complete and utter bullshit. People need to learn to take a few knocks in the free marketplace of ideas. If religious believers want to be taken seriously by nonbelievers, they shouldn't resort to this kind of pathetic censorship. This goes for Muslims, Christians, and anyone else with a history of bitching about people not being nice to them.

Thankfully, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects Americans from this nonsense. Let's do everything we can to make sure it stays that way. If a person thinks any type of free speech every justifies a violent response and is willing to act on that belief, that person should not be welcome in this country. Period. And, yes, that means I'm perfectly comfortable excluding certain radical sects of Muslims. People should be able to believe whatever they want, but they must not be allowed to impose those beliefs on the rest of us.

Re: Live And Let Hate

Responding to my column for today, readers left the following comments at the DI's main site:
Once again I ask and have yet to be answered, where in the federal or state constituion [sic] does it protect this "right of marriage"?

In the spirit of open and civil discourse could somone [sic] PLEASE tell me in polite and rational terms without the emotion and invective what exactly the goal of gay marriage is trying to achieve (and not the vagaries of "we want to be just like everyone else"), is it property rights, is it tax benefit, is it matching rings? What is the benefit of the word "marriage" opposed to the word "civil union" that seems to be at stake here?

- Miles Bennell

This is an appropriately titled editorial. The labeling of another individual as an "idiotic asshole", or "corpulant [sic] poisonous toad" will go a long way to mending any perceived differences of viewpoint concerning either the gay rights issues or the fact that Chris Patton is an atheist.

I have yet to see an editorial by Chris that wasn't permeated with some sort of name calling or hate filled posturing. Must be really fun to hang with him around this time of year, with all this religious stuff being flaunted everywhere.

Merry Christmas Chris!

- Lookin4fun

Answering Miles, I have never asserted that any constitution protects a "right of marriage." If legislators wanted to, they could pass laws ending the government issuance of marriage licenses altogether. The problem with allowing opposite-sex couples to marry while prohibiting same-sex couples from doing the same is that it violates the right to equal protection under the law. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that right in all 50 states.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court's case law on equal protection issues is quite complicated, I would argue that denying same-sex couples the same rights afforded to opposite-sex couples fails to even live up to a rational basis standard of review if that standard is taken seriously. There just aren't any legitimate reasons for doing so. Satisfying the demands of particular religious groups is not a permissible justification, as that would violate the First Amendment's prohibition on government establishment of religion. In any case, even if such differential treatment is found to satisfy the watered-down rational basis standard, the U.S. Supreme Court has been gradually moving in the direction of applying a higher level of scrutiny in cases involving discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Using a higher level of scrutiny is certainly justified in the case of sexual orientation, just as it is with regard to race and sex. All of those categories have been used historically to discriminate against vulnerable groups of people.

The goal is not "to be just like everyone else." Being gay means recognizing that at least in terms of one's sexuality, one is not like everyone else. Gays are a small and distinct minority. However, the goal is to be treated equally under the law. That's only fair. And it's also the only truly constitutional option.

Purely as a matter of pragmatism, I think civil unions are better than nothing. If they're all we can achieve right now, then so be it. I've made this clear in the past. However, we know from experience that separate but equal is never truly equal. New Jersey officials have determined this to be the case in that state.

The Star-Ledger has reported:
New Jersey should enact a law allowing gay marriage and waste no time passing it because the state's civil unions law fails to adequately protect same-sex couples, a report to be released today concludes.

The final report of the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission says it gathered "overwhelming evidence" that the civil union law not only fails to provide the same protections as marriage, it also has created economic, medical and emotional hardships for gay couples.

The commission concluded that denying same-sex couples the right to marry is as unjust as government imposing racial segregation laws against African-Americans.

Continue reading.

So which rights is this really about? All of them, obviously. It's just not acceptable to deny same-sex couples any of the legal rights afforded to opposite-sex couples.

Finally, regarding what "Lookin4fun" had to say, I'd suggest that he or she go to the DI's main site and search for "Christopher Patton"--or just click here. I've written over 100 articles in which I didn't call anyone any names. But that doesn't mean I don't think I'm justified in occasionally doing so. I've even written about why I think it's sometimes necessary--click here to check it out.

Rachel Maddow On Obama And Warren

(Via Slog.)

Live And Let Hate

Out of all of President-elect Barack Obama's personnel choices thus far, his selection of megachurch pastor Rick Warren to deliver the inauguration's invocation is quickly becoming the most controversial. Given that this minor role in the presidential transition is merely of symbolic significance, I think this issue is being overblown.

Don't get me wrong. I think Warren is an idiotic asshole. Hell, I'll go further than that. I think he's a corpulent poisonous toad who tries (but mostly fails) to pass himself off as a decent human being. Because he's smart enough to recognize that the laughably antiquated fundamentalist ramblings of aging religious leaders such as Pat Robertson and James Dobson aren't selling as well as they used to, Warren has gotten his message a shiny new paint job. Hence his friendlier demeanor and more effective sales pitch. But make no mistake, he's still firmly rooted in far-right wacko land.

The best evidence of Warren's unhinged views comes from his strong opposition to gay marriage. Like so many right-wing religious leaders, he brings up the horrors of incest and child molestation when denouncing marriage equality. If marriage can mean a union of two men or two women, such people ask, then what's to prevent unions between brothers and sisters or children and adults? Or what about animals? Why not allow people to marry their dogs? What perplexes me is not that a few blustering bigots are willing to make such comparisons, but rather that anyone else is able to take them seriously.

It's obvious that the distinction between homosexuality and child molestation or bestiality is that children and animals can't consent or sign contracts. As a society, we protect children and animals from abuse because we don't view them as capable of making decisions about sex for themselves. Adult incest is more complicated, if no less disturbing. But such circumstances are rare. There's no evidence that anyone is naturally inclined toward incest. And, in fact, the vast majority of people are strongly repulsed at the thought of those relationships.

The situation with homosexuality is quite different.

Though estimates vary, there's no doubt whether at least 2 or 3 percent of the population is gay. Reputable professional organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have, after decades of study, concluded that homosexuality is not a mental illness, and it is not something that can be changed through therapy. Thus, millions of Americans are and always will be gay. Regardless of whether one approves of this fact, a person needs to be sadly out of touch with reality to deny it.

But back to Obama's choice of Warren to offer a prayer at the presidential inauguration.

As an atheist, I would prefer there not to be a prayer included. However, I'm well aware that the U.S. remains a country in which many people are devoutly religious. This is fine with me. Though I think many of such people's beliefs are tragically misguided, they have the right to believe what they want. And, as the president-elect, Obama is free to invite whomever he wants to pray at his own inauguration. I couldn't care less.

Some gay people are far more sensitive than I am regarding the offensive analogies between homosexuality and child molestation offered up by Warren and his ilk. Of course I take umbrage at such perverse comparisons, but I'm secure enough in my identity to brush off such nonsense and then proceed to throw equally strong invective right back at them. This live and let hate situation could continue forever, for all I care.

But what's not appropriate is allowing these fundamentalists' religious precepts to override the equal-protection guarantees of the federal and state constitutions. Contrary to Warren's claims, civil-marriage equality has nothing to do with religion or sectarian morality. Religious conservative don't have to approve of gay marriage, but they shouldn't be able to block it.

(Cross-posted at the DI's main site.)

Food Is A Wonderful, Terrible Drug

(Via DoseNation.)

These women's concoction is obviously a much greater threat to public health than marijuana.

(Cross-posted at D-(eye) on Arts.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bush: America's First Gay President

Oh, the Onion--what would we do without it?
President George W. Bush was unusually reflective in the final weeks of his administration, taking time during speeches and press conferences to look back on key decisions, expound on his legacy, and tout his role in paving the way for the nation's first African-American president by serving eight years as its first openly gay president.

"I'm inspired by our great country's willingness to look past the color of a man's skin—or, in my case, his overt homosexuality—and elect him based on his ability to lead," Bush told reporters following his meeting with president-elect Barack Obama on Nov. 10. "I've always been proud of my homosexuality, and I am so proud of the United States."

Bush added, "Thank you, America, for taking a chance on an openly gay man from Texas: tight jeans, cowboy hats, and all."

Continue reading.

Computer Technology Is Awesome

The International Business Times reports (via Slashdot):
Toshiba said Thursday that it will show off a new line up of NAND-flash-based solid state drives with the industry's first 2.5-inch 512GB SSD.

The drive is based on a 43 nanometer Multi-Level Cell NAND and claims to offer a high level of performance and endurance for use in notebooks as well as gaming and home entertainment systems.

I remember back when 3.5-inch 1.44MB floppy disks were the newest and best thing in personal computer data storage. Then I recall being blown away by a 120MB HD. Technology has obviously advanced quite a bit since then.

And, because computer storage capacity is growing exponentially, it won't be long before we'll be able to buy portable music players preloaded with years worth of music. Truly amazing stuff.

Facebook Statuses And Organ Donations

Facebook really can be useful:
Cathy, a mother from Tallahassee, Florida, never imagined that she would be an organ donor, let alone to someone she had never met who lived over a thousand miles away. That would change after she saw the Facebook status of an old friend, Scott, about a mother of two in need of a kidney.

By posting an update to his status, Scott was able to reach all of his friends on Facebook at once to ask for help on behalf of his friend, Beth. "Scott has a friend named Beth who needs a kidney donor. If you have Type O blood, please visit her website," the status read. Beth, of Scarsdale, New York, was fighting kidney disease with only one kidney functioning at 10 percent. Feeling an immediate connection, Cathy began a dialogue with Beth via email and learned more of her story, including that they both have daughters with the same name.

Continue reading.

Obama On Gay Rights, Rick Warren

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Obama, Warren, And The Inauguration

Andrew Sullivan writes:
Rick Warren will give the invocation at Obama's inauguration. Warren is a man who believes my marriage removes his freedom of speech and cannot say that authorizing torture is a moral failing. Shrewd politics, but if anyone is under any illusion that Obama is interested in advancing gay equality, they should probably sober up now. He won't be as bad as the Clintons (who, among leading Democrats, could?), but pandering to Christianists at his inauguration is a depressing omen. More evidence that a civil rights movement needs to realize that no politician can deliver for us what we have to deliver on our own.

That was pretty much my reaction as well.

The fact of the matter is that there are far more Evangelical voters than gay voters, so Obama's choice here isn't too surprising even though it's quite disappointing.

I'm more glad than ever that I voted for Barr.

Savage's Daily Paper Death Watch

Dan Savage writes:
The editor of the San Francisco Chronicle has a secret plan for saving his paper: chase the older demographic. SF Weekly:
For those of you too impatient to read past the jump, here's the Twitter version of what Bushee said: Chron can't figure out how to make $ from Net, so it's gonna charge more money to old people loyal to print who are scared of the Interwebs.

For those of you still reading (presumably people working in the media), Bushee basically said the Chron is going to deal with economic pressures in the industry by aggressively skewing old.

"We cannot necessarily be a publication directed towards young people at the expense of our older readers—we have to understand that," Bushee told Krasny.

Once again here's my surefire plan for saving daily papers: scare away the old folks once and for all. Those readers are killing you. Go tab, charge a lot more for home delivery, offer papers for free in boxes downtown, put "fuck" in a headline on the front page above the fold (if you haven't gone tab), identify with the cities you're freakin' named for (and the not the freakin' suburb your publisher lives in), and stop swimming with one anvil tucked under your left arm ("family newspaper") and another tucked under your right ("objectivity"). Papers are for adults, not children, and mincing around about profanity turns off adult readers; people prefer openly biased media because letting your bias hang out there is, at least, honest; and, once again, catering to old timers and making sure there's nothing in your paper that can't be read to a six year-old at bedtime turns off adult readers.

And do all this now.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

All I Want for Xmas...

Dear Santa,

After reading an article by Steven Shehori at The Huffingon Post, I want to amend my Xmas list I sent a while back. No longer am I interested in peace in the Middle East, a shiny new car, or the remote control from Click complete with Kate Beckinsale. I know you are busy so I wanted to give you an option on how to best give me my gift.

According to a recent Gallup/Harris poll Americans are even more stupid than previously thought. We can't even find our own country on a map consisting of... our own country. Over a third of people polled got it completely wrong. One autoworker thought it was a depiction of Iraq. (Perhaps you should reconsider bailing out that sector until they figure out where they live, or the funds may end up like a lot of other lost funds in Iraq.) Washington, D.C. was listed fifth in a poll asking for the U.S. Capitol.

So here's my proposition: I was hoping you could shift large portions of government spending from military projects to education, or just make the dumb people disappear... you're choice really. (Psst, I here Gitmo is a good place to hide people or rendition prisons also have been getting a lot of play recently) Whatever is easier; I don't want to be a pain.

Now, Santa, before you get angry and put me on the "Bad Boy" list, I do realize the article is satire. But I was really hoping you could still acquiesce to my wish because I think the Sheori piece is scarily accurate. Satire is rooted in reality. C'mon, just think of the decrease in requests for NASCAR related toys you'll receive if you grant my wish!

Best wishes,

Sir Charles Spouts Off

"Sir" Charles Barkley has recently voiced his ire over Auburn's new hire Gene Chizik as the coach of the Tigers football program. As most Hawkeye fans are aware, Chizik was the football coach for the Iowa State Cyclones for the past two seasons. He coached the Cyclones to a 5-19 record. Chizik is, however, not a complete shot in the dark by Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs; Chizik was the defensive coordinator for the Tigers in 2004.

As an Auburn alumnus, self-proclaimed royalty and self-loving celebrity, Barkley - a former NBA star - exercised his regal right to voice his concerns for the future of Tiger football. Sir Charles believes the better choice was current Buffalo head coach Turner Gill. Gill recently lead the Bulls to a MAC conference championship and a 8-5 record. Barkley's biggest reason for wanting to hire Gill over Chizik is two-fold: Gill is a "terrific coach" and Auburn needed to "make a splash" with their new hire. Barkley went on to define "splash" as "creating a buzz" by hiring a black coach. Sir Barkley avows that race was the "No.1 factor" that Chizik was hired over Gill and argues "[y]ou can say it's not about race, but compare the two resumes and say [Chizik] deserved the job."

I agree with Barkley on the latter, a comparison of Chizik and Gill's resumes over the last two seasons is one-sided. Gill lead the Bulls to a 13-12 record; Chizik lead the Cyclones to a 5-19 record. However, in Gill's first year with Buffalo the Bulls compiled a 2-10 record. A coach's first year is always full of hiccups, so if you compare second seasons, Chizik goes 2-10 and Gill went 5-7. Again, the statistics clearly favor Gill. But to quote Barkley: "I don't use numbers, I use logic." So lets try to look outside the raw numbers at what Barkley may have used to form his logical conclusion that race was the number one reason Gill wasn't hired.

Prior to coaching at Buffalo, Gill was Director of Player Development for the Green Bay Packers and an assistant wide receivers coach. Previously, he coached Eric Crouch at the University of Nebraska, his alama mater, the year Crouch won the Heisman. Impressive credentials. I would agree this could qualify Gill as a "terrific coach."

Prior to coaching at Iowa State, was a defensive coordinator at Texas and Auburn. During this tenure both defenses were extremely strong. Auburn went undefeated in 2004 and the next year Texas won the National Championship, both while Chizik was at the helm of the defense. Equally impressive credentials to earn Chizik the moniker of "terrific coach."

One might argue that losing in the Big 12 North to the likes of Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and to the powerhouses of the Big 12 South is more palatable than losing in the MAC conference. Buffalo is a small school in a small conference. One winning season doesn't necessitate a head coach position at an SEC school; of course, neither does two losing seasons in Ames. Perhaps the fact that Chizik has coached in the SEC is a tipping point?

Gill and Chizik were among a pool of at least 8 known potential hires. Assuming Gill was the only African-American in the pool, it doesn't mean he wasn't hired because he is black. Barkley's comments don't help Gill, nor do they help any of the other African-American coaches looking to get head coaching positions. Barkley wasn't part of the selection committee; he wasn't privy to the conversations between Jacobs and all of the candidates. An uninformed ego-manic playing the race card isn't logic and it isn't helpful. While I agree that African-American coaches are extremely underrepresented in college football, I doubt Barkley's blathering is going to ignite a hiring spree. Allow the younger coaches to cut their teeth - while finishing atop of the MAC East is an outstanding feat for Buffalo, 8-5 puts them in the middle of the pack in the MAC West. If the hiring continues to go to unproven white coaches, then let the accusations - er, logical deductions - fly.

Barkley should just shut his mouth about things of which he has no firsthand knowledge or involvement. If Auburn wanted to hire based on what Barkley wanted, then they would have asked for his astute opinion. My logic? I take guidance from only the most logical of sources: "I voice my opinion, if people don't like it they know what they can kiss."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Chu Is An Excellent Choice For Energy Secretary

Joseph Romm lists five reasons why he's such a big fan of Chu:
1. He isn’t fooled by clean coal claptrap. Earlier this year he said, “Coal is my worst nightmare“:
If coal is to stay part of the world’s energy mix, he says, clean-coal technologies must be developed. But he’s not very optimistic: “It’s not guaranteed we have a solution for coal,” he concluded, given the sheer scope of the challenge of economically storing billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions underground.

Worried about radioactivity? Coal’s still your bogeyman. Dr. Chu says a typical coal plant emits 100 times more radiation than a nuclear plant, given the flyash emissions of radioactive particles.

2. The lab he runs is responsible for developing the technologies that have paid for all the clean energy research the tax payers have ever supported (see Energy efficiency, Part 5: The highest documented rate of return of any federal program). So while even the most knowledgeable clean energy experts focus too much on supply side solutions, Chu will ensure efficiency gets the equal time it deserves.

Continue reading.

Milk Is An Excellent Film: Go See It

Combining a cast of highly talented actors with a story based on one of the most compelling political dramas in recent American history, Gus Van Sant's Milk is an excellent film.

The film tells the story of Harvey Milk, the San Francisco city supervisor who was the first openly gay man to be elected to major political office in the United States. Milk's fate is a part of the historical record and a revealing film clip from a news broadcast plays at the beginning of the movie, so mentioning that he was ultimately assassinated doesn't ruin the plot. In fact, his death is used to structure the film. Sitting at his kitchen table, Milk speaks into a tape recorder, preserving a message to be played in the event that he is murdered. In this recording, he recounts the events highlighted in the movie, and thus the action is periodically broken up with a return to this narration.

Starring as Milk, Sean Penn's performance is particularly noteworthy because it showcases his range as an actor. Far from his portrayal as an icy killer with a Boston accent in Mystic River, Penn convincingly transforms himself into a gay-rights activist. And although finding the appropriate mixture of idiosyncratic speech and gestures was no doubt difficult, Penn pulls it off, coming across as obviously gay without crossing over into the realm of excessive stereotype or parody.

Also, fresh on the heels of his outstanding portrayal of George W. Bush in Oliver Stone's W., Josh Brolin also does an excellent job of taking on the persona of Dan White, a conservative San Francisco supervisor who opposes Milk's efforts to protect and expand gay rights in the city. Though present as a foil to Milk, Brolin's portrayal of White is sympathetic, exploring the personal difficulties that led him to behave as he did. Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna, and James Franco all turn in strong performances as well.

The only downside to the movie is that its structure is dictated by its status as a biopic. From the ways in which characters are introduced to how key events unfold, it is easy to see that Van Sant was attempting to create an entertaining narrative that also teaches some real history and addresses important issues. It's not as though he fails in this - just that the film's sense of its own goals beyond telling a story was apparent. Ultimately, this is a difficulty all biopics face.

Particularly in the aftermath of Proposition 8's recent passage in California, which took away the rights of gays and lesbians to marry in that state, Milk provides a timely look at how far the gay-rights movement has come over the last 30 years. Though there is still a long way to go before gays and lesbians achieve full legal equality in the United States, they are at least now present in all levels of government across the country. None of this would have been possible without the efforts of human-rights pioneers such as Milk. Watching this movie helps a person to appreciate the struggles that had to be fought to get us where we are today.

Regardless of one's degree of familiarity with the story of Harvey Milk, this film is well worth seeing for both its artistic value and social message.

(Cross-posted at the DI's main site.)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

Okay, this was about the best break from studying I have ever had. Forget walking around the block, grabbing coffee with friends, enjoying a shot of whiskey, or shooting stick. I looked up from my frantic final paper writing routine to see reports of a man chucking shoes at Bush's head. Size 10 shoes to be precise. Also hilarious is what the man screamed at Bush, which roughly translated amounts to: "this is a farewell kiss, dog."

In my head, it is said in the raspy voice of a mafia godfather with a dash of urban slang. (this-a is a fare-a-well kiss, dawg). Clearly the caffeine and lack of sleep are having their way with my mental processes. Interestingly enough in Arab culture, shoe throwing is a sign of great disrespect. As in, I will throw my shoe at them, which is a disgrace them, if they bear it.

So Bush sneaks in to Iraq all covertly for what amounts to his farewell tour of the region, plays through his greatest hits of democracy, freedom, courage, and victory and just when it seems like a very typical Bush in Iraq moment he avoids a size 10 loafer to the cranium. So lovely.

Editorial update:

Here's the video:

(Via Towleroad.)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Suspicious" Fire Devastates Former Palin Church

CNN reports:
A "suspicious" fire devastated the church attended by Alaska Gov. and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Friday night in her hometown of Wasilla, the church's minister said.

"We have no idea what caused it," the Rev. Larry Kroon of the Wasilla Bible Church said Saturday, adding that investigators were considering arson and other possible causes.

A ladies' craft group was in the building when the fire broke out, but they got out safely, Kroon said.

"No one was hurt," he said.

Hopefully, this wasn't done maliciously. If it was, whoever did it is scum. Destroying people's property like that is simply not acceptable.

A Glimpse Of Google's Future

I highly recommend this video of senior Google VP Marissa Mayer talking about her company's search technology:

( via Slashdot.)

Have Any Sex Or Relationship Questions?

I've recommended Dan Savage's sex and relationship advice podcast in the past, but I just wanted to bring it up again. It's truly excellent.

Check out episode #112, which includes discussion of the following:
Drunken hookups—they’re so wonderful when you’re drunk. How can you keep up the casual sex sans alcohol?
Mother, here’s my wife… now meet our girlfriend. Please pass the turkey.
A young man recalls a bad party one year ago, when his friend had sex with an unconscious woman. Was it rape? Can they still be friends?
A foot fetishist isn’t satisfied with just his girlfriend’s feet. He needs more and more toes.

In Search Of Immortality


Topics covered:
The disease that will kill you if nothing else does... Is aging an evolutionary adaptation?... The nasty biological details of growing old... Wouldn’t it be awful if no one ever died?... Why are so few senior citizens excited about cryonics?... Eliezer confesses to being horrified by aging...

Hurray for science--and mad scientists. The world would be a far more boring place without the likes of Yudkowsky and de Grey. Watch this video and then look a bit more into these guys. Their ideas deserve some serious consideration.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Grassley On The Failed Auto Bailout Bill

(Via Iowa Independent.)

I'm proud to have Grassley as a senator from Iowa right now. I agree with him 100 percent on this.

Bible Story Time

Christmastime is almost here. But, of course, everyone already knows that. Remaining unaware of this holiday's impending arrival would require extreme measures in our society.

All the signs of the season are out in force: nausea-inducing "music" pollutes the air in numerous public places, it's cold as hell outside, and blowhard self-appointed spokespeople for what is by far the country's largest and most powerful religion are once again decrying their alleged persecution through the fictional struggle they have named the war on Christmas.

The most horrifying atrocity the stalwart defenders of all things Christmas are able to point to is the selective removal of various religious aspects of the holiday. Thus, signs reading "X-mas" rather than "Christmas" or corporate employees greeting customers with a friendly "Happy Holidays" as opposed to "Merry Christmas" are highly offensive to such people. Of course, I think this whole controversy is merely a tempest in a tea cup, but people are free to get upset about whatever they want. After all, it's primarily their own blood pressure that suffers.

I would like to point out, however, that most Christians are perfectly happy to engage in selective omission when it suits them. Most people in our society are relatively familiar with particular passages from the Bible, but many others get far less attention. Especially during the Christmas season, everyone seems to focus on the warm and fuzzy Bible stories. This just doesn't seem right to me. There are plenty of fascinating stories being left out. So I've decided to step up and combat this terrible war on the unpopular parts of the Bible.

I'll start with what is by far my favorite Bible verse, Ezekiel 23:20, which reads as follows: "There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses."

Now that's a verse I'd like to see referenced on more signs at sporting events.

Continuing on with my little project, I will now retell the little-known tale of Dinah and the Shechemites, which can be found in Genesis 34.

Dinah was a daughter of the Hebrew patriarch Jacob. One day, she was out in the fields when a man named Shechem, who was the son of a local ruler named Hamor the Hivite, raped her. Of course, Dinah's brothers were quite upset about what had happened, but Hamor tried to smooth things over with Jacob's family by suggesting that Dinah and Shechem get married. Because, apparently, that would make everything OK.

Dinah's brothers acted as though they found this proposal to be acceptable. However, they informed Shechem and Hamor that their entire town would have to get circumcised before it would be acceptable for their two families to intermarry. Because Shechem was so smitten with the woman he had raped, he agreed and persuaded all the other men in the town to get circumcised. Three days later, when the men were still recovering from the procedure, two of Dinah's brothers entered the town and killed all of them. They then proceeded to make off with loot consisting of the town's flocks, herds, and women.

Now, some may insist that such horrid things are all in the Old Testament. But that really isn't the case. The New Testament isn't as kind and gentle as it's generally made out to be.

For example, in Matthew 10:34, Jesus says, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."

Though that passage doesn't mention what exactly Jesus plans to do with the sword, he does make use of such an implement in a later book.

Revelation 19 describes Jesus' return to Earth at some point in the future. As he is coming down out of the sky, a sharp sword comes out of his mouth. The sword then strikes down all of the armies standing against him. The passage goes on to describe how birds arrive to gorge on the flesh of those who have been killed.

So have a merry Christmas everyone. And enjoy baby Jesus while you can. It's not until he grows up that he's likely to slice anybody up into bird feed.

(Cross-posted at the DI's main site.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How Ordinary People Become Monsters Or Heroes


About this talk:
Philip Zimbardo knows how easy it is for nice people to turn bad. In this talk, he shares insights and graphic unseen photos from the Abu Ghraib trials. Then he talks about the flip side: how easy it is to be a hero, and how we can rise to the challenge.

More on Zimbardo.