Dec 31, 2004


Happy New Year, y'all. Try to be properly festive and eat too much for me, okay?

Dec 30, 2004

thank you Netflix

Top Ten Movies I Saw for the First Time
Amores Perros
Shaolin Soccer
In America
Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman
Bus 174
The Triplets of Belleville
To Live
American Splendor

Top Ten Movies I Saw Again
Citizen Kane
On the Waterfront
Singin' in the Rain
Nine Queens
Dr. Strangelove
Stalag 17
The Manchurian Candidate
Three Kings
The Nutty Professor

Top Ten Movies I Couldn't Finish For Whatever Reason
Ballad of a Soldier
Red Beard
Blow Up
City of God
One Day in September
Nowhere in Africa
Through a Glass Darkly
Europa Europa
Capturing the Friedmans
My Son the Fanatic

Movies I Shouldn't Have Finished But Did, Often Under Duress
Blazing Saddles
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Green Berets
Death to Smoochy
The Goonies

Reasons Netflix Kicks Cable's Posterior
Arrested Development
Mr. Show
The Office
Penn and Teller: Bullshit!
Curb Your Enthusiasm
The Twilight Zone

we love lists

Yes we do.

David Edelstein's is up
Any year that produces Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a great one for movies. In fact, I'm a little dismayed that not everyone shares my conviction that this is an inexhaustible masterpiece and, by a wide margin, the best film in many years... If you didn't get it, see it again. If you didn't like it, I am so, so sorry—for us both.
as is The Onion's
Keith Phipps on Arrested Development: Seen in bulk, all the warm, merciless, restlessly inventive comedy confirmed that creator Mitchell Hurwitz might not have planned on making a classic, but he ended up with one anyway.
(More of mine will be posted soon.)


One thing is certain: the ACLU must be stopped. They consistently undermine religious freedom, and, what? Facts? Don't interrupt me, I'm working up a good lather.

always right?

Joe Carter links to Stuart Sims's purported find about California taxes supporting the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military. Sims's comment:
You've got to be kidding me! California taxpayers are financing a center for "the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military"? I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. Thank the Lord that I don't live in California - as if those loons don't support enough weird things already - now this?
Carter's addendum:
The fact that California taxes go to fund the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military rather than for, oh let’s say, a “Center for the Study of Virtuous Heroes in the Military” doesn’t really surprise me. Still, I think it’s a sign of our nation’s misplaced priorities that we spend more money and attention on the role of sexual identity than we do on understanding the importance of virtue and character in our military. Perhaps, though, I’m simply out of touch. Maybe in focusing on such core values as honor, courage and commitment I’ve missed the significance that transgender tolerance plays in virtue ethics.

Many bloggers, of late, are gleefully denouncing the bias and shoddy research of the Mainstream Media (MSM). But what about shoddy blogging? Sims baldly states, and Carter echoes, that California taxes fund the Center--without a shred of evidence. Let's dig a little deeper.

Below the Center's Mission Statement, we find: The Center is an official research unit of the Institute for Social, Behavioral, & Economic Research of University of California. (See the handy organizational chart here.) Where does its money come from? I decided to take the time to actually find out, and contacted the program. Their funding is extramural, from private grants or donations.

But that doesn't sit well with the "easy" story--the one that took about ten seconds to coagulate on one blog, and a couple weeks to spread to another, and who knows where it'll go from here. My hope is nowhere, because it's a non-story. The moral: don't look to bloggers as a model for good journalistic research; oftentimes, we wear our biases like pajamas.

[Note: an important quote was removed at the request of its originator. I'm not a professional journalist, so I won't bother to use anonymous sources.]

Morton Brilliant ain't

Gregoire is officially the governor-elect, but Rossi won't pull up his tent stakes and go home, threatening to contest the recount results in the courts. So how does Gregoire's camp respond?
"This ain't golf. No mulligans allowed here, folks," Gregoire's spokesman, Morton Brilliant, said Wednesday. "It's irresponsible to spend $4 million in taxpayer money on a new election just because you don't like losing this one."
Let's go back over history.

1. Gregoire loses the first count; the margin prompts an automatic machine recount, at taxpayer expense.

2. Gregoire loses the machine recount, and, with the help of the Kerry Campaign and, ponies up $730,000 for a manual recount riddled with controversy and court challenges--a heck of a gamble.

3. Gregoire wins the hand recount, and, by law, the state will have to compensate the Democrats to the tune of at least $730,000.

And that, friends, is a perfect "mulligan"--and hypocrisy in action.

Dec 28, 2004

good words

I don't know how I missed James K. A. Smith's tribute to Jacques Derrida, but here it is. Worth quoting, too:
Jacques Derrida took up with vigor the Socratic vocation of philosophy as a kind of dying. Notoriously linked to discourses on "the death of the author" (and almost universally misunderstood on this score), Derrida's work was regularly haunted by ghosts. Death inscribed itself in his corpus and has now left its mark on his body, and we are left to mourn. But that is only to say that we are left with the task of deconstruction: what Derrida described as the work of mourning. It is not without reason that some of his most powerful meditations—on Levinas, de Man, Deleuze, Lyotard and others—come to us in the form of eulogies and memorials.

It has been the mistake of his critics—both in the academy and media—to conclude from Derrida's preoccupation with death that deconstruction is simply the next nihilism. And so Derrida has been vilified as the enemy of truth, justice, the university, and many more of our cherished institutions and values. The myths and lies—yes, lies—about Derrida persist even in his death (Jonathan Kandell's obituary in The New York Times was a travesty).

But this is a picture of Derrida and deconstruction that one could maintain only by failing to read him. For in the end—or better, from the beginning—deconstruction is a work of love. Far from being a mere "method" for critique, Derrida was at pains to demonstrate the essentially productive aspect of deconstruction. "It is not negative," he once commented, "For me, it always accompanies an affirmative exigency. I would even say that it never proceeds without love."
I was in the midst of writing up my own thoughts on Derrida (as always, prompted by a conversation with my younger brother). Jacques Derrida is philosophy's Stephen Hawking: as many people have read his works as have finished A Brief History of Time. This might explain, partially, why reactions to his thought are so disparate; contrast Adam Shatz
Derrida took play seriously; it was a synonym, really, for the unexpected reversals of history with which he was intimately acquainted. Even at his most somber, this spirit infused Derrida's work, whether he was writing on Plato, Heidegger, Stéphane Mallarmé, Freud, Artaud or the American Declaration of Independence. In his writing he developed a voice as original as Jean-Luc Godard's--alternately inspired and maddening, animated by a similarly Joycean predilection for puns and collages of association, and a melancholy fascination with specters of the past that haunt the present, or "traces," as Derrida called them. The two men also shared an interest in the French-Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, whose ruminations on the dialectic of Self and Other figure prominently in Godard's latest film, Notre Musique, a beautifully fractured meditation on the wars in Bosnia and Israel-Palestine.
with Brian Leiter
...overwhelmingly those who engage in philosophical scholarship on figures like Plato and Nietzsche and Husserl find that Derrida misreads the texts, in careless and often intentionally flippant ways, inventing meanings, lifting passages out of context, misunderstanding philosophical arguments, and on and on. Derrida was the bad reader par excellence, who had the gall to conceal his scholarly recklessness within a theoretical framework.

What of Derrida's "relativism" and "nihilism?" Simon Glendinning:
"Well, it is very difficult to summarise Derrida's thought... It, like any serious and penetrating thought, even resists summary - any philosophy that can be summed up in a nutshell belongs in one. People are troubled by a form of critique which challenges our most cherished assumptions - and so they want a caricature."
In the end, Derrida was no Nietzsche, either in scope of thought or power of prose, but his personal humility in the quest for philosophic truth is certainly worth imitating.

lazing a trail

I had a brilliant idea last week: how about linking to all the thought-provoking articles or blog posts I had read over the past year, as a way to not only chart my own intellectual path, but to broaden others'? Sadly, Christmas interfered, and it's still a work in progress / pipe dream. In the meantime, love-him-or-hate-him, David Brooks has done exactly that. (Registration required; use if you must).

(Thanks to Arts and Letters Daily.)

Dec 27, 2004

pack up your toys and go home

Thanks to Slate's great "recycled" feature, we get to read William Saletan's smackdown of Intelligent Design again. Best snippet:
A theory isn't just a bunch of criticisms, even if they're valid. A theory ties things together. It explains and predicts. Intelligent design does neither. It doesn't explain why part of our history seems intelligently designed and part of it doesn't. Why are our feet and our back muscles poorly designed for walking? Why are we afflicted by lethal viruses? Why have so many females died in childbirth? ID doesn't explain these things. It just shrugs at them. "Design theory seeks to show, based on scientific evidence, that some features of living things may be designed by a mind or some form of intelligence," says one ID proponent. Some? May? Some? What kind of theory is that?

the quotable Cure

Who'd guess that The Cure would have the final say in a philosophical conversation about representation and reality?
I've been looking so long at these pictures of you
That I almost believe that they're real
I've been living so long with my pictures of you
That I almost believe that the pictures are
All I can feel

the quotable Popper II

"We have seen that theories cannot be logically derived from observations. They can, however, clash with observations: they can contradict observations. This fact makes it possible to infer from observations that a theory is false. The possibility of refuting theories by observations is the basis of all empirical tests. For the test of the theory is, like every rigorous examination, always an attempt to show that the candidate is mistaken--that is, that the theory entails a false assertion. From a logical point of view, all empirical tests are therefore attempted refutations." (Conjectures and Refutations, p. 260)

Dec 24, 2004

the grinch comes 'round

Today: off to my folks' place. Tomorrow: up to my wife's folks'. Then onward, all celebrating the Christian appropriation of paganism (to syncretism in general, I say: huzzah!). Blogging as usual resumes soon. I leave you with beautiful Yuletide thoughts by everyone's favorite Irish poet.

Dec 23, 2004

the quotable Popper

"Democrats who do not see the difference between a friendly and a hostile criticism of democracy are themselves imbued with the totalitarian spirit. Totalitarianism, of course, cannot consider any criticism as friendly, since every criticism of such an authority must challenge the principle of authority itself." (The Open Society and its Enemies, Vol. 1, p.189)

Dec 22, 2004

end in sight?

The Court says "count 'em" and Gregoire is up eight votes, but Republicans promise to continue the fight in other counties... After this, an election without a recount just won't seem like a real election.

Update:Now it's a ten-vote lead, and the only sure thing: Gary Locke is our governor.

the mother of all top ten lists

Lists are good for only one thing: provocation. Oh, and if you're counting, not every list comprises ten entries. Take it up with Management if you must.

Top Ten Top Ten Lists
Top Ten Most Annoying People of 2004
Top Ten Spyware Threats
Top Ten News Stories of 2004
Top Ten Game Show Winners of All Time
Most Dangerous Cities in the U.S.
Ten Most Wanted Fugitives
Top Ten Chinese Cities With Noiselessness
Top Ten Recalled Toys
Top Ten Bushisms
Canada's Best Blogs

Movies I Didn't See But Will Probably Netflix
House of Flying Daggers
The Incredibles
The Five Obstructions
Bad Education
Maria Full of Grace
The Story of the Weeping Camel
Garden State
Control Room

Bonus: Elbert Ventura trumpets others I'll probably queue up.

Songs I Had To Listen To In Their Entirety So They Wouldn't Get Stuck In My Head
"Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Green Day
"Float On," Modest Mouse
"Ocean Breathes Salty," Modest Mouse

Ways To Describe the Gregoire / Rossi Debacle
A Triumph for Democracy
The End of Democracy
The Battle of Seattle, Redux
Count Every Vote
Don't Change the Rules
Tie Goes to the Republican
The Great Suffrage Telethon
The Rise of the Libertarian Swing Vote
Damn You, Ron Sims
Dino Who?

Top Ten Top Ten Lists That Don't Exist on Google
Lego Sculptures
Scientific Conundrums
Blog Addicts
Ways to Pronounce "Chthonic"
Supercars You Can Actually Afford
Policy Wonks
Ways to Avoid Carpal Tunnel
Stupidest Moments of 2004
Reasons to Stay Inside

Top Ten Ways To Wish Someone Well This Holiday Season
Happy Hanukkah
Happy Chanukah
Happy Chanuka
Happy Hanuka
Happy Channukah
Happy Hanukka
Happy Hannukkah
Happy Hannukka
Happy Chanukaa
Happy Chthanukah

Dec 20, 2004

once more into the breach

Jeffrey Dubner sits down with Thomas Keck to discuss "judicial activism":
The phrase “judicial activism” is a frequent whipping boy, but what does the phrase actually mean?

The epithet essentially means “a judicial decision I disagree with,” but there can be some content to it. The definition that makes the most sense to me is that an activist court is a court that is relatively willing to assert its own power over and against the other institutions of government....

Can you give us some examples of particular topics that they’ve been activist on?

Of the liberal activism, the most noted example is the continued reaffirmation of Roe v. Wade. Another great example is the area of gay rights, where it’s been the Rehnquist Court that has for the first time extended constitutional protections to gay and lesbian rights -- in 1996, with Romer v. Evans, and then again in 2003, with Lawrence v. Texas. And there are a lot of examples in the areas of free speech, freedom of religion, and other rights in the liberal, Warren Court tradition.

On the conservative activism side of the fence, perhaps the best set of examples are the cases regarding federalism, a whole bunch of separate sets of cases whose overarching theme is the revival of constitutional limits on federal government power. It’s not like these decisions have gone that far; they haven’t tried to strike down the New Deal. But the implications of them are potentially sweeping, were they to carry them as far as the rhetoric suggests.

Keck's new book, The Most Activist Supreme Court in History, looks like it merits a read, especially considering its Shakespearean-sounding title.

the matriarch was victimized by a hit-and-run caribou

Thank you, Julian Sanchez, for every unminced word, a welcome addition to the backlash backlash.

no really

Our Daily Rag takes another bold stand.

Coming soon in the series:
  • Floss Daily
  • Look Both Ways Before Crossing Street
  • Yellow Snow is Not For Eating
  • You Can't Beat Gravity For Long
  • Don't Scratch That Itch
  • Yield to Buses, Dammit
  • Drugs are Bad 'Cause, You Know, Drugs are Bad

Dec 19, 2004

bewail and bemoan

I'm going to blog more, really, promise, now that I have two weeks away from school.

(And why not just "wail and moan?" Because, dear reader, English lets you.)*

Go here or here or here or here or here for thought-provocation.

*Both original. It's not so impossible after all.

Dec 15, 2004

bias vs. bias

If you've skedaddled through the Christian blogosphere lately, you've read various reactions to Jon Meacham's Newsweek piece about the historicity of Jesus's birth in the Gospels. On all accounts, the article is laughably biased against orthodox scholarship--a straw man L. Frank Baum could be pround of.

Mark Roberts' response is particularly interesting for its scope and depth, but also for its unstated assumptions, which we'll examine below. In a phrase, Roberts answers bias with bias.
Clearly there are other alternatives that Meacham should have considered. If a text intends to relate what really happened, even if the text shapes that event in terms of the author’s perspective, then a literal reading of the text might in fact be the most historical reading. When I read an account of the latest Dodger game in the newspaper, am I being unhistorical if I take it literally? No. (Unless of course I know that it was written by a Giant fan. Then extreme skepticism is warranted.)
Here is a perfectly broken-down analogy, and an argument that undercuts Roberts' point. First, the gospels aren't newspapers, and make no pretense of objectivity, actual or intended. Second, the presumption of bias would cut across both sets of fans, not just one side. Third, the essence of the claims also sets bullshit detectors in action. If you read a newspaper report that angels had grabbed the Dodgers centerfielder and hoisted him high enough to catch a seeming home run, you have every right to a double-take. A simple principle of doubt is that it is directly proportional to the outlandishness of the claim. If partisanship warrants "extreme skepticism," then miraculous tales recorded by True Believers merit just such skepticism.

But, nevertheless, we do have a significant historical test available to us, one that Meacham and other writers often minimize or ignore. The fact is that we have in Matthew and Luke two independent accounts of the birth of Jesus. The vast majority of scholars, both conservative and liberal, believe that these gospels writers were not familiar with each other’s work. So we can test the historical accuracy of Matthew by comparing it with Luke, and vice versa.
I find this claim interesting, because it's not the tack taken by those who dispute the Q hypothesis (the idea that Luke and Matthew drew from a common source); such writers (like these examples) usually claim that Luke drew from Matthew, which makes the differences in their narratives no less interesting, but hardly "independent." (It does seem, at times, like Luke is "correcting" Matthew, so that thesis seems plausible.) What evidence do we have for their complete independence? The claim that "Matthew and Luke... were not familiar with each other's work" is the sort of mind-reading that cuts both ways.

The primary problem, as Roberts acknowledges, is this: the historical "accuracy" of the Gospels only goes so far as proof of their religious validity. If we start with the premise that miracles are impossible, then we must dismiss reports of miracles a priori; let us keep an open mind, Roberts rightly adjures. However, Roberts stumbles when trying to prove the converse. If we start with the premise that a "god" exists who conceivably could use such miracles, must we leap logically to the conclusion that we have to take the New Testament at face value?

Such a move comes at great cost, for we then have poor grounds to dismiss every other religious writing that makes historical claims. Let us use the example of Joseph Smith. Let us assume:

1. It is conceivable that God works miracles in the world.
2. Joseph Smith witnessed many miraculous occurrences.
3. These events were independently verified, and well within the decades separating the death / ascension of Christ and the writing of the Gospels.
4. Millions believe Smith's revision of Christianity, and have even sacrificed their lives for their beliefs.
5. Because people do not likely die for something they know to be false, and because of the independently verified and therefore historical testimony, we can presume that Smith's visions are trustworthy, and his religion true.

It is, to use a favorite metaphor of C.S. Lewis, "sawing off the branch you sit upon."

On a lighter note, I would like to start my own Echo Chamber, and propose my first assignment: find compelling evidence that 1. Matthew and Luke were eyewitnesses and 2. Had no knowledge of each other's work. To work, Decorabilians.

Dec 14, 2004

must be Italian

Dr. Oliver Sacks, more than any other thinker or writer, has continually delighted and challenged my preconceptions. For multiple reasons--I had been asked by our school librarian to blurb my favorite book, a student is interested for speech, yesterday's posting on the personality-destroying parasite--I picked up The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat again, and plowed through several chapters.

The mind is so fragile, personality so malleable by circumstance... We speak of a unified personality existing over time because it seems, to us, that we are always "us," no matter the changes. But that seemingly inviolable unity can be torn apart by disease. Sacks, with a keen eye and poetic prose, identifies case after case testing the boundaries of normal human experience.
...Mr. Thompson would identify me--misidentify, pseudo-identify me--as a dozen different people in the course of five minutes. He would whirl, fluently, from one guess, one hypothesis, one belief, to the next, without any appearance of uncertainty at any point--he never knew who I was, or what and where he was, an ex-grocer, with severe Korsakov's, in a neurological institution.

He remembered nothing for more than a few seconds. He was continually disoriented. Abysses of amnesia continually opened beneath him, but he would bridge them, nimbly, by fluent confabulations and fictions of all kinds.... For Mr. Thompson, however, it was not a tissue of ever-changing, evanescent fantasies and illusion, but a wholly normal, stable, and factual world. So far as he was concerned, there was nothing the matter.
A kaleidoscope of memories and sensations, shaped somehow into a coherent narrative that defines the Self--shattered.

The mind's connection to its own physical body-reality, too, can be severed, to strange effect.
"Look at it!" he cried, with revulsion on his face. "Have you ever seen such a creepy, horrible thing?..." He seized it with both hands, with extraordinary violence, and tried to tear it off his body, and, failing, punched it in an access of rage.

"Easy!" I said. "Be calm! Take it easy! I wouldn't punch that leg like that."

"And why not?" he asked, irritably, belligerently.

"Because it's your leg," I answered. "Don't you know your own leg?"...

"It looks like nothing on earth. How can a thing like that belong to me? I don't know where a thing like that belongs..." His voice trailed off. He looked terrified and shocked.
You may not be exactly who you think you are--and tomorrow, you may be somebody else. You simply must read this philosophically challenging book.

Dec 13, 2004

shake'n'bake your faith in democracy

Yes, the Gregoire / Rossi recount is still going, and with a new wrinkle.

Update: And the wrinkle has newly puckered: the Democrats' lawsuit has been rejected by the state's high court. I may have been wrong on the exact timing, but I'm still calling it for Rossi.

buon appetito

My wife and I, in our quest to use every coupon in our Entertainment Book, decided to descend upon Pomodoro, an Italian restaurant in Proctor (Tacoma's upscale north end). To our surprise and delight, they let us reuse our coupon, under the condition that we "tell our family or friends." So this, dear readers, fulfills that obligation.

Terry Richards of the Oregonian
claims that Pomodoro "serves some of the city's best Italian food," and he's right. The ambience (bustling), the service (hustling), the fine food, the reasonable prices--all reasons to come with a big appetite, and be prepared to take home half your meal in a (trendy black stryofoam) box.

In an update to my other commercial shout-out, I received an e-mail from CSK Auto, Schuck's parent company:
Dear Mr. Anderson:

I have received your e-mail dated December 9, 2004.

CSK Auto, Inc. is always pleased to hear when our associates are recognized for their G.R.E.A.T. service. I will forward your e-mail on to our associate's District Manager to congratulate them for the excellent service they are providing our customers.

Thank you for your taking the time to let us know about them! We thank you for choosing CSK Auto, Inc. for you [sic] automotive needs and look forward to serving you in the future.


Toni Martin
CSK Auto, Inc.
Customer Relations
I love the company acronym thrown in there (I have no idea what it stands for). Proof that even non-evil corporations with human faces are shackled by the inanities of upper management.

whereof one cannot speak

Okay, philosopher-types: explain this one.

[thanks to the obscure store]

there and back again

I'm back from the Rogers Winter Classic, a two-day gabfest in which I spent hours in the Tab Room tallying up wins and losses in novice Lincoln-Douglas debate. Sheer boredom was staved off successfully thanks to the presence of my wife and the company of a delightful chap who, as I learned, is at least one other Western WA debate coach with a blog.

First trimester grades are due, and I haven't finished, so into my grading cave I must descend. Keep busy in the meantime.

Dec 9, 2004

aw, Schuck's

This is a paean to Schuck's Auto Supply, particularly store #04236 , most particularly Howard, the kindly sales associate who stood out in the rain for fifteen minutes trying to pound a stripped-out bolt out of a battery terminal clamp. He ended up charging the price of the new bolt ($3.66) and refused any sort of compensation for his effort.

Too often, companies hear only the bad news from customers--we're far more likely to write a letter of complaint than to praise exemplary service. I try, often as I can, to reverse the trend. Shuck's Auto Supply has earned my unhesitating recommendation. If I end up scoring coupons for the nice little email I sent, I'll even add a permanent link to my blog.

another reason to flee to Canada

If you're a discombobulated social liberal, take heart: up in Canada, gay marriage is one step closer to legitimacy. This, of course, has led to some bizarre rhetoric:
Gordon Young, pastor of the First Assembly of God Church in St. John's, Newfoundland, was highly disappointed by the ruling.

"It's a sad day for our country," Young told CBC television news. "God is in the DNA of this nation. We believe that changing the definition of marriage is changing the divine institution that God put in place for the order of our society."
I'm not sure how the second follows from the first, but I do know that if God is in Canada's DNA, He's been mutating for quite some time.

Update:Ed Brayton chimes in.

Dec 7, 2004


Sometimes I think I want more readers. But then I think, nah, I'd have to deal with spammers and trolls, instead of the small number of intelligent browsers who have the luxury of seeing my thoughts made visible. (Gratuitously flattering to myself and to my readers, in one fell swoop!)

Thanks to a zealous staff reporter at the Outlook, our school newspaper, my blogging habit may now be the talk of the school. (To my knowledge, I'm the only teacher here with a blog; I could be wrong, but I'm too lazy to check. That's what readers are for, right?) If you're one of those curious students who's found this site thanks to yellow journalism, welcome. If you're a regular, welcome back, and thank you for reading, commenting, or counter-blogging, because you make me smarter, and that's why I blog.

Dec 6, 2004


Days after an hours-long brotherly discussion on the merits of lateral thinking, among other things, I discovered this, and laughed all the way through. It's for you, Matt.


There's no use beating yourself up over blogging glut--a preponderance of great ideas that whirl around the brain like dollars in one of those Vegas money rooms, and you're trying to snatch Grants but you keep nabbing Lincolns, or nothing at all.

Incidentally, I am the first online person to use the phrase "blogging glut," another in what, hopefully, will be a long string of originalisms, itself original to me.

Back to grading 1st trimester finals.

you've been warned

Stay away from Demon Rum if you know what's good for you.

where it lies

I blame Clinton.

Dec 4, 2004

debate tournament blues

Ever get the feeling that everything has already been said?

You're wrong.

I'm adding several phrases to the lexicon; they're unavailable anywhere on the internet. Look 'em up.

  • bilge of the proletariat
  • blinkering invidiousness
  • there is no justification for humbuggery
  • expressive simplicicity and freakish anger
More later. When I'm back from Auburn HS's 22nd Annual Debatathon, that is.

Dec 2, 2004

historical views of personhood

Joe Carter loathes Peter Singer's ethics; this is not news to anyone who visits his blog. But what is surprising is that Carter's moral position contra Singer, that personhood begins at conception, is relatively recent as an article of Christian dogma. N. F. Gier explains:
Many people have the impression that the Judeo-Christian position on abortion has always been as conservative as the current prolife movement. In his book Whatever Happened to the Human Race? Francis Schaeffer implies that abortion was an unthinkable practice in Christian countries before the 20th Century. The facts, however, are quite otherwise. In Christian England before the Norman conquest, the legal powers of a father followed the Roman tradition. A father could sell his own children as slaves if they were under seven years of age and he could lawfully kill any of his children "who had not yet tasted food."(1) Infanticide was widely practiced in all Christian countries until the 19th Century. The historian Lloyd de Mause quotes a priest in 1527 who said that "the latrines resound with the cries of children who have been plunged into them." (2) Criminal law of 17th Century France listed conditions under which a father had the right to kill his own children; and English midwives of the same period had to take an oath "not to destroy the child born of any woman."(3)

Historian Joseph Kett sums up this premodern view of the child: "Parents left their infants alone for long periods, seem to have been indifferent to their welfare, could not remember their names, refused to attend funerals of children under five, routinely farmed infants out for wet nursing, and argued in divorce proceedings, not over which parent should have the infant, but over which could send it packing." (4) We should remind ourselves that Kett is not talking about pagans here but church-going Christians.

We shall see that for Catholics the killing of an "unformed" fetus was not murder until a papal decree of 1869. Canon law on this point was not changed until 1917. But today leading Catholic philosophers and theologians disagree with this change. In Protestant countries the "forming" of the fetus was called "quickening," and abortions were permissible until that time. Even when stricter abortion laws went into effect in the 19th Century, very few cases of abortion of formed fetuses were ever prosecuted. Indeed, infanticide continued to be widely practiced, especially in the late 18th Century with the rise of the Industrial Revolution.
I am not yet ready to say that I find Gier's thesis fully convincing, but he certainly creates room to doubt that fetal personhood is an inherent part of the Christian faith.

Furthermore, as Blackmun points out in his decision in Roe v. Wade,
It perhaps is not generally appreciated that the restrictive criminal abortion laws in effect in a majority of States today are of relatively recent vintage. Those laws, generally proscribing abortion or its attempt at any time during pregnancy except when necessary to preserve the pregnant woman's life, are not of ancient or even of common-law origin. Instead, they derive from statutory changes effected, for the most part, in the latter half of the 19th century.

[*130] 1. Ancient attitudes. These are not capable of precise determination. We are told that at the time of the Persian Empire abortifacients were known and that criminal abortions were severely punished. n8 We are also told, however, that abortion was practiced in Greek times as well as in the Roman Era, n9 and that "it was resorted to without scruple." n10 The Ephesian, Soranos, often described as the greatest of the ancient gynecologists, appears to have been generally opposed to Rome's prevailing free-abortion practices. He found it necessary to think first of the life of the mother, and he resorted to abortion when, upon this standard, he felt the procedure advisable. n11 Greek and Roman law afforded little protection to the unborn. If abortion was prosecuted in some places, it seems to have been based on a concept of a violation of the father's right to his offspring. Ancient religion did not bar abortion. n12
Blackmun further explains:
3. The common law. It is undisputed that at common law, abortion performed before "quickening" -- the first recognizable movement of the fetus in utero, appearing usually from the 16th to the 18th week of pregnancy n20 -- was not an indictable offense. n21 The absence [*133] of a [**717] common-law crime for pre-quickening abortion appears to have developed from a confluence of earlier philosophical, theological, and civil and canon law concepts of when life begins. These disciplines variously approached the question in terms of the point at which the embryo or fetus became "formed" or recognizably human, or in terms of when a "person" came into being, that is, infused with a "soul" or "animated." A loose consensus evolved in early English law that these events occurred at some point between conception and live birth. n22 This was "mediate animation." Although [*134] Christian theology and the canon law came to fix the point of animation at 40 days for a male and 80 days for a female, a view that persisted until the 19th century, there was otherwise little agreement about the precise time of formation or animation. There was agreement, however, that prior to this point the fetus was to be regarded as part of the mother, and its destruction, therefore, was not homicide. Due to continued uncertainty about the precise time when animation occurred, to the lack of any empirical basis for the 40-80-day view, and perhaps to Aquinas' definition of movement as one of the two first principles of life, Bracton focused upon quickening as the critical point. The significance of quickening was echoed by later common-law scholars and found its way into the received common law in this country.

Evangelicals like Carter mean well. They have to recognize, though, that respected thinkers within the Christian tradition, as well as long-standing common law, provide support for the position that legal personhood does not begin at conception--so, even if fundamentally misguided, it's not an "extremist" view. Oversimplifying the issue benefits no one.

Dec 1, 2004

I say, "Hello, Mr. Thompson"

Hugh Hewitt calls our attention to an important ethical issue, but can't help skittering along a tangent about the Mainstream Media:
MSM does not care to cover this. You figure out why. In silence is approval, and in approval, an invitation to proceed.
Funny, I thought to myself, I remember reading about that The Daily O. This morning.

Hugh, have you heard of Google? Just because it ain't in the LA Times (newspapers are notorious for waiting, when they've been "scooped," until they can find their own unique angle) doesn't mean it's been ignored by the media. (It's in the New York Times, amazingly!)

livin' the life

Tires squeal as the Olympia PD speed out of the school parking lot after a green Jeep Cherokee, and all I can think is, "Hope we don't have a lockdown on the first day of finals."

Nov 30, 2004

virtue ethics

In this paper I have argued that the best option in this time of great moral crisis is a return to the virtue ethics of the ancients. Moral rules are too abstract and too rigid, and it is difficult to apply them to complex situations and decisions. They, however, still retain their normative force for use the application of national and international law. Utilitarianism, on the other hand, fails to distinguish between qualitative values of the virtues and external quantities of pleasure, and sometimes the hedonic calculus produces unrealistic and even absurd moral obligations.

As opposed to a rule based ethics, where the most that we can know is that we always fall short of the norm, virtue ethics is truly a voyage of personal discovery. Ancient virtue ethics always aim at a personal mean that is a creative choice for each individual. Virtue ethics is emulative--using the sage or savior as a model for virtue--whereas rule ethics involves conformity and obedience. The emulative approach engages the imagination and personalizes and thoroughly grounds individual moral action and responsibility. Such an ethics naturally lends itself to an aesthetics of virtue: the crafting of a good and beautiful soul, a unique gem among other gems.
What's next--a quote from Socrates, Aristotle, or Jesus?


[thanks to Online Papers in Philosophy, a fantabulous site]

Nov 29, 2004

up in a puff of smoke

Angel McClary Raich doesn't seem to have much hope that her medical use of marijuana will be legitimized, Dahlia Lithwick notes. Drugs that destroy the body in order to save it are legal; for no good reason, a drug that helps far more than it harms is illegal. If we legalize medical pot, a slippery slope is inevitable, Fed attorneys claim:
Clement concludes his rebuttal with his best argument: California law undermines enforcement of the entire federal drug regime. There is no way to distinguish between those in genuine medical need and those who are exploiting the system. He cites a case mentioned in the briefs in which a man was busted with pot in his backpack, his pocket, his other pocket, and another pocket. And some scales. The appellate court nevertheless found that he might have legitimately been buying the pot for medicinal reasons; he was just carrying the scales to "keep from being ripped off."
I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

But one thing is certain: Angel McClary Raich should start packing, and hope she can find compassion somewhere else.

Update: Jason Kuznicki covers the breadth and depth of the legal aspects of the case.

Update Update
: Jim Lindgren of the Volokh Conspiracy is cautiously optimistic.

Nov 28, 2004

this time, anyway

If you're concerned that the Mainstream Media (what we bloggers call the MSM) unfairly characterizes religious folks as ignorant, gullible, or ignorantly gullible, take heart: sometimes they get it right.

take a gander

As Ed Brayton points out, Pandas Thumb has a new contributor, with an inaugural essay well worth reading.

Nov 26, 2004

quibbling, as always

Via the Volokh Conspiracy, this blogger got word of Rolling Stone's pathetic attempt to list the 500 "Greatest [Rock and Roll] Songs of All Time." I won't comment on the stupid choice (#3, stupid!), and I don't have the experience (being a mere twenty-five years old) or expertise to discuss most of the rest (which I'm sure all deserve to be there, as influential as they are), so I'll limit my comment to the only album from the 90s to make the top 10: Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which sounds as fresh and shocking as the first time I heard it, way back in high school.

The eight-bar opening that blasts through the blues structure, Dave Grohl smashing the drums, the immediate hush to the first verse, the abrupt shockwave chorus, and Kurt Cobain's haunting, inimitable, indecipherable scream-singing....

And the words.
Load up on guns and
Bring your friends
It's fun to lose
And to pretend
She's over bored
And self assured
Oh no, I know
A dirty word

hello, how low? (repeated)

With the lights out it's less dangerous
Here we are now
Entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now
Entertain us
A mulatto
An albino
A mosquito
My Libido

I'm worse at what I do best
And for this gift I feel blessed
Our little group has always been
And always will until the end

hello, how low? (repeated)

With the lights out it's less dangerous
Here we are now
Entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now
Entertain us
A mulatto
An albino
A mosquito
My Libido

And I forget
Just why I taste
Oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile
I found it hard
It was hard to find
Oh well, whatever, nevermind

hello, how low? (repeated)

With the lights out it's less dangerous
Here we are now
Entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now
Entertain us
A mulatto
An albino
A mosquito
My Libido
Yeah, a denial
A denial
A denial...

No song better captures the ethos of our age, or better illustrates the paradox that Kurt Cobain's anti-pop screeds didn't destroy pop, but, in their time, became it.

Nov 25, 2004

running sacred

Chris Gregoire is not alone. My brother quotes her recent statement:
"Voters have a sacred right to have their ballots counted. That's been our goal throughout this process," Gregoire said in a statement. "We want every vote to be counted. But that hasn't happened yet."
Amazingly, a quick Google search reveals that the phrase "sacred right to vote" can be found on at least 676 different pages (both in serious and sarcastic references). Turns out it's a feminist catchphrase that may have originated at the "First Woman's Rights Convention" back in 1848.

Nov 24, 2004

open letter to Christine Gregoire

Dearest Chris,

Tie goes to the Republican.

Your pal,


peril, grave peril

Gregoire loses again--this time by a mere 42 votes. Should she concede, or call for a manual recount?

Democracy hangs in the balance...

Nov 23, 2004

missing the mark

I hadn't even heard about it until yesterday, but apparently Target has banned the Salvation Army from bellringing outside its stores.

Now, I don't have a problem with Target's decision on moral or legal grounds. They have the right to allow, or disallow, any sort of solicitation on their property. If Target wants to brighten its public image, it should contribute back to the community the $9 million the Salvation Army will lose. (Target, it should be noted, is already a leading corporation as far as charity work goes.)

I have no beef with the Salvation Army, either; they may be a sectarian organization, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't continue helping those in need, or that they shouldn't ask for donations. No one's forced to give.

What bothers me, though: articles like this one, a kettlefull of overblown rhetoric.
Throughout the night in Uganda, thousands of children dubbed "the night dwellers" roam the streets in fear, seeking refuge from vicious bands of kidnappers. Despite their pain, hunger and loneliness, they are considered the lucky ones, unlike the other 20,000 Ugandans captured by Lord's Resistance Army insurgents over the years, doomed to a life of prostitution and guerilla warfare.

Thousands of these children spend their nights sleeping in churches and shelters run by non-profit organizations like the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army is a humanitarian organization that relies heavily on its annual holiday drive to sustain these shelters. Every year, thousands of bell-waving volunteers take to the streets in the spirit of selflessness and generosity. They raise millions of dollars crucial for spreading goodwill to more than 109 countries and territories that the Salvation Army serves....

...we are left with only the facts: The Salvation Army is $9 million weaker today, and tonight, perhaps as you're reading this, the sun will set in Uganda.
This is an egregious example of the Appeal to Pity, and here's why:
A spokeswoman for the Salvation Army’s national office, Teresa Whitfield, told C&F Report that those interested in such an effort should contact the Salvation Army unit in their local community.

“The kettle funds are all budgeted locally and stay in the community where they are collected,” Whitfield said.
Perhaps it says something about Americans--or at least Michael Darling--that we have to mention Ugandans to get people to care.

Nov 22, 2004


A while back, after reading a thought-provoking article by Michael Beran, I blogged about poetry memorization:
Certainly, teachers need to foster "active" learning--not just passive acceptance of time-honored screeds--but memorization is a form of sinking-to-swim, being tossed into literacy. Constructivists tip the balance too far in favor of anarchic learning, where the desires of the child form the philosophical center, conflating wants with needs, and forgetting that any form of progress requires an attainable goal--an objective, not subjective, position. While ostensibly in the pursuit of self-empowerment, pure constructivism is self-constricting folly.
Over the last couple days, I've put theory into practice, with mixed success. I tried to satisfy my inner anarchist by letting students have a wide berth, choosing any poem or song of at least twenty lines. Most students chose good poems, but there were a few country songs in there, and some Silverstein. I realized, too late, that I didn't set clear enough limits on subject matter.

The best moments came when previously unrecognized students became stars, giving particularly dramatic or nuanced readings. Amazingly, even some of the country songs didn't sound too bad when read aloud rather than sung over a twanging guitar.

There may be hope for poetry in this world.

democracy on the march

They're cheating, Hugh Hewitt, and they're getting away with it!

Nov 21, 2004

"when the players are all dead, there need none to be blamed"

Last night I dragged the wife to Olympia High School's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. As high school theater goes, it was pretty darn good--fabulous sets and costumes, mostly decent line readings, and a show-stealing performance by Patrick Rayment as Nick Bottom.

Tonight, though, the wife is watching Michael Hoffman's A Midsummer Night's Dream, perhaps to get back at me for making her suffer through amateur hour. Sadly, it's a tedious, despicable, melodramatic, soporific hack job that includes:

1. "Italian" characters speaking English (in either American or bad British accents), along with Italians speaking, of all things, Italian
2. Bicycles in starring roles (at least they don't act badly)
3. Rapid-fire, overly rhythmic line readings
4. Mud wrestling
5. A horrible mix of moods--comedy that isn't funny juxtaposed with romance that isn't romantic, followed by laughable tragedy and pedestrian magic.
6. A classic score, the only redeeming feature
7. Bare bottoms (and, worse, a bare Bottom)

Put in perspective, Oly's version is a triumph of adolescent genius.

Nov 19, 2004

how the grinch stole christmas

The recount won't be over until then, in all likelihood.

"Two coffins. No, maybe three."

It hasn't been posted on their website yet, but I'm hoping New Scientist will feature "A billion brains are better than one," in which Mark Buchanan delves into a topic I'd never even considered before: bacterial communication. I'd always assumed that bacteria are microscopic Yojimbos, beholden to no other organisms. Turns out that's not exactly the case; bacteria can communicate chemically in a process called "quorum sensing"--and, if one Israeli researcher is right, their language is "more than a metaphor."

Read up on the phenomenon at the Quorum Sensing Site, which summarizes it better than I ever could.

As Buchanan writes,
More and more researchers agree with [Eshel] Ben-Jacob's assertion that microbes have the kind of social intelligence previously considered to be the exclusive preserve of the most intelligent animals. Microorganisms recognise the social groups to which they belong, and readily pick out strangers who might pose a threat.
Too bad they can't sense when I'm about to wash my hands.

feed thy brain

Looking for enlightenment, but don't know which blog to turn to? (Obviously not this one.) Ed Brayton points the way.

Nov 18, 2004

information overload

Huge shout-out to PZ Myers for pointing his readers to Google Scholar, which looks like an invaluable resource. I've already started trolling for new works about the current Lincoln-Douglas resolution, and have discovered articles that aren't even in Proquest yet.

Some articles aren't free, though, so don't get too excited. But it's a great complement to traditional research venues. All hail Google.

it ain't over...

...'til the recount is finished, next Wednesday. But Dino Rossi, as I predicted, has won the first count--and if history repeats itself, will walk away with the win in a week. (Yeah, that's alliteration.)

Nov 16, 2004

too much to do

With a three-week hiatus from speech tournaments, I was supposed to magically discover more time, and thus embark on a voyage through the social contract (to discuss my brother's all-too-important, all-too-weighty question as to "what grounds rights"), re-reread The Open Society and its Enemies, revitalize bibliocracy (by actually writing about reading), and continue in my moral obligations to blog, to blog constantly, to blog well.


A history prof I had in college once talked about having rocks in your box of time--the big obligations: marital life, family, job, etc.--and finding useful sand to fill the rest. Those are the intellectual pursuits I wish I were pursuing more. I've been plowing through all sorts of material on philosophy, morality, and global politics, but all in the name of Lincoln-Douglas debate. I've perused fine poetry, but for scholarly motives. I've kept up with current events, but mostly to keep my classes and my conversation fresh.

And now, my wife leans over the laptop screen and asks an imperative interrogative: "Are you going to make coffee?"

Yes, I am, even if it means unhitching from the cyber-wagon.

But I'll be back.


Atlantis found!

Need proof that Plato was divinely inspired? Look no further.
Robert Sarmast said sonar scanning of the seabed between east Cyprus and Syria revealed man-made walls, one as long as 3 kilometers (2 miles), and trenches at a depth of 1,500 meters (1,640 yards).

"It is a miracle we found these walls as their location, and lengths match exactly the description of the acropolis of Atlantis provided by Plato in his writings," Sarmast said, referring to the ancient Greek philosopher.

"We have definitely found the Acropolis of Atlantis," he affirmed, adding the site was 80 kilometers (50 miles) southeast of Cyprus.

Darn--the news came in just too late for the Plato discussion.

Update: Brendan Koerner explains it (away?).

Nov 15, 2004

heather has two mommies

This, I'm sure, will prove nothing to James Dobson.

trade makes people better, right?

Timothy Sandefur has this little snippet from Democracy in America touting the moral benefits of trade. Of course, Alexis de Tocqueville never heard the Enron tapes.

though I've belted you and flayed you

Principal Steve Unfreid, who said he was inspired in his choice of disciplinary tactics by the actions of Jesus, asked teacher Joe Brost to whip him in front of two male students in the school's basement last month after the boys were caught kissing girls in the locker room for the second time in a week.

Unfreid, in an interview Friday at his home, acknowledged he should have called the boys' parents first but expressed no regret for his behavior.

The school's board of directors unanimously decided in a closed door session Sunday to fire Unfreid.
Way, way weird.

[thanks to the obscure store]

gubernatorial update

Based on these numbers, I'm calling the election for Rossi, although a recount seems likely.

Come on, Gregoire, concede already, you weasel.

Update: the numbers are swinging toward Gregoire again, but I'll bet it's just like last time, when a sudden rise led to a quick turnaround. King County's ballots are nearly all in, and there won't be enough to overcome all the smaller (Republican) counties--for once.

Update Update: Yep. Back to a slim Rossi lead. Tennis neck, anyone?

Update Update Update: So Gregoire's narrowly in the lead, and Stefan Sharkansky is giving up predicting the outcome because of the 10,000 "magical mystery votes" that appeared out of nowhere (it seems) in King County. I'm still calling it for Rossi.

Update Update Update Update: I can keep this up as long as they update the state's site. The looming recount seems a sure bet; a day before the results are certified, Rossi's up by 19 votes. If you've been watching closely, Bennett's numbers have been inching up with each new tally, no matter how Rossi or Gregoire have fared. (Too bad she's only 47 percentage points behind either.)

Okay, last update, really, to this post: Things just got even more convoluted.

the death of the blogger

Yes, my words get twisted and mangled by those who misunderstand me, and I don't even write exactly what I mean when I think it--but does that mean I don't own my words, and that their meaning is utterly independent of my intentions?

My students read Roland Barthes's The Death of the Author today, and tried to wrap their brains around the question. From the opening paragraph, the work challenges all who hold a literalist hermeneutic:
In his story Sarrasine Balzac, describing a castrato disguised as a woman, writes the following sentence: ‘This was woman herself, with her sudden fears, her irrational whims, her instinctive worries, her impetuous boldness, her fussings, and her delicious sensibility.’ Who is speaking thus? Is it the hero of the story bent on remaining ignorant of the castrato hidden beneath the woman? Is it Balzac the individual, furnished by his personal experience with a philosophy of Woman? Is it Balzac the author professing ‘literary’ ideas on femininity? Is it universal wisdom? Romantic psychology? We shall never know, for the good reason that writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin. Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing.
Barthes takes T.S. Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent" a step further:
We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.
And tears apart the fabric of discourse:
Once the Author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile. To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing.... In the multiplicity of writing, everything is to be disentangled, nothing deciphered; the structure can be followed, ‘run’ (like the thread of a stocking) at every point and at every level, but there is nothing beneath: the space of writing is to be ranged over, not pierced; writing ceaselessly posits meaning ceaselessly to evaporate it, carrying out a systematic exemption of meaning. In precisely this way literature (it would be better from now on to say writing), by refusing to assign a ‘secret’, an ultimate meaning, to the text (and to the world as text), liberates what may be called an anti-theological activity, an activity that is truly revolutionary since to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases—reason, science, law.


Nov 13, 2004

do the puyallup

Why am I awake at 5:15 on a lustrous Saturday? Because it's debate season, silly, which means I'll be gone all day. Sorry, loyal readers (or is it reader? I've lost count); the font of unwisdom is closed for the next day. Your questions will be answered or ignored, your doubts dispelled or reinforced, your misconceptions laid to rest or given a parade upon my return.

Meanwhile, I leave you with this: progress is being made in at least one war.

Nov 11, 2004

unborking Gonzales

In a weird about-face, a Christian group is decrying Alberto Gonzales for being not judicially activist enough.


The quote, from Judie Brown of the American Life League:
"When asked if his own personal feelings about abortion would play a role in his decisions, Gonzales told the Los Angeles Times in 2001 that his 'own personal feelings about abortion don't matter... The question is, what is the law, what is the precedent, what is binding in rendering your decision. Sometimes, interpreting a statute, you may have to uphold a statute that you may find personally offensive. But as a judge, that's your job.' Gonzales' position is clear: the personhood of the preborn human being is secondary to technical points of law, and that is a deadly perspective for anyone to take.
Gonzales offers a clear strict constructionist position--the law over my personal opinion. That should be commendable, right? After all, "judicial activism" is the culprit, isn't it?
The time has come to put words and promises aside. The time has come for action. If the pro-abortion zealots will not yield and if those in charge of the Senate will not take the lead, use your powers to recess appoint pro-life judges to our federal courts and undo the judicial activism our legal system has suffered from over the past decade.
ALL even cites Robert Bork on the matter:
Bork shows the difference between interpreting the law and using court decisions by judges to in effect dictate new law which could not pass through Congress. He shows the disadvantages (similar to those of a dictatorship) of permitting elite judges to dictate unpopular changes in American law. "Decisions are precedents; doctrines are applied to new cases; and what begins as an attitude of `Let's do it just this one time' grows into a deformation of constitutional government."
More evidence that "judicial activism" is wrong only when it threatens your principles.

[thanks to Hit and Run]

Update: Ed Brayton has further thoughts.


Mere Orthodoxy, the site run primarily by my brother, is moving off life support and back up to full blog status. The Darwinian Project has been ropped off the roll, simply because it was a flame that flickered out too soon.

I may add other links later--but who has time to read them, anyway?

Back to grading papers.


This little bit of idiocy is worth quoting in full:
AMHERST - Vladimir Morales, who helped organize a Puerto Rican flag-raising ceremony in honor of Puerto Rican month, is asking for a formal apology from the woman he said took the flag down.

Friday, the flag was raised on the Town Common with more than 100 people gathered to celebrate and sing the Puerto Rican national anthem. But on Sunday, Town Meeting member Patricia K. Church apparently thought the flag was the state flag of Texas. Upset with the results from last week's presidential election, Church later told Morales it was she who took it down, Morales said. Bush is from Texas.

Both flags have a single star set on blue background. But the Puerto Rican flag has red and white stripes and the star is set in a triangular background, while the Texan flags is half white and half red with the star set in a rectangular background.

Morales said when he heard the flag was missing his first thought was that it had been vandalized.

"It gives you a bad taste," he said. "We had a good thing on Friday. ... We felt aggrieved."

When he heard the flag was found and what happened, he said, "It was a misunderstanding," but he said the act still surprised him. "The point of taking it on themselves. I think the folks need to be a little more careful."

He would like Church to apologize formally to the whole community. Church could not be reached for comment.

The Puerto Rican flag, meanwhile, was back up yesterday in front of Town Hall.
Why would Patricia K. Church confuse Puerto Rico's flag with the Texas flag? For the same reason the paper has to explain that "Bush is from Texas." Because too many people are ignorant, uneducated dunderheads.

[thanks as always to the obscure store]

Nov 9, 2004

shifting the balance

In a race that keeps see-sawing between Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi, Ruth Bennett, the Libertian candidate, wants her party to be known as a real political force in Washington state.
"The Republicans have always dissed us (Libertarians) because they think we take Republican votes," Bennett says. "I have just proven that we can also take some Democrat votes."

So far, Bennett has garnered 45,000 votes, enough that could have swayed the election either way.

"It's important, I think, for both the Democrats and Republicans to realize that we (Libertarians) can be the balance of power," Bennett says.

Bennett admits she went into the race knowing that it would be close, and that she probably wouldn't win. But that wasn't the point of her candidacy. She simply wanted to be an option that wasn't currently on the table.

No matter who eventually gets the gubernatorial nod, Bennett has some conversations planned.

"If Dino Rossi wins, we'll go in and say 'look, we want you to stay off same-sex marriage.' If it's Christine Gregoire, we'll do the same thing. She wasn't exactly a ringing endorser," Bennett says.
Here's to Bennett, and a viable third party in a state that finally has an election worth talking about.

by jingo if we do

Woe betide us.

This morning's Veterans Day assembly marked a new low in the year's sad excuses for edutainment. We've had boring assemblies, and pointless assemblies, and rah-rah sports assemblies, but never before had we endured the use of an assembly as a political platform. The music, the light show, the movie, the skit--all fine, all respectful. But the speech... the speech.

It's one thing to remember veterans, to honor those who have served and fallen in the cause of liberty. It's another to turn the time for remembering into a bully pulpit for the War on Terror--and, worse, to trivialize the whole affair by reminding all of us to come out Friday night to "show what we stand for."

That's right. Football.

Nov 8, 2004

thinking outside the circle

Is this the next big step toward a cure for schizophrenia?
The study participants were asked to look at either of two images containing four 'Pac-man' figures - circles with a quarter missing.

In one image, the four shapes were arranged to optically suggest a square in the centre. The participants were asked to press a button to show if they perceived a square or not.

At the same time, the scientists monitored the participants' brain waves using EEG, which gives a trace of the brain's electrical activity.

Both groups were able to respond to the images within a second, but those with schizophrenia made more errors and took about 200 milliseconds longer to process the image.

When the researchers looked at the brain wave patterns they found the patients with schizophrenia showed no activity in a certain wave band when performing the button-pushing task.

However, the healthy volunteers had visible gamma wave activity, indicating that their brains were processing the visual information to guide their response.

Lead researcher Dr Robert McCarley said: "There was a pretty dramatic difference. The schizophrenics did not show this gamma-band response at all.

"If the most efficient communication between assemblies of neurons is at 40 hertz, and the schizophrenics are using a lower frequency, it's likely they have defective communication between cell assemblies and brain regions."
Add this to the re-working of the epidemiology of mental illness, and we're talking a diagnostic and therapeutic revolution, away from broad-based drugs toward targeted treatments and anti-bacterial warfare.

This isn't just the Decade of the Brain or the Century of the Neuron. We live in the Age of Neuroscience.

atto margin

Dino Rossi's closing the gap behind Chris Gregoire in the Twiggy-thin Washington gubernatorial race. First it was Rossi winning, then Gregoire by 15,000, then Gregoire by about four grand. The margin's in recount territory, at any rate.

Oh, and no Democrats, to my knowledge, are calling Rossi a weasel because he won't concede. Yet.

Nov 7, 2004

eat, crow

If you haven't seen this yet, you're missing out. As I blogged about earlier,
It's a credit to humans' basic anthropocentrism that this--the idea that other animals might be as wily, deceptive, and crafty as we are--comes as a surprise.

he regresado

After 13 rounds of Champ level Lincoln-Douglas judging over the past three days, not to mention dealing with adolescent angst, malnutrition and sleep inertia, my brain is more than a little frazzled. So don't look to my blog for inspiration or amusement... visit Dispatches from the Culture Wars instead.

I'll be back, really, as soon as I can. But no sooner.

Nov 4, 2004


Yeah, I'm headed out too.

By the way, Mr. G.K.C. (and I know you're reading this), it's your move.

Hasta la something.

Nov 3, 2004

hiatus from the hiatus

The sky didn't fall, porcine mammals didn't sprout wings, and the Beatles didn't reunite. All in all, it was a great night for America, regardless of the outcome. The system, creaky as it is, worked, and I missed all of it, enjoying quietness and comfort in the arms of a beautiful woman.

Down with media hype. Up with love.

Nov 2, 2004


I'm taking a one-day media vacation. I'm (nearly literally) sticking my fingers in my ears and saying "la-la-la-la-la" to the whole election, and enjoying a quiet evening with my wife when the work day is done.

"Why would you do that, today of all days?" one of my students asked.

Because it's out of my hands now, and I'm fine with that. And tomorrow, when the sun rises as I drive back to school, I'll turn on the radio and discover who won. Or maybe I'll wait until I see the moon turn to blood and the stars fall from the sky.

Nov 1, 2004

pre-election post-election burnout

I'm already worn out from tomorrow, and it's only tonight. I'm tired of the lawsuits and the exit polls and the projections and the state maps and the pundits and the "I Voted" stickers and I need an antacid again, again. I can't stop clicking through the channels looking for a football game, an infomercial, a Rise of the Lowly Ape documentary to take me away from the election, far away from the blogosphere. My fingers ache from mousing. My eyes blur in the hazy glow of a million tiny pixels blaring falsehood upon inanity. The radio drones--is this the jazz station? Maybe Wednesday.

Worst of all, I've brought it on myself. I love it, and I love it that I hate it in loving it. The ulcer throbs in passion, not in angst.

I can't be cynical, for too long anyway, because the Republic will survive no matter who wins. Honestly, it will, and you know it as well as I do. Osama bin Laden be damned; Michael Moore be unplugged.

I'd link to all the relevant articles, but I don't care anymore. You've already read them--and if you haven't, it's too late, and bless you for it.

Let the games begin.

academic... er... freedom

A foolish inconsistency is the hobgoblin of illogical minds.

throw it back

William Safire goes in search of the Liberal Media, and comes back empty, according to Slate's Jack Shafer. Welcome to the world of truth-by-database.

Oct 31, 2004

tricker treat

Why not? If they're going to come begging to your door, expecting a handout, give them what they deserve: a sermon on the virtues of freeloading. Make them take a Kerry/Edwards sticker, too, or no candy.

Oct 29, 2004

hasta la something

I'm leaving the election behind this weekend--I already voted--and focusing on something less ire-raising: creating future pundits through speech and debate. Tournament season, once it rolls around, lowers my stress level as the great work of preparation decreases exponentially.

No more popping Tums like candy corn.

Chew on this.

Oct 28, 2004

shot pot

In Slate's Fray, locdog writes,
we need to remember because that's what leadership is. anyone can take pot shots from the cheap seats, but bush was on the field when it counted. he saw this country through the worst disaster in our history. that's not to say we wouldn't have pulled through had he not been in office. americans survive. but he made us stronger at our weakest moment. i cannot imagine the burden laid upon the shoulders of a man in such incredible circumstances, but when many would have crumpled, bush stood firm, and had strength enough left over to share with us all. that's leadership. it's leadership not merely when things were at their worse, but when things were worse than any of us had ever imagined they could be. bush looked the worst terrorist attack in history in the eye and didn't flinch, faced something of a scale no president or world leader had ever faced before, and in so doing, forever etched his name among the greatest of them all.
Bush was strong immediately after 9/11, and for that this nation should be grateful. But to claim that 9/11 is "the worst disaster in our history" and "of a scale no president or world leader had ever faced before" is beyond belief. History teachers, weep for this man.

that's report-aaazsh

Read the big story, the source, and The Truth. If you haven't guessed it by now, the RNC is pretty damned weasely.

reporting for reporting for reporting for duty

This is hilarious.

[via pharyngula via talentshow]

Oct 27, 2004

we are all Gnostics now

Been readin' Tertullian, thanks to my brother, who started the whole thing by mentioning that some of his students are closet Gnostics--and they don't even know it. (Read up on Gnosticism here, if you're so inclined.)

My brother's recapitulation of Tertullian's arguments against Marcion is coherent and fair.
...the "spiritual body" seems akin to the "spiritual man" of 1 Corinthians 2, the "man who lives through the Spirit." Given all of Romans 8 and Paul's use of "spiritual" in 1 Corinthians (as well as his statements about the body being a "temple" of the Spirit, the most natural meaning of "spiritual body" in 1 Corinthians 15 is "a body that is under control of the Spirit."
(Compare this with Tertullian, Chapter LIII.)

Christians ought to believe in the resurrection of the body. But does failing to believe in the "literal" bodily resurrection--or to understand the subtleties, semantics, and implications of Tertullian's position--make them Gnostics?

The argument fails on lack of evidence and oversimplification.

First, the primary evidence is hastily generalized (from a group of sixteen students who either misunderstood the resurrection of the body, or held no positive belief on the subject, hardly making them "Gnostics"), and insufficiently warranted. That the evangelical church ignores spiritual disciplines may be true, but that the cause is Gnosticism is assumed rather than proven. The same is true of the supposed forgetting of the "corporeality" (body-focus) of worship. Closing eyes to pray, kneeling, standing to sing, raising arms, clapping, singing itself, or taking communion... these are all bodily activities, as corporeal as they come, barring calisthenics.

Hence, I asked for a survey of Christian belief--is there any sort of correlation between wishy-washy belief in a bodily resurrection and lax spiritual discipline, or "corporeality" in worship? That would solve the question, in my mind, whether these borderline heresies actually make a difference in religious practice. As I noted before, using the practice as proof of belief may not always work; my brother even admits that Gnostics and Christians might both fast, for example, for entirely different reasons and with different attitudes. He makes the argument, though, that a Gnostic Church is different from a normal Church in three main respects; this brings up the second problem of oversimplification.

1) Worship: The historical Christian church has always incorporated movement in their corporate worship services. Also, "sensory input" (I'm not sure what the word would be) has played prominent roles in numerous traditions (see incense, icons, rosaries, etc.). A Christian that does not think the body important will neglect the richness of these aids.
Gnostics, as noted below, see the body as "important," but essentially un-good (if not outright "evil"). How Gnostic worship looked (or would look today) I have no idea. But I can't imagine it would involve floating in sensory-deprivation tanks. I could be wrong.

2) Disciplines: The historical Christian church has also advocated "spiritual disciplines" as means of developing one's relationship with God. Ironically, these "spiritual disciplines" are often very physical (see fasting, solitude, silence). Personally, I experienced a much richer prayer life once I began praying on my knees and have also experienced significant spiritual growth while fasting. If the body is not viewed as an intrinsic part of our salvation, then it is difficult to see why these disciplines would "work." Yet I have the testimony of 2000 years of Christian tradition (and personal experience) informing me that they do.
Gnostics have their own spiritual disciplines; this point is moot, as noted above.

3) Sexual ethics: See 1 Corinthians. This was the whole problem. They didn't consider the general resurrection to be physical and subsequently thought they had license to act (sexually) however they wished. This was also Jonathan's point in the comments to my first post.
Gnostics have differing opinions on the matter of sex. Also, the sexual problems in Corinth may have had nothing to do with the attitude toward the resurrection; Corinth was a crossroads of all sorts of religious and philosophical systems. As Daniel B. Wallace writes,
The problem of the identification of the opponents is that they were no doubt a mixed bag, an amorphous entity of several factions. This can be seen by the very nature of Corinth itself, a rather cosmopolitan city which was constantly having an influx of new ideas. The church at Corinth is analogous to any church in southern California in the 1960s/1970s: the “land of fruits and nuts” involved such a diverse influx of ideas, fads, and avant garde heresies that to pin down any unified group as the opponent of the church would be like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall!10 In other words, Paul’s opponents at Corinth were Jews, proto-Gnostics, libertines, ascetics, ecstatics, realized eschatologists,11 anti-resurrectionists, and more! It may be an overstatement to call all of these “opponents,” but it is obvious that several factions existed in Corinth (cf. 1:10-17) and the problems needed to be dealt with seriatim.12

In short, Matt mischaracterizes Gnosticism, conflating contradictory (and competing) strands. Again, from Wikipedia:
Some Gnostic sects were Christians who embraced mystical theories of the true nature of Jesus and/or the Christ which were out of step with the teachings of orthodox Christian faith. For example, Gnostics generally taught docetism, the belief that Jesus did not have a physical body, but rather his apparent physical body was an illusion, and hence his crucifixion was not bodily.

Most Gnostics practiced celibacy and asceticism, on the grounds that the pleasures of the flesh were evil; a few however practiced libertinism, arguing that since the body was evil they should defile it. This led to further distrust, and was an accusation leveled against other groups who did not follow this practice.

Without accurate data, we're left with the "affirming the consequent" fallacy. We have:

Gnostics deny the corporeality of worship, and are lax in spiritual discipline. (Note that this premise itself is questionable.)

The church shows signs of both.

Therefore, the church is falling prey to the influence of Gnosticism.

Matt should ask his students whether they believe Jesus did not have an actual physical body; this would be a clearer way to judge if they're really nascent Gnostics, or--more likely--just theologically ill-informed. I would argue that the latter is far more relevant to the discussion of the watering-down of Christian rituals or disiciplines. If I'm to hastily generalize from my own former religious experience, the problem isn't heresy; it's anti-intellectualism and, relatedly, utter disregard of early Christian history.


Slate has an interesting column listing whom their contributors and staffers will (or would) be pulling the lever for next Tuesday, including some surprises (Hitchens is for Kerry!). Eric Umansky's paragraph is worth quoting in full:

Many of those who support President Bush talk about his "grand vision": The "transformational power of liberty," as the president says, which is the "the best antidote to terror." I support that vision. If only Bush did too. With the partial exceptions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the president has not taken strong stands for democracy. Not in Pakistan, not in Libya, not in Egypt, not in Tunisia, not in Uzbekistan, and definitely not in Russia. To be fair, there's only one country in which I'm confident Kerry would actually push to improve things like governance, transparency, and accountability: the United States. That's good enough for my vote.

I'm almost sorry I already sent in my ballot.

Oct 26, 2004

d' oh?

If you, like some uninformed liberals and wishful-thinking conservatives, think George W. Bush is an evangelical Christian, think again.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News' Charles Gibson, Bush said he believes that both Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

"I think we do. We have different routes of getting to the Almighty," Bush said. "But I want you to understand, I want your listeners to understand, I don't get to get decide who goes to heaven. The Almighty God decides who goes to heaven and I am on my personal walk," he said.
Bush should have read what Pat Robertson has to say.

Besides, you should have known it all along.

Oct 25, 2004

back from the brink

Yes, it's the boys (men, really) of Mere Orthodoxy, opining on all things philosophical, religious, and baseballish, again. Perhaps it's the retro-rockets blasting on the descent to oblivion--but I'd rather think it's the start of a reborn, resurrected blog. And yes, I'm talking in code.

Boston baked bull

Now that everyone's a Red Sox fan, Charles Pierce has to play the loyal iconoclast.

back in the spotlight again

Which, as Tom Franks points out, is the worst possible thing for everybody's favorite conservative, Alan Keyes.

Really... why is he running? What purpose does his campaign serve? Anyone?

Oct 24, 2004

guilty, guilty

Nothing to make you feel slimy like a walk through an auto dealership. The wife and I were out "just looking," and we really were, honest. I hate to waste salespeoples' time. I used to sell computers on commission for a Big-Box Retailer That Will Not Be Named*, so I know how what little tricks salesmen** pull, and I know the rules commissioned salesguys follow. First and foremost: whoever talks first to the customer owns the customer. Secondly: once your customer, always your customer. Third: once your customer, always your customer.

Not surprisingly, most of the salesmen we encountered were brusque and aggressive. A typical exchange between a salesguy and [the two of us]:

Hi there!

[Looking away, trying desperately to avoid eye contact, glancing at the sky, the cars around, neighboring victims]

Great weather we're having!

[It's been raining off-and-on; sure, okay.]

You're here to buy today, aren't you? Because my children are starving, and yours are crowded in the back seat of a tiny sub-sub-compact, aren't they?

[Actually, we don't have kids.]

I love kids, they're great! What are you looking for, then, a big SUV? A Lexus?

[Umm... we're not sure. We're just looking. Just starting out. Haven't even researched yet. Don't talk to us, because we're going to waste your time.]

Okay, then, have a look around... We got some great cars here, new and used, uh-huh, yeah, my name's [Fred, Chuck, Joe, Jim, Freddie, Chuckie, Joey, Jimmy; I can't remember] and I'll be right over there, sulking and skulking, and waiting to descend like a vulture when you make a move toward any particular model. Okay?

[Glancing at each other, nodding. We walk around the lot for a little while, don't see anything we like, and begin to walk back toward our car. All of a sudden a new salesman descends from the pack huddled by the office, and attempts to strike up a conversation.]


[Um... hi. We're just looking. We already spoke with someone.]

MY NAME'S RYAN (extends a sweaty palm; receives from me a halfhearted handshake)

[Honestly, we already talked to someone, and we're just looking.]


[awkward pause]

(Salesman begins to glower, brows furrowing, hands balling up into fists)

[quick-stepping to the car, beating a hasty exit]

The guy takes personal umbrage at the fact that we have already been pestered, and aren't ready for more. Never mind that he's a predator, stealing his coworker's customer. As we drive away, the manager steps out toward the car, looking like he wants to talk to us, see if maybe there's something wrong, or perhaps to defend his sales lummoxes. We don't stop.

Oh, and the dealership that creeps us out: All-Star Ford, on the east side of Olympia, for what it's worth.

*Sadly, they don't any more; their employees are just as crappy and hard-to-find as anyone else's, in my last few experiences as a shopper.

**In the world of computer and car sales, that's what gender you're dealing with, overwhelmingly.