Jul 31, 2004

make a car, zany girl

Time to waste? Look no further than the Internet Anagram Server.

(Bonus points if you solve the anagram.)

wait for my signal

You see this all the time: angry young male, standing at a crosswalk. He punches the button--pounds it six or seven times, thinking Come on, you stupid signal, change already, so the button is thinking Oh my! A buffalo herd is trying to cross the street! I had better stop oncoming traffic, and pronto, double pronto!, and the oncoming traffic is thinking Must get home before I miss reruns of Roseanne.

Jul 30, 2004

hey--lighten up.

It's not all philosophy and weltanschauung in this here blog. How about some good eatin' tips from The Onion?

evil and free will: an exploration

First off, an admission: Plantinga's God, Freedom, and Evil isn't as bad as I remembered. I enjoyed his discussion of possible worlds, and found his logic compelling--at least, for one version of theism (see below), although it rests on undefended suppositions (again, see below). Second, the logical argument from evil is on life support. In one of his contributory essays in The Evidential Argument From Evil, William Alston writes, "It is now acknowledged on (almost) all sides that the logical argument is bankrupt (p. 285). Richard Gale, though, disagrees: "In my book, On the Nature and Existence of God, I argued that no version of [the free will defense] works, and thereby the logical problem posed by moral evil is still with us" (p. 206). (I have another book to add to my reading list.)

Third, a caveat: this essay is a work in progress, and also quite long for a decorabilia post*. Feel free to comment; it will not appear in final form until I've sharpened my arguments and read a lot more. And, given my voracious reading habits, that may not be until some time long into the future.

So, to the issue.

In the central argument of the book, Plantinga adds up the premises which (as far has he can tell) are the only way to find a contradiction between the existence of God and the continuance of evil. They are:

(1) God is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good.
(2) Evil exists [more precisely, "evil states of affairs exist"]
(3) There are no nonlogical limits to what an omnipotent being can do
(4) An omniscient and omnipotent good being eliminates every evil it can properly eliminate, ergo
(5) If God is omnipotent and omniscient, He can properly eliminate every evil state of affairs

Plantinga posits that these statements entail no contradiction in the light of human free will: "To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can't give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so" (p. 30).

Notice that (4) is framed positively, ignoring a different slant on the argument. If, as Plantinga has claimed elsewhere, God is involved in every action in creation, "from the Big Bang to the sparrow's fall," does that not change the argument? Now a "good being" is not only not eliminating evil, but actively perpetrating and sustaining it. While a God who lets the universe (mostly) run on its own can sidestep the blame for evil's persistence, in the world of "serious theism," God is "actively and intimately involved" in it. Therefore, a "natural atheologist" would frame (4) as "An omniscient and omnipotent good being does not perpetrate or sustain evil." Broadly speaking, the logical "problem of evil" is a problem only for the serious theist.

Furthermore, Plantinga declares (5) impossible, because eliminating evil state E would necessarily eliminate good state G, which outweighs and depends on E's existence. His example is that of courage, a moral good that not only outweighs the evil it strives against, but could not exist without it. "It is a necessary truth that if someone bears pain magnificently, then someone is in pain" (p. 23).

However, there are many kinds of good which do not depend on any sort of evil for their existence--generosity, creativity, kindness, patience, and so forth. Perhaps God could have created a world in which only those sorts of good existed.

Furthermore, God could also have created a world in which morally significant action was possible--stealing, for example--but humans were limited, physically, in their ability to wreak havoc. (Imagine skin that doesn't so easily puncture, tear, and bleed; imagine a brain packed in a thicker skull; imagine a genetic inheritance that makes people all about the same height and weight.) Plantinga claims that God couldn't have done these things for some unknown (and, ultimately, unknowable) reason. Furthermore, Plantinga wonders if there are transactions between spiritual beings we know nothing of--like the frame story in Job, where God settles a wager with Satan by torturing his faithful servant. In short, defenses against this evidentiary argument from evil rely on ineffable, inscrutable reasons and unobservable, immeasurable entities. All well and good for the person of faith; hardly convincing to the skeptic.

Let us look deeper, though.

To accept Plantinga's Free Will Defense, we must accept two concepts: real (not just apparent) human freedom, and transworld depravity. The first goes assumed by Plantinga; the second is declared "possible," though it seems entirely ad hoc, contrived for the purpose of showing how God might be unable to actuate a world that includes morally free creatures who always choose rightly. So, Plantinga's argument shows that it is possible that there is no logical inconsistency; it does not show that such is obviously or necessarily true.

What sort of freedom (leaving aside such issues as predestination, foreknowledge, and the like) does Plantinga assume?
If a person is free with respect to a given action, then he is free to perform that action and free to refrain from performing it; no antecedent conditions and / or causal laws determine that he will perform the action, or that he won't.... Freedom so conceived is not to be confused with unpredictability. You might be able to predict what you will do in a given situation even if you are free, in that situation, to do something else (pp. 29-30).

Note that this sort of freedom lacks explanatory power, and is likely wrong, since it entirely removes human choice from the sphere of cause and effect--and, in doing so, makes humans into little Gods, able to effect uncaused actions.

Even if we grant that truly free will exists, though, we must ask: if free will is inviolable, yet humans, thanks to transworld depravity, are continually prone to abuse it, how is heaven, a place free of pain, suffering and sin, logically possible?

Furthermore, if God is both morally good and sinless, and (presumably) the most "valuable" being in all possible worlds (since He is the object of reverence and worship), did He create beings greater than himself with respect to moral freedom? Remember, Plantinga claims that transworld depravity precludes an actual world where free beings always choose the good. There is but one way to exclude God from this without declaring His nonexistence: by removing God's moral freedom. To recap: if God freely always does the right thing, Plantinga's argument implodes. If God has freely chosen the wrong thing, He is not wholly good. If God cannot help but always do the right thing, then humans are more "valuable" than God.

Again, Plantinga assumes--as do most Free Will Defenders--that free will is "valuable". From a human perspective, perhaps this is true. But from God's? If Plantinga's possible world scenario is correct, then God cannot actualize a world without depending on the undetermined choices of human (and other?) free agents. No wonder theistic worldviews are often apocalyptic. The Director's instructions go unheeded. In corners of the set, flats have been torn down. In others, self-styled artistes tack on shambling additions. Prima donnas extemporize their lines, affect stupid accents, shout down other characters. Yet, thanks to vaunted Free Will, "the show must go on," until the Director, no longer able to contain a few millennia's worth of festering fury, burns down the stage, sweeping up a few chosen actors and leaving the rest to perish in flames.

There's much more I could say, but won't; this post is long enough. Take a serious look at The Evidential Argument From Evil, though, if you want a much more in-depth discussion.

*And here are all the other tangential musings I would have included:

For all the value assigned to Free Will in theodicies, it seems to bear much less importance in theologies. Submission to the will of God is paramount; paradise is paradise due to the utter absence of contrarians.

What would the world look like if humans operated on moral principles derived from God's conduct?

I can imagine a possible world in which one free creature (call him Adam) exists, surrounded by unfree beings. (In fact, this is nothing more than the original creation story in Genesis, in classic Christian understanding.) My deity, though, goes one better than Yahweh. When Adam becomes distressed and bored after a day of doling out names to koalas and mantises, he complains to God; the deity, rather than creating Eve (and all the attendant problems to follow), decides to wipe Adam's memory clean as he sleeps. Adam wakes up to a new world with all its glorious possibilities. His free will has not been tampered with, and evil is nowhere in sight.

In a strange inversion of value, a world of full sinless automatons (devoid of evil) is worth less than a world full of evil, sinful humans; however, a heaven scattered with a few saved souls is worth more than a hell full of the lost.

And now, for the kicker. Epistemologically, how would it be possible to tell the difference between a world of clever automatons and a world of "free" beings, without resort to tautology?

silly parents. tricks are for kids.

Today's adults, through a miracle of intellectual dematuration, are dumber than your average 11-year-old.
All the games are rated for ages 17 and older. But despite the age ratings that restrict sales to kids, a lot of kids get around the ratings by slipping the games into their parent's shopping cart, knowing they won't review them at the checkstand.

And they say in some stores, the ratings get covered by price stickers.

The boys say parents like theirs who prohibit violent games at home forget about the games at their friends' house.
When I was (cough) a kid, I couldn't play video games (except for Duck Hunt or Tecmo Bowl at a friend's house) until my brother and I scrummed up enough cash to buy our own Super NES. What were our parents thinking?

Jul 29, 2004

an open letter to John Kerry

Dear Mr. Kerry,

Thank you for the campaign update that your friends over at the Democratic National Committee were so generous to mail my way. It's a fine complement to the speeches I hear through the thin walls of my apartment (my neighbor, Mrs. Oaktree, can't hear the television so well). Your enthusiasm has infected me in the form of a slight cough, but no matter.

John--if I may be so familiar--I'll be frank. I don't give a fig's pit for "carrying our values to victory." I'm voting for you because you're the humane alternative, even though I'm mighty impressed by your choice of vice president's haircut. The man I really want to vote for is Barack Obama, but he's not eligible.

What I do give a pig's foot for is banality-free prose. I know you don't write your own speeches, and I hope the same is true of your campaign epistle-stops. They have enough cliches to sink a frigate. If you don't believe me, I've compiled this handy list:

work side-by-side
carry the day
pales in comparison
counting on you
work hand-in-hand
courage of our convictions

See? They're limp, flabby, stale. And there are more, far more in the letter the DNC sent, the one with your stamped signature, printed on both sides (the trees thank you!) on recycled paper (the trees thank you again!).

So, John, I don't have $25 to donate, but I'll offer you my talents as a writer of shimmering prose, if you'll have me.

Your devoted semi-fan,


Jul 27, 2004

déjà vu all over again

Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, David Glenn delves into research on a subject that, of late, has become accessible to neuroscientists.
During the past two decades, however, a few hardy souls have reopened the scientific study of déjà vu. They hope to nail down a persuasive explanation of the phenomenon, as well as shed light on some fundamental elements of memory and cognition. In the new book The Déjà Vu Experience: Essays in Cognitive Psychology (Psychology Press), Alan S. Brown, a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University, surveys the fledgling subfield. "What we can try to do is zero in on it from a variety of different angles," he says. "It won't be something like, 'Boom! The explanation is there.' But we can get gradual clarity through some hard work."
In other news, I've started reading Don Quixote. Much like the protagonist, I can't stop reading.
In short, our hidalgo was soon so absorbed in these books that his nights were spent reading from dusk till dawn, and his days from dawn till dusk, until the lack of sleep and the excess of reading withered his brain, and he went mad.

Also, I'm re-reading God, Freedom and Evil, and diving into The Evidential Argument From Evil, and hope to correct and clarify my previous posting on the subject.

Jul 26, 2004

required reading

Bend Sinister
Skipping the preface and introduction, I read it, and then immediately read it again, aware now of Nabokov's dazzling wordplay, delicious humor, and dizzying imagination. Sure, I got the parody of Stalinism... [read more]

nip it good

Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids
It had been a while since I last read The Plague, that existential classic by Camus, so, when scanning the dust jacket of Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids, and seeing the words "plague," "Camus," and "existential hero" within mere paragraphs of each other, I thought why not? After all, it sat on the "classics" rack in my local library.... [read more]

Jul 25, 2004

cake eaten, too

Recently I threw a couple cents into a discussion of philosophical difficulties with Intelligent Design creationism. Joe Carter, of evangelical outpost renown, was disputing the common charge that ID is a "God-of-the-gaps" argument. To this, Carter answered:
...The most obvious problem is that it is a strawman since ID theory only claims that intelligent design can be detected; it never invokes a "god." Perhaps this is what ID advocates believe is ultimately implied by their theory. But even if they do it does not affect the theory's adequacy as a research program. ID'ers could be right about being able to detect tangible evidence of design without being correct about the identity of the designer. Saying "a human must have designed this computer" is a different claim that "Tom Jones must have designed this computer."

It should be noted that while some types of creationists could invoke a “God-of-the-gaps” explanation, it is not (or at least should not be) a tactic used by Christian theists. As Alvin Plantinga explains,
First and most important, according to serious theism, God is constantly, immediately, intimately and directly active in his creation: he constantly upholds it in existence and providentially governs it. He is immediately and directly active in everything from the Big Bang to the sparrow's fall. Literally nothing happens without his upholding hand. Second, natural laws are not in any way independent of God, and are perhaps best thought of as regularities in the ways in which he treats the stuff he has made, or perhaps as counterfactuals of divine freedom. (Hence there is nothing in the least untoward in the thought that on some occasions God might do something in a way different from his usual way--e.g., raise someone from the dead or change water into wine.) Indeed, the whole interventionist terminology--speaking of God as intervening in nature, or intruding into it, or interfering with it, or violating natural law--all this goes with God-of-the-gaps theology, not with serious theism. According to the latter, God is already and always intimately acting in nature, which depends from moment to moment for its existence upon immediate divine activity; there isn't and couldn't be any such thing as his 'intervening' in nature.
Several criticisms could be leveled at Carter's summation; he is too charitable to the ID research program, which, provided it actually exists, is strongly aligned with Christian theism in the form of the Discovery Institute, too aligned to claim to be religiously agnostic (and, anyhow, a design hypothesis without any identifying traits of a designer is vacuous). But, in my comment, I limited my criticism to one concern.
Plantinga wrote,
First and most important, according to serious theism, God is constantly, immediately, intimately and directly active in his creation: he constantly upholds it in existence and providentially governs it. He is immediately and directly active in everything from the Big Bang to the sparrow's fall. Literally nothing happens without his upholding hand....
How about a philosophical objection to this brand of theism? While it may rid ID of the God-of-the-Gaps reasoning, it makes God responsible for the existence and prevalence of evil. I believe CS Lewis called that "sawing off the branch you are sitting on."

Posted by: Jim Anderson at July 23, 2004 11:09 AM

To which Carter responded:
Plantinga has already dealt with that objection in "God, Freedom, and Evil."

Posted by: Joe Carter at July 23, 2004 11:16 AM
Unsatisfied with that response, I replied:
Dealt with it satisfactorily? On face, the quote you posted makes God "active" in every event--"from the Big Bang to the sparrow's fall," neither of which is an event characterized by "free will," and seemingly irrelevant to the "free will theodicy." I don't have the book in front of me (I read it a long time ago, and was unimpressed by it; but then, I was young and unimpressionable). What's his response, in your best summation? According to Plantinga, how can God be so intimately involved in "everything" and yet be irresponsible for the outcomes we deem "evil?" If God was so wrapped up in the Big Bang, was He not also involved in the Holocaust and My Lai? If He has the power to sustain, does He not also have the power to terminate? Or is God's will less-than-free?

Posted by: Jim Anderson at July 23, 2004 11:24 AM
Carter responded helpfully:
While it is difficult to provide a thorough summation, the key points are:

  • (1) God is omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good.

  • (2) It was not within God’s power to create a world containing moral good but no moral evil.

  • (3) God created a world containing moral good.

  • (4) There is moral evil.

  • Naturally, you can still claim that God is ultimately responsible since he created a world containing moral good. Some people might argue that the mere existence of evil means it would be better if nothing existed at all. Of course nihilism isn’t all that popular so I’m not sure how many people would actually subscribe to that view.

    Posted by: Joe Carter at July 23, 2004 11:36 AM
    I found this interesting, but still inadequate.
    If I remember correctly, it was where Plantinga tried to explain how (1) was not self-defeating (and used an analogy involving a person on a boat in the middle of a lake directly halfway between two drowing souls) that I knew Plantinga's syllogism was inadequate. (He claimed that since a person who saved only one of the two would still be considered "good," so could God--ignoring the fact that God is also omnipotent, and not bound by space-time, rendering the analogy useless.)

    (2) is also suspect; if God is a morally good being (or at least, classically, we ascribe moral goodness to Him) and in Himself contains no trace of moral evil, and He is also omnipotent, why could He not create a world along those lines?

    Posted by: Jim Anderson at July 23, 2004 11:50 AM

    As of this posting, Carter has not responded (scroll down to see), so I leave it to you, dear reader, to consider the question. If God is not only the creator but the sustainer of "everything" in creation, how can "serious theists" also concurrently claim the free will defense (discussed earlier) and absolve God of responsibility for evil?

    missed opportunity

    Communities of Dissent
    The history of religion is usually told from a majoritarian perspective; small heresies receive only a passing mention, as foils for dominant creeds. Stein's brief synopsis is an attempt to take the minority view, treating fringe groups as not only worthy of study, but typical of American idealism and cranky independent-mindedness.... [read more]

    Jul 24, 2004


    I'll be in the Mount Baker area today, hangin' with family and soakin' up (record levels of!) sun. No bloggin', 'til Sunday leastaways. (Besides, yesterday I blogged more in one day than I have in a week. Time for a break.) Hasta pronto.

    Jul 23, 2004

    what we have here is a failure to imaginate

    The 9/11 Commission Report is long, but fascinating, reading. It is a strong indictment of "business as usual," the fractious, inefficient mess among the intelligence agencies. The previously-noted, misleading phrase "failure of imagination" (quoted, in the report, as coming from the lips of Paul Wolfowitz, who is given responsibility for directing Bush's cabinet's attention toward Iraq), is discussed in section 11.1, "Imagination." Contrary to popular belief, and as pointed out before, the planes-as-weapons scenario had been floated many times in various agencies. Some further, more detailed examples, straight from the report, with commentary:

    Clarke had been concerned about the danger posed by aircraft since at least the 1999 Atlanta Olympics. There he had tried to create an air defense plan using assets from the Treasury Department, after the Defense Department declined to contribute resources. The Secret Service continued to work on the problem of airborne threats to the Washington area. In 1998, Clarke chaired an exercise designed to highlight the inadequacy of the solution. This paper exercise involved a scenario in which a group of terrorists commandeered a Learjet on the ground in Atlanta, loaded it with explosives, and flew it toward a target in Washington, D.C. Clarke asked officials from the Pentagon, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and Secret Service what they could do about the situation. Officials from the Pentagon said they could scramble aircraft from Langley Air Force Base, but they would need to go to the President for rules of engagement, and there was no mechanism to do so. There was no clear resolution of the problem at the exercise (345).
    Some items of note. Richard Clarke's name appears often in the report, which describes a multitude of his efforts that ended in frustration and fruitlessness. Second, the President's inaction for seven full minutes (as documented elsewhere) can be seen in a new light. He alone could grant authority to shoot down any potential D.C. attacker, a fact I was not aware of. Third, the Secret Service allowed the problem to go unresolved; perhaps this is one of the reasons Clarke apologized to the American people, saying "I failed you."

    In a separate scenario,

    ...[t]he North American Aerospace Defense Command imagined the possible use of aircraft as weapons, too, and developed exercises to counter such a threat--from planes coming to the United States from overseas, perhaps carrying a weapon of mass destruction. None of this speculation was based on actual intelligence of such a threat. One idea, intended to test command and control plans and NORAD's readiness, postulated a highjacked airliner coming from overseas and crashing into the Pentagon (346).

    In summarizing the "failure of imagination," the report states, "The methods for detecting and then warning of surprise attack that the U.S. had so painstakingly developed in the decades after Pearl Harbor did not fail; instead, they were not really tried (348)." Or, as Kurt Cobain put it, "Who needs action when you got words?"

    If the report does not lead to wholesale change in the intelligence infrastructure, we are doomed to repeat 9/11 in years to come.


    After reading The Meaning of Everything, I have much more respect for those "harmless drudges" known as lexicographers. They have to discover not only a word's meaning(s), but delve into its history and etymology, a painstaking, arduous process. An example: who was the first to use the term "postmodern" or "postmodernism," at least in the sense we now understand it, as an attack on Enlightenment-era rationalism and objective epistemology, and the conflation of linguistics and politics?

    Over on evangelical outpost, commenter "Puzzled" claims Christian thinker Francis Scheaffer was "one of the very first to use the term, back in 1968." One of the very first apologeticists, perhaps?

    Donald Wellman thinks it was a poet.
    The work with Charles Olson, for instance, represents an inquiry into the relations between desire construed subjectively and form construed objectively. This work also represents my engagement with the relationship between modernism and the postmodern. He was the first to use the term, "postmodern."
    Timothy M. Chester disagrees:
    In The Sociological Imagination, C. W. Mills wrote "The modern age is being succeeded by a post-modern period. . .(where) increased rationality may not be assumed to make for increased freedom" (Pp. 166-167). Thus, he was the first to use the term "postmodern" in the sense that we know it today. This paper concerns itself with Mills relationship to this condition. The postmodern orientation involves a rebellion against Enlightenment traditions, however, there are many different strands of postmodernism which may be characterized rebellions agaisnt [sic]different forms of Enlightenment narratives. Thus, the author first distinguishes between skeptical post-structuralism and progressive postmodernism. Using these conceptualizations, the author then makes the case that Mills can be seen as the first progressive postmodernist. Progressive in the sense that he believed truth and subjectivity could be recovered in the postmodern age, a duty which is the responsiblity of the critical intellectual.
    Michael Hoover digs even deeper into the detritus of literary history:
    According to Steven Best and Douglas Kellner, English artist John Watkins Chapman referred to 'postmodern painting' around 1870 to identify work ostensibly more modern and avant-garde than French impressionism. They also indicate that term 'postmodern' appeared in 1917 book by Rudolf Pannwitz to describe nihilism and collapse of European cultural values. Other pre-1960s users of 'postmodern' as break [sic]with modern include British historican Arnold Toynbee (who adopted it following appearance in D. C. Somervell's summary of Toynbee's A Study of History), cultural historian Bernard Rosenberg in his introduction to Mass Culture, economist Peter Drucker in The Landmarks of Tomorrow, and C. Wright Mills in The Sociological Imagination.

    See 'Archeology of the Postmodern' (pp. 5-16) in Best and Kellner's Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations, Guilford, 1991.
    So, who's right? If only I had an OED in front of me.

    a billion here, a billion there

    Fred Kaplan has written an intelligent synopsis of what steps need to be taken in lieu of the the 9/11 report.
    The biggest puzzle about the 9/11 commission's report is why Thomas Kean, the panel's chairman, said at the start of his press conference this morning that the U.S. government's failure to stop the attack on the World Trade Center was, "above all, a failure of imagination."

    It was a strange comment because the actual report—a superb, if somewhat dry, piece of work—says nothing of the sort. The failure was not one of imagination but rather of incentives. It turns out that many individuals, panels, and agencies had predicted an attack uncannily similar to what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. The problem was that nobody in a position of power felt compelled to do anything about it.
    Oh, and Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to view the report, which is, like all government publications, overwhelmingly long.

    news from nerdland

    We're now a step closer to room-temperature superconductors, which I know has you foaming and frothing.
    Over the last decade, physicists working with extremely cold gases have created nine different frictionless "superfluids" with bosons, elementary particles with integer spins (1, 2, etc.). In a superfluid, particles do not lose energy when they flow, for example, by heat due to friction.

    But creating a superfluid made of subatomic particles called fermions, which include protons, neutrons and electrons and have half-integer spins (1/2, 3/2, etc.), initially seemed impossible. That is because a quantum mechanical law prevents identical fermions from sharing the same state of being. For example, having the same location or momentum - conditions required for superfluidity.

    But recently physicists have discovered that fermions can be coaxed to pair up, so that their spins add together for a split second, so the pair behaves like a boson.
    Up next: researchers will find a fashionable way to combine polka dots and plaid.

    sharpen your quill

    On Writing Well
    The New York Times calls it "a bible for a generation of writers looking for clues to clean, compelling prose." Indeed, it is a model of clarity and brevity, Zinsser's fundamentals of good writing. He echoes Thoreau, charging the writer to "simplify, simplify." (The smart aleck in me always wondered why Thoreau had to repeat himself.)... [read more]

    Jul 22, 2004

    what the government knew--and subsequently forgot

    Again, from a previous conversation:
    As for the "memo," it didn't mention Al Quaeda using planes as bombs. Hijackings are nothing new--using planes as weapons is. The 9/11 report charges the government with a lack of imagination--clearly that's correct. However, I doubt that George Bush (or anyone else in the government) was any less stunned on 9/11.

    That planes could be used as weapons (as a hypothetical before 9/11) was known in September 1999, and revealed as early as May 17, 2002. From an interagency government report:

    "Al Qaeda's expected retaliation for the U.S. cruise missile attack against al Qaeda's training facilities in Afghanistan on August 20, 1998, could take several forms of terrorist attack in the nation's capital. Al Qaeda could detonate a Chechen-type building-buster bomb at a federal building. Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al Qaeda's Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House. Ramzi Yousef had planned to do this against the CIA headquarters."

    According to 9/11 Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, there was much more evidence along those lines, despite Donald Rumsfeld's claims to the contrary:
    With respect to your [Rumsfeld's] comment about domestic intelligence and what we knew as of September 10th, 2001, your statement was that you knew of no intelligence to suggest that planes would be hijacked in the United States and flown into buildings.

    Well, it is correct that the United States intelligence community had a great deal of intelligence suggesting that the terrorists, back since 1994, had plans, discussed plans, to use airplanes as weapons, loaded with fuel, loaded with bombs, loaded with explosives. The Algerians had a plan in '94 to fly a plane into the Eiffel Tower.

    The Bojinka plot in '95 discussed flying an explosive-laden small plane into CIA headquarters. Certainly CIA was well aware of that.

    There were plans in '97 using a UAV. In '98, an al Qaeda- connected group talked about flying a commercial plane into the World Trade Center. In '98, there was a plot broken up by Turkish intelligence involving the use of a plane as a weapon. In '99, there was a plot involving exploding a plane at an airport. Also in '99, there was a plot regarding an explosive-laden hang-glider. In '99 or in 2000, there was a plot regarding hijacking a 747. And in August of 2001, there was information received by our intelligence community regarding flying a plane into the Nairobi embassy, our Nairobi embassy.

    And so I suggest that when you have this threat spike in the summer of 2001 that said something huge was going to happen and the FAA circulates, as you mentioned, a warning which does nothing to alert people on the ground to the potential threat of jihadist hijacking, which only, it seems to me, despite the fact that they read into the congressional record the potential for a hijacking threat in the United States, in the summer of 2001, it never gets to any actionable level.

    Nobody at the airports is alerted to any particular threat. Nobody flying the planes takes action of a defensive posture.

    I understand that going after al Qaeda overseas is one thing. But protecting the United States is another thing. And it seems to me that a statement that we could not conceive of such a thing happening really does not reflect the state of our intelligence community as of 2001, sir.

    Even if the attacks were not entirely preventable, it is not tenable to claim they were completely unforeseen.

    silence is golden

    From a previous discussion about Bush's now-infamous seven minutes of unexplained inaction in response to being told "America is under attack":
    I am merely skeptical of the argument that George Bush is unfit to govern because he sat for seven minutes. What was he thinking? Neither you nor anyone else has any clue (it's the problem of other minds, you know). Frankly, I WOULDN'T claim that a general who sat for seven minutes is unfit to lead. Why? Because "fitness" (an incredibly vague concept) doesn't seem to be merely determined by the quickness of response, but the quality of the response....
    A general is told "we are under attack," sits there for seven minutes fiddling with his watch, saying nothing, asking no questions, and you would not question his leadership style? I find that hard to believe--especially, say, if you were the adjutant who brought the message. Meditative calm is one thing; slack-jawed astonishment another. (More on this below.)

    To stretch the issue beyond the immediate situation (which has been my main concern), let's address the criterion further. In this case, there has been no quality response. Osama bin Laden, for all we know, is at large; his terror networks, though disrupted, have not been contained or destroyed. Our military is stretched thin in a conflict of questionable (if not entirely dubious) value in the "war on terror" (which, like pouring water on an oil fire, has done nothing but spread the flames).

    ...Why can't the same sort of healthy caution be allowed to a President? If he had exercised nuclear retaliation he surely would have been charged with being a hasty and impulsive decision maker. It seems he's in a lose-lose.

    Please watch the film, and see if George Bush's face registers "healthy caution." As to the "lose-lose," note that I'm not calling for a nuclear strike. A leader doesn't have to make an immediate decision; he should, though, as quickly as possible, get an estimate of the situation, see what those under him are doing to resolve the crisis, and, if he can do nothing else, act presidential while the camera is rolling. (See the film to watch Bush put on his "serious" face before delivering a televised speech; it's quite something.)
    So the question I asked of you still seems to apply: what SHOULD he have done?
    I've already inferred it, I think. Gotten up. Asked a question. Looked concerned. Done anything, really, other than just sit there with a book in his lap. I guess you just have to see the video to understand what I'm talking about. Most simply: he should have left the classroom, explaining (if he felt the need) that duty called him away. I'm sure the children would understand. (After that point, he could, if baffled, ask his advisors what to do, but away from the camera, so the whole world would not know of his bafflement.)

    Obviously, Bush may not have known Al-Qaeda were at that moment crashing jetliners into the World Trade Center; he was told, quite simply, "America is under attack," and he sat there as if there was nothing he could do. A coward might seek to run; a fool, to blindly attack. But total inaction?

    This is not the only reason he is unfit to govern; maybe that's not the best way to frame it. He is unnecessary to his administration, a figurehead, as his aides' actions show. (The fact that none of them interrupted his seven minute reverie--how else can it be explained?) And, perhaps due to his military inexperience, despite being a self-styled "war president," he is not much like a commander-in-chief.

    two new book reviews

    The Blank Slate
    In his apologia for evolutionary psychology, Pinker treads on many toes--right, left, social constructionist, innatist, fundamentalist, radical feminist, neo-Marxist, and more.... [read more]

    Humankind: A Brief History
    A slender volume packed with big questions. What makes us human? Tool-making? Ratiocination? Language? If we cannot effectively distinguish a bright line separating humans from apes, should we expand rights to our near relatives?... [read more]

    worth a gander

    For literateurs, or wanna-bes: what really goes on at the MLA convention. (Caution: long article. May induce boredom.)

    Clever writers writing badly: the Bulwer-Lytton contest results are in. (Caution: extremely bad writing. May induce nausea or dizziness in the syntactically sensitive.)

    Jul 20, 2004

    when liars tell the truth

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes, I have joined the Communist conspiracy, filled out my application to become a card-carrying member of the America-haters (when will it come in the mail? When?), burned a flag or two, and, *shudder*, ponied up $6.50 to see Michael Moore's Ode to Leni Riefenstahl. Why? To see the footage you can't see elsewhere, to see just how bad it is, to see how far off the mark Herr Weasel's work has gone this time.

    Distressing: leftists will justify the half-truths in Fahrenheit 9/11 because it's fighting propaganda with propaganda. More distressing: the full-truths that will be lost in the barrage of accusations: the lone Oregonian defending over a hundred miles of Pacific coast, thanks to budget cuts; the craven senators who refused to sign an objection to the Florida election debacle; the idiots who call the FBI when someone questions Bush's policies while working out at a gym; the TSA regulations that let you carry four books of matches (but not five!) and two lighters on a plane, Mr. Shoe Bomber notwithstanding.

    You've probably read Christopher Hitchens's review by now; he's right, somewhat. The film is scurrilous agitprop, chock-full of innuendo and insinuation, devoid of substantive argument. It's easily dismissed as propaganda, and lazy propaganda at that--its target is so big, so plodding, so take-downable. But the film works when it lets normal people speak--when Jarheads talk about which songs pump them up for war, when parents talk about their children lost in combat, when recruiters note that Shaggy is a "former Marine" (a phrase no real Marine would say, as my retired Marine boss once informed me, in no uncertain terms. Semper Fi!).

    And then there's that one damning scene.
    ...the moment where Bush is shown frozen on his chair at the infant school in Florida, looking stunned and useless for seven whole minutes after the news of the second plane on 9/11. Many are those who say that he should have leaped from his stool, adopted a Russell Crowe stance, and gone to work. I could even wish that myself. But if he had done any such thing then (as he did with his "Let's roll" and "dead or alive" remarks a month later), half the Michael Moore community would now be calling him a man who went to war on a hectic, crazed impulse. The other half would be saying what they already say—that he knew the attack was coming, was using it to cement himself in power, and couldn't wait to get on with his coup..

    If Moore were a truly risk-taking director, he would have run the tape in real time, letting the viewer truly understand the length of it, the discomfort. Seven minutes is a long time.

    "Stunned and useless for seven whole minutes." This, the man who carries the nuclear football, who is told "America is under attack." Seven precious minutes. Moore uses it as an excuse to peer into his mind--is he thinking about his Saudi friends? that he's been royally screwed?--but the obvious point is not made. Forget conspiracies, forget hotheadedness; it's much simpler. George W. Bush is incompetent, unfit to govern in a moment of crisis. And his staff knows this. You get the sense from the scene that the situation is being handled, but elsewhere, and by those really in charge. No, Bush should not have rattled off "Bring it on," or leapt into a tank, but for God's sake, he should have done something, anything, not just sit there with the camera rolling, fiddling with a children's book, staring dumbly into space.

    Jul 19, 2004

    o me of little faith

    So Los Mariners won, much to my delight, and despite the previous day's mealy-mouthed negativism. Seattle baseball isn't quite dead, but it's wheezing through a respirator these days. It took late-inning magic by Hiram Bocachica--robbing a home run in right center--to preserve a narrow margin of victory; and, of course, Guardado notched the save with a 3-2 fastball strikeout. All in all, a good show.

    Jul 17, 2004


    An accident closing all lanes of US 101 kept the girlfriend and I from successfully trekking to Sequim for their famed Lavendar Festival. But rather than hang our heads in dismay, we sallied forth, cutting a swath through Kingston and taking the ferry to Edmonds. From there it was up to Bellingham, back down Chuckanut Drive, and finally home again. Tomorrow: off to see the Mariners lose, in all likelihood, to Cleveland. At least we'll have good seats.

    Oh, and a public service announcment: recently, this blog had turned into Book Critic Central; now, I've decided to post reviews on my newest blog, bibliocracy. The name is an inspired choice, thanks to a recent discussion about the role of literacy in democracy. As my brother points out, the classic Christian political position is to "put power in the hands of those who don't seek it." This strikes me as a perfect description of democracy, since your average American has to be dragged to the polls.

    Update, 8/28/06: In the next few weeks, I'll be moving everything back over here, and closing down the other blog.

    Jul 16, 2004


    Yeah, so I'll be at the Sequim Lavendar Festival this weekend (mostly as an excuse to drive up the east side of the Olympic Peninsula). Sequim is one of those classic northwest shibboleths, like "Puyallup" or "geoduck." Only real Northwesterners know how how to say it. And no, it doesn't sound like "sequin."

    "I'll bet we haven't seen the last of these weirdies."

    How weird is this?

    The fractal patterns look complex, but Narbonne says their self-similarity means that very simple genomes - expected in early organisms - would suffice both to assemble individual frondlets and to control their assembly into larger structures. That would explain why the rangeomorphs evolved first.

    They accounted for over 80% of fossils early in the Ediacara period, when there were no mobile animals or traces of burrows. But they declined as more mobile animals evolved, apparently unable to compete, or perhaps being eaten themselves.
    Read more over at Newscientist.

    How weird am I? I'm listening to John Adams's Naive and Sentimental Music. Ouch. And I know where the post title quote comes from. Double ouch.

    America, WAKE UP!!!

    Spendthrift with your time? Waste more here learning about the United Nations conspiracy to control the US--oh, and also Canada.

    This picture sums up the wackiness of the whole charade. The position of the label on the sign--bottom right "quadrant"--obviously points to the military installation to the right. But wait. Look behind the sign, in the background. "Camp Grayling -->." How dense are these UN supersoldiers supposed to be, anyway?

    Update 9/2: Thank you, thank you Internet Archive, host of Tackamarks until kingdom come.


    Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior
    A concoction of reality, fantasy, folk-tale, history, memoir; above all, a prose-poem in five stanzas. Most infuriating are the accounts of harsh, unrelenting abuse heaped on Chinese girls for their main fault: not being boys.
    We had three girl second cousins, no boys; their great-grandfather was the old man who lived with them, as the river-pirate great-uncle was the old man who lived with us. When my sisters and I ate at their house, there we would be--six girls eating. The old man opened his eyes wide at us and turned in a circle, surrounded. His neck tendons stretched out. "Maggots! Where are my grandsons? I want grandsons! Give me grandsons! Maggots!" He pointed at each one of us, "Maggot! Maggot! Maggot! Maggot! Maggot! Maggot!" Then he dived into his food, eating fast and getting seconds. "Eat, maggots," he said. "Look at the maggots chew."

    "He does this at every meal," the girls told us in English.

    "Yeah," we said. "Our old man hates us too."

    Jul 15, 2004

    grab your ektachrome

    Want to protest this previously-mentioned idiocy? Head over here, read, and make plans to show the boobocracy who's really in charge.

    [thanks again to PZ Myers over at Pharyngula]

    children left behind

    Leslie Baldacci, Inside Mrs. B's Classroom
    Give up a cushy job to teach in Chicago's South Side? You'd have to be crazy. Or, you'd have to be Leslie Baldacci. It's not a self-congratulatory memoir; it is, rather, a frank, brutal record of what's wrong with urban (translation: inner-city) education, what's misguided about political reform, and what's wrong with standardized testing. Hint: it's not the kids.
    I touched on the insensitivity of assumptions when I faced the bean-counters who defend standardized test scores like they are the holy grail. They, same as most policy-makers, like things to fit in neat little boxes. Wrapping themselves in comfortable assumptions makes it easier to defend their hard and fast policies.

    I told them the story of one kid, a fair student, who had tanked the Iowa test the year before. On test day, he took the garbage out before school and found a dead body in the alley. His mother sent him to school after he finished talking to the police.... Try as we might to consider the conditions that children come from before they pass through our doors, we cannot anticipate everything and therefore should not assume anything.
    Oh, and if you figured eventually Baldacci would go back to her old job, refreshed and reinvigorated from her field trip into the South Side, you're wrong. She's still teaching.

    Jul 14, 2004

    dontcha make me repeat it

    For those who feared the galaxy was going to be vacuumed up by voracious black holes, rest easy: maybe they're not quite as all-consuming as we--we being Stephen Hawking, Superman himself--once thought.
    Though Hawking has not yet revealed the detailed maths behind his finding, sketchy details have emerged from a seminar Hawking gave at Cambridge. According to Cambridge colleague Gary Gibbons, an expert on the physics of black holes who was at the seminar, Hawking's black holes, unlike classic black holes, do not have a well-defined event horizon that hides everything within them from the outside world.

    In essence, his new black holes now never quite become the kind that gobble up everything. Instead, they keep emitting radiation for a long time, and eventually open up to reveal the information within. "It's possible that what he presented in the seminar is a solution," says Gibbons. "But I think you have to say the jury is still out."
    We--we being me--will post an update as soon as a verdict is entered.

    well, not exactly everything

    Karen Elizabeth Gordon, Out of the Loud Hound of Darkness
    A "dictionnarrative!" I can't say I was swept up in the sort of fervor that made Constance Hale "shiver with glee," but I was pleasantly surprised by the erudition and poetry in Gordon's slender volume. (I suppose I should have read the many prequels.) Tongue-tripping and intellectual--what's the difference between complacent and complaisant?--and altogether good fun. A sample quotation:
    The horizon greeted us with a baleful rumble of louring coruscations as we dreaded our way along the precipitous switchbacks of Upper Trajikistan.
    Say it out loud; try, though, to avoid spitting on your keyboard.

    Simon Winchester, The Meaning of Everything
    And now, to the real deal, a true dictionnarrative--the story of the fabled Oxford English Dictionary (which, as the author notes, might have been published at Cambridge if history had taken a different turn). Winchester's deft prose conveys his utter enthusiasm for all things nerdy. (When I was young, I was accused of "reading the dictionary;" if we'd had an OED in the house, I'm sure I would have.)

    An example of Winchester's over-the-top ardor:
    These were essential: the millions of words from these quotations offer up countless examples of exactly how the language worked over the centuries of its employment, and by their use they mark the OED out as the finest dictionary ever made in any language, and made, as it happens, of the language that is the most important in the world, and probably will be for all time.
    I suppose the Greeks thought the same thing about Greek, and heaven knows the Romans were quite fond of Latin. For the future, my money's on Asia; the global balance of power will shift toward China and India in the next two decades. You heard it here first.

    Jul 13, 2004

    The Life of Young George W.

    Billy Liar
    Oh, the vagaries of the bourgeoisie. Brilliant opening montage--apartment complexes, town houses, duplexes, all indistinguishable--as a radio announcer calls out song title requests for equally indistinguishable English housewives. (On the commentary track, director John Schlesinger notes that the premiere audience applauded the opener; he and his crew were "very chuffed and happy.")

    The title character escapes drudgery through Walter Mitty-like daydreams about his own made-up country, Ambrosia. Will he literally escape his bleak suburban existence? I won't spoil the end. (Neither the commentary nor the liner notes mention "Walter Mitty." Is this a glaring oversight? A tacit denial of plagiarism? The influence is too obvious to be glossed over--even though Billy Liar is a far superior film.)

    Plenty of memorable moments:
    Flushing stolen ad calendars for an undertaking company. Bagpipes at a shopping center's grand opening. Passion pills. Plastic coffins--the wave of the future. "I'm not ordinary folk, even if she is." "We don't buy calendars just so you can chuck them on the fire, you know." "Then there's his library books--we'll have them to take back."

    Henrik Ibsen, A Doll's House
    Praise be to Dover for their cheap reprints (paperback, of course) of classics old and modern. Bridging the divide is Ibsen's once-scandalous A Doll's House, the 19th century women's lib shocker. Nora supports hubby Torvald through a difficult financial scrape by taking a loan from Krogstad, the unscrupulous former lover of forgotten widow Christine. Her scheme backfires, but Christine gets back with Krogstad and convinces him to cancel Nora's debt. When hubby finds out, his righteous indignation leads Nora to realize she's just his doll; in a final scene exactly opposite Gone With the Wind, Torvald's left mumbling, "The most wonderful thing of all?--" as Nora flounces out the door.

    Oh, and by the way, this is my 100th post. Self-congratulation all around.

    how much is a Ph.D. worth, anyway?

    Plagiarism is not just the scourge of harried high school teachers.
    Clearly they think it was outrageous that Mr. X plagiarized my work. But they do not yet see that Mr. X got away with what he did precisely because he did not have a professor who checked all of his sources. They do not yet see that I check their sources so that I can teach them a skill and a principle that could keep them from someday losing a degree, a job, or a reputation.
    Think the last sentence is overstatement? Read the article. It's not.

    less magic; more realism

    Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Collected Novellas [more specifically, Chronicle of a Death Foretold]

    It takes a master craftsman to create suspense out of inevitability. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez does just that. Thanks to the Citizen Kane-like reportage, you know all the while that the protagonist, Santiago Nasar, is going to die; you even know who will kill him--or, more accurately, who has killed him. And yet you are still breathless when he is murdered gruesomely, shockingly, humorously. It's like being punched in the gut while laughing.
    ...and yet they thought that Santiago Nasar would never fall.... Trying to finish it once and for all, Pedro Vicario sought his heart, but he looked for it almost in the armpit, where pigs have it. Actually, Santiago Nasar wasn't falling because they themselves were holding him up with stabs against the door.
    Up next: A Doll's House.

    Jul 12, 2004

    I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die

    Albert Camus, The Stranger
    Who's more American--Johnny Cash or Albert Camus?

    Read The Stranger not to be moved, or to be unmoved, but because you can. Be gripped by its sparing, simple prose (see below). Or, let the waves of anticlimax wash over you; merely bob on the surface, floating in "gentle indifference." The choice is yours.

    I had lived my life one way and I could just as well have lived it another. I had done this and I hadn't done that. I hadn't done this thing but I had done another. And so?

    Matthew Ward, in the prefatory note, justifies the Hemingwayesque, crime-novel style of the translation:

    Camus acknowledged employing an "American method" in writing The Stranger, in the first half of the book in particular: the short, precise sentences; the depcition of a character ostensibly without consciousness; and, in places, the "tough guy" tone.... In addition to giving the text a more "American" quality, I have also attempted to venture farther into the letter of Camus's novel, to capture what he said and how he said it, not what he meant. In theory, the latter should take care of itself.

    The simplicity, though, masks a complex moral anti-drama; for Meursault, the protagonist, events merge seamlessly into each other. He is an observer, objective, detached from his own existence--even killing a complete stranger without reason or remorse--but only when condemned does he realize his beliefs about death and life are illusions.

    ... everything was very simple: the guillotine is on the same level as the man approaching it. He walks up to it the way you walk up to another person. That bothered me too. Mounting the scaffold, going right up into the sky, was something the imagination could hold on to. Whereas, once again, the machine destroyed everything: you were killed discreetly, with a little shame and with great precision....

    Then, in the dark hour before dawn, sirens blasted. They were announcing departures for a world that now and forever meant nothing to me... For everything to be comsummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.

    The allusion is obvious, violently and ironically inverting the crucifixion. So much for the promise of future glory, so much for the hope of suffering through a world that is not "home."

    I find it instructive to read the one-star reviews on Amazon. They give you the true sense of the book--its capacity to shock, to infuriate, to baffle, even years after The Stranger has become a near-cliche.

    Don't Even Waste Your Time, January 12, 2004
    Reviewer: A reader from Cincinnati, OH USA
    If you are looking for a book to put you to sleep, look no further. Here it is. This is the most pathetic book I have ever read. And not only was the book boring, the main character, Meursault, was an emotionless, hopless, and disgusting human being. His views on women and relationships are no less than vile. He does not even remorse over the death of his mother. He then says that he no emotional attachment to Marie, the lady that he is sexually active with. Thankfully, he commits a cold blooded murder and is put to death. And at his execution, he says that he wishes there be "howls of execration." It is amazing to me that an individual can want there to be people cursing him on the day of his death. Bottom line, this is not woth the time for you to sit down and read it. [this refers to the original British translation]

    Disappointing, June 24, 2002
    Reviewer: A reader from Boston, MA United States
    I'll keep this short. The book was an awful read save the last ten pages. Everything before that is terribly uninteresting. It is only once he has been sentenced and awaits his end that it becomes something worth flipping through. I have the utmost respect for Albert Camus, but this is dribble.

    A horrible translation, March 29, 2002
    Reviewer: Meg from Boston, MA
    I have read a previous translation of The Stranger, and was deeply moved. My entire life was changed. The previous translator did Camus justice. Matthew Ward, with this translation of The Stranger, ruined the novel. Ward includes awful cliche and unintelligent description. Unfortunately this is the only translation currently in print in the US. If you are able to, please order from a forgein printer (sometimes printed under the title The Outsider) or consider searching for an out of print copy not translated by Matthew Ward.

    So much for being faithful to the original, in all its paradoxical simplicity. Non-flowery prose just isn't as moving.

    this is only a drill

    So I'm using Firefox, now, as the default browser, with an "hasta la vista" to Internet Explorer. Word in the blogosphere: it's more secure, more stable, blah blah blah. I'm a low-end user, so what do I care?

    More important: I can now step out of the unemployment line. Thanks to a timely resignation, I'll be back at the helm, shipping literacy to the adolescent masses, seeking out the jetsam in a sea of flotsam, avoiding the shoals of indifference and steering toward the lighthouse of learning.

    Ha-ha! I'm metaphor mad!

    Or caffeine-deprived. Mmm, Batdorf and Bronson, world's greatest coffee.

    two down

    Carlos Fuentes, The Death of Artemio Cruz
    Time-shifting narrative structure that anticipates Quentin Tarantino's filmic stylings; shifts in person that blur the roles of reader and protagonist. Fuentes manages to use first, third, and second person, without overly confusing or aggravating the reader. The shifts in time at first seem random, but as the novel rears to the finish--as expected, Artemio Cruz dies--the death scene is juxtaposed with Cruz's birth, and the narrative comes full circle. Satire, pathos, and lyric description collide in this magnificent work. I'd say much more, but I'll save it for my IB class this coming fall.

    Robert Harwell Fiske, The Dimwit's Dictionary
    A useful reference, if you have trouble with cliches, stock phrases, or "moribund metaphors." Most helpful are the thesaurus-like recommendations. I hate, loathe, despise the phrase "in terms of," which, in the world of education, gets batted around like a beach ball in a graduation speech. "With some slight thought," Fiske writes, "in terms of can be pared from a sentence." For some, slight thought is tough work.

    I'm not just reading novels, though. For your perusal, a fascinating (and brief) article on the intersection of traditionalism and Fascism, and its connection to Islamist movements.
    This doesn't mean that all traditionalist belief is fascistic or that its restless quest for lost religious truth is inherently problematic; indeed, much of value has come out of traditionalist examinations of art and religion. But its anti-modern and anti-democratic polemics can have disturbing consequences. And Mr. Sedgwick shows that inscribed in its origins is the belief that truth could only be attained by overturning the modern world and its Western host; moral considerations and human consequences are treated as irrelevant.

    Traditionalism declared a war in which modernity itself was the enemy. Only in the total destruction of democratic individualism and liberal humanism could the lost wisdom be restored. In some arenas, that is the battle still being fought.
    Go to the source at traditionalists.org.

    Jul 10, 2004

    Almond Joy has nuts

    I dragged the girlfriend out to see the Mima Mounds this morning. We trudged through the rain, delighting in the sounds of unadulterated Nature: chirrups, rustling branches, distant gunfire.

    The formation of the mounds in question is a mystery. Gophers, long-since vanished, are suspect, as are geological phenomena, weathering and erosion, and aliens.

    I suggested to the GF that perhaps the Earth was once a giant basketball to the gods; the Mima Mounds, much like other similar locations, are the remnants of the "nubbins" (her word). This may lead to a plethora of unanswered questions--but it would explain why the Moon looks like someone stamped "Top Flite" on the dark side.

    Jul 9, 2004

    here, let's polish those jackboots

    Honey, let's visit the Ballard Locks. You know, watch the ships go through, watch the salmon run, take a few pictures. No, wait, let's skip bringing the camera. I'd hate to have to sort it out with the Homeland Security Department again.

    The police officer had failed to rebut my arguments, but he was definitely being a lot nicer now (which was quite welcome). He’d been explaining how the SPD are required to investigate all calls, which I said I understood, but I was still looking for some real accountability. That’s when one of the three non-uniformed men stepped forward, brandishing his badge, and began talking at me with his own rendition of the voice of absolute authority.

    “I’ve listened to this for over five minutes. Look here. You see this?” Special Agent McNamara said, producing his badge. “This is a federal badge. We’re not with the rest of them. We’re federal agents from Homeland Security...”

    Good grief.

    Read Ian Spier's account. Get angry. Call your representative. Write a letter to the editor. And please, please, please visit the Locks, and take all the damned photos you want. Because if they won't let you, the terrorists have already won.

    Oh, and by the way, I've taken photos of the locks, too, in the past--what Seattle-area resident hasn't? Mea culpa!

    [thanks to PZ Myers over at Pharyngula]

    literacy is dead?

    Video games, television, chat, sports, food, Furby maintenance... who has time, anymore, for good ol'-fashioned reading? Fewer and fewer all the time--or so reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. As an English teacher, should I be distressed that people across all age groups are reading less? Yes--not for the sake of reading itself, but for the fact that readers are much more likely to be politically involved. Language is access to power. Even without comissioning a study, I can intuit that the same people who have read a book in the past year are the ones who now have--and take--the time to critically dissect the newspaper or the website they're perusing. Do we need to get more teens reading Barthelme? You betcha. But how?

    It might be discouraging to think of literature as the distraction of last resort, Mr. Reyes-Gavilan said. "But if we have to trick people into reading, we're happy to do that."

    Incidentally, here's the current summer reading list:

    *Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Collected Novellas
    *Carlos Fuentes, The Death of Artemio Cruz
    *Henrik Ibsen, A Doll's House
    *Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior
    *Albert Camus, The Stranger

    *Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate
    *William Zinsser, On Writing Well
    *Robert Harwell Fiske, The Dimwit's Dictionary
    *Karen Elizabeth Gordon, Out of the Loud Hound of Darkness
    *Leslie Baldacci, Inside Mrs. B's Classroom
    *Simon Winchester, The Meaning of Everything

    I'll have reviews up as I finish. And here's the wager: I'll have them all done by August 15th, or I'll chew and digest a page of Melville. Try that, Sir Francis Bacon.

    [update: Starred entries are complete, which means reviews are on the way...]
    [update: They're all done, and weeks ahead of schedule. I have too much free time.]

    Jul 8, 2004

    warmest regards

    Bush and Lay's chum-chum correspondence.
    ...The letters, released by the Texas state archives in response to Freedom of Information requests, touch on personal matters like Bush's knee surgery, Christmas gifts, birthday greetings, and even a Lay heads-up regarding a Thomas Friedman story about globalization. Enron, in case anyone forgot, was Bush's biggest Lone Star political contributor.
    Scariest moment: when Lay urges Bush to restructure Texas's electricity structure, because "...Historically, deregulated industries see savings in the 20 to 40 percent ranges over time. There is no reason to expect this industry to behave differently."

    Well, if you consider Enron's fiscal fraud-mongering "normal" for the industry, okay.

    The weirdest letter is the first:

    Dear Ken:

    One of the sad things about old friends is that they seem to be getting older--just like you!

    55 years old. Wow! That is really old.

    Thank goodness you have such a young, beautiful wife.

    Laura and I value our friendship with you. Best wishes to Linda, your family, and friends.

    Your younger friend,

    George W. Bush
    Such depth of feeling! Such humor and verve!

    In the last pair of letters, both Lay and Bush misspell the author's name, writing "Freidman." D'oh.

    [big shout-out to The Smoking Gun]

    I can quit anytime

    "Are you reading blogs again?" my girlfriend asks, with an exasperated sigh, every time she sees me plugging away at my laptop.

    Yes, I am, especially The Panda's Thumb, which has scads of great new articles up, and also includes a stark admission by a fake young-earth-creationist (aren't they all?).

    Back to work. Really.

    Jul 7, 2004

    if I owned Hell and Texas...

    Texas: clean, shiny paradise, thanks to a stringent anti-littering campaign that reached its peak with the inventive phrase, "Don't Mess With Texas." But now evil corporations and dastardly individuals are co-opting in for their own purposes, and *shudder* profiting from it. What's an angry state to do? Go after 'em, with all the vigilance of a drunken posse.

    Funnier, though, are the other state and city slogans that were inspired by the ubiquitous Texas motto.
    In Oklahoma, residents are urged to "Keep Our Land Grand." Bumper stickers in Knoxville, Tenn., proclaim, "Don't Throw Down on K-Town." And Cincinnati has gone with "Don't Trash the 'Nati."
    Or, how about:

    "Don't Dump on Trump" (New Jersey)
    "Keep Your Piddle Awffa Mah Fiddle" (Kentucky)
    "Get A ------- Trash Bag, ------!" (NY)
    "Preserve Our State's Godly, Creepy Disinfected Demeanor" (Utah)

    Suggest your own in the comments.

    [thanks again to Obscure Store]

    Jul 6, 2004

    frenetic ennui

    So John Edwards it is. But you already knew that, because you've been reading the newspapers, trolling the blogs, staring dumbly at the television, snooping through your neighbor's trash, divining the droppings on your left front fender, conjuring up familiar spirits, or otherwise tuning into the zeitgeist.

    How can someone simultaneously bring excitement to a campaign and be Mr. Dullsville von Claptrap? Oh, that's right, we're looking through those red-state blue-state 3-D glasses, that give us the whole accurate gospel-truth picture of American politics. Blue states apotheosize Edwards; red states think he's Captain Paisley. Or do we have it backwards? Ogden Nash, help us!

    "The camel has a single hump;
    the dromedary, two;
    Or else the other way around.
    I'm never sure. Are you?"

    Okay, back to scrubbing the bathroom floor with hallucinogenic petrochemicals.

    Jul 5, 2004

    gun it, Myrtle!

    Half of the purpose of this blog's existence is to scoop Jim Romenesko's Obscure Store, by far the best compendium of weird news stories on the web.

    As our Fearless Leader might put it, mission accomplished.

    The story: a young man (25-30ish) disembarking a rental car from a Washington ferry starts to roll backward, panics, guns the engine, and goes sailing off into Puget Sound.
    Ferry crew rescued him and he was taken to nearby Island Hospital. Harris said the man had a broken arm and suffered from hypothermia. One witness had a camera and was able to capture some of the rescue efforts.
    Adding insult to injury, of course. Thanks to digital technology, this hapless bloke will live eternally on blooper shows.

    And hey, doesn't G.W. look sharp in spectacles? Provide your own caption in the comments! Best one wins admiration, respect, and pride!

    Jul 3, 2004

    what a tangled web

    Okay, so I've seen Spider Man II: Revenge of the Dead Guy's Hunky Son. Other than being overly preachy, it has one main fault: it's forgettable. I can barely remember any scene involving the Webbed Wonder (and this is fewer than twelve hours after seeing the film). The only moments that stick in the mind's craw include Doc Ock--his freakish arms, outlandish physics theories, and hilarious transformation into mwoo-ha-ha eeeeeeevil.

    Bleargh. Thank goodness for matinees.

    (And yes, I know I stand with a small minority of critics. Most of them are blown away by the movie's great special effects--yes, they're wow-worthy--and by its "heart," which mostly consists of close-up shots of teary eyes and pseudo-spiritual pronouncements about everybody needing heroes to... believe... in... *yawn*.)

    Jul 2, 2004

    "...you know what's gonna happen to you?"

    Sure, I thought it was creepy that Coke was including GPS locaters in their new prize promotion--but I bought a twelve-pack anyway, because it was on sale, and I'm cheap like that.

    But apparently, military high mucky-mucks are creeped out, too.
    Paul Saffo, research director at The Institute for the Future, a technology research firm, likened the concerns to the Central Intelligence Agency's ban on Furbies, the stuffed toys that could repeat phrases.

    "There's things generals should stay up late at night worrying about," he said. "A talking Coke can isn't one of them."
    Or is it? "You're gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola company," after all.