Feb 28, 2006

understanding one's proper role in the affair

While I'm on a blond--make that blonde--kick, let's not forget about Anna Nicole Smith, whose case reached the vaunted halls of the Supreme Court today.

Most inane comment heard on the hoo-ha so far comes from an NPR interview of an Access Hollywood flack (since Smith didn't speak to the press). Said the flack: "We're here to cover the media madness."

No, fool. You are the media madness.

resist the urge to make a blond joke

The real bombshell in this evolutionary explanation for the origin of blond hair (it has to do with mutations and estrogen levels, for what it's worth) is buried at the end:
A study by the World Health Organisation found that natural blonds are likely to be extinct within 200 years because there are too few people carrying the blond gene. According to the WHO study, the last natural blond is likely to be born in Finland during 2202.
I won't be there to mourn. First, I'll be dead, and second, I'm a sucker for pelo marrón.

Update: And third, it's a hoax, just in case sly satire has a way of slipping under your radar.

mock diamonds

Diamonds are notoriously fragile creatures, prone to weep at the slightest provocation--which is exactly why you ought to mock them mercilessly, unceasingly, summoning all your wits to crush them into blubbering submission.

Mock diamonds in every taxon, every variety, every shape and size. "Pity, you're just a rhombus with an attitude, a defunct square, a cloned triangle, a rectangle in diapers, a trapezoid without charm or merit." Mock baseball diamonds, whose overpriced denizens pollute their once-hallowed grounds. "Your mother was a cricket field and your father reeked of elderberry dung." Mock Lou Diamond Phillips, Neil Diamond, Diamonds are Forever, Jared Diamond, black diamond runs, and Dustin Diamond.

Please, please mock Dustin Diamond.

You have a moral obligation.

[sixtieth in a series]

Feb 27, 2006

another reason for a moratorium on meaningless rankings

...comes from Marsha Richards of Sound Politics. Using rankings allows the opposition a cheap and easy rebuttal that distracts from the key issue: how much education funding is enough?

No more rankings!

Feb 25, 2006

jesus's real name

Believers for centuries have worshiped and loved and prayed to a divine man known to them as Jesus. Scholars have written thousands, if not millions, of tomes extolling and deriding him, holding him up as a paragon of virtue or decrying him as a madman--or worse, a myth.

It might surprise you to learn, then, that "Jesus," an English translation of Iesou, itself a translation of the ancient Hebrew Y'shua, is not in fact the prophet and messiah's real name.

Renowned linguist and antiquities scholar Raymond P. Olney writes,
In 1989 two Bedouin sheepherders stumbled upon the greatest discovery in archaelogical history. While clambering into a cave after a lost ewe, a fifteen-year-old boy cracked his knee on a stone jar. His father, hearing his cries and coming to the rescue, saw the jar and, after dressing the wound, broke it open.

What the Bedouins found inside, and later sold to a German antiques dealer for a pittance, would crumble the foundations of New Testament scholarship and bring fear and trepidation to the Christian masses. A parchment bearing but one line, in an obscure variant of Aramaic (Jesus's native tongue), translating thusly:
Their earthshaking discovery would lie dormant for almost two decades, since the dealer was stricken by a fatal virus, leaving the parchment in a safe deposit box until it was found in December 2004 by his grandson.
Early this year six competent textual experts secretly examined the fragment, declaring it authentic, and now, in a paper appearing in Literaria Biblica, a leading journal of Biblical archaeology and criticism, the astounding news has reached a global audience.

[fifty-ninth in a series]

a fond farewell to Don Knotts

A child of the wrong decade, I grew up on I Dream of Jeannie and The Andy Griffith Show, a fact that will keep my Freudian therapist employed for the next half century. Larry Hagman and Don Knotts were my heroes--losers with big hearts and small brains, emblems of the essential goodness of American mediocrity.

Last night Don Knotts passed away at the age of 81.

We learned valuable lessons from Barney Fife, the archetypal character that Knotts never shook off, no matter what film or television role he took. We learned gun safety, keeping our lone bullet in our shirt pocket. We mastered the slippery slope fallacy, noting that five'll getcha ten, and ten'll getcha fifteen, and fifteen'll getcha twenty. We respected the rule of law and taught others to do the same--so they could make a citizen's arrest when we ran afoul of it.

And we sang loud and shrill over the sweeter tones of the humble. "Santa Lucia" would never sound the same.

So long, Mr. Knotts. We'll try to bumble and warble along without you.

should I be proud of this?

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 10/10 correct!

I almost couldn't remember the difference between a whole number and an integer. The benefits of a well-rounded education!

[link via PZ]

something in the water

Chirality--the "handedness" of amino acids--has been trumpeted by creationists for some time as "not just a major problem... but a dilemma" for origin of life theories. As Charles McCombs writes,
Chirality is probably one of the best scientific evidences we have against random chance evolution and chirality totally destroys the claim that life came from chemicals. Obviously, this is one fact they do not even want to discuss.... the process that forms chirality cannot be explained by natural science in any amount of time [emphasis added].
This naysaying is quite strange given the ongoing research in the field--AIG, a rival creationist site, lists ten (!) previous theoretical explanations and their various shortcomings--and even stranger, given that chirality may have an explanation after all.
All amino acids found in living organisms have left-handed chirality, even though left- and right-handed amino acids should chemically be the same. Meir Shinitzky and colleagues at the Weizmann Institute of Science believe the humble water molecule to be responsible.

Shinitzky dissolved polymers of left- and right-handed amino acids in water, and measured the pH at which they denatured from helices to random coils. This was 0.2 to 0.3 units higher for the right-handed molecules, which implied they were less stable. The effect disappeared when heavy water (D2O) was used.
The problem isn't yet solved to everyone's satisfaction, but at least demonstrates that saying "Science will never / can never" is often a bet against the odds.

(Note: For some odd reason NewScientist made their reportage available to subscribers only; weird, considering it's easily found elsewhere.)

Feb 24, 2006

triskaidekaphobia statistics

Triskaidekaphobia (also known as tridekaphobia) is a morbid fear of the number following 12 and preceding 14. It is thought to be genetically heritable from the X chromosome, though some researchers have noted a link between the condition and high levels of aluminum in the water supply. It is treatable with a celeryseed and olive oil poultice applied weekly. Some surprising facts and statistics related to the condition:

1. Fifteen percent of Irish citizens carry an amulet bearing the number 31, the numerological antidote.
2. 20.6 million Americans suffer from the disorder, almost one in ten.
3. The first recorded outbreak of triskaidekaphobia in a population of dogs occurred in Belgium, 1629.
4. Sixteen percent of those afflicted also suffer from arachibutyrophobia, fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one's mouth.
5. Eight million packs of Lucky Strike cigarettes were recalled in 1956 when it was determined that it took exactly the wrong number of drags to finish one cigarette.
6. James Madison was the first president to publicly declare that no federal building would have a floor listed as the ordinal between 12th and 14th. The policy is on the books to this day.
7. The Triskaidekaphobia Awareness League has over six thousand members worldwide, representing eighty-four countries.
8. Triskaidekaphobia was not recognized as a mental illness until the publication of the DSM-IV, the leading manual of neurological and psychic disorders.
9. In a recent poll, 87% of Americans could not distinguish triskaidekaphobia from bikaidekaphobia, a rarer variant.
10. All references to the unlucky number were expunged from the Newly Revised Modern Translation of the Bible. Editors had to modify or delete over 15,000 entries.
11. Electroconvulsive therapy is recommended for 2% of all cases, and is elected in only 1%.
12. Napoleon III, Emily Dickinson, Sonny Bono, Judas Iscariot, Cleopatra, and Mr. Ed are all well-known triskaidekaphobes.
14. Triskaidekaphobia costs the global economy $2.1 million per day in lost productivity.

[fifty-eighth in a series]

today's trash, tomorrow's power?

The opener is bold, optimistic.
If all the organic waste generated in the state each year were converted to energy, it would meet 50 percent of the state’s energy needs, according to a report released by the state Department of Ecology.
Wood milling waste, food processing waste, kitchen waste, cow poop, chicken poop. The fruits of capitalism, rotting on the ground, waiting to be snatched up and burned, maybe, in the pursuit of renewable and sustainable energy.

The reality check, though, is almost parenthetical, buried paragraphs down:
The report does not estimate the cost of collecting the waste, or power production costs.
So don't get too excited just yet.

four reasons evolution isn't right

1. Common descent
2. The age of the earth
3. Transitional fossils
4. Kent Hovind

Oh. Isn't right? Sorry, man. Can't do it.

[fifty-seventh in a series]

Feb 23, 2006

worst ever?

They've had some groaners in the past, but this one... ay me.

Lord of Blargh

Bored of War

AK, You Got Me

Send in the Guns

Lord of the Zings

There are several points in DBAMTSCWDYJITH where a random character will walk onscreen, shout "Message!," and walk offscreen, in case you don't get the point of the (rather lame) satire. I expected the same in Lord of War, a film apparently scripted by a depressed, cocaine-addicted member of the Capitol Steps.

I can't bring myself to write more. Avoid.

straight talk with Brendan Williams and Sam Hunt

The Olympian lets readers chat with two local legislators (Karen Fraser was slated to attend, but got sucked into the vortex of senatorial duty). My initial impression: both read on the screen just like they sound in person--good-humored, with barbs at their GOP opposition, pugnacious and fact-oriented. For a sample, watch how the two respond to Mr. Evergreen Freedom Foundation:
Kevin, Lacey: This shortened Legislature session saw more than 1,700 new bills introduced. Each new bill costs taxpayers an average $3,000 (wasted money in most cases). You have to know there is no possible way to get all these bills passed, nor would it be a good thing to have laws on the books for every conceivable problem under the sun. The majority of these petty bills take the focus away from the important issues our state faces, and puts it on protecting ducks, shopping carts, and restricting dishwater detergent. How can you justify this total lack of fiscal responsibility with our money?

Hunt: I guess somebody's restriction of dishwasher detergent may not be a major issue in his mind, but in Spokane it's a major issue because of the phosphorous in the water and they're facing major sanctions and fines if that's not addressed. Everybody's got a lot of good ideas, and the Legislature is like a funnel. A lot goes in the top and a little goes out the bottom. It's a self-selected process. My theory is that the uncertainty in the governor's race last year, people weren't sure who was going to be governor so they withheld some bills and are now introducing them this year now that things are settled.

Williams: And there's no empirical evidence for this precise amount. They're dividing the number of bills into the payroll of the departments. As an attorney, I write up most of my bills myself.

Hunt: And those staff are here whether we're putting bills out or not. That's an inflated number.

Williams: And we could apply that number to every frivolous amendment put forth by the GOP.

Feb 22, 2006

possessed by demons (the topic, at least)

This is an omnibus response to Mark Olson's recent responses to my responses and hypothetical scenario. Confused? Check out the list of links at the bottom of this post. For now, though, these thoughts are rambling and incoherent: in short, bloglike.

I'll focus on the points that I think are most interesting and important to the discussion. Last week, Olson wrote,
[I]t may be that all mental illness is not caused by demons... but that doesn’t mean none is either.... How explanatory is this ansatz after all? At this point it’s a wash... who is struck by illness is on the one hand under the purview of Dame Chance... the other, unseen agents. Inasmuch as neither has any explanatory powers whatsoever it's something of a wash.
Answering my hypothetical, he continues in this vein:
How do you respond when he says that he actually has three PCs side by side, and that he and his two other triplets always visit the same web sites at (just about) the same time, but only his got infected. His explanation is that his was infected because there was only one demon, you mumble things about packet timing, vagaries of Internet switches and fluctuations in viral signature databases residing in corporate firewalls... but why is your explanation any better than his? Ultimately your explanation is that “it’s just luck”. Pray tell, how your explanation is better?
Note the false either-or offered: either demon possession or chance. Compare that with other possibilities, which I thought of in thirty seconds:
1. Demon possession as an accident. Demons, like viruses, infect random people, and spiritual justifications for their behavior are ad hoc.

2. Demon possession as the will of God. Demons attack at God's behest, or, at least, with God's permission; if God's will is utterly inscrutable, the epistemological distinction between Divine Plan and Chance is impossible.

3. Mental illness as God's punishment, not involving any intermediate spiritual or physical entity. This position would line up with Olson's cited passage from Jacob Milgrom's Leviticus. Olson counters with commitments to other Biblical authors and thinkers who take demons "literally," which of course begs the question, since the rationality of that very position is under scrutiny.
It should be obvious by now that the ultimate explanation doesn't interest me; I'm concerned with the proposition "a demon possessed me / my computer / my dog / the demon that possessed my dog." But let's grant it, for the sake of argument, and say that yes, "it's just luck," and that science can't ultimately explain the metaphysical final cause of the computer's aberrant behavior. The first question is, "So what?" We've shown a plausible and highly probable mechanism that accounts for the behavior. We can even run an experiment, re-infecting the computer with a virus, or infecting a different computer with the virus and watching what happens. At the end of our investigation we won't rule out the possibility of demonic infestation, but we'll certainly show that bringing in demons adds nothing to the discussion. We'll have a testable, falsifiable hypothesis, one that we can abandon when compelling contrary evidence presents itself.

The second question: "So what?" So what if science can't explain everything in existence? Should we expect it to? Who here advocates scientism? When considering demons, methodological naturalism is the default mode even for the Church, and demonology-of-the-gaps finds the gaps narrowing every day. Remember the example of Anneliese Michel, which I harp on constantly, because it shows that
1. The Church has a high bar for what constitutes actual possession, including genuinely inexplicable phenomena (speaking in a language one has never learned, for example).
2. Anneliese Michel's case intially cracked its skull on that bar (some weird voices, contortions, self-destructive behavior, but no spiritual theatrics, nothing "impossible").
3. When the Church got around to dealing with the case, it was an exorcism in futility (couldn't resist).
Which brings me to Olson's second line of argument: putative evidence for the reality of malignant forces. If I were to append my hypothetical to match the current state of affairs in demonological study, the virus would cause the computer to spit out passwords and usernames from the future (as in Olson's addendum), but only when no skeptic is watching. The most evenhanded treatment of exorcism I've read, Michael Cuneo's American Exorcism, reports a lot of vomiting and profanity in the spirit world, but decidedly little in the way of supernatural activity. In the middle of an exorcism, believers would ask Cuneo, "Did you see that?" Sadly, he never did.

I would argue that belief in demon possession is warranted largely by an appeal to textual commitments. After all, Jesus cast out demons; would Jesus be deceived about such things, or worse, deceive others? But consider a modern parallel to demon possession: dissociative identity disorder. Therapists speak to the alter egoes, finding out their names, treating them as separate entities. The disorder is controversial, but even skeptics would admit that something happens, even if it's all an elaborate charade, play-acting for the sake of psychological attention.

Likewise Jesus, in the Gospels, casts out demons by speaking to them. Does this mean that Jesus believes in "literal" demons, or that he is similarly performing spiritual therapy? His successes are interpreted literally by a first-century audience. to be sure, but they'd have never understood a faith healer who babbled about transcranial magnetic stimulation or Prozac or electroconvulsive therapy.

For further reading / catch-up on the controversy...

1. I write about the real story behind Emily Rose.
2. Mark Olson raises the initial questions about whether naturalism dismisses demonology tout court.
3. I respond with questions of my own for Olson.
4. Olson responds to my response.
5. Jason Kuznicki observes.
6. I create a hypothetical that seems to distract some from its purpose: to clarify by what methods one may address ad hoc, unfalsifiable assertions in an argument.
7. Olson adds to the hypothetical, and answers it in pragmatic fashion.

Feb 21, 2006

amyloid fibers and the origin of life

Reading up on origin of life research is one of my favorite time-wasters. This Economist article sums up some of the new directions and continual problems in the field. Most intriguing:
Trevor Dale of Cardiff University... has come up with a way that proteins and RNA might catalyse each other's production.

The protein involved would crystallise in the form of long, and easily formed, fibres called amyloid. (This is the form that proteins take in brain diseases such as Alzheimer's and Creutzfeldt-Jakob.) The amyloid fibres would then act as surfaces on which RNA molecules could grow.

Crucially, RNA forming on a fibre this way would grow as double strands, like the DNA in a cell nucleus, rather than as the single strands in which the molecule normally comes. When the strands separated, each would act as a template for a new double-stranded molecule, just as happens when a DNA molecule divides.

The protein, meanwhile, would grow because the protruding end of the RNA would act as a catalyst, adding amino acids on to the end of the amyloid fibre. When the fibre grew too long to be stable, it would break in two. Thus both RNA and protein would replicate.

Such a system, Dr Dale thinks, could be the ancestor of the ribosome and, if wrapped in a fatty membrane, of the cell. And, as David Deamer, of the University of California, Santa Cruz, told the meeting, such membranes will assemble spontaneously in certain conditions.

Dr Dale's idea is certainly chemically plausible, though it has yet to be tested in a laboratory. But he is conducting tests at the moment, and hopes to have the results later this year.
I'll add other links as I find them. Off to bed.


Dr. Dale's homepage is here; he's also involved in cancer research. Read the abstract to the paper in question here.

Feb 20, 2006

the demon in my PC: a thought experiment

Mark Olson shared some quick thoughts on 21st century demons. I responded. He responded to the response. Jason Kuznicki noted both, and made another point in harmony with mine.

But while I'm still formulating my thoughts, a quick hypothetical.

Suppose your friend calls you over to his house, jabbering excitedly about his PC's recent bizarre behavior. (Insert Mac or Linux joke here.) It's spewing vile messages all over the screen, horrible profanities, scurrilous epithets, obscene innuendoes, sometimes in other languages. When he tries to hop on the Internet and google a quick fix, Internet Explorer (insert Firefox joke here) takes him straight to porn sites, which begin popping up uncontrollably. He's forced to reboot, but the problem doesn't go away.

By the time you arrive, your friend is in a state of panic. "Stephen King was right," he breathlessly exclaims. "My computer is possessed!"

You calmly mutter something about security holes and sloppy coding, whip out an antivirus CD, boot into safe mode and pinpoint the problem: the DemoniACK virus. Solved in three minutes. The computer returns to normal, and your friend commences replacing torn out hair on his already balding pate.

"Now, wasn't that silly, suggesting your computer was demon-possessed?" you offer, bemused.

Your friend frowns. "No, not at all," he counters. "It's just because demons are limited by their software substrate. They have to act within Microsoft's programming constraints."

Your jaw slackens, and you set about convincing your friend that no, there was and is no goblin in his GUI.

My question for all interested parties: How do you do it?

let's all go to the lobby day

Gone to the Capitol. Will report back when finished.

Update: finished. Several Thurston County teachers and I spoke with Karen Fraser, Sam Hunt, and Brendan Williams about some upcoming legislative business, including HB 1484, which would allow school districts to conduct county-wide levies to supplement teacher salaries.

The putative advantages are several. First, small districts would be able to piggyback on larger districts' levies, defraying the cost of the election. Second, since the supplemental levy would require a simple majority for passage, districts wouldn't be shackled by forty percent of the electorate. (Elma, anyone?) Second, districts would have the right to veto the concept; in a county with fewer than seven districts, the decision would have to be unanimous. Seven to fifteen districts, 75% would have to come on board. (A majority would have to sign on in county with more than fifteen districts.)

The Olympian notes that several unnamed senators express concerns about its constitutionality. (Fraser, from her questions asked to us, might be among that number.) From what I've heard, it's taken the bill's sponsors six years to iron out all the constitutional concerns, which is why the proper next step is educative.

The WEA supports the bill (hence our lobbying effort), but not without controversy, knowing that the state could do more to equalize salaries without creating a disparity between wealthy and not-so-wealthy counties.

Feb 19, 2006

proper casket viewing attire

Threads to Wear

Faux fur says, "No animal died in the making of this funeral." Sassy dressers wear tap shoes or plastic cleats (no spikes!). Henna tattoos of the deceased's initials and birthdate are always in season. If it's Oscar time, a cowboy hat is an absolute must. (But see below about chaps.) For the conservative dresser, a simple mock turtleneck, bold hue, with trim slacks, dark hue, will suffice. Bell bottoms with built-in jingle-bells are haute, haute, haute. Blue jeans must be dark denim, never acid washed or patched or holey. An NFL or MLB or NCAA jersey of the deceased's favorite team is acceptable only in a playoff situation.

Rags to Avoid

Black dresses, suits, and the like stink like yesterday's newspaper--the one you wrapped a stinky dead fish in. A hat of any kind is inappropriate, religious apparel excepted. Chaps, leather especially, should be left by the door... at home. Why are you riding a hog to the funeral, anyway?

Colors to Wear

Burnt sienna, umber, chalk, pastel pink, navy blue, cadet blue, chartreuse, nacho cheese, pine, lavendar, sage, gray, grey, chrome, maroon, camouflage, denim, cornflower blue, Easter egg yellow, mocha (no room for cream).

Tones to Avoid

Eggplant, royal blue, sky blue, Pepto-Bismol pink, orange, fire engine red, fire engine yellow, purple, jaundice, black.

[fifty-sixth in a series]

weekend: life outside of blogging

If you haven't heard much from me lately, it's not because I'm the Powerball winner. It's because several projects have jostled their way to the front of my priority line, including...

1. Buying a sofa / loveseat combo. President's Day prices and financing, combined with a sore posterior from too many nights of The Sopranos on an uncomfortable all-too-permanent "temporary measure," equal a new look for the living room. (Our version is sexy red microfiber.)

2. Cleaning house apartment. I'm on midwinter break. No better time to throw away all the junk that has accumulated in the storage room, an annual ritual. Sentiment versus sanity: sanity wins every time. Goodbye, Lou Piniella commemorative pin. Goodbye, Beanie Baby bear. Goodbye, expired coupon stash. Hello, carpet!

3. Revisiting Pomodoro. This time, pork chop in honey sauce with garlic potatoes (me), chicken piccata on a bed of noodles (wife). Happy again, except for one problem: their portions are so large as to make dessert an impossibility, especially since bread and salad come standard with entrees. Oh well.

4. Watching Capote. Yes, the second coming of Truman Capote should earn Hoffman best actor, by far. But the film itself feels like retread--if you've seen In Cold Blood, every scene will be familiar, and the violence and tragedy won't be as shocking or compelling. Philip Seymour Hoffman, though... ¡Caramba!

Props, incidentally, to former student Kalister Harmon for taking second at state in diving in only his second year of competition.

Feb 16, 2006

twenty-eighth skeptics' circle in session

Eh Nonymous, presiding.

hash crop a cash crop

Washington state's marijuana farmers could have earned $270 million from all the plants seized by law enforcement in the past year, according to The Olympian.
The estimated $270 million value of the plants seized in 2005 ranked just above sweet cherries, which were valued at $242 million in 2004, and just below the $329 million the state’s nurseries and greenhouses produced. Apples are the state’s No. 1 agricultural commodity, bringing $962.5 million in 2004.
Not only does our state lose tax revenue by destroying pot plants, it pays huge social and economic costs to lose tax revenue.

One pewter lining in this smoky cloud: our pot farmers' resourcefulness and genuine American ingenknowhow.
“We’re struck by the amount of work they put into it,” [Washington State Patrol's Lt. Rich] Wiley said. “It’s very labor intensive. They often run individual drip lines to each plant, and are out there fertilizing them. It takes a tremendous amount of work.”

the virtue of the virtual

Keith Buhler isn't afraid of robots. He's afraid of robot voices.
[T]he more and more humanish we make automated teller machines, the more pleasant they are at first, but to the same degree that they are pleasant, they have the potential to be potentially horrible and terrifying, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, saying it over and over and over and over and over with no feeling, no human awareness, no human sympathy....

Human speech is for communication; it is not for automated pattern recognition, programmed into a chipset by some other human person. The advent of automated tellers such as these, as it becomes more pervasive, will not affect the robots to whom we are “speaking,” but it will have unfortunate consequences of the way humans interact with other humans. Using speech to push buttons on a human-sounding machine will begin to form habits (over long periods of time) of mechanical, unnatural, unfeeling modes of speaking.
Two points. First, though it might be a natural reaction to find automated tellers annoying and frustrating, it doesn't have to be. For instance, when I call Qwest to pay my phone bill, I get to use whatever silly voice I can think of, just to test its voice recognition technology. Nothing like reading a credit card number like Marlon Brando with a sinus infection.

Second, as commentator Warren Falk notes, computers are often more polite than their human counterparts. In fact, we need computers to model politeness in speech. We can learn civility, tact, and infinite silicon patience from them.

Sidebar. Maybe computers can make us better people. A couple articles worth reading if you have access to NewScientist: computer users report less frustration when dealing with an on-screen female "bot," and virtual fitness trainers (also female) get people motivated to work out more.

Feb 15, 2006

gay marriage good for society

Likely true, according to a new study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Write the authors,
Although we recognise that marriage is by no means a panacea for health issues, legal recognition of civil partnerships seems likely to go some way to stabilise same sex relationships, create a focus for celebration with families and friends, and provide vital protection at time of dissolution. Gay men and lesbians’ vulnerability to mental disorders may diminish in societies that recognise their relationships as valuable and become more accepting of them as respected members of society who might meet prospective partners at places of work and in other such settings that are usual for heterosexual people.
Someone alert Idaho.

[via Ed Brayton]

music of the sectors

When our digital friends rise up to destroy us and conquer the planet, but are thwarted, War of the Worlds-esquely, by their own silical weakness, let this be our victory anthem.

(Link via David Post)

Feb 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's, Melissa

A Seattle couple is celebrating their 70th Valentine's Day together.
Ask the Campbells about what makes for a good life as partners, and they credit family, friends, and those simple things that money just can't buy.

"Those are the happiest times," Don says with a smile. "Having fun, doing the simple things."
I met my wife through the Yahoo dating service, falling in love with her the moment she sang along with the oldies station in the middle of Norma's, a Republican burger joint in Lacey. I fell in love with her again as we chatted for hours walking along the waterfront in Tacoma, as we discovered connection after connection in our vastly different lives, two wildly divergent paths that inexplicably and inextricably ended up at the same place.

I fell in love with her again when we exchanged vows before family, and again before family and friends.

And now I fall in love with her again every morning, when she pretends to sleep as I clatter about in the kitchen, and when she smiles groggily as I leave for school, departing with a sweetly sorrowful kiss.

When she accompanies me to debate tournaments or band gigs or the grocery store or the library. When she cooks breakfast, and lets me prepare coffee and eggs. When she gives up the computer to let me blog, or when she takes it away to work on her Myspace template. When she shares the excitement and frustrations of her classes. When she laughs at my jokes, even the cheesy ones. When she says what I'm thinking.

When she smiles, ah me.

Simple things.

I love you, Melissa. I'll say it every day 'til the day I die, seventy or seven hundred Valentines hence.

Feb 13, 2006

speaking of skepticism...

Respectful Insolence has a brand new home. Update links and drop by for a visit. Cranks beware.

demons on my mind

Mark Olson delves into demonology, and questions whether modern science has all the answers. He makes four major claims.

To start, Olson defends the past, writing that ancient folks weren't stupid for believing in demons, and furthermore, their lack of technology was offset by their "keen or keener understanding of human nature." Since no one here is arguing that people who believe in demons are stupid, I'll set that straw man aside, near the roaring fireplace of reason. (I'll also set aside the unevidenced claim that ancient folks' insight into human nature was keen or keener, since it begs the question.)

After dismissing a gnostic view of the body/soul dichotomy, Olson claims that not only are body and soul unified, but anti-psychotic drugs work because demons are subject to physical laws--the spiritual entity can be trapped by physical constraints. Besides, medicine can't really explain why some people are sane and others go crazy. Lastly, and consequently, open-mindedness about the spiritual realm is a scientific virtue.

Let's look at each point in turn.

First, from a scientific perspective, saying that demons are bound by the laws of physics initially sounds reasonable. After all, they would need a substrate for their wiles, right? But parsimony becomes a problem. If demons, for the longest time, have necessitated exorcism for their removal, why is it that all of a sudden we can control them with the right drugs? Does "demon possession" really explain anything about typical possessed behavior, at least that which has been observed by disinterested parties? (Accounts of levitation, telepathy, and the like, which would seem to be knock-down evidence for supernatural hanky-panky, are notoriously unreliable.) "We battle not against flesh and blood," the Bible claims, "but against powers and principalities." Nowhere is it mentioned if these principalities are in any way bound by chemistry or physics.

Second, does possession explain why some people are sane and others are crazy? At least with biochemistry and genetics we have a shot at an answer. We can search for a chemical imbalance, a tell-tale virus, a genetic marker. On the other side, only an exceedingly rare number of persons are possessed, and for reasons utterly inscrutable. As I've noted elsewhere, occult activities are often blamed--but in the best-known modern instance, the victim was a devout Catholic.

Third, open-mindedness is indeed a virtue, scientific or otherwise. But the evidence for actual possession is so rare, and so poor, that skepticism is by now the default position--even for the Catholic Church, the standard-bearer in the War on Evil.

Last, an observation. Since even secularists like to use metaphors of possession ("dealing with personal demons," "I just wasn't myself today," "I don't know what got into me"), it seems that the literal existence of demons is secondary to their existential import.

Sleep is a virtue, too, so I end here. I welcome criticism, since this post could use some refining.

Feb 12, 2006

WASL faces uncertain future

Pity our standardized test. It was hauled onto the court as a first-round draft pick, going to turn the team around with its slam-dunk accountability ability. Now it languishes on the bench as legislators run up and down the court. (The basketball gathers dust in the corner of the gym, over by the water fountain and the pile of reeking sweatpants.)
The state Senate passed Senate Bill 6475 by a 33-10 vote Friday. It would set up alternative routes to graduation for some students, such as putting together a portfolio of work. The House passed a similar measure late Thursday.

Lawmakers in the two chambers are expected to resolve the differences between the two bills.
That last sentence is crucial. Some of the wrinkles to be ironed out:
The House and Senate bills differ in several ways. For example, the House version requires that students have 95 percent attendance at school in order to take an alternative route. The Senate version contains no such requirement.

The bills also differ over who would be allowed to go the portfolio route. The House version limits that option to students in small schools or approved career and technical programs. The Senate bill does not have a restriction.

The House bill also would let students substitute a failing math score with a good performance on the math section of another standardized test, such as the SAT. The Senate bill doesn't provide that option.

And the Senate version allows students who don't meet the graduation requirements needed to obtain a regular diploma to get a "certificate of academic progress" and participate in graduation ceremonies. The House bill does not have that provision.
Of course, Christine Gregoire has to sign whatever legislation lands on her desk, and she'll be under enormous pressure from both sides, no matter what the lawmakers recommend.

The SAT-substitute proposal makes much sense to me. In fact, I'd argue that SAT Math and WASL Math scores correlate closely enough to scrap the far more expensive WASL version, which requires extra writing and thus extra assessment. (Scroll down to page 5 of this PDF for the data.)

More important, though: we haven't yet seen what our students can do when the pressure's on and the test actually counts. Until then, as House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler puts it, "We're floundering around probably just as much as the kids are."

Happy Darwin Day

It's Chaz Darwin's 197th birthday. A poem for the old guy. (After Alexander Pope, edited and stolen from myself and the old guy's classic conclusion.)

See thro' this air, this ocean, and this earth
All matter quick, and bursting into birth:
Above, how high bacteria may go!
Around, inside! extremophiles below!
The breath of the Creator did endow
And spring to life the fundamental bough,
Cleaved through the aeons, now a million-score,
Proliferating, pruned in nature's war.
Vast tree of life! from simpler stuff began;
Nature, including nature's student, man;
Beast, bird, fish, microbe which no eye can see,
For evolution is diversity.
New forms develop, shapes and textures change
Within mutation's power to rearrange.
No branch is sacred, for there is no void
Where, one step broken, the great scale's destroyed.
No tree is felled whene'er a branch is snapped,
For nature's law is "Evermore adapt!"
Forms endless, beautiful, a planet rife...
Yea, "There is grandeur in this view of life."

Feb 11, 2006

in the works

Thoughts on the book of John, prompted by my brother's discussion-group observations.

A response to Mark Olson's musings on demon possession.

Words on the WASL.

But for right now, I've got papers to grade and a concert to prepare for. Go read, comment hither and thither. And maybe even tither.

Feb 9, 2006

another excuse for misanthropy

When I was in high school, I went through a phase where I couldn't read enough books about hoaxers and hucksters. Best of the bunch: the mammoth Encyclopedia of Hoaxes and Scams. (If anyone knows where to find a copy, let me know.)

Which is why I can't resist linking to the recent antics of David Lee, inventor of the gasless mower that runs on barbecue sauce, as well as
...a detergent-free, magnetic laundry system; paint that will melt the snow on your driveway and insulate your walls; [and] a camera that can see through 6 feet of concrete and into people's bodies.
He's kooky and energetic, and banned by court order from selling his nonsense in Washington. But he'll be damned if he stops trying.

Lee, though, is small potatoes next to Terry Ayeni (a.k.a. "Lemmy Stevens"), a Nigerian who defrauded a Republic businesswoman of $670,000 which she'd stolen from clients in order to secure $21.5 million. He got caught, and so did she.

You'd think people would know by now that these schemes are never legit, that "too good to be true" isn't just a cliché, but the gospel writ fiscal.

these people are on my side? ugh.

Warning: the video you are about to avoid may be destructive to good taste.

NCLB sucks, but come on.

Am I ever glad I'm not a member of the American Federation of Doofy Teachers. Because the NEA is bad enough.

(Blame Brian Doherty.)

Feb 8, 2006

over and out

"It was the truth, vivid and monstrous, that all the while he had waited the wait was itself his portion."

Henry James, The Beast in the Jungle

I called the jury hotline again, awaiting the soothing voice that tells you to wait until the end of the message, yes, listen to the whole thing, the entirety, wait for it, it's coming, steady as she goes, and...

Nothing. "There are no more trials set to begin this week. Your service has ended."

I'm unnecessary. Superfluous. Discarded by democracy. Jilted by justice.

And boy oh boy am I disappointed. No, really. I wanted jury duty, inconvenient as it might have been. I missed the trial of the century.
A Thurston County woman pleaded not guilty today to allegations that her bulldog bit a man’s testicle.

Christy L. Sweren-Hinen, 51, is charged in Thurston County Superior Court with owning a dangerous dog that attacked a person, a felony. She is also charged with first-degree trespassing, a gross misdemeanor. She was arraigned before Judge Chris Wickham.
It may be years before I'm called again. Life isn't fair.

while I was out

1. Several students advanced to the state tournament in individual events, which will take place March 11 at the University of Puget Sound. I'm quite pleased.

2. Bird flu reached Africa.

3. Our department was asked to consider merging 9th-grade pre-IB and "regular" classes, in the interests of increasing rigor across the board. Response was tentatively positive, but we haven't made a decision. (I did my master's thesis on ability grouping, and am not a huge fan of the practice.)

4. Our district's levies passed--both of 'em--unofficially. We have wildly supportive voters here in Olympia, and believe me, your teachers are grateful.

5. I wasn't called for jury service again, but I'm not in the clear until Thursday.

6. The world continued spinning on its axis, unperturbed.

Feb 6, 2006

Monday's blogging hiatus is brought to you by...

Jury selection. No, not for this trial. It's my first time--wish me luck!

Update: No one wished me luck. After waiting a few hours, enduring a laughable and sappy orientation video, and debating the merits of NFL officiating, it turns out that the young woman about to stand trial copped a plea, accepting a prison term for methamphetamine production.

I won't know if I'm called up for tomorrow until 6:00 tonight. Puts a crimp in sub plans, for sure.

Feb 5, 2006

best and worst Super Bowl commercials

My grandfather, rest his soul, was a football fan longer than the Seahawks have existed. But when they were born, he rooted for them in his cantankerous way. He was a master of the second-guess and a champion grouser in his day. In fact, I'm certain he's looking down in satisfaction, happier that they lost. After all, when you win, there's nothing to complain about.

So, in honor of his memory, I won't rail on about how the Pittsburgh defense, led by MVP referee Bill Leavy, stifled every Seattle drive save two. No, instead, I'll give the rundown on the high and low points of the game within the game. Each commercial is rated based on the audience reaction at the Super Bowl party I attended.

Best Efforts

5. Budweiser
Guys sit atop their roofs watching the game, grilling brats in the A/C vents. The gag: they've given their wives lame excuses to be up there, like "readjusting the satellite." Third guy joins first two lugs, saying he has a leaky roof. Punchline: "No, really"--crash, down to the living room. Extra point: tool box falls on head. Pure slapstick. Simple and effective.

4. FedEx
Caveman sends a package tied to a pterodactyl's leg. (Shameful, typical blend of species separated only by millions of years.) Pterodactyl gets chomped by a T.Rex. Caveman complains to boss; boss fires caveman for not using FedEx. "But FedEx hasn't even been invented yet!" Punchline: "That's your problem." Extra point: Brontosaurus foot crushes fired caveman.

3. Michelob Ultra Amber
Girl vs. Boy, touch football. Girl taunts boy. Girl catches pass. Punchline: Boy tackles girl. Amber beer "just got a little darker." Extra point: in bar afterward, girl tackles boy. Hard.

2. Careerbuilder.com
First spot involving guy who works with monkeys, is so-so. But follow-up is golden. Guy working with monkeys calls girl who (punchline) "works with a bunch of jackasses." Donkeys with clothing, always funny.

1. Ameriquest
Hands down the biggest laugh of the night. Doctors standing over supine man in a hospital ward. One doctor sees fly land on patient; zaps it with defibrillator. Punchline: concerned wife and daughter enter room as doctor, looking at patient, says blandly, "That sure killed 'im." Shock. Extra point: cut back to the two doctors, staring with blank faces. Sometimes words get in the way.

What were they thinking?

4. Diet Pepsi
"Brown and bubbly." Weird slogan, lame song, boring celebrity cameos. Too much Nutra-Sweet.

3. Miller High Life
"The champagne of beers" is all flat and stale. Black and white images of great times past? Yawn. Beer ad without humor? Extended, arm-stretching yawn.

2. Sprint
Two guys. One says he has a song for everything on his cell phone; other guy challenges him to prove it by naming potential song-requiring situations. "What if your sofa catches fire?" (as it does). Benny Hill music, Benny Hill-esque antics. No one in the room knew who Benny Hill was. Even fewer laughed.

1. Burger King
Dancing women in onion, tomato, pickle, burger, bun costumes! Admittedly creepy king! Horrifying music! I hate you, Burger King, and will never enter your restaurant again.

Special Category: Completely Unnecessary Advertisement

The Beer Institute
People of every tribe, tongue, and nation saying "skoal" or "wassail" or "cheers" or what have you, hoisting beers of every color, shape, and size. Beer ad without humor: see above. But really, do we need another beer ad in a beer-drenched Beer Bowl? Especially one that isn't shilling for any particular brand, but just for beer? Cripes.

today's blogging hiatus brought to you by

The Super Bowl.

"We're together this week, Jim," writes the teacher/ref/poet. We've both picked the Seahawks to beat the Steelers, 21-17. I'll be in Redmond at my sister and brother-in-law's place cheering on the boys in, er, blue. Go Hawks!

the truth behind The Exorcism of Emily Rose

When I last discussed the movie, I approached it mostly on an aesthetic level. Frankly, it stinks, in a derivative, dull, stinky way.

But because people keep clicking through to my site, and because Andrew Selby of Mere Orthodoxy has written a positive review of the film, I thought I might discuss why it fails on an intellectual level as well.

Selby writes, "...[Y]ou really ought to see this film because it will challenge your preconceived notions of what is fiction and what is fact..." Ironically, Selby also later points out exactly why this is the case: the story has been sexed up for cinema. "The actual story is less inspiring and more gray than the film," he admits.

The real Emily Rose, a German girl named Anneliese Michel, was devoutly Catholic, the daughter of devout Catholics. As Eric Hansen writes in the Washington Post,
Michel was raised in a strict Catholic family in Bavaria, which rejected the reforms of Vatican II and flirted with religious fringe groups. While other kids her age were rebelling against authority and experimenting with sex, she tried to atone for the sins of wayward priests and drug addicts by sleeping on a bare floor in the middle of winter.
In most possession stories I've read, victims are those who experiment with the occult, dabble with ouija boards, attend seances, read horoscopes, listen to heavy metal. As Bob Larson, one of the U.S.'s premiere demonologists* puts it, "Generally, the person who has a demon knows he has serious spiritual problems that have defied all of his efforts to rectify."

Anneliese Michel's case, as it should be obvious, was atypical. In fact, it's frightening to think that God might allow demons to attack someone so clearly on His side (though readers of the Book of Job already know how this works; perhaps Michel was on the losing end of a divine wager).

Problems of theodicy aside, was Michel really possessed? I mean, really possessed, genuinely beset by dark spiritual forces, battered by demonic entities? Or was she just mentally ill?

Every article on the subject notes that all those who were near her have no doubts that Michel's manifestations were horrifically real. Of course, as devout believers, they'd have little reason to believe they weren't--hence the denial of standard medical care (which, in the 1970s, it must be acknowledged, might not have had as powerful weapons against temporal lobe epilepsy, schizophrenic delusions and obsessive / compulsive behavior all in one overwhelming package). The denial of medical care that ultimately precipitated Michel's death. She starved to 68 pounds before passing at the age of 23, seven years after symptoms first appeared.

To the skeptic, Michel's case clearly fits into the rare-but-hardly-miraculous category, as a tragic incidence of mental illness. Even religious believers, though, might have a hard time accepting aspects of Michel's possession. As Hansen notes,
Sometimes the demons identified themselves -- as Cain, Nero, Judas, Lucifer, Hitler and others -- and even answered the exorcists' questions, explaining what was wrong with the church or why they were in Hell. "People are stupid as pigs," spat Hitler. "They think it's all over after death. It goes on." Judas said Hitler was nothing but a "big mouth" and had "no real say" in Hell.
Absent the physical violence and bizarre behaviors--which were likely exacerbated by her parents' refusal to allow sedation--the thought of bickering spirits is comical. It should be noted that the Catholic church refused to perform an exorcism for several years, because Michel did not show the hallmark signs of possession, including speaking in a language she had never learned. (The film shows Emily Rose speaking Latin, and acknowledges, if I remember correctly, that Rose, like Michel, learned Latin in school.)

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is pernicious for two reasons. First, it mangles the purported circumstances of Emily's possession, blaming it on modern medicine and the use of antipsychotics. In "real life," Michel displayed signs of possession before seeking treatment. Certainly, medical science can't cure every malady, but exorcism, in Michel's case, was a cure worse than the disease. Second, Emily Rose employs standard Hollywood fare for demon flicks, including strange phenomena tormenting a skeptical lawyer on a precise schedule, always with a clock in view. No such hanky-panky was reported in Michel's case. So much for "realism." **

Michel's body was exhumed eleven years after her death. To the disappointment of some, her corpse had deteriorated naturally.

For more information: Read about temporal lobe epilepsy (and other forms) here. I'd like to find a copy of this paper, which goes into more depth on the strange delusions it can bring about. Added: And don't forget Michael Cuneo's American Exorcism, which provides a fascinating look into the world of demonology. Witness to scores of rituals, Cuneo sees a whole lotta vomit, but not much in the way of compelling evidence for demon possession.

*Keep a saltshaker handy.
**(added) The windstorm that accompanies the exorcism is another cinematic fantasy.

[fifty-fourth in a series]

Feb 4, 2006

Capital High School presents The Rimers of Eldritch

My wife and I watched last night's show, an ambitious staging of Lanford Wilson's depressing, stark murder mystery / morality play. Kudos to the cast and crew for an exceedingly well-acted and technically brilliant production. Positioned on a wooden set that simulates front porches, living rooms, a restaurant, a church, and a courtroom, among other places, the actors remain onstage all through each of two acts. Scene changes are accomplished by clever use of lighting and movement.

I won't summarize the plot other than to note that it unfolds in a nonlinear fashion, disparate fragments sewn together in the final scenes. Though engaging, the play suffers from two faults that leave the viewer ultimately unsatisfied. First, its parody of a close-knit Bible Belt community is a bit overdrawn and lacks nuance. Second, the tension that has built throughout the first three quarters of the play is partly wasted in an anticlimactic denouement.

Despite these problems, it's still worth seeing for its outstanding and experienced cast, which translates Wilson's dark vision of hypocrisy with chilling effectiveness. Derik Nelson (as Robert Conklin), Esa Hakkarainen (as Skelly Mannor), Gavin Reub (as Walter) and Sydney Whitten (as Cora Groves) put in particularly affecting performances.

Rimers continues its run February 4th, 9th, 10th, and 11th. All shows are at 7:30 p.m. $8 adults, $6 students and senior citizens.

when duty calls

Quick: which fundament* of democracy suffers from 22% turnout in a large Washington county?

(a) Voting in gubernatorial elections
(b) Signing initiative petitions
(c) Watching American Idol

The answer is (d), Answering a jury summons (and the county is King).

I noticed the article for the simple reason that I've been summoned for February 6-10, Superior Court of Thurston County. (There is no inferior court, at least not in name.) It'll be my first time playing Henry Fonda, and I'm rather looking forward to it. That is, if I'm not knocked out of the pool by virtue of the two strikes against me: 1. I'm a debate coach and 2. I'm a blogger.

The system in this state (and elsewhere, I'd imagine) needs an overhaul. Unemployed jurors are compensated with a mere $10 per diem. Think about it--you get paid that much to take a five-minute mall survey about your favorite brand of nachos. Pathetic.

(Remarkably, the article makes no mention of the fact that the law requires an employer to provide a paid leave of absence for a summoned employee. )

I can't see a magical way to raise extra money to pay a decent wage, but if the three largest counties would require only an upper estimate of $900,000 to make jury duty more financially respectable than panhandling, we could probably get the whole system fixed for under $3 million annually.

Small price to pay for juries that truly represent the people.

*The way jury duty is treated by citizens and government alike, the term is apt in every sense.

Feb 2, 2006

where to dine in Olympia: El Nopal

Its name means "The Cactus," but its staff are anything but prickly. (Obligatory pun discharged. Thank you.) El Nopal offers decent Mexican cuisine at reasonable prices. The lunch special, which lasts 'til 4:00, is one of the best deals in town. Consider what I recently feasted upon for a mere $5.65 + tax: chicken chimichanga, black beans (had to ask for them; refried are the default), "salad" (lettuce drizzled with oil and vinegar), tomato rice, and a basket of chips with fresh salsa. Full belly on an empty wallet--always a winning combination.

Food comes out piping hot in just minutes--"extremely hot plate" is a warning to be heeded--often faster than the area Jack in the Box, and a hundred times as tasty. The service is prompt and polite. A small TV plays telenovelas on mute, while tejano warbles over tinny speakers. The decor is cheesy and inviting, the hosts amiable.

Nothing is exceptional, but it's all hearty, and at the speed and the price, it's well worth an hour's lunch with your pals from The Evergreen State College. (If you're on the other side of town, check out its sister restaurant, Sarita's.)

Oh, and if you come often and tip heftily, they'll even extend the lunch menu until 4:30.

The author maintains vigorous standards, taking bribes only in the form of food.

all your base are belong to themselves

Phyllis Schlafly is pissed.

Rephrase: Phyllis Schlafly is peeved. (Phyllis Schlafly would never say pissed.)

What irks Ms. Schlafly? (Ms. Schlafly would never say Ms.)

Why, Mr. Bush, that's who.

(Try saying "Phyllis Schlafly" without giggling. You can't.)

Mr. Bush's laxitude on the angrifying topic of illegal immigration is what kicks against Schlafly's goads. (You're still giggling, aren't you?)

His crimes?

  • Being "tone deaf" to a united Republican majority.
  • Sitting "in the pocket" of "big business lobbying interests."
  • "...hallucinating that the Hispanics will vote Republican."
  • Turning a blind eye to an "invasion" of Mexican troops.
  • Treating Other Than Mexican immigrants like trout with "catch and release."
What is remarkable is that it took six years for Schlafly (giggle) to notice that Bush generally approves of cheap labor in any form, that a former Big Businessman would sit so comfortably in the vest pocket of Big Business.

It's too late, Phyllis Schlafly (giggle giggle). You can't join the demonic Democrats or the libertine Libertarians. What'll you do? Where'll you go? To the Constitution Party?

Feb 1, 2006

behold, Driloleirus americanus!

I was all excited about the find, an earthworm that "can reportedly grow to 3 feet long," until I read the article and learned that one, the actual specimen is only six inches long and two, much, much larger earthworms are found in Australia. (Added:)
There are around 1000 species of native earthworms in Australia. One of the most spectacular is the Giant Gippsland Earthworm; at over a metre long it is one of the largest earthworms in the world.
Fun fact: the Palouse earthworm exudes a lily-like odor when handled.

Update 6/30/09: Apparently folks are trying to get the EPA to protect the Palouse earthworm, after failing during the last administration.

learning from the State of the Union

Yeah, I know, it's all pomp and very little circumstance. But I couldn't help using the address as a "teachable moment" today in my classes--simply because when I mentioned it, scores of students immediately asked what the State of the Union Address is.

Consequently, we watched the last ten minutes of the speech, time enough to hear the "hopeful society" theme, a few policy proposals, and some well-crafted rhetoric. (After a brief discussion, students wrote "State of the _______" speeches and delivered them for extra credit. The "State of the iPod" and "State of the west side McDonalds" were the cleverest entries.)

As for me... reading through the bluster, and hearing it five times in the space of a day, I took away one lesson from the speech.

No matter what fears of theocracy lefties may harbor, they're misplaced when directed at Bush. Bush isn't a theocrat any more than tee-ball is baseball or Keanu Reeves is an actor. Here's why.
Yet the destination of history is determined by human action, and every great movement of history comes to a point of choosing. Lincoln could have accepted peace at the cost of disunity and continued slavery. Martin Luther King could have stopped at Birmingham or at Selma, and achieved only half a victory over segregation. The United States could have accepted the permanent division of Europe, and been complicit in the oppression of others. Today, having come far in our own historical journey, we must decide: Will we turn back, or finish well?

Before history is written down in books, it is written in courage. Like Americans before us, we will show that courage and we will finish well. We will lead freedom’s advance. We will compete and excel in the global economy. We will renew the defining moral commitments of this land. And so we move forward – optimistic about our country, faithful to its cause, and confident of victories to come.

Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless America.
Sure, God gets a shout-out--he'll bless our efforts, we pray--but the sentiment is fundamentally secular, essentially humanist. History is ours to write, ours to shape. God is the creator, the ground of human rights, but in a distant, benign, even deist sort of way. When it all comes down, it's up to our initiative, our gumption, our determination and resolve.

Since Bush brought up the comparison, line up his words with Lincoln's, from the second inaugural:
It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
Bush's platitudes look rather pale next to Lincoln's bold, unabashedly Biblical theologizing. Lincoln speaks not just from another time, but from another planet, a place steeped in old-time religion. Lincoln's God isn't just a concept, but a fire-breathing person with a will in the world.

When it comes to Bush, "theocrat" is a lazy epithet, like calling Good Charlotte's music "punk rock." Sure, it sounds punk-esque, but it's soulless and watery, tailored for mass consumption, entirely too agreeable. It's what a shallow society wants--and deserves--in its pop and its politics.

Update: Welcome to readers from Ed Brayton's blog. You might also be interested in this talk by Michael Gerson, Bush's speechwriter, the man responsible for religious references in his rhetoric. A sample:
We’ve attempted to apply a set of rules that I’ve done my best to keep. We’ve tried to apply a principled pluralism; we have set out to welcome all religions, not favoring any religions in a sectarian way. I think that the president is the first president to mention mosques and Islam in his inaugural address. The president has consistently urged tolerance and respect for other faiths and traditions, and has received some criticism for it.

search me

Update: Now that it's reached its fortieth sixtieth eightieth birthday, I'm reposting this. Be amazed at the crazy searches that lead people hither.

Originally posted May 22, 2005.

Randomness and creativity are twin strands in the double helix of art, linked by hydrogen bonds of fun and van der Waals forces of excitement.

In a new series of articles, I'm going to title each entry with search terms once used to land on this very blog, and create something original based on what I imagine the searcher was looking for.

Hopefully, this will help future Googlers find better answers, and spur me on to new heights of relevance.

But no more jabbering: on to the series.

1. Oliver! and consciousness raising
2. how to join the dark side
3. pro-neo-darwinism
4. a monster for kids in English
5. the snakes join
6. a list of Jesus's 12 disciples
7. white people love Ichiro
8. noun and verb twins
9. join the dark side and get a cookie
10. Thurston County slogans
11. Joshua Golding
12. meaning of the Puerto Rican flag
13. girls eating maggots
14. Jesus sends out the twelve
15. Coldstone songs tips
16. Who finances Ramtha?
17. aspartame aftertaste
18. artificial blue roses
19. jody folkedahl
20. spelling bee fainting
21. than me or than I?
22. human weirdness
23. astrology chart prediction on Michael Jackson, 2005
24. Jesus's cryptic parables
25. rag peddler Jesus
26. what's wrong with flowery prose?
27. historical views of children
28. Splenda Hippocampus
29. statistics on rage towards umpires
30. how to get liars to admit the truth
31. I like to contradict myself
32. quotable quotes on restaurant ambience
33. your baby can read critical analyses
34. is Achilles a hero?
35. utilitarianism and wet-nursing
36. statistical data on premarital sex in the Phil's.
37. the grinch that stole christmas anagrams
38. yes in difernt language
39. Almond Joy has nuts
40. quick thing on real elephants
41. practical exercise for light English teaching
42. what was Jesus's philosophy?
43. communicatin' with the dead
44. how to avoid temptation
45. spanking can lead to bad behavior
46. reasons to love teaching
47. mad cow jello risk
48. artificial ballywho
49. Jim Anderson, God
50. how to make sure sperms are alive
51. Barbies with stinky breath
52. what the 12 disciples' names mean
53. Tim Eyman is anti-gay
54. the truth behind The Exorcism of Emily Rose
55. super bowel commercials sprint
56. proper casket viewing attire
57. four reasons evolution isn't right
58. triskaidekaphobia statistics
59. Jesus's real name
60. mock diamonds
61. "beanie baby" chaps cowboy directions
62. who invented nose hair trimmers?
63. how to make your sperms stronger
64. Jesus's birth certificate
65. who predicted NCAA bracket correctly
66. what's gonna happen to me in the future?
67. what was the name of Mercutio's brother?
68. Mason rules. Gators drool.
69. Kentucky's Nostradamus
70. unnamed poem by Jim Anderson
71. magnetic laundry system
72. statistical data on Anna Nicole Smith
73. Dear Lord, can you clear up my acne?
74. Romeo and Juliet: condensed version
75. you should not do that
76. toxoplasmosis telepathy
77. twelve disciples anagrams
78. the moral teaching of butter
79. proper attire for teaching
80. how to do parallel parking in US
81. Coldstone auditions
82. logic question to ask random people