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Catholics Insulted by Historically Inaccurate Fiction

I have to admit I find this whole â??Da Vinci Codeâ? flap amusing. I mean now even the Vatican goes on offensive.

Itâ??s fiction, boys. Yes, itâ??s fiction with historical inaccuracies. Oh, I know there are readers who take the novel as fact, and that is bothering a lot of people. And there are not only historical inaccuracies, but also questionable interpretations. For instance, those heterodox Gnostics get screwed because theyâ??re dragged down into a materialistic, literal agenda far removed from the mythological metaphor of their otherworldliness. It mostly didnâ??t matter to them whether there was a historical Jesus or not. Christ was part of a mythology with a meaning.

Fact is, some take the Bible literally, too. And if youâ??re going to tell people, based on faith, to accept that a man, fully human (whose historicity is questionable), is also literally God and fully divine, you really shouldnâ??t get too upset that some readers are already primed to consider another possible earthly scenario, even a fictitious one.

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Santeria in Patriotic Drag

The Iraq war is like santeria in patriotic drag. Soldiers are sacred. It's that blood thing, again, I think: Once blood has been spilled in a cause, the cause is somehow sanctified. The straussian bullshit artists in the vulcan cabal are happy every time they can say that the evil enemy has spilled blood, happier still if they can say it's American blood.

Supporting the war on the argument that we've "sacrificed" and it would be disrespectful not to honor that sacrifice isn't solidarity; it's bloodthirsty primitive ritualism. It's voodoo. It reminds me of the late-Aztec "hummingbird-god", Huitzlpochtli, who fed on the blood and hearts of brave warriors, in large quantities, in return for permitting the sun to keep on shining.

Similarly, the Bushite-Vulcan cabal and their fellow-travellers demand the blood of American youth. Modern historians tell us that the Aztec sacrifice-empire was on the verge of collapse, as evidenced by the fact that the outsider, Cortez, was able to quickly unite so many diverse factions around his tiny band of Spaniards. Ed Calnek, for one, has argued that the sacrefice regime served the purpose of proppin up the Aztec state.

If I believed that history repeats, I'd be expecting another Cortez -- or wondering if his modern name isn't "Bin Laden."

And What Does "Blarney" Mean, Again?

Geoff Pullum has some advice:
Whenever you hear someone starting to say something that begins with "The X have no word for Y", or "The X have N different words for Y", never listen to them, and always check your wallet to make sure it's still there.

We're told often enough that the Eskimo have "x [where x varies from 30 to 1,000,000] words for snow". It's nonsense, of course -- they actually have quite a bit fewer than we do. I can thank an old anthro prof for clueing me in on that myth, but Anthony C. Woodbury back in 1991 compiled a list of English and Yupik lexemes for "snow" for an old-school mailint list. But it just won't go away. It's another aspect of that idea that some peoples really do think differently.

Pullum was moved to comment by a blarney-rich (which is to say, charming and engaging) interview with Irish novelist Frank Delaney on WeSat. The Irish are "devious", Delaney says, because they've made do without words for ideas like "yes", "no", and "sex". After putting paid to the issue of words for sex, Pullum goes on to make this fascinating observation about how the Irish say "yes" and "no":

The story about Irish lacking particles meaning "yes" and "no" is true, by the way. But it has nothing to do with the Irish mind or spirit or way of looking at the world or the notion of neither agreeing nor disagreeing. In Irish you repeat the verb of someone's clause to agree with it (as if someone said "Got milk?" and the way you gave an affirmative response was to say "Got"), and you repeat their verb with the negation particle in front to deny it ("Not got"). But the same is true of Chinese.

Which is not to say that there aren't interesting cultural consequences related to that particular characteristic of the Irish language. Certainly they could have said 'yes' or 'no'; no language would last long without a simple and straightforward way of doing so, and in any case the Irish construction is somwhat analogous to the German constructs for negation. In German, the word for "not" (as in "not green") is the same as the word for "nothing": nicht. But I've yet to hear anyone suggest this colors the German way of thought. I submit that the reason is more or less frank ethnocentrism, again. (And in fact have never heard a German-speaker make an error in speaking English that would suggest any confusion on the issue.)

I'm reliably informed, for example, that it's regarded as being in very bad form to "say no" (i.e., to refuse to do something) in Japanese. Certainly they have a way of doing it; but it's not something that polite people observing the pretense of social equality will easily do. Instead, you find indirect ways of expressing refusal. The subject came up with regard to Japanese marketing campaigns by a large, Rochester-based "document company" which used far too assertive language forms. But this is not so much a matter of language per say as of its usage in a cultural context. A language can be used, generally, to express any number of different ideas; in a cultural context, though, it may not be very good for expressing some of them.

Please Just At Least Try To Imagine. That's All I Ask.

But be honest about it. Don't just pretend. That's cheating, and lying, and it makes Baby Jeebus cry.

I'm increasingly convinced that the greatest roadblock to human progress is lack of imagination. More particularly, the inability -- or unwillingness -- to imagine onesself in the position of another.

The problem can look like other things: Like (selective) literalism, as when someone like Michael Medved or Ted Kavanau can see nothing in Million Dollar Baby but a "pro-euthenasia" or "anti-christian" tract. Or it can look like lack of empathy, as when wannabe uber-geeks dismiss the problems of "lUsErS" as being of their own making, or knee-jerk free-will zealots (willfully?) ignore the benefits they accrue from being members of civil society to rip out one of that society's underpinnings.

That empathy requires imagination I regard as self-evident; that people who lack empathy literally lack imagination, I regard as open to question. As a friend remarked to me recently, "it's all about what's at your front door."

Precious Classic Gospel Music

Robert Darden in todayâ??s New York Times is bemoaning the difficulty in finding recordings of some classic gospel music.

For an unabashed fan like me, it's a painful situation. I realize that no corporation is going to put out albums just to please a few aficionados, but they may not realize that many people want to hear this music. Each time I do a radio interview and play a classic gospel song, the phone lines immediately light up. The callers need to discuss what this music has meant to them. They invariably ask where they can buy it and most of the time I have to tell them they can't.

I can relate to those people who call in to the radio station. Robert Dardenâ??s mention of Thomas Dorsey in the article triggers a few memories for me.

There was the time I was talking with a man who thought I was referring to Tommy Dorsey, the late, great band leader. He hadnâ??t even heard of Thomas Dorsey, the â??father of gospel music.â?

Then there was the time I cringed when hearing some elevator music -- a limp, singsongy, orchestral version of Dorseyâ??s classic, â??Take My Hand, Precious Lord.â? A Milquetoast didnâ??t compose this song. The words and music were the forthright expression of a man grieving over the loss of his wife and child. I vividly recalled the inner emotional intensity of Thomas Dorsey unhurriedly singing his composition on a TV documentary of gospel music several years ago.

I have been asked to sing this work at funerals. I am not an orthodox Christian. I doubt if all the people attending those funerals are Christians or even religious. But that doesnâ??t matter. Thomas Dorsey captures the common human experiences of grief and hope in a way that transcends ideology. People relate to this song whether they are reaching for the hand of their god, their friend, their loved one, their neighbor, or even themselves during troubling times, seeking comfort or understanding.

I remember rehearsing this song with a church organist before one funeral. She soon discovered that I was taking precious, deliberate time with the interpretation. She looked at me and said that if she already didnâ??t know I was Caucasian, she would have sworn she was listening to a black woman sing.

That was the nicest compliment she could have given me.

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â??Just as I Amâ?

In NBCâ??s ER episode last night,

Dr. Weaver (Laura Innes) encounters an evasive patient (Frances Fisher, â??Titanicâ?) who shocks her by revealing that she is her birth mother, who put her baby up for adoption at 15. As they spend time sharing their life stories, their budding relationship withers when Weaver confesses to her mother -- an evangelical Christian -- that she is gay.

The episode was entitled â??Just as I Am.â? And Dr. Weaver wanted to be accepted just as she was. She would rather have her motherâ??s acceptance or tolerance than her love.

That makes sense to me. Storge tainted with self-righteous pity somehow pales before a less conditional love.

The evangelical Christian mother might have taken a cue from the old hymn, â??Just as I Am.â? Even after wading through the blood of atonement theology, the message of unconditional love leaches through, breaking down every obstacle, which very well could include the barrier of bigotry.

Just as I am; thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down;
Now to be thine, yea, thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

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Creation Ad Nauseum

Personally, I've decided to stop evolving. No point, really. Evolution is so 20th century.

After recovering from a bout of laughter upon reading Maureen Dowdâ??s elucidating moment in The New York Times this morning, the somber trueness of her mockery hit me.

To creationists, the theory of evolution must seem like a hiccup in the expanse of human history. Whatâ??s the point of an empirical scientific method of inquiry when faith in religious dogma can fill in any questionable blanks? We humans are creatures, after all, creatures at least in the sense that we create,... things and ideas, including stories and even museums about how we were supposedly created.

Interesting that belief in creation â??scienceâ? seems to be â??largely a U.S. phenomenon.â? Creative Americans are we. Our administration has even cleverly recreated an Iraq War raison d'être of freeing the oppressed, permitting the seeds of democracy to flourish. Weapons of mass destruction are so yesterday.

Personally, Iâ??ve decided to stop evolving or creating and instead, start remembering. Recollection is like so... retro.

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The Religion of No-Religion, -- A Myth?

Ten years ago Richard Smoley wrote about American spirituality as â??The Religion of No-Religion.â? Yes, we have religious roots in Puritanism, Deism (allowing a belief in rational inquiry and scientific progress), and the â??dogmatism and anti-intellectualism of frontier religionâ? which â??has seeped into the American consciousness at large.â?

Moralism, dogmatism, and a belief in progress - these remain permanent legacies of the American heritage. But although they're rooted in our religious past, they are not fundamentally religious impulses in themselves. Atheists and agnostics can possess them just as well as any believer. Often, in fact, the secular humanist seems to believe in progress much as the Christian does in the Second Coming.

Is there anything, then, that can be called an "American religion"?

At first reading, my reaction was to sense red flags around the term â??American religion.â? What a dangerous concept in a secular, pluralistic society. But then, Richard Smoley continued, finding â??no American religion as such.â? He seemed to be seeking in terms of what might be common ground.

As the nation becomes more diverse and its spirituality more centrifugal, we are finding ourselves left with little more than the profit motive to serve as common ground. Can we come up with any alternative?

Smoley moved on to American Indian religion and the deep-seated value for respect, including tolerance. Could that be a fundamental American goal? At the time of the writing of his essay, Smoley felt â??in general this message of tolerance has (with a number of failures and exceptions) for the most part prevailed in our country.â?

But why is tolerance good? There are many in the world, and in America, who believe it is not. The answer has to do with how seriously one takes religious forms in themselves. The bigot and the fundamentalist see the form as an absolute: God not only must exist, but must exist in the way I see him (or, more likely, in the way I'm told to see him). Those with a broader view acknowledge that the inexpressible may have many means of expressing itself, and that while the form may capture certain aspects of higher reality, it cannot exhaust that reality.

Smoley suggests that if there were to be an American creed, it would be the â??religion of no-religion.â?

The forms of American spiritual expression are too diffuse for anything else. We will not be able to seize onto any one - no matter how shrill its cries for attention may be - and cast it into an idol for general consumption.

Fast forward ten years.

Would Richard Smoley be surprised at the shrill cries for attention by modern fundamentalists and evangelists in our country and in our administration?

I, for one, cannot stomach the idea of â??general consumption.â? The overwhelming media force-feeding of particular religious factionsâ?? exposure has been excruciating.

TIME Magazine has now devoted a photo essay on â??The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in Americaâ?. Reading through the bios, in the midst of words speaking of Christlike humility and social programs and occasional reasonable voices such as Brian McLaren, Iâ??m struck by the more prevalent dogma; anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-evolution and anti-stem cell research advocacy, beliefs and actions displaying sentiments that church-state separation is a myth; the pioneering of mass appeal,...
political muscle,.... a whole frickinâ?? regime.

Hardly the stuff of tolerance.

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â??Bring Me to Lifeâ?

The goth-inspired rock group, Evanescence, came up in conversation recently with a friend who noticed spiritual imagery, perhaps tenuous but nonetheless persuasive, in their music. No, weâ??re not talking about finding traditional Christian symbolism. Thatâ??s been done and vigorously refuted by the group.

In an April 15, 2003 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Evanescence emphatically declared they aren't a Christian band. According to Amy Lee, "There are people hell-bent on the idea that we're a Christian band in disguise, and that we have some secret message ... We have no spiritual affiliation with this music. It's simply about life experience." Unfortunately, Ben and Amy used profanity to communicate their request to be removed from Christian bookstores and radio stations. The industry quickly complied. [â??Fallen (Wind-Up)â? by Russ Breimeier, Christian Music Today]

Of course, that doesnâ??t mean some Christian metaphors couldnâ??t have slipped through; however, upon viewing some online videos from their â??Fallenâ? album, I was also struck by something familiar,... not orthodox Christian dogma ripe for propagandizing, but rather imagery strongly resembling aspects of the heterodox Valentinian myth of Sophia.

Evanescence could be totally without â??spiritual affiliationâ? or at least modern Christian affiliation. Amy Lee might profess that the music is â??simplyâ? about life experience, but since when is life experience divorced from spirituality? Regardless of oneâ??s worldview, whether â??spiritualityâ? translates into something worldly, otherworldly, or a combination thereof, mythologies have traced the human condition through archetypes that are very compelling. If I may be permitted to run with this for a moment, even if guilty of exercising my own eisegetical rights, Bring Me to Life, as an example, conveys to me a Sophia who is struggling, a mythic character in a timeless story of seeking greater understanding.

David Fideler beautifully recounts The Passion of Sophia (online text of article not available). Sophia is an emanation from the Unknowable â??Fatherâ? and part â??of a series of Eternal Principles (Aeons) in complimentary male-female pairs of Dyads known as Syzygies. These aeonic or eternal pairs comprise the Fullness (Pleroma) of the Godhead, the archetypal realm of spiritual Perfection. Each one of these Eternities is a divine principle unto itself, but is also an eternal aspect of the Ineffable Father, who is beyond all names,â? beyond all conception.

Her desire to know the Ineffable Father became an intense passion which totally overwhelmed her, and she became â??involved in an extreme agony of mind.â? Sophia stretched toward the Fore-Father in her frantic effort to comprehend his nature, until--lest she annihilate herself in the profundity of His nature--she was restrained by the power called the Limit or Boundary (Horos) which exists between Silence and Profundity.

Having been stopped by the Boundary of Silence she was â??brought back to herself,â? convinced of the Unknowability of the Father. She cast aside her original Intent or Plan (enthumesis) to comprehend Him. This Plan, which she had produced without a male companion, took the form of an amorphous fog or substance. Looking upon this â??abortionâ??, Sophia felt profound grief because of its imperfect nature and because she could not comprehend the essence of the Father. Next, she was overcome with the fear that her imperfect creation might result in her own destruction. At this point she lost control of herself and was thrown into utter perplexity and confusion.

Tormented by these passions, Sophia attempted to return to the Father, but since she was totally exhausted by her Grief, Fear, Bewilderment, and Ignorance, all strength departed from her.�

Consider now the video rendition of â??Bring Me to Lifeâ? (directed by Philipp Stolzl) while continuing to read the story summary below. Some ideas for possible imagery: upper stories of high-rise building as Pleroma; other levels (apartments Amy peers into) as successive emanations down to the material world; Amy Lee sleeping in building as Higher Sophia; ethereal Amy outside the building in grief and bewilderment as the Lower Sophia (Achamoth) in the darkness of the void; upper story building windows as the Limit of the Pleroma (the Cross boundary) (notice Sophiaâ??s window was wide open); Paul McCoy inside an upper story (of Pleroma) as the Christ who steps temporarily outside the window (the Cross), taking pity on the Lower Sophia who attempts to ascend (climb), beckoning to her consort to save her.

The Valentinians, as Irenaeus tells us, referred to the abortion of Sophia--now outside the Pleroma and having an existence of her own--as Achamoth (from the Hebrew word Chokmah or â??Wisdomâ??). This distinguished the exiled substance, the Lower Wisdom, from her parent Sophia who is the Higher Wisdom. Having been excluded from the Pleroma and thrust into the darkness of the void, Achamoth became violently upset, mirroring the original passion of Sophia of which Achamoth was in fact the product.

Since Achamoth was without form because she had received none from a male father, Christ took pity on the exiled substance. Projecting himself through the Cross, and thus placing himself temporarily outside the Pleroma, Christ imparted form to Achamoth but not intelligence.
[...]
Because Achamoth could not pass into the Pleroma, her passions of grief, fear, bewilderment, ignorance and confusion once again flared up.

There is more to the mythological story, as there is more to Amy Leeâ??s real life. (As the story continues, we find that the Christ isnâ??t a wimp.)

Itâ??s highly unlikely Amy consciously is trying to impart any Valentinian images of the fallen Sophia or that she has even heard of Valentinus. Don't know about Stolzl. At this point, the diva is continuing to explore darkness:

Lee has a hard time describing her own music, but she thinks her new songs are darker than most of the material on Fallen.

"It still sounds like me, but I've been in a spooky mood lately, so I think it's gonna be kinda spooky," she said. "I'd like to use more organ. I wanna make it heavier and softer at the same time."

"I want to go in a lot of different directions we didn't go on Fallen," she continued. "I want to get different emotions across. Obviously I think there's a spectrum of emotions on Fallen, but I think it's still limited in a lot of ways."

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â??All Are Welcomeâ?

I just checked over at the United Church of Christ site to see if anything was happeninâ?? since the hoopla over their recent controversial ad about tolerance.

It looks like SpongeBob braved the January Midwest snowstorms to visit UCC, receiving an unequivocal welcome from the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president.

The UCC's welcome comes in the wake of laughable accusations by James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, that the popular SpongeBob and other well-known cartoon characters are crossing "a moral line" by stressing tolerance in a national We Are Family Foundation-sponsored video that will be distributed to U.S. schools on March 11, 2005.

Later, an assistant to Dobson called SpongeBob's participation in the video "insidious."

Thomas said, on the contrary, it is Dobson who is crossing the moral line for sending the mistaken message that Christians do not value tolerance and diversity as important religious values.

"While Dobson's silly accusation makes headlines, it's also one more concrete example of how religion is misused over and over to promote intolerance over inclusion," Thomas said. "This is why we believe it is so important that the UCC speak the Gospel in an accent not often heard in our culture, because far too many experience the cross only as judgment, never as embrace."

I wonder. Is Barney the next target for conservatives?

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Apple Proves Me Wrong (about a few things, at least)

The "headless iMac" is the "Mac Mini." (Close-follower branding from Apple? Or synergy from their cooperative projects with BMW -- er, I mean, Cooper? But I digress, as usual...) Of course, they'll sell millions of the buggers. That's what they do: Create cute things that people want to buy, regardless of what it is or really does. But I swear, I'm different: I swear, I actually care what it does.

But is it an earth shattering device? Even without wireless, as it is, it could be, but in and of itself -- no. Everyone I know who's ever thought of getting a Mac wants one -- hell, I want one -- and yet, I don't think it will take over the low-end market the way it could if the price point were, say, $100 lower, or the base RAM were 256KB bigger.

But in another way, it will be revolutionary. Consider the size of the thing: It will now no longer be acceptable for PCs to be as big as they have traditionally been. Ultra-small variations on the ATX form factor, which are common now only among hobbyists and "gear fetishists", will become standard PC form factors, and will at the same time cease to command a premium price. They will drive devices the same size as (or smaller than) a Mac Mini, and aren't inherently much more expensive to manufacture than the larger boards; since Intel and AMD chips clock higher, they'll be faster; and they'll become radically cheaper as demand soars from people who've seen the Mac Mini, but still can't afford the extrapolated $800-$1000 price tag for a really capable, obsolescence-resistent MiniMac.

It's interesting to see where the rumors went wrong. The "iHome" branding turned out to be a red herring; it would be interesting to find out where it came from, because it so effectively skewed the speculative field in the days just before the presentation that it seems as though no one even tried to get spy shots of a Mac Mini. It's a lot smaller than the hoaxed pictures. The hoaxter dubbed it 'iHome', and various rumour millers reported with confidence that it would be "branded" as an iMac; neither turned out to be true. It was said to include WiFi in its base configuration; WiFi ("Airport Extreme") is an add-on, as is Bluetooth. Performance numbers were more or less right, though the rumors missed the fact that there'd be two base processor speeds. And to illustrate just how far off the original rumor was, the "headless iMac" was said to "share the 1.5" [1U, or "one rack unit"] height of the latest Apple G5 server; it's actually 2" tall. A picky detail, but it demonstrates how completely off-mark we all were.

It's tempting to speculate (as I'm sure someone has) that Apple planted rumors to throw people off the scent. But I don't think they need to. For what other PC brand would people bother to create physical hoax models? Whatever the explanation, the community of Mac users has a hardened core of Macintosh and Apple fetishists. In fact, I think they don't really try, for the most part, to get real rumors; they just make stuff up, because it's more satisfying than the truth. Anyway, true wisdom, to the Mac zealot, is received wisdom: It issues forth every January from the Dark Steve, from a well-lit stage at the MacWorld keynote address...

Setup

This morningâ??s Detroit Free Press detailed events of 30 years of abuse described by Nancy Seaman. Although this article seemed to concentrate on physical abuse, there was also verbal, psychological abuse, as corroborated by her son, Greg. People often ask, regarding spousal abuse cases, why she didnâ??t just pack up and leave him.

"He beat the hell out of me," she recalled of a weekend two weeks after their 1973 wedding. "I was in a state of shock."

"But," she added, "I loved Bob. He was a very charming man. ... I wanted the marriage to work. I took a vow, and I take my vows very seriously."

Nancy Seaman is Catholic, and even Catholics differ on how marriage vows should be interpreted. Sebastian R. Fama of staycatholic.com expresses one opinion in his essay about â??Marriageâ?:

What if the husband turns out to be a tyrant? Does the "for better, for worse" clause require a wife to accept her situation and make the best of it? The simple answer is no, of course not. The Church actually suggests that the two should separate. Once again Pope Pius XI: "For in certain circumstances imperfect separation of the parties is allowedâ?¦ in order to safeguard the education of the children and the well being of the family and to remove all those evils which threaten the married persons, the children and the state" (no. 89).

Fama also writes:

Jesus said in Matthew 20:28 that he came to serve and not to be served. Likewise, husbands are to be servants. You see the husband only gets to be the leader if he is a servant. God gives no man a license to abuse his wife in any way. Indeed the Vatican has proclaimed: "The battle of the sexes and, particularly, the subjugation of women is the result of original sin and not of God's original design for creation" (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World).

Oh, that pesky doctrine of â??original sinâ? raises its evil head. One might wonder whether Nancy Seaman was psychologically set up for a fall of some sort in any case. Just my totally subjective rumination anyway.

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Fate of Mandaeans?

Iraq is comprised of approximately 25 million inhabitants. Shiites form the majority of the population, followed by Sunnis, and then various minorities. One minority group, the Mandaeans, total less than 100,000. Mandaeans, people of a pre-Christian sect that reveres John the Baptist, have lived in Iraq for thousands of years. They donâ??t proselytize their religion; the only way to become a Mandaean is to be born to parents who follow this faith. They are taught to love their neighbors; they help the poor. They are forbidden to kill, steal, lie, commit adultery, or consume alcohol. Yet these peaceful people have been persecuted for centuries.


Such is the way when bigots and bullies of our world flex their muscles. Recently, these people were persecuted under Saddam, but he also didnâ??t like the Shiites. When Saddam was deposed, they feared even more the majority Shiite Muslims, free from Saddamâ??s oppression, because these extremists hate the Mandaeans and want these â??infidelsâ? dead.


I mean, really, who should care about a tiny group of people who are no physical threat? Perhaps those who see an ideological threat? The Mandeans are promoting â??a democratic society where civil liberties and basic human rights are respected,â? as is the Committee on International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives:

I should also note that Iraq has been removed from the CPC list. Iraq had been designated in the past due to the Saddam Hussein regimeâ??s repression of religious belief and practice, particularly his vicious persecution of Shiâ??a Muslims. Now that he has been removed from power, and with the passage last spring of the Transitional Administrative Law, which guarantees freedom of religion, including the right to "freedom of thought, conscience, and religious belief and practice," Iraq is no longer a CPC. While the Iraqi people are newly experiencing freedom of religion without governmental restrictions, weâ??re concerned about the violence that has been directed toward the indigenous Christian and Mandaean communities, particularly since the nearly simultaneous bombing of five Christian churches on August 1. It will ultimately be up to the Iraqi people to create a society and establish a government that recognizes and protects the right to freedom of religion. Non-discrimination among Iraqâ??s many ethnic and religious groups is a key value for Iraqâ??s future; it is at the heart of the Transitional Administrative Law. We have encouraged Christians and Mandaeans to reach out to other like-minded groups to forge political coalitions to ensure they have a voice in the political and constitutional process. In addition, we are continuing to work very closely with the Iraqi Interim Government through our embassy in Baghdad and through our bilateral assistance programs to promote human rights and to encourage religious tolerance. [â?Status of International Religious Freedom,â? John Hanford, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, U.S. Department of State, October 6, 2004]

Will the fundamentalist Muslims turn a new leaf and encourage religious tolerance? Or does their irrational hatred for these â??infidelsâ? run too deep?

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Dred Scott: It's Abortion, Stupid

In last Friday's debate, President Bush responded to a question about Supreme Court appointments by citing Scott -v- Sanford (a.k.a. "Dred Scott"):

I would pick somebody who would not allow their personal opinion to get in the way of the law. I would pick somebody who would strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States.

....

Another example would be the Dred Scott case, which is where judges, years ago, said that the Constitution allowed slavery because of personal property rights.

That's a personal opinion. That's not what the Constitution says. The Constitution of the United States says we're all -- you know, it doesn't say that. It doesn't speak to the equality of America.

And so, I would pick people that would be strict constructionists. We've got plenty of lawmakers in Washington, D.C. Legislators make law; judges interpret the Constitution.

While the majority of listeners who actually recognized the case were beetling their brows and thinking "what the hell?", the Bushite camp's fundamentalist Christian base were apparently pricking up their ears and decoding madly. Kynn at DailyKOS was puzzled by the reference, and after just a few moments of googling came up with the translation: It's about abortion, stupid:

Dred Scott and Roe v. Wade are an ominous parallel. In the Dred Scott Supreme Court, 7 to 2 decision, it was determined that blacks were not persons, they were the property of their owner, who could choose to sell or kill, that abolitionists should not impose morality on the slaveowner, slavery is legal. In the Roe v Wade, 7 to 2 decision, it was determined that the unborn are not persons, they are the property of their owners (the mother), their owner could choose to keep or kill, that the anti-abortionist should not impose their morality on the mother, abortion is legal.

In their language of illusion, the pro choice movement has argued in the name of civil liberty for the continued slaughter of unborn human beings. For some, misled by the lies that this movement promulgates, denial will keep them protected from this horrible truth, but others, caught in moral conflict and psychological anguish, may welcome ideas of hope for a new beginning.

["Holocaust Now! Debate Part 1"]

So there was yet another coded message that the majority of Americans did not get. It was a direct transmission to the Religious Right, encoded into George Bush's semantics of symbolism, and so garbled that people looking for rational English-language syntax could barely understand the superficial meaning.

(Aside: I'm more and more convinced that Bush's near-incoherence is more or less intentional. Here as elsewhere, his real message is symbolic and allusive; vague, and imprecise, and hence not vulnerable to rational analysis or judgement. He likes it that way. It's a dark and vague world where people with better language skills than his lose their advantage over him.)

The "language of illusion" that Dalin Hale refers to, of course, is language that does not accept the Christian view that foetuses have souls. It's simplistic to simply say "souls are a religious concept, ergo they can't be part of legal doctrine" -- because the value of life, and the nature of personhood, are cultural decisions, not legal ones. Law merely codifies the extreme bounds. What's at stake, here, is a definition of personhood that declares foetuses to be "unborn children", without regard for viability; a defintion which, furthermore, privileges the rights of that "unborn child" over the rights of the person on whom it relies for survival.

Some years ago, I had a discussion with a German about American attitudes toward life and death. He was puzzled, and frankly shocked, by what he saw as our obsession with the "tragedy" of child-death. "What about adults," he asked. "What about people who've gathered memories, and developed attachments to the world and to people in it? If anybody counts for more than anybody else, shouldn't they count for more?" I'm still not sure that's a viable path, but I'm also still not sure I disagree.

Sacred and secular trends

University of Michigan research scientist Ronald Inglehart and Harvard political scientist Pippa Norris explored â??the reasons behind the enduring vitality of religion in the modern world.â? Their findings will be published this month in a book, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide.


I prepared a few questions, and the answers may or may not surprise you:

1. Even though secularization is occurring somewhat in the U. S., although not to the extent as in other advanced industrial societies, what factor is partly masking this trend?

2. The proportion of the worldâ??s population with traditional religious values is growing, not shrinking. Why?

3. Even though organized religion is losing its grip on the public in advanced industrial societies, what is taking on growing importance in its place?

4. Did 64 percent of a worldwide sample of Buddhists say they leaned right politically or left politically?

5. There are religious people much more likely than Protestants to subscribe to the values associated with the Protestant work ethic. Which religion do these other people represent?

Answers to questions can be found in this article.

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[De]Mystification Exercise for the Day

It's been clear to me for many years that people seldom act in their own interest. Even that they often act against their stated interest. People in general just don't pay so much attention to things that they really understand what's going on.

Put another way: When you ask people what they think, then watch what they do, you get anomalous data.

A parent in Eden Prairie, MN, writes of an exercise in such anomalous data generation, using a class of 11 year old students in Eden Prarie MN:

The teacher told of an exercise wherein he read from both the Bush and Kerry websites. He read where each of the candidates stood on the main issues of the campaign. He didnâ??t say who was who...just "this is what candidate one says, this is what candidate two says".

The kids made tally marks about each thing they agreed with from each candidate.

Then the kids voted on the issues.

Four kids voted for Bush. 26 kids voted for Kerry.

You have to realize the significance of this. We live in Eden Prairie, MN. George W Bush came to our high school and lauded it as a model for all school systems everywhere...presumably due to the fact that it is in a tremendously affluent and conservative suburb, and continues to pump out high-quality graduates despite being severely under-funded.

.... Eden Prairie has grown a crop of Bush/Cheney yard signs that rivals the corn crops of neighboring rural towns. This is Bush country, make no mistake about itâ?¦

...as illustrated by the fact that most of the kids who voted for John Kerry were greatly upset by it. They booed the results of their vote. They were upset that they had voted for the "wrong guy".

[many ellipses are author's, in lieu of dashes]

"This is why we don't allow 11 year olds to vote," comments one reader. "They are short term thinkers, and generally don't have a concept of the larger picture, especially since very few, if any, have paid any taxes." A 'concept of the larger picture' would presumably allow them to understand that, despite the fact that they agree with John Kerry on most of the points they think are important, Bush is still the better candidate -- presumably for some reason related to taxes. Oh, yeah: That he's (supposedly) cutting the taxes they'd pay if they were grownups.

The fact that he's rich, powerful, and emblematic of what all good middle-class kids are supposed to want to be when they grow up, might possibly have something to do with it.

Oh, and, by the way, the parents were none-too-pleased with this little exercise. But the teacher reassured them:

The teacher went on to say that he assured the kids that the election was not yet over, and that there still might be many issues where they would agree with George W. Bush, and maybe when they tried again later, they would end up voting for him.

The parents looked relieved as well.

The gears that had begun to grind uncomfortably in their heads smoothed out and they relaxed.

We moved on to talk about other things, and everyone was happy.

The end.

So all is well in Eden Prarie. At least one classroom has been saved from the hell of cognitive dissonance that results from excessive self-knowledge. As we all know, too much self-examination, like too much "self love", will make you go blind. Or something.

The Lewd Damon Method of Pedestrian Warfare

Sometimes you've just got to bring out the big guns:

Me: "Excuse me, Ma'am...but I must warn you that there has been a 12 subway stop donnybrook regarding the unwanted intrusion of religious beliefs into our morning commutes."

Preacher Lady 2: "I got freedom of speech! And GOD TELLS ME THAT THE GAY DEVILS ARE CONTROLLING NEW YORK."

Me: (standing up) "If you do not cease and desist fouling the air with homophobia, I must singâ?¦SHOW TUNES."

There are now 3 or 4 gay men on the train. They start laughing.

...

I say, Preacher Lady had it coming. "You don't look so bad -- how about another? 'When I take you out, tonight, with me, / Honey, here's the way it's goin' to be: / You will set behind a team of snow white horses,
In the slickest gig you ever see!'...." [thanks, Mr. Crash]

MemoGate: Approaching Real Data

The Dallas Morning News has finally managed to do what reasonable folks have been suggesting for almost a week, and tracked down Colonel Killian's secretary, Marian Carr Knox. For the first time, someone has bothered to actually talk to someone who might actually know something.

And according to Mrs. Knox, both sides are right: As far as she can recall, she never typed that memo, and no, they don't look right. But she's also adamant that they do accurately convey Colonel Killian's state of mind at the time.

But both sides are also wrong. She did have the superscript "th" key on her manual Olympia; and she didn't have proportional spacing. But Colonel Killian did routinely write "CYA" memos to "cover his back" on issues just like the one the memo purports to cover.

Regardless, it remains as true today as it was on Monday that fine-grained analytical techniques aren't valid when they're applied to coarse-grain data.

And perhaps more important, the cues that she used to definitively say that it wasn't authentic were completely different from those used by the brigade of attack-monkeys. For example, she notes that:

  • The signature block on the "CYA" memo is on the right; hers were always on the left. (That would be an standard signature block position for many institutions, FWIW.)
  • "Billet" and "administrative officer" are Army Guard terminology, not Air Guard.
  • The memo distinguishes between refusal to take the physical and failure to "meet military standards"; Mrs. Knox says that in her experience, that distinction wouldn't have been made.
  • While General Buck Staudt would most likely have tried to exert improper influence -- and Colonel Killian would indeed have wanted to "cover his back" on it -- he wouldn't have been in a position to exert influence after retirement. (Again, this could represent an Army Guard culture-bias.)

The Army Guard influences could end up being important, as the Dallas Morning News suggests that the CBS documents may have been provided by a disgruntled Army National Guard veteran.

"I remember very vividly when Bush was there and all the yak-yak that was going on about it," Marian Carr has remarked. But memory... it's non-sporting to question the memory of an 86-year-old woman, but it's also sensible. Just as sensible as questioning the memory of anyone. How certain can she be of things that did or didn't happen more than 30 years ago? Not very -- but she can reconstruct, and make judgements, and sometimes (if they're done consciously) those are better than memory. For example, she reconstructs that the placement of signature block and the terminology are wrong.

What will be interesting will be to see how the Right Wing attack brigades handle this. Will they focus on the forgery angle and ignore everything else? (That's my bet.) Or will they ignore it? And on the left -- will they bow their heads, or will they point out that the attackers were right for the wrong reasons -- and that, by that token, they were, in fact, wrong?

In the end, this does still come back around to different conceptions of truth and evidence -- I would say that it's basically a conflict between empiricism and lysenkoism. One side looked at existing data; the other side constructed new data. Now that something like a decision is being approached, the side that constructed data will most likely be prepared to jettison all of that data and still claim ownership of the conclusions they drew from it. It's a bit like reasoning that Smith is a killer because all redheads are killers, and then saying "See? I told you so!" when he's revealed to be a killer, but also blonde. They were right; it doesn't matter how.

Adultery in the news

In morning news, I read with interest Turkey's ruling party decision to shelve "plans to outlaw adultery that had infuriated women's rights groups and upset the European Union Ankara aspires to join".


Bloomberg.com quoted reasons for introduction of this bill in the first place:

Criminalizing adultery in Turkey is a social measure aimed at persuading men to be faithful to their wives and has nothing to do with religion, Murat Mercan, deputy chairman of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development party, was cited by the Financial Times as saying.

"By bringing in this bill our objective is to make husbands more faithful to their families. Turkish women are more dependent on their husbands' income and need more protection than women in other European countries," the FT cited Mercan as saying.

I believe that many moral laws are mostly social in nature, but that doesn't mean that they have nothing to do with religion, especially considering the interplay between religious ideology and a particular culture's social customs (including effects of globalization).


I'm reminded of discussions I've had with some more fundamental, literalist Christians regarding their modernistic interpretations of their own religion, for instance concerning the Ten Commandments. These originally were intended guidelines for a specific culture. Some make good common sense socially regardless of religion, and others demonstrate tribal prejudices. For instance, there is a law about not coveting your neighbor's wife. Well, that was because she was considered property, as were your neighbor's house, manservant, maidservant, ox, ass, or anything that belonged to your neighbor. I'm wondering if it would have been all right for a wife to covet the male neighbor then, since he wasn't anybody's possession. But then, maybe this was a non-issue, since women were mere chattel.


Anyway, the seventh commandment against adultery demonstrates a different interpretation from modern-day common practice. This law referred to a culture that practiced polygamy, and a man could possess as many women as he could afford. A man would be committing adultery if he violated the property (wife) of another man, but not if he had sex with an unmarried woman. In the last example, however, a man would have had to pay a fine to the unmarried woman's father, since the daughter was now "damaged goods." These were essentially property laws. Leviticus 20:10 clearly states that "if a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death." So much for modern-day adherence in America to these stringent, tribal guidelines.
Today's news also brings to mind a short period in ancient Rome. The Julian marriage laws (posted by "Viggen" over at the UNRV History site) were enacted by Augustus in the 18th century BCE for largely social reasons:

Extravagance and adultery were widespread. Among the upper classes, marriage was increasingly infrequent and, many couples who did marry failed to produce offspring. Augustus, who hoped thereby to elevate both the morals and the numbers of the upper classes in Rome, and to increase the population of native Italians in Italy, enacted laws to encourage marriage and having children (lex Julia de maritandis ordinibus), including provisions establishing adultery as a crime.

The law against adultery made the offence a crime punishable by exile and confiscation of property. Fathers were permitted to kill daughters and their partners in adultery. Husbands could kill the partners under certain circumstances and were required to divorce adulterous wives.

Men had to marry to produce children, there were prizes for marriage and having children, and there were a number of specific consequences concerning adultery. These laws were badly received and modified in 9 CE.


Well, I've rambled on long enough here this morning. Suffice to say that legislating practical social laws is no easy task, especially considering political and sometimes religious ramifications. And, I'll stop here for now lest I begin another tirade about the Right Wing.

Marriage amendment... fie...

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"I pay your salary. So yes, I CAN tell you how to vote."

"The only thing a free man can be forced to do is die." So when Lynne Gobbell got an ultimatum from her boss to remove the Kerry-Edwards sticker or find another job, she had the choice to comply and stay, or to defy and go.

She had the choice to listen and obey when her lawful employer told her what to do in order to continue to earn a paycheck. Or to disobey, and not earn a paycheck.

Did she know that fealty to President Bush was the price of continued employment? Look for plant owner (and bankrupcy attorney) Phil Gaddis to take the position that she did, and that she understood the risks. After all, he'd inserted a slip of paper into everyone's pay envelope that read (in part):

Just so you will know, because of the Bush tax (cut):

  • I was able to buy the new Hammer Mill
  • I was able to finance our receivables
  • I was able to get the new CAT skid steer
  • I was able to get the wire cutter
  • I was able to give you a job

...

You got the benefit of the Bush tax cut. Everyone did.

So is it really Phil Gaddis's fault if Lynne Gobbell is too pig-headed to know who her betters are? Of course he can tell her how to vote: He owns her labor power. She sold it to him. Voting is work. End of discussion. When you own this country, you can vote however you like. Until then, get back to work.

Grover's World

A peek inside the mind of Grover Norquist:

Last, a Bush-Cheney victory in November will create the conditions for a constructive contest among leading Republican governors and senators for the presidential nomination in 2008. Dick Cheney's heart troubles mean that he will retire with Bush in 2009. Usually the sitting vice president is the natural enemy of all ambitious politicians of his party, but now all Republicans want a Bush-Cheney victory in 2004, so they can run for an open presidential ticket in 2008. The Democrats face the opposite dilemma: Every ambitious Democrat hopes Kerry-Edwards fails, so that the presidency will open for her (or him) in 2008 rather than in 2012, 2016, or 2020. [emphasis added]
[Grover Norquist, "The Democratic Party is Toast"]

"No brag. Just fact," says Norquist earlier in the piece, echoing the ubiquitous Freeper boast. Everyone, in the end (so goes the Gospel According to Grover -- or is it the Gospel According to Rove? ... or does it matter?), is always only ever concerned with his/her own dominance, and always only ever looking out for his/her self-interest.

After all, isn't bipartisanship just "another term of date rape"?

MemoGate: The Festival Of Wrong Questions

A veritable shitstorm has blown across the country, and the spin is depressingly fascinating. Again, one left-field rant has succeeded in side-tracking every participant in the political discourse into a Festival Of Wrong Questions.

A creative (if Freeperishly obsessive) soul has taken the trouble to scale the font size and margins of a Microsoft word document until it has the same line-length as one of the increasingly infamous "Killian Memos". He's then pronounced the "spacing" on the two to be "exactly identical in every regard".

It's good to read through his entire argument. If you read it through in isolation, and without really trying to perform the tests he describes, you'll probably be convinced he's right.


Original from CBS


MS Word version


Superimposed

But if you bother to actually do the comparisons he claims to have done, you can quickly discern some damning differences:

  • Vertical spacing (i.e., float above the baseline) differs between the two images. (To belabor the obvious, this is entirely inconsistent with digital rendering by MS Word.)
  • Some of the letter-forms are just plain different. Find some 8s, for example.
  • In general, the serifs appear to be heavier on the Killian memo. (Modern computer fonts were generally designed with a lighter line and smaller serifs.)
  • The vertical spacing on the "th" element (para 1, line 4) is markedly different. (Again: Vertical spacing is very difficult in MS Word.)

To do the comparison, I suggest you save the files locally and enlarge them. You might want to bring them into a graphics program so you can really test them. Or, better still, print them and break out your straight edges and rulers. (A type guage would be handy, too, but won't be necessary for professinals.)

A typographer -- that is, a real typographer, as opposed to someone who merely claims to be one -- would spot these differences right away, and would never claim 'identity in every regard.' Any competent print designer would immediately perceive that these were typed using different typefaces. Ignorant and mistaken protestations regarding "kerning" [sic] notwithstanding (they happen to be wrong, as a simple test demonstrates), it's clear to any objective eye that the Killian memos were not produced using Microsoft Word and Microsoft New Times Roman.

(That having been said, and as it's demonstrably and unequivocally true that Times New Roman has been available on typewriters since 1941, the opinion of some document experts begins to seem quite odd... Makes me wonder about the quality of forensic experts in general, if this "expert's" "exhaustive" database didn't include something known to have existed.)

Now, a little history with typewriters can also help to make the arguments against the memos very suspect. The writer at LittleGreenFootballs can be forgiven for being too young to actually remember typewriters, but I'm not: I used a Selectric or a Wheelwriter five days a week for several years. In fact, one of my housemates c. 1984 owned a vintage IBM Executive, which had a switch that allowed it to type in proportional pitch, and had the raised "th" key, along with several other special characters ("1/2", "1/4" spring to mind). A dream of a machine, though too massive to haul around very much; as I recall, he sold it to make rent... Apparently, proportional type Selectrics were common in the military in the 1970s.

Hunter at Daily Kos has taken the trouble -- and quite a bit of trouble -- to do some really exhaustive research on the matter. And at the end of the ordeal of reading through all of this, there seems to me to be one fact that's more or less clear and not open to dispute:

The Killian memo was not typed in Microsoft's version of New Times Roman. It was typed in IBM's. According to Hunter,

.... both IBM and Microsoft specifically obtained the typeface "Times New Roman" from the designers of that font; neither was the creator of it. And, as we said before, typeface includes not just the "shape" of the letters, but the size and spacing between those letters.

One of the differences between the Times New Roman as implemented on the IBM machines, as opposed to Microsoft Word? The IBM machines apparently had the alternative '4' character that matched these memos, while Microsoft Word's TNR does not.

The "4" character on the IBM version of Times New Roman has an open top. The "4" character on the Microsoft version has a closed top. And guess what: The "4" on the Killian memos -- on all of them -- is open-topped. To quote Hunter: "Oops."

Just so this is clear: This demonstrates that, if these are a forgery, they were done using the IBM versino of Times New Roman. So maybe the were actually forged using Star Office for OS/2, instead of MS Word...

Ultimately, it should be a simple matter of examining the hard copies, or comparing the challenged memos with unchallenged memos. But it won't be. The White House (which can't be bothered to dispute their authenticity) has a vested interest in the controversy continuing unresolved. And in keeping us asking the wrong questions.

Golf-Pants Nihilists Redux

It's fairly sad what passes nowadays for an "intellectual" conservative, now that Bill Buckley's easing himself into retirement, and Pat Buchanan has been effectively barred from the national discourse. But they still try. The chief tactic seems to be to assert repeatedly that which gives lie to itself, in the conviction (probably justified) that if you say it enough times, a lot of people will believe it on the principle that you wouldn't say "I know you are but what am I INFINITY!!!!!" unless you really really really meant it.

(Many moons ago, one who shall remain nameless coined a term for this: "The Big Lie." But we're not supposed to talk about him; we're supposed to forget anything we learned from his example, because That's All In The Past, Now. All the better to swallow Anne Coulter's bile-flavored diet shakes....)

Case in point, on a website called (oxymoronically?) "Intellectual Conservative", Gary Larson calls Garrisson Keillor to task for his inspired epithet for modern Republicans, "nihilists in golf pants" -- "juvenile hyperbole", he calls it, retorting a few lines later: "A touché to his 'freelance racists' tag: Thomas Sowell defines racists as conservatives who win arguments with braying liberals."

Methinks that Mr. Larson needs to look up the most common use of the term "juvenile" as applied to intellectual effort. Sowell is given as an example of mature discourse for simply making an flat assertion in uncreative language; Keillor is given as an example of juvenile discourse for demonstrating mastery of a large vocabulary and a rich gift for metaphor...

Now, puerile, that has some possibilities. "Puerile", even Garrisson might go for. It is an angry piece, to be sure, but it should carry more weight for that fact, considering that it comes from a man known more for tolerance, (perhaps too much) restraint, and quiet amusement than anger.

Then again, "juvenile" probably is a good choice, for just that reason. The "big lie" tactic only works really well when the lie has almost no bearing on reality. It's like inserting a contradiction into your argument: Anything can follow, then. Similarly, if the lie has no bearing on the truth, then there's no traction for answering it. (Hey, Gary: Have you stopped beating your wife, yet?)

Sometimes I don't like being right

Spirit of Ontario at full cruiseThe Spirit of Ontario is a beautiful ship, in her own way. Sure, she looks a bit like a building, but she's fast and well built. Sure, I never thought there was really a business plan in a fast ferry between Rochester, NY, and Toronto. (Note that there's no need for me to say where Toronto is. Case made.)

But it's still depressing to hear that "Canadian American Transportation Systems" -- one of that class of risk-shielding partnership entities that ensure that the brain-farters get off and their fellow-travellers eat dirt -- has pulled the plug on the "Breeze" starting tomorrow, September 8, 2004. Just a few months after starting.

I made a bet with somebody a few years back. I told him that if the ferry was still in operation 18 months after it started, I'd take him out for a night on the town, my treat. I'm not in touch with him anymore, but I wouldn't have minded losing that bet.

So many people here got taken for a ride, from the crew who advocated restoring the Hojack Swing Bridge in Charlotte (at the Port of Rochester), to their fellow-travellers who advocated restoring the old trolly service from Charlotte to High Falls, or installing a comprehensive light rail network into a geographically dispersed metro area of 200,000. Pipe dreams -- millions of dollars of labor and material cost, powered by the fantasy of providing something interesting in Rochester for tourists from Toronto. The future of the ferry was always regional, in Finger Lakes tourism: The many "wine trails", the nigh-alpine scenery from the shore of central NY towns like Geneva and Canandaigua, the outrageous density of festivals from June through September. These were things that made our area at least a bit special. But they weren't Rochester -- they weren't smugtown.

Mayor Johnson is struggling to keep the ship running -- if not on its current twice-daily 7-day schedule, at least once a day, four or five days a week. I think he believes that if it stops, it won't ever get started again, and I believe he'd be right in that. The most sensible course of action for the CATS board right now is to preserve their reputations (of course, at that level of investment, there's no really personal investment stake -- these guys will all come out of this deal having made money) is to sell the boat, sell the concession, somehow -- maybe move it to Buffalo and run it to the Thousand Islands.

What the hell.

The Cheney Curse

T. D. Allman at Rolling Stone has been talking to a lot of old friends and acquaintences of Dick Cheney. He's noticed something interesting: If GW gets re-elected, he'll be the first President who's given a job to Dick Cheney to manage it.

It also seems that the old chickenhawk's history of self-serving lysenkoism goes way back. A former boss remembers it as long ago as 1973:

In 1973, while Nixon was self-destructing, Cheney, then thirty-two, got a job at the investment firm of Bradley, Woods and Company. "Dick needed to make some money," Bruce Bradley explained. "He and Lynne and their girls lived in a modest house, and he drove a used Volkswagen Beetle." Both Bradley and Cheney were Republicans, but they differed on Watergate. Bradley recognized that Nixon had violated fundamental American values; Cheney saw Watergate as a power struggle. They even debated each other, in a forum arranged for Bradley's clients.

"He claimed it was just a political ploy by the president's enemies," says Bradley. "Cheney saw politics as a game where you never stop pushing. He said the presidency was like one of those giant medicine balls. If you get ahold of it, what you do is, you keep pushing that ball and you never let the other team push back."

["The Curse of Dick Cheney", T.D. ALLMAN, Rolling Stone] [via MeFi]

If politics is all about power, then truth is relatively unimportant. Or at least, flexible. But then, even if Bushite science policy didn't make it clear to us, we've known for a long time that old lysenkoists like Rummy and Dick are all about flexible truth. To paraphrase a maxim: History, after all, is written by the folks who bother to keep on pushing that medicine ball.

Ascetic W.?

Maureen Dowd labels Bush as "the Manichaean Candidate" who "sees the world only in terms of good and evil, black and white" in her New York Times article today, "Amnesia in the Garden." Semantically, she isn't technically wrong using the word "Manichaean" in the sense of a general belief in religious or philosophical dualism. But, even though the term has evolved and is seen bandied about broadly in sociopolitical and economic circles, I can't help but wonder how antithetical in some ways the original meaning of Manichaean would appear in relation to Bush's aggressive dualistic beliefs.


Dualism was but one feature of the Manichaean religion,... an absolute dualism replete with rigorous, ascetic practices that would appear exceedingly severe to most modern sensibilities. Yet, one thing Manichaeans were not was militant. They did not use violence to "fight" evil in this world. Their aim was to release otherworldly "light" imprisoned in the world of matter. This would be accomplished through "goodness," not using "evil" methods of violence or coercion.


The third century Persian founder Mani gathered a considerable following via peaceful means, but was eventually imprisoned by hostile Zoroastrian priests. Mani died in chains, was mutilated and put on display (the custom when dealing with heretics at that time). Manichaeism continued to spread in syncretistic fashion for about 1,000 years from Spain to China, but didn't survive past the 13th century in Central Asia when it fell victim to the Mongolian attack. Some traditions are said to have survived until the 17th century.


Dualism is a motif found in many religions, and there are different kinds of dualism. Mani had an ideological mission. His involved respecting all forms of life, not killing them, not forcefully converting them, not coercing them. Mr. Bush has an ideological mission. Call Mr. Bush a Christian Crusader or Religious Right zealot or a Biblical Jehovah wannabe, but... Manichaean? Maybe I'm too narrow semantically, but somehow I'm having difficulty envisioning a peaceful, ascetic George W.

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Any Typeface, Anywhere, Any Time (...as though we needed that)

Those control-freak design-guys are at it again. sIFR [Scalable Inman Flash Replacement] is flash movie / JavaScript library combination that builds on a set of techniques which dynamically replace text content with Flash-rendered content.

I'm of multiple minds on this. My first impression is that this control-freak approach to web design is so often couched in religious tones that it irritates the hell out of me. It always has. But then, I'm a content guy: It's the content that's important, and if you really truly need a specific typeface in an anally-retentively-specified size to make the content work, then your content is probably bad.

Unless it's a cartoon, in which case you should just break down and use Flash already.

That said, and assuming I ever get a Flash editing environment, I could very well see myself using this technique or one of its descendents, though not for my own sites. It addresses problems that I've had to deal with in dealing with designers. The big problem is that a designer would have to plan for this technique in her/his design; most web designers (and I do mean most) still fall back to static graphics for controlled type presentations, and then build rigid frames around them that either don't need to scale or flow, or would break when scaled. Also, this technique is not quite up to replacing a static GIF or PNG image in terms of layering elements and placing them in relative position.

One thing that strikes me: In a sense, this technique doesn't really do what the designers say it does. The stated goal is to enable the designer to use whatever typeface they want, with smooth rendering. Smooth rendering is a bit of a red herring; most users have font smoothing turned on by default (presumably the designers don't, so that they can see what their audience would see). It's the typeface that's important, here, and that's really it.

Which is OK, but it's far from the most important feature of this kind of technique, and glosses over the best and most interesting use. One of the biggest drawbacks to Flash-driven interfaces has always been that they're difficult to edit, as they're most often implemented. If someone asks me to make modifications to a site that was developed in Flash, I'm basically very limited in what I can do for them. They've called me, because they can't do it themselves; I have to tell them they have to go do someone else, already, which makes them feel still more powerless and possibly even "had", because their original supplier locked them in by doing the site in Flash.

The more interesting use for a technique like this would be one that's hinted at in Mike Davidson's writeup, and that's to replace random blocks of text with a flash-driven presentation: A clean, low-labor way to put up a Flash site without requiring flash in the browser, and that would allow any non-Flash-compliant schlub (like, say, your clients) to edit the menus and content. sIFR isn't quite there, especially with regard to things like dynamic menus, and the techniques required may not really even be similar. But it raises intriguing possibilities, and I don't doubt that somebody will be pursuing them.

Actually, it occurs to me that what's really needed to translate between a technique like this and CSS-driven "graphics" (the awesome and infamous CSS Pencils being the most extreme example that I know) is a new kind of design tool that uses XHTML and CSS as its native formats. If done properly, it could quickly simulate display in different environments by consulting some kind of a mapping resource. Initially, at least, it would have the drawback of being able to produce layouts and designs that couldn't be rendered across browsers, but that's alright. Because -- again, if done right -- it could be designed to limit the designer to renderable choices. And, in any case, the availability of standard but un-renderable designs would serve as a driver to the development teams to complete their standard CSS implementations. (Trust me, they're not standard yet.)

I seem to recall that Fireworks was supposed to do something like this, but I don't hear about anybody using it this way. I doubt it would be that extreme. And in any case, Macromedia would have no interest in developing such a tool, since it would undermine the market for Flash.

John Carroll, Master Of FUD

According to John Carroll, alternative browsers will never catch on because they're being promoted by religious zealots who fail to understand that 100% compatability with obscure IE extensions is critical to browsing success.

His main point (once you wade through an irrelevant and unnecessary retelling of the History of the Browser Wars, as told by the winning side) seems to be that because the Web Standards Project is behind BrowseHappy.com, the entire issue of browser-switching must be purely religious.

The reasoning resembles the common Conservative canard that if a "liberal" has an idea, it must by that token be a bad idea.

The truth of the matter is that there remain no important incompatabilities between IE and any of the four principle "alternative" browsers, except in areas that render Internet Explorer inherently less secure. Carroll should know this, but he apparently refuses to. Instead, he remains reflexively committed to supporting Microsoft. In this regard, he resembles Freepers: Aligned with the biggest kid on the block, for no other apparent reason than that he's the biggest.

I'll be curious to see what his reaction is to the fact that the Opera and Mozilla development teams will be incorporating Apple-driven extensions, intended to improve their ability to serve as application interfaces on a personal computer. These represent an attempt to reach a saner compromise between security and functionality than Microsoft's ActiveX. Macromedia and Adobe are on board (both heavy players in the Mac space); Mozilla (which is used most widely on PCs) will push the architecture to Windows, and KHTML will push it to Unix and Linux. Unless MS successfully embraces and extends (not likely, since they haven't got the plugin muscle to out-compete Macromedia), they'll be stuck playing on a level field. For the first time in a while.

Holidays In Cambodia [hook-theft alert!]

Despite wishful attack-blog assertions to the contrary, it seems that the Kerry campaign has not disavowed Kerry's three recorded references (once each in 1969, 1986 and 1992) to being under fire in Cambodia. And according to a fairly detailed deconstruction in Slate, there's even good reason to argue that he could have been there on Christmas Eve in '68.

Which won't impress an attack-blogger, of course; someone like Glenn Reynolds enters the fight with his mind made up, and it takes a lot more than facts or argument to sway him. What it would take is an interesting question for another time...

What is it about nursing and advertising?

Via American Samizdat, a story about a graphic designer who was fired for heckling President Bush:

"I'm mad less about losing the job -- I'm more mad about the reasons," said Glen Hiller, 35, of Berkeley Springs. "All I did was show up and voice my opinion."

....

The father of two young girls had worked at the design firm for five months, doesn't plan to appeal the firing, and holds no grudge against his boss.

"To some degree I can see her point of view," Hiller said. "Advertising is all about having the perfect tan and driving a cool car. It's all about image."

Hiller said he now plans to pursue work as a registered nurse, a field in which he worked for 10 years before landing the design job.

There must be some strange psychic connection between nursing and advertising. Glen Hiller is at least the fourth person I've heard of who left nursing for advertising and then went back. (I wish him luck; I think he'll probably be happier as an RN. Less stressful -- at least, that's what my advertising friends tell me....)

"I go all over the country, and all I see are supportive crowds," I recently heard The President remark. Small wonder: His vocal critics are fenced off into "protest zones", and the stealth critics weeded out by being forced to sign affidavits that they support the president. Unrestricted events such as the one Hiller got into are relatively rare, and yet we keep hearing whispers of heckling. Even with their best efforts, critics seem to be getting through the cordon. Their voices are quickly drowned out in un-ironic chants of "four more years." (I chanted that at a Reagan rally in the summer of '84, and got dirty looks from the Broome County Republican Faithful. Irony, it seems, has lost its ability to be ironic.)

When Pat Buchanan is a voice of moderation, I fear for the country. I fear for this country in the next four years. This profound schism between "conservative" and "liberal" Americans is Ronald Reagan's unanticipated legacy, brought to fruition by Newt Gingrich. Whoever wins the race, as Shelley points out, will most likely do so in one of the narrowest races in our history. The "losers" in 2000 were patriotic enough to concede, and the "winners" ungracious -- frankly, unpatriotic -- enough to govern as though God were at their collective shoulder. And the consequence is that whoever wins in November will be fiercely, passionately loathed by about 30% of Americans. So fiercely and passionately loathed that the losers will do whatever they think they have to in order to smear the winner. Whoever it is.

Oddly enough, I think we have Pat Buchanan to blame for this, at least partially. He's a fierce competitor, and has said a lot of things in anger and taken a lot of absolutist positions, and by that example has made it easier for others who followed to get away with the same. His successors, alas, have not had his intellectual honesty (or, for that matter, his intellectual capacity).

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