I See Your Gauntlet and Raise You an Attack Woozle

John Pieret has found a self-righteous fuckhead of a Christian pastor who’s stupid enough to challenge atheists:


Paul Dean, pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Greer, South Carolina, has an article at Crosswalk that throws down a gauntlet:


One of the basic dynamics that attends any worldview that
is contrary to the Christian worldview is a lack of philosophical justification for it. This dynamic holds true even in the realm of simply knowing something to be true. In other words, the unbeliever has no basis for knowing anything.


I’m too busy right now to give this man the sound thrashing he deserves. I invite you all to have your way with him: Christians, atheists and agnostics alike. I’m just going to give him a few quick swats with the trusty Smack-o-Matic before letting you take over, if you like.

And I’m making a special request. I need a champion. I need a warrior who’s already proven himself in battle to take up this challenge.

I hereby call upon my Attack Woozle.

Take him down, my love. I’ll put up your response as a post of its own.

I’ll do another post with quotes and links for any of you who decide to take Pastor Dean to the woodshed either in comments or in your own territory.

Right. Let me begin:


One of the basic dynamics that attends any worldview that is contrary to the Christian worldview is a lack of philosophical justification for it.


What Pastor Dickhead – excuse me, Dean – has just done here is sweep aside every other faith and philosophical system, some far more advanced than his self-righteous brand of Christianity. I’m sure the Buddhists, Confucians, Taoists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus – oh, fuck it, everybody - would be very interested to know that they lack a philosophical justification of their worldview.

If that’s how you’re going to start the game, you’ve already lost.


In other words, the unbeliever has no basis for knowing anything.


Descartes already kicked your ass on that one. Cogito ergo sum, fuckhead. Not that I like Descartes, but you wouldn’t be able to comprehend the Zen Buddhist answer, so Descartes it is. Or any grad student in a lab. Next.


He does not have the ability to search every square inch of the cosmos to determine whether or not there is a God.


And you do? You’ve done it? No? Then shut the fuck up before you really embarrass yourself. When you’re trying to prove your philosophy is superior, “God told me so” is not a good answer. Next.


Of course, Christians have a basis or a philosophical justification for their assertion that there is a God. On our worldview, we know there is a God because He has revealed Himself to us. We are not bound to the limits of empiricism/observation. We know that some knowledge is revealed.


Yes, some knowledge is revealed. You’ve just revealed to me that you can’t philosophize your way out of a brown paper bag. You’re just spouting dogma. Next.

Oh, we’re on to the “atheists can’t answer questions” section of our program. What fun! Let’s play:


[W]hy do you believe spanking is wrong?


Because scientific studies have discovered links between spanking and psychological problems in children. What’s your justification? The Bible? Brilliant! Let’s consult it:


Proverbs 13:24(KJV): “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”


Heh heh heh whoops. Boy, is your face red. Let’s just move on, then, shall we?


Why do you believe embryonic stem-cell research is a good thing?


Because it could lead to a lot of cures for a lot of horrific diseases and defects, and those little frozen embryos end up in the trash anyway. Is it more ethical to throw them out or use them to help human beings live better, healthier lives?


Why do you say there is no absolute truth?


I don’t. In fact, the absolute truth is, you and idiots like you annoy the bugfuck out of me.


Why do you think pre-marital sex is okay in certain circumstances?


What do you mean by “certain circumstances”? And why do I need a philosophical system to justify sex without marriage? Just because you have unhealthy hang-ups about sex doesn’t mean I have to.


Why do you believe in evolution?


I don’t believe in it. I accept it based on the overwhelming evidence. Not that you’re capable of understanding the distinction.


How do you know the sun will come up in the morning?


I don’t, but the probability’s pretty good, so it’s so close to knowing as makes no difference.


Without a biblical worldview, one cannot know for certain the sun will come up in the morning. On an evolutionary worldview, it may not.


I think I begin to see your problem, Pastor. You’ve got this pathological need for certainty, whereas the non-believer (and the more relaxed believer) is just fine with uncertainty.

Let me just quote Sisters of Mercy, here, can’t resist: “And all I know for sure / all I know for real / is knowing doesn’t mean so much.” I like knowing things. I like certainty (well, some kinds: if anybody knows for certain that I’m going to get hit by a bus tomorrow morning, I’d appreciate not knowing so I can enjoy the rest of my night, thanks ever so much). But I’m not obsessed with absolutes, certainties and knowing absolutely everything. Which is probably why atheism, Zen Buddhism and I get along just fine, and Christianity grates worse than a file on sensitive teeth.

Given time, I could come up with snarky responses to the rest of your bullshit, Pastor Dean, but I have research to do, a book to write, and a blog to maintain. I bid you good day, sir.

Woozle. You’re up.

Happy Hour Discurso

Today’s opining on the public discourse.

In Memorium 4,083 United States soldiers and 312 Coalition soldiers killed for a lie.

How did it come to this? How the fuck did America end up with a rabid bunch of insane power-mongers at the helm, perfectly willing to steer our nation straight into disaster for their own enrichment and aggrandizement? When did vicious lies become the order of the day? How did we end up with an executive branch that will say anything, do anything, to further their own ends, and use, abuse, then discard the people they hoodwinked into their madness?

So glad you asked. HBO aired a movie called Recount last night that exposes just that issue:


I don’t know about you but last night after watching Recount, I had nightmares. Nightmares of screaming at the television for 30 days at the shameful spin of the Bush people. Nightmares of watching a purely political power game lay bare the rickety foundations of our democracy. Nightmares of Tim Russert and that stupid goddamned tote board of his.

It certainly brought back all the memories. As I’m sure is true with most of you who watched it in real time, it was obvious to me from the moment Gore retracted his concession that the Republican establishment and the Bush Florida machine had more levers of power to work with in a battle like this. But it wasn’t obvious to me that they would use it so blatantly, with the media egging them on with endless hand wringing about the “uncertainly” weakening the fabric of the country. Like all the Democrats in the movie, I completely dismissed the idea that the US Supreme Court, when put to the test, would end up as the final enforcer for the Republican Party.


That’s how we came to this. Bush & Co. lied, cheated and stole their way into power, and they’ve lied, cheated and stolen to stay there since. And don’t forget the fear-mongering.

Have we learned a lesson? Digby doesn’t think so.


And here we are, six years later, actually debating whether the Bush White House has been manipulating the electoral system. For god’s sake — of course they have been. This administration was installed through crude manipulation of the rigged levers of power in the Bush family’s political machine and they see such outrageous conduct as perfectly legitimate.

This movie could not have come at a better time. We have to remember what these fuckers are willing to do in order to retain power. Don’t think they’re going to go down without as much lying, cheating and stealing – and let’s not forget fear-mongering – as they can muster.

They lie. It’s what they do.

The Republicon politicians lie. Their supporters lie. And their press lies. Here’s what John Harris, editor-in-chief of the Politico, told Glenn Greenwald last year when Greenwald accused him of blowing up political gossip into major stories just to get attention:


One point you made that resonated with me as a journalistic matter is the danger that reporters might orient their thinking around chasing the needle, and measure their success by web traffic and links. Conscientious reporters and editors should resist this, and I believe we do. This is reflected in the range of serious reporting we do about Congress, the 2008 presidential election, and lobbying and fund-raising. Although we are a new publication, Politico has several reporters and editors who have been in this profession for two decades or more. They know that what counts is reputation over the long haul, not any individual story or any uproar du jour on the blogs.


And here’s what he said in a column yesterday:



Trivial stories — the kind that are tailor-made for forwarding to your brother-in-law or college roommate with a wisecracking note at the top — can dominate the campaign narrative for days. . . .

As leaders of a new publication, Politico’s senior editors and I are relentlessly focused on audience traffic. The way to build traffic on the Web is to get links from other websites. The way to get links is to be first with news — sometimes big news, sometimes small — that drives that day’s conversation.


Harris detailed numerous examples where he and other journalists blew up unimportant items into huge stories that dominated the news narrative because they thought that doing so would attract attention for themselves.


In other words: John Harris lied.

They will continue to lie. They’ll spew all the venom they can muster, and they’ll even joke about assassination:


For those who can’t watch clips online, Fox News contributor Liz Trotta was talking about Clinton’s Kennedy comment and said, “And now we have what some are reading as a suggestion that somebody knock off Osama, uh Obama. Well, both, if we could.”

In other words, Trotta first mixes up Osama bin Laden and Barack Obama, and then casually suggests both should be killed. She, of course, found her own quip hilarious.

In what twisted political world is this considered acceptable?


In this one, Carpetbagger. In the one the Republicons created, and we allowed.

No more.

No more.

Get the word out. NO MORE. It’s time to fight. Sign petitions. Send letters to your representatives. Donate money. Let the media know you won’t tolerate any more bullshit. Talk to as many people as you can, as loudly as you can. Democracy is a voice: start shouting. Scream, if you have to.

When November comes, vote. If it’s Obama and you loved Hillary, get the fuck over it. Vote for Obama. If it’s Hillary and you loved Obama, get the fuck over it. Vote for Hillary – she may be a Republicon wanna-be now, but by gods, she’s still a Democrat and she’s still better than McLame. Get the fuck over it and pull the fucking lever for the one party that’s got at least some chance of salvaging s
omething from the debris Bush leaves behind.

As for you conservatives who aren’t batshit insane, but absolutely can’t bring yourself to vote Democrat, I have a viable alternative for you: Bob Barr just won the Libertarian Party’s nomination.


It took a while — six rounds of balloting — but eventually yesterday, Barr won out.

[snip]

Ironically, Barr became more principled and serious after serving in Congress. After departing Capitol Hill, Barr became disillusioned with what had become of his Republican Party. He was nearly apoplectic about Bush’s conduct in the NSA warrantless search scandal, suggesting the president “deliberately order[ed] that federal law be violated,” and “ignored” the Constitution. Shortly thereafter, Barr agreed to introduce Al Gore at an event in which Gore blasted the president’s “excessive power grabs.” He was also highly critical of the Bush administration in the prosecutor purge scandal.

About a year ago, Barr left the GOP altogether and began talking to the Libertarian Party, calling for a “multidecade effort” to build a movement to make the party nationally competitive. He added that many “real conservatives” have become disheartened with Republicans. “They are eager for a philosophical home,” Barr said. “There are enough of them out there that a significant number can be weaned away” from the GOP.


Let your conservative friends who are disillusioned with McCain and the Republicons know that they have a choice. Stump for Barr. Bleed Republicon support away. Leave all of the crazy fuckwits to tear each other apart over the carcass of the grand old party. Start something new.

We owe it to our country. We owe it to those dead soldiers and those dead and dying Iraqis. We owe it to our dead and dying Constitution to stand up and say, No More.

No more lying us into wars. No more stealing elections. No more cheating. No more propaganda. No more fear-mongering. No more power grabs. No more destroying this democracy.

It stops.

Now.

How To Convert Dana Hunter

After the diatribe below, we can all stand some laughs.

So here it is. Driving home tonight, I got to thinking: what would it really take to convince me, on a personal level, that God exists? Aside from God descending from Heaven, subjecting Himself to a battery of scientific tests that prove His divinity, and then going around smacking fundies upside the head and saying, “UR DOIN IT WRONG,” then bringing about world peace and harmony after apologizing for letting the lunatics take over the asylum, amazing what people get up to when you sneak out just for a few millennia to play golf the next universe over, terribly sorry, won’t happen again.

That would work. So might this:

1. God knocks on the door. Not a Jehovah’s Witness, not a Mormon, God Himself. Or Herself. Or Itself. Or selves. Or whatever.

2. God has Christian Bale standing there with him/her/it/self or selves.

3. God makes introductions.

4. Christian Bale, after reading this blog and my website, has fallen head-over-heels, but since I blog under a pseudonym and he was too chickenshit to just email, hasn’t been able to track me down to say so in person.

5. God decided to take matters in hand/s and play matchmaker.

6. God then vanishes, leaving us to our own devices.

7. But the beautiful moment doesn’t last, because there’s another knock at the door.

8. It’s a publisher, coming to personally beg me to finish my magnum opus, here’s a million dollar advance, and just look at this marketing package we’ve whipped up.

9. The publisher passes Neil Gaiman on his way down the stairs.

10. Neil has come to invite me to speak with him on writing matters at some prestigious convention.

11. And has already written a blurb for my book.

12. Because God gave him an advance copy.

13. Of a book that hasn’t been written yet.

14. Which has also been read and praised by all of my other favorite authors.

15. Who couldn’t show up personally because they’re too busy reading my second, as-yet-unwritten book, and can’t put it down.

16. Neil then says, And would you and Christian Bale like to have dinner with all of us next week?

17. Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers will be providing the music.

18. Roger secretly worships you, although you understand, he does love his wife.

That, my darlings, is roughly the sequence of utterly impossible events it would take in order for me to, fully, truly and without a single doubt, believe in God.

Christians who wish to convert me: get praying.

Dear Smarmy Christians: Knock it the Hell Off

I’ve been hanging about more in comments threads lately than I ordinarily do, and I’ve noticed an annoying trend: some Christians seem to have an overwhelming compulsion to jump into the midst of a pool of atheists, splash water, and crow, “Hey, look – you’re baptized!”

Knock it the fuck off.

It’s annoying. It’s childish. It doesn’t win anyone over except for maybe your fellow smarmy Christians.

Why the need to twist definitions until they squeal just so you can claim, “Really, atheists, you’re religious and you don’t even know it!”

Case in point:


Personally, I don’t believe that all self-described atheists are all that far away from God, whether they admit to a set religion or not.


I see. So we’re not non-believers, we’re believers-in-denial. Right.

If you have the stomach for it, read the whole thread. (Sorry to be beating up on one of your commenters, Webs, but he was the supreme example ready to hand.) Webs does an excellent job of engaging this bugger calmly, rationally, kindly, and thoughtfully. I’m not that nice a person.

Had I come into that conversation while it was in full swing, I would’ve been hard-pressed not to call this – ahem – gentleman out on his assumptions in terms far less gentle than Webs employed, because, well, I’m me. Diplomatic? Not often. Especially not when I’m seeing red over comments such as, “I mean, the Bible-thumper meanness can be rationalized that they believe they are doing God’s work. I honestly can’t figure a rationalization why atheists are mean to, make fun of, or discriminate against the religious.”

Because humans can be right assholes. At least atheists know they’re assholes. They don’t whimp out by whining, “God wants me to do it!”

There’s also that little point about the religious often being mean to, making fun of, and overwhelmingly discriminating against us. Even when they’re playing nice. And I’m sorry, but atheists are no more saints than the rest of humanity – well, not much - just a tad more rational. When we’ve been slammed over and over and over, well, don’t be so surprised that some of us get snippy.

But I’m not going to spend this post deconstructing this bugger’s remarks. I just want to point out a little something that gets even further up my nose than Robert T. Bakker:


Now, I would never dream of engaging a convicted Lutheran, Evangelical, Jew, or Hindu over who’s religion is the surest shot to God’s favor. I will, however, engage an atheist over the question of Faith.


Maybe he meant that as “I’m genuinely curious about how you atheists get on without faith,” but in the context of this self-righteous bullshit-


It’s just, without a spiritual roadmap, an atheist might be more compelled to act on urges that lead down wrong paths. True, there are Lutherans who gamble, slander, ridicule, hoard, discriminate, and cheat… but they have a doctrine than warns against those activities. What hindrance does an atheist have stopping them from engaging in acts that work against pahalah?

-I’m thinking not.

What this bugger is saying is, it doesn’t matter what religion you are as long as you’re religious. And then he displays the disease of so many Christians who, when confronted by an atheist who is kind, generous, and good, instead of admitting that a non-believer doesn’t need God to have good qualities, proclaims that “atheists aren’t all that far away from God.” He flat-out states we’re religious and just not admitting it.

Newsflash: we’re not fucking religious. We don’t need to be religious to be good human beings. We’re not in denial about being religious. We’re not in denial about God. We’ve reached this point of unbelief after a long and often painful struggle. There’s no denial left: we are not denying God, because it’s utterly pointless to deny something that doesn’t exist.

Do not mistake extreme annoyance at being disrespected for a denial of God.

Do not mistake a rational decision to act in a way that benefits fellow human beings as a tacit admission of faith. Especially don’t do it after claiming you respect our right to not believe. When you pull bait-and-switch bullshit like this, what you’re really saying is that you can’t possibly respect an atheist: therefore, this person you respect must not really be an atheist.

To put this in a context that a Christian might possibly understand: how do you feel when some smarmy atheist pounces on some small admission you make, such as maybe having a different understanding of God than more doctrinal Christians, or having gone through moments of doubt, and gleefully proclaims, “See? You’re really an atheist in denial!”

You’re not. You know you’re not. Now, turn that around, if you can, and understand that an atheist respecting another person’s faith is not a sign that we believe in God but just won’t ‘fess up. Go ahead and believe that God’s really guiding us, if you must – I can’t stop you there – but keep it the fuck to yourself if you’re so fucking concerned about respect.

If you wouldn’t challenge a Lutheran or a Hindu or a Jew on their faith, what possible reason can you have for not showing an atheist the same courtesy in regards to their lack thereof?

I really don’t mind being engaged in a discussion about my atheism. What I absolutely have no tolerance for is smarmy fuckers who, instead of engaging in actual debate where there’s actual respect shown for the other person’s position, declare, “Anything you say proves either that you’re really religious, I win!!”

No, you don’t. You declared a hollow victory that has no more meaning than IDiots pouncing on a simplified rendering of the inner workings of a cell and declaring, “See, it looks designed, therefore it is. I win!”

Bullshit. What you show is ignorance. You’ve proven nothing, except to yourself, and pissed off the person you were pretending to have respect for.

Why not take a lesson from Karen, here, smarmy Christians? She’s Christian. And she’s shown remarkable respect for the atheists she’s hanging about with. She hasn’t tried to claim us for God. Hasn’t tried to twist every argument into a victory for God. Hasn’t tried to proclaim that anything we do that’s good and just and moral must necessarily come from God, because it couldn’t possibly come from being human. She and I haven’t discussed what her views on that are. The point is, she respects our atheism. When she says she respects our right to not believe, she truly does.

I think she understands that to tell an atheist they’re not really an atheist is almost as offensive as telling a black person they’re not “really” black, or a gay man he’s not “really” gay, or, indeed, a Christian that they’re not “really” Christian.

What you’re telling me by saying I’m not “really” an atheist is that I’m a lesser being if I am. You’re trying to take something precious away because it’s not worthy to you. And while your opinion does not change what I am, the fact of you even attempting to do so is offensive in the extreme.

We can argue points of evidence. We can explore how we reached our respective positions. There’s plenty to discuss here. But let’s not deny wh
at each of us is just because we’re not comfortable with the facts.

Dancing on Top of the World

You know that giddy kind of excitement when you can’t sit still, your eyes start to tear up, you randomly squeal, and your face is twitching?

Yeah. That’s me. Right now.

Lots o’ reasons.

For one, this blog has attracted an amazing group of truly incredible people, and a whole passel of truly incredible people joined the incredible people already here over this weekend. That would have been enough to set my feet a-tappin’.

Then work was slow, and I actually got to catch up on some of my blog reading. Why can’t I find a company willing to pay me to read your blogs? That’s how I want to spend my days. I don’t get enough time with you guys. The fact that I got time today has me ready to jig.

But wait! There’s more.

Got an email from PZ. Seems I’m going to be among the hosts of the Tangled Bank. There’s finally going to be real science in this cantina!!1!11!!

The neighbors are now wondering if we’re having an earthquake. But there’s more:

Next week, I have my best friend flying in from North Carolina. I haven’t seen him in person since 2005.

Plaster falls from the ceiling. And there’s still more:

I get to attend PZ’s lecture at the Pacific Science Center for the Northwest Science Writer’s Association.

Science writers! PZ! My best friend! WOOT!

The building begins to shake. Tibetans reach for some pegs. And that’s not all:

PZ is also speaking to the Seattle Society for Sensible Explanations. PZ! Seattle skeptics! Alliteration! Fine dining! SUPER WOOT!

Dana has now left the building and is headed skyward, Tibetan efforts to nail her down be damned. And as if that’s not enough:

Brian Switek’s book-in-progress is going to have a whole chapter on horse evolution! He’ll write up horse evolution in terms even I can understand, which means I’ll understand enough horse evolution to be able to figure out how the fuck my Unicorns evolved. Triple WOOT!

The air. Grows thin. Limbs. Akimbo. And we’re not done:

Blake Stacey saw Neil Gaiman speak, the elitist bastard. I haven’t seen Neil Gaiman since 2001. I didn’t get my application in for Clarion, and so missed the chance to maybe possibly attend a writing workshop with Neil fucking Gaiman omfg!, but Blake’s writing up the lecture soon, and AND it’ll be out on DVD. Not enough WOOTs in the damned world.

This is the top of the world. This is me dancing on it. Just in case you were wondering what the hell all that shaking was about.

Happy Hour Discurso

Today’s opining on the public discourse.

Alas, I’m in a good mood. Work is slow, the sun’s been out, it’s a mellow day, and hard to drum up enough angst to be the cantankerous cantinera you’ve all come to expect. But let’s see what we can do.

I just have a quick question here: what the fuck is wrong with white people?


Newsweek published the results of a new poll, which shows John McCain doing quite well
among white voters, leading Barack Obama by 12 (52% to 40%), and leading Hillary Clinton by four (48% to 40%). This isn’t especially surprising — white voters overall preferred Bush to Kerry in 2004, Bush to Gore in 2000, Dole to Bill Clinton in 1996, and H.W. Bush to Clinton in 1992.

But Newsweek went further in analyzing the results, and found that Obama’s race “may well explain his difficulty in winning over white voters.”


In the NEWSWEEK Poll, participants were asked to answer questions on a variety of race-related topics including racial preferences, interracial marriage, attitudes toward social welfare and general attitudes toward African-Americans. Respondents were grouped according to their answers on a “Racial Resentment Index.” Among white Democrats with a low Racial Resentment Index rating, Obama beat McCain in a hypothetical match-up 78 percent to 17 percent. That is virtually identical to Clinton’s margin in the category, 79 percent to 13 percent. But among white Democrats with high scores on the Racial Resentment Index, the picture was very different: Obama led McCain by only 18 points (51 to 33) while Clinton maintained a much larger 59-point lead (78 to 18).

Who exactly are these high Racial Resentment Index voters? A majority, 61 percent, have less than a four-year college education, many are older (44 percent were over the age of 60 compared to just 18 percent under the age of 40) and nearly half (46 percent) live in the South.


I’ve never understood this mentality. I’m white. I was raised by Midwestern farm folk who were white. I lived in areas that were heavy on the whites. But race has never been a factor in my friendships, ethnicity doesn’t mean jack shit except as incidental interest, and I don’t lie awake at night worrying about brown people changing my country. Actually, I lie awake at night hoping brown people will change my country. I just can’t wrap my mind around the racist mentality.

And I sure as shit can’t wrap my mind around this:


The same poll, meanwhile, not [sic] that white people are also thrown by Obama’s name and confusion over his faith tradition. Only 58% of white voters correctly identified Obama’s Christian faith, while 11% still believe he’s a Muslim. Just as ridiculous, “18 percent of white Democratic voters say they judge the Illinois senator less favorably because of his name.”

We’ll have a lousy economy, more wars, and a right-wing Supreme Court, but at least our president won’t have a funny sounding name.


Carpetbagger trumped me on the sarcasm. All I can manage is a disgusted, “What the fuck is wrong with these people?”

Ah, well. Unlikely to solve that issue today. Let’s move on.

Digby has a post up that’s as entertaining as it is disturbing, comparing some media lackwits to stalkers:


I’m a pragmatic sort and I am more than willing to take advantages where they come. But the fact that journalists like [Kurt] Anderson are all swooning over Obama is a very mixed bag. Right now it will be helpful in that the press corps also swoons over McCain so perhaps we’ll get a little balance. But boys like him tend to get very nasty when their idols turn out to be
mortal.


This swooning between Obama and the press could very well end up being a classic Dangerous Relationship. One of the most important signs of a potential abuser is if they put you up on a
pedestal:


Being on a pedestal may feel great at the time, but all idols are bound to fall. The higher the pedestal, the harder the fall.

Take notice if a person has assigned you a position or qualities that are completely unrealistic given where you are in the relationship. For a new
lover to say, “you are the light of my life” or “you are everything to me”
in the first few weeks of dating is scary. They are impossible to live up
to. Your lover knows too little about you. Inevitably, he is projecting onto
you all kinds of qualities you may or may not have.


It is flattering to have all these fops of the village press corps drooling all over a big Democrat. But they have issues. Big ones. They have the attention spans of a six week old ferret and the fidelity of a cat in heat. It’s extremely foolish to trust these abusers with our future. Caveat Emptor.


Well said. And when you look at the history of previous media swoons, yes, they do behave this way: they have their crushes, then when their crush disappoints them, they crush their crush. Pathological, that. Viewing the media as deranged stalkers actually explains quite a lot about our current political press debacle, comes to that.

My question is this: when are they going to fall out of love with Bush? Didn’t he disappoint them long ago? Or are they that fucking stupid?

Right.

Moving on.

Glenn Greenwald is wielding the Spank-o-Matic to good effect today. He’s got a wonderful piece showing just how much influence the telecoms are buying:


Just in the first three months of 2008, recent lobbyist disclosure statements reveal that AT&T spent $5.2 million in lobbyist fees (putting it well ahead of its 2007 pace, when it spent just over $17 million). In the first quarter of 2008, Verizon spent $4.8 million on lobbyist fees, while Comcast spent $2
.6 million
. So in the first three months of this year, those three telecoms — which would be among the biggest beneficiaries of telecom amnesty (right after the White House) — spent a combined total of almost $13 million on lobbyists. They’re on pace to spend more than $50 million on lobbying this year — just those three companies.

[snip]

Last year, AT&T paid $400,000 to Black’s firm. Black was taking money from AT&T to lobby on FISA and simultaneously advising McCain. McCain, needless to say, voted in favor of granting amnesty to AT&T and the other telecoms at exactly the time that his close adviser, Black, was taking money from AT&T to influence Congress on its behalf. And, of course, AT&T and Verizon are among McCain’s top donors.

While we’re subjected to all sorts of prattle from our pundit class and political leaders about how telecom amnesty is so urgent if we want to be Safe from the Terrorists, this is the sleaze that fuels how the process works. And the sleaze is spread around in a nice bipartisan way.


Equal opportunity sleaze: the American dream.

If you want some good suggestions on what to do about it, check out Digby’s missive. The money of the masses may yet speak.

Literal vs. Philosophical: FIGHT!

Admitting I’m an atheist has seriously damaged my research, but not my enjoyment of cheesy martial arts fantasy films. Go figure.

Allow me to ‘splain. Or at least sum up.

I’m deep into research on the soul for the upcoming short story my Wise Readers have valiantly volunteered to vet. That research involves digging into the idea of the tulku, which seemed like a good philosophical idea to riff on. So I’m reading a book on Tibetan Buddhism.

It’s not a great book on Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, it’s shallow and silly. It focuses more on what you might call popular practice than the ideas. I know Buddhism, even the more religious kinds replete with gods and other such things the Buddha would’ve had no truck with, has some excellent philosophical depth. But this book wants to focus more on things like folks staking bits of the land down so they won’t run away.

So here I am, reading this, and instead of thinking, “Interesting – that could be useful for an alien culture, suitably camouflaged,” I’m thinking, “Do people really believe that silly shite? I mean, on a scale of everyday concerns, is this really important to them?”

I’m gonna have to stay away from the popular stuff for a while. Avoid people running around driving stakes through bits of ground so it doesn’t get filched by demons in favor of the stuff that treats such matters as allegory and philosophy rather than as matter of fact. Gah.

I must be an Elitist Bastard. Even with religion research, I prefer the hoity-toity, scholarly, metaphorical, very complicated theological systems advanced by deep thinkers than the stuff practiced by the simple folk. That’s not new, mind, just more pronounced.

And yet I can go to a movie like The Forbidden Kingdom and have absolutely no problem at all with Monkey gods and a lot of extreme silliness. Bronx geek with an unhealthy fascination for martial arts films ends up transported to another kingdom, has to return the Monkey King’s staff? Not a problem! Runs into a Taoist immortal who’s perpetually drunk? Better still! Nothing makes logical sense? Who cares! It’s beautiful and it’s fun and it works in the context of the story, even when it’s cheesier than a truckload of Cheez Whiz.

I thoroughly enjoyed picking up on bits and pieces of myth, legend and philosophy. There’s a lot more Zen in there than you typically run in to in Chinese flicks – a great moment where Jackie Chan’s drunken Taoist character, Lu Yan, is teaching Jason kung fu, and pours him a cup of tea as Jason’s going on and on about all the martial arts moves he knows from the movies. I knew what would happen: Lu would keep pouring.

It’s an old Zen story. A man comes to the Zen master for teaching, bragging about all the things he already knows about Zen. The Zen master nods and smiles and pours tea – and keeps pouring, until the cup overflows and runs all over the floor. “Stop!” the visitor protests. “The cup’s already full!” “Exactly,” the master says. “How can I teach you anything when your cup’s already full? Empty your cup!”

This is exactly what happens in the movie, and it’s a sheer delight.

Lu Yan’s based on Liu Ling, I’ll bet you a dollar to a donut hole. Don’t know Liu Ling? Hang about me for any length of time and you soon will. He was one of the legendary Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. One story about him says that he was followed around by a manservant who carried a jug of wine and a shovel. The wine was in case he sobered up too much. The shovel was in case he drank himself to death.

Now, that’s a man comfortable with his life!

Seeing as how Wikipedia already butchered my favorite story of Liu Ling, I shall retell it here:

One day, a Confucian friend of Liu’s went to his house and found him nude. Confucians, of course, put a lot of store by propriety, so the friend was a little discombobulated by this unashamed nakedness. They’re sitting there chatting, and the Confucian friend is getting more and more disturbed, until finally he can take no more. “Why aren’t you wearing any trousers?” he splutters.

“The universe is my house. This room is my trousers,” Liu says to him. “What are you doing here inside my trousers?”

I think you can begin to see why I love Taoist philosophy so very much.

And I think that may be what’s missing from that book on Tibetan Buddhism: the playfulness. The spontaneity. The delight in the absurd, the deeper meaning behind the seemingly meaningless. It’s one thing to go around staking down plots of earth in all seriousness. It’s quite another if it’s treated as something of an in-joke. The simple folk may seriously believe those stories about the land flying away if you don’t nail it down, they may believe in the objective reality of the demons and the gods, but that’s just a surface meaning. It’s not, when you get right down to it, what it’s really all about.

And I’m not even sure those Tibetan peasants are so literal. I have to wonder if that’s just the artifact of a Western mind trying to comprehend the Eastern. After all, Western religion got right out of the joyful absurdity business and took things way too literally for far too long. I find that strange, when you look at the New Testament and see how often Jesus taught in parables. If you ever wonder why I tend to giggle when fundies proclaim every word of the Bible is literal truth, there it is: Jesus himself said otherwise. So if you’re using the Bible to prove the Bible… watch out.

After a long and winding journey, we have finally looped around to the point: I can enjoy The Forbidden Kingdom without the slightest hint of annoyance because I know that while there’s serious stuff in there, it’s not meant to be taken seriously. No one is claiming these things happened in actual reality. These are true stories, but in an allegorical, not empirical, sense. This movie is sheer entertainment with a little bit o’ good philosophy mixed in. And there’s no silly Western bugger going, “Wow, people actually b
elieve the story of the Monkey King, and we have to treat it as The Truth, ‘cos it’s their religion.”

Unlike this bloody book.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go track down some bugger who knows what the tulku are really all about so I can tell a ripping good story meself.

*Bonus points to anyone who caught the Mortal Kombat reference in the title.

A Re-Introduction

Well, it seems that I’m not such an incompetent blogger as I thought! It seems that one of our host’s friends, George, took notice of my “Candidates and Classrooms” post – it was mentioned over at Decrepit Old Fool. I am flattered for the mention, and my thanks go out to the author!

One minor point, though…

I am very much male.

*checks trousers*

Yep. Definitely.

A simple mistake, especially given that I popped up out of the blue without any real introduction or description of myself. So here’s a quick moment for me to hog the spotlight and tell you what kind of human I am!

As mentioned, I am a guy. An 18 year old guy, about 6’2 with hazel eyes and brown air. My heritage is an eclectic mix of various European countries, nothing particularly strong enough to influence me more than the others. English is, allegedly, among the stronger of my ancestors – though my father was adopted, so this information is questionable. I have Native American on my maternal grandfather’s side, and Dutch Irish on my grandmother’s. I live in the beautiful pacific northwest, and I spend most of my time writing, reading, exploring the bright centers of the internet, and video gaming. I write for myself, in the form of a science fiction novel, and for others, as is the case with my game design projects, in which I work under an independent designer working on his debut project. I might decide to actually use my own Blogger blog (Musings Of A Teenage Mind) to discuss those projects. The blog is, currently, empty as I have found no good use for it, and my time has been spent here. I suppose if there was enough interest in it, I’d share my stuff there.

In any case, that’s most of the vital stats. Thank you for allowing me to talk about myself, it’s not something I’m in the habit of doing. So now, please go on to enjoy the better parts of the blog! I have posted the second part of my education-based blog series below, be sure to stop by if you are interested.

And everything changes
And nothing is truly lost
-Neil Gaiman

Academia: AP vs IB

Thank you for your comments on my last entry, “Candidates and Classrooms”, and reading one of them mentioned the value of the AP classes. So here’s my spiel:

AP, or Advanced Placement, is indeed a very beneficial path to take during your high school career. I might have considered taking a few of the tests, given that I am in AP Biology and AP Calculus. I was already accepted into my school of choice, and few of the AP credits were applicable, so I opted out. However, this is not to say that the average student should turn down the AP classes and tests. In fact, I would readily encourage it, if you are planning on attending an academic college. There is no denying the benefit of not having to take a college course.

However, I believe that the presence of AP tests has its downsides, too. For one, it only encourages and reinforces the “teach the test” [see Candidates and Classrooms] method of education. For another, some schools are trying to actually award a higher grade point for AP classes; essentially meaning that 4.0 is not the highest potential GPA you could get, but rather you could get higher than that if you attend the right schools. I cannot say if it was actually put into action or merely proposed, but it certainly was, at least, discussed.

It also seems that the AP curriculum and the way our education system functions are at odds with one another. At some schools, the classroom time or facilities are insufficient to provide students with the full scope of the AP coursework. Overall, the AP classes feel very rushed, very hurried, with little emphasis on how anything is useful to you other than saving money – it’s all about passing the tests. There is a lot of stress involved, heavy course load, but somehow we make it through.

Basically, AP is a money-saver, but I doubt if we’ll remember any of it in a year.

So what about this IB thing? First, does anyone know anything about it?

The International Baccalaureate Organization, or IBO, or just IB, is an internationally standardized diploma program currently in place in approximately 125 countries around the world, in over 2,000 schools. There are 6 areas of study: Foreign Language (Spanish, French, German or Japanese, student choice), Science (Chemistry or Biology), Mathematics, Economics, History, and Literature. There are also two “levels” of study: Higher Level and Standard Level. The primary difference between the two is that HL tests are a measurement of two years of learning, with SL only one. Basically, HL encompasses information from both Junior and Senior year of study, with SL primarily on the Senior year classwork. With the exception of the Foreign Language, each area is comprised of 2 test sessions, ranging from one to three hours in length. This means that we take 11 test sessions total for Full IB Diploma.

A student can, optionally, take Certificate tests. These are just the test sessions in however many areas the student chooses to take. Undergoing the full IB program also throws on 50 hours of community service (on top of 100 hours we have to do anyway).

Get all that? There will be a test at the end of the post, so take notes.

The IB tests are less widely recognized than the AP test. In some classes, say Oregon State University, full IB Diploma “Scholars” are given $2,000 scholarship, and guaranteed admission, as a sophomore. Other schools, such as the Art Institute of Portland (my destination) threw a handful of confetti into the air and said, “Congrats”, and that’s about as far as the benefits took me. They also cost an arm and a leg to take, each area over $100 a pop. So the benefit of the tests are fewer.

Unless!

If you plan on studying aboard, than the IB tests can be a big boon. See, every student in every school in every country that participates in this program learns the same curriculum and takes the same tests on the same day – possibly even at the same time. So going abroad means that it actually is important. However, not many of us are going to go to Europe for college, as much as we might like to.

Having said that, what I like about the IB program is the actual curriculum. The classes are more in-depth, and are taught in a very unique style. It’s fun, interesting, and we find ways to apply what we know to the other areas of our life. I might do a more detailed exploration of IHS (International High School) and the IB program later, so I won’t go into it deeply.

Basically, though, the IB tests have less financial/academic value than the AP tests, because they are less likely to be recognized and to allow you to waive classes, however I find that the curriculum has a much better pace. Also, while all the information you learn in IB classes are useful for the test, the test themselves have such a wide range of questions, covering the entire range of possible things you could learn in the classes, that it is slightly less “teach the test” in style. The format of papers, perhaps, is very strictly taught as IB-criteria. However, take History. A teacher might go more in-depth into, say, the Russian Revolution and Nazi Germany during their study on Single Party States, rather than Mao in China. However, the IB test will allow you to select, for instance, three questions to answer, in essay form, from a list of fifteen to twenty questions, that range from Mao, to Castro, to Stalin. So instead of the classes teaching you what will be on the exam, the exams are meant to test you on something you will be taught.

Thus are the choices we make. Neither one is easy – but both are rewarding in their own ways.


And everything changes
And nothing is truly lost
-Neil Gaiman

Carnival Business #4

My darlings, we are almost ready to take the world by storm! Just a few things left to do:

Etha Williams needs Elitist Bastard quotes for a random quote generator she’s putting together. If you have a quote that oozes elitist bastardry, be sure to drop it by.

The title bar is still sadly lacking graphic interest. Should anyone feel like playing with Photoshop over the weekend, an actual design would not go amiss.

If you’re participating, don’t forget to grab yourself a badge and bung it up on your sidebar by Friday. That goes for me as well.

Most importantly, don’t forget to get your submissions in to elitistbastardscarnival@gmail.com. Ye olde deadline is end of day Friday, May 31st.

Anything to add? We’re into the “What vitally important thing have I forgotten?” stage here.

Eggheads, Unite!