Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Who could have predicted...

... that Dick Cheney would use the underwear bomber as an excuse to attack Obama as soft on terrorism?

... that Newt Gingrich would use the underwear bomber as an excuse to attack Obama as soft on terrorism?

... that Karl Rove would use the underwear bomber as an excuse to attack Obama as soft on terrorism?

... that Republican Congressmen would use the underwear bomber as an excuse to attack Obama as soft on terrorism?

More adventures in commenting

What I have learned so far:

Several useful features require a thirty six dollar upgrade.

I found something resembling end user documentation. It's a wiki and a set of FAQs. A lot of the information is out of date and none of it appears to have been written by native English speakers.

I can't find the comment moderation page. I've found a page that says "Moderation", but it's blank.

I figured out how to display a Gravitar, but it is not retroactive. The process is to click on the blank picture and get the picture from some other account. Today, at least, the connection time from Echo to those other services is over a minute.

In order to change the appearance of the comment page, I need to hack the code.

Changing the order of the comments from newest on top (their default) to oldest on top (the standard in almost all blogs I read) requires disabling one of the primary features of Echo (live comment updates) and hacking the code.

The only way to the code is to go to my Blogger template. I don't have a Blogger template; I have a homemade one. I have no idea where the Echo plug-in lives.

I may have to go back to my original plan of modifying a Blogger template to look and work the way I want it, and enabling Blogger comments.

Testing the comments

Haloscan is becoming something called Echo, a much more complicated system that is no longer free. I thought about using the free comment system that comes with Blogger. That has its own problems. Rather than using one of the Blogger templates for archy, I built my own. To enable the Blogger comments, I first need to incorporate their code into my template, and to do that I need to deconstruct their code to pick out the parts I need. That will take some time.

Here's my plan. I'm building another site, that I plan to launch in a few weeks. Once I figure out enough code to make it run smoothly, I'll revamp archy to use the same code. In the meantime, I've paid Echo their lousy ten dollars to use their comments. They turned it on today, so commenting should be functional by now.

Looks like I'm going to use a sizeable chunk of my day today getting Echo set up to my satisfaction. This would go a lot smoother if they had any help on their site. Like far too many companies, Echo has no end user documentation that I can find. Instead, they have a "community" where confused users get to try to figure things out by themselves. Meanwhile, hundreds of experienced documentation writers are unemployed in this economy (like Clever Wife or me). I could bang out complete help files for a product like this in a little over a week.

If anyone wants to be a beta tester, make a comment and tell me what it looked like from your end (either by another comment or by e-mail if the comments were too difficult to use.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Boston Charlie

It wouldn't be Christmas without a rendition of the greatest carol of all time.

Deck us all with Boston Charlie
Lyrics by Walt Kelly, Music by Traditional (whoever he was)

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., an' Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezin' on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!

Don't we know archaic barrel,
Lullaby Lilla boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don't love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Polly wolly cracker n' too-da-loo!
Hunky Dory's pop is lolly gaggin' on the wagon,
Willy, folly go through!

Donkey Bonny brays a carol,
Antelope Cantaloup, 'lope with you!
Chollie's collie barks at Barrow,
Harum scarum five alarum bung-a-loo!

Duck us all in bowls of barley,
Hinky dinky dink an' Polly Voo!
Chilly Filly's name is Chollie,
Chollie Filly's jolly chilly view halloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Double-bubble, toyland trouble! Woof, Woof, Woof!
Tizzy seas on melon collie!
Dibble-dabble, scribble-scrabble! Goof, Goof, Goof!

Tickle salty boss anchovie
Wash a wash a wall Anna Kangaroo
Ducky allus bows to Polly,
Prolly Wally would but har'ly do!

Dock us all a bowsprit, Solly --
Golly, Solly's cold and so's ol' Lou!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A timly warning; a holiday tradition

This is a rerun of a post I wrote around this time a few years ago. I think it's still relevant.


The men in black (MIB) entered UFO lore in 1956 in a book entitled They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers. The author was one Gray Barker who had been a member of one of the first American UFO groups, the rather ambitiously named International Flying Saucer Bureau (IFSB). Though Barker's book dealt with a number of paranormal topics, the largest part of it dealt with his former boss, IFSB founder Albert Bender.

In 1953 the IFSB was about two years old with a few hundred dues paying members (called "investigators") who all received the Bureau's newsletter Space Review. The group was doing well enough when, in October 1953, Bender suddenly stopped publication of Space Review, and dissolved the IFSB. The last issue of the news letter gave only this explanation.
STATEMENT OF IMPORTANCE: The mystery of the flying saucers is no longer a mystery. The source is already known, but any information about this is being withheld by order from a higher source. We would like to print the full story in Space Review, but because of the nature of the information we are very sorry that we have been advised in the negative.

According to Barker, the reason Bender had so abruptly ended the group was that three mysterious men in black had visited Bender and warned him off. But before they did, the MIBs were good enough to explain at least part of the true secret of the flying saucers. UFOs, they said, actually come from Antarctica. They have bases in both polar regions and regularly fly between them. Bender told a different story in his own book in 1963.

Enough UFO stories end with the craft departing due north or south that Barker's version of Bender's visitors has been adopted by conspiracy theorists who believe in a decidedly terrestrial origin for saucers. My personal favorite version is that saucers and MIBs are Atlanteans from within the hollow earth, but the theory that they are Nazi refugees from super-scientific bases beneath the ice cap has its devotees, too.

The MIBs are the key to the mystery. The most mundane explanation that has been offered is that they work for the American government and that they are trying to hide the truth about the extraterrestrial origin of UFOs. But that could itself be disinformation. No government has the ability to do what the MIBs do. Think for a moment about the men in black. They have appeared all over the world. They have a special interest in unidentified flying objects and in protecting the polar regions. They seem to actually know what is in the minds of the people they visit. Who has the ability to manage an intelligence network like that? Ask yourself: Who has the ability to travel everywhere, at any time, and even seemingly to appear in two places at once? Who has a special interest in protecting the polar regions? Who knows when you are sleeping? Who knows when you are awake? Who knows if you've been good or bad?

I think you know the answer.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and be good for goodness sake.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Healthcare guest post

It's only appropriate that archy's first guest post should be Clever Wife telling me what I got wrong (see previous post).
John got one thing wrong. I am not for violent revolution; I'm for bloody revolution. Virtually identical in execution, but sounds far more viscerally satisfying. So as not to make "perfection the enemy of the good" I will settle for mass demonstrations of a slightly more peaceful nature. And I mean, SLIGHTLY. Of course, when I brought this up, John pointed out that mass demonstrations by liberals don't count and aren't covered by the press. With that in mind, I've come up with a few suggestions on how we can get more attention paid to our cause:

1) Everybody show up wearing guns strapped to their thighs, accompanied by big signs that say stupid things. Anything, really, but keep in mind that mangling the words of historical figures always seems to draw a camera or two. Yes, water pistols are acceptable. As are paintball and laser tag guns.

2) Hang something memorable and fairly preposterous from our hats and give ourselves a ludicrous, sexually suggestive name. I had several ideas involving lewd double entendres but am told that swearing admits defeat. So I'm leaning strongly in favor of hanging old-fashioned ballots (think hanging chads) from our hats and calling ourselves the primary voters party. What the name lacks in sexual innuendo, it makes up for in thinly veiled threat.

3) Invite the anarchists as a means of generating the kind of violence that just screams "film at eleven" coverage, while providing ourselves with plausible deniablity (ooh, those bad, bad anarchists. Liberals would never do anything so, you know, viscerally satisfying).

4) Finally, make noise. Make lots and lots of noise. Scream, throw things, play accordions. One of my more conservative friends said that he's sensing a lot of quiet apathy from the Left. I told him that's not quiet apathy he's sensing; it's quiet despair.

And it's the quiet part that's killing us.

Healthcare: random thoughts and questions

The Senate healthcare bill will probably squeak through sometime in the next seventy two hours. Count Clever Wife and I among the very disappointed. I'm inclined towards a position of hold your nose and vote for the damn thing and she inclines toward throw the game board in the air and start a violent revolution. I have a lot of questions to ask and a few observations to make.


The supporters of the bill keep saying we should support the bill because it will give coverage to thirty one million people who are currently not covered by the for profit insurance industry. The pundits, politicians, and activists who chant this line speak from a perspective of a "we" who have secure coverage and who are doing a good deed for those people who need coverage. I have news for them, many of the "we" whom they are talking to are among the uninsured or insecurely insured. This is not an abstract question of doing a good deed for others; "we" need to know if the bill will improve our dire situation.


If thirty one million will gain coverage, who are the twenty million who will not gain coverage? Which group am I in? If I'm in the lucky thirty one million, when does it kick in and how does it work?


Those same pundits, politicians, and activists keep telling us we shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I don't know of anyone who is doing that. We gave up on the perfect at the beginning of this process when the Democrats decided to start the negotiations by making a big concession in keeping single payer off the table. A robust public option was the good. The weaker public options that the Senate eventually bargained away were only okay. At this point, those who have given up on the bill are letting the okay get in the way of the only marginally better than nothing.

More questions:

Clever wife and I have a wildly fluctuating income. This year it will be zero. Our COBRA coverage will end in a few months. We're in our fifties and we each have chronic conditions. Joe Lieberman made sure we can't move into Medicare, so what are our options?

The individual mandate means we will be forced to buy insurance from a for profit insurance like the one that is about to terminate our COBRA. When will we be forced to make that purchase. They tell us there will be subsidies to help pay for the over priced limited coverage that the for profit insurance offers. When will the subsidies kick in? We're not a typical four in their thirties. How much help will the subsidies give to people like us?

Another observation:

Right now, we're all focused on blaming Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson for the constant erosion of the Senate bill. Let's not forget that it was Max Baucus who delayed the process for two months, allowing the Lieberman and the conservative Democrats time to sabotage the bill.


How miserable can we make their lives without forcing them to change parties?


I think it's fairly clear that after the next election, Lieberman is going to openly declare himself a Republican for his 2012 run. If he runs as an independent, he will probably lose in a three way fight. If he runs as a Democrat, he will face a bloody primary challenge and little support from the Democratic establishment. That leaves running as a Republican. Any hope of improving the bill is dependent on getting rid of Lieberman.


Is there any reasonable chance that we can gain a seat in the Senate next year to give us a Lieberman proof majority?

Final observations:

It took thirty years to get from Social Security to Medicare. It took forty five years to get from Medicare to whatever this mess is going to be called. I probably not going to live to see the next major improvement in this country's healthcare system.

This disappointing business has completely destroyed the morale and enthusiasm of the people who elected Obama and the Democratic majority. Many of the people who became first time voters last year, because of that enthusiasm, are probably going to stay home next year.

Final questions:

Can Obama and the congressional Democrats regain our trust and support? Will they even try?

Can the bill be improved in committee and still make it through another vote in the Senate? Is it realistic to hope for improvements to come through later legislation or will those attempts be blocked by the same saboteurs that created the need for improving the bill in the first place?

What next?

PS: Rahm Emanuel can kiss my red, furry ass.

Friday, December 18, 2009

More recent mammoth extinction

An interesting new technique indicates mammoths and other Pleistocene megafauna may have survived on the mainland much later than previously thought. The technique and especially these results are sure to be hotly debated.

Till now, the last populations of mainland mammoths, as indicated by macro-remains like bone, ivory, and hair, have been dated to around 12,900 calendar years ago. I emphasize mainland because at least two groups of mammoths are known to have survived past that date on islands--Wrangell Island north of Siberia and the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea. No evidence of human habitation has been found on these islands that have dates earlier than the extinction of the mammoths. This correlation supports the theory that hunting by humans was the primary cause of their extinction. A mainland date that has mammoths living side by side with humans would throw a serious monkey-wrench into the hunting hypothesis. Any date younger that 12,900 years would strike an almost fatal blow to the hypothesis that the comet believed exploded over North America at that time was the cause of extinction.

A major problem in dating the extinction of any species is that it is virtually impossible to find the remains of the very last individual of a species. Any date we come up with will be approximate. All we can say with confidence about the 12,900 year date is that mammoths went extinct not long after that. How long is guesswork. This uncertainty even has a formal name, the Signor–Lipps effect. A new technique, which involves teasing isolated strands of DNA out of wind-blown soil, is being tried out to see if it can narrow the range of Signor–Lipps uncertainty for Pleistocene megafauna. This technique has come up with dates showing mammoths and North American horses present at least two thousand years more recently than the 12,900 year date. That is a pretty long "not long" later.

Ross MacPhee, a well-known participant in the debate over the causes of mammoth extinction, along with Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen, Richard Roberts of the University of Wollongong, Australia, and Duane Froese of the University of Alberta developed this new technique. They figured that, since permafrost preserves macro-remains so well, it must also preserve microscopic bits of organic matter. During its lifetime, every mammal sheds massive amounts of dander, hair, urine, and other effluvia that contain its DNA. However, it only leaves one skeleton. Statistically, it should be possible to find many more micro-remains of a species than of macro-remains. Having more samples should then allow us to narrow the range of Signor–Lipps uncertainty. Till now, no one had thought to look for mammoths, in the form of these micro-remains, by examining dust under a microscope.

To test the technique, the team went to Stevens Village, Alaska, a tiny town on the Yukon River north of Fairbanks. Because of permafrost, Arctic rivers tend to be shallow and to form very wide flood plains. To obtain samples for their test, the team needed to find a location where airborne sediments were laid down over a long period of time and not disturbed by flooding of other processes. They also needed for the location to have remained dry ever since deposition to avoid degradation or contamination of the samples by liquid water. They believe that a bluff above Stevens Village fills all of those requirements.

The sampling consisted of cores taken from fifteen levels of the bluff and numerous control samples from the surrounding area. The mineral content of the soil is consistent with dust stirred up from the flood plains along that stretch of the Yukon River. In the lab, twigs and roots were dated through radiocarbon and quartz grains were dated using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), a method that determines when the quartz was last exposed to sunlight. The amount of DNA in the soil was amplified using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique. This gave them enough DNA to determine which species deposited DNA at each level in the soil column, but did not allow for direct dating of the DNA. The dates of deposition were entirely determined from the radiocarbon and OSL tests of the surrounding strata. The results of these tests indicated that the soil column was deposited from around 11,000 years ago to a little more recently that 8000 years ago. Curiously, DNA from extinct mammoths and horses were only found in the most recent strata.

From these results, MacPhee and his co-authors conclude that at least a small population of mammoths and horses survived in central Alaska far later than previously believed. These conclusions favor a slow extinction scenario, such as succumbing to gradual environmental change possibly augmented by the introduction of a new predator (us). It argues against more sudden extinction scenarios like a bolide strike, a hunter blitzkrieg, or MacPhee's preferred explanation, a cross-species plague.

Because their data produced dates so dramatically later than any previously accepted dates, and because they challenge three of the four leading contenders to explain the end Pleistocene extinctions, they will almost certainly stir up a controversy. Not that there was not enough controversy on this topic already. I can see three areas of vulnerability. Their argument that younger strata could not have been contaminated by DNA from older sources is not bullet-proof. The dating of the soil column does not show an unambiguous procession from older to younger. The fact that the DNA itself was not dated will leave many unsatisfied.

On the other hand, if their dates survive the coming controversy, it will require rethinking common wisdom in a number of areas. The extinction narrative is only the most obvious. If islands of mammoth steppe survived two to four thousand years later that previously believed, we are going to need to rethink our ideas of early Holocene environmental history. This could even have an impact on cultural anthropology and folklore studies. If mammoths survived much closer to the present than we thought, should we take another look at those Native American legends about giant grandfather beasts?

The technique has great promise, but it also needs to get over some serious hurdles before its results should be widely accepted.

Note: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper, here. Supplemental data, here. The Academy deserves brownie points for their open access program of making certain papers available on line, free of charge. They deserve extra, super, golden, brownie points for choosing this paper to include in the open access program this week.

Logic, not his strong suit

Last May, culture warrior and failed presidential candidate Gary Bauer was upset about the proposed hate crimes legislation. The standard argument against the bill at the time was that adding gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation to existing hate crimes laws would somehow lead to the criminalization of Christianity. That argument was as dishonest as it was vile. They argued that extending the penalties for violent crimes based on the gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation would also criminalize hateful speech. This was a lie. Not only was hate speech not included in the bill, it would have been immediately struck down as unconstitutional if it had been included. They further argued that hateful speech directed at women and gays was such an integral part of Christianity that outlawing such speech would amount to de facto criminalization of Christianity. This was both a libel against the Christianity practiced by most Americans and a very disturbing look into the psyche of Bauer's confederates. Bauer managed to take even that argument one step further by claiming the new law would make hate thought illegal, a claim that added silly to dishonest and vile as a proper descriptor for their arguments.

Today, it seems, Bauer is very upset about hate crimes.
Throughout much of the world today, where Christianity is in decline attacks on Jews are on the rise. In post-Christian Europe, Jews are often victims of a deeply entrenched anti-Semitism.


It is true that the citizens of the U.S. are more pious than those of many European countries, where the decline of faith has been much reported. Still, in the U.S., legal attacks on Christmas have become as much of the tradition as the holiday itself, and church attendance among American youths has reached all time lows.


America’s secular momentum coincides with an increase in persecution of American Jews. The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently released 2008 hate crimes statistics showing that 65.7 percent of religion-motivated hate crimes were anti-Jewish. There were 1,013 cases of hate crimes motivated by anti-Semitism last year, the most since 2001.

His solution is for more people to become Christians because we all know that that's never bad for the Jews.

It is particularly laughable that, in his column against the hate crimes bill, Bauer used the phrase "Correlation does not imply causation." Both columns are filled with logical flaws, distortions of fact, and self-pity, but, for now, let's just stick with his correlation of increased secularization and increased anti-Semitism. Bauer draws his statistics from the period 2001-2008. Let's look at some other trends during that period that are just as likely as secularization to be a cause of rising anti-Semitism.

The last eight years saw:
  • The presidency of George W. Bush
  • The rise of reality shows
  • iPod
  • A dramatic decrease in Joe Lieberman's political ethics
  • Paris Hilton
  • The Iraq War
  • Texting
  • A dramatic increase in economic insecurity
  • Endless fear mongering by certain pundits and politicians
  • A dramatic increase in the amount of crabgrass in my lawn
  • The Harry Potter movies
  • Jon Stewart becoming the most trusted newsman in America
  • Too many Americans surrendering their Constitutional rights for the illusion of safety
  • Paris Hilton
  • Glen Beck on my teevee

My votes go for fear mongering and economic insecurity, but I wouldn't rule out the crabgrass. That stuff is evil. Feel free to make your own nominations in the comments.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

And the republic slowly circles the drain...

This morning, Washington, DC commuters were treated to the spectacle of a small plane towing a nearly 100-foot-long banner that read "OBAMA STOP DESTROYING OUR COUNTRY" in five-foot-tall letters. The message was paid for by the Danville Tea Party Patriots, the same group that wanted to burn House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and their local congressman, Tom Periello in effigy. The plane's flight plan was to take it over Interstate 66, which leads right into the heart of the city, and along the beltway which surrounds the city. This path would have taken the plane with in five to ten miles of such landmarks as the White House, the Pentagon, and the Capitol Building while Congress is in session. While I have no problem with the teabaggers exercising their right to free speech, however idiots I might find it, I have to ask "why on earth was a small plane of any sort allowed into that airspace?"

In other news, Republican Senator Mike Johanns is demanding a congressional investigation into something he admits never happened.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Keeping track of what's most important

NYT today:
"What’s happening is not any fun for me," Mr. Lieberman said.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Reeding comprenshun not so gud

At today's conservative "Code Red" rally against the health care bill, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) rallied the faithful with a fun historical and literacy (sic) reference: "It's the charge of the light brigade!"

Someone should let the good congresswoman know that the Light Brigade was chopped to pieces in that charge. The battle took place on 25 October 1854, during the Crimean War. After receiving confused orders, a brigade of British cavalry charged up a short valley directly into the guns of a Russian artillery battery. When they reached the end of the valley, the light brigade realized no one was backing up their advance. They then turned and retreated back down the valley while Russian artillery pounded them from three sides. It was pointless action that cost the brigade almost forty percent of its men and two thirds of its horses. I'm not sure what part Bachmann sees for herself and the teabaggers in that historical image, but I think we can safely assume they aren't the Russians and the Russians were the winners of that particular engagement.

Monday, December 14, 2009

How does that work?

It just wouldn't have been a news week if we didn't have a group of fear mongering Republicans warning that giving Guantanamo prisoners a fair trial is wrong and will lead to a nuclear attack on the United States. The Constitution can't be trusted to keep us safe and should be shelved any time we're scared, goes their argument, and we should be scared right now!! Steve King (R-IA) was given the honor of making the predictable attack on the judicial branch. Activist judges, he warned, would make activist decisions to actively turn terrorists loose on the streets of your home town!! Actively. In case we might miss the point that Judges are the primary threat to our safety, they held their press conference in front of the Supreme Court and festooned their lecterns with the messages, "Protect our homeland" and "Keep terrorists out of America." Trent Franks (R-AZ) got to wave the mushroom cloud. Giving the suspects "a megaphone to speak to the planet ... only hastens the danger" of a nuclear attack.

I'm curious about how that works. Do the terrorists already have nuclear weapons that they're not using? If we give the prisoners a megaphone in the form of a fair trial, will that finally provoke them into using their nuclear arsenal? Or is it that giving the prisoners a fair trial will somehow magically lead to the terrorists gaining nuclear weapons? What is so provocative about a trial? Didn't they know we had these prisoners? Didn't they know the prisoners had been abused? Is there anyone on the planet who doesn't know that? What's the mechanism, what's the cause and effect that leads from trial to mushroom cloud? Can anyone explain this to me?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A little bit of mammoth in the night

I just finished the first draft of a mammoth article. Clever wife read it and gave some comments. She's been my primary editor for about twenty years, so I trust her feedback. I've already draft two. I hope to have a clean draft ready to pitch at magazines by the end of the week. If no one wants it, I'll chop it into pieces and use it for blog posts. They should be recognizable by being better edited than most of my posts.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bad History

History & Policy has started a series called Bad History aimed at dismantling historical myths in contemporary discourse and at exposing the spinning of history for political and PR purposes. The series is written by professional historians, members of the History & Policy Network. Most of the pieces, so far, deal with the misuse of history in British discourse but they should be of interest to anyone interested in history, rhetoric, and propaganda.

Asheville update

Earlier this week I mentioned the case of Cecil Bothwell, an atheist elected to the city council of Asheville, North Carolina. The majority of the voters of Asheville don't have a problem with Bothwell's lack of religion. However, a couple of conservative activists are willing to thwart the will of the people of Asheville in order to impose their biases on everyone. They are threatening to go to court to have Bothwell removed from office.

As a basis for their suits, they point to Article VI, Section 8 of the North Carolina state constitution which states, "The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God." This clause is a leftover from the constitution of 1868 that has survived later revisions of the state constitution. The clause clearly violates both the First Amendment (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion) and Article VI of the US Constitution, ([N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States). All of the states have laws and constitutional clauses that are unenforceable, unconstitutional, and just plain silly. They remain on the books because the legislators think it would be too much bother to remove them. The flaw in that reasoning is that, as long as such laws are on the books, they are available to be used by anyone who wants to cause mischief. That's what's happening in Asheville.
One foe, H.K. Edgerton, is threatening to file a lawsuit in state court against the city to challenge Bothwell's appointment.

"My father was a Baptist minister. I'm a Christian man. I have problems with people who don't believe in God," said Edgerton.


The head of a conservative weekly newspaper says city officials shirked their duty to uphold the state's laws by swearing in Bothwell. David Morgan, editor of the Asheville Tribune, said he's tired of seeing his state Constitution "trashed."

Edgerton's religious bigotry is pretty straightforward and another shot in the tedious cultural war that the religious right has been waging unsuccessfully for decades. Morgan's argument is something newer. Morgan is making a states' rights, nullification argument and claiming nothing less than that the US Constitution is unenforceable in North Carolina. This is light-years beyond the usual tenther nullification arguments.

Of course, Edgerton and Morgan have no chance of winning their lawsuits--if the actually carry through on their threats--but they do have potential to tie the city of Asheville up in expensive litigation for months and even years. A similar case in South Carolina dragged on for eight years before it came to its inevitable end. There are several right wing legal foundations who might be willing to take on such a cause. They all claim to be conservative the equivalent of the hated ACLU. The main difference between them and the ACLU is not ideology; it's sanity. The ACLU always makes sure the Constitution is on its side. The conservative legal foundations want to impose their views on the world, Constitution be damned. That's how these things get out of control.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Warren speaks; I'm not impressed

Rick Warren, after weeks of refusing to condemn the murderous anti-gay law working its way through the Ugandan parliament, of denying his connection to the promoters of the law, and trying to change the subject has finally issued a statement in opposition to the law. The message is in two forms, a Youtube video of him addressing an "encyclical" to African pastors and as a transcript with a FAQ addendum posted at his publicist's site. The transcript is slightly shorter than the Youtube video, but the differences are only a slight editing of his wordiness and do not change the substance of his message in any way. It's vintage Warren.

He opens the message with the famous quote from Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." That's cute, considering his strenuous effort to do nothing for the last several weeks.

To his credit, he comes out in full opposition to the law: "I ... completely oppose and vigorously condemn ... the pending law under consideration by the Ugandan Parliament, known as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill."

He gives five reasons for his opposition. They are a mixed bag and probably a disappointment to human rights advocates.
First, the potential law is unjust, extreme and un-Christian toward homosexuals, requiring the death penalty in some cases. If I am reading the proposed bill correctly, this law would also imprison anyone convicted of homosexual practice.

This is good. I think we can all agree that this should be the first reason for opposing the bill.
Second, the law would force pastors to report their pastoral conversations with homosexuals to authorities.

He's opposing it because it would be bad for the church to send people to their deaths. While true, discussing it at this point waters down the primary issue, which should be trying to stop a rapidly approaching mass murder.
Third, it would have a chilling effect on your ministry to the hurting. As you know, in Africa, it is the churches that are bearing the primary burden of providing care for people infected with HIV/AIDS. If this bill passed, homosexuals who are HIV positive will be reluctant to seek or receive care, comfort and compassion from our churches out of fear of being reported. You and I know that the churches of Uganda are the truly caring communities where people receive hope and help, not condemnation.

He's opposing it because it would hurt the mission of the church. This point falls somewhere between the first two. Mission churches do provide a large portion of the medical care in Africa. If people do not go to the mission clinic for fear of being imprisoned or killed, then they won't get the medical care they need, which is especially dangerous when dealing with infectious diseases. That he uses the moment to be so self-flattering about the churches cheapens the point.
Fourth, ALL life, no matter how humble or broken, whether unborn or dying, is precious to God. My wife, Kay, and I have devoted our lives and our ministry to saving the lives of people, including homosexuals, who are HIV positive. It would be inconsistent to save some lives and wish death on others. We’re not just pro-life. We are whole life.

At this point, his compassion is completely overtaken by his self-promotion. As a reason for opposing the bill, isn't this the same as point one? All live is precious, therefore we shouldn't send people to their deaths.
Finally, the freedom to make moral choices and our right to free expression are gifts endowed by God. Uganda is a democratic country with remarkable and wise people, and in a democracy everyone has a right to speak up.

He lost me here. How, exactly, does a belief in freedom of choice translate into a reason for opposing the bill?

By my count, about twenty percent of his message is a direct condemnation or call to opposition to the bill. About thirty percent of the message is self-promotion or promotion of his groups. The other half of the message is his greeting to the pastors and a Christmas message. The latter part should have been sent as a separate message an waters down the most important part of his message, but that's quibble on my part.

The FAQ appended to the print version of his message is an extended whine about those mean things being said about him by bloggers and the liberal media. It's about three quarters the length of his encyclical (since when do Protestants issue encyclicals?). The FAQ is filled with slippery hair-splitting. He says he has never met President Museveni, but fails to mention that he has spent time with the President's wife, Janet Museveni, one of the main forces behind the expansion of American style fundamentalism in Uganda. He says he never met with members of parliament, but he has spent time with influential former members of parliament. Once more he pushes the irrelevant urban legend that last year, 146,000 Christians around the world were killed because of their faith. The FAQ taken together with the encyclical makes the print text almost two thirds self-promotion and whining with his opposition to the murderous law reduced to a mere one eighth of the text.

This is Rick Warren, the purpose driven man. He'll do the right thing when he's been nagged and embarrassed into doing it. The rest of the time, his purpose appears to be nothing more than promoting Rick Warren and his evangelical empire.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Defending NC from the Godless

The state constitutions of Maryland, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas specifically forbid atheists from holding public office. This is direct a contradiction of Article VI of the US Constitution, "[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." These clauses in the state constitutions are relics of the past. A close reading of the fifty state constitutions turns up a lot of these unconstitutional leftovers. As a rule, the unconstitutional elements are never enforced and allowed to remain for the simple reason that amending the constitutions to remove these clauses would create more fuss than it's worth. At least that's the theory.

The problem with these relic laws is that, by remaining on the books and in the constitutions, they are available to be misused by the unscrupulous. By combing through the laws, police or prosecutors can usually find some law to detain someone if they really want to detain them. I'm a big fan of inserting sunset clauses (expiration dates) to prevent this kind of abuse. Events in North Carolina this week should make state legislators all across the country take a close look at the constitutions and laws of their states to see they need to take preventative action.
North Carolina's constitution is clear: politicians who deny the existence of God are barred from holding office.

Opponents of Cecil Bothwell are seizing on that law to argue he should not be seated as a City Council member today, even though federal courts have ruled religious tests for public office are unlawful under the U.S. Constitution.

Voters elected the writer and builder to the council last month.

"I'm not saying that Cecil Bothwell is not a good man, but if he's an atheist, he's not eligible to serve in public office, according to the state constitution," said H.K. Edgerton, a former Asheville NAACP president.


Edgerton said City Council should hold off swearing Bothwell into office until a constitutional question can be resolved.

"If they go ahead, then the city of Asheville and the board of elections could be liable for a lawsuit," said Edgerton, who is known for promoting "Southern heritage" by standing on streets decked out in a Confederate soldier's uniform and holding a Confederate flag.

Bothwell says, "Could make for a very interesting court case, seems to me." Yep. Seems that way to me, too. It could also make for an expensive court case.

Update: Bora just let me know that Bothwell was seated this evening. The other members swore on their holy books (two Bibles and a Torah). Bothwell affirmed. This doesn't mean someone can't crawl out of the woodwork and challenge his legitimacy, but it's a good sign that none of his city council peers made a challenge.

Monday, December 07, 2009

They shall not pass!!

Lowering the eligibility requirements for Medicare to an age where I can get in is a terrible idea that I will oppose to my last dying breath.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

More incoherence

Rick Warren is back in the news. Once again his name is showing up in connection with homophobia. Once again he wants to change the subject rather than give an honest response.

For those of you who are late arriving to the story. The Ugandan government is currently considering an anti-homosexuality bill that mandates life imprisonment for merely being gay, prison sentences for not turning gays in, and the death penalty for being gay and HIV positive among other things. The author and most vocal proponents of the bill include certain darlings of the American religious right. Warren's connection is that he is a supporter and friend of pastor Martin Ssempa, one of the Ugandan proponents of the bill.

Over the past two years, Warren has been trying to put some distance between himself and Ssempa, but he won't go so far as to actually condemn the Ugandan legislation. When asked about it he issued this statement: "The fundamental dignity of every person, our right to be free, and the freedom to make moral choices are gifts endowed by God, our creator. However, it is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations." When asked about it on Meet the Press this weekend, he said he never takes sides and tried to change the subject to abortion.

Today, still trying to change the subject, he has fallen back back on that old favorite of the religious right, when backed into a corner, cry persecution. On his Twitter feed this morning, Warren wrote: "Globally last yr 146,000 Christians were put to death because of their faith. No one, except Christians, said anything." What is his point? If someone, somewhere, kills Christians for who they are, then it's okay for Ugandan Christians to kill gays, most of whom are also Christians?

Who were these 146,000 Christians and where were they put to death? I can't find a source for his claim. The closest I could find was a comment on a conspiracy forum making the same claim four years ago. I also can't find any evidence that Warren was one of those Christians who protested it. I guess that would be him not interfering in the political processes of other nations.

Does even he know what his point is?

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, a Republican from the suburbs of Detroit, is an opponent green jobs, any attempt to reduce carbon dioxide production, and, in general, a climate change denier. I can't say he's registered very prominently on my radar; I had a vague idea who he is, but thought of him as not much more than a supporting cast member to the star nincompoop, James Inhofe. However, today he got my attention with this piece of world class incoherence.
Remember, the people who talk about the melting of the glaciers and others -- imagine if you were in a peninsula around 1000 BC or so or earlier, and your name was Tor and you were out hunting mastodon and you didn't notice that the glaciers were melting and leaving the devastating flooding in its wake that became the Great Lakes in the state of Michigan. So, what I think that what we have to do is go back in history and look at this and realize that the Earth has been here a long time. To take selective periods of time and say that somehow this proves that there's a man made global warming occurring is absolutely wrong.

McCotter delivered this in a very matter of fact tone as if he was explaining something obvious. He seems to think he has a point of some sort. There is so much wrong in this short exposition that it needs to be taken apart phrase by grammatically incorrect phrase.
...imagine if you were in a peninsula around 1000 BC or so or earlier, and your name was Tor and you were out hunting mastodon...

Why should we be taking lessons on anything from someone who is this monumentally ignorant of geology and history? He seems to think that 1000 BC is a really, really long time ago and the world was populated by cartoon cavemen at that time. By 1000 BC, the ice age had been over and the mastodons extinct for 8000 years. Egyptian civilization was over 2000 years old, Sumer and Babylon had risen and fallen as had the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations. Oh, and Paleo-Indians were not named Tor, unless McCotter thinks America was first settled by Vikings 2000 years before Vikings existed.
...and you didn't notice that the glaciers were melting and leaving the devastating flooding in its wake that became the Great Lakes in the state of Michigan.

What is he getting at here? If you were a caveman who didn't notice devastating flooding going on around you then... what? That flooding would later make some nice lakes and the state McCotter represents, which means what? Tor didn't notice dramatic climate change going on around him so we shouldn't either? Climate change leads to Michigan so it's a good thing? If you were a caveman who didn't notice devastating flooding going on around you, then your line went extinct with the mastodons; take that, you liberals? Really, he thinks he has a point, but can anyone tell me what it is?
To take selective periods of time and say that somehow this proves that there's a man made global warming occurring is absolutely wrong.

Why shouldn't we be looking at the period in which we have been pumping unprecedented amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere--gasses that have been absolutely proven to cause an increase in the surface temperature of the Earth via a mechanism known as the greenhouse effect?

McCotter is clearly someone who suffers from delusions of adequacy. He seems to believe that being able to string a bunch of words together into a Plainesque sentence substitute is the same as making a devastating argument. It's not, though, I have to admit, it does have a certain entertainment value.