Saturday, December 29, 2007

Word on the Street

    Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right. -Laurens van der Post, explorer and writer (1906-1996)
That quotation--as usual, filched from the wonderful newsletter A Word a Day, seems particularly fitting these days, both politically and religiously speaking.

Here are a few others that caught my eye:
    Perfect order is the forerunner of perfect horror. -Carlos Fuentes (b. 1928)

    To suffering there is a limit; to fearing, none. -Francis Bacon, essayist, philosopher, and statesman (1561-1626)

    A belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness. -Joseph Conrad, novelist (1857-1924)

    As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death. -Leonardo da Vinci, painter, engineer, musician, and scientist (1452-1519)

    Friendship, like credit, is highest where it is not used. -Elbert Hubbard, author, editor, printer (1856-1915)

    The most civilized people are as near to barbarism as the most polished steel is to rust. Nations, like metals, have only a superficial brilliancy. -Antoine de Rivarol, epigrammatist (1753-1801)

    Love involves a peculiar, unfathomable combination of understanding and misunderstanding. -Diane Arbus, photographer (1923-1971)

    I had a lover's quarrel with the world. -Robert Frost, poet (1874-1963)

Friday, December 28, 2007

"Fair and Balanced," Tee-Hee

In case there's anyone who actually believes that Faux News is really "news" and not just the propaganda arm of the GOP, here's this:

"LATEST NEWS" item on front page linked not to news story, but to Republican blog post

Summary: The front page of contained a headline under the "LATEST NEWS" tab that read "Report: Over 400 Scientists Dispute Man-Made Warming," the link to which led to a post on the blog of Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) -- not a news report.
On December 21, the front page of contained a headline under the "LATEST NEWS" tab that read "Report: Over 400 Scientists Dispute Man-Made Warming." However, the purported "LATEST NEWS" item did not link to a news report but, rather, to a post on "The Inhofe EPW Press Blog," the blog of Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking minority member on the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. (emphasis added)

Read the whole report at Media Matters for America here.

Your job now is this: 'Splain to me about "Fair and Balanced," and 'splain to me about the "liberal bias" in the media.

A Philosophical Inquiry

And now we pause to ask ourselves a Philosophical Question, viz., is there anything more enjoyable, more ineffably satisfying than pointing out other people's mistakes? Judging from the comments I receive at work, I must conclude that the answer is no. In that spirit, then, I direct your attention to the following exhibit:

The above was a MyPoints offer that landed in my inbox this morning. I've never belonged to any of the book clubs in question--at various times I've been a member of the Book-of-the-Month Club, the Literary Guild, the Mystery Guild, the Quality Paperback Book Club, and the Detective Book Club (which in many ways was the best of the bunch)--and so I render no judgment upon them. Well, one judgment: True, my children are now teenagers, and so I am not as conversant on the topic of children's books as once was the case...but I am almost positive that James Patterson's work is seldom categorized as children's literature (see the second item in the illustration above).

As we say in the trade: Whoops.

As we also say in the trade: Glad it wasn't me, hee-hee-hee!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Merry Season's Holidays!

It has been pointed out to me that Christmas has come and gone with nary a word from me. (Nary a Christmas letter, either, but that's another story. Anyhow, I'm given to understand by the previous post that the Armenian and Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas next month, so I'm still in the zone.) Well, what is there to say? The holiday has religious significance or not, depending on your point of view. I'm fully aware that Jesus was not born on December 25 (so too, it appears, are our Armenian and Orthodox cousins), but that makes me no never-mind: Since we know not the date Jesus was born, it hardly matters what date(s) we've settled on to celebrate same.

Religion aside, I am as always appreciative of the time to slow down and catch our collective breath a little, and to spend "quality time," whatever that is, with the family. It's a very busy time in our little household these days, and any opportunity to not have to be in two or more places simultaneously is welcome.

Of course, no Christmas season would be complete without this or that element of the lunatic fringe insisting there's a "war" on Christmas. (Is it just me, or is everything a "war" these days--war on poverty, war on drugs, war on terror. And does it not strike you that we are intent on declaring wars that can't be won? How, for instance, do you "win" a war on drugs? Who signs the surrender papers?) I was especially amused by this post, commenting on a typically hard-hitting article in the local rag ("Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays: Season's greetings spat rankles some, mystifies others"), which ran earlier this month:

    As the old saying from "Oklahoma" goes: "We've gone about as far as we can go!" in letting the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other non-Christian groups literally push "Christ" out of "Christmas." And we're so caught up in our materialistic world, we no longer remember that our country was founded on Christian principles. For us, when shopping, if there's "No Christmas" ... there's "No Cash".

    If people want to be really honest, most of today's major "holidays" started out as "holy days" such as Christmas, New Year's, Easter, and Halloween ("all hallows eve" - the feast of all saints).

    Yet, when the chips are really down, like 9-11, everyone gets down on their knees once again. When we lose a beloved family member, we pray s/he will be received by the Lord. But how soon we forget!

    If other groups don't want to partake in our observances and celebrations, let them observe their own, but don't scuttle ours! We were here first, and by God, we'll remain here under His care!
    - Rod Simon

Every time I read some quarter-baked commentary such as the above, I renew my ACLU membership. And I'm sure Simon didn't realize what he was saying (I could stop there, but I forge ahead) when he wrote "...our country was founded on Christian principles...." Ooops--"Christian principles," not "Christianity." Big difference. Not gonna score too many right-wingnut points with that kind of a slip: The object of the game is to redraw history by claiming, loudly and frequently, that the USA is a "Christian nation," not a nation founded on "Christian principles." Tsk tsk. (One does wonder what those "principles" might be. I tend to think of things like "love thy neighbor" and "do unto others," but one has long detected a strong disdain for such namby-pamby "liberal" sentiments among those who brag the loudest about what swell Christians they are.)

As a love of irony, I must point out the further deliciousness of the longer passage in which "Christian principles" appears:

    And we're so caught up in our materialistic world, we no longer remember that our country was founded on Christian principles. For us, when shopping, if there's "No Christmas" ... there's "No Cash".

I'm not quite sure how the "Christian principles" bit fits into the "materialistic world" bit, but no matter: I'm madly in love with the condemnation of the "materialistic world" followed immediately by the oh-so-subtle threat to retailers--no Christmas, no cash. "Man, I hate the commercialization of you take American Express?"

Then there's the amazingly stupid conclusion:

    We were here first, and by God, we'll remain here under His care!

Actually, I'm pretty sure that "we" (white Europenas) were here second. And I'm pretty sure that it doesn't matter. (I feel much the same--cold--about all of these self-aggrandizing "first" churches: Who the heck cares?) Going back to one of those "Christian principles" that "Christians" seem to like to ignore, the exhortation is generally rendered something like "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you"--not, "Do to others whatever you damn well please, for you were here first"...

Frankly, I have to wonder about the faith of some of the "devout"--how strong, how deep is the faith of someone who seems to put so much stock in externals? I make no claim to being much of a Christian, and as I'm wont to say I'm certainly not the sort of Catholic that the boys in Rome dream of, but it seems that my belief system and spiritual foundation are strong enough to withstand being greeted with "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"; with seeing "Christmas" rendered "Xmas" (note to the illiterati: that's not an X!); with seeing eight tiny reindeer instead of a manger; and with the knowledge that for some people Christmas is no more than a few days off from work. I don't mean to brag, but none of that has anything at all to do with my attitudes toward God, toward Jesus, toward Creation...toward Christmas! Those attitudes, an odd assortment of orthodoxy and heresy, seem pretty solid whether the local five-and-dime is piping in sacred or secular Christmas music.

So I ask you: If a lousy Christian like me isn't shaken by hearing "Season's Greetings" instead of "Merry Christmas," why are all the truly fabulous "Christians" driven to spiritual crisis by same?

Obviously, the peace and goodwill that I have always taken to be a hallmark of the Christmas season have not thoroughly descended upon those who would purport to be its great "defender." Maybe that's the real "war" on Christmas: hard-heartedness and intolerance. And that war would be worth fighting.

Ironic, No?

This today on

Priests brawl at Jesus' birthplace

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) -- Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests attacked each other with brooms and stones inside the Church of the Nativity as long-standing rivalries erupted in violence during holiday cleaning on Thursday.

The basilica, built over the grotto in Bethlehem where Christians believe Jesus was born, is administered jointly by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic authorities.

Any perceived encroachment on one group's turf can touch off vicious feuds.

On Thursday, dozens of priests and cleaners were scrubbing the church ahead of the Armenian and Orthodox Christmas, celebrated in early January. Thousands of tourists visited the church this week for Christmas celebrations.

But the clean-up turned ugly after some of the Orthodox faithful stepped inside the Armenian church's section, touching off a scuffle between about 50 Greek Orthodox and 30 Armenians.

Palestinian police, armed with batons and shields, quickly formed a human cordon to separate the two sides so the cleaning could continue, then ordered an Associated Press photographer out of the church.

Four people, some with blood running from their faces, were slightly wounded.

Well, sure. How else would we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day Gift

A day too late for Christmas, but for Boxing Day here's a batch of quotations from, as usual, A Word a Day:

A myth is a religion in which no one any longer believes. -James Kern Feibleman, philosopher and psychiatrist (1904-1987)

That some good can be derived from every event is a better proposition than that everything happens for the best, which it assuredly does not. -James Kern Feibleman, philosopher and psychiatrist (1904-1987)

I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent. -Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948)

The ingenuities we practice in order to appear admirable to ourselves would suffice to invent the telephone twice over on a rainy summer morning. -Brendan Gill, writer and preservationist (1914-1997)

To be able to destroy with good conscience, to be able to behave badly and call your bad behavior "righteous indignation" -- this is the height of psychological luxury, the most delicious of moral treats. -Aldous Huxley, novelist (1894-1963)

Do something for somebody every day for which you do not get paid. -Albert Schweitzer, philosopher, physician, musician, Nobel laureate (1875-1965)

A politician is a man who thinks of the next election; while the statesman thinks of the next generation. -James Freeman Clarke, preacher and author (1810-1888)

A real book is not one that we read, but one that reads us. -W.H. Auden, poet (1907-1973)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

'Twas the Season

A message with the following subject line arrived in the inbox yesterday--Christmas Eve day--from Lands' End:

    Everybody wins at the Winter's End Savings Event

That may well be true, but I couldn't help but think that the folks at Lands' End must know something we don't. Here's why:

  • The first day of winter was December 22
  • Christmas Eve was, as so often seems to happen, December 24.
  • They're plugging their "winter's end" event two days after the start of winter.

I can but conclude, therefore, that the folks at Lands' End are anticipating a very short winter. Pass the iced tea, please!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

You May or May Not Be Able to Get There from Here

By way of follow-up to last weekend's nauseating whine about The Mall, other people's bratty kids, and the Midcontinent Lounge's wifi blocking me from doing anything that required logging in (you know, reading e-mail and junk) and, adding insult, prohibiting me from following a link from Google News to The Carpetbagger Report, here are these items:

First, upon being blocked, I clicked on the button that one is encouraged, or at least invited to click upon when one feels outraged by Big Brother's heavy hand. I don't remember the exact wording, but it was to send a message of protest to FortiGuard Web Filtering Service, which evidently is Midcontinent's um, web-filtering service. Which, to its credit, sent this back later that same day (not that it did me any good, but points for promptness:

    Dear Fortinet customer,

    The websites you submitted recently have been reviewed and updated:

    Submission Date: Sun, 9 Dec 2007 10:59:41 -0800
    Suggested Category: News and Media
    Suggested Classification:
    Comment: How does a political/current affairs site
    violate Midco s sensibilities??
    URL Rated:
    Analyst Comment:
    Updated Category: News and Media
    Updated Classification: Unclassified
    Update Date: Sun, 9 Dec 2007 19:34:49 -0800

    The rating update may not be effective immediately on your network
    because of the Web filtering cache. If you would like to have
    the update effective immediately or have any other questions,
    please contact your network administrator.

    Note that FortiGuard Web Filtering Service categorizes websites, but it

    is your IT manager who decides what categories to block or allow.
    contact your IT manager to allow you to visit the site.

    This is an automatically generated notification of rating update.
    Please do not reply to this email.

    Thank you for using FortiGuard Web Filtering Service.


    FortiGuard Web Filtering Service
    Fortinet Technologies Inc.

Of course, to check whether the Carpetbagger Report is now accessible vis Micontinent's wifi "lounge" next to Caribou Coffee would require me to make another trip out to The Mall--the week before Christmas, no less!--and that I am reluctant to do. Especially inasmuch as I can easily access the Carpetbagger Report from the comfort of my own home...something, incidentally, I could not have said yesterday or the day before. Been struggling with my dear old Mac blue-and-white G3. I may or may not write something about The Struggle in the near future. One never knows.


Friday's mail brought a message from "Iteam"...a message that I nearly labeled as spam and deleted, since "Iteam" means naught to me, and the subject line--Re: Contact Us Form Completed]--hardly makes one sit up and take notice. Indeed, way too much "legitimate" spam tries to look like it's in reply to something you initiated. But something made me think it might be a response to the previous weekend's harangue, and so I opened it and read:

    Dear William,
    At the present time, this is not available, but we may consider it for the future.
    If you have any further questions or concerns, please contact us at 1-800-888-1300.
    Ted F
    Technical Support Specialist
    Midcontinent Communications
    24 Hour Phone Support (800) 888-1300

Now, this was the question I had sent via their online form:

    Hello--just wondering why I am unable to access any of my e-mail accounts from your "Midcontinent Lounge" at the Empire Mall. I thought I'd handle my e-mail while my kids shopped, but no such luck. For future reference, is there a way to do this? Thanks!

So, if I take Ted F's rather nonspecific reply to actually be in reference to my question (and not some generic try-again-later message...which I wouldn't expect to take nearly a week to be generated), then his "this is not available" means that you can do anything you like at the Midcontinent Lounge except read your e-mail! Which renders the whole experience a little pointless, at least for me, since reading and sending e-mail is probably 50% of my time online.

In a word: Bizarre.

I shared my experience with my students last week, and several of them reported similar disgust with the service provided at the "lounge"--an eternity to get online, only to discover that you're severely limited once you get there.

My pal Jerry suggested that a book would not present the same sort of frustrations, and I know he's right. But still!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Why I Must Quit My Day Job

This from the New York Post, and many other venues:

December 5, 2007 -- THE new co-host of "The View," Sherri Shepherd, yesterday insisted Christianity was older than ancient Greece, and even Judaism.

Shepherd - who said earlier this year that she didn't know if the world was flat or round - said during a short-lived discussion of Greek philosophy on yesterday's show that she was pretty sure nothing "predated Christians."

I miss all this great crap by having to go to work every day.

You Can't Get There from Here

So here I am sitting in front of Caribou Coffee in the big city's main shopping center--so ginormous that it is known, far and wide, as The Mall, relegating all other shopping centers to non-person status--almost directly under a sign that brags "This Spot Is Hot!" and boasting that, thanks to the local cable conglomeroid, this is "my" WiFi hot spot.

Well. If it were indeed "my" hot spot, it would work better.

The first thing I note upon parking myself and two coffees du jour (Fireside, if you must know, "a fragrant brew that starts with a silky, syrupy taste and ends with smoky berry notes") is that gaining access to said hot spot isn't so hot. But I don't know whether to blame it on the local cable conglomeroid or the Dell Latitude D810 laptop that I have on loan from the post-secondary institute where I'm teaching this semester. Eventually (15 minutes, give or take) I convince the latter that I do indeed wish to speak to the former, and after only one restart of Firefox I'm on the L.C.C.'s "welcome" page.

And it goes downhill from there.

I seek first of all to check my e-mail. My cousin e-mails me all the time from his favorite Starbucks--indeed, I question seriously his claim of having an office, for he seems only to work from Bucky's--and this seems a not-useless way to spend a couple of hours. (I am here because the younger child is hobnobbing with fellow middle-schoolers, and The Mall seems to venue for that. Rather than dump him, drive home for 20 minutes, then return for him, I have elected to sit in a comfy Caribou chair (located a little too close to the door, alas, which emits an 11-degree blast of air every time someone comes or goes, which is happening a lot) and pretend to be productive.)

Unfortunately, I cannot log into my Yahoo! Mail account. Every attempt simply brings me back 'round to the "Please verify your password" screen, over and again, and no amount of retyping makes a difference.

And this I do blame on the L.C.C.: I suspect I am behind some kind of firewall that objects to my communicating with my account. For I encounter similar results with my Mac mail (that one just brings me back to the front-page log-in over and over) and my Google mail (which at least makes a game attempt: it takes an eternity to load the log-in page, after which, and another eternity (no kidding: five minutes at least, which is an online eternity), I get a 400 error: "Bad Request" and "Your client has issued a malformed or illegal request."

Not sure who my "client" is, I forge ahead.

I decide to check on some news. The Google News page loads okay--in fact, it loads pretty quickly--and I skim the front-page headlines. An item catches my attention: "Huckabee spins himself in circles on AIDS quarantine, an article from The Carpetbagger Report. Always enjoying a good political rhubarb, I click on the link. And get this for my trouble:

Web Page Blocked

You have tried to access a web page which is in violation of your internet usage policy.


Category: Advocacy Organizations

To have the rating of this web page re-evaluated please click here.

Powered by FortiGuard.

Always nice to know that Big Brother is alive and well and making sure I don't read any political news or opinion while enjoying my Fireside coffees and listening to crying children. No doubt Midcontinent "Communications" (for can they really be said to be in the communications business when they are so obviously in the business of
preventing me from communicating?) thinks a better use of my time would be to join the half-dozen gentlemen to my left, all of whom are gazing slack-jawed at a Packers game on the big-screen TV that Midcontinent also provides and which, I presume, works better than their internet access does.

If I have time before I go to meet the younger child, I shall see if Big Brother is equally conscientious about making sure I don't visit web sites with a right-wingnut slant. Just a thought...

In any event, the experience makes me extremely dubious of signing up for Midcontinent internet service in my home. Its speed claims notwithstanding, my encounter here today--in which I've spent the better part of an hour not doing what I set out to do--makes me think we would be a poor fit.

And speaking of poor fits: I assume that Midcontinent provides this wi-fi "service" as a way to advertise its product. They might want to re-think the plan.


1. I was easily able to access Newsmax, the notoriously right-wingnut propaganda web site. Evidently Newsmax, with its robust blend of slander, smear, and outright lies, ending with smoky berry notes--oh, wait, that was the coffee--is not considered an "advocacy organization" by those who would do my thinking for me.

2. "My" doorway seems to be the one at which young mothers with too many children--moments ago I observed a woman who could not yet be thirty years of age with five children, none of whom could have been above the age of eight and two of whom must still have been in diapers--pause to wrestle everybody out of oversized strollers and into winter coats. It is not a pleasant undertaking for anyone involved, including innocent bystanders. My own children long past the whining and fussing stage--and having never been very good at whining and fussing even in their pre-adolescence--I have an extraordinarily low tolerance for w. and f.

3. The Huffington Post is not blocked.

4. Traffic even on this far end of The Mall has increased exponentially. I suppose people did church, did lunch, and are now doing The Mall.

5. Someone has mistaken this area by Caribou Coffee for a daycare, having dumped half a dozen kids here. Of course, if they were my kids, I would dump them too...but closer to the outskirts of town.

6. I like my kids. Everyone else's I merely tolerate. Some less than others.

7. My inability to sign in to Gmail would imply that I cannot access Blogger, either. (I am writing this offline.) Interestingly, when I go to the Blogger Dashboard, it acts as if I'm signed in. But the "new post" link has produced an overly long "loading" sequence (see above in re an eternity), so whether I post this in the next few minutes or when I have gone beyond the clutches of Big Brother aka Midcontinent "Communications" remains to be seen.

8. Now Caribou has been overrun by twenty-something women who are all ordering drinks that require much blender time.

9. Another 400 error on the Blogger attempt.

10. Another screaming kid. There is a special corner of hell reserved for whoever thought a big indoor shopping mall would be a good idea.

11. I can get onto AlterNet. And there I read a report on the same subject (Mike Huckabee having suggested quarantining AIDS sufferers) that Midcontinent would not let me read at Carpetbagger. This suggests it is dumbness rather than conspiracy blocks users from Carpetbagger. But I'd rather they not take it upon themselves to censor thought at all.

12. The problem with ordering two medium Fireside coffees--or, I assume, any other variety--is that, when nature calls a couple of hours later, one must pack up laptop, coat, hat, etc., and abandon the comfy chair (the comfy chair! The comfy chair!) in search of indoor plumbing. Hope the bathroom works better than the "hot spot"...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

And Here's What We're Up Against

Just one of the headlines out there this morning:

    Thousands call for teacher's execution

That one's from the Globe and Mail in re Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher in Sudan who's literally in mortal peril because one of her students named a teddy bear Mohammed. Which, apparently, is an insult to Islam, which in turn is always a hangin' offense according to way too many of its adherents. Which is why we are, as near as I can tell, shoveling sand. You can never make any headway with blind religious extremists, and it doesn't even matter what the religion is.

Today's W.O.T.

It so happens that I was online this morning as Headline News, which used to be good but now is largely just a shadow of its former self, was reporting on the death of Evel Knievel. Which prompted me to hop over to the HLN website and waste my time sending them the following:

    Hello... I have noticed that HLN now has so much stuff stacked at the bottom of the screen (heads, subheads, sports, and the ticker) that the subject oncreen is virtually obscured. People are talking, but we can't see their mouths. This morning you showed us childhood photos of Evel Knievel, but why bother--we can see only his eyes! Please consider a redesign that will allow viewers to actually see the whole picture! Thanks.

Does anyone else not find it disconcerting to watch talking heads without mouths? Does anyone at HLN watch their own broadcasts? (Heaven knows, I watch a mere fraction of what I used to. It's not that I mind the relentless fluff of "Morning Express with Robin Meade," or the incessant shriek of Nancy Grace (can't they afford a microphone for the poor woman so she doesn't have to spend the whole evening yelling?), or the half-baked goofball rants of Glenn Beck, but...oh, wait a minute: It is that I mind those things! I also object to a channel that calls itself Headline News having to interrupt its primetime programming to bring me a few seconds of, you know, news--there's something seriously wrong with a "news" channel that has to take news breaks!!) Does anyone at HLN have any recollection of the vastly superior product that they used to produce?

Well, obviously I know the answer to those questions. It's the same as the answer to the question Will today's W.O.T. prompt any changes in HLN's graphic presentation.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Voice of Reason

An internet acquaintance of mine, the Rev. Charles Austin, wrote this last week for the op-ed page of The Record, Hackensack, New Jersey:

The spirit of the season
Friday, November 23, 2007


I SHALL PROBABLY step into the pulpit some Sunday morning soon and thank God for the retailers, Hollywood movie-makers, the media and the inventor of this year's hot toy. I will thank them for the way they have secularized and commercialized Christmas.

Austin goes on to detail how the "commercialization" of Christmas in no way undermines the meaning of the holiday for those who believe:

Much hoopla and mania invades these weeks before Christmas. But rather than ruining the religious side of the holiday, they give us something, not to oppose, but to push against and to balance.

How refreshingly reasonable! But what a strange concept--that someone else's attitude or actions about something, in this case Christmas, somehow, mysteriously, exist apart from my own attitudes and actions! Wow! This is like a if I don't have to bounce around like a cork on the sea based on others' pronouncements or prejudices about...well, golly, anything, when you come right down to it!

It's almost as if...almost as if I can think for myself. And simply ignore those who think or behave differently, and go on thinking for myself. It's almost as if...almost as if my validation comes from within, and not from society.

How perfectly strange.

He wraps up:

So have at it, you retailers, moviemakers and television producers. We'll still buy lots of your stuff, go to your movies and enjoy the pop-rock versions of "Angels We Have Heard on High."

But when your kind of holiday gets too loud and tiresome – and it will – we will remember that there is something else about this time of year.

Read the whole article here.

Of course, as my sarcastic comments above indicate, I think that my acquaintance, though dead right philosophically, is wasting his breath. (Not that there's anything wrong with that: Readers of these posts know that I do that sort of thing all the time.) I'm solidly convinced that there is a considerable element among Christians (as well as "Christians")--if not a majority then at least an appreciable, and vocal, minority--that must always have an enemy. I've opined on the subject before, in other contexts. It works to their advantage to portray Christianity as "under seige" or "under assault" or somehow getting the short end of the stick all the time. Why? It stirs the faithful into a lather and induces them to reach for their wallets to help "defend" Christianity against these attackers (mostly liberals and Democrats, you know). And it generates headlines, which further rouses the rabble, and opens more wallets. Onward, Christian soldiers, and don't forget to drop your pledge card in the plate as it comes by!

And so on.

So, Austin's voice of reason--and mine, too--to the contrary, it's now just a matter of hours before the red-faced hordes start to scream about the dubious need to "put Christ back into Christmas," and to lambaste retailers for starting their holiday sales "too soon" (one wonders how many of the red-faced hordes refuse to do their Christmas shopping till...well, till whenever it's not "too soon" to suit them), and to call for boycotts of merchants who have the temerity to wish shoppers "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," the heathens!

Which is just as well. If they didn't have someone to rail against, well, neither would I, I guess.

Season's Greetings!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

And Another

This one not from A Word A Day:

So long as governments set the example of killing their enemies, private citizens will occasionally kill theirs. --Elbert Hubbard (06/19/1856 - 05/07/1915) US author and publisher">Elbert Hubbard, US author and publisher (1856 - 1915)

Words Escape Me

...but they land here. These are from A Word A Day.

They laughed when I said I was going to be a comedian. They're not laughing now. -Bob Monkhouse, comedian (1928-2003)

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

To a poet, silence is an acceptable response, even a flattering one. -Colette, author (1873-1954)

That is a good book which is opened with expectation, and closed with delight and profit. -Amos Bronson Alcott, teacher and author (1799-1888)

Every man's memory is his private literature. -Aldous Huxley, novelist (1894-1963)

On This Date

Strange Days

That's My Party!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

And Coincidentally

Today is the forty-fourth anniversary of the JFK assassination; tomorrow is the forty-fourth anniversary of the premiere of Doctor Who on BBC Television.

Also coincidentally: I have read in my travels, but have not troubled myself to verify, that the first of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series was being prepared for publication when JFK was murdered. At that point, the character was named Dallas McGee, but in the odd estimation of publishers, the fact that JFK was killed in Dallas was an ill omen, and so a last-minute change was effected and Dallas McGee became Travis Mc Gee. Which is a much better name.
    If he were still alive, John F. Kennedy would be turning 90 tomorrow. As an elder statesman, what would he think about our world?

    For a start, he would be puzzled by George Bush’s bubbled White House. Kennedy’s own curiosity was insatiable. He devoured books, took a speed-reading course to absorb more, wanted to know everything. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, he held a running seminar at the White House to consider every possible way to avoid a nuclear showdown. Only then did he act.

So writes Robert Stein in an excellent essay, JFK: Bush, War and the Web, on his blog,
Connecting.the.Dots. He wrote the essay back in May, but I discovered it only today, following a link from his equally readible post, Thanksgiving and JFK, at The Moderate Voice. (One quibble, though: He leads by asserting, "For anyone over 50, today is not only Thanksgiving but the day JFK died 44 years ago." Well, I'm not quite over 50 yet--give me another month or so--but I remember the day indelibly. First the news, as I sat at our kitchen table on Hascall Street, Omaha, that the president had been shot. (In those softer times, we were allowed to venture homeward for lunch, provided we lived close enough and it was okay with our folks. We lived right across the street from St. Joan of Arc school.) Later, Sister Geralda came to our room with the news that JFK was dead. Even among second-graders, there was a feeling that he had been hated, and possibly even murdered, because of his religion as much as his politics.)

Anyhow, both of Stein's essays are well worth the read.

I especially like this line from the Connecting.the.Dots piece:

    This could go on like one of those montages on the Daily Show, but the difference between the President we lost too soon and the one we have had in office too long is as simple and as complicated as poetry.

    After JFK’s death, the world’s poets filled a volume with elegies and anguish. That won’t be happening again any time soon.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Well, Yes, But...

My chum Jerry sent a link to this thought-provoking entry from The Seminal:

You know what I really endorse? Change.
Posted by Jake

I was reading over what I wrote a few weeks ago in regards to my endorsement for a Presidential Candidate, and I must say I am kind of disappointed in myself. I should’ve had the onions to say what I really feel, what is really going on in the attic and what I feel deep down in the basement. So here it is: I’m not happy with anyone running for President, on both sides of the aisle. The Democratic Party is truly squandering an amazing opportunity to remake the party into the party that President Truman believed it to be: the party for all (yes, history fans, look it up). Why do I have to choose between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama or John Edwards? Is this truly the best that we, and I’m speaking as a card-carrying voting member of the Democratic Party, can do? Same ole shit with different people, sort of, saying it over and over again.

People who know me--and people who don't know me but have read some of my stuff (this, for instance) know that I share Jake's current disgust and dismay with the Democratic Party. But the problem is, what to do?

Well, Jake has reached a decision:

From here on out I refuse to endorse or vote for anyone who is linked to an individual who has already been in a major office. No more Jr’s or the III’s or spouses or anything. One family gets one shot. This is America, and last I checked it’s a democracy, so why should families “own” Senate and Congressional Seats, be entitled to the Governors’ Mansions, or even worse the Oval Office? Hillary is the most qualified? Why? Because she slept with, at least once, President Bill Clinton? Why don’t I see Monica Lewinsky on the ballot in Iowa, if that’s all it takes (and she might’ve earned it more!). I’m flat out tired of these no-talent ambitionless hacks running our government, and that goes for my good friends Ted Kennedy, Evan Bayh, and Bob Casey Jr. Granted, Senator Kennedy may go down in history as one of the greatest United States Senators ever, and perhaps the best overall ‘politician,’ but he certainly rode the coat-tails of his brothers, he’s just unique in the sense that he didn’t get close to the Promised Land. Also, if Senator Kennedy’s name was, perhaps, Senator Smith he’d go no recognition for what he does…in other words he’d be Senator Robert Byrd. (Read the rest of Jake's essay here.)

It's an interesting and understandable position Jake has climbed up onto, but in the end it smacks of slicing off one's nose, for you automatically rule out potentially qualified candidates simply because of their family trees. Jake himself concedes that Senator Ted Kennedy "may go down in history as one of the greatest United States Senators ever"--but if we follow Jake's no-relatives formula, we're depriving ourselves of "one of the greatest United States Senators ever." How is that progress?

And why, in the end, should I care about Ted's brothers? Or Hillary's husband? Or the current president's father? Or any of it? One hopes--naively, but still--that we voters choose candidates based on qualifications, whatever exactly that means, rather than family ties. For that matter, one hopes that we don't discount a given candidate simply because we didn't like his uncle, or her second cousin once removed, or whatever.

In an ideal world, we would judge a given candidate on his or her own merits. Yes, I have noticed that this is not an ideal world. But I don't think that that means we should stop trying.

Jake does, later, offer this:

The meat, my friends, is who candidates really are. What if a candidate didn’t have to promise anything to anyone but rather make an honest promise to the voters? If a candidate didn’t need to spend every other day hob-knobbing at some fundraiser in a converted gymnasium with shitty food (yes, $10,000 a plate still gets you shitty buffet style food) then maybe they’d come up with real solutions to real problems.

Which shows that his heart is in the right place. Still, the way things are today, I can't advocate dismissing anyone out-of-hand simply because of his or her last name, or having held office at some level, or having the wrong color hair. The stakes are too high.

Linguistic Sleight-of-Hand

This from the Los Angeles Times:

    Bishops issue guidelines for Catholic voters
    They say church members who back candidates for their support of abortion or other 'assaults on human life' are guilty of cooperation in 'grave evil.'
    By Theo Milonopoulos, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

    November 15, 2007

    BALTIMORE -- -- Catholic voters who back candidates because of their support for abortion or other "assaults on human life" would be "guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil," according to a statement adopted Wednesday by U.S. Catholic bishops.

    The bishops defined what they called "threats to the sanctity and dignity of human life" as human cloning, embryonic stem cell research, racism, torture and genocide. (The rest is here.)

And away we go again.

Well, first off, I do wish the bishops of my church could scrape up equal concern for "the sanctity and dignity of human life" when it comes to those who, as children, were sexually abused by a trusted parish priest--and, for all I know, those children who are still in harm's way. From where I sit, rhetoric aside, the bishops have done a better job of blaming the victims, obstructing justice by playing musical-priests, and insisting that anyone who wants justice in the matter is somehow "anti-Catholic." But evidently that's neither here nor there.

Second, I'm always intrigued by what I have come to think of as linguistic sleight-of-hand in "pro-life" parlance. There's the term "pro-life" itself, of course, adopted in place of the original "anti-abortion" label when some members of the we'll-make-your-decisions-for-you crowd thought that "anti" sounded negative. Which of course it does. So--presto!--they dub themselves "pro-life," 'cause they're in favor of life! Well, sometimes. Not too choked up about those guys on death row, you know. And not exactly incensed about innocent lives lost in a misguided and pointless war in Iraq. Nor are we quite as fervent, quite as organized, quite as "pro" about the people of Darfur. And so on.

So, really, not so much pro-life. per se, as...well, anti-abortion.

Or, more honestly, anti-choice. Abortions are still going to happen, legally or otherwise, just as they happened before Roe v. Wade. The question inevitable comes down to who gets to make the decision.

The other aspect of this linguistic sleight-of-hand (or, if you prefer, dishonesty) is in labeling those of us who support a woman's right to make her own health-care decisions as "pro-abortion."

For the record, no one is pro-abortion. I'm so confident in that statement that I'll say it again: There is no such thing as someone who is "pro-abortion." There is no woman on the planet who takes the decision lightly. There is no one who thinks it's a "good" idea. Those are fabrication invented by the anti-abortion lobby*, a way of demonizing those who hold a contrary opinion.

So, too, is all this "culture of death" nonsense. If you're worried about a "culture of death," dear bishops, then have the stones to really, really come out against a war that was built on the lies and incompetence of the denizens of Pennsylvania Avenue. Be as forceful about it as you are about abortion: Tell politicians that they put their immortal souls in peril if they do anything at all to support this illegitimate war. Ditto fro capital punishment: You've spent the past quarter-century "urging" governors to refrain from employing the death penalty. Gutless. If you're really "pro-life," if you're really concerned about a "culture of death," then start telling these governors that they're going to hell if they throw the switch or jab the needle. And start preaching to your congregations that they're going to hell if they vote for a politician who favors of capital punishment.

Fair, after all, is fair, and honesty is honesty. If you're pro-life, then be pro-life. If you're "pro-life" but also pro-death penalty, then you're not pro-life, are you? You're just anti-choice, and you should have the courage to identify yourself as such.

And so it is that despite my bishops' best efforts to control my thoughts, heart, and consciene, I will continue to use the gifts God gave me to weigh and measure that which is put before me, thank you very much, in full confidence that my soul is not imperiled by my belief that a woman who faces the decision to undergo an abortion is in the best position to decide for herself what she must do--a better position than a bishop, a priest, a legislator, or the nutbar who is so "pro-life" that he's getting ready to blow up the women's clinic.

Indeed, I believe that our souls are more at risk when we abandon those gifts of the Creator--conscience, reason, rationality--and surrender our intellect to someone else. I'm enough of a Catholic to believe in Judgment Day, and I believe that when that day rolls around, it will not count in my favor that even thoughconscience, reason, rationality, and simple humanity told me that X was right, I ignored it because a priest, pastor, a televangeist succeeded in bullying me into doing Y.

And since I am not "pro-abortion," no matter how anyone may wish to tar me, I shall continue in my fervent prayer that our society might someday, somehow reach a point where no woman is confronted with that no-win decision.

* I use "lobby" purposely, for I have come to believe that there exists a whole industry built on anti-choice, "abstinence only," I-know-what's-best-for-you philosophies. Indeed, I am cynical enough to believe that the last thing these people really want is for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, for it would take away a goodly portion of their reason to exist. If there's no "enemy" then we have nothing to fight, and if we have nothing to fight then people will quit sending us money to fight it. It is in their best interests to be constantly "at war." Ditto for the right-wingnuts who insist on portraying Christianity as "under assault." Nonsense. But everybody loves an underdog, and the "under assault" fiction is invariably followed by the pitch for money to "keep fighting for Christ." As they say, follow the money.

Friday, November 16, 2007

It's All in the Wording

So I'm taking another of these online surveys the other night, and a few questions into it hit this one:

    Does your experience with equipment brands at work influence your decision to purchase consumer product brands for your home? For those that there were influenced, check all of the areas that you implemented at home based on your experience at work. Please select all that apply.

Having written a few surveys over the decades, I see immediately the problem with that question, and maybe you do, too. The first sentence is okay, but the second sentence seems to imply a positive experience that prompted me to "implement" an "area" at home. (The second sentence, by the way, is extraordinarily poorly written.) It's just as likely--and has happened on more than one occasion--that an experience with something at the office or in the classroom has convinced me to steer clear of a product or brand. The first sentence above sets the stage for a "good or bad" response, but in the end the survey-taker is simply given a list of product types and asked to check off the ones that "you implemented at home based on your experience at work"--suggesting that you bought such-and-such printer, say, because you liked the model at work...and giving you no place to indicate that you avoided buying such-and-such digital camera because you didn't like the one at the office. (Which was in fact the case for me some years ago.)

Now, in the end, I don't care. I get entered into the drawing for the money I'm not going to win either way. But as a vehicle for gathering information, that particular question doesn't well serve the survey company or its client. Tsk tsk.

Let's Put the "Ho" Back in Christmas!

First this:

But then:

    Ho, ho, huh? Firm denies telling Aussie Santas ho is bad word
    Trainees instructed to say 'ha, ha, ha,' Sydney tabloid reports

    Last Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2007 | 4:18 PM ET
    CBC News
    A Sydney newspaper reports that some Santas in Australia have been told not to say "ho, ho, ho" this Christmas because it could insult women, but the firm that hired and trained them denies it. (

And the holiday season begins.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Seems About Right

Okay, A Few Words

Another batch of quotations that caught my fancy. Most if not all--as usual--from the most excellent A Word a Day.

Sin lies only in hurting others unnecessarily. All other "sins" are invented nonsense. -Robert A. Heinlein, science-fiction author (1907-1988)

No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power. -P.J. O'Rourke, writer (1947- )

Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under. -H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (1880-1956)

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run. -Roy Amara, engineer, futurist (b. 1925)

They deem him their worst enemy who tells them the truth. -Plato,philosopher (427-347 BCE)

Men hate those to whom they have to lie. -Victor Hugo, poet, novelist, and dramatist (1802-1885)

The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart. -Iris Murdoch, writer (1919-1999)

Unless a good deed is voluntary, it has no moral significance. -Everett Dean Martin, columnist, preacher, and philosopher (1880-1941)

Compared to the drama of words, Hamlet is a light farce. -Anatoly Liberman, professor (b. 1937)

You have your brush, you have your colors, you paint paradise, then in you go. -Nikos Kazantzakis, poet and novelist (1883-1957)

Persons appear to us according to the light we throw upon them from our own minds. -Laura Ingalls Wilder, author (1867-1957)

The real measure of our wealth is how much we'd be worth if we lost all our money. -John Henry Jowett, preacher (1864-1923)

The most futile thing in this world is any attempt, perhaps, at exact definition of character. All individuals are a bundle of contradictions -- none more so than the most capable. -Theodore Dreiser, author (1871-1945)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Exercises in Wishful Thinking and Holding Grudges

Well, now, this is just silly in so many ways. Here's what the Associated Press reports today, as captured in the New York Times and elsewhere:

November 11, 2007
Two Faiths Divided on Women’s Ordination Ceremony

ST. LOUIS, Nov. 10 (AP) — The Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Central Reform Congregation are on the same side when it comes to advocating for immigrants and the poor, often finding common ground in a zeal for social justice.

But when the Jewish congregation offered its synagogue for an ordination of two women in a ceremony disavowed by the Roman Catholic Church, it drew the ire of archdiocese officials, who vowed never again to work with the congregation.

Bizarre on the face of it, yes? A religious group that is about as far outside of the Catholic philosophy as you can get (you know: the Jesus thing?) allows its facility to be used by a group with whom the Catholic diocese has issues, and so the diocese decides that we can't be friends anymore?

I've said it before and I'll say it again, apparently: What is this, junior high?

It gets goofier:

The Reform congregation’s rabbi, Susan Talve, informed the Rev. Vincent Heier, director of the archdiocese office for ecumenical and interreligious affairs, of the decision.

Mr. Heier told her it was unacceptable. “It’s not appropriate to invite this group, to aid and abet a group like this, which undercuts our theology and teaching,” Mr. Heier said he told Ms. Talve.

Um. Isn't, like, the whole of Judaism "undercutting" Catholic theology and teaching? Isn't any non-Christian religion? Kind of by definition? It's been awhile since my last catechism class, but I'm pretty sure there was something in there about Jesus being the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world, and I'm also pretty sure that non-Christian religions don't share that point of view. So, given that every Saturday, at least, there are religious services at the Central Reform Congregation that the St. Louis Diocese would not be in agreement with, why the big dust-up over their allowing a bunch of fringey soon-to-be-ex-Catholics use the building?

In a nutshell: Who cares?

And, P.S., Father Heier: Good job of giving these women free publicity.

I also like this bit:

The women are ignoring the warnings of Archbishop Raymond Burke, who said they would be excommunicated if they proceeded with the ceremony.

Which makes the whole business even more of an exercise in so-what. If the women proceed with the ceremony, the bishop will excommunicate them. (Seems to me that if they proceed with the ceremony, they're pretty much thumbing their noses at the bishop anyhow, but that's neither here nor there.) Wouldn't that by and large take care of the whole thing? Why pick on the Jewish congregation at all? If the ceremony takes place in a bowling alley, would the archbishop condemn Happy Lanes and forbid Catholics from bowling there? Actually, I suppose there's a pretty good chance he would, given the AP report... Okay, try this: If the ceremony took place in a city park, would the archbishop condemn the city of St. Louis and move the diocese to another community?

Which is not to say that the women's quest is particularly sane, either. Those who know me know that, if I were in charge of things, you'd have women priests PDQ. But I'm not, and the sad fact is these bogus ceremonies accomplish absolutely nothing. When it's over, the women can SAY they're priests. But they're not--at least not in the Roman Catholic Church. Wishing doesn't make it so, no matter the ceremony attached. They're not legit, they're not recognized, and they have no standing at all in their church. That is, their soon-to-be-former church.

Here's the final gag:

“This is not a lack of forgiveness,” Mr. Heier said, “but we have to stand for something. It’s a matter of principle.”

Ah. Good to know. It would also be good to know precisely what "principle" Heier thinks they're standing on. From here it kind of looks like the principle of proving that the "leaders" of the Catholic church are, often as not, leading the church further and further in marginality.

Anyone Remember Checks and Balances?

I have been a member of the Democratic Party for over 30 years now, and at no point during those three decades have I been more discouraged with and disgusted by my party than I am at this time. This editorial from today's New York Times pretty much sums up my disgust--which further boils down to, Who the hell in the Democratic Party has enough spine to actually honor his or her oath to defend the Constitution of the United States?

Not bloody many, apparently.

Oh, fear not: Next year at this time I'll be voting for the Democratic presidential nominee, whoever she may be. But I'll say this: My days of donating money to the party are over, at least for the nonce. I'll support candidates as they warrant, but nothing more to the national organization. If "organization" is the word I want...

The New York Times

November 11, 2007

Abdicate and Capitulate

It is extraordinary how President Bush has streamlined the Senate confirmation process. As we have seen most recently with the vote to confirm Michael Mukasey as attorney general, about all that is left of “advice and consent” is the “consent” part.

Once upon a time, the confirmation of major presidential appointments played out on several levels — starting, of course, with politics. It was assumed that a president would choose like-minded people as cabinet members and for other jobs requiring Senate approval. There was a presumption that he should be allowed his choices, all other things being equal.

Before George W. Bush’s presidency, those other things actually counted. Was the nominee truly qualified, with a professional background worthy of the job? Would he discharge his duties fairly and honorably, upholding his oath to protect the Constitution? Even though she answers to the president, would the nominee represent all Americans? Would he or she respect the power of Congress to supervise the executive branch, and the power of the courts to enforce the rule of law?

In less than seven years, Mr. Bush has managed to boil that list down to its least common denominator: the president should get his choices. At first, Mr. Bush was abetted by a slavish Republican majority that balked at only one major appointment — Harriet Miers for Supreme Court justice, and then only because of doubts that she was far enough to the right.

The Democrats, however, also deserve a large measure of blame. They did almost nothing while they were in the minority to demand better nominees than Mr. Bush was sending up. And now that they have attained the majority, they are not doing any better.

On Thursday, the Senate voted by 53 to 40 to confirm Mr. Mukasey even though he would not answer a simple question: does he think waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning used to extract information from a prisoner, is torture and therefore illegal?

Democrats offer excuses for their sorry record, starting with their razor-thin majority. But it is often said that any vote in the Senate requires more than 60 votes — enough to overcome a filibuster. So why did Mr. Mukasey get by with only 53 votes? Given the success the Republicans have had in blocking action when the Democrats cannot muster 60 votes, the main culprit appears to be the Democratic leadership, which seems uninterested in or incapable of standing up to Mr. Bush.

Senator Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat who turned the tide for this nomination, said that if the Senate did not approve Mr. Mukasey, the president would get by with an interim appointment who would be under the sway of “the extreme ideology of Vice President Dick Cheney.” He argued that Mr. Mukasey could be counted on to reverse the politicization of the Justice Department that occurred under Alberto Gonzales, and that Mr. Mukasey’s reticence about calling waterboarding illegal might well become moot, because the Senate was considering a law making clear that it is illegal.

That is precisely the sort of cozy rationalization that Mr. Schumer and his colleagues have used so many times to back down from a confrontation with Mr. Bush. The truth is, Mr. Mukasey is already in the grip of that “extreme ideology.” If he were not, he could have answered the question about waterboarding.

Mr. Bush said Mr. Mukasey could not do so because it would reveal classified information about Central Intelligence Agency interrogation techniques. That is nonsense. Mr. Mukasey was not asked if C.I.A. jailers have used waterboarding on prisoners, something he could be expected to know nothing about. He was simply asked if, as a general matter, waterboarding is illegal.

It was not a difficult question. Waterboarding is specifically banned by the Army Field Manual, and it is plainly illegal under the federal Anti-Torture Act, federal assault statutes, the Detainee Treatment Act, the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions. It is hard to see how any nominee worthy of the position of attorney general could fail to answer “yes.”

The real reason the White House would not permit Mr. Mukasey to answer was the risk to federal officials who carried out Mr. Bush’s orders to abuse and torture prisoners after the 9/11 attacks: the right answer could have exposed them to criminal sanctions.

The rationales that accompanied the vote in favor of Mr. Mukasey were not reassuring. The promise of a law banning waterboarding is no comfort. It is unnecessary, and even if it passes, Mr. Bush seems certain to veto it. In fact, it would play into the administration’s hands by allowing it to argue that torture is not currently illegal.

The claim that Mr. Mukasey will depoliticize the Justice Department loses its allure when you consider that he would not commit himself to enforcing Congressional subpoenas in the United States attorneys scandal.

All of this leaves us wondering whether Mr. Schumer and other Democratic leaders were more focused on the 2008 elections than on doing their constitutional duty. Certainly, being made to look weak on terrorism might make it harder for them to expand their majority.

We are not suggesting the Democrats reject every presidential appointee, or that the president’s preferences not be taken into account. But Democrats have done precious little to avoid the kind of spectacle the world saw last week: the Senate giving the job of attorney general, chief law enforcement officer in the world’s oldest democracy, to a man who does not even have the integrity to take a stand against torture.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

If All Else Fails

My work (in one of the facets of my, um, multifaceted existence) often requires me to send e-mail to this or that list of Usual Suspects. I believe the bizarre term for this is "burst" e-mail, which makes no sense to me: if it's gonna take me upwards of 20 minutes to get the silly thing in the air, how can it be "bursting"? But I digress.

I have noted, in undertaking the above, both a strange quirk of human nature (and if not strange, at least odd) and a glaring oversight in the version of Groupwise that my employer uses, to wit: Groupwise 6-point-whatever has no "reply to" feature; and no matter how many times I encourage my "burstees" to contact such-and-such source with questions or comments, they invariably hit the reply button and land back in my inbox.

Yes, I realize there are products and services on the market that will do burst e-mail for us, and someday we might come to that. But really, as things now stand, it would be a waste of money for us make a purchase for that sole purpose (we don't do enough, nor often enough). And it would deprive me of the perverse fun of replying to the Usual Suspect, "As indicated in the original message, you should contact X at Y for more information..."

Anyhow, wouldn't it make just as much sense for Groupwise to incorporate a reply-to feature? That would also solve the in-house problem I've encountered, viz., I forward a message to a co-worker, who then replies by, you know, hitting "reply"...which replies to me!

I've written to Novell to encourage them to add the feature to a future release; I wouldn't think it an impossibility, since the free e-mail client I use in real life, Thunderbird, has the feature and it works like a charm.

Of course, so too would reading the line in my e-mail that says If you have any questions, contact X--which usually includes a link and everything--but I once again fly in the face of human nature. Or human alliteracy.

Survey Says...

So here comes another one of the online surveys I sometimes like to take (in return for being entered into a cash drawing that I never win). I click here and click there, and am rewarded with a screen that tells me I must use Internet Explorer to continue. Well, I don't much like Internet Exploder: I use Firefox for web-browsing on both my Mac and the PCs I am forced to use in work settings.

Usually--for this happens occasionally with these surveys--that screen is the end of things, for I won't switch to IE just to take a survey. But on this occasion I noted that there was a "continue" button at the bottom of the screen. So I clicked it. And was taken to the next page of the survey...and the next...and so on. In the end, I didn't qualify for the full survey, but I got the screen telling me I had received "partial credit" and would be entered into a drawing for a lesser prize that I won't win.

Leaving me with this question: Why did they tell me I couldn't proceed without IE when, clearly, I could...and did? Was it a simple mistake? Or some kind of corporate arrangement, a more-strongly-worded version of the "best viewed with" legend we see from time to time online.

Whatever the explanation, I file this under "N" for "not my problem."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Weird, Yes, but...

This in today's New York Times:

November 8, 2007
In a Surprise, Pat Robertson Backs Giuliani

WASHINGTON, Nov. 7 — They could compete for strangest bedfellows of 2008.

Rudolph W. Giuliani is a supporter of gay and abortion rights who is building his Republican primary campaign around his response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Pat Robertson, the Christian conservative broadcaster, once said permissiveness toward homosexuality and abortion led to God’s “lifting his protection” to allow those attacks.

But there they were Wednesday morning, Mr. Robertson endorsing Mr. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, as “an acceptable” Republican “who can win the general election.”

It was the latest manifestation of the deep divide in the Christian conservative movement over how to balance politics and principle in the coming era after President Bush, who once so deftly brought it all together.

Many former Christian conservative allies dismissed the endorsement as an inexplicable stunt. They noted that Mr. Robertson, 77, had lost much of his influence since the heady days of his second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses 20 years ago when he ran for the Republican presidential nomination.

And so on. Read the whole thing here.

As you know, I like a good weird news story as much as the next guy, but this one is so weird--the abortion angle alone tips it right off the scale--that I have to give it some thought (unlike, say, the Times's story about the priest who's been stalking Conan O'Brien). And here's what I come up with:

Is it--perhaps--possible (just barely possible) that Pat Robertson has some glimmer of realization, a hint of a notion of an innuendo, that nothing in this world can ever move forward so long as the "Christian" right-wingnut camp clings to its take-no-prisoners attitude toward the abortion issue? Is it--perhaps--possible that there is a little ray of sunshine on that so-far bleak and gloomy horizon? Maybe? Perchance? Possibly?

Well, no, I didn't really think so either. Oh, well...nice thought, wasn't it?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Who Gets to Be the Bigger Jerk?

From today's New York Times: "Devices Enforce Cellular Silence, Sweet but Illegal" by Matt Richtel:

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 2 — One afternoon in early September, an architect boarded his commuter train and became a cellphone vigilante. He sat down next to a 20-something woman who he said was “blabbing away” into her phone.

“She was using the word ‘like’ all the time. She sounded like a Valley Girl,” said the architect, Andrew, who declined to give his last name because what he did next was illegal.

Andrew reached into his shirt pocket and pushed a button on a black device the size of a cigarette pack. It sent out a powerful radio signal that cut off the chatterer’s cellphone transmission — and any others in a 30-foot radius.

“She kept talking into her phone for about 30 seconds before she realized there was no one listening on the other end,” he said. His reaction when he first discovered he could wield such power? “Oh, holy moly! Deliverance.”

Read the whole thing here:

Here is another instance where my superhuman ability to see things from multiple angles simultaneously is a curse. On the one hand, I share Andrew's annoyance--not so much that the woman next to him was "blabbing away" on her phone (all else being equal, I would rather that the person next to me on a plane or train do anything but talk to me but because, in my experience if not Andrew's, people using cellular phones in public places always seem to be yelling into them. On the other hand, I can see the young woman's point of view, too: Presumably, she bought the phone and the overpriced plan with its lifetime contract so that she could talk to her friends! It doesn't sound like she was in a phone-free car on the train; it sounds like she was within her rights to be using the phone where she was--Andrew's big objections seem to be (a) she was "blabbing away" and (b) she kept using the word "like"--but Andrew didn't want her to be on her phone, so he took it upon himself to jam her.

Conclusion: Both Andrew and the woman sitting next to him were being jerks, but Andrew went the extra mile and emerged the bigger jerk. Indeed, it's hard to conclude that Andrew is anything but a control-freak prick.

More evidence from the article's concluding paragraphs:

Andrew, the San Francisco-area architect, said using his jammer was initially fun, and then became a practical way to get some quiet on the train. Now he uses it more judiciously.

“At this point, just knowing I have the power to cut somebody off is satisfaction enough,” he said.

And there you have it--it's the passive-aggressive power trip. Someone is doing something I don't like. Never mind that they're well within their rights: I don't like it. And I need to do something about it. Nothing overt, because (a) they're not actually doing anything wrong and (b) that would require me to have some testosterone in my system. No, I need to do something sneaky, something that no one else even knows I'm doing, and then I can just sit here in my happy space and get my little buzz from knowing that I am the master manipulator of what others may or may not do in my presence. I want you to stop talking: click, I flip a switch and you do. Power!

Seems to me I saw an episode of Twilight Zone like that. It ended badly. One hopes for the same fate for the likes of Andrew--that he'll have an important call to make on a day when someone nearby decides he doesn't like all these people using their cellphones and jams them all. For one of the downsides of the phone jammers is that they immobilize all phone within a given radius, thus inconveniencing innocent bystanders as well as the "offenders."

As is pointed out in the article, such a device could be a real boon to robbers, terrorists, and others who would have a vested interest in thwarting people's attempts to call for help.

The article quotes James Katz, director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Rutgers University, rightly opining: “If anything characterizes the 21st century, it’s our inability to restrain ourselves for the benefit of other people. The cellphone talker thinks his rights go above that of people around him, and the jammer thinks his are the more important rights.”

That's probably not true: My observation of Life in These United States is that people don't think that their rights are more important than others people's; people think that they are the only ones who have any rights in the first place.

And I think Katz is charitably overlooking the thousands upon thousands of impotent jerks who are bound up in an insatiable need to ride roughshod over other people: I don't like this TV show, it should be taken off the air so no one else watches it; I don't like this columnist, the newspaper should drop him so no one else reads him; I don't approve of that artwork, it should be banned so no one else can enjoy it.

I'm reminded of George Carlin's riff on the oddity that is the flame-thrower: "At some point, some person said to himself, 'Gee, I sure would like to set those people on fire over there. But I'm way to far away to get the job done. If only I had something that would throw flame on them."

I suppose we should be thankful that Andrew didn't have a flame-thrower with him on the train.