31 May 2006

Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying... ?

A post over at Evil Bender's blog got me thinking about what it is to signify. EB linked to posts about the blogtroversy (I apologize for that, Lord) surrounding author/theorist/jerk Jeff Goldstein, whom I don't especially want to link to here because I just wasted half an hour of my life by reading several of his long, rambling blog entries and I would like to prevent others from sharing my pain. Goldstein's argument, as I understand it, is that meaning is fundamentally created by the signifier at the time of inscription rather than by the reader at the time of interpretation.

As a naive student of literature and language, I have a number of problems with this theoretical construct. First of all, while I must admit that the act of signification provides the potential for meaning to be created, I would argue that it does not comprise the Author creating a meaning. Rather, it is the user of an arbitrary, physical, symbolic system using that system to record an approximation of whatever meaning exists in her head (how "meaning" is generated there is another question entirely). There is no meaning inherent in those symbols except as they exist in a historical relationship to the user who generated them and to other users of the arbitrary system. Thus, we really can't say that any meaning "exists" independently of those who can interpret it.

Furthermore, since a symbolic system is necessarily a faulty approximation of "actual" meaning, no two users of an arbitrary symbolic system will interpret it in the same fashion. User A will interpret a signification in one manner (which depends in large part on his historical moment and prior experience with the symbolic system), whereas User B generally will interpret it in a different manner (although not always in a manner that is incompatible with A's interpretation). Since the person who first generated the signification made a point of choosing which symbols and systemic features to use, we can presume that she had a specific purpose in mind for her choice of each. We cannot, however, assume that her interpretation of the signification is somehow more valid or meaningful than anyone else's. Why not? Because meaning is generated by users who are familiar with a system.

There is nothing especially privileged about the creator of signification, except that her creation has some potential to remind her of what she was thinking when she created it. The general purpose of a communicative symbolic system, however, is to allow the generator to create a shared perception with others who are familiar with the system. Thus, in order for such communication to be successful, the generator and interpreter(s) of the signification must share some degree of expertise in the use of the system. If either side is somehow deficient, the communication will not work. Thus, if no one could understand or benefit from Shakespeare's writings, then Shakespeare would be, for all practical purposes, an insignificant author -- regardless of what he had written.

From here, I could go on rants about aesthetics or political motivations for linguistic theories, but I want Chiptole, so you just forget about it, mister.

30 May 2006

Gay Marriage and New York's Constitution

There's an interesting legal battle over gay marriage in the Empire State. Several gay couples are suing for the right to marriage licenses, claiming violation of the state constitution's due process and equal rights clauses. According to the New York Sun, some are dead set against the court's right to weigh the evidence in this case:
The chairman of the state's Conservative Party, Michael Long, said a decision in favor of gay marriage would amount to nothing more than activism on the bench. The party filed a friend-of-the-court brief on the defense side several weeks ago.
Long is essentially denying the judicial branch's right to interpret the state's highest law. Now, I'm no legal scholar, but if a state law could possibly violate the state's constitution, isn't it the judicial branch's responsibility to determine whether it does (and take appropriate action if it does)?

This seems like another case of people who claim to support the rule of law being hypocritical and covering their tails with a strict constructionism that conveniently overlooks important legal principles. One of these principles is that since the constitution is a higher rule than individual pieces of legislation, it should be able to automatically negate any law that attempts to controvert it.

And that's the problem with so many calls against "judicial activism" -- its opponents refuse to acknowledge that interpretation of laws -- and constitutions -- is necessary for just enforcement of them.

24 May 2006

Just When You Thought The Intelligence Community Couldn't be Scarier...

Apparently, President Bush has given John Negroponte authority to waive SEC rules. Yeah, you read that right. So now, if our esteemed intelligence czar deems a threat to national security, he can tell publicly traded corporations that they don't have to provide an accounting for their practices and transactions. Don't know how that could possibly go wrong.

Another concern: the FCC, the government agency in charge of regulating communications and the use of airwaves, says it cannot investigate complaints of the NSA collecting call data... because, duh-nuh-nuh, it would violate national security to do so.

I'm getting the feeling that "National Security" has become the intelligence community's version of "9/11."

"Sorry, we have to spy on you because of national security."

"I'm afraid we're going to have to print these incriminating photos of you in a compromising situation with a clown because of national security."

"Bill of Rights? Nope, that's a violation of National Security."

And so forth.

How Much Do We Hate Hamas?

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

The answer? Enough that our spite kicks their UN Delegation out of the country and essentially isolates the Palestinian government from any international community except the Islamic one.

The New York Daily News reports that
The House overwhelmingly passed a measure yesterday that would effectively kick the Palestinian UN delegation out of the country.

A bill which aims to make it illegal to send any funds to Hamas included an amendment that would designate the Palestinian Authority - now headed by Hamas - to be a terrorist group and force it to leave the country.
Let's just go ahead and file this under "least useful political moves ever."

Those Poor, Defamed Catholics

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

An Op-Ed in the New York Daily News laments the plight of that historic underdog, the Roman Catholic Church:
The bias against Catholicism is palpable. No other segment of society is continuously the target of vicious jokes by the likes of Penn Jillette or Bill Maher. No other segment of society is subjected to the obscene assaults like those "South Park" delivers over and over again. And no other segment of society is routinely held up to derision on college campuses.
I beg to differ: I would argue that Scientology is at least as hated as Catholicism -- perhaps more hated!

Seriously, how can anyone argue that an economic and political engine like the Roman Catholic Church is being oppressed by free speech in the form of artistic expression? The columnist cites other examples of "oppression," including Madonna's new show that involves a mirrored cross and a crown of thorns, Kanye West's Rolling Stone cover in which he used Christ iconography, and The DaVinci Code. Yes, apparently the entire book.

There are several problems with these claims.

First, a socioeconomic organ as influential as the RCC should not be surprised if it provokes imitation and mockery, especially if the mockery has a basis in actual institutional problems.

Second, the RCC does not have a monopoly on Jesus. I believe in the historical Jesus, and I'm not an adherent of the Pope. I don't really have much of a problem with any of these depictions of Christ or Christianity because I recognize them as just that... depictions. I would even argue that there is value in them and that the church should pay closer attention to how their message is coming across to people outside the faith.

To say that Catholicism is being oppressed is like saying that modern masculinity is being stifled -- it's simply untrue.

Just In Case You Had Any Doubt...

This from Newsday:
Osama bin Laden purportedly said in an audio tape Tuesday that neither Zacarias Moussaoui -- the only person convicted in the U.S. for the Sept. 11 attacks -- nor anyone held at Guantanamo had anything to do with the al-Qaida operation.
I find this very interesting -- indeed, almost as interesting as the fact that, against every reason not to, we keep listening to this evil man about anything at all. Seriously, why on earth would anyone care what bin Laden has to say? His statements are even less useful than Michael Brown's or Ken Lay's. Consider the source, people.

23 May 2006

The DaVinci Code Does Not Believe I am True

Nothing to post, really. School is out and my brain is on autopilot for about a week. :-)

22 May 2006

Harvard Becomes Pedagogically, Theoretically, Modern

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

Interesting stuff in the New York Sun today -- some Harvard teachers are doing things like teaching gender theory. And having their students dress in drag as a discussion-sparking activity. And assigning them to Wikipedia a literary theory as a final project.

As you might imagine, some are up in arms over this type of course content (which includes Wittig and Butler, of course) and pedagogy. Among the course's critics are John Zmirak, editor of a guide for college-bound conservatives for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. He said that
he has no fundamental objection to creative projects or the principle of learning by doing, but assignments need to be "substantive and real."

"There's something perverse about students dressing in drag," he said, "but there's something perverse about learning gender theory, too."
Other critics include Harvard prof Harvey Mansfield:
Mr. Mansfield, the author of the recent book "Manliness" and arguably the most outspoken conservative professor at Harvard, said of the course, "It is unserious." He said "a decline in faculty morale" is responsible for classes like English 193. Professors "no longer maintain high standards of academic excellence that Harvard used to have," he said, "and rather take pride in finding ways of avoiding them."
Mansfield also had some very enlightened opinions about other Harvard courses, as well.
In Psychology 1504: Positive Psychology, the most popular class at Harvard, with more than 800 enrolled, students were asked to write a short paper in the form of "a letter expressing your gratitude to a person whom you appreciate - to someone you haven't thanked enough." Other assignments this semester included a meditation on "the most wonderful experience or experiences in your life" and a reflection on "how fortunate you have been to get to where you are now." One of the weekly sections in Psych 1504 regularly involves yoga.

"It sounds like a course in self-esteem which is designed, overtly, to make you feel good about yourself," Mr. Mansfield said. "Students should be made uncomfortable, I believe, so that they have an incentive to study. It makes them see that life is full of problems."

Mr. Mansfield also took issue with another popular psychology class, Human Sexuality, which requires a 10-page paper in which students recount the history of their personal sexual development.

"It's a class in immodesty," Mr. Mansfield said. "As if it's a good thing to expose yourself. It'll turn you into a boring person for the rest of your life, always talking about yourself and explaining incidents in your life as if they deserved the attention of the gods."
Boy, Mansfield must be a wonderful man to take a course from.

19 May 2006

An Interesting Use of Frost

In the aftermath of his fence bill being approved by an overwhelming majority of the Senate yesterday, its sponsor had some fascinating remarks:
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the provision's sponsor, said building the fencing would send "a signal to the world that our border is not open, it is closed."

He added: "Good fences make good neighbors; fences don't make bad neighbors."
The first half of his second remark is from Robert Frost's "Mending Wall," and I think it might be instructive to take a look at how Sessions misuses the quote.

In the poem, Frost writes about his annual ritual in which he and his neighbor go to the stone wall between their property and build it back up after the winter has toppled stones from it:
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.'
The irony in the legislator's comparison, of course, is that he is quoting Frost without realizing that Frost used that phrase for exactly the opposite reason. "Good fences make good neighbors" is an assertion that Frost wants us to question and, ultimately, deny.

The real message of the poem is the first line, which Frost repeats in the passage I quoted above: "Something there is that doesn't love a wall." That something, the human desire for brotherhood and unity, may try to thwart this wall that the politicians want to build between the U.S. and Mexico; I don't know.

hehe... of course, if Marshwiggle had his way, we wouldn't need to even think about this wall. :-)

18 May 2006

On a Slightly Goofier Note...

I love Segway Scooters -- and especially the people who use them without a trace of irony. :-)

The Fiscal Irresponsibility Continues

According to the New York Post, President Bush is boasting of a $70 billion tax cut for the middle class. The cut is designed to prevent the wealthier-than-graduate-teaching-assistant crew from having to pay the minimum alternative tax for another year.

Why, why, why is this something that the president who has increased federal spending more than anyone since FDR wants to bring attention to? Why stand up and holler about what you're doing to prevent the U.S. government's budget from ever getting balanced?

Midterm elections, that's why. For the party in power (not to refrain from knocking the party not in power; they've done their fair share of budget-screwing, too), apparently a lopsided lope toward a larger national debt is a small price to pay for a few more votes in a midterm election when presidential popularity is threatening to crash through the floorboards into the root cellar.

Meanwhile, the administration still doesn't know where the money will come from for President Bush's brilliant plan to mobilize National Guard troops to the border in a gesture that is very meaningful and helpful and not at all an empty symbol, I'm sure.

This is why I hate politicians.

17 May 2006

More on Christian Nationalism

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

Some thoughts on Christian Nationalism, a topic that has been discussed both in this space and over at Marshwiggle's blog.

When I addressed this topic several days ago, I said that I was saddened by Christian nationalists who not only want the Constitutional right to worship freely, but also want to "take our nation back for Christ." There was a time when "taking our nation back for Christ" would have been precisely the course of action I wanted. Indeed, I would have been shocked if a genuine, Bible-believing Christian had suggested any different. Since then, however, I have come to believe some new things about politics, religion, and their intersection in the U.S. public sphere.

If you will bear with me, I will begin with a brief close reading of the Christian Nationalist's war cry as I understand it. I will then provide my critique of said war cry. My purpose here is not to disprove anyone; rather, I hope to enlarge the discussion through giving a fuller account of my own understanding of it.

The multiword verb "to take back" has several important implications. Firstly, it suggests a forceful action done in the face of strong opposition. Secondly, it implies rightful ownership by the taker. Thirdly, by extension, it may be read as a moral imperative -- if the taking back does not occur, then things will remain in a state of undesirable disarray, and right cannot possibly prevail.

The noun phrase "our nation" has similarly deep resonance. The "our" is a first-person plural possessive referring to some specific group. Again, this reinforces the notion of ownership of the sentence's object. "Nation" is a word loaded with meanings. It can be a group of like-minded people with a common goal, or it can be a group of differently-minded people who live in a specified range of geographic space. In this case, the "our" seems to imply that the only true members of the nation are in the aforementioned (but undefined) specific group. They also are presumably the ones doing the "taking back."

Perhaps the most polarizing element of this slogan is its final prepositional phrase. What Christian doesn't desire to serve Christ? And if we are doing something in the name of Christ, it surely must be justified, right? The "for Christ" phrase has the added bonus of enabling the nation-takers to place their opponents in opposition to Christ, and thus in alliance to the world, the flesh, and/or the Devil. These two words are what make the slogan especially effective among American Christian Nationalists.

I currently have a number of problems with this slogan, as you might have been able to tell in my reading of it. For the sake of brevity, I will simply list a few of them for your consideration:

1.) America was not founded as a Christian nation. It was not even founded on Christian principles. You can argue all you like about the beliefs of the "Founding Fathers," but these alleged beliefs are not carried over into the Constitution. The First Amendment specifically dictates that the U.S. government neither support any specific religious stance nor interfere with the free practice of any religion. In today's America, this means avoiding the privileging of any theology (including Judeo-Christian theologies) above any other. This is why the government should take a more or less areligious stance -- its duty is to enable people to believe whatever they want and practice their belief system (within set limits -- for instance, human-sacrificing cults take life in worship and are thus violating the inalienable rights of others). Thus, America never has belonged to Christianity.

2.) It is a good thing that Christianity is not state-sponsored. State sponsorship of religion inevitably leads to corruption of the sponsored religion. Look at state-sponsored religion from Constantine through the Crusades if you want evidence from the history of Christianity.

3.) Promoting an "us vs. them" mentality among Christians means that they are much mroe likely to become alienated from unbelievers. Making all opponents of your particular political stance "other" is a great way to drag Christ's name through the dirt.

4.) "Taking America Back" is often associated with voting. I have no problem with voting with one's convictions, but I do have a problem with legislating individual morality... especially legislating it one-sidedly. For instance, many Christians want to create/reinstate/uphold laws against sodomy to such an extent that they overlook the lack of laws/enforcement to prevent adultery or fornication. What are we punishing here? The fact that gay sex has a zero percent chance of producing children? Are children, then, the ultimate good? Should we have minimum child requirements for married couples, accompanied by forced castration and clitorectomies of those who will not or cannot comply?

5.) The implication of "let's take America back for Christ" is that this is a struggle that can one day be over and done with. What happens then? Do we stop in our attempts to live a Christian life? More than that, how would "retaking America" help us to live Christian lives?

Sorry about the scattered nature of these observations; I'm out of time. :-)

Proof That the First Amendment is Being Phased Out

A USA Today story relates how a study guide for would-be U.S. citizens coveniently omits freedom of the press. According to the story, a set of flash cards from the Government Printing Office contains the problem:
Question 80 on the flashcards asks, “Name one right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.” The answer lists freedom of speech, religion, assembly and the right to petition the government — but omits freedom of the press.
The head of the U.S. citizenship office said,
“The person who developed the test was not necessarily a civics or constitutional scholar. The content is not very good. It's very trivia-based.”
Sure, whatever you say...

Some of us would trace the omission to a couple of other possibilities:

1.) What with the possible use of the call database to out whistleblowers, perhaps the Feds want to start making people forget about freedom of the press?

2.) Perhaps it's just an editorial statement about how worthless the mainstream media is these days?

3.) Or perhaps a commentary on the fact that 90% of the press is owned by big, scary corporate entities?

16 May 2006

Rovian Slip?

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

This tidbit from a Washington Post column by Dana Milbank:
Presidential adviser Karl Rove had almost finished his appearance yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute when it happened. Discussing the Bush administration's record on illegal immigration, he blurted out, 'We're doing a heck of a job.'
For those of you who have forgotten, that's exactly the phrase that Bush used to praise his once-beloved future scapegoat, former FEMA director Michael Brown, during the Katrina debacle.

Brown was judging Arabian horse shows and paying what seems like an undue amount of attention to his wardrobe while Hurricane Katrina made a deadly swamp of New Orleans. That phrase, "heck of a job," as Milbank points out, has since become "a national shorthand for incompetence."

I think it's quite an appropriate phrase for Rove to use in describing this administration.

15 May 2006

Another Problem With U.S. Intelligence

The Department of Justice is petitioning a federal court to throw out the claim of an accused terrorist who was held without legal recourse in an offshore prison somewhere in Europe. The DoJ cites "national defense" as its reason.

I don't have to tell you how disturbed I am by this, I think. It enrages me that the U.S. government would

1.) Arrest and imprison an innocent person without that person having legal representation and a scheduled trial

2.) Do so using a legal loophole that may imply that illegal imprisonment and torture is just fine offshore

3.) Try to prevent the victim of U.S. policy from EVER getting a fair shake because national security demands absolute secrecy about our scummy, evil intel tactics

"Department of Justice"? How much more Orwellian can this get?

McCain: Evangelicals' Newest Lap Dog?

John McCain, moderate and one-time last hope for a somewhat rational and even-keeled GOP, spoke at the commencement for Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

He had a fairly warm reception, despite past conflicts with Rev. Falwell. Does this indicate that he's moving back to the right? Or that he's trying to bring conservatives more solidly back to the GOP fold? Is he setting up for a 2008 run at the presidency?

What's your take on this?

13 May 2006

Good for Georgia!

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

A Georgia school board has declined to ban Harry Potter because "Our students do understand the difference between fact and fiction."

The appelant, Laura Mallory, a former missionary and mother of three, had this to say:"I knew what they were going to do, but it's good we live in a country where you can stand up for what you believe in. God is alive and real and he says it (witchcraft) is an abomination. How can we say it is good reading material?"

I would ask Mallory a few important questions in an effort to answer her question:

1.) What is "good reading material"?

2.) If a piece of fiction creates a self-consciously fictional world with certain rules, and those rules happen to be in conflict with your view of the real world, does that automatically disqualify it as a "good" piece of writing?

3.) What if a piece of fiction contains important moral messages for its readers (as the HP books unquestionably do)? And what if parents can use those messages to talk to their children about aspects of religious belief in new and interesting ways? Wouldn't that seem to be a characteristic of morally "good" fiction?

The issue here is not one of right and wrong, but one of intellectual maturity. On a moral level, there is nothing fundamentally different between Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings trilogy (though the plot points and motivations of the authors are undoubtedly different). In fact, the main difference seems to be that Christians tend to give LOTR a chance, whereas they blindly lash out against HP.

It sickens me that so many Christian parents see LOTR as a wonderful teaching tool and refuse to see the same potential in HP.

Read This Book

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

Check out this post over at Talk2action.org. It's by Michelle Goldberg, author of the book Kingdom Coming, who writes some very important things about Christianity, U.S. nationalism, and their very disturbing intersection:
The iconography of Christian nationalism conflates the cross and the flag. As I write in "Kingdom Coming," it "claims supernatural sanction for its campaign of national renewal and speaks rapturously about vanquishing the millions of Americans who would stand in its way." At one rally at the statehouse in Austin, Texas, a banner pictured a fierce eagle perched upon a bloody cross. For a liberal, such imagery smacks of fascist agitprop. But plenty of deeply committed Christians also object to it as a form of blasphemy. It's important, I think, to separate their faith from the authoritarian impulses of the Christian nationalist movement. Christianity is a religion. Christian nationalism is a political program, and there is nothing sacred about it.

I feel quite strongly about this; I am one of the committed Christians to whom Goldberg refers, and I am both shocked and saddened at the blatant misinterpretation of the Constitution and the doctrines of Christianity that abounds in our culture. Some of the most serious offenders include Gary Bauer's Family Research Council, D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries, and James Dobson's Focus on the Family. Because of the way these people interpret the Bible and U.S. history, I can say without very much exaggeration at all that their views are perilously close to those of Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church.

What about things like allowing moral choice? What about things like showing God's love and letting people decide what to believe?

12 May 2006


So, apparently, many are up in arms over the paint selected for the preservation of Confederate Civil War general T.R.R. Cobb's historic mansion. The problem? it's bubble-gum pink. (Historical data informs us that this was Cobb's paint color of choice.)

The Christian Science Monitor discusses some Southern responses to the flamboyant shade:
The reaction ranged from angry to amused. Some who had fought against the house liked it. "Just horrible," said others. Dixie diehards refused to believe it. A guy in a pickup drove up and threatened to paint over it. According to local heritage experts, one of Cobb's direct descendants, Marion Cannon, sniffed: "T.R.R. Cobb would never paint his house that color."
The writer goes on to suggest that the color "has suggested a softer side to the otherwise irascible general."

Indeed. :-)

11 May 2006

The Power of Xenu Compells You

Apparently, Tom Cruise's popularity level is plummeting. And me? I couldn't be happier. It's so refreshing that I'm not the only one who thinks the man is stark, raving mad (as well as really offensive in a more general way). Good for the movie-going public.

Bye-Bye, .xxx

According to the Associated Press, the much-debated .xxx domain for adult sites has been stymied. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers caved to a two-pronged attack from conservatives and porn industry reps. The article says that
Advocates had argued the domain would help the $12 billion online porn industry clean up its act. Those using the domain would have to abide by yet-to-be-written rules designed to bar such trickery as spamming and malicious scripts.
What I'm wanting to know is why conservatives were against this thing at all. I assume it's because they hold out some hope of delegitimizing porn on the Internet, but guess what, folks... it's not going away.

Quite honestly, I'm not sure what to think about this decision. On the one hand, I'm concerned about possible violations of the First Amendment. On the other hand, the .xxx advocates seem to have some good points in the quote above. What do you think?

10 May 2006

He's Crazy, But...

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote something in his recent note to Bush that, surprisingly, I agree with. On reports of secret prisons for terrorists:
"I fail to understand how such actions correspond to the values outlined in ... the teachings of Jesus Christ, human rights and liberal values."
I'm no Anti-American wacko, but that sounds like something I wish I'd have written on this blog... too bad the guy's a nut case.

Snapshot of Ineptitude

Interesting AP article today about Dubya's once-beloved "Brownie." From the article:

At one point early that morning, Brown reported to an aide that he was "sitting in the chair, putting mousse in my hair" while waiting for media interviews to begin.

A few hours later, at 9:50 a.m., a FEMA staffer at the National Hurricane Center sent department brass an alert from a local TV station report that "a levee breach occurred along the industrial canal" near the city's low-income Ninth Ward.

But at 12:09 p.m., Brown dismissed the report and suggested that the situation wasn't so bad. "I'm being told here water over not a breach," he said, referring to floodwaters which had overrun -- but not broken -- the levees.

The aide, Michael Lowder, replied: "Ok. You probably have better info there. Just wanted to pass you what we hear."

Brown did not immediately respond to messages left on his cell phone and e-mail Tuesday.

Since quitting FEMA on Sept. 12, Brown has sharply criticized the Bush administration for failing to respond quickly to reports about levee breaches. He has said previously he was convinced of a levee breach by 1 p.m. the day Katrina roared ashore.
Now, I know it must be difficult to respond to something like Katrina, especially when your agency isn't given a lot of funding by the bloated and ill-conceived monster known as Homeland Security. Still, Brown's hypocrisy is tangible here. He was obviously fiddling while Rome burned, but now he's trying to plant the bow on someone -- anyone -- else.

To me, that's a pretty good definition of cowardice.

09 May 2006

On "Fundamentalist"

Some discussion over at little hoot owl's blog raised the question of the epithet "fundamentalist" and its place in the mainstream media's reports on religious topics.

I have long been opposed to the generic use of "fundamentalist" as an adjective describing strict (and often extreme) interpretation of and adherence to religious doctrines and texts. My reasons are severalfold:

1.) Most importantly, using the term generically tends to obscure its roots. The term "fundamentalist" was created in 1922 by and for a group of U.S. Christians who wished to respond to the modernist, rationalist, anti-supernaturalist Christian movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. Their doctrines were more or less orthodox in terms of their position within historic Christianity. They defended things like biblical literalism (e.g., Jesus literally was/is the primogenitive son of God) and salvation through faith in God (as opposed to faith in humanity or self).

Most generic uses of "fundamentalist" refer to groups whose tenets are not especially similar to those of the original Christian group. Thus, generic use of the word tends to obscure its original meaning.

2.) The root of "fundamentalist" implies that the word refers to someone who cares chiefly about the most basic principles of a philosophy or doctrine. By contrast, many fringe groups described as "fundamentalist" pay inordinate amounts of attention to a few, relatively minute points. For instance, Fred Phelps is commonly described as a fundamentalist even though his chief concerns are limited to several obscure passages (which he and his church almost always tear out of context in their interpretations of them).

3.) "Fundamentalist" is all too often used as a shield that prevents its user from having to consider what defines a specific movement. I know a number of people who categorize all Christians (with the possibe exception of Unitarians) as "fundamentalists" and then promptly "other" the whole thing, including the dozens of denominations that are not conservative or reactionary by any stretch of the imagination.

In summary, "fundamentalist" seems fairly useless to me as anything except an adjective to describe a specific sect of Christianity. It's a shame that people use it to obscure discussions of belief rather than to elucidate them.

And you thought tramp stamps were just tasteless...

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

According to the Mumbai Mirror:
Large tattoos on the lower back and buttocks can lead to problems for women during childbirth, as the marking could prevent doctors from applying a local anaesthetic, reported the German medical journal Arzte Zeitung.
I knew those things weren't natural. Thank you, science.

Lesbian Brains

Interesting story from the Associated Press about biology and gender:
Lesbians' brains react differently to sex hormones than those of heterosexual women, Swedish researchers say. That's in line with an earlier study that had indicated gay men's brain responses were different from straight men's. In both cases, the findings add weight to the idea that homosexuality has a physical basis and is not learned behavior.

I wonder what kinds of spin the right will put on this -- and I also wonder what kinds of assumptions the researchers had going into the study and what kind of methodology they used.

I've been thinking a lot about science and religion lately. They have a very tricky relationship, and it's one that I'm not sure can be compartmentalized so neatly as I would prefer. Their fundamental values and assumptions are so radically different that it becomes very difficult to make them work together. At the same time, they also make truth claims that contradict one another, and so almost force a confrontation.

At any rate, perhaps studies like this will contribute more to our understanding of difference. At the very least, they give us something interesting to think about.

It's Too Late, Stupid!

Everyone's favorite French wannabe 9/11 terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui sounds like a Bush spokesman:
"Convicted Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui says he lied on the witness stand about being involved in the terrorist plot and wants to withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial. The judge turned him down."
Apparently, Moussaoui was shocked -- shocked -- to find that the American justice system wouldn't just kill him by default. Go Figure. I guess six life sentences in maximum-security solitary confinement were starting to look pretty unattractive, which is understandable.

This is the first time I've felt at all sorry for the guy, quite honestly. And my sympathy isn't all that strong, either... it's just that he genuinely seems not to have realized that there was another way besides lying out the wazoo and trying to look like the awesomest terrorist that ever was.

We all make mistakes, but Zac's has bigger consequences than most of mine. C'est la vie, n'est pas?

08 May 2006

Bush Backpedals on Gitmo

Our fearless leader has decided that it would actually be a good thing to close our offshore military prison for suspected terrorists at Cuba's Guantanomo Bay... three months after clashing with the German prime minister over the issue. According to an article in the
New York Daily News, White House NSC spokesman Frederick Jones said,
"The United States has no intention of permanently detaining individuals, that is not our goal. We want to see all these individuals brought to justice."
The article goes on to say,

The U.S. has 480 detainees at Guantanamo and has freed or handed over to other countries 272 of them.

Amnesty International has said torture and inhumane treatment were 'widespread' at Guantanamo Bay and other U.S.-run detention centers - charges the United States has strongly denied.
What's really interesting is that this article makes little overt mention of the primary problem with the camp at Guantanomo: it is a place where people are placed in legal limbo. They have no right to trial, no recourse other than simply waiting (and the occasional Qur'an-flushing contest). This is a perversion of justice, and it goes against everything the American system stands for.

If Jones and his cohorts in the Bush administration are so concerned about justice, why have so many been interned for so long at Gitmo without trials? Why do we continue to abridge the personal freedoms of so many who our justice system allegedly presumes to be innocent?

Why have we waited five years for this?

05 May 2006

Here We Go 'Round the Prickly Pear

Best T.S. Eliot reference of the day so far:

"Mr. Moussaoui, you came here to be a martyr in a great big bang of glory," U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said after sentencing the al-Qaida operative to six terms of life imprisonment for conspiracy. "But to paraphrase the poet T.S. Eliot, instead you will die with a whimper."

My sentiments exactly.

Casting a Spell[ing]

Saw this in the Christian Science Monitor this morning, and it got me to thinking. The columnist writes,

Who knew that spelling bees could be so hot?

A spelling bee takes a skill by definition connected with the written form of a language and turns it into a kind of audio performance – the oral recitation, on stage, before an audience, of letter names in their correct order. It would be a very different contest if it involved, say, writing the words on a board before the judges.

And the secret of the bee's appeal? In part, it's the appeal that any contest among human beings generates. Spelling bees pit vulnerable young people against the inexorable dictionary. But beyond that, I would suggest that, among all kinds of people, the love of language, including hard-to-spell "championship" words, is often deeper, broader, and more intense than we realize.

My attitude toward spelling for the last several years (in fact, ever since I took my first undergrad English language class at Kansas State University from now-infamous word nerd Tom Murray) has been a negative one. After all, the mix and hodgepodge of the language, as well as the arbitrary spelling conventions around every corner, have made it an exercise in memorization and guessing prowess at best.

This column made me reassess my position on spelling. It made me wonder if maybe there is value in the practice after all? It does several important things for us:

1.) Spelling reminds us of the disjunct between spoken and written language. It emphasizes the constructedness and mutability of each; how else would "knight" ever come to be pronounced "nait"?

2.) Spelling reminds us of where the language came from. The spelling of words like "bread" reflect movements in the language, including vowel shifts in late Middle English and Early Modern English. The contrast between the pronunciations of "bead" and "bread" reminds us of the various origins of words and the different routes they can take.

3.) Spelling reminds us of the wondrous variety of words we have access to. From good old monosyllabic Germanic words to polysyllabic monstrosities introduced by the dang French, we have an enormous array of tools in our linguistic shed.

Of course, spelling can also be a rote process, and this is the kind of thing I object to. But if people take the time to learn why things are spelled the way they are, they learn all sorts of great and interesting stuff about the language they use to express themselves, like that "knight" used to be pronounced just like it's spelled. :-)

04 May 2006

Boycott Cruise

Everyone's favorite Servant of Xenu is promoting his latest work, M:i:III in New York. Just a reminder, The Lizard Queen has asked us to boycott Cruise's latest flick because of his disparaging and anti-rational ideas about mental illness and the chemical treatment thereof. Scientology is not just stupid, folks; it's dangerous, too. Let's send a message that we're sick of its attacks on the downtrodden.

On the Moussaoui Sentence

There's apparently a lot of controversy over the federal jury's inability to unanimously recommend the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui. New York's Sen. Chuck Schumer said, "The only good that will come of this verdict is that Moussaoui won't become a martyr and that he will have to spend the rest of his life behind bars."

The New York Daily News Editorial Board seems especially disgruntled at the decision. They write:
Zacarias Moussaoui will live. This is not justice. This is an abomination. This is a reprieve from hell for a soul who deserves an eternity in flames no less intense than the infernos that brought down the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

That Moussaoui will suffer the tortures of damnation after a life in prison is of no comfort. No matter how entombed in concrete and steel he is, Moussaoui will breathe the air that Al Qaeda denied to almost 3,000 murder victims. Until, to his everlasting surprise, he is greeted not by willing virgins but by a vengeful maker.

Venomous, no?

As you'll recall, this space once was devoted to suggesting that life in prison is the appropriate punishment for Moussaoui. My reasons for writing that were threefold, and they continue to be valid now, after the sentence is all but handed down.

1.) Moussaoui wanted to be a martyr. Despite his gleeful "America, you lost - I won!", I can almost guarantee hee is crushed by the decision. And if he isn't now, he will be at some point in the future... he'll have a lot of time to think at the Alcatraz of the Rockies, the Federal PMITA prison where he's headed.

2.) The death penalty is more expensive than life in prison. It's strange, and I don't have time to post the reasons here, but you can read more about it here.

3.) The longer we make this guy suffer by having to live with himself, the more he will punish himself.

What do you think?

03 May 2006

Spam Can Be Fun!

So on my last entry (which was hurriedly written and not especially coherent), I got this comment:
Sweety said...
Your commentary style is great i loved it.

I am inviting you to the launch of my website
Please visit & send in your genuine comments.
Your Sweety

Like any gullible consumer, I clicked through. What, you wouldn't? :-) Call me easily amused.

What's there is horrible. Garish pink background, green animated gif, terrible design, annoying google ad bar taking up way too much horizontal space... in short, a nightmare.

The crowning glory is a wondrous poem or manifesto or something, which I copy and paste here for your reading "pleasure":

I believe in God.

I also believe in teamwork.

I am in the business of creating and planting desire

in human minds and I am proud that I take a reward for it.

I must be respected and admired for what

I do today and tomorrow, rather than for what I did yesterday.

I pursue high quality, utmost efficiency

and perfection in everything I do.

I shall remain honest, sincere, simple, humble

and loyal to work, to myself and to all people I interact with.

I admire charity, happiness,

freedom and respect for the individual.

I unceasingly strive for progress, always reminding

myself that any progress is impossible without renewal and change.

I worship at the altar of simplicity,

clarity of thought and power of the idea.

I am passionate about growth and understand that

passion, enthusiasm, skill and detailing in my work fuels it.

I want to be the No.l in all markets I operate

by giving powerful, response-oriented, world-class creative and professional, positive relationship-oriented service to my clients.

I focus on building powerful brands.

And I operate through online marketing


Hehehe. So much I could say here... but I think I really need to let it speak for itself. Let's just say I hope, for "Sweetie's" sake, that this is something that was created yesterday -- because if I were "her," I would not want anyone to give me credit for it. (Apparently, "she" can't take credit for things that have happened in the past, if I read her philosophy right.)

As for the "I believe in God" line... any God that condones consumerism, bad Web design, poorly executed spam, and rambling, unrealistic manifestos is probably not going to be the real one. Just sayin'.

The reason I put quotes around "Sweetie's" name and pronouns is because I'm pretty sure "she" is a 50-year-old homeless man who lives in the hold of a shipwrecked yacht somewhere off the coast of Sri Lanka.

Pet Peeves: Syntax

Take a look at this headline from the Christian Science Monitor: All gun control can't be local. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who read this and go, "Looks all right to me" (though they would be more likely to spell it "alright") and those who read this and say, "Arrrrgh! The syntax is all wrong; that doesn't mean what the writer wanted it to mean!"

The thesis of the editorial is that not all gun control can be local. This limits "all," since the "not" directly modifies it. The headline that actually got online, however, means something related but quite different: No gun control can be local. This is because the "cannot" contracted to "can't" applies to "All gun control."

When syntactic looseness like this gets in print, what little hair remains to me is in severe danger of being plucked out by its meager little roots. The imprecision, despite the fact that most readers will understand the phrase's meaning, frustrates me because I want to be able to express both of these senses, and if we collapse both of them into one construction, it will become less readily apparent what that construction means.

Please, please think of the word order, people! :-)

Is Cheney Human After All?

The only indication I have that our esteemed second-in-command might have a soul that could be described as human: his love for his daughter, Mary Cheney. Apparently, in a recent Vanity Fair article, Dick refused to get into the causes of homosexuality and called it a "deeply personal" question. Interesting how such a big Republican issue is somewhat flexible for Cheney...

02 May 2006

David Blaine's Mommy Did Not Hug Him Enough When He Was a Child

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

World renowned daredevil/performance artist/attention whore David Blaine is at it again. This time, the wacky man is spending a week underwater in an 8-foot sphere at Lincoln Center. He is literally a goldfish begging for spectators.

But that's not all; according to the AP article,

In a week, he will remove the breathing device and try to hold his breath underwater to surpass a record of 8 minutes, 58 seconds -- longer than a dolphin, he says, but still surpassed by the sperm whale.

In an added display of extreme multitasking, Blaine will try to escape from 150 pounds of chains and handcuffs during the breath-holding finale.

Wonderful. So he's going to try to outdo Navy SEALs, Houdini, and dolphins... all at the same time. Can we say "starved for attention"?

The title of this post is only halfway joking. I think there's a severe lack of early childhood affection in our culture -- hence, the mania for getting people to recognize our worth via reality TV and wacky stunts like this. If more parents spent time with their kids and made them feel loved in a variety of caring ways, I think we'd be a lot more balanced, both as a society and as individual family units.

At the very least, maybe Blaine wouldn't have to "invite visitors to stop by and wave at him" during this bizarre feat.

01 May 2006

Amazingest Movie

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

Ran across this thing today; it's bloody brilliant.