Thursday, August 26, 2010

the Bible got it wrong

An evangelical preacher is taking a new tack in proselytizing to gays, starting with "I'm sorry." The idea is that he used to be a bigot about homosexuality until several of his friends came out, and now he tries to talk to gays about Jesus without pressing on them that their lifestyle is sinful. From what I can tell, however, he still thinks homosexuality is sinful, he just doesn't talk about it openly:
"It's theologically sloppy to say it's not a sin," he replies. But he quickly adds that all Christians are sinners, according to Romans 3:23. "We're all dealing with something."

Thus the current limits of evangelical outreach to the GLBT community.

My real interest is the next part. Dan Savage moves from here and drops a bomb on the whole conversation:
When evangelicals are ready to admit that the bible got homosexuality wrong—just like it got slavery and shellfish and figs and masturbation and burnt offerings wrong—then we can talk.

Provocative. It did get those things wrong, though, didn't it? Certainly slavery and masturbation in any case.

The problem here is that biblical inerrancy is a principle feature of conservative religion in general and evangelicalism in particular. Popular religion is rife with unexamined contradictions, of course; we're all perfectly aware that, for instance, kosher law is in the Bible and yet Christians don't practice it, or riffing from prior conversations, that the Sabbath is on the 7th day of the week, which isn't Sunday. Sometimes Christian children in Sunday school ask where Cain's wife came from, or how Noah was able to get animals native to the Americas before the Flood. Biblical inerrancy as a sentiment, however, is deep and powerful and fundamental to conservative reliosity. To let go of it jars loose the entire rock of the church.

To ask evangelicals to admit that part of the Bible was wrong, any part, is frankly asking conservatives to become liberals.

Trader Joe's

A pretty good article from Fortune Magazine on the business side of Trader Joe's.

the Sabbath

I don't usually bother with the guy on this little blog, but Glenn Beck said something I found just high-larious. He said he originally planned his "let's all worship Glenn Beck" day speech for 9/12, but changed it because he didn't want to ask people to "work on the Sabbath."

9/12 is a Sunday.

Ok, maybe that's only a punchline for me. It's a minor pet peeve of mine. I understand that this is a somewhat common misconception among Christians, much like calling the last book of the New Testament "Revelations" (just one long, weird Revelation, people!), but the Sabbath is the 7th day of the week. That's Saturday for the calendar-illiterate. Hence why Jews go to synagogue and 7th Day Adventists go to church on Saturday.

Christians go to church on Sunday, the Lord's Day, in honor of the Resurrection.

I guess I'm just interested by all the tiny ways people like Beck and Palin accidentally let on that their supposed expertise is a complete fabrication. Beck doesn't actually know a damn thing about the religion he's trying to champion, and Palin's storehouse of homespun wisdom is just part of the stage set, an illusion meant to help the audience suspend their disbelief.

These two people are the de facto chairs of the political party that may take the House in November.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

perennially underrated

Mandel is right on this: Texas Tech enters the season underrated yet again. Every season A&M is picked to finally rise up and take their rightful place above the Red Raiders, and every season they fail. This year the only real change for either team is that (arguably, at least) Tech upgraded their coaching staff.

I think ultimately this is about history. The Aggies were historically the second team in the state with the Red Raiders a distant third (or worse), so everyone keeps expecting a return to the natural order. As anyone in the ACC will tell you, though, there's no good reason to expect a team to magically improve just because it was good 15 years ago.

women are for sex, men are for violence

A fantastic post from Chastity on oppressive gender-based societal expectations ... for men. The money quote:’s perfectly okay to beat up men, because if a man can’t defend himself it’s his fault.

Warning: this is a super geeky post from a Warcraft blog. Yes, it does dig a little into the weeds of a video game. The middle part (3 male good spellcasters) is probably the most exclusionary one. The gist of it is simply that the game reflects a larger cultural assumption that men settle their conflicts with brute force.

Also, echoing Chastity, none of this is intended to imply that men have it as bad as/worse than women.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

what you need to know about the egg recall

Thanks to Salon for publishing a quick list of "need to know" facts, such as where to find out if your brand is affected, the symptoms of salmonella, etc.

Recalls like this are why it's increasingly in our interest to unplug ourselves from industrial agribusiness where possible. I realize that sounds hyperbolic, but clearly mainstream food production has become so centralized and so poorly monitored that massive summertime food-borne disease outbreaks and attendant food recalls are becoming commonplace. Even the FDA has admitted that they lack the funds and manpower to "shift from reactive to preventive."

There is a way to innoculate yourself from the annual poisoning of the American consumer: buy local. Despite the assurances of the free marketeers that it's "in the interests of big business" to provide a safe product, industrial agribusiness has a terrible record when it comes to food safety compared to your local farmer. The reasons for this are pretty obvious, I think:

  1. what does minimum wage (or worse!) worker #4,972 care whether he's really thoroughly washing the lettuce, or keeping the eggs at a safe temperature, or making sure there's absolutely no paint chips falling into the peanut butter?

  2. the giant company that supplies billions of eggs a year to half the country will be inconvenienced by the recall, and will have a bad year for profits, but will survive and be in perfect form again in a year or two. If the guy at the poultry booth in the farmer's market sells bad eggs and his customers get sick, between losing the trust of his customer base and the hell that state/federal regulators will call down on him he'll almost certainly go out of business.

Nevermind the remarkable difference in quality and taste between local free range and industrial eggs. There are some foods where there's little change in taste between the local and industrial stuff, and others where it's night and day. In my experience tomatoes, strawberries, grass fed beef, and eggs are the products where the difference is starkest. The eggs even look different on the inside: you don't realize how pale and flabby and unappetizing industrial yolks are until you crack open a local, free range egg and see one of those dark, almost burnt orange, thick yolks sitting almost perfectly spherical in the pan.

Buying local means not having to worry about national recalls.

Monday, August 23, 2010

learning the lessons of Greece

Wait, what's that, you say? Going full-on austerity in a vulnerable economy was a terrible, terrible idea that plunged Greece into a bonafide depression?

some facts about new incoming freshmen

Beloit College does this every year, and it's fascinating. Some of the facts are more mind-blowing than others, such as "Nirvana is on the classic oldies station" and "few in the class know how to write in cursive," not to mention simply the birth year: 1992.

Some, however, are of world-historical relevance: "they have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the U.S." This is the first college class born after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the same year the European Union was created.

"a model of cowardice"

That's how Glenn Greenwald described the behavior of prominent Democrats in response to the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque," a misnomer so egregious it compares in silliness to "partial birth abortion" and "Holy Roman Empire." It is the "death panels" of this summer, to be sure, but this wholly absurd debate* is useful in one single solitary respect: it provides a tiny glimpse into the hearts of prominent politicians. Some have been heartening, such as the courageous stands made by Michael Bloomberg and Russ Feingold, while others were dispiriting, whether as predictable as Harry Reid's craven vote-mongering or as disappointing as the fraying of Howard Dean's moral fiber.

*As Howard Kurtz mentions, the organizers of the cultural center have only managed to raise $18k of the $100 MILLION needed, so it's unlikely this thing will ever be built anyway.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

change we can believe in

On Monday the United States military led by the Obama Administration convicted a child soldier to an undisclosed sentence without a jury trial using evidence acquired through the use of torture and after having already imprisoned the boy for 8 years, over 1/3 of his lifetime.

Just thought you might find that interesting.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

the activist base

Quote of the Day, from David Frum commenting on Robert Gibbs' attack on liberals:
"More proof of my longtime thesis, Repub pols fear the GOP base; Dem pols hate the Dem base."

Bradley Manning: rage-filled homo

Interesting to see how our liberal media writes a bio piece for a whistleblower as if he were a serial killer or a terrorist. Why would he do such a thing? Is it because he had a rough childhood, or was gay, or had a temper? Is it because he fell in with "hackers" who started filling his head with crazy ideas?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

the death of Ted Stevens

I can't get out of my head what must have been going through Ted Stevens' head in his final moments. To survive a plane crash but lose your wife and the mother of your 5 children in it is one hell of a life event, in every sense of the term. One can only imagine the kind of grief and survivor's guilt that accompanies it.

To then be in a second downward spiraling plane 32 years later, the odd familiarity, the sudden reminder of that past life and love and grief on top of the fear... There are no words.

Friday, August 06, 2010


I'm hearing the lament among lots of people who should know better that the judicial confirmation process is a lot more partisan than it once was, and it's the Democrats' fault for opposing Robert Bork. It amazes me that even people in the news media will throw this claim out there without ever mentioning the reasons behind the opposition to Bork, as if it was just mere "partisanship."

Robert Bork openly supported Jim Crow poll taxes. He also did not believe in a constitutionally protected right to privacy. At his confirmation vote, no fewer than six Republicans voted against him, and he won only 42 votes for confirmation.

Still think the Democrats were being overly partisan?

A quick history lesson: when the special prosecutor of the Watergate Hotel break-in, Archibald Cox, came a' knockin' for Richard Nixon's Oval Office tape recordings, Nixon knew he was in deep shit. He refused to hand them over at first, but Cox pressed on. Nixon offered a compromised, that a near-deaf Senator named John Stennis would listen to them for him. Cox refused the compromise, so Nixon did the only thing left he could think of: he ordered his Attorney General to fire the Special Prosecutor.

The Attorney General refused and resigned in protest.

So Nixon asked the next guy in line to fire him. The next guy in line refused and resigned in protest.

So Nixon asked the third guy in line to fire him. That guy saw the Attorney General job dangling in front of him, snapped it up, and fired the Special Prosecutor, an act so unethical that 5 years later Congress enacted the Ethics in Government Act specifically to prevent that kind of thing from happening again.

That guy who did Nixon's dirty work, as you can guess, was Robert Bork.

gay judges can't be impartial

I'm a firm believer that, while sports do not "teach us" the things coaches always claim they do, like "moral values," they do model some important lessons about human behavior. For instance, whenever one side loses an important match, rather than admitting weakness, the fans' first defense is to blame the refs.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

fun with numbers: government workers edition

The federal budget is overwhelmingly eaten up by 3 things: Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and Defense, and all in roughly equal measure. If there was a mass of useless bureaucracy that could easily be washed away that would make any significant dent in the budget, you can bet it would have been by now.

Or not?

Let's take a look at the staff of the federal government, since in matters not related to Social Security and Medicare, much of what the government pays for is people: people to calculate tax revenue, people to analyze data, people to go enforce rules. Lucky for us, the federal government provides a handy dandy outline of what its staff looks like.

Notice anything interesting?

There are 1.9 million people employed by the federal government, not including the Postal Service or soldiers. Of those, 1.1 million of them work for the Dept. of Defense, Veterans' Affairs, or Homeland Security. That's 58% of the entire federal government. And that does not include enlisted men and women!

Put another way, including the 1,421,000 active duty personnel, there are over 2.5 million people employed by the Depts. of Defense, Veterans' Affairs, and Homeland Security compared to 329,000 in all other areas of the federal government. There are more than 7 times as many people working in national defense as there are elsewhere.

And I didn't include the other 848,000 people in the reserves.

The Dept. of Education, every conservative's favorite target for elimination? 4,000 people. The evil, evil Dept. of Housing and Urban Development? 9,000 people. NASA? 18,000 people.

But remember, kids, the only way to balance the budget is with steep cuts to Social Security!

new right wing media guy invented robot chef and cure for cancer

Seriously. This guy is

Not helpful if you're trying to make the "teabaggers aren't really crazy " argument, though.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

the American police state

Add another one to the list of advances in the Bush-Obama police state. You may already know that the Obama Administration has approved the targeted killing of an American citizen with no trial and no judicial consent whatsoever, solely on the basis of the Administration's own assurance that he is a terrorist.

Here's a new one, though: when the guy's dad went to court seeking an injunction from the United States government assassinating his son, the administration claimed that they put a special label on his son making it illegal for anyone to represent him or file anything in court on his behalf.

The Obama Administration now claims the ability not only to deny you access to a lawyer, but the right to imprison any lawyer who would try to petition the government on your behalf. The government can now tell attorneys whom they can and cannot represent.

Let's review, shall we? The Executive now claims the right to tap your phones, read all your emails, and keep a complete database of all of your internet activity from searches to websites visited on any computer, all without any judicial oversight whatsoever. They can arrest American citizens without charge, imprison them for an indefinite period of time, torture them, or even kill them, all with no judicial permission or oversight. They can blow your head off as you're getting into your car to go to work one morning, having made the decision completely in secret and without having to inform anyone of even the reason for it. And if anyone out there doesn't like what's happened to you and goes to the courts about it, they can be arrested, too.

Sorry to get all Glenn Beck on you, but the construction of the American police state is complete. The legal precedents are now de facto ratified by both parties, and the colossal apparatus required to implement them is in place, as shown by the Washington Post several weeks ago.

Just think back on all Barack Obama has done when given the reins to this monster, how even a former constitutional law professor, a guy who championed the rights of the arrested as a state legislator, took the powers assumed by Bush and ran with them. Now imagine Sarah Palin or Rudy Giuliani being elected president.

the Inquisitor state

Slate has a story on the history and process of stoning in Iran. Truly gruesome stuff, and people are condemned to it for adultery and prostitution. Also, the judge doesn't actually need any evidence or witness testimony whatsoever to condemn a woman to die this way.

Did I mention that you get buried up to your chest before you are stoned to death by rocks the size of tangerines?

The Slate story was prompted by the plight of Sakineh Ashtiani, a woman condemned to exactly such a penalty (despite the supposed moratorium on stonings in Iran) and an offer from the president of Brazil to grant her asylum.

I point this out first of all because it should have been us that offered asylum. I don't care if it's a publicity stunt, or if there's any chance of her getting an opportunity to take Brazil up on it. The combination of Ashtiani's charge, trial, and sentence encapsulate a horrific complex of police state tactics and medieval theocratic values, an "Inquisitor state" that we should be attempting to expose and humiliate at every opportunity.

Iran's example reminds us how Bush and Cheney had it wrong when they argued that our civil libertarian values make us weak and vulnerable. Rather, it is precisely our principles, our belief in everyone's right to privacy, religious freedom, and the rights of the arrested that make our society not just different from Iran's, but superior.

I also bring this up because stoning seems like an old ritual punishment that shows how Iran never progressed beyond the Middle Ages, but in fact it has only existed in Iran since 1983. We forget that Islamic fundamentalism is a recent phenomenon, a reaction to western colonialism. The United States' first participation in a coup of a democratically elected foreign head of government, in fact, was committed in Iran by the Eisenhower Administration.

It seems all our current nemeses are our own creations.