Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Great Month to be a Republican ... not.

"I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it." -- John Stuart Mill

It's not a great time to be a Republican (not that any time is). You have today's defection of Arlen Specter to the Democratic Party. With the presumed seating of Franken in Minnesota, you have a filibuster-proof 60. As usual, the party leaders responded with class and decorum:

- Minority leader Mitch McConnel says that Specter's switch is a "threat to the country".

- Rush Limbaugh - "Take McCain and his daughter with you"

- RNC Chairman Michael Steele - "Senator Specter didn't leave the GOP based on principles of any kind."

Kevin Siers of the Charlotte Observer

A few weeks ago, it was the "astroturf" grassroots populism of the Tea Parties. Grassroots, my ass. I understand the sentiment of the "fair tax" crowd (though I don't agree with it). But the Tea Parties had nothing to do with that. It was something much uglier. From Tea Parties and Teleprompters by David Michael Green:

... I suppose you could find a less spontaneous, less authentic expression of public sentiment if you looked really hard - perhaps by going to the latest Hannah Montana movie, for example - but I don't think it would be very easy. Fox (Hardly Any) News literally ran about a hundred segments on the tea parties in advance of the magical date, a promotional tsunami masquerading as news reporting that would've made any Soviet minister of propaganda blush.

I suppose you could also find political elements more incoherent and less grounded in reality if you tried really hard ... If the low rent, low IQ, low on laundry detergent (non) masses attending these events looked familiar, it was because we saw them on the campaign trail last year, angrily spouting utter fabrications and fulminating their vaguely anti-government screeds at Sarah Palin rallies. What they lack in quality dental care or concern about the health effects of obesity, they fully make up for in sheer gullibility and lumpen selfishness masquerading as vulgar capitalism.

My favorite bit from the coverage of the tea parties was the inadvertent reality intrusion episode, where some smart-ass got up at one of the rallies, got the crowd all excited about taxes and deficits, and then asked them to applaud Barack Obama for cutting their taxes. That little bit of cognitive dissonance produced a long, pregnant, troubled pause, and you could almost hear the rusty gears in their brains jamming into one another, screeching like a subway train, and ultimately shattering from sheer lack of prior use, as the attendees decided to stick with their advance programming after all, booing the mention of the shifty Negro in the White House despite the fact that he is cutting their taxes, just like they claim to want him to.

On the other hand, perhaps the most amazing sight of all was the Republican governor of Texas ... not so vaguely hinting at the possibility that Texas might secede from the union, and falsely claiming that the state had a special legal right to do so ...

Of course, only if deceit happens to be a moral problem need one worry about the hypocrisy of all these red states bitching about taxes and the oppressive federal government while simultaneously receiving far more dollars from Washington than they kick in...

... All of this is emblematic, of course, of a political movement in utter free fall, and completely lacking any sense whatsoever of what to do about it. This week it was tea parties. Before that, he was Obama bowing to the Saudi king. Before that, it was the president giving the Queen of England an iPod. Or was it the fact that he uses Teleprompters when he speaks?

A perusal of some of the signs at these Tea Parties will give you an idea of what they were really about: 10 Most Offensive Tea Party Signs. The Phoenix events were among the most disgusting.

And if you need more proof of the fact that a lot of conservatives do not get when they are being made fun of - from an Ohio State University Study:

This study investigated biased message processing of political satire in The Colbert Report and the influence of political ideology on perceptions of Stephen Colbert. Results indicate that political ideology influences biased processing of ambiguous political messages and source in late-night comedy ... There was no significant difference between the groups in thinking Colbert was funny, but conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements. Conservatism also significantly predicted perceptions that Colbert disliked liberalism ...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

God Bless America?

What is the line of patriotism past which it becomes jingoism and blind nationalism? When does honoring your own religion turn into the exclusion of all other viewpoints?

And when you get to that point, do you realize you are not representing the things this country stands for any more?

I think we've gotten to that point. From the Dan Patrick Show (ESPNRadio) and NY Daily News:

A baseball fan is suing the NYPD for kicking him out of the old Yankee Stadium last summer because he tried to use the restroom during the playing of "God Bless America," lawyers said.

Bradford Campeau-Laurion, 30, a lifelong baseball fan, claimed he was the victim of religious and political discrimination on Aug. 26, 2008 when police officers booted him from the ballpark.

"The role of police officers is to enforce the law," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said.

"New York's finest have no business arresting someone for trying to go to the bathroom at a politically incorrect moment," Lieberman said. "That is an abuse of authority and a violation of the constitutional principles that our country is founded on."

Besides the cops, the lawsuit names the Yankee Partnership, for a policy that restricts fan movement during the playing of "God Bless America."

Campeau-Laurion said his clash with cops began when he decided to use the bathroom at the start of the seventh-inning stretch. He got up and made his way down the aisle as the song began playing.

A police officer blocked his path and told him he couldn't leave during the song, the lawsuit alleges.

I got that "God Bless America" was played during the 7th inning stretch of some ballgames after 9/11. I didn't agree with it, but I at least understood it ... for that year. It's 8 years later and most teams are still doing it at one point or another. It's time to move on. Get over it. We are not honoring anyone by continuing to play it. We're trivializing that people died and instead making them into a recruiting poster for the military and police. I used to be halfway patriotic and more respectful of law enforcement, but the things I've seen and heard over the last few years make my blood boil. If you think 9/11 is about the need to make the country more patriotic and more religious, then you haven't a clue and haven't learning a thing.

I don't mind standing for the Star Spangled Banner at the start of games. Though some would have you think that the Banner has always been played before games, it didn't start till after WWII. But, OK, that's fine. I'm not going to make a big deal about that. But let's cut out all the extra BS. Baseball games are not indoctrination meetings.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I've got soul, but I'm not a soldier ...

I don't know if this is a trend or I'm just noticing it more. Pop music, at least some of it, has seemed to become more religious in nature or religion-influenced. Don't get me wrong. I'm not really complaining. I don't really care where artists get their inspiration. Is their music good? Does it say something about the human condition? That's all that matters to me.

But I do find the new-found piety a little curious. Just a sampling:

Paramore - A little pop punk band that has been fairly popular over the last few years.

In an interview with the BBC, Josh Farro stated "Our faith is very important to us. It's obviously going to come out in our music because if someone believes something, then their worldview is going to come out in anything they do. But we're not out here to preach to kids, we're out here because we love music."

Kings of Leon

Nathan, Caleb, and Jared Followill were born to Leon Followill, a Pentecostal evangelist minister ... The brothers spent much of their youth travelling around the South with their father ... The boys learned to play drums, guitar and bass as children while performing gospel songs in the church ...

The Killers - Lead singer Brandon Flowers is Mormon. Their biggest song, All These Things I've Done has undeniable religious meaning:

"When there's nowhere else to run
Is there room for one more son ...
...I need direction to perfection ...
I got soul, but I'm not a soldier
Help me out
Yeah, you know you got to help me out ..."

The " ... I got soul, but I'm not a soldier" line is a good line and has been used by other artists in concert, including U2, Robbie Williams and Coldplay. I think that it's a positive line regardless how you take it. It's popularity probably relates to it's pro-faith, anti-war message. But I think it can be taken as having faith but not being a soldier for it. Meaning: don't push your religion on others.

U2 - U2's always had Christian imagery in their music. From their most recent album, No Line on the Horizon (a very good album BTW), the song Moment of Surrender:

" ... I was speeding on the subway
Through the stations of the cross
Every eye looking every other way
Counting down 'til the pain would stop

At the moment of surrender
Of vision over visibility
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me ..."

Jonas Brothers - Evangelical Christians, with Assembly of God pastor father. They all wear purity rings, signifying a promise of celibacy until marriage. A noble enough goal, if just a bit unrealistic. And studies have shown it to be ineffective.

But, you know, whatever. To each his own. I don't think that music fans completely buy into whatever their favorite bands are selling anyway. You could probably have a devil worshiper rock star out there that would sell a lot of records as long as his songs made you shake your ass. Actually, there probably have been some of those.

I have a friend that is a huge Springsteen fan but detests his politics. There used to be legions of frat boys at Rage Against the Machine concerts that wouldn't have the first clue about what any of the songs referred to. And that's OK. Probably 3/4 of the allure of songs is the music itself. If you get something out of the lyrics, that's a bonus.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


I took the afternoon off on Monday and attended the Origins Symposium at ASU's Gammage Auditorium. This is a great venue that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Not wanting to pay for parking or to worry about traffic, I rode the Light Rail from it's westernmost point near Christown Mall down to Tempe. Some observations:

- For being a huge baseball fan, specifically of the Diamondbacks, I was apparently unaware of the fact that home opener was an afternoon game (12:40). Wisely, everybody and their mother were riding the light rail to the park. Wise for them, not me. I had to put up with a full train until we go to the park and about 80% of the people got off. I did strike up a great conversation with a guy in a wheelchair who was not going to the game. He was from New York and we chatted about the Mets and their new bullpen. Nice guy.

- Everybody needs to ride mass transit more often. And I'm not talking about the obvious, good-for-the-environment blah-blah-blah stuff. The majority of the people that ride trains and buses are not white, are not rich, are not "proper". The world of mass transit may not always be pretty, but it's real. I'll take real over pretty any day.

Before the conference, I picked up a couple of tacos at a new place called Hippie's Cove on Mill Ave in downtown Tempe. Good stuff.

Got to Gammage, which was about a half mile walk from the Light Rail stop on Mill. There was about a half hour until the afternoon session began, so I sat in the hall outside the auditorium with other attendees. Now, I consider myself fairly nerdy, but I'm frickin' the coolest guy in the world compared to this crew. But I meant that in the most positive sense. I wish I hung out with more of these types.

The main point of the conference was to discuss the following questions:

How did the Universe Begin?
How did life arise?
How does life evolve?
What is the Origin of Human Uniqueness?
What is the origin of disease?
How does consciousness arise?
How do human institutions arise and develop?
What will be the technologies of the future?

The conference started and the first speaker was introduced and came out. This was the main person I was coming for, Richard Dawkins. Nowadays, most people know him for his book, The God Delusion, but he was a hugely influential evolutionary biologist and that is what he was speaking on this day. He spoke for about an hour and took some questions at the end. They primarily dealt with evolution but one questioner tried to bring up atheism and was rebuffed by the moderator. This symposium was to deal with the "origins" of the universe, of life, etc. If you opened up the can of worms of religion, you could fill several more symposiums. Dawkins was funny, conversational, intelligent and I'm glad I finally had the chance to see him in person.

The second speaker was Craig Venter. He is generally considered to be the first to map the human genome. There is some controversy on this point, but Venter is very active in genomic research and we haven't heard the last from him. He has a non-profit organization with over 400 scientists that continue to work in this field. His talk was a bit dry for my taste, not as funny as Dawkins. And I wasn't as nearly interested in his subject matter as the other speakers. The questioners at the end of his talk generally seemed to ask about the ethics of genomic research and of patenting of genomes.

Lawrence Krauss, the head of the Origins Initiative at ASU and a world-renowned author and theoretical physicist, was the third speaker. I didn't know a a lot about him going in but was very impressed. He was very charismatic and funny. He organized the symposium and was able to assemble a large number of Nobel winning physicists and chemists plus a collection of some of the most popularly known scientists and intellectuals in the world (Dawkins, Brian Greene, Christopher Hitchens, Venter, Stephen Pinker, etc.) He primarily talked about the origins of the universe, its age, and its expansion. Though it was a scientific conference, he couldn't resist a gentle dig -- Krauss commented that the universe has been measured to be about 13.7 billion years old, except for those people in Texas at the school board he just spoken to the previous week.

The last presentation was a round table of 6 Nobel Prize winning scientists moderated by Ira Flatow of NPR's Science Friday. Flatow led the sometime contentious discussion by the following scientists: Sheldon Glashow, David Gross, John Mather, Frank Wilczek, Walter Gilbert and Baruch Blumberg. Though they were all courteous and generally amusing, you can sense some fundamental differences in how they viewed popular physics subjects such as string theory, supersymmetry, and the Large Hadron Collider. It was all incredibly fascinating and I wish I could listen to people like this all the time.

This presentation again ended with some audience questions and you knew someone would just have to put a fly in the ointment. Flatow had begun the presentation with a comment about how it was nice for science to now be viewed in a more positive sense and for it to have a seat at the table, unlike the last 8 years. This is a point that no rational person could disagree with and I would guess that 99.9% of the audience agreed with. Well, that one person that disagree had to ask a question. A lady came up and said that she had no idea what he was talking about when he said that science has not been appreciated politically or popularly recently. And even before she said it, I knew she was going to somehow dovetail this into a religious question. She brought up Francis Collins as a means of saying that religion and science can coexist. For those who don't know who he is, he is a geneticist very instrumental in the mapping of the human genome, a contemporary of Venter. Christians love him because he is the one scientist in a 1,000 who will admit to being a Christian. It's sad really ... kinda like saying there are Republican actors by bringing up Stephen Baldwin or Angie Harmon. If you have to bring up Stephen Baldwin or Angie Harmon in any discussion, your argument is already lost.

Flatow was polite with the lady but opened up the discussion to the scientists in the panel who, to a man, brought up how science was the search for truth, where ever it may lie. They were all gracious, intelligent and profound and were met with raucous applause ... answer enough to the lady whose intent was to reconcile faith and science, at least in her own mind.

Overall, the conference was very enjoyable. It's encouraging that a show with a bunch of crusty old scientists talking can sell out a 3,000 seat theater in a conservative, largely religious and sometimes distinctly anti-science state. Maybe times are changing.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Opening Day ... my favorite day

"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." -- Rogers Hornsby

"I see great things in baseball, it's our game-the American game. It will take our people out of doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us." -- Walt Whitman