Friday, December 31, 2004


All right -- am I wrong, or is something off here?

This man has a "ceremony" with his 12 year old daughter in which he makes her promise to remain a virgin until she marries, saying he's going to be the special man in her life until she finds a a man to replace him --

All right, okay, the ideas behind all this might be okay. Maybe. A father should support his daughter. He ought to tell his daughter she's beautiful and special.

But a father having a "virginity ceremony" with his 12 year old daughter strikes me as slight creeped out.

I might add, obsessively patriarchial and a bit of a control-freak -- but I won't.

And notice the end of the story -- this guy sees his daughter as a "gift" for another man. She's nothing but property to him.

Good heavens.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Merry Christmas, Sucker

We gotta cut back somewhere, right?

I mean, everyone knows that.

So where do you think it should be? From the pockets of Bush’s rich buddies? Or the pockets of poor college students?

That’s a no-brainer.

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“According to an analysis by the American Council on Education, about 1.3 million students and their families will see their eligibility for federal financial aid drop next year, when the formula change takes effect, because the new formula will show them to have more money available for college than before. The families of some of the 90,000 students disqualified from Pell Grants could also appear to be rich enough under the change, according to the council, that they will be ineligible for state and institutional aid as well.”

When was this announced? Right before Christmas – when the American college student wasn’t on campus, when Americans weren’t paying attention.

"It's not unusual for federal agencies to release unpleasant news when people aren't paying attention," said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education.


This will probably not lead too many students to drop out," said Mr. Hartle. "But it will cause these students to work more hours, borrow more money, or reduce their course loads."

More worrisome, said Brian K. Fitzgerald, staff director of the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, is that these same students could find that they are no longer eligible for other types of aid as well. The committee advises Congress on student-aid issues.

"The real concern here," he said, "is that the change will have a significant trickle-down effect because many states and colleges use the federal formula when awarding need-based aid."

According to the ACE's analysis, the 90,000 students will be concentrated in 21 states, including Massachusetts, New York, South Carolina, and Virginia. Students in two states -- Connecticut and New Jersey -- will actually see their grants increase.

A U.S. senator from one of those states had choice words for the formula change. "I am outraged that the Bush administration is going forward with these punitive cuts in Pell Grants," said Sen. Jon S. Corzine, the New Jersey Democrat who led an effort in the Senate to block the department from making the formula change.

"For these students who are simply working to get ahead," said Mr. Corzine, "this is a scene from 'The Grinch who stole my education.'"

I’m thinking back – to a certain debate – and a certain President – who claimed people should get an education if they wanted to recover from losing their jobs.

I’m thinking about a country where economy is still struggling. I’m looking at my students, already working lousy jobs and fighting to stay in school, because they believe the story people like the President fed them.

These are students who are already working so many hours, trying to stay afloat, that they frequently don’t have time to study, or get to class. They’re already in debt up to their ears from student loans, and often owe on credit cards too – not for plasma TV sets, either, or trips to the islands, but for food and basic health care.

I think about that, and then I think about stories like this:

And this:

And this:

And you know, I understand this is a capitalist society.

Rich folk have a right to do what they want with their own money.

Tax cuts are perfectly legitimate.

They aren’t GIVING money to rich people. That money BELONGS to rich people, don’t you UNDERSTAND that? Those rich people EARNED that money. If they want to spend it on cloning their cats, or $8,000 mink ponchos, well, hell, that's their God-given American right, ain't it?

Yap yap yap.

But damn it. Come on. How far is this going to go?

Monday, December 27, 2004

On Target

From over at DED Space, here's another reason why you should give your money to Target and not Wal-Mart --

I mean besides the fact that Target has cooler stuff and gives (some) of its money to the Democrats. (It gives some to the Rethugs, too. But Wal-Mart gives all theirs to the Rethugs, no shock there.)

The whole post is worth reading, so go read it, but here's the excerpt that got me:

This holiday season, Target has come under fire for strictly enforcing its "no solicitation" rule at its stores: The Salvation Army has been banned. That is fine with me, since I refuse to let gay-hating bigots handle my money. But it has incensed some of the Christian crowd. Target, to its credit, has stuck with its policy.

Naturally, stepping in to take advantage of the Christian Right's pique, is Wal-Mart, which has promised to provide matching funds to the Salvation Army. Better they should provide a safe working environment, stop union-busting, pay women equal wages, quit bullying their vendors, and honor their disability policies, but who cares about those things when you can work yourself up into a righteous Baby Jesus-inspired lather?

Meanwhile, Target has quietly provided the salaries for two Minneapolis Police Department cold case detectives for 2005. The cold case file is always the first to go when funds get tight, and Minneapolis is no exception. I'm not keen on a corporation doing what the government should be doing, but at least the detectives will be there next year, and since corporations escape paying a lot of taxes, I suppose it all works out.

(My emphasis added, since I emphatically agree.)

War Crimes

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Christmas Wishes

Took the kid to wander the mall today, mainly to get her out of the house, the mall in Fort Smith being nearly useless.

We met one of her teachers there, working at the candy store. Ah, America: that amusing place where teachers are paid so well they have to take minimum-wage jobs working over their luxurious holiday breaks. This is an outstanding, highly-trained teacher, by the way, one of the best I have ever met: working at a candy store on her ten-day Christmas break.

That was depressing enough, mind you, but a bit down the way I ran into something that knocked the wind right out of me.

Here in Fort Smith the mall has a tradition. It puts up these artificial Christmas trees, and schools and businesses from all over the community “adopt” trees and decorate them. All very cheery and sweet.

The kid and I were walking around admiring them. She likes Christmas decorations. She liked the trees with rainbows on them, and the ones with sparkly candy canes, and the ones with bookmarks done by cancer patients from the hospital, she thought that tree was cool too.

We came to the tree done by the elementary school out near Fort Chaffee.

It was decorated with American flags.

Someone had had the bright idea to have the kids write their Christmas wishes for the country on these American flags, using white stripes of the flags for lines.

I’m guessing what the teachers were expecting, maybe, were heart-warming patriotic messages. And there were a few of these: “I wish everyone in America would have a very good Christmas!”

And “I wish America would be a strong and Happy Country.”

But mostly, and overwhelmingly, the children had written things like this:

“I wish my brother would come home from Iraq. I hope he doesn’t die there.”

“I wish the war in Iraq is over soon. I wish my daddy comes home.”

“I wish the world wouldn’t have wars. I wish we could have peace.”

And this one, which just killed me:

“I wish my cousin wasn’t dead. I wish their never was a war in Iraq.”

The kid asked me what the flags said. “What’s that one say? What’s that one say?” she demanded.

“They’re wishing there wasn’t a war,” I said, and said, “Come on, let’s go buy some candy.”

Damn that Bush.


This is awful -- an 8.9 on the Richter scale earthquake, though it was the resulting tsumais and tidal waves that have killed so many: nearly 12,000 dead so far, and plenty still missing. Nearly a million people affected altogether.

Voting With Their Feet?

This ( is obviously an advertisment, not an actual article -- yet I've seen it on more than one blog already. A few people are taking it seriously. (Not all of them are blogs I take particularly seriously, mind you -- one is our old buddy Vox Day ( --

The gist of the article is that more and more young, educated, talented Americans are voting with their feet: expatriating. Taking their brains, talent, and money and leaving the country. Buying land and businesses in "Australia, Panama, the Dominican Republic, New Zealand, Canada, Argentina, Costa Rica, [and] Belize."

Vox Day thinks it's taxes. As he says, "The Internet is destroying the ability of national tax authorities to prey on those stuck living where they work," though I''m not sure what that has to do with the case in point, since what we're talking about is people moving away, not people investing in foreign countries.

The guy writing the article thinks it's Bush's re-election. As he says, "Everything we sell and promote, from relocation reports to offshore seminars has doubled in sales volume since the Bush reelection."

I know a lot of academics who have been talking, since the Bush re-election, about teaching jobs in New Zealand and Canada and England -- and I know a few who are actively looking. I don't know how serious the brain drain actually is yet.

I know I'm not going. This is my country. It doesn't belong to Bill O'Reilly or Rush. If we leave, it does belong to them.

On the other hand, well, if a significant portion of our talented folk do vote with their feet, that's not a good thing.

And if the allegiance to ignorance and repression that Bushco and O'Reilly and Rush's crowd seem committed to is driving our brightest and most talented away, shouldn't someone besides Vox Day and some guy running ads be noticing that? Doing a story on that?

Be nice if we had a functioning media in this country, wouldn't it?

I mean, I know the SEIGE ON CHRISTMAS is a lot more exciting, but hey...

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Washington Post And the Christmas Seige

Here's an article from the Washington Post, attempting to be all fair and balanced -- cites both the ACLU and the ADF on the Great Christmas Seige.

(You'll remember the ADF as the charming folks who sued the school two days before Thanksgiving, the one that they claimed "banned" the Declaration of Independence? When actually the school principal just objected to a fundie teacher using the classroom to preach the word of Christ to his third-graders?)

Anyway, according to the article, the Far-Right religious folk claim to feel "that traditional values are under attack from all different angles," according to Erik Stanley, chief counsel for the Liberty Counsel -- and that's why they've started this seige on Christmas fuss, not to mention the gay-marriage protests, and the hard-core press against evolution being taught in the schools.

Because not-teaching evolution is a traditional value. I guess.

Or maybe ignorance is?

Also from the article:

"Those on the other side of these battles say the Christian groups are wildly exaggerating the threats from a phantom enemy for the purpose of mobilizing evangelicals to contribute funds (some groups are explicitly using the Christmas issue to raise money) or to become politically active. On the Christmas fight, the American Civil Liberties Union, the group most often cited as the enemy of traditionalists, says it has not filed a single case blocking Christmas displays this year and cites half a dozen instances over the past year in which it has fought on the side of more religious expression."

The article goes on to say:

In the case of secularizing Christmas, it is more difficult to demonstrate a widespread threat.

"It's very convenient for Christians to say the culture has changed and they've lost power, but Christians have never been stronger politically," said Marci A. Hamilton, who teaches at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York and has written a book, "God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law."

She said the threat to Christmas "is not secularization, it's pluralization. The law doesn't say Christian symbols have to be taken out of schools, only that it can't only be Christian, it has to be pluralistic."

The conservative groups agree there have been no recent legal cases limiting religious expression. [Conservative] Liberty Counsel's Stanley said threats to Christmas have not jumped this year. "I think the response to those threats are increasing," he said.

(My emphasis added.)

So there is no seige on Christmas -- there's a Far-Right movement to invent a bunch of noise to make it sound like there's a seige on Christmas.

Why isn't the media doing a story on that?

That Was Charming

We made a valiant attempt to get to New Orleans for Christmas, so the kid could do the Christmas thing with her grandparents, but first a giant exciting snow and ice storm hit Northwest Arkansas, putting about two inches of ice on the highways -- and, interestingly, in Arkansas? When that happens? The state police don't close the roads.

They leave them open.

Just to see what happens, I guess.

Maybe to thin the herds a little?

Maybe because this is one of those states where it's Bubba's right to do whatever Bubba wants to with the SUV Bubba bought with Bubba's own money?

Hell if I know. All I know is there we were, eleven o'clock at night, in seven degree weather, driving on the only road going into Jacksonville, Arkansas* that was still not blocked by an overturned SUV, semi truck or multi-car pile up ---

And this road was Highway Five.

A scenic route.

With cliffs.

And trees.

And mountain overlooks.

And did I mention the two inches of ice?

We did, in fact, reach Jacksonville alive. But I might never recover. And the kid said, afterwards, very quietly and politely, "That was a scary drive. Those trees looked like zombie trees to me."

We were stranded in Jacksonville for two days, and have just returned to Fort Smith on Christmas Day -- we thought about trying to reach New Orleans today, until we turned on the weather channel this morning to find it was now snowing there.

In New Orleans, BTW, when that happens? The state police close the roads.

Pretty funny when the police in New Orleans are the sharp ones.

*Where I had earlier, eight hours earlier, via cellphone, nabbed the last unreserved hotel room in a sixty mile vicinity

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Bill's Talking Again

So I was waiting for House to start -- if you haven't caught it yet, that show House on the Fox network, Tuesday nights before NYPD Blue is a lot of fun, mostly because (a) the main character, Dr. House, gets to be so wittily insulting to everyone and (b) it's medical puzzle solving, so it's like a mystery novel and medical show, all in one tidy packet -- it does get all heart-warming at least once in every episode, I have to warn you, but you can do what I do and go get some ice cream during that bit.

Anyway. I'm waiting for House to start and I'm skimming through the channels looking for something to watch and I notice Bill O'Reilly's on. Well. Here's my chance, thinks I. How long can I take?

About six minutes, as it turns out.

He's got this really shiny guest on. A Christian writer who has written some tome about how if you think positive Jesus will give you a shiny life, and lots of money. Or something like that. I'm not sure, because Bill wouldn't actually let him talk about his book much. Bill wanted to talk about how Bill couldn't do much positive thinking because Bill had to fight, yes, FIGHT against the evil secular humanists who wanted to change this country -- this country that used to love Jesus, don't you know, the way the Founding Fathers meant it to -- you know that's how the Founding Fathers wanted it, don't you? he paused to ask the shiny writer of the book about thinking positive thoughts for Jesus.

Gamely the shiny writer grinned a shiny grin and said yes Bill, of course Bill.

They wanted it that way for practical reasons, claims Bill. Because a population that's religious behaves better, says Bill.

Of course, says Shiny Jesus Writer, though, to give him credit, with some hesitation.

Now people, secular people, they want to change this country. And they're wrong and they're bad, says Bill. And they're coming after ME. And I have to fight them. I have to read the BAD EVIL things they write. So I can't think positive thoughts, the way you say I should. Do you think that's wrong? Counsel me! Counsel me!

What Bill is talking about is his great Christmas Crusade. Only, of course, no one is "coming after" Bill. No one's coming after Christmas, either, no matter what Bill and his buddies claim. This whole tempest is one of their own brewing. It would be funny if it weren't (1) stupid and (b) self-fulfulling.

Media Matters does a run-down on the whole thing here:

I'd like to just ignore it, and to ignore Bill, and Rush, and Ann Coulter, and the rest of these yapping liars. But their lies become the world that half of America believes is real -- and then it is real.

The teen pregnancy rate thing is a good example -- ask most Americans what's going on with teen pregnancy. Most of them think the rate is increasing, and that it's higher now than it's ever been. The truth, of course, is that the rate is now lower than it's been since the 1950's. (See here for the stats on that: )

But the disinformation squad has been yapping their lies so long that people now believe we've got some sort of teen pregnancy crisis.

Same thing for the War on Drugs -- and Crack Babies -- and the "failing" public schools -- and a number of other issues. By feeding the public a steady diet of lies, key figures created crises that we still are dealing with.

Well, this soi-distant assault on the Christian religion is one that I'd prefer not to see succeed. I happen to like living in a country that has freedom of, and from, religion.

Oh, and by the way? That bit about the Founding Fathers? Bill's wrong on that one, too.


I'm not sure why this amuses me so much, but last night, while doing some last minute shopping at the Wal-Mart for guinea pig fodder, what did I see in the Christmas aisle but --

A Gingerbread Nativity Scene?

It was a Build-Your-Own Gingerbread Creche, complete with Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, two wooly sheep, and a cute as a bug baby Jesus plus a manger to put him in, also a stable. You and the kiddies build the stable, see, and then you decorate the whole thing, and place it under the tree and --

Well, eat it, I guess.

"I wanna eat Baby Jesus, Mommy!"

"No, I do!"

"All right, all right! We share in this house! Billy, you get Baby Jesus's feet, and Sally, you can eat His belly, and Cindy eats his head."

See, it's better than letting the kiddies build gingerbread houses at Christmas-time, right? Because you know what those represent, don't you?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Supporting the Troops in TX

This one is odd.

A North Texas soldier called up to fight in Iraq has had his son taken away from him and given to his ex-wife, because he's going to be out of the country, apparently, or because he's going to be moving around a lot -- or something. The reporter who wrote the story doesn't bother to make it clear exactly what's at issue.

What is it with these reporters?

The reporter says it's got nothing to do with Iraq, that it's because in "recent years, Texas family court judges have been increasingly unwilling to allow children to be moved around the country by a custodial parent." But earlier in the story it was made clear that the kid wasn't being moved around -- he was living with his stepmother in Mineral Wells.

So it sounds like something else is up, at least to me.

Would have been nice if the reporter had bothered to find out what -- and then shared it with us.

Popular Culture -- Seriously

So I was over reading Amanda at Mousewords (a blog I recommend, if you haven’t already come across it – - )

And she recommends someone named Susan Bordo, with a link (which in case you haven’t noticed I haven’t figured out how to do yet, create nifty links) and I hop on over on the link, which takes me to, one of my favorite places, so I’m reading about this Bordo person, and her book, and I get down to the review section, and I find that some guardian of our culture disapproves of Bordo’s books, and gives this as one of the reasons:

“if you take her pop culture writings seriously... you probably watch too much t.v., and seriously at that.”

I heave a heavy sigh. I think of entering a counter-review. Since I haven’t yet read the book (though I did order a copy) I figure it’s not kosher to do that. But can I just take this space to object?

Let me inject, here, in the interests of full-disclosure, that while my doctorate is in comparative literature, with my three areas of specialty being Greek, Roman, and World Literature, and my two languages being Greek and Latin, I have, nonetheless, spent the past six years working in the area of popular culture, and almost all of that in studying, yes, television. During very nearly all of that time, what I have gotten from the, ah, uninitiated is that precise reaction: "You study television shows? That’s stupid."

This despite the fact that the, ah, uninitiated, when I interrogate them, spend about half their lives watching TV.

This despite the fact that, when they’re my students, and I ask them for specific examples for any damn thing, the first examples that spring to their minds come from television shows. (Not, may I note, despite how much they all love Jesus, the Bible. If they knew the Bible the way they know The Apprentice, hey, maybe we would have a Christian Nation.)

So, yes, television is a serious area for study, and I’m studying it seriously. Why? Not necessarily because I like it, although I do like some bits of it – and in fact I do like the bits of it I’m studying (South Park right now, Buffy for the past three years) – but because it is, in fact, the most significant force in our culture. Anyone who doesn’t believe that isn’t paying attention.

Popular culture is our culture.

What else would be culture, may I ask? Does the person who wrote that comment think Shakespeare is shaping people’s lives these days? Or Mozart is?

Certainly some people listen to Mozart. Some people read George Eliot and Chaucer and line up at showings of Aristophanes. I’m one of them. Middlemarch is, in fact, one of my favorite novels on the planet. (Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign among my other top ten.) But most Americans? Most folks’ culture? It’s television slash movies slash pop music.

So yes, we need to be looking at it. And yes, we need to be looking at it seriously.

We seriously need to know why it is that so many American citizens got so seriously turned on by Gibson’s Passion. We seriously need to know what the texts and subtexts were in that movie – as opposed to what the dominate culture is claiming they were. We seriously do need to know what’s going on that so many other Americans are drawn to one kind of vampire film – the kind exemplified in John Carpenter’s Vampires – while others are drawn toward Ann Rice’s Lestat – and others, a third sort of Other – are drawn toward Buffy, and what exactly is going on with the vampires and villains on that show. Here, too, we seriously need to know what the texts/subtexts are – not what they’re supposed to be, what they actually are.

We need to know those things because the texts and subtexts of the popular culture are what form the culture. My students claim to be Christians, most of them. But, as I have said, not one of them could pass a pop quiz on the Bible. They couldn’t tell you anything Christ said at the Sermon on the Mount, or name six of the ten commandments. But every single one of them would make an A+ on a pop culture exam.

So, yes, we ought to be studying television seriously. We ought to be teaching classes in Buffy and the Survivor and the Simpsons and Sex in the City – you’re damn straight we ought to.

Not only is popular culture a serious field of study, I’d say it might be the most serious field of study happening in English right now.

I'm just saying.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Freedom of Religion?

Apparently only for certain religions.

Over half over Americans, it seems, think we ought to be restricting the rights of Muslim-Americans.

The survey, "conducted by Cornell University also found that Republicans and people who described themselves as highly religious were more apt to support curtailing Muslims’ civil liberties than Democrats or people who are less religious."

And this is interesting: " Researchers also found that respondents who paid more attention to television news were more likely to fear terrorist attacks and support limiting the rights of Muslim-Americans."

Watching Faux News & Bill O'Reilly, listening to Rush, and going to church -- they correlate with making you anti-American.

Or at least ignorant about civil rights.

Pretty interesting.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Choose the Blue

Here's a site that tells you what companies donate to which party.

Just in case you're interested.

I was interested to find out that both Borders and Barnes & Noble give lots of money to the Democrats.

What is it about being literate that makes you liberal?

Or is that question too easy?

Violence in the Media

A good editorial in the NYTimes today, by Frank Rich, about the failure of the media to do its job: which I do think is at the root of a lot of our current problems.

Of course, at the root of *that* problem is that the media's actual job is to make money, not be a free press. Not sure how we go about solving that, in a country where the true religion is capitalism.

Anyway, the thesis of Rich's editorial is that the country isn't, in fact, anti-Christian, no matter what Gibson, Dobson and Falwell and their buddies would have you believe -- it's just being reported that way by a media that is more interested in creating a professional wresting atmosphere, in order to boost ratings, than in getting at what is actually happening in the nation.

This strikes me as acurate: but, unfortunately, what then happens is that folk who are *only* getting their data from Faux News, Bill O'Reilly, Rush and Gibson and the ilk, tend to believe the version of the world they see presented to them via those venues --and, by believing that world, they create that world. Or so claims the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

That's what makes me nervous.


Just in case you were wondering...

Bush wants you to know, when we're talking about war? We're talking about peace.

And we need to destroy the village to save it.

And truth is a lie.

In case you were wondering.

(Via Fredrick at BeatBushBlog

Friday, December 17, 2004

Who's to Blame? Not U.S.!

So Rush and his ilk, responding to the International Red Cross's work investigating what happened at Abu Ghraib have decided that -- who was to blame?

The International Committee for the Red Cross, of course.

Why is the ICRC to blame for what happened at Abu Ghraib?

Because they pointed out that Americans were torturing people, and this (pointing it out, not the actual torture) was a bad thing.

Obviously exposing the torture must mean they (a) hate America and are (b) therefore a leftist organization.

I mean, if you are engaged in Winger-think, that is.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Okay, See...

Right, then.

No sooner do I post that below then I get an email from my intrepid reporter in the field (you know who you are), the one who keeps me updated on the activities of the local fundies -- and she's got another fine story: a traumatized young girl who came to her in tears because her brother the fundie preacher has told her that her dog (oh yes, her dog) is going to go to hell when he dies.

Dogs go to hell, says this guy.

Because they don't have souls, that's why.

So of course they can't be saved by OUR LORD. Amen brother.

So of course it's straight into the burning lake of fire for all eternity.

Can I get a save me Jesus!

Yes, that dawg is gonna burn!

And unless you wanna burn with him, sistah --!

He tells this to his kid sister.


He also tells her, by the way, that it's in the Bible that black people and white people can't get married. Bet I know what verse he cited for that one.

Do you see what I'm talking about here?

I mean, I'm trying to love the fundies here in Arkansas. I swear I am...

Thinking About Us

Anti-Christian? Me?

Some comments lately have caused me to have a look at my site as a whole, and I can see how people could gain the impression that I’m anti-Christian.

I’m not – let me say that, just for clarity.

I like Christians – actual Christians*. I spend a lot of time lurking on Christian websites, for instance. And I’m a big fan of Jesus himself, his philosophy and his teachings. The Sermon on the Mount is one of my favorite pieces of wisdom literature.

What I’m opposed to is hatred and ignorance.

Frequently those do attach to religion – not always the Christian religion, of course. There are ignorant and hateful Jews, ignorant and hateful Muslims, ignorant and hateful (I suppose – I haven’t actually met any) Unitarians out there. I just happen to live in an area of the country where I am surrounded by a large number of ignorant and hateful fundamentalist Christians.

And, thanks to the recent election, lots of ignorant and hateful Right-Wing Christians are putting their opinions forth into public view – attempting to force the rest of the country to adhere to their ignorant and frequently hateful worldviews.

I don’t see it as anti-Christian for me to object to that. I see it as anti-hate, and anti-ignorance.

Specifically, for instance, when some fundamentalist Christian says that because he or she believes that God created the world in seven days six thousand years ago therefore the public school system that my tax dollars pay for should teach an ignorant “alternative” theory called “intelligent design,” I don’t see it as anti-Christian to object to that. I see it as anti-ignorance.

When some fundamentalist Christian says she needs to persecute a seven-year-old child because her backwater religion teaches her that gay people are evil, I don’t see it as anti-Christian to object to that. I see it as anti-hate.

I suppose I should seek more balance on the site. I would, if people would start doing more intelligent and kind things.

What's up with people, anyway?

*The Christians I know and like, btw, the ones I admit I think of as “real” Christians, aren’t hanging around obsessing over gay people and evolution and who’s having abortions or using what kind of birth control or saying “damn” too often. The real Christians are too busy making a difference in the world to fiddle with trivia like that.

Maybe I should post about some of them.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Bad Words! Bad!

I'm not sure what the point of this news story is -- since it's called "weird news," I can only assume that the writer of the story think it's weird that these words should be included in the OED. That tells me that the writer of the story has no idea what the OED is or what it's for.

The story states, with no commentary, that a "prestigious dictionary," to wit, the online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, has added more "than 2,000 new and revised word entries," and then goes on to tell us that some of these entries included words from what the writer calls "hip-hop," such as "crack ho" and "thugged out."

I'm assuming the writer expects us to be scandalized by this. How dare a "prestigious dictionary" include, well, words used by black people in it! Doesn't a "prestigious dictionary" know that black people's words aren't real words?

The writer is ignorant, obviously, of the purpose of this particular prestigious dictionary, which is and always has been to record and define every word in use in the English language -- yes, even those used by African-American people. Heavens.

Sisyphus is a Happy Man

I’m grading final exams this week, always a depressing experience.

Teaching is a Sisyphean experience at best: each semester, there we are at the bottom of the hill in the grim dark underworld, and we labor to shove that rock upwards. Each semester, that sucker careens back down again, despite all we can do. Camus says Sisyphus is a happy man, and mostly, you know, we are, we professors. It’s deeply engaging, deeply hopeless work, and we really love it.

Only not so much during exam week, when we see how badly we have failed.

I made the mistake of asking my American Lit students to define Worldview Conflict on their exams. I knew it was a mistake when I did it, too.

We all have worldview conflicts, as I’m sure you all know: these occur when we believe two mutually exclusive things. Which we all do.

American Christians, for instance, to take a fairly obvious example, believe both that they should not worship wealth (because it says so right there in the Bible: You cannot serve both God and Mammon; and a rich man cannot enter the kingdom of heaven; and so forth); and that they should be capitalists, who do worship wealth.

American Christians have no problem living with this worldview conflict – they have no trouble driving their Hummers to church on Sunday, as I have often observed.

Or – to use the example we noted in class – American Quakers, back in the early 19th century, had no problem both believing that slavery was wrong and that they should sell slaves. That was a worldview conflict, but one they had no trouble dealing with. Worldview one: slavery is wrong. Worldview two: It is right to make a profit, and slavery is profitable.

Anyway, I ask the students, on these exams, to define the terms and to give examples.

They absolutely refuse to define worldview conflict as “holding two conflicting worldviews at the same time.” No: they insist upon defining it as “when someone goes against what he believes.”

So it’s not the guy believes X and he believes Y at the same time and those things conflict; no, it’s the guy believes X but then he goes ahead and does Y.

Even though this is manifestly not the case in the examples we have studied, or in the examples they then go ahead and give me.

Why? Because that would be to admit that such a thing is possible – that people could think two ways at once. And these students, at least half of them, don’t want that to be true.

Why does this bother them?

I’ve been trying to figure that one out for a while now. I think it’s attached to their love of code ethics, and their desire for simplicity.

Which makes sense, when we look at the rhetoric of the Red-Staters. (And the students who refuse to define the term correctly are, in fact, the conservative students in the class.) They want this Simple Worldview. They adhere to the Nuance-is-for-Girls way of thinking. They love the code-ethic way of dealing with situations.

It doesn’t match reality, true – but that is, apparently, a price they are willing to live with.

Reality not being, after all, a commodity they are much interested in dealing with.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

An excellent Point

Brandon over at bad christian makes a really good point:

He's arguing it's not that we want the Rightest (heh, I like that mispelling, think I'll leave it) it's not that we want the Right-Wing/Fundie Christians to actually secede to Alabama the way they keep threatening to -- which, you know, I don't.

I don't agree with a lot of the things these fundies believe. It puzzles me that anyone who's been awake and aware could believe some of them -- that wives should submit (by which, at least here in Arkie, we seem to mean "give up your own free will") to their husbands, for instance, and that any sane God would think that was a good idea.

But, on the other hand, I don't want to put them in camps, or blow them up, or send them straight to a burning lake of fire for all eternity because they think these things. I don't even particularly want them to go away. It's sort of nice, sometimes, that they're around to tell my six year old she's going to burn in hell if she goes Trick-or-Treating, because then, you know, we get to have a Teaching Moment.

All I want is what Brandon wants: these folk to admit that this is our country too. We have a right to our worldview and our belief system, and to go about our living our lives without constant harassment from them and theirs; we have a right to a school system that actually teaches actual knowledge, and not their propaganda -- not history classes, for instance, that lie about what happened in early America, or science classes that pretend Intelligent Design is a viable theory. We have a right to espouse our moral values without being constantly told we're evil for having those values -- for instance, my daughter shouldn't have to lie about whether she went trick-or-treating to avoid being hassled at school.

Yeah, and world peace. I'm with Brandon on wanting that one too.

Fundies on the March

Well, they told us they would. So it’s not a shock.

They’ve got a bill to ban all abortions in SD in the works, except those where the mother’s life is in danger “or she might suffer irreparable harm” – apparently a little repairable harm is no big deal – and they’ve been dumbing down sex ed for years now and now they’re going after evolution in both Kansas and Missouri. Because, you know, Fundamentalist Christians want it that way.

And, after all, this is their country, right? The rest of us can just shut up and sit down.

In 1999, the Kansas board voted to erase any mention of evolution from the state science curriculum, opening the door for the teaching of creationism. That was reversed in 2001, after three board members who supported the move were defeated in a Republican primary. Kathy Martin, a newly elected member of the board who favors teaching alternatives to evolution, said the board would probably take a different route this time, like introducing the teaching of "intelligent design," a theory that holds that the development of the universe and earth was guided at each step by an "intelligent agent."


State Representative Cynthia Davis of Missouri prefiled two bills for the next session of the Legislature that she said "reflect what people want." One would remove the state's requirement that all forms of contraception and their potential health effects be taught in schools, leaving the focus on abstinence. Another would require publishers that sell biology textbooks to Missouri to include at least one chapter with alternative theories to evolution.

Not gonna be happy, the Fundies, until they’ve turned this into a theocracy.

And anyone who thinks that’s not their plan isn’t paying attention.

He's not a racist

He’s not a racist – he just dresses like one!

So down there in Louisiana, where I spent most of my childhood and adolescence, land where it’s too hot to care, and folks are proud to elect former Nazis to public positions, we have a judge, Timothy Ellender, who showed up for a Halloween party in “blackface makeup to complement his orange prison jumpsuit, handcuffs and afro wig.”

This was all fun and games, mind you – a little joke! Because his wife was dressed as a police officer! Get it now? It’s just meant to be funny! What’s wrong with you people?

And, as the dissenting judge in the guy’s case, Judge Jeffery Victory, said, it’s not like this guy’s an actual racist or anything – c’mon!

"A review of Judge Ellender's record on the bench turned up absolutely no evidence of racial bias in his decisions; in fact, the review showed that, if anything, he was more lenient toward African-American defendants," Victory wrote. "Nothing suggests that Judge Ellender abused his office in order to further his personal desires. Finally, Judge Ellender apologized for his actions both publicly and in private meetings with local leaders of the black community."

I absolutely promise you that half – oh, come on, three-quarters – of Louisiana agrees with Judge Victory.

They, too, see nothing wrong with a sitting judge who thinks its funny to dress up as a prisoner in an afro and blackface for a Halloween party. And they too don’t think it’s racist to either find that funny or to see nothing wrong with Ellender’s behavior.

It’s just those black folk being touchy again. Can’t they take a joke?

Monday, December 13, 2004

What the Fundies are Afraid of

This is from the end of Philip Pullman's trilogy -- in one respect, it's the whole point to his Dark Materials trilogy (which is a very fine piece of work, BTW -- I highly recommend it):

Lyra and Will have just done away with, or helped God die -- it's not really clear which, and it's not God anyway in Pullman's theology, but a angel who was pretending to be God and messing up the universe for the rest of us, and then got himself in deep trouble trying to maintain the illusion -- but anyway, they've just done that, and now Will is thinking about what his father said before he died, and what it meant:

"He meant the Kingdom was over, the Kingdom of Heaven, it was all finished. We shouldn't live as if it mattered more than this life in this world, because where we are is always the most important place."

And Lyra agrees, agrees that this life matters, and agrees moreover that the two of them need to split up and go to their own separate worlds, to work in their own separate world. She says: "We have to be all those different things like cheerful and kind and curious and patient, and we've got to study and think and work hard, all of us, in all our different worlds, and then we'll build . . ."

All the different bells of the city chimed, once each, this one high, that one low, some close by . . . In that other Oxford where she and Will had kissed goodbye, the bells would be chiming, too, and a nightingale would be singing, and a little breeze would be stirring in the leaves in the Botanic Garden.

"And then what?" said her daemon sleepily. "Build what?"

"The Republic of Heaven," said Lyra.

This (along with the whole God-isn't-God-and-it's-right-to-kill-him bit) is what has the Fundies so upset: the point of this trilogy is that we should shift our focus from some heaven off there -- some Kingdom of Heaven we'll be moving to after death -- to a Republic of Heaven, here and now.

The point of this trilogy is that we should mend the world.

And we know how fundies feel about that.

More Right Wing Lies

Here's another bit of Winger hysteria: it's an oldie but goodie. Goes like this: those Leftists on the ACLU, those radicals and atheists, they want to DESTROY Christmas, they can't take the peace and love of the Christmas season because they're such evil people, yap yap yap, so they can't let our sweet school children sing a few Christman carols in peace, mmm mmm mmm.

Bill O'Reilly and no doubt Rush too (I haven't been up to listening to Rush lately, as loony as he's gotten) has been going on about this lately -- how the school systems are UNDER SEIGE and OUR KIDS CAN'T EVEN SAY MERRY CHRISTMAS (sorry, but Bill does tend to shout) and how those stores in New York are saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, like all Good Americans would, and how that Mayor of New York won't call it a Christmas tree amd other bits of whiny hysteria which are meant to show you how the Jews and the Muslims are just ruining this great country for us all.

Media Matters ( has a good page on what has actually been going on in all these cases. In case you're interested. And -- big shock here -- Bill's got just about every single fact wrong.

So my question is -- why do Wingers believe this nonsense?

Well, I know the answer. It reinforces their worldview. They like to believe that the evil Jews and Muslims and atheists are out to get them and destroy their country. Without the evil Other (yep, that would be me, sitting here at my keyboard) that's out to get them, what do they have?

Certainly not peace and love and feeding the hungry and taking care of the poor and visiting prisoners and loving their enemies. God, no. No room for that in their nifty little religion.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Quotation for the day

"... I am not afraid of priests. They have tried upon me all their various batteries of pious whining, hypocritical canting, lying and slandering. I have contemplated their order from the Magi of the East to the Saints of the West and I have found no difference of character, but of more or less caution, in proportion to their information or ignorance on whom their interested duperies were to be played off. Their sway in New England is indeed formidable. No mind beyond mediocrity dares there to develop itself."

Thomas Jefferson

Right-Wing Lies

I’m sure you probably know something about the Stevens Creek Elementary School lawsuit and the Winger hysteria, but eRiposte has an excellent page on it if you’re looking for complete data and details.

You’ll remember this is the story our hysterical buddy Drudge and his friends Rush and the rest broke right before Thanksgiving, claiming those terrorists in the school system had gone too far now, how “they” were banning the Declaration of Independence in Our Schools because it had the word God in it, yap yap yap yap.

When, of course, what actually was happening was a Far Right Christian teacher was attempting to proselytize in the classroom, a parent complained, and the principal asked the teacher to submit his materials for review.

When the principal saw what the teacher had been asking his grammar school students to do, she pulled some of the assignments – the ones that were clearly Christian propaganda. At which point a Far Christian Right organization, the ADF, sued the school system.

eRiposte has details, including copies of the assignments that were pulled:


Let me pose a question: Can you imagine the fuss Fundamenalist Christian parents would raise if a teacher of any sort were giving their kids "assignments" of this nature about the Jewish religion, the Muslim religion, the Wiccan religion, the Deist religion? Would they be thinking it would be okay to have God in school then? Because, you know, it was a part of history and all?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

You can't do that!

From a story on the BBC website:

The director and screenwriter of the film adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is to remove references to God and the church in the movie.

Chris Weitz, director of About a Boy, said the changes were being made after film studio New Line expressed concern.

The award-winning trilogy - Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass - tell the story of Oxford girl Lyra Belacqua.

She is drawn into an epic struggle against the Church, which has been carrying out experiments on children in an attempt to remove original sin.

The Christians don’t like these books. These books attack Christians – or anyway, Christians feel attacked by these books. And if Christians feel attacked, well then, Christians are being attacked. Right?

So what are those liberals out there in Hollywood doing?

Caving. Censoring themselves. Changing the text to make the Christians happy.

How do you like George W's America so far?

And --

Why should we care?

Here's why. Why do books get published? Why do movies get made? What's media for?

All of it is to make money, obviously. But if we have the people who control the money convinced that the Far Right Christians need to be appeased at all costs -- and apparently right now Bushco and Dobson and his pack do indeed have the money people convinced of that -- then things that might make those Christians whiny are less likely to be published.

This matters because those Christians, being all faith-based, are opposed to certain aspects of the culture that matter.

Parts that criticize dangerous aspects of their church, for instance.

Parts that deal with critical thinking, for another.

Parts that don't match their worldview: feminism, ethical relativism, evolution, environmentalism, and just the weirdest things. Who knew that Christians were opposed to little girls in shorts, for instance?

So -- anyway --

First they went after Harry. Now they're going after Lyra. When will they be happy? When we're all sitting around in church reading Sunday school bulletins?

(Ha. When none of us can read at all. That's when they'll be happy.)

Rumsfield Talks to the Troops

So Rumsfield meets with some soldiers, who want to know why they aren’t getting the tools they need to fight the war in Iraq, and his reply? “Just tough it out, guys.” “Thems the breaks, guys.” “Do the best you can with what you got, guys.” Oh, and my favorite: “Don’t listen to those whiners who say you can’t win. I say you can!”

“Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?" Wilson asked [Rumsfield}. A big cheer arose from the approximately 2,300 soldiers in the cavernous hangar who assembled to see and hear the secretary of defense.

Rumsfeld replied that troops should make the best of the conditions they face.
Rumsfeld stressed that soldiers who are heading to Iraq should not believe those who say the insurgents cannot be defeated or who otherwise doubt the will of the military to win.
"They say we can't prevail. I see that violence and say we must win," Rumsfeld said.

Who’s that we, Rummy? Oh, were you planning to get in that tank with the insufficient armor? Sorry, I must have missed that press conference.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Festival of Lights

It's the first night of Hannukah. The kid is all excited. We're having a party, which we do every year, so all our friends who aren't Jews can also eat greasy foods and watch us light the candles. The kid is more excited about the party -- she loves parties -- than the present, since, as you know, Hannukah presents are not such a big deal. (Though she is not getting the traditional pair of socks or pencil set.)

What a strange holiday Hannukah is, when you think about it, or try to explain it -- We rented The Hebrew Hammer from Netflix last week. (The kid was entranced to find, afterwards, when I was reading her the bit from the Jewish Book O' Holidays Explained, that there actually had been a Hebrew Hammer, and that Hannukah sort of had something to do with him.) The Hammer and his sidekick, near the end, kind of/sort of try to explain what Hannukah is all about.

The thing is, it's sort of about the whole oil miracle. And it's sort of about the violent victory of Judah Maccabee over the Syrians. And it's sort of about the survivals of the Jews through all these centuries despite overwhelming odds. And it's sort of about light shining in the darkness even though it ought not, even though the odds really are against it: life existing, happiness existing, life existing, where life has no right to keep on existing.

With fried potato pancakes and jelly donuts and candles and presents.

See? Perfectly simple.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Just Another Poor Boy

Just Another Poor Boy Off to Fight A Rich Man’s War

I heard from my sister-in-law this weekend, about my oldest nephew winning a school prize. He’s a brilliant kid, and according to the school website – of course his school has a website – planning to major in drama and political science. The drama I knew about. He’s got a beautiful singing voice and can act as well. But political science? Not politics, I hope, I’m thinking, as I read this bio –

I’ve got two nephews, actually, this one and his younger brother, and they are both brilliant, and both beautiful (have been, ever since they were tiny kids, but we don’t tell them this anymore, you know, cause you don’t once they get to be sixteen and seventeen), and I know everyone thinks that about their own, that they’re both brilliant and beautiful, but these two really are.

And how I want them safe from this damn war, and from George Bush’s America. I want them out of that world.

I do realize that the two of them likely are safe. And that my kid, six now, also beautiful, also brilliant, she’s probably safe too.

But then I think about the kids that aren’t. The one from my Honors World Lit class last fall, who came into my class a week before the final to tell me that he would miss class on Friday, because he was driving to Little Rock to enlist in the Infantry.

“God, no,” I said, involuntarily.

He flinched: apparently, he had been getting that reaction a lot.

Why?” I asked, unable to stop myself.

“I just think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I think we owe it to our country. To defend our country.”

I just gaped at him. I wanted to smack him up the side of the head and ask what the hell he had been listening to – Lee Greenwood? Rush Limbaugh? Did he think either of them were on their way to Iraq?

Instead I asked what his parents thought about this. (He was 18 years old, a sweet and lovely young boy, not extremely bright, considering he was in an honors class, but far from stupid.)

“They’re pretty mad,” he confessed.

“You really ought to think about it,” I said. “You really ought to talk to a few people who have been through this. Do you know anyone who’s been to a war?”

He said he didn’t. I told him about some people I knew about, who never had gotten over their wars. He wasn’t listening, though, and off he went. I haven’t heard about him since.

I think about him, who maybe isn’t as brilliant as my nephews, but surely his parents love him as much as we love them. I think about my student who went to Iraq, and has been back nearly a year now, and looks worse each time I see him. He wasn’t even wounded, not badly – the fingers on his left hand were cut when he was jumped from behind by an Iraqi with a bayonet, and the nerves were severed. The VA surgeons can’t fix the nerves, so he has no sensation in three of his fingers, and sometimes when he’s working on his truck he’ll smell something like bacon cooking and that’s how he’ll know he’s burning his fingers, but you know, other than that, no biggie there ( as he puts it).

No, the problem is his skin and his liver. And the VA doctors can’t figure out what’s up with those. His skin keeps peeling off – like all of it at once – and his liver is dying. Why? Who knows. Not the VA. Not George Bush. (Though I’m sure George is doing some hard work feeling this student’s pain.)

He’s about 23, this student. He thinks he might be dying, though the VA doctors won’t come out and say so. He’s hoping to finish his degree. He is brilliant. His family loves him like we love our nephews.

I’ve got another student. She’s got a four year old daughter. She’s being mobilized soon. Her mother’s going to take the four year old. Who will have to do without her mother for a year or two or forever.

And I know the arguments, believe me: I know my students all signed up in the big gamble: pay for my education and if you need me to defend my country, I will. They understood the deal when they took the money. I know that. So do they.

Here’s the thing, though.

(A) What kind of suck-ass deal is that? Most civilized countries educated their citizens without requiring them to put their fucking LIVES on the line in exchange.

(B) And second, you know, it would be different if there were any kind of justification for this war. If my students were giving up their lives, and making their children orphans, and the parents of all these soldiers were giving up their beloved children, for some kind of worthwhile cause, it would honestly be a different matter. But everyone knows this war is a lie. My student is dying for nothing. That four year old is being orphaned for nothing. Those parents are losing their sons for nothing. It’s unbearable.

It rained all Sunday in Fort Smith this weekend, a cold, foggy, grim rain. And that’s what I thought about.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

News from Louisiana

Whenever I wonder why I left Louisiana, something like this shows up in the news to remind me.

Two kids standing in line for recess. One kid asks another kid why he’s got two mothers instead of a mom and dad. The kid explains it’s because his mothers are gay.

“What’s gay?” asks the first kid. (The two kids are seven years old.)

“Gay is when a girl likes another girl,” says the child of these two women.

Down swoops the teacher, screeching at the child of the two women – the son of the gay women – that gay is a bad word, that he shouldn’t use that kind of language in school – and send him to the office. He gets sent to a early morning “behavioral clinic” all the next week – starts at 6.45 in the morning – where he is forced to write “I will never say gay in school again” over and over.

And now? Because the mother of this child has objected to her seven year old son being told that what she is is bad and evil?

The teacher who did this to her son is suing the mother. For fifty thousand dollars. Because the mother defamed her.

Louisiana. What a fine state. Every ignorant redneck should move there.

(Via Atrios

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Okay Then

Not that Rush's faith-based listeners will care, but South Knox Bubba, one of my favorite Bloggers, points out why Rush is Wrong, as usual:

This time Rush is making his old favorite claim about how Nature is the real source of pollution.

You remember this meme. Reagan picked it up, too, when he claimed that, you know, trees pollute? Rush is yapping about Mount St. Helens polluting, and how because it's polluting right now, and that's all natural and such...

Oh, go read the link. SKB does such a good job, you don't need to listen to me.

Ho Ho Ho

Here’s an interesting story: It’s from an Australian newspaper, citing a study published in psychiatric journal.

“In the December issue of the Psychiatric Bulletin, psychiatrist Lynda Breen wrote that the belief that Father Christmas "knows if you've been bad or good" helps teach children the difference between right and wrong.”,4057,11554218^1702,00.html

Dr. Breen is saying, from what I can tell, that teaching your kids to believe in Santa helps develop their moral character, because you can use Santa as a moral agent. Which I did often with my daughter* – as, for instance, when she was telling an obvious lie at age four.

I said, “Is that a lie?”

“No, it’s not,” she said, firmly, even though it obviously was.

“You know Santa crosses six presents off your list every time you tell a lie. You know that, don’t you?”

She gave me an extremely worried look. “Really?”


After a few moments of serious consideration, she asked, “How many presents do I have on my list?”

Now I suppose I used Santa the way Far Right Christians would use Mr. Jesus – as a kind of figure that wasn’t me, that knew when my kid was doing right or doing wrong.

But there are major differences between Santa and Mr. Jesus.

(1) Santa is a relatively benign threat. Screw up with Santa and he just won’t bring presents. Mr. Jesus will consign you to a lake of fire for ever and ever and ever. That’s sort of like threatening a four year old with a nuclear weapon, now, isn’t it?

(2) Santa goes away. That is, at about age five or six, the kid does, in fact, figure out that Santa’s not real. (Some kids will figure this out about Mr. Jesus, too, but many will not.) At this point the kid is in prime position to do an essential, important thing: internalize the moral code.

That’s vital. It’s vital because at this point the kid starts making herself act right. That is, the kid does what she should not because Jesus tells her to, but because she knows it is the right thing to do.

If the moral code is internalized, the kid has nothing to rebel against. If it’s Mr. Jesus or Daddy or the Pastor telling Kid what to do, Kid, come about age 13 or 14, is going to be rebelling up a storm. Or attacking herself or himself up a storm – some of them go that way. Or marrying an abuser – some go that way.

Or other things.

Dr. Breen also says that when kids figure out that Santa is mythical, this is also good for the kids – something I have also discovered to be true in my daughter’s case. She knows, now, that Santa, and the tooth fairy, and dragons, and so on, are all mythic critters, and this both interests her and gives her a kind of deep philosophical problem to wrangle with.

I'm all for giving six-year-olds deep philosophical problems to wrangle with, btw.

“Is Santa real?” she asks me.

“Well,” I say, “he’s real is a way. He’s real in the same way that love is real. Or fairness is real. Does fair exist?”

She thinks this over.

“Fair exists if people act fairly,” I say. (You can take the professor out of the classroom…). “Santa exists if enough people act like he does.”

She ponders this existentialist poser. Yes, I am giving my six year old existentialist fodder to chew on. And you know what? She likes it. She comes to me nine or ten days later and asks me if that is the same way people believe in heaven.

“Well, yes,” I say. “It is, I suppose.”

“So if enough people believe in heaven, does heaven exist?”

“Huh,” I say. “Good question. Jews don’t worry so much about heaven,” I point out, as a PSA. “Our business is mending this world.”

“I know, I know, I know. But if enough -- ”

“I don’t know,” I said, stumped by a six year old. “What do you think?”

“I think it might,” she said. Then she said, “Kate believes in Heaven.”

Kate’s the one at her school whose mother thinks God doesn’t like Halloween.

“Yeah?” I say.

“So do a lot of people at my school.”

“Well, Jews don’t not believe in heaven,” I say. “We just don’t think you should obsess about it all the time. We think if you’re always worrying about heaven, you know, it’s like always worrying about what you’re having for dessert. You don’t eat right if you’re always fixated on dessert. And also, it’s not what God made us for, heaven. He made us to mend this world.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And off she went again, still thinking deeply.

* I know, Jews aren’t supposed to have Santa. We have a Christian grandparent, so we do Santa too.

More Trouble from the Anti-Evolution Crowd

Dover, Pennsylvania joins the ranks of American public school systems teaching anti-evolution nonsense in its high schools:

“The school board has ordered that biology teachers at Dover Area High School make students "aware of gaps/problems" in the theory of evolution. Their ninth-grade curriculum now must include the theory of "intelligent design," which posits that life is so complex and elaborate that some greater wisdom has to be behind it."


The school board claims it’s just offering “intelligent design” as an “alternative,” but as everyone who has followed this intelligent design scheme knows, and as the proponents themselves admit further down in the article, this is just the latest in the Christian Right’s attempt to impose their religious worldview on the public school system.

Patricia Nason at the Institute for Creation Research, the world leader in creation science, said her organization and other activist groups are encouraging people who share conservative religious beliefs to seek positions on local school boards.

"The movement is to get the truth out," Nason said by telephone from El Cajon (San Diego County). "We Christians have as much right to be involved in politics as evolutionists. We've been asleep for two generations, and it's time for us to come back."

Emboldened by their contribution to President Bush's re-election, conservative religious activists are using intelligent design as a new strategy of attacking evolution without mentioning God, Scott said.

"There is a new energy as a result of the last election, and I anticipate an even busier couple of years coming on," Scott said.

She called intelligent design "creationism lite" masquerading as science. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 banned the teaching of creationism -- which holds that God created the world about 6,000 years ago -- in public schools on the grounds of separation of church and state.

John West of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, the main sponsor and promoter of intelligent design, defended the theory he says addresses "evolution follies."

Look, if Conservative Christians/Fundamentalist Christians/Wingers of whatever stripe want to believe that God created the world in six days 6000 years ago, you know what? That’s their business.

If they want to corrupt our education system, and destroy our system of science, and make our future scientists less competent, well, that’s our problem.

They’re enemies of the truth, these people. And Bushco is their ally.

The article is a good one, btw – extremely thorough, and gives a list of other schools and counties that have jumped on this bandwagon.

And you'll know they are Christians...

This one's rich. Via Atrios, ( we learn that the "networks won't run an ad by the UCC which says "like Jesus -- the United Church of Christ seeks to welcome all people, regardless of ability, age, race, economic circumstance or sexual orientation.""

In other words, a Christian church wants to run an ad saying they'll welcome everyone into their congregation (Hey -- What would Jesus do?), but CBS and NBC won't run the ad because, well, Christians -- and Bushco -- might get squeaky. Might think this means that the networks are, you know, approving of gay people or something. Heaven forbid that TV executives do anything, anything at that the Christian Right might not approve of.

What was that noise you were making about a liberal media again?

The original story is linked to Talking Points Memo:

Science Bad

Bushco is cutting funding for the National Science Foundation -- I’m shocked, I tell you! Shocked!

Why? Why, it’s to cut domestic spending, of course!

Not because science is evil or anything! Heavens no! Not because science is all about evil- uh – evolution and critical thinking and well, contradicts the Bible and stuff.

Couldn’t have anything to do with that.

It’s because we don’t have enough MONEY.

But we do, as the article points out, have enough money for such things as “the Yazoo Backwater Pumping Plant in Mississippi.”

Which oddly enough benefits the district of a couple of Republican senators, who are defending it:

“Senators Trent Lott and Thad Cochran of Mississippi, both Republicans, [say the project will save] lives and protect homes and businesses.”

“But Melissa A. Samet, a lawyer at American Rivers, an environmental group, said: "It's a horrible project. It will drain wetlands so that farmers can intensify production. In the process, it will damage natural resources that are vital to wildlife and clean water."”

Here’s the whole article about the cuts, in the NYTimes today.


Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Concerned Women for America -- Honest!

Okay, there are some targets one should not pick on – as its says in the Torah, you don’t go tripping a blind guy, or making fun of total morons – but these women from the CWA are stepping up to the plate, and even if they are too ignorant to live, that makes’em fair game in my book.

In this essay, and I use the word loosely, Rachel Mafaffey and Eva Arl attempt to explain to us why mothers really ought to stay home with their children. (

Let me note, for the record, that while I don’t see any pressing need for mothers to spend all their time at home with their children, or home-school them, or sew all their clothing, and make all their own bread, and preserve all their own fruit, meanwhile running a successful business out of the garage, if women want to do that sort of thing, it is perfectly cool with me. Because (here’s the deal, Ms. Mafaffey and Ms. Arl) that’s what feminism is actually about: women get to do whatever it is they want to do with their own lives.

Can I repeat that one time?

Feminism means that a woman’s life is her life. It means her body is her body. She gets to decide what to do with both of those things. If she decides she wants to spend her life raising a passel of kids, that’s her decision. If she decides she wants to be a professor of anatomy, that’s cool too. If she wants to be a stripper, a law professor, a snowboarder, a rock star, a veterinary assistant, whatever. It’s up to her. <-- This is the actual feminist position.

Ms. Mafaffey and Ms. Arl, however, in their essay, state the traditional anti-Feminist strawman position:

“Feminists tell us that we don't need a man to be successful and that traditional marriage is the ultimate oppressor of women. Groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW) claim women need a career to be fulfilled. To them, it is demeaning for women to care for their babies, and therefore we should reject the roles of wife and mother for work outside the home.”

Okay. What feminists said that? Can you cite them? It may be true that feminists mainly agree that women don’t need “a man to be successful” – but come now, Ms. Mafaffey and Ms. Arl. Are you going to argue that women do need men to be successful? That without a man in her life a woman cannot be counted as succeeding?

And, depending on how you’re defining “traditional marriage,” the second part of your claim may or may not be something a feminist at some point may have said.

But everything after that is just balderdash made up about feminists by groups such as the CWA.

And that paragraph is just the one of the many problems with this essay.

Take, for example, their dubious assumption that women are working outside the home in order to “be fulfilled.”

Take that claim and tell it to the woman that fill my classrooms – the ones working 36 hours a week at Wal-Mart and Goody’s and Wendy’s. Ask them just how fulfilled they are, when they get home to their passel of children every night, and how happy they are about their “choice” to work outside the home.

No, Ms. Mafaffey and Ms. Arl, despite what you have learned from Dr. Laura and from your minister and whoever else it was, most women aren't working to "be fulfilled" or because they are evil, selfish critters, or because the feminists have brainwashed them into thinking it will make them happy, or because they hate babies or whatever. Most women work for the same reason most men work, you idiots: because they need the money.

Here's an idea: Why don't the two of you get a job one time, earn yourselves few bucks, and buy yourselves a clue?

Just a suggestion, mind you.

Yer all Big Liberals Over There!

Not that many of us aren't liberal, here at the university -- but we aren't, in fact, all liberals; and those of us who are liberal aren't liberal because we're sheep, you know. We're liberal because we've read widely and deeply and have thought about things, have evaluate ideas and have decided to be liberals.

Others of us -- like the guy in the office next to mine, for instance, who runs the campus rifle club, and some of the folks over in economics and a few in History -- have read widely and deeply and have thought about things, have evaluate ideas and have decided to be conservative, or libertarian, or socialist, or whatever.

But the folks at American Enterprise Institute aren't, of course, much interested in what's actually happening on campuses in America. They're interested in what they can sell. And George Will, among others, is perfectly happy to help them sell it, citing their study in his column in the Washington Post recently, ( as well as agreeing with Lakoff, the guy who thinks we just need more professors on campus who favor two-parent families (because, you know, most of us liberals hate two-parent families) and think non-Western literature is crap.

But here's a rebuttal of their flawed study that does an excellent job of showing exactly why George Will is an idiot for buying this soap job:

Well, he's not an idiot. I shouldn't say that. He's a patsy. He wants to believe that the Evil Liberals are Taking Over the Universities.

So he's happy to read a study that confirms his Worldview.

Now why he wants to believe that, I don't know.

Maybe because it makes him feel better about his memories of all the professors he was not smarter than in school? Maybe because he feels inferior about his relative lack of graduate degrees?

Who knows. Whatever it is, it doesn't excuse this sort of sloppy thinking.

Hey, You Voted for Him

Remember how proud he was of all that Pell Grant money he had given out, so that all those lucky duckies who had lost their jobs to outsourcing, or you know, whatever, could go back to community colleges and retrain to be, well, surgical techs (and make six bucks an hour)?

Now that King George II is in, and doesn't have to worry about getting your smelly little vote, you can wave bye-bye to that money:

Color me really shocked.

More Fun from Georgia

So a high school principal in Georgia -- yep, the same Georgia where they're putting stickers on the textbooks advising their high school students that evolution (or evil-ution, as they like to pronounce it here in Arkansas) is "just a theory" -- got on the intercom and read his students what he thought was a very clever poem (what I guess he thought was a poem) which no doubt his minister or his brother in law the deacon or some other buddy emailed him. Then he was all surprised when a number of parents objected. Here's the link to the news story (

This school-prayer crowd puzzles me. First off, their own guy was against public prayer. Says so right there in their own text -- Matthew 6:6: "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." Not: "Get you to a a public school, and gather ye round a flagpole, and pray ye in public for the edification of the unbelievers, verily, with much outcry ye shall do it!"

Second, and more importantly, there are no rules against praying in public schools. Little Wyatt can pray all he wants in school (though he can't obstruct the hallways while he's doing it). Sallie Mae can read her little New Testament to her heart's content (so long as she's not doing it during biology class). What can't happen is the Principal of the school, being a paid agent of the state, cannot lead the school in prayer, or organize a Bible session that has as its aim leading people to Christ: because if he did that, then he would be, as an agent of the state, endorsing a particular religion: saying that that religion was the true and correct one.

Christians obviously would not want him doing that if he were, say, a Wiccan, or a Muslim, or a Jew -- teaching their children to pray to, say, Allah, now, would they?

Why can they not see that those of us who don't worship Mr. Jesus would not want our children being forced to pray to their God?

Well, because they don't see us as real, actual people, of course. I do know that. It just really makes me nuts at times.

Anyway, here's the text of the poem our obtuse principal in Georgia read, which the urban legend site Snopes(
ttp:// )can give you the history of:


Now I sit me down in school
Where praying is against the rule
For this great nation under God
Finds mention of Him very odd.

If Scripture now the class recites,
It violates the Bill of Rights.
And anytime my head I bow
Becomes a Federal matter now.

Our hair can be purple,
orange or green,
That's no offense;
it's a freedom scene.

The law is specific,
the law is precise.
Prayers spoken aloud
are a serious vice.

For praying in a public hall
Might offend someone with no faith at all.
In silence alone we must meditate,
God's name is prohibited by the state.

We're allowed to cuss and dress like freaks,
And pierce our noses, tongues and cheeks.
They've outlawed guns, but FIRST the Bible.
To quote the Good Book makes me liable.

We can elect a pregnant Senior Queen,
And the 'unwed daddy,' our Senior King.
It's "inappropriate" to teach right from wrong,
We're taught that such "judgments" do not belong.

We can get our condoms and birth controls,
Study witchcraft, vampires and totem poles.
But the Ten Commandments are not allowed,
No word of God must reach this crowd.

It's scary here I must confess,
When chaos reigns the school's a mess.
So, Lord, this silent plea I make:
Should I be shot; My soul please take!

(Among other things
, it's offensive because it's such a REALLY bad poem!)

Monday, November 29, 2004

Flea over at One Good Thing ( has some thoughts on Mr. Falwell's little joke about the National Order of Witches(

She's also designed some teeshirts to go with his joke. Cool teeshirts, much cooler than his joke, and she's donating 10% of the profits to NOW (the actual NOW), so I think we all ought to go buy some, especially those of us who know wiccans:

And even those who don't and who just really don't like Falwell and his ilk.

They'll make great Winterfair, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Solstice gifts.

Go and buy!

Just a Theory

Here's a link for those of you in Cobb County, Georgia, and certain counties in Kansas and Wisconsin and Utah and other fine places in these United States where local school boards have decided that kiddies ought to be made aware that evolution is, after all, just a theory. (It's Cobb County, as I recall, that is compelling schools to put stickers on their science books saying that evolution is just a theory. Other places are doing other charming things. )

Anyway, here's the link, for those of you who would like to fight back:

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

More Fine News

And more fine news: Christian Pharmacists who won’t give women birth control pills because, you know, Jesus wants them to have babies. And states that have made such behavior legal.


And of course this is no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the Right-to-Lifers.
From the article:

“We have always understood that the battles about abortion were just the tip of a larger ideological iceberg, and that it's really birth control that they're after also," says Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood (news - web sites) Federation of America.

"The explosion in the number of legislative initiatives and the number of individuals who are just saying, 'We're not going to fill that prescription for you because we don't believe in it' is astonishing," she said.”

True Knowledge

So I take the kid to Aikido last night.

As I mentioned previously, it's been a rough week. In fact, it's been a rough month. We've not been making it to Aikido much. But we made it last night. The kid's dojo has three sensei, and the senior one was teaching last night, the one I like best; and most importantly of all, the idiot woman who spends the whole time talking on the cell to her idiot relatives was not there, so I could get some serious reading done during class time -- but I didn't.

Because it was nice to just sit in the balcony over the dojo and watch the five to seven year olds in the giant dojo in their tiny ghis doing their Aikido stances and rolls and throws while the giant sensei treated them so seriously and the rain pounded down outside and just be there then for while and not have to be anywhere else.

Then the sensei said something I liked*: he said, "When you have the black belt, only then are you really ready to learn."

All the kids in this class, of course, just have white belts. (The very first belt in Aikido.) Don't know if they knew what he meant.

But I did. It's exactly what Socrates meant when he went around Athens telling people he didn't know a goddamn thing, and what Jesus meant when he said you had to be like a child if you wanted to get to heaven and what the Chinese meant when they said when you reach the foot of the mountain more mountains appear and what I mean when I tell my students that having a Ph.D. only means you know how much there is to find out.

Or -- as my best professor in graduate school taught me, one cold November day sort of like this one -- the best attitude for anyone, when confronted with the knowledge that he or she does not understand something, is that of the Zen student: "I approach you seeking knowledge."

It's an attitude more of us out here in America need to adopt, I'm thinking.

*Actually he said several cool things, another one being that sensei, which I had always thought meant teacher, actually means one who goes before. It was an enlightening evening, altogether.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


Well, this clears a lot of things up: Apparently Andrew Sullivan has sleep apnea.

"This is what early morning is like? The sleep study was fascinating. They basically stick electrodes all over your head and body, connect them to a little forest of wires, put you in a strange room, fix a remote camera directly on you and then tell you ... to go to sleep. Thank God for Ambien. And then half-way through the night, the nurse comes in and puts this big mask over your nose and mouth. The mask blows a steady stream of air into your nasal passages and throat, and they can regulate the pressure remotely, depending on how your readings are. It really wasn't that uncomfortable. And I have no idea what my readings were or what my diagnosis is. The nurse isn't allowed to say. But he did hint that if I didn't have sleep apnea, he wouldn't be putting a mask on me at 1 am."

For those of you who aren't familiar with sleep apnea, it's a condition where the victim stops breathing at night, sometimes for hundreds of times a night, depriving the brain of both oxygen and deep sleep. It can cause deep grogginess during the day, along with impaired thinking and judgment.

So there you go.

Maybe we should get other Republican males in for sleep studies right quick?

The World According to Us

One of my students brought me this:

Be Fruitful and Multiply, You Sinner!

As Pandagon ( ) points out, the “moral outrage” of this article is just comical. (

Of people who don’t want to have children, this writer claims: “That worldview is sick, but more and more common,” and “Christians must recognize that this rebellion against parenthood represents nothing less than an absolute revolt against God's design,” and “[w]illful barrenness and chosen childlessness must be named as moral rebellion.”

I could get angry at the Far Right Christians for their hatred of gays and feminists. But now they’re going after people who chose not to have kids? That’s their new target? People who don’t want pre-schoolers? People who would rather have a pair of pugs than six or seven babies? This is a sin now?

Well, yes. Apparently in Far Right land it is.

I’m laughing now. Let’s hope in a year or two we all still will be. Let’s hope, in other word, this isn’t the harbinger of what’s to come.

Because we are getting quite a lot of “birth control is abortion noise” out there on the fringe. Add that to this “people who don’t want kids are sinners” noise and we start to end up in a scary place.