Saturday, January 12, 2008

Are You Here For An Argument?

It might seem like I am picking a fight. Maybe, I am. Yet, I just think it necessary to make a couple observations about this post over at 4simpsons. It is such a mish-mash, so confusing, with floating, undefined terms, an assumption of having settled an argument, and finally a complete misunderstanding (and misrepresentation) of what science does, it is almost breathtaking in its complete idiocy. I am not being snarky there. If I had this post submitted to me in, say, an undergraduate class on religion, I would give it an "F".

Some might object that is an ideological reaction. It is, rather, a reaction to a lack of any argumentative thread. There are a series of bald assertions ("truth is correspondence to reality") without a hint that such statements might just be controversial, or open to objection. There is the misrepresentation of my own statement about an argument circling back to the Bible, presented in such a way to be seen as something ridiculous, rather than, as it was originally presented, a complaint that tossing around Bible verses is not a way to argue.

I find it fascinating that Neil manages to quote the Fourth Gospel, and still state his unequivocal definition of truth, without ever wondering that he might just have contradicted himself.

Finally, science does not "reveal" anything. Nor does it "discover" (except when a new tool is invented that leads us to see, or otherwise encounter, some part of reality that was hitherto unknown, such as particle accelerators that allow us to "discover" subatomic particles through their destruction). Science is an interpretive tool, a way for human beings to make sense out of their environment. It is extremely useful, often counter-intuitive in its results, and has as little to do with "revealing" anything than literary criticism (to which Richard Rorty once compared it in a famous essay, "Texts and Lumps"). That Neil would actually say that science "reveals" things shows he has no real grasp of what science is. To say such a thing when he denies evolution (kind of important in biology, geology, medicine) and natural cosmology (kind of important to pretty much all the science, but especially astronomy and physics) shows that he is being disingenuous. He qualifies his praise of science by saying that science reveals what God has wrought. Except, of course, where what science "reveals" contradicts one particular interpretation of the Bible, in which case . . . what, exactly? Satan deceived the scientists? The scientists are part of an evil plot? I really don't know. What any of this has to do with the question of the existence of something Neil calls "truth" I really don't know.

There are good arguments to be made against the position I take on the issue of truth as a useful concept. Unfortunately, not only is this not one of them, it isn't even a good argument.

Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain

After a year of blogging, you finally get to see me. Not at my best - it was not even 8:00, minimal coffee intake, and I wish "Ithaca" could be seen, as the cap is my father's old Ithaca College Alumni cap that he gave to Lisa a few years back. She was wearing her "Edward's Apple Orchard" cap. Not quite what you expected? So sue me.

Saturday Rock Show

I realize people will think I've gone all sentimental. Maybe I am. Today, though, I witnessed hundreds of people out in the cold, the mud, working together to clean up the homes and properties of perfect strangers. People who had never met before today managed to work together, to organize, bring in the occasional bobcat and cherry picker for heavy hauling and high work. We stood around on breaks drinking coffee out of the back of a pickup truck. We laughed at jokes, warned of nails on the ground, shook our heads together over some of the destruction - steel gates bent and twisted by the force of the tornado; aluminum siding wrapped around trees; an eight foot two-by-six jutting out from the second floor of a house where it had been blown, projectile-like (a church member and I were looking at it, and he said, "This is a reminder that there's no safe place"; indeed. It had punched through clapboard and into the house). So in a spirit of good feeling, of the kind of community that people talk about but seems to come out best in times of need, I offer this oldie-but-goodie by the Youngbloods. Don't think too badly of me for it.

Out To Clean Up

Until this afternoon, this will be a light blogging day, as I will be busy helping to clean up from the tornado. I am planning on taking our camera, so you might actually get a picture of me out of the deal.

I don't get enough commenters to have the whole "open thread" thing, but I do have enough readers, so if something is sparking your interest in religion, politics, or culture, leave a note, and/or a link. I have already seen a couple things to stir my brain cells in to action for later, but they might not be on your agenda. I would like to hear from you, if you're really out there.

Friday, January 11, 2008

More Anti-Clinton Hysteria (UPDATE with reposting)

Via Atrios, comes this wonderful smackdown of Andrew Sullivan's deranged vision of the always-evil-all-the-time Hillary Clinton kidnapping Barack Obama's daughter and holding her hostage until he drops out of the race. Or something like that.

There is little difference between Sullivan and Chris Matthews and Tucker Carlson, except that Sullivan is out of the closet. On the issue of the Clinton's however, the crazy just can't get deep enough.

That such people are so blind to their own near-psychotic reaction to the junior Senator from New York only proves that sexism is alive and well, rampaging through the id of our nation, breaking through when stimulated by such as Sen. Clinton.

UPDATE: One such person who feels qualified to make all sorts of bone-headed statements about Hillary is the horrific Camille Paglia. As Brad at Sadly,No! writes:
Brad’s reaction is: you’re fucking kidding me. Who in God’s name endowed this bizarre and clearly disturbed old freak with the magical power to look into Hillary Clinton’s past traumas and project them onto her current campaign behavior? Did they editors at Salon actually read this kind of crap before they gave it a thumbs-up? I mean, what the hell, man?

It is truly bizarre what Hillary Clinton does to the cerebrum of some people.

Courtesy of Sadly, No!, comes this tidbit of considered political theater:

Directed by Tucker Carlson.

Sour Grapes

I am detecting the whiff of whine among many, not just in the punditry, over the results of our recent caucuses/primaries. An example, picked at random, comes from a briefly overheard conversation between Ed Schultz and a caller to his syndicated radio program yesterday. The caller insisted that Hillary Clinton won in New Hampshire because of tampering with voting machines. Frequent guest, commenter, and all-around good egg Democracy Lover is so disgusted at a win by Sen. Clinton, he desires scrapping the primary system all together, with a return to smoke-filled rooms (unless it happens to be in IL, where smoking in all public buildings is now banned) run by party professionals. Lord forbid we have actual voters decide who should run for public office in a representative democracy!

Here's the thing. We are witnessing how wild and unpredictable democracy can be. It isn't efficient. It isn't predictable. For all the influence of money, of corporate lobbies, of television advertising, of pundits, it all comes down to groups of individuals, standing in a voting booth, and casting a ballot. Sometimes the results of these things called elections go the way we want. Sometimes they don't. When they go our way, we celebrate. When they don't, we shouldn't have recourse to complaints about the stupidity of voters, the nefarious plots of the military-industrial-lobbying-entertainment complex bent on destroying our country's values. We should suck it up, and think about why our candidate lost without reference to such nonsense.

The last time we had a good primary season was the 1976 Republican primaries, in which then-President Gerald Ford was given a serious run for his money by Ronald Reagan. The 1984 Democratic nominating season was close, as well, as were the 1988 primaries in both parties (I still remember blue-blood George H. W. Bush putting the kaibosh on former Senator, and slightly more patrician, Pete Dupont's Presidential hopes by referring to him, over and over again during a round-table, as "Pee-air"). This year, they are actually producing real democracy, which is all to the good. Just because my candidate, or your candidate, or the punditry's candidate, or even the party's candidate, doesn't come out on top, this is more than enough reason to celebrate.

No one knows who will come out on top in either party. Rather than bitch and moan about voting machines and the horrible evil candidate's attack machines, how about accepting the fact that sometimes, in a democracy, candidate's lose. Grown-ups deal with it.

There Are Ideas, And Then There Are Ideas

Michael Gerson's exercise in campaign consultancy in today's Washington Post can be taken care of quite easily. It isn't the dearth of ideas that is the problem among the Republican candidates. It is the plethora of bad ideas. There is a surplus of stupid, reams of racism, stacks of sexism, warehouses of warmongering (I'm running out of alliteratives here) and while the Republican base seems to be responding with gusto, most of America is either dismissing them, or laughing at them. I think risibility is appropriate. These folks are in a race for the past, seeking to place themselves at the head of what may be one of the biggest historical losses in American Presidential campaign history.

So, to Gerson, I would respond quite simply - it isn't a lack of ideas. It's a lack of appeal with the ideas they have.

Tales Of Emergency Management

What follows is a list of complaints, observations, and a few words to people from surrounding communities who may be thinking about making the drive out on Saturday to help with clean-up. There is no order here, and it is based on a biased point-of-view, so if I do not include other sides, please remember - the only side that matters to me is my wife's, so PTHPTPTHTPT!!!!

First, while I realize this is a rural area, and that other people and homes were hit far worse than the Hall's and the Orchard, where the hell have Boone County Sheriff Deputies and the Illinois State Police been? It has been repeated over a couple nights that a business has been damaged, which is an invitation to looters. A member of Ken and Barb's family had to spend a very cold, very wet night in the collapsed apple barn to scare away looters the other night. One patrol car would have been sufficient to do the job. This is an emergency, so please don't give me happy crappy about budgets and the limits of resources.

Which brings me to my second complaint. Where the hell are state officials? I realize that our governor and state representatives and senators are busy beating each other up over funding for CTA, but you know what? Part of your job is also taking care of local concerns. Part of your constituency just disappeared in a natural disaster. Local Emergency Management needs help - including emergency funds - to do what is necessary. Even a photo-op at some of the destroyed homes, an indication that our local reps might actually care, would be nice. This is in your job description, and elections are coming, and I will remember your lack of action, even if no one else does.

Co-ordinating disaster relief is a bit of a contradiction in terms. There are competing agendas, competing egos, competing priorities, and competing incompetencies that create a disaster of their own that need to be relieved. My wife has done much, but never having done this before, she has made some mistakes, and more than a few people are annoyed (she readily admits all this; I told her that she is on a steep learning curve, and doing pretty well). It would seem to me that any outside agency, even if it is only the Boone County Emergency Management folks and the local chapter of the Red Cross, would be willing to work with those who are already on the ground, have been there since the beginning, know the people involved, etc. Instead, they both walk in with their sometimes overlapping, sometimes contradictory agendas, and demand to take over. If it weren't for the fact that real people are hurting, and need help, and the local OEM and Red Cross don't seem to have a clue as to how to help, I think my wife would have said, "Here you go." She didn't, and so there's been some head-butting, although that has lessened. There is no one, however, to calm these unruly children, and (to change the metaphor) herd these kittens in the way they need to do the job they're supposed to be doing.

Finally, I have heard that an "appeal for volunteers" went out for our clean-up day on Saturday. If you live in southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois, particularly the greater Chicago Metropolitan Area, and have been thinking about coming to help, while that is greatly appreciated - I will never say it isn't - we really don't need the extra hands. About 200 people are all it will take, and not a single volunteer will get within miles of Edward's Apple Orchard anyway; the road will be blocked, and volunteers will be bused to sites to help. If you are thinking you might just sneak out there anyway, forget about it - trespassing violators will be arrested. The Orchard has family and employees and insurance companies and all sorts of resources that other residents hurt far worse do not have, or have in limited supply. The news have focused on the Orchard; the disaster, in the shape of a weaving F-3 funnel cloud, did not. Please respect Ken and Barb Hall's fears for their property, which is also their livelihood, and stay away.

In case you didn't notice, I have not mentioned the federal government's response. I am hoping in the name of all that is Holy that they not even notice our little county and our (relatively small) disaster. Rockford has had severe floods twice in the past couple years, and the feds have not stepped up to the plate, except to have the Army Corps inspect local dams and tell them they're fine. Not a penny of relief - not even low-cost loans for rebuilding - came from federal coffers. With the current crew at FEMA, I would fear for the survival of all of Boone County should they show up. Please - stay away. The state, on the other hand, has been invisible, silent, and negligent. I realize that this is a largely Republican area in a state currently controlled by Democrats, but it might be nice to have a little action.

Anyway, I'm done here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Salvaging Something From The Wreckage

All the post-New Hampshire news reports show us how self-centered our pundits are. "How could we get it wrong?" they all ask. The answer is really quite simple and straight-forward - you got it wrong because you are both stupid and arrogant. You ignored the voters who, up until the last minute, declared themselves undecided (17%), and you hate Hillary so much, you wanted her to lose. Combine the two, and you have a wonderful recipe for pundit disaster.

Among the most stupid new narratives is the one being pushed by the "all Hillary hatred all the time" Chris Matthews - the so-called "Bradley Effect". Now, I had never heard of this - I thought it had something to do with former NJ Sen. Bill Bradley. I had completely forgotten that former LA mayor Tom Bradley ran against George Dukmejian in California, and was out-polling the Duke, yet lost in a narrow contest in 1982. Most pundits at the time insisted that he lost because poll respondents lied about their willingness to vote for a black man. I have also heard this called the "Bradley/Wilder effect", with reference to former VA governer Wilder, but the problem with so naming it is that Wilder won.

In other words, the pundits are trying to decide whether Democratic voters are more sexist or racist. I had heard variations on this theme over the past weekend, and I grew quite tired of them, because, simply put - America, liberal and conservative, Democratic and Republican, is both. There have been visceral responses to both the Democratic Party leading candidates. Trying to figure out which of our social demons will win out in this contest is disheartening. Of course, doing so is a way for pundits to put the onus on the voters, not on their own failures.

In other words, like with Florida in 2000, it isn't the polling that was wrong. It was the reporting on the polling that was the problem. It's really that simple.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A Helping Hand

The website is up and running, and I convinced Lisa and her associate and our web guru to set up a PayPal account, but in lieu of that, how 'bout popping a few pennies in my can? All donations for the next forty-eight hours will go directly to the account set up to help, not just the Halls, but all the victims of the tornado. Saturday is going to be a North Boone clean-up day, so I will be out most of the day, in what promises to be very cold, very snowy weather, picking up trash and rubble from fields and houses. The church is also planning some major work on one home where the homeowners had no insurance.

This isn't about the orchard, or the Halls. It's about all those effected in northern Boone County.

If you aren't sure about giving me money and having it passed on (who could blame you for that?), you can send a check (you remember those) to Poplar Grove United Methodist Church, Post Office Box 273, Poplar Grove, IL 61065. Please make checks payable to PGUMC, and write "Tornado Relief" in the memo line.

No Takers . . .

I wrote yesterday that I really wanted a discussion with some of those alleged Dawkins-inspired trolls. Alas and alack, they limited themselves to a site such as this. Commenter Parklife thought I was a tad dismissive when I called it "low-hanging fruit", yet a perusal of the thread, I think bears out the description.

One thing I find fascinating is the almost constant invocation of "straw man alert". A question is asked, then dodged and Neil calls it a "straw man". I have yet to read such a declaration actually reference a true straw argument, that is, wherein the questioner puts words and/or ideas in the mouth/head of Neil or another interlocutor, then uses that creation as the basis for a question or comment. That is what a straw man argument is. I don't see any of those. Rather, I see Neil doing what Neil does best, dodging and weaving, refusing to debate in a way that gives his opponent any advantage. It's quite clever, but it is also dishonest, as well.

Like his constant misuse of the term passive-aggressive, his misuse of the straw man label shows that he is a good rhetorician. He keeps his opponents guessing and off-balance.

I just wish some of those folks had come over here. Why does Neil get all the fun?

On The Other Side

So John McCain won New Hampshire. Again. While meaning little more than the whole, nonsensical Michael Bloomberg business is now dead in the water, if for no other reason than all the Washington insider types have their McCain back, it also portends exactly the opposite of a close race on the Democratic side. The Republican establishment put their eggs in the fragile basket of Mitt Romney. Voters do not seem to prefer any of the candidates, but the establishment is terrified of Mike Huckabee and detests John McCain and no one thinks Rudy Giuliani is sane enough to be President.

On the Democratic side we have a real race with two major and a close third, all close enough on the issues to be indistinguishable, with competing styles determining, for the most part, who will be that party's nominee.

On the Republican side, we have a field of candidates that, with the exception of Ron Paul, excite little more than frustration among primary voters. I still think it is possible the Republican convention could actually be brokered. I also think that none of the candidates has a snowball's chance of victory. The Republican primaries, then, are a wonderful example of an exercise in futility.

Some Thoughts On Clinton's New Hampshire Victory(UPDATE)

The spread was pretty consistent throughout the night - never more than four percentage points between Obama and Clinton. I think that, while heartening to her campaign, this hardly means that she can breathe easier now. In fact, I think it means we have a real race on the Democratic side, which is a good thing. Michigan and South Carolina become even more important in the ensuing weeks, giving two states with significant urban centers (Detroit and Charleston) and very different cultural and political and social traditions and structures a chance to speak up. The first four states to vote in the primaries, in other words, are a neat cross-section of the differences that are America.

I want to make clear - I am an Obama supporter in for the long haul. While Clinton is not my favorite candidate, I am not against her, and the reasons are simple, with quotes from various comments sent to Talking Points Memo:
Chris Matthews on Hillary's victory: She's only competitive for the presidency because Bill "messed around."

If I lived in New Hampshire, I would have voted for Sen. Clinton today. I would not allow the talking heads to tell me who to vote for or declare this race over. And I certainly was not going to participate in the sexist bs that has been spewing out the mouths of the likes of Chris Matthews.

I mean this whole weekend we see people like Andrea Mitchell and Chris Matthews salivating over how the Democrats "rejected the Clintons" and want to puke. I am for Obama not because I am against Clinton (either one), but because I am for Obama. That's it. I think he is the best of the big 3 dem candidates. Would I be happy to vote for Hillary or Edwards in the general? Hell yeah. Did I think Bill Clinton was a great President? Yes. And I think Hillary would probably be pretty good too. This whole media narrative sickened me.(emphasis added)

I have been an Obama supporter since 04, gave money to him this year, own the t-shirt, etc., etc. But the sexist bullsh-t these past days (I am a woman) from the media is making me root for her to win this tonight. The only thing I dread if she wins tonight is the inevitable story from the media that this proves that white america really won't vote for a black man, the resulting made-up defection of Obama's made-up new found black support, etc., etc.

I think that's right, and good. On the Democratic side we have as the two leading candidates a woman, and a baby-boomer woman, who conjures up all sorts of fears of the evil, awful feminist. The other is a mixed-race self-identified African-American, and the white sheets and hoods are already coming out of the closet all over the right in fear of his potential victory. Either way you slice it, a whole bunch of folks on the right are going to unleash their ids in one way or another, no matter who wins.

UPDATE: I think this piece by Yglesias is wrong on just about every level. Let me just site one little bit and explain why it is representative.
Had Bush responded effectively to the challenges of 9-11, one could imagine the GOP regaining Reaganesque levels of dominance. Instead, his policies have failed and created a moment of opportunity for Democrats -- one whose outcome, boring as it is to observe, will depend in part on the quality of their own efforts and in part on events outside their control. Popular (or unpopular) response to contingencies, if sustained, can create not just the appearance of political dominance but the reality as well.

To make the statement concerning Bush's response to the terrorist attacks of 2001 makes the mistake of thinking Bush is some abstract thing, and the Republican Party that he both led and that created him is detached from the historical circumstances and reality of its existence. Bush's responses to the attacks were what they were precisely because he is the person he is, and the Republican Party of which he is a part is the Party it is. I cannot imagine any other response, either from him, or from any other Republican President in office at the time. To venture down the road of such imaginings as Yglesias is doing here is to do political analysis from some angel's point of view, where parties and politicians are not part of historic trends, have real characteristics shaped by events, as well as attempting to shape them. To think for one moment that it might be possible, even abstractly, to picture George Bush responding other than the way he has done is to be a fabulist of the worst sort.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Tornado Update

First, courtesy of the Rockford Register-Star, some video of Ken Hall, owner-operator, and good friend of ours:

Next, it wasn't just the Orchard; the tornado ripped through quite a bit of rural northern Boone Co., as can be seen from this WREX-13 compilation:

Finally, I would be remiss if I neglected this, from the on-line edition:
3:25 p.m.: Church aids orchard owners
A local church is helping the owners of Edwards Apple Orchard regroup in the wake of a tornado that leveled most of the buildings on the grounds of the popular autumn tourist destination.

Poplar Grove United Methodist Church, 105 E. Grove St., is helping orchard owners Ken and Barb Hall set up a Web site to keep the public abreast of cleanup and recovery efforts at the orchard. The address is The tornado spared apple trees, but destroyed several buildings at the orchard, including the Hall’s home.

“As the orchard is put back together, we can use the Web site to let people know how to help and how the reconstruction is going,” said the Rev. Lisa Kruse-Safford, pastor.

The Politics Of Stupid

I had no idea Mark Penn was the creator of this kind of idiocy; thanks to the ever-redoubtable Ezra Klein, I now know who is the author of so much stupid that infected our national discourse - all the soccer moms, national security moms, NASCAR dads, and all the rest. Going all the way back to 1980 and the discovery of nonexistent "Reagan Democrats", during the 1990's we had the invocation of all sorts of supposedly important "swing voters" who were the key to winning, or at least not losing, which in an era when such became important was understood to be key.

When you devise policies for a non-existent constituency, you get bad policy - like Clinton/DLC "welfare reform". When people start intoning in tones usually reserved for speaking og the Almighty about "national security moms", you get John Kerry voting for war in Iraq, in order to cover his electoral butt. When reporters actually provide column inches to analyses of "NASCAR dads", you realize something is really wrong in America, which is why we have George W. Bush as a President.

This is another reason I am glad I have decided to support Obama. His appeal is not to groups, or even necessarily to party; his appeal is to America - and he lets his followers fill in the definition, as long as one considers the source (i.e., a bi-racial, multi-ethnic individual with a diverse religious background). Rather than the cautious politics of retail marketing to niche communities that don't exist, we have wholesale politics on a grand scale. Obama is just as wonky as Clinton, but he couches it in the language of an appeal to people; Clinton, stuck with an adviser who actually believes the crap he puts in books, is left wondering where her soccer moms and dads have all gone. To paraphrase the old folk song, they've gone to Obama all, to Obama all.

I hope Mark Penn starts advising whoever wins the Republican nomination, because he will lose even bigger than he might otherwise have done.

An Invitation

I sure hope this works. I need something fun to do over the next few days.

It seems Richard Dawkins is encouraging people to go trolling at Christian sites.

While I admire his scientific writing (his book The Selfish Gene is among the best popularizations of genetics, or indeed any scientific topic, ever printed; it ranks with Hawking's A Brief History of Time), he made up a religion, a defense of God, called it Christianity, equated that with every religious belief human beings have ever had anywhere at anytime, and said it was bunk. Now, he wants to destroy this phony thing he calls "religion". If I did the same thing to evolution and genetics and chemistry and geology, I would a fruit cake. Dawkins actually has people heralding him as a heroic proponent of free thought. Well, he is free to have his thoughts, obviously. But to pretend for one second that he has somehow captured the essence of Christianity (to quote the title of a 19th century book that failed as spectacularly as Dawkins' in doing something similar) is a bit like me discussing phrenology, then saying that because it is bunk, science is bunk.

Don't even get me started on Sam Harris, defender of the torture of Muslims because they are Muslims. For him to even pretend to speak about ethics and morality is a bit like Bull Connor talking about his support of integration. He's a hack, and not even a very good one.

Bring 'em on.

UPDATE: As Alan said, looks like they went for the low-hanging fruit.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Music Monday

I watched Woodstock the other day. It's been a while since I sat and watched it through, and I thought I'd put up a highlight or two. I have met several people in my life who were there, and their memories tally up on one count, at least - the stupid old saw that claims, "If you remember it, you weren't there" is just plain wrong.

As images of the construction of the stage, and the various tensions within the Aquarians involved, we hear Crosby, Stills, and Nash sing "Long Time Gone", one of David Crosby's better political songs (much better than "Almost Cut My Hair"):

One career that got jump-started by the festival was Santana. They closed with the rousing, Coltrane-influenced "Soul Sacrifice". I read one commenter who was disappointed to hear the band had all dropped acid before their set; I tend to think it pushed this particular number in to the stratosphere. The kind of heightened awareness gives this number a noumenous quality, especially Mike Schreve's drum solo (he was about 18 or 19 years old at the time). Incidentally, that's Greg Rolie on the organ, who would leave Santana with Neal Schon and form Journey in the early 1970's.

There are disagreements among those to whom I've spoken about many things, but one thing most agree, Sly and the Family Stone's rousing 4 a.m. set blew the roof off the festival. It was probably the best single performance of their career, and as Sly himself developed a reputation for failing to show (Yes got a big break because they were literally called out of bed to replace them at one gig), his "decision" to go on after much hemming and hawing managed to give the weekend a highlight.


OK, that's a bit of a "Duh", and really, what would one expect the National Academy of Sciences to say but that science needs to be taught in science classes?

Except, alas, it too often isn't. Local school boards get hijacked by ignoramuses who demand "equal time" for the phony "Intelligent Design" nonsense (incidentally, how could something with "Intelligent" in the name be so stupid?). We get the same tired nonsense, so often shown to be such, yet repeated again and again - there's no fossil evidence for evolution; evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics (the only scientific law creationists actually seem to like); has anyone ever actually witnessed evolution, experimentally; the eye could never have emerged through evolution, and anyway, there's no evidence that it did; la-di-da-di-da - and the same fight goes on and on. It seems that local schools are gun-shy about litigation, yet they act in ways that actually invite lawsuits by bringing this crap in to the classroom.

I was fortunate, in that my high school biology teacher was a real scientist, and he taught evolution, and genetics, without any reference to anything other than, well, evolution and genetics. I went to college, however, with students who only had heard of the theory, because their school districts were afraid some fundie somewhere would scream and holler if Darwin's name was mentioned. They had to play catch-up.

As someone who has actually read both On The Origin of Species and The Voyage of the Beagle (the latter is a wonderful read, albeit a bit long, although not by Victorian standards), I think it only fair to say the book should be required reading for anyone wishing to graduate from high school in the United States. They can read about creationism/Intelligent Design in a class on the history of awful ideas.


We just had a funnel cloud pass through our area. A local landmark, Edwards' Apple Orchard, got hit, according to my wife who is on her way to help with immediate salvage. I am staying here with the girls, who have already endured one trip to the basement, and a power outage (power back on, thank you very much). Quite enough excitement for a Monday.

Photo of funnel cloud in Harvard, IL courtesy of Rockford Register-Star.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Guilt By Association (ADDENDUM)

Enough of politics. Even I get tired of it after a while. Especially as we are now spinning wheels until after Tuesday.

Today, preaching her sermon series, my wife preached from a text in Luke 5, in which Levi was called as a disciple, and held a banquet in his honor, people by "tax collectors and sinners".

I think a word in the Pharisees defense is warranted here. Part of the reason for their dogmatic insistence on ritual cleanliness was as a political protest against the centuries-long occupation of Judea and Galilee by first Greek then Roman conquerors, and the co-opting of local leaders by the latter. The Jews saw themselves as a people set apart, not from their own merits, but by their God. Part of their distinctiveness was in the demanding rigor of their social habits of ritual cleanliness. How better to refuse the co-option by a world power than to continue to practice local habits of distinction? We see the same thing today, as small, indigenous cultures play up their differences with hegemonic powers. Jesus' refusal to recognize these marks of distinction, including having suborned individuals who played the occupiers game for profit, could just as easily be seen as a threat to the struggle against Roman tyranny as an openness to difference.

Be that as it may, Lisa used an example from her youth to open the sermon, but both she and I recalled another example, from our own life. When we announced our engagement, it was as much a surprise because we managed to keep our relationship relatively secret, in a time and place when having any kind of privacy verged on the impossible, as it was because of certain friendships I had. As one acquaintance of ours said when told, "I thought he was gay!" The few people I felt truly comfortable being friends with were the gay students - they were far more open, far more accepting, than most others. Because I was seen with them, spent time with them, it was automatically assumed I was gay.

We still laugh at that, for a variety of reasons.

I would love it if it were possible not to do such things. I would love it if we didn't make assumptions about people based on their associations. We do it, however, all the time. That Jesus suffered from this very human tendency should not surprise us.

Yet, the church of our contemporary scene should strive, as hard as it may be, to move beyond this very shallow human tendency. Lisa told of her repeated desire to spend time (gasp!) in local bars, not so much proselytizing as just hanging out, being seen. There are churches that have open doors for drug dealers and prostitutes, and offer services without any demand or requirement.

As Lisa and I were talking about this, I told her of my own thoughts. I picture Jesus on his way from Nazareth to Jerusalem, stopping at various towns along the way, sitting in the common rooms of inns, surrounded by locals and traveling merchants, caravan drivers and their hangers-on, including "comfort women", Roman soldiers and Persian emigres. I often picture him sitting and listening, not speaking unless directly addressed, taking in the talk, laughing at the jokes. I have always felt that Jesus was a people-person, enjoying human beings in the fullness of their humanity, for all its weakness and tendency towards dissipation and vice. By his very presence, he turned these moments from the mundane and vicious to something else entirely - something holy, something blessed, something beloved by God in and for itself.

I realize this is hardly "orthodox". Yet, I believe it was the case, anyway. I think that we as Christians could do far worse than to be known as people who associated with tax collectors and sinners.

ADDENDUM: I had a similar, though from the opposite side, encounter in the summer before I met Lisa. My two best friends cornered me one afternoon after work, and confronted me with the stark reality that I must be gay because I was so comfortable with them. I laughed at them, but it took some time to convince them that, while happy as a straight man, I was also quite comfortable with them being gay, without any fear for my heterosexual identity. My sexual identity was never threatened by theirs, and I never had the slightest fear of what might happen should either one of them express "interest" in me, because as far as the latter issue was concerned, I just wasn't their type, and I knew it.

It's indeed strange the things that happen in life.

Why I've Changed My Mind And Will Support Barack Obama (UPDATE)

In the pre-primary run-up, I've voiced support for Sen. Chris Dodd, even though I knew he had zero chance. I later, and latterly, voiced support for former Sen. John Edwards. After Thursday, however, I consider myself a convert of sorts to the campaign of Barack Obama. There are many reasons for this, and my wrestling with these things should be evident. I thought, however, in light of Democracy Lover's argument with me, that I would make clear why I think Obama is the candidate of the moment, and really will transform our politics, albeit perhaps not in ways I or others might want, or think go far enough, etc.

First, though, I think it is fair to add that I still am wary of much of Obama's rhetoric. I mentioned that FDR ran a pretty thin campaign, not mentioning "New Deal" after introducing the phrase at the Democratic convention in Chicago that year. His running mate, John Nance Garner of Texas, told his that if he kept talking about "that New Deal shit", the Democrats would lose. I think that, rather than taking Garner's advice, Roosevelt understood that Hoover was a dead duck, and campaigned as any typical pol would do, being able to read political winds better than any politician until Bill Clinton.

In this way, I think Obama's message might be a strategic ploy, offering hearers something upon which to latch, without getting too specific in stump speeches, in order to surprise both detractors and supporters. Of course, I thought Bill Clinton had FDR's willingness to be experimental, rather than a more fearful approach to pragmatism, covering his political assets with something for the center-right dominated Congress. Especially after the defeat of health care reform, I think he figured trimming his sales to the prevailing winds was the only way to accomplish anything. He was probably right; that doesn't mean there wasn't a measure of cowardice in his approach.

All of this is going the long way round to giving my reasons for supporting Obama. It seems just a couple weeks ago, I said explicitly that he didn't have what it takes to be President. One thing I forget to factor in was the one thing vitally necessary to becoming President - support among the electorate. I think he proved the naysayers wrong three days ago.

There are a series of posts over at Fire Dog Lake that neatly capture my (reluctant and hedged) support of Obama. First, there this from Scarecrow, from which I wish to site two passages that pretty neatly sum up my own feelings.
I've tried to remain deliberately restrained about any of the Democratic candidates, not because they're not good people but because I see each of them as possessing only a piece of what we need in the next President. It's like pretending there could be a person with Obama's charisma, plus Edward's empathy and passion, plus Clinton's wariness and experienced pragmatism, plus Dodd's courage and constitutional commitment, plus Biden's knowledge and insights, plus Kucinich' moral clarity, plus . . . well you get the idea. But there is no such person; there never is.

We have to choose which qualities to emphasize and then hope the person we choose will have the wisdom, maturity and self confidence to reach out to those who can make the Administration whole and successful.

This is part of my argument with Democracy Lover. Too often we sacrifice the good on the altar of the perfect. Yet, we are in the position in this election year to have "good" be very good.

The second quote neatly encapsulates why (a) my support is still hedged even as I make it public; and (b) why I think he has been far more successful than either Edwards or Clinton:
Whether by luck, logic or innate wisdom, Obama has tapped into the country's longing for hope. Every bit of anger, every frustration we have with the current malignant regime, with the direction of the country, with the plight of working people, the health care crisis or the economic insecurities of the middle class can be channeled through the message of hope. It may not be rationale; it may turn out to be more image and fluff than reality, and we will almost certainly be at least somewhat disappointed in the end. But the country needs to believe in itself again, and that's what Obama is selling. No one else is selling that so well, even if they understand and believe it.

I'll be watching the debates tonight looking for that sense of hope from these candidates. I have no illusions about Barack Obama. I honestly don't know whether he feels inside but has chosen not to repeat what Edwards is saying, how much he cares about what Dodd has been warning us about, and so on. I don't know if he's just rallying the troops with his rhetoric or really is as naive as Clinton would have us believe. But it's clear he represents the hopes of millions who desperately want to believe in their country again, to believe he can pull this off.

This leads me to quote this post, by Jane Hamsher, which neatly sums up my own sense of why Obama has succeeded and Edwards has not:
Edwards seemed the most energized and in addition to joining up once again with Obama to take Hillary down, got in some very impassioned points about the need to confront corporate America. "You cannot nice these people to death." I wish he'd find a way to make that sound a bit less antagonistic -- while I appreciate the willingness to fight, I believe most people listen to him and think it sounds a bit 2004.(emphasis added)

Edwards' message is both correct, and hitting many notes that resound well with the American people. Yet, I think that Obama has something, and learned something, from President Clinton's first campaign, and Ronald Reagan's first and second campaigns and from Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign. It is all well and good to be against something, especially when those somethings are forces that are destructive of our social contract and our political life. Being anti-corporate, anti-Bush is not a positive message, however. Edwards offers a voice for the frustrations of those who just don't seem to have a place anymore; yet his style of confrontation is not one that most people will respond to. I think Obama's smiling, impassioned invocations of possibilities, of a future that is a shared future - not a Democratic future, or a Blue State future, but an American future - is what people are responding to. I know that it the source of my own decision to give him support.

Of course, part of this decision is wholly practical, and I refuse to deny it. I am jumping on what, to me, is the fastest wagon sure to cross the finish line first. Why should I deny that? The campaign, especially for President, isn't about me, or my wants, fears, or desires. The President is the only truly national office; since 1992, the whole issue has been a partisan one, and Obama is telling people his Administration will be an American Administration again. I think there is something powerful, deeply American in that message. When I heard that, I knew that he was not only talking about transcending the bitter, petty battles of our current partisan polarization. I also knew he was talking realignment - and I think he will ride that wave well.

So, there are reasons both petty and rational for my support for Obama. Reasons that make sense, and reasons that seem to contradict much of what I've said. I will gleefully accept that, especially as it shows that I am quite willing to change my mind.

UPDATE: This piece at Talk Left, in its skepticism, misses some things about politics in IL that actually show that Big Tent Democrat doesn't know what he's talking about. I remember this bill, and to say there was vehement opposition is to say much. State politics in IL are run by four people, the governor, the Speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader, and the mayor of Chicago. Obama managed to play these egos well, and the unanimous passage only shows how well. Furthermore, our current governor is despised by all three of the other major players, and by the voters as well.

That he has been unsuccessful in Washington shows the environment is different; I think he's saying he will change the environment so others can do what he did in Springfield. Maybe I'm wrong; perhaps this is wishful thinking. I do know that BTD is dead wrong on his reading of Illinois politics.

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