Monday, December 31, 2007


Steve Clemons writes about "fuzzy" bipartisanship. He is tired of politicians talking about bipartisanship and wants to see more "dissidents."

I don't believe that bipartisanship solves the challenges ahead. New policies might help restore some balance and the beginnings of a positive direction. But what is needed now are rebels.

I agree with Steve for the most part. Politicians are dealing with big issues and they shouldn't compromise their beliefs just for the sake of compromise. If they believe in something, they should make a stand. Their should be fiery rhetoric and impassioned speech in defense of whatever they believe in.

The problem comes, I believe, when it is not done with respect. I don't expect our Congressional representatives to be giving each other hugs, but I do expect them to come to the floor treating their fellow representatives with respect no matter which side of the aisle they are on. They are their to represent the American people and they can do that without resorting to attacking political opponents.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Jesus and Politics

This is the sort of thing that scares me about a Huckabee presidency.

Republican Mike Huckabee said Sunday he would not back down from a 1998 statement in which he said he hoped Baptists would "answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ."

I don't think he really stands a chance in the general election even if he does get his party's nod. Still, I think that the move toward an overt conflation of politics and religion in our country is not a good one. I don't remember Jesus telling his followers to get into politics. Other matters seemed to be of more import to him.

But that's just me.

Dragonlance Disappointment

I've known that Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman have wanted to do a big screen production of their baby for a long time now. A live-action version has almost happened a few times, but fallen through for various reasons. A while back, an animated version was green lit. Animation when done well can be awesome (see Pixar). When they announced the voice actors I became even more excited. Unfortunately, my anticipation has completely evaporated after viewing the recent trailer.

Aargh! What the hell is that? The bizarre mix of 2D and 3D. The 2D animation that would be right at home in the 80s. It's horrible. Did they find some bored junior-high kids just out of art class for this? I just can't believe that Weis and Hickman looked at this and said, "Yes, this is what we want." The Chronicles trilogy was one of the first fantasy books I read when I was young and it still has a special place in my collection. Sure this cartoon is not going to take that away, but it's still painful to see something so beloved being turned into crap.

Music Video of the Week

Witness the awesomeness that is Apocalyptica. It doesn't get much cooler than heavy metal cellos.

Weekly Secret


I can rather relate to this one.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

School is Out

The last day of my last class for the year, God and World, was yesterday. The last few days were a rush to finish my final assignments. Between computer troubles and a lot of chaos at home, I hadn't kept up on my work as I should have. My paper certainly was not as good as it could have been, but I can live with that. I'm happy to have a week and a half off before I start up again with two classes, Middle Eastern Literature and International Relations II.

The Captain is Back

All right, for my two or three (one?) regular readers, the Captain is back from his extended tour of duty and should be posting more regularly around here.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Blame the Computer

So it's been quite sparse here lately. Much of that is the fault of my computer. It became harder and harder to keep it running. I wanted to wait until I got my tax return next year, but it got to the point that waiting any longer was not really feasible. I have to do homework and such on here and and I have to have my computer fully operational.

So, I splurged and got another one now. Like my previous one, it is an HP. It came preloaded with Vista and I'm not sure what to think of it so far. It sure looks nice, but is clunky in some areas, such as user level security. It asked me five times while I was installing iTunes if I was sure it was okay for the program to run. I finally figured out how to turn that pain in the ass off.

Anyway, I'm back in business. I do have a ten page paper that I need to do (start!) which is due by the end of the week. After that I have a break for a few weeks and should be posting more regularly then.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Jesus: Too Liberal for America?

Oh, so bad, but oh, so funny.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Quote of the Day

We are in danger of becoming so adverse to risk we will lose sight of common sense.

Said in response to a couple in the UK not being allowed to take pictures of their kid in the park.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Progress on the Feminist Front

This change should definitely bring about some real movement towards equality.

Musings on Iraq

Jeromy over at Seeking Goliath has posted some thoughts about the war in Iraq. He notes that he did support it at the beginning, but is not quite sure how he feels now. While I was never sold on this war, I can understand those who did think it may have been justifiable in the beginning. What I cannot understand are those people who think the war has gone swimmingly and think any criticism of it is not just wrong, but blasphemous (*coughNormanPodhoretzcough*). Jeromy certainly does not shy from questioning and he brings this point up in his post as well as some others.

1. Constitutional rights were created to be upheld in difficult times, not done away with. It is precisely those difficult times that reveal the constitution’s merit. Freedoms cannot, primarily, be forsaken in the name of “national security,” whether they be our freedoms or those of another nation. Nor can we take away the rights of non-Americans and simultaneously demand the rights of Americans either domestically or on the foreign stage without staring squarely in the face of our own hypocrisy.

Of all of the problems from this conflict, I think this is perhaps the most troubling. Torture, warrantless wiretapping, stripping habeas corpus. This is America. The one thing we have been able to rely on for a long time in foreign policy is our reputation as a bastion of morality. No more. That has been flushed down the toilet. And it is not just our current President and his administration. It is everyone in Congress who has only given lip service to the notion of standing up for this. It is the American people who have been complacent or even applauded these acts. It has only taken seven years for our reputation to be demolished. It will take far longer to rebuild it.

2. You cannot wage a global war and simultaneously expect no consequence to a global economy.

I don't think this administration honestly thought about most of the consequences of their actions, not just any economic impact. In fact, I think their only thoughts on economic impact were "Overthrowing Saddam and replacing him with someone friendlier to us will help us maintain access to oil."

3. War solely for the sake of peace is not justifiable. For centuries wars have been fought in the name of peace, and for centuries no war fought in the name of peace has resulted in peace. The two concepts are innately opposed to each other. It’s like saying I’m going to build a tree house by digging a hole.

"The aim and result of war necessarily are not peace but victory, and any victory won by violence necessarily justifies the violence that won it and leads to further violence. If we are serious about innovation, must we not conclude that we need something new to replace our perpetual 'war to end all war.' -Wendell Berry

War is peace.

4. There is a time for war. Ecclesiastes bears this truth. History provides evidence as well- there is a time to fight. However, if I am being completely transparent, I have to admit that I don’t yet know when that time is.

Perhaps at this time it might be helpful to review some of the criteria for entering war (jus ad bellum) as laid out by such thinkers as Augustine, Aquinas, and others.

1) Just cause

Did we have this going into Iraq? I don't believe so. Even if the intelligence had born out and Saddam did have WMDs, I don't think that gave us reason to invade. The notion of preemptive strikes is tricky, but I think there needs to be and imminent, clear and present danger to justify preemptive action. Saddam possessing WMDs does not meet this criteria. Satellite imagery showing Saddam fueling long-range rockets might.

2) Legitimate authority

We had this, sort of. Many nations did buy into the President's story (thanks, Colin Powell) and supported us. Many did not, however, and we did not have a UN Resolution to support us. Now, I do not think that the US needs to have UN permission to take action to protect its interests. That said, it is helpful to have such, especially when your primary case for going to war turns out to be a dud. We do not need anyone's permission to take action, but we should be very cautious if we do not have it. We may be the most powerful nation on the planet, but events in Iraq certainly demonstrate that we are not invulnerable.

3) Right intention

This is certainly a gray area and the answer of whether we had this or not probably depends on how partisan one is. Personally, I do not believe many in this administration had right intention. I think that many supporters of the war (at least at first) had right intention. Leaving the whole oil issue aside and even WMDs, I want to talk about "bringing democracy to the Middle East." This was widely touted as a good reason for invading Iraq, especially after the absence of WMDs. Is this a reason to go to war, though? I do not believe so. There are other, better ways of encouraging democracy. We have only served to inflame many people in the Middle East against us. Our arrogant, we'll-bring-democracy-to-the-backward-Arabs has made the task of spreading freedom harder, not easier. Democracy isn't something you can give to a society. They have to want it enough to take it themselves.

4. Probability of success

There was no doubt in anyone's mind that the US military machine was astronomically superior to the Iraqi military. No one doubted that we would be able to go in and thwart them without breaking much of a sweat. It is one thing, though, to defeat an army that a bunch of Girl Scouts could have smacked around. It is another thing completely to rebuild a nation. Sadly, our administration showed a stunning lack of planning on this and has bungled it horribly. Even if it had been planned better, though, it is hard to say whether we could have succeeded in this.

This is where it becomes important for the society to want the democracy for themselves. We have opened up a nasty can of sectarian strife where too many sides are striving for their own ends and not the interests of the nation as a whole. It doesn't help that many Iraqis do not view themselves as such, but as members of one tribe or another or a Sunni or Shi'ite. Violence is down, whether because of the surge or not, but there has been little to no progress on the political front. We can't force the Iraqis to come to terms with each other.

5. Last resort

Some will say that we gave Saddam more than enough chances to comply with UN Resolutions requiring disarmament and that he (and the world) were laughing because we showed no spine. I tend to side with those who say we didn't use force as a last resort, especially since it has come out that the administration has been less than honest with the intelligence we had and many inspectors at the time were clamoring for more time, saying they believed the WMD story was being blown out of proportion. Sure it is easier to say after the fact (no WMDs? Whoops), but I have been against this war from the beginning. I do not think this was a last resort effort. Bush was talking about provoking Iraq by dressing up a plane in UN colors and flying it over their airspace hoping Saddam would shoot at it. This is not the actions of someone wanting to use force as a last resort. This is the action of someone determined to use force and just trying to find an excuse.

I think that based on these criteria, our military action in Iraq was not justified. We could get into the jus in bello, too, (ah, torture, how I miss thee), but that's another post.

5. There is a difference between patriotism to the ideals that the constitution upholds and patriotism to the current ruling government. Thomas Jefferson felt that skepticism was an important part of being a citizen,

"for nothing can keep it right but our own vigilant and distrustful superintendence."

Patriotism has been manipulated by those in power of both parties who are simply seeking the favor of the masses. Patriotism is defined (though “patriots” would not put it this way), as a blind loyalty to the actions and motivations of the presiding regime. What America wants, America has a moral right to, and if you disagree you are an unpatriotic, ungrateful coward.

Few things are more aggravating than ridiculous, blowhard rhetoric about patriotism. My kneejerk reaction anymore is to think "pompous dickhead" when some pol or pundit starts bloviating about what it means to be patriotic. Occasionally, its someone with some sense, as Jeromy above, but, unfortunately, most of the time it's verbal diarrhea.

I think that the Iraq war and its fallout may become a defining cultural moment for us as Vietnam was for a previous generation. We need more sane discussion of it so we can come to terms with it.


Last Saturday I talked to Joyce, Patrick's mother. She said that she had been going through Patrick's things with his father, Dennis, and they had some things that they thought I might want. On Monday night, I went out to their house.

It was hard looking through it, a lot of memories came back. We role-played a lot and most of the things they had set aside were his RPG books. We played so many games - D&D, Shadowrun, Ars Magica, L5R, Battle Tech. So many good times. I want so badly to go back and have those experiences again. If only...

I ended up with five boxes of stuff, mostly RPG books, and a crate of DVDs. Dennis told me they still have more of his stuff to sort through, but he knows there are a lot more books and games. They want me to have them and are going to call me when they have dug them out.

I'd trade it all for five more minutes with Patrick.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Set Back

I talked to my friend, Ken, yesterday and he says that he cannot afford to move in now because he is just starting to pay his school loans back. The payment is over $400 a month right now. I offered to make the rent lower and he said "maybe," but even so it wouldn't be until after Christmas.

The problem is that 1) he's not sure and 2) Mom and I can only afford everything through January. Mom obviously doesn't want the house to be foreclosed, so we would have to get the house sold in January so we don't have to worry about the February payment. Ken said he has asked a few people he knows and one of them has said they would think about it.

Unfortunately, time has now become very critical. I have by no means given up hope, but I am less confident.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sex Education With My Daughters

Kids say the darndest things, of course, but sometimes it seems my daughters do it better than most because of their crazy home environment. This weekend they mentioned that their Mom's brother, Doug, had been making fun of their other brother, Dale, for still being a virgin, "just because he's never had sex!"

Oh, I do so love these opportunities. I talked to my daughters then about sex and marriage (not our first). I told them that I thought it was a good idea to wait until you are married before you had sex, but that everyone has to make their own decision about it and it is not right to judge someone for making a different decision. They seemed to agree with this and it isn't anything we haven't discussed before. Then I get this from my sweet, youngest daughter, Shaena, "Dad, if you believe that, why did you and Mom have sex before you were married."

Shaena, the one who is usually quiet and doesn't say much during our "serious" talks, asks me this question. I was shocked for just a second, but then recovered and tried to answer. I told them that it was a very fair question and they shouldn't be afraid to ask me about anything. Sometimes people make mistakes, but the important thing is that they learn from their mistakes is the gist of what I told my daughters.

Of course that's not all. I asked them if their Mom had talked to them about any of this stuff. Erica says, "No, not really. But she did say that sometimes if you get a crush on someone, it can be Satan lying to you."

"What?" I asked.

"Well, Mom said that she had a crush on you and thought you were going to take care of her for the rest of her life," Erica answered.

I tried to explain that feelings are not sent by Satan, they are part of being human. Erica tried to say, "Not all the time, Dad, just some of the time," but I told her I didn't agree with that, either. There is nothing wrong with getting a crush or "liking" someone, I said. It is only a problem if you stop thinking and do something stupid because of your feelings. Bringing it back to their mother and I, I explained that there was nothing wrong with their mother and I having feelings for each other when we met. The problem was that we stopped thinking (well, I'm not sure she had ever started, but I digress) and did not make good choices.

Whew. Being a father certainly is not easy. I'm certainly not looking forward to their teen years.

I was also thinking about the fact that "Satan makes people have crushes on other people." I may have to talk to him about that and see if we can't work out some arrangement whereby I can give him a list of women that I wouldn't mind having a crush on me and he can make something happen. I'm sure the price wouldn't be too high. I'm not really using my soul anyway.

Weekly Music Video - Meat Loaf

The one and only Meat Loaf performing "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." I would love to catch one of his concerts. He has so much energy. This performance with Karla DeVito (who is just lip synching, but still good) is awesome. And I'm not sure there's a better ode to teenage love/lust than this song.

Weekly Secret


New Cosmology Findings

New research about the happenings of the universe in the immediate moment after the Big Bang.

Physicists announced Thursday that they now have the smoking gun that shows the universe went through extremely rapid expansion in the moments after the big bang, growing from the size of a marble to a volume larger than all of observable space in less than a trillion-trillionth of a second.

The discovery -- which involves an analysis of variations in the brightness of microwave radiation -- is the first direct evidence to support the two-decade-old theory that the universe went through what is called inflation.

Very cool stuff.

Reading With My Daughters - Ender's Game

After my daughter's told me that they no longer wanted to read Dragonlance because it was a book that could lead a good Christian astray, I was frustrated for awhile and struggled to find something to read. Finally, I settled on Ender's Game.

For those who do not know, Ender's Game is the Hugo and Nebula award winning novel of Ender Wiggin. In the future mankind faces annihilation at the hands of the Buggers, fierce insect-like aliens who have only been narrowly defeated twice before. The hope of the world rests with gifted children who are sent to Battle School to become warriors and leaders of the human armies preparing for the final conflict with the superior alien forces. Ender is the smartest and most talented of the group, but the rigors he faces in the school may break him before he is through...

It happens to be one of my favorite books and I hoped that my daughters would enjoy it as well. It was a fantastic success. We ended up staying up until nearly 2 a.m. last night finishing it. Erica had tears in her eyes at the end. Shaena loved it, too. I'm very glad that with the exception of one or two bumps, I have been able to share my love of reading with my daughters.

Next up: Tarzan of the Apes

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Media Bias

Jeromy over at Seeking Goliath recently wrote about problems with our news media. He mentioned the issue of bias and how it is his, in his opinion, a myth.

2. Objectivity is a myth. Most reporters will readily admit that objectivity is an impossibility in reporting. One simply cannot step outside of their own bias completely. This is not to say that we don’t attempt objectivity. But to hold it up as an ideal and brazenly disregard it in the culture of your news organization and reporting is dishonest and deceptive.

Ed Brayton also posted about media bias recently.

My new gig with the Center for Independent Media has been quite interesting, if for no other reason than to stimulate my thinking about the differences between blogging and journalism and how to find a balance between them that maintains integrity. Notice that I say integrity, not objectivity; the concept of objectivity has become so attenuated that it is no longer useful at all in such discussions.

Sometimes that balance can be difficult to strike, but here's one thing I am absolutely certain of: the mere repetition of "both sides" in a dispute is not "objectivity", nor does it have any integrity.

I think that a large part of the problem with the media, which Jeromy touches on in his post, is the audience. If we accept that there is no true 100% objectivity, then we have to learn how to recognize what biases may exist and how to understand how they may influence whatever news story we're listening to. The problem is that I think most people are either incapable of doing so or unwilling to do so.

When I say people are incapable, I don't mean that they are stupid and can't do it. I mean that I don't think most people have the education and skill sets required to process this stuff. I don't think enough critical thinking skills are taught in school, certainly not in this age of teaching for the test (thanks, NCLB!). I would much rather kids came out of school with a bare minimum of facts and a well-honed ability to think critically than the reverse.

As for the second problem, people being unwilling to parse the news properly, well, we are a very lazy country. People would rather think, "Lou Dobbs says he's looking out for the American people, so even though he comes off as a racist prick, I'm going to take him at his word all the time." It's easier than having to read multiple news stories about an issue, do some other research, and come to your own conclusion. And, really, it takes time away from America's Next Top Model. Who wants that?

Florida Cop Gets Her Just Desserts

Back in October, I wrote about the Florida cop who sued a family at whose residence she fell and broke her knee while assisting in the rescue effort of their drowning three-year old. She has now received her comeuppance. The department has fired her for filing the suit saying that she "brought ridicule to the agency and damaged its reputation." You think?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Happy Birthday

It's not just the holiday season here in the Noble household. It's the birthday season as a good chunk of the birthdays in our family seem to fall between September and January. Today was the birthday of my niece, Alexis. She has been talking about going to Chuck E. Cheese for awhile now, so that's where we went. In an abstract way, I'll be one of the first to say that I can't stand the place. However, seeing the joy in her face, watching her dance in front of Chuck E., and playing with her on the games made it a wonderful experience. Here she is riding horses with her cousin, Bryanna.

One of the best moments of the night was when Alexis took a ride on the Batmobile. When she saw the Bat symbol, she cried, "It's the coolest!" After that she hopped on another ride, a boat, and another girl got into the Batmobile. Alexis and I looked at her and I told my niece, "I don't think she's cool enough to ride in Batman's car." With wonderful earnestness, she told me, "She's not a lieutenant. I'm a lieutenant!" She's such a wonderful girl.

Happy Fourth Birthday, Alexis!

Aww...Aren't Cats Great

Courtesy of Andrew Sullivan.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Golden Compass and Faith

Golden Compass is opening in theaters this week. Sure enough there are many religious people up in arms about it because the book supposedly has a strong anti-religion (anti-Catholic, specifically) slant. Now, I have not read the books by Phillip Pullman, so I am not qualified to say one way or another whether they are or not. I do like this quote from a nun in the linked article, though:

"If we have faith, what are we afraid of?"

Indeed. The faith that many people claim to have does not seem to have a very strong foundation. The slightest hint of criticism leads to howls of anger and calls for someone's head. Typically, this simply justifies the criticisms. Most of the time, these people haven't even read the book or seen the movie that is getting them so fired up. If they are concerned about its message, they should check it out for themselves. Get a group of fellow church-goers together and watch the movie or read the book. Talk about it. Figure out what the criticisms are. Are they justified? Could this be an opportunity for strengthening the faith and opening a dialogue?

Critiques or attacks should be viewed as an opening. Obviously if someone is just being petty and name-calling ("Christians are poopy-heads!") they do not deserve a response. But, if someone is saying, "I don't believe in Christianity because how can a good God let evil happen?" or "The Catholic Church produced the Inquisition. How can it consider itself a bastion of morality?" or "Islam is a sexist religion because of its rules for women," these are valid questions that deserve valid answers. Sure not everyone is going to accept an answer, but no religion should be afraid of having to answer tough questions. If it tries to dodge them or hide from them, then it cannot be upset when people criticize it.

Religion Fact of the Day

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the miracle of the burning oil. After the Maccabean revolt and the defeat of Antiochus IV in 165 BCE, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to light the Temple flame for one day. Miraculously, however, the flame stayed lit for eight days, long enough to consecrate more oil. Now, Jews light a candle on each day of the eight-day holiday to remember this event.

Hitch on Hanukkah

Christopher Hitchens has become famous for being a vocal opponent of religion. Not just an opponent, in fact, but a harsh, antagonistic critic. He has an article on Slate today about Hanukkah. He says:

When the fanatics of Palestine won that victory, and when Judaism repudiated Athens for Jerusalem, the development of the whole of humanity was terribly retarded.

It's good to see that he's looking for a polite dialogue on religion. Of course, if he was doing that he wouldn't be getting big book deals or asked to appear on news shows, now would he?

Hitch seems to have a lot of anger. I wonder how much of it stems from this messy incident.

Poetry Time

Bright Star

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No--yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death.

John Keats

Florida Update

I don't get to go to Florida this week, darn it. Securing sponsorship is such a pain in the ass and it did not get done in time. Our security director swears, though, that he will start working now to make sure everything is lined up for the next class in March. I was really looking forward to getting out of town for a couple of days, especially to sunny Florida, but, alas.

Going in March might be a little awkward. If I went this week it would be by myself. If I go in March, though, I will be in all likelihood going with a girl from work that I asked out a few weeks ago. She got very embarrassed and said she was seeing someone. She probably won't think anything of it, but I already feel a little awkward with her at work now. Going on a trip to Florida with her isn't going to make it any better. Isn't life amusing?

Life of Pi

I managed to sneak in some personal reading in the last two weeks and I read Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I hadn't heard much about it before I read it other than it was "good." After I read an interview with Martel at the A.V. Club, though, I became very intrigued and picked it up. Reading the back, I expected it to be slightly surreal, but it turned out to be anything but, except for...well, I don't want to spoil anything.

Life of Pi is about a boy who is fascinated by religion and animals. His father owns a zoo and Pi takes great pleasure in caring for the animals there. He is also drawn to religion, but not just one religion. He becomes a Hindu, Christian, and Muslim. On a trip to Canada, the boat they are on sinks and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with an orangutan, zebra, hyena, and a Bengal tiger. Before long, only the tiger and Pi remain.

It is an incredible tale of survival and spirituality. Martel has a gift for a dry wit. One of my favorite passages:

It is pointless to say that this or that night was the worst of my life. I have so many bad nights to choose from that I've made none the champion.

Life of Pi definitely gets the Captain's approval.

What's In a Name?

The Muhammad teddy bear story has been getting a lot of attention lately and rightly so. This is an example of the issues Muslims need to face and deal with in their religion. Is the name of a teddy bear really the biggest problem they face. As my friend, Jeromy, put it on his blog:

Come to think of it, I haven't heard of any riots over the fact that nearly 500,000 people have been killed in the country's recent genocide efforts.

I think that if Mulims really sat down and thought about it, maybe read their copy of the Koran, they would find that a teddy bear's name is not the sort of issue Muhammad would have cared about.

On the issue of names, Slate writes about what actual rules Muslims have about naming. Hint: not many. And nothing about teddy bears.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Florida, Here I Come...Maybe

GE puts on a class for the software we use at the hospital for access control. Being the sysadmin for the program, I've been wanting to go to this class for awhile now. It's not cheap, but the hospital approved it. The problem is that you have to have sponsorship from a GE certified dealer. That is proving to be a major hassle because both of the companies we purchase GE products from are not GE certified. We are trying to go through the parent company of one of the vendors, but it's taking time. Time we don't have because the class I am supposed to attend (with one other person from the hospital) is Wednesday and Thursday this week.

I'm imagining a phone call tomorrow. "Shane, we got sponsored. The plane leaves in an hour; I hope you're ready." I'm sure that if I can't get to this class, I will be able to attend the next one in March, but that's a ways off. I want to get away from Billings and the snow/cold now. *crosses fingers*

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Insane Primary Calendar

The Democrats have finalized their primary calendar. Of course, Iowa and New Hampshire are keeping their status as the front runners and other states who try to move up are being punished. Our primary campaigns have become asinine. Can anyone make a serious argument that IA and NH are representative of the nation as a whole and should always have the first say in who our President is? The one argument I usually here is that it should be this way because of "tradition."

I'm not one to buck tradition just because, but if we can examine a tradition and find it wanting, then I think we do need to make some changes. I believe a version of the rotating regional calendar makes the most sense. Rather then one entire region being first, though, I would have one state from each region be first. That would rotate for each election. Two weeks later, another state from each region would hold their primary/caucus/whatever. This would continue in two-week shifts until all states had gone. This seems to be more fair (and sane) than what we have now. Unfortunately, every state is looking out for their own interests and not considering what would be better for the nation as a whole. Not surprising, I suppose, but certainly disappointing. I hope that after this nightmarish calendar, someone steps up to take the lead on making some sensible changes for the next election.


Pope Benedict XVI has released his latest encyclical. The old beast of Communism may be defeated, but the Pope sees its successor in what he calls "relativism."

Defeated, Marxism is no longer the incarnation of evil in our midst, but rather the perfect (vanquished) foil in Benedict's ongoing intellectually driven sermon that Christian faith is history's only true answer. But the Pope is not ready to declare victory. The Church's current foe, as he sees it, is still in the heart of Europe and still atheist in nature: a sort of post-Socialist, anything-goes brand of Utopia that Benedict calls "relativism" — and disparages as the root of everything from loose sexual mores to a breakdown of the traditional family to runaway capitalism.

I think Jeffrey B. Russell, professor of history at U of C, Santa Barbara, would agree. He wrote about his experience with relativism amongst his students.

I first encountered radical relativism in a classroom in the early 70s, when I was showing pictures and photographs of violence. Among the pictures was one of a soldier kicking a little boy to death. One of the young women in the class argued strongly that we had no right to make a value judgment about the soldier's act. After much time in discussion, she finally allowed that the soldier's act might have been wrong--but NOT because the boy was suffering. Rather, her reason was that the soldier "might have enjoyed the boy's company if he had got to know him." She allowed that from the boy's point of view things probably looked different. But the only judgment she would make on the soldier was on the basis of the pleasure he might have deprived himself of. There is no GOOD; there is only feeling good. The pleasure principle. Good and evil depend on how you happen to feel. Note the phrase "Happen to feel."

A few years later, at UCSB, while teaching philosophy of history, I encountered another variety of radical relativism. I tried in vain to get the class to admit that the Sistine Chapel was better than a stick figure I scrawled on the board, that a Bach cantata was better than my toneless humming, that King Lear was better than Roses are Red, Violets are blue. No way. Some people, they replied, might prefer the stick figure or the greeting card sentiments. One young woman in the class was particularly bright and later went on to a successful career as a lawyer. She was an oboe player in the Santa Barbara Symphony. She had been practicing oboe for seven or eight years. I had never done more than look at one. I challenged her to bring her oboe, and we'd see whether it was possible to determine whose playing was better. "Some people might prefer the way you played," she responded. Then why practice at all, let alone seven years? At the end of the term, the young woman turned in the best paper in the class. I gave her an A, of course, and she was delighted. But what if I had taken her at her word? What if I had told her, "You are getting a C along with everyone else, because there is no basis on which to judge one paper better than another?"

Christians in Hollywood

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is one of those actors I have always found very intriguing. There's just something about him. That's why I really enjoyed this story about him on Busted Halo. He directed a play called "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot" and he talks about his own faith and the problems Christians face in Hollywood.

He noted that he is often defensive about the way that many actors react to the idea of evangelical Christians. Is there a bias, I asked, against that kind of person in the acting community?

"Absolutely!" he said. "It pisses me off that there is this knee-jerk reaction against them. There is certainly an antipathy against them in the acting world, just like there is an antipathy in the politically liberal world. And, as a result, the liberal Christian is not heard from as much. And, you know, a liberal person who has a deep belief in Christianity can be a very powerful influence on things."

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Weekly Secret


World War III

Ron Rosenbaum over at Slate muses about the potential of a nuclear World War III, especially with the current crisis in Pakistan.

I don't want to be alarmist (actually I do, or rather I'd like you to share my sense of alarm), but I'm surprised there isn't a greater sense of concern about those Pakistani nukes. Forget Iran and Israel (Bush's hypothetical route to World War III). Pakistani nukes now represent the quickest shortcut to a regional nuclear war that could escalate to a global nuclear war.
And consider this: In recent years entire regions of Pakistan have become safe havens for al-Qaida and (quite likely) Osama. Is it not possible that instead of pursuing elaborate schemes to buy nukes on the black market or smuggle an improvised radioactive "dirty bomb" into the United States, al-Qaida has been biding its time, burrowing its way into Pakistan, waiting for the Islamic bomb to drop into Bin Laden's lap? (I know: not a great choice of metaphor.) Because he thinks long term, he doesn't have to try to scrounge up some "loose nuke" from the former Soviet "stans"; he can just wait. He's one coup—or one bullet—away from being handed the keys to an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Scary thoughts.

Religion Fact of the Day

The Faylusufs were an Islamic group that arose in the ninth century. They attempted to blend Greek philosophy with Islamic theology in what became known as falsafah. The movement reached its pinnacle with Ibn Sina (Avicenna), a prodigy who was advising physicians when he was just sixteen. Ibn Sina believed that prophets and others who had mystical revelations had a better understanding of God, but that everyone could and should use reason to gain what knowledge they could of God. The movement only lasted a few hundred years as Greek philosophy and rationality began to fall out of favor with Muslims.

Congestion Pricing

I'm sure it's only a matter of time before we see this start appearing in large cities here in America. They are trying it in London with excellent results. No doubt there will much wailing and gnashing of teeth at first. We Americans don't like anything that seems to impinge on our freedoms, even if it is better for everyone in the long run.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Torture and the Common Man

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that torture is authorized and condoned by our government when average joes wholeheartedly support it.

Afterwards, Luntz asked the group why they seemed to be in favor of torture. "I don't have any problem pouring water on the face of a man who killed 3000 Americans on 9/11," said John Shevlin, a retired federal law enforcement officer. The group applauded, appallingly.

The whole post is a fascinating insight into the minds of some average Republican voters. Anti-immigration. Anti-help for the poor. Pro-Iraq war. Pro-torture. One of many reasons I could never be President. I wouldn't feel inclined to lead these people so much as say, "You're batshiat crazy and would probably be happier living in another country. I hear China's nice this time of year. Here's a plane ticket."

"If math were a color..."

One more sign of how bad our education system is getting. A question from a fifth grade math test:

"If math were a color, it would be __, because__"

Wow. I don't what else to say. Just wow.

Keeping Up With the Joneses

A new study shows that we feel better about our own successes when others are not doing as well.

The study, by cognition experts and economists at the University of Bonn in Germany, looks at the brain regions that process reward. Nineteen pairs of subjects performed a series of tasks, estimating the number of dots on a screen, while their brains were scanned. Each time a subject answered correctly, he or she won a cash prize but the prizes were not always the same. Players could see whether their opponents had answered correctly, and how the prize money was distributed.

The researchers were especially interested in the set of outcomes where both players answered correctly. For any given prize value, the brain's reward response was bigger if the other player earned less. Players on average were more pleased with a 60 euro prize when the other player got just 30 euros, for example, than they were if both players earned 60 euros, or if the other player got more.

Very fascinating. Thinking about my own experiences, I do have to admit that it is true for me as well. I felt better about a good grade on a test when I knew that most of the class barely passed than when everyone did well. It sounds horrible and I suppose on a certain level it is. One more natural inclination to overcome in life, I suppose.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Healthcare Beast

I definitely think that we need to rethink our healthcare in America, though, I'm not sure exactly how we should fix it. I'm not sure that mandatory healthcare is the best option. Perhaps tax incentives for employers who offer coverage...I don't know. I have not studied the problem enough to come to any concrete conclusions.

What got me thinking about this was that I found out today that I cannot put my Mom on my healthcare plan at work. She is not a "qualifying dependent." So, even though I claim her on my Federal Tax Return and could be considered her "primary caretaker" (even if I hate the phrase), I can't put her on my plan. That leaves her stuck with Medicare which costs far too much for the paltry coverage it provides. I have a great plan through my employer and my Mom could really use it. This really pisses me off.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Israel and Palestine

Today was the start of the major Mideast peace conference in Annapolis. Newsweek has an interview with one of the authors of the Roadmap, the outline for creating a lasting settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. He is skeptical of the notion that a settlement can be reached before the end of Bush's term of office.

It is possible, but not necessarily likely. In a way, you have three parties in the region. You have the peacemakers, who really want to resolve the issues and create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. There are many Arab states in the region who will support and work for this. Then you have the peace breakers, who will say, "It's not in our interests to have this state, because our goal is push Israel into the sea." And they will use every means available to undermine this process. And then you have what I call the "conflict entrepreneurs," who thrive on keeping the conflict alive. What they believe is that a resolution of the Palestinian conflict will take away a weapon of ideology from their arsenal.

Time also has a story about this conference in the context of Bush's other attempts at diplomacy.

On all these fronts, however, Bush is making progress against those far-right interests. Bill Clinton's Palestinian negotiator, Rob Malley, argues that Bush stands a better chance than Clinton of creating a Palestinian state because he is starting nine months earlier, has full Arab buy-in and is one of the few people who could actually pressure Israel to make tough concessions if he chose to. On North Korea, Bush approved talks led by a top Clinton negotiator, Chris Hill, who promptly delivered a deal to dismantle the country's nuclear reactors. And through quiet discussions with the Democratic Congress, Bush has breathed life into Latin American trade deals most thought were dead after Democrats took over Congress in 2006.

It does seem that Condoleezza Rice has become much more influential in the White House over the past year, countering the rabid pro-war stance of Cheney. That is most certainly a good thing. I think it may be too little, too late, however. I do hope that Rice can guide the Israelis and the Palestinians to a settlement, but I agree with those that say trying to do it before Bush leaves office is hopelessly optimistic. This conflict has been going on for awhile and we've seen it on the verge of being settled a few times only to have it blow up. And it's not like the U.S. has a lot of credibility in the region right now.

I think the three most important steps that need to happen in order for peace to take effect is 1)Israel freezes all development of settlements, 2)Israel eases restrictions on Palestinians and fosters economic growth, 3)Palestinians cease all terrorist actions against Israelis. I believe the U.S. can apply pressure on Israel for the first two. In order to achieve the third objective, though, we need other countries in the area to stop their own terrorist activities and pressure the Palestinians to do the same. We are seen as too close to Israel to have a serious impact on Palestinian actions. We must have the support of other players in the region. I'm not sure we have the credibility or the diplomatic suave to gain this support.

We'll see how it goes. I am hoping for the best.

Computer Troubles

I think I'm going to have to buy a new laptop. The onboard power supply is acting up which means getting a new motherboard which means a new laptop would probably be much easier. My computer is not that old which makes this all the more aggravating. Ah, well. What's life without some things going wrong and making it all more exciting?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Kids Are Great

My three-year old niece, Alexis, came into my room last week and told me, "Uncle Shane, I had a dream about the coolest." She grinned and held up the Batman ("the coolest" natch) action figure I bought for her. I grabbed my Superman action figure and we proceeded to play superheroes. These small moments are wonderful.

Islamic Extremism

The story of the school kids who named a teddy bear "Muhammad" is making the rounds. This incident highlights one of the key issues Muslims need to address if they want to move forward culturally. Some things, like kids naming a toy Muhammad, are a non-issue. It's obvious that the teacher and the kids did not mean anything blasphemous by it. Not everything that could be construed as such is an attack on their religion.

Of course, those things that are critical of Islam, such as the Danish cartoons that caused such an uproar must also be dealt with in a better manner (i.e. not rioting). These extreme reactions only engender negative attitudes and confirm people's suspicions that all Muslims are backwards and intolerant. Granted, U.S. policy has not been very helpful in fostering better attitudes amongst Muslims, but playing the game of "He Started It" is not only childish, but wildly counterproductive.

More Christians Against Torture

Everytime I read something like this, I feel very heartened.

It is indeed the obligation of the government to prevent another September 11.

But it is also the obligation of the government to do so without torturing people.

Maybe there is a glimmer of hope for us.

The Oprah Endorsement

Much has been made of the fact that Oprah is endorsing Obama and will be appearing with him at some upcoming rallies. Some have signaled that this could be a nail in the coffin for Clinton because Oprah's fans will blindly follow her wherever she goes (or votes). Some are skeptical, though, that she will be that big an asset for Obama.

So yes, expect loud, rousing rallies in all three early voting states when Oprah Winfrey comes to town with her friend Barack Obama in early December, with gobs of media attention, raucous crowds, emotion and great pictures. But don't expect those events to do anything productive to allow Obama to get over the biggest hurdle standing between him and the White House. American voters are not looking for a celebrity or talk show sidekick to lead them. Obama is an intelligent and thoughtful potential President, but Winfrey's imprimatur is unlikely to convey those traits to many undecided voters.

Some decry the influence famous people have on the thoughts of the masses and I can't say I think it is a good thing that most of us are sheeples, gladly being herded one way or another. I think, though, that some things are never going to change, one of them being the human desire to listen and follow someone. I don't think we are independent rebels at heart. I think that most of us want to be told what to do or how to think. It's easier.

A New Space Race

I hope this jars us out of our malaise toward space exploration.

According to Cheng, the Chinese are now embarking on a systematic space program the world has not seen since the 1960's and for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States is facing real competition. That may explain why the head of NASA, Michael Griffin, recently warned that "China will be back on the moon before we are . . . I think when that happens Americans will not like it."

I'm not holding my breath, though.

Emerging Adulthood

This is an interesting article about what the author dubs "emerging adulthood," the increasing gap between high school graduation and settling down with a family, and what it means to the Christian community.

There is a new and important stage in life in American culture, and it is not entirely clear that the Christian church understands or particularly knows what to do with it. I am talking about what scholars call "emerging adulthood." This is the time of life between ages 18 and 30, roughly, a phase which in recent decades has morphed into quite a new experience for many. Researchers in sociology, psychology, and human development have been investigating the contours of this new life stage and have recently published some fascinating books on the subject, whose findings are well worth pondering for their implications for church and culture.

To grasp the significance of emerging adulthood, it is necessary first to realize that life stages are not naturally given as immutable phases of existence. Rather, they are cultural constructions that interact with biology and material production, and are profoundly shaped by the social and institutional conditions that generate and sustain them. So, "teenager" and "adolescence" as representing a distinct stage of life were very much 20th-century inventions, brought into being by changes in mass education, child labor laws, urbanization and suburbanization, mass consumerism, and the media. Similarly, a new, distinct, and important stage in life, situated between the teenage years and full-fledged adulthood, has emerged in our culture in recent decades—reshaping the meaning of self, youth, relationships, and life commitments as well as a variety of behaviors and dispositions among the young.

I'd go farther and say that as a society, we don't know what to do about this. Everyone seems quick to say that things are different these days for kids growing up, but no one seems able to posit any solutions. Smith gets into it a little at the end of his article, but I do think one of the biggest changes we need to make is foregoing the "Me first" attitude. When you teach your kids that they are beautiful, unique snowflakes that can have everything their little heart desires, they aren't going to be too happy when they grow up and join the "real world." Sadly, you can't always get what you want (thanks, Stones).

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Shhhh...Don't Tell the Kids

Mitt Romney criticized Senator Obama for revealing that he used drugs in high school.

"I agree with the sentiment that nobody's perfect and most of us, if not all of us, in our youthful years have engaged in various indiscretions we wouldn't want to have paraded in the front of a newspaper," Romney said. "On the other hand if we're running for president, I think it's important for us not to go into details about the weaknesses and our own failings as young people for the concern that we open kids thinking that it's ok for them."

This is most definitely not the thing to do with kids. You don't need to glorify your indiscretions, but you do need to be open and honest. Kids are not stupid. They know that adults were kids at one point and they are going to wonder about mistakes their parents and other adults made. If you try to cover it up, you're going to end up looking like a holier-than-thou hypocrite because nothing stays hidden forever. I have tried to be open with my daughters about mistakes I made when I was young. In fact, I think it helps me bond with them because they can see that I am not that different from them in that I was young once and faced similar choices and that I wasn't always perfect.

Tell Me Your Secrets


Gravity vs. Evolution

Which one has more evidence to support it? Hint: it's not gravity according to Gordon J. Glover.

So it might come as quite a surprise to many folks that, mathematically speaking, we can be many times more certain of common descent than we can be of gravity. What was that? Yes - that’s right! To some, this might sound ridiculous. After all, we can directly observe and measure gravity! The law of gravity is testable and repeatable science! Evolution is mere speculation! Common descent is only a theory! How many time have you heard this? Now, in terms of being repeatable: gravity beats evolution. Sorry. There is simply no way to repeat something that takes 3.8 billion years to unfold and only happens once. But in terms of being testable and measurable, scientists can measure evolution.

The problem is, of course, that gravity isn't a heated issue that people feel threatens their faith. Most of the opponents of evolution (whichever version of it you feel like bringing up) really don't understand the theories of it (none of them say we are descended from apes). They worry, though, that evolution and science will make their beliefs go away so they attack them out of fear. Science may not have all the answers, but it's not going away. These people are going to have to learn to live with it.

Some people probably never will come to terms with science, though. Like people who don't even believe in gravity.

James Madison

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers comes up with some quotes from one of our Founding Fathers pertinent to our turbulent political times including this gem:

“If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”


Friday, November 23, 2007

Religion Fact of the Day

The Documentary Hypothesis is the most widely accepted theory for the origin of the Pentateuch (aka Torah, aka the Five Books of Moses). While it has come under increasing criticism in recent decades, it still stands as the theory against which all others are measured. In essence, it states that their were four authors called the Yahwist (J), Elohist (E), Priestly (P), and Deuteronomist (D). A fifth player, the redactor (R), brought these strands together into the Pentateuch as we know it. As mentioned in a previous RFoD, this happened in the postexilic period (6th century BCE).

Some Relief

I just finished my final assignment for my Intro to the Old Testament class. It was a five page paper on the Documentary Hypothesis. It's a bit of relief. I only have one class now, God and World, though that will keep me busy through the end of December.

I should be able to post more on here now. This blog has become like crack for me. I've been getting tremors and cold sweats with my minimal posting rate as of late. I need a hit.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Looking For Your Parents

An L.A. Times reporter writes about his journey to find his birth parents and deal with his alcoholism.

Babes. Mouths.

There's some things you shouldn't ever have to hear come out of your child's mouth. My daughter, Erica, tonight: "Dad, I don't think we should have been pulled out school to go to Ismay. I mean just so Mom could get pregnant and beat up. And we got spanked with a leather belt."

This is in reference to a few years ago, when their mother (with my daughters in tow) moved to some little town in the middle of nowhere with a guy who knocked her up and knocked her around. Sigh.

Giving Thanks

Rumor has it that today is some sort of day to "give thanks" for whatever it is one may be...well, thankful for. I suppose you could call it "Give Thanks Day" or "I'm Thankful Day" or "Thanksgiving Day" or something. Not being one to be different or stand out from the pack, I suppose I will offer some thoughts on what I am thankful for this year.

I am thankful that my relationship with my two beautiful daughters, Erica and Shaena, has really improved over the last year. As they grow older they seem to be questioning some of what their mother and grandmother spew if not openly at least subconciously. I hope it continues to get better.

I am thankful that our presidential campaign season is becoming longer and longer. It gives us more time to carefully evaluate the candidates which is what we do in this country. We don't vote based on bad rumors we heard. We don't vote based on who is the best looking. We don't vote based on a coin flip. Nope, we take democracy seriously in our great nation. I'm hoping that by the next cycle, the campaign season will be at least as long as the President's term of office. Four years to get to know the candidates seems about right. And, then the one we have rigorously chosen can serve us for four years. I like the symmetry.

I am thankful for the MS study I am participating in. I get $4000 worth of free drugs every month and, really, who isn't thankful for free drugs? Hmmmm...maybe the government should hand out free drugs ala Brave New World. Wouldn't the world be a better place if we could all just get high when we wanted?

I'm thankful that we are finally accepting torture in this country. I've long said that we do not do enough to degrade and harm people foolish enough to become suspects of a crime. "If you can't handle the torture, don't be a suspect," I say. I look forward to the day we've expanded it so that we don't just torture people with brown skin and a funny religion. Any person - man or woman, child or adult, white or not-so-white, right religion or wrong religion - deserves the sweet pangs of stress positions, simulated drowning, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, and solitary confinement if they don't know how to stay on the right side of the law. It's your own fault you became a suspect, Mr. Torture-Hurts-Cry-Baby-Waaah.

I am thankful that my MS progression is very slow and I am managing very well. Besides a few minor symptoms, I feel great and would not know I had the disease if I hadn't seen the MRIs of my brain.

I am thankful that my siblings are finally starting to realize how outdated the concept of "family" is. They are throwing off the trappings of this archaic institution and blazing a new trail of interpersonal relationships. Where this trail leads, who knows? It is exciting to see, though. Turn out for the family Thanksgiving meal was at a low this year. I'm confident that with their commitment to their new path, it will be even lower next year.

I am thankful for the new position I got at the hospital last December. It has been an enjoyable challenge and allowed me to flex some of my mental muscles that I didn't always get to use as a security officer. I also have to give kudos to my new coworkers. They have all been wonderful, but two especially have made a big impact on my life lately. Linda, my boss, is without a doubt the best supervisor I have ever had. She is willing to stand back and let me do my job and she supports me whether it is from angry people trying to blame me for something or from somebody trying to pawn off more work on me. Linda is also great about pushing me to do the best I can. She likes to call them "opportunities." I have very much enjoyed working for her. The other person is Brenda. She is the Volunteer Coordinator at St. V's. She has been a helping hand, a confidant, a matchmaker, a jokester, a friend, and in many ways a second mom. She helps me maintain my sanity and I can't be thankful enough to her.

I am thankful for the entitlement culture we have developed in America. Tyler Durden was wrong. We are all beautiful and unique snowflakes and we deserve to be treated as such. It gets to be a little tricky when more than one unique snowflake is in the same room (the temperature goes up threatening to melt both), but we're all special. I'm sure we can figure out a way to make it work. Just remember I am the most beautiful snowflake and you and I will get along fine.

I am thankful for my friends, especially Jeromy. Our friendship goes back nearly twenty years now and is full of wonderful memories. I feel blessed to have such a kindred spirit in my life.

I am thankful for blame-shifting. It is so much easier getting through life when you know that every time something goes wrong, you can just point your finger at someone else. Whoever came up with the idea of personal responsibility obviously did not realize what a pain it is. I bet if that person knew about blame-shifting, they would have dropped responsibility like a diseased monkey.

I am thankful for the fact that my mother has received a temporary stay of execution on the house and that she may be able to keep it. It is one of her dreams and the thought of losing it has caused her much grief. We may still have to sell, but she feels better that we are fighting it and if we have to sell now, it will be on her terms, not my brother's.

I could go on, but I'm sure someone will give thanks if I finally just shut the hell up now. Besides, now that Give-Thanks Day is almost over, I need to start preparing for the next holiday. Word on the street is that this one involves a visit from some fat man in a red suit with a sack of goods. Sounds weird to me. Why can't we just debase before this cool looking symbol I've seen? It's a giant "S" with two vertical slashes through it. I like that much better and it seems more suited to me as a beautiful and unique snowflake.

No Moon For Obama

Obama would delay our space exploration programs to pay for other programs. That's a black mark on his record as far as I'm concerned, though I still think he's the best candidate. Hell, Romney would probably put a rush on Moon exploration so he can make room for doubling Gitmo.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


So, the Bush Administration sends our troops into harm's way for a ridiculous, unending war, gives people big enlistment bonuses because recruitment is getting harder, and then wants to take back bonuses for troops who get injured and cannot finish their commitment.

The U.S. Military is demanding that thousands of wounded service personnel give back signing bonuses because they are unable to serve out their commitments.

To get people to sign up, the military gives enlistment bonuses up to $30,000 in some cases.

Now men and women who have lost arms, legs, eyesight, hearing and can no longer serve are being ordered to pay some of that money back.

WTF? How could anyone think this was a good idea? "Hey, kid, sorry you lost your legs, but that wasn't in your contract. You're going to have to give your money back." This better be stopped.

A Pick Me Up

For no particular reason, I'm not really in the greatest of moods today. A sing-along with Jesus seems to be the perfect way to lift my spirits.

Catholics and War

Fascinating excerpts from an interview with a Catholic veteran of the Iraq war. I found the most interesting part his thoughts on killing.

That’s the really nice thing about being Catholic; that you can make these blanket assertions, and also recognize the futility of being able to totally avoid sin at all times if you are in the world. I guess I am kind of an Augustinian in that sense. Yes, killing is evil. Killing is wrong. There’s no kind of killing that’s justified. And I don’t care about all the ‘interpretations’ in the Old Testaments where it really says ‘Thou shall not murder.’ I don’t care if that’s a distinction. I’ve seen killing. Killing is wrong. There’s no way to justify it. And I don’t care if the people that I was in some way participating in the killing of were innocent or guilty, I mean, both happened. They were human beings and killing them was wrong. It just is, and it always will be. I don’t think that we can apply some kind of temporal form of justice or legal system to human life and say ‘OK, in this particular instance, this is OK, this guy can be killed,’ or ‘in this particular instance, he can't.’

But I understand that sometimes the way that the world is killing is necessary. There’s just no way to avoid it. That doesn’t make it right. I don’t think there are too many people –too many soldiers –who would come away from the war and say, even if it were the cleanest war in history, who would still come away from it and say, ‘Yeah, that was all really good. All we did was really good stuff.’ It bothers you and it bothers you for a reason because it’s not the sort of thing that we ought to be doing. In an ideal world we wouldn’t do any of it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Star Trek Critters

Wired has an article on the ten "cheesiest" creatures on Star Trek in honor of the HD release of the episodes. I, of course, take issue with cheesy. They're not cheesy, damn it! You can't say something like that about Star Trek, not unless you're referring to Voyager.

Okay, there was a lot of cheese in The Original Series. It's still the best show that's ever been on TV.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Torture and Christians

Sometimes I feel like I'm beating a dead horse (thanks, Axl), but I am so appalled that this is going on. We need more people standing up and voicing their opinion on this. We do not want torture in America, performed by Americans, authorized by Americans, or condoned by Americans. A great article in Christianity Today explains why it is always wrong.

As to the exact kinds of acts that constitute torture, there is no single definition, but this does not mean that the term is infinitely elastic. Almost everyone condemns the examples above. And international agreements have repeatedly sought to define torture as they have denounced it. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment." Article 17 of the Third Geneva Convention (1949) asserts that "no physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war," but, instead, "persons taking no active part in the hostilities … shall in all circumstances be treated humanely." The 1985 U.N. Convention Against Torture defines it as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person." The United States is a signatory to all of these international declarations and has historically incorporated their principles into military doctrine. For example, the 1992 (current, though under revision) U.S. Army Field Manual tells soldiers that "[Geneva] and U.S. policy expressly prohibit acts of violence or intimidation, including physical or mental torture, threats [or] insults, … as a means of or aid to interrogation."
Among the sometimes approved measures have been prolonged standing, removal of detainees' clothing, sensory deprivation, hooding (often with smelly hoods), prolonged interrogations, use of dogs, forced shaving of beards, grabbing, poking, pushing, sleep manipulation and deprivation, and waterboarding (which refers to a variety of techniques designed to make a victim feel as if he were drowning).

Among the unapproved but practiced measures have been punching, slapping, and kicking detainees, religious and sexual humiliation, prolonged shackling, exposure to severe heat or cold, food or toilet deprivation, mock or threatened executions, and letting dogs threaten or in some cases bite and severely injure detainees.

Read the whole thing. Get angry. Do something about it.

Weekly Secret


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Religion Fact of the Day

The final book in the Christian Bible, The Revelation to John, more commonly called simply Revelation, was probably written in the early 90s CE. Most scholars do not believe that this John is the same John who was an apostle of Jesus. Revelation fits into the apocalyptic genre of writing which had been flourishing amongst the Middle East since about 250 BCE.

Revelation Was Written When?

Well, according to Bill O'Reilly, it was 5,000 years ago.

On the November 13 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, while discussing the "secularists" and their refusal to acknowledge the "holy war going on," Bill O'Reilly cited the Book of Revelation, the final scripture in the New Testament, saying, "This was written -- what? Five thousand years ago?"

That's right. Even though, Jesus lived 2,000 years ago and the New Testament (of which Revelation is a part of) was written after Jesus was around, the book of Revelation was somehow written thousands of years before that.

Why is it that people who scream loudest about any topic seem to know the least about it?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Happy Birthday

Happy birthday to my oldest daughter, Erica. She turns eleven today. I can't believe she is that age already. No longer can I see a young girl in her; she is becoming a young woman. It is scary and thrilling at the same time.

I hoped to talk to her today, but, unfortunately I did not. I called her house a couple of times, but, unsurprisingly there was no answer. I will see her and her sister on Friday, though. We're going to go rollerskating and then have cake and ice cream. I can't wait.


If Mississipi could figure this out in 1926, why are we having so much trouble today calling a spade a spade. Waterboarding is torture. I'm not typically a black and white kind of guy, but in this instance, there is certainly no gray. It is abhorrent and everyone who has done it, authorized it, or stood by and let it happen should be held accountable.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Religion Fact of the Day

Sennacherib, king of Assyria, destroyed much of Judah in the late 8th century BCE in response to Hezekiah allying with Egypt against Assyria. Jerusalem was spared but Hezekiah had to pay Sennacherib large amounts of gold and silver, cede some of his territory, and return to a vassal state. The account in Isaiah and 2 Kings credit the saving of Jerusalem to an angel of God which slew 185,000 Assyrian troops in one night. Sennacherib's non-Biblical records mention no defeat of any kind.

Spirit of Men

The hospital I work at sponsors an organization called Spirit of Women. As you would expect, it is all about celebrating femininity and so on. They have all sorts of meetings and events. It seems to me a little sexist to not have a counterpart group, so I have taken it upon myself to create a recruiting poster for when they realize the error of their ways. I used a SoW poster as a template and came up with this:

What red-blooded male wouldn't want to be a part of this?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Wordsmiths at the Onion

Where else are you going to read such awesome sentences as this:

On this occasion, Baumer removed the tea bag from the dainty brew and added one dollop of honey made by his friends the honeybees and a splash of milk straight from his mama's precious teat.

Read the whole article here.

Multiple Sclerosis - Year One

It's been one year now since I found out I have MS. It's the strangest thing in the world hearing your doctor tell you that you have an incurable disease. As I've said before, I wasn't really surprised. My symptoms were strong and I knew there was something wrong. I expected the worse. Still, when he said, "Shane, you have multiple sclerosis," I sat in shock for a moment, unsure what to say.

My first thought was, this changes everything. My next was, no, it doesn't. I could have let this disease change my life, but I was determined to not let it get the best of me. I've been blessed in that I was diagnosed very early. Many people go years before their doctor figures out what it wrong. Being that it is so early, the MS has not progressed enough to give me any noticeable signs. In fact, other than fatigue and susceptibility to cold, I don't feel any different.

I have also been very lucky in that there just happens to be a study going on right now for MS drugs. I met the qualifications and so I signed up. The study is testing whether Copaxone and Avonex work better together rather than individually. Both drugs are already tested and proven. There are three groups in the study, two get one drug and a placebo, and the third group gets both drugs. Obviously, I have no idea which group I am in, but no matter which I am getting something. Because I am in the study the drugs are free. If they weren't, I'm not sure I would be able to take either. At my last appointment, the study coordinator told me she had just checked the market price for the drugs and they were both $1800 for a one-month supply. $1800! I have great insurance through the hospital, but I don't think I'd be able to afford either of these.

The shot I take weekly, Avonex (or placebo), is not much fun. For the first month or so, I would have flu-like symptoms for up to 24 hours after I took the shot. I felt horrible. My body has adapted to it, though, and it is not as bad now. I take the shot on Saturday night and typically until around dinner time on Sunday, I fell a general malaise. Some days are better than others, but I don't usually feel really good on Sundays. The daily injection, Copaxone (or placebo), is much nicer in this regard in that the only side-effects I get are occasional redness and itching at the injection site.

I struggled with how to tell people at first. I debated keeping it to myself and not telling anyone. I didn't want anyone's pity, nor did I want anybody's first thought of me to be "He has MS." In the end, I decided I didn't care what people thought and just told friends and family and work. My Mom knew something was wrong because she had seen me stumbling during my flare-up last summer and so I probably couldn't have kept it from her anyway. Reactions were, of course, mixed with lots of tears and disbelief. Overall, though, everyone was very supportive.

Overall, though, it has been a strange experience. Other than my initial flare-up last July and August and a minor flare-up in February, I have no major signs of the disease. I still feel like the same person I was before I was diagnosed. Not that I would be different if the disease was progressing more rapidly, but it would have more of an impact on my life. As it is, I can still run around and do everything I could before. I am very lucky in that regard. I know that the disease is going to progress and I will eventually become limited physically. I don't sit around praying for a cure. If one comes, great. If not, I know I will manage just fine. That's how I roll.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Weekly Secret


Obama and Iran, Part III

My discussion with Jeromy continues from here.

You know I had to respond to this one. :)

I would have been disappointed if you hadn't.

1. Diplomacy is not like going out to dinner with a buddy. Every action, every word, every small iota has serious insinuations. Just sitting down at a public table with another country speaks volumes about the relationship with that country.

Hmmm...I don't think the mere fact of opening a dialog with a nation says anything other than "we are willing to talk." It doesn't mean we agree with them on anything. It doesn't mean we like or condone their actions. It just means we're not above talking to anyone, nor should we be.

Reward them with positive changes in behavior? That's no different than not sitting at a public forum with them because of previously bad behavior. Same attitude, different tact.

I disagree. Not talking with them gives us an arrogant, "better than you" posture. That's not going to make matters any better. Rewarding good behavior is also a better tactic than punishing bad behavior.

3. Regarding Obama personally- Although I probably would pay attention to a 500- page dissertation on American-Iranian relations, I would settle for a two-page document with just a couple of specifics. Just three years ago Obama was singing a different tune , talking about missile strikes, sanctions, and the unpredicability of the Iranian government. Three years ago it was popular to take a "tough stand" against Iran, now its popular to play the diplomatic card.

I don't think Obama was really "singing a different tune" then. In the link you gave, Obama talked about using missile strikes as a last resort if Iran was on the verge of getting nukes. He talked about going through the UN and using economic sanctions first. In the story I originally linked to, Obama talks about using "carrots and sticks" in working with Iran. Sounds like the same kind of thing to me.

And you're right, the argument I made could be said about most politicians because that's the nature of the game. And yet you said in your post after the quote that you support Obama exactly because of the kind of this kind of statement. If statements like this ARE generic and meant to gain favor, is it wise to base your support for him on such rhetoric?

If I said I wasn't going to support any politician who played the game of politics, well then I'd never support any politician. I try to look at their track record and listen to them. From what I have seen, Obama does not seem to be the same kind of pandering pol as we usually see. I don't think he's perfect by any means. I definitely have my disagreements with him on issues. However, I think he is by far the best candidate in either party running right now.

Do we "take our ball and go home" because Iran's not playing by the rules? Absolutely not. But do we formally sit down at the world trade and commerce table with them without recognizing the oppression, torture, and hatred that flows from the hands and mouths of the Iranian government? How is it that the same people who are ready to throw Bush out for water boarding (I count myself in this group) are also willing to legitimize a man and government who openly admits, even glorifies, decades of atrocities and torture?

Cold shouldering is not the answer, but a koom-bay-a session, as Obama seems to suggest, is not the answer either.

Obama is not talking about legitimizing the Iranian regime. He is talking about "changes in behavior." He is also talking about using "carrots and sticks." That doesn't sound like Kum Bah Yah to me, but like realpolitik.

As for Obama- I hope he gets the Democratic nomination, because I still think he's the lesser of the many mistakes that we could make. But I am absolutely not convinced of his true intent and goals. His speeches are simply pages ripped out of the JFK and MLK, Jr. playbooks, which sound great....but are they backed by conviction or merely a ploy to win an election? Time will tell...

I thought I was supposed to be the cynic. As I said, I don't think Obama is the Second Coming or anything like that. However, there is absolutely no way to be sure of any candidate until they are in office. We have to make our best judgment and pray it is correct. I've been trying to pay attention to all of the candidates as best I can and right now, I am convinced Obama is the best one. Time will tell, eh?

Religion Fact of the Day

Early Israeli culture was not monotheistic, but henotheistic (belief in multiple gods with one being supreme). There are many mentions of other gods besides Yahweh such as in Psalm 95:3, "For Yahweh is a great God, a greater King than all other gods" or in the Ten Commandents, one being "You shall have no other gods before me." It's also not likely that so many Israelites kept reverting to worship of Baal if they did not believe he was a real god.

I've Got Wheels!

After nearly a month of being without one, I finally have a vehicle. My sister had a Toyota 4-Runner that she was not driving as she had bought another vehicle. She wanted to dump it, so I got it for the cost of getting it fixed ($2600) which is probably a better deal then I would have been able to get from any snake-oil salesman at a car dealership.

It's funny how we take things for granted. Certainly I did with having a car. Going a few weeks without one will remind you how nice it is to have one. I'm not holding my breath for this vehicle to last long, but it works now and I am grateful to have one again.

Thanks, Shawna.

Facts About the Amish

A.J. Jacobs, mental_floss writer and the man who attempted to live Biblically for one year, has written a post with some interesting tidbits about the Amish.

Amish have beards in accordance with Leviticus, which forbids the shaving of the corners of your beard. But they do shave their moustaches. The moustache was thought to have military associations by the early Amish, who came over from Switzerland in the 18th century.

There's more including an amusing story about baseball.


I haven't posted much in the last few days because my life has been rather hectic. I'm not sure how regular I will be over the next few months, either. The holidays are coming up. I just started another class, God and World, that is going to keep me very busy with lots of reading and writing. I need to be looking for a roommate for the house so my Mom and I can keep it.

I'll try my best to be regular, but no guarantees.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

But, But, They Do It, Too!

I didn't think this was a proper defense for anything, but to see it applied to torture as Cal Thomas has is appalling.

There is a double standard when it comes to this subject. We in the West are supposed to adhere to certain rules so we "won't be like them." But if the other side adheres to no rules and sees our standards as a form of weakness, such things are counter-productive to our objectives.

Yes, it is a double-standard. That's because we're America and we're supposed to be better than that. I can't believe that our great nation has descended to this. How can a terrorist attack, even one as brutal as 9/11, bring us to this, to saying torture is okay.


We let our leaders and the media whip us up into a panic over the "Islamofascist threat" and subsequently we resort to our most primal instincts. Do anything to survive. Don't think. React.

Unfortunately, this puts on the same level as animals. We need to take a step back and really examine ourselves, our morals, our principles. We need to think about what kind of nation we want. Do we want a country in which we suspend individual liberties and support policies such as torture? I don't. What makes it even worse is that it is a well documented fact that torture does not work. People being tortured will say anything - truth or not - to make it stop. We're degrading ourselves with a horrifying act that doesn't even work.

Just because our enemies use a tactic does not mean we have to do the same. We're supposed to be better than that.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Religion Fact of the Day

Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are known as Abrahamic faiths because all three religions trace their roots back to Abraham. For Jews, he is the one Yahweh made a covenant with to grant them the land of Israel and the father of Jacob later named Israel and the prodigal father of the Jews. For Christians, Abraham is the father of the Davidic line that culminates with the birth of their savior, Jesus. In the Muslim tradition, Abraham's first born son, Ishmael, cast out by Abraham's jealous wife, Sarah, becomes the father of the Arabs.

More on Obama and Iran

My friend Jeromy had some comments in response to my post about Obama and Iran.

How much do we legitimize actions like the one cited here (and the hundreds that have been reported like it) when we sit down to the table with a guy like Ahmadinejad?

See, I've heard this argument before and I just don't get it. We live in a world with people who see things much differently than we do here in America. We live in a world where not everyone likes us. We need to learn to live with that and effectively deal with it. If we take the stand that you have to do what we want before we will even talk to you, then we are only going to make more enemies. Ahmadinejad is not popular in his country as can be seen by recent protests. If we tell Iran we won't talk to them unless they do what we want and constantly beat the war drum, we are only going to whip up a national fervor there. Those people protesting Ahmadinejad will rally behind him against the arrogant American threat.

Dialoging does not mean condoning. We should never be afraid to talk to anyone. In fact, we will accomplish much more through meaningful discourse backed by incentives and the threat of a stick than we will through arrogant posturing.

On Obama himself, Jeromy said:

I think Obama's intentions are decent, but realistically he's positioning himself for an election, which means the rhetoric about foreign policy, while it sounds good, is not nearly as simplistic or practical as he makes it sound.

You can make that argument about any politician running for any office ever. Of course they are going to say things that may sound simplistic. No one would pay attention to Obama's 500-page Dissertation on American-Iranian Relations. Especially in our sound-bite era, politicians break things down as small as possible. That's the way our system works.

The reason I like Obama is because (with the exception of Ron Paul), he is the only candidate that really comes off as genuine and different than most every other politician. He's not afraid to tell people things they aren't going to like (e.g. his speech to Detroit automakers). He's not talking about sticking it to the Republicans or doubling Gitmo or torture being cool or giving free money to everyone. No, he's talking about coming together and making a better America.

Yeah, yeah, he's saying that to get elected (like every other person who runs for office). Well, it sounds good; he sounds like he genuinely means it; and it sounds better than what the other candidates are saying. That's why I support Obama.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Hitch on Islamic Radicals

Christopher Hitchens has harsh words for people who think that the only reason there are terrorists in Iraq is because we are there.

After all, if the usual peacenik logic were to be pursued, and it was to be assumed that "we" are chiefly responsible for magnetizing "them," then it would follow that if we were to leave, they would either give up or go elsewhere. Is there anybody who can be brought to believe anything so fatuous? Well, then, if this logic is self-evidently false in the case of Afghanistan, why should it be any more persuasive in the case of Iraq?

Unfortunately, Hitchens does what he accuses "liberals" of doing and simplifies the issue to much. First, it is true that al-Qaeda did not exist in Iraq under Saddam. Our failed attempt to bring stability and order after overthrowing Saddam did create an opening in which al-Qaeda elements could move in and start a splinter faction we now call al-Qaeda-in-Iraq (AQI). However, it is also true - and Hitch gives several examples - that America is not responsible for creating all of the Islamic terror cells in the world. Terrorists are not going to go away if America suddenly withdraws all its military forces from foreign soil and brings them home.

It is true, though, that even if our presence does not automatically create terrorists out of thin air, the actions of this administration have driven more people to become terrorists and have violently inflamed emotions to the point that many Muslims, even if not terrorists themselves, silently condone violence against Americans. It's more than the fact that we have botched the Iraq war. It's the horrible rhetoric, calling the war a "crusade," and saying things like "dead or alive." It's the lip service paid to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It's the beating of the war drum with Iran. It's the botch we made with Afghanistan by declaring victory too early and allowing the Taliban to regroup.

In short, Hitchens is correct to say that America doesn't magic up terrorists out of thin air. He is wrong to imply that our actions have no effect on terrorists or those who choose that lifestyle.