Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...
31 May, 2005
That Famous Liberal Media Bias
The Downing Street Memo
hasn't exactly been the centerpiece of American mainstream media but at least some folks in Minnesota have finally brought it up. A Memorial Day editorial
in the Minneapolis Star Tribune mentioned it. The editorial notes the redemptions of Richard Clarke & Paul O'Neill:It turns out that former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke and former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill were right. Both have been pilloried for writing that by summer 2002 Bush had already decided to invade.
It also notes that:The "smoking gun," as some call it, surfaced on May 1 in the London Times.
Talk about liberal media bias. Those jackasses in Minneapolis had to wait a month before they mentioned it and they couldn't have been bothered to print it in toto
? If Paris Hilton were to fart, CNN would be running the story 24/7. Larry King would have a gastro-intestinal doctor on his show. Faux News would have special amber news alerts constantly and Bill O'Reilly would find someone to yell at who disagreed with O'Reilly's assertion that "Jesus the Philosopher" condones farting in the New Testament.
What a bunch of pansy-asses. I expect Fox to tow whatever line the administration gives them. Shit, if we started rounding up Arabs and putting them into internment camps, Michelle Malkin would be at Fox studios 24/7. When Bush announces his eugenics plan, Fox newsers would be right there circumlocuting how it could possibly contradict his "culture of life". But holy fuck, where is the rest of the media? Are all the smaller papers waiting for the NYT or Washington Post to go with it first? How about Dan Rather stepping up to the plate? His journalistic career is already down the shitter so what's he got to lose? Fuck, he's got everything to gain. Conservatives in the media always have these talking point memos which say that the media is run by a bunch of folks allied with the Dems yet here's a good story that could be used as part of an argument for impeachment yet these "liberal" reporters are sitting on the story. I'm not saying that I want every reporter to start calling for impeachment proceedings, not that I'd mind too much, but we're looking at potential evidence for high crimes. Or misdemeanors, at least. Let's look at the memo, question its veracity, and, if proven legit, let's talk about the implications. No witch hunt is needed on the part of the press, just some investigation.
Deep Throat Revealed?
W. Mark Felt claims he was Deep Throat
.A former FBI official claims he was "Deep Throat," the long-anonymous source who leaked secrets about President Nixon's Watergate coverup to The Washington Post, Vanity Fair reported Tuesday.
W. Mark Felt, 91, who was second-in-command at the FBI in the early 1970s, kept the secret even from his family until 2002, when he confided to a friend that he had been Post reporter Bob Woodward's source, the magazine said.
The Sound of Termination Shock
On Friday, I wrote a bit
about the Voyager 1 spacecraft leaving our solar system. I found some more current info
as well as a spot where you can hear Voyager 1
actually leaving our neighborhood.
Return of The Tree
As weekends go, this past one was pretty mellow overall but fun. I got some nice pictures taken of the garden-in-progress, spent some time with The Dulcinea, and I got to see Porcupine Tree!
I did some cleaning and errand running Saturday morning and hit the road for Milwaukee in the afternoon. I left a bit early as work is being done
on the Marquette interchange and wasn't sure if I'd have to take an alternate route or not. Traffic from the Brewer game was minimal and the interchange proved to be no obstacle at all. After parking near Shank Hall
, I wandered over to The Nomad
where I was to meetup with some folks from the PT Forum. Walking past Shank, a middle-aged gentleman wearing a Nearfest
t-shirt approached me and asked if I had any spare tickets. I didn't but told him that I was going to meet up at a tavern and that I'd ask around there. I got to The Nomad a bit earlier than our scheduled meeting time so I settled in with a Sprecher Amber
as I put my geekiness on full display with my PT shirt that I picked up the last time the band were there, in 2002. A guy in his mid-20s approached me a short while later. He too was here for the show and had driven up from Schaumburg, Illinois. We chatted a while before he returned to his compatriots who were seated at a table behind me. A few minutes later, a beautiful blonde tapped me on the shoulder and asked, "Excuse me, but what is Porcupine Tree? There are a bunch of people outside with their shirts on." I explained to her that they were a band and that they'd be playing at Shank that night. She kind of gave me this glazed-over look as if she were expecting me to say more. She thanked me and went to her seat and I headed outside to find my fellow fans.
I was hoping to meet Victor, another fan from Madison (by way of England), as we'd traded a few emails and I had a copy of the Dream Theater show from Madison last fall for him. Unfortunately, he wasn't around. Instead there were several other fans seated outside. I met Leo, who had driven up from Dallas. Steve and another guy whose name I forget, who drove up from Kankakee, IL. Plus the guy in the Nearfest shirt was there as well. He, his son, and a friend came down from Minneapolis for the show. However, none of them had tickets, the show was sold out, and it seemed like there were no spares available. After a while, another guy from the forum appeared wearing his King Crimson t-shirt. He had 2 tickets available as the couple that he and his girlfriend were to go with had to bail. This left 1 ticket to be found. We sat around and chatted over beers. These guys were all in their 50s, excepting the one guy's son, so I heard tales of concerts past. The guy from Minneapolis recalled seeing Jethro Tull perform A Passion Play
here in Madison back in 1973. (That would be 3 September.) Everyone left before 6:30 to get a place in line and to look for another ticket. I followed them a short time later as I had to finish my beer.
I ended up in line in front of two guys in their early 20s who had come down from Stevens Point. We chatted about The Tree and prog in general as well as Revenge of the Sith
. Go figure.
The doors opened at 7 and I made my way over to the table towards the the front of stage right where Leo and the gang were seated. Much to my dismay, it was a no smoking show. But I survived anyway. We BSd for a while and I purchased a t-shirt. (So if you see a guy with a black short-sleeved Porcupine Tree shirt, it's probably me.) We shot the shit and Leo & I had our last smoke before local boys, Kopecky
, warmed us up.
I'd read about Kopecky in a prog magazine but had never heard their music so it was a treat to be able to see them live. The band is comprised of 3 brothers who play drums, guitar, and bass/keys. While there are many musicians (and fans alike) that take progressive rock too seriously, the boys in Kopecky were not among them. While their music is not simple pop/dance kinda stuff, they were smiling and having a good time on stage. The guitarist had a vague Jack Black thing going on. A little histrionics and a lot of smiling. He'd wail on his tremelo and then look over at the bassist with a big grin plastered on his mug. Then he'd go into a run of arpeggios with these great orgasm looks on his face. Like David Gilmour but better. As for their music, it was all instrumental and the closest reference I can think of is "YYZ" by Rush but a bit heavier. The bass player did a bit of Les Claypool slapping as well so there were Primus-esque moments too. In the middle of one song, they came to a complete stop and a guy near me yelled something out. The guitarist looked at him and they played the last few bars again before looking at the guy - who didn't yell a second time. Everyone laughed and they continued. There was one song that had thing weird drum line to it - kinda reminded me of "A Saucerful of Secrets" by Pink Floyd - which was really good. Overall, I really enjoyed their short set. Too many young progsters who open for bigger bands are too serious. "I'm now going to perform a 20-minute instrumental on my Chapman stick about chapter 4 of The Silmarillion
." But Kopecky just seemed to be having a great time. Maybe it's because they're laid-back Midwesterners, I dunno, but you could tell they were just thrilled to be onstage. After their set, I got another drink and headed outside for a square. I met Kopecky's bass player and shook his hand saying that it was a great set. John Wesley
walked by us from the tour bus and we all bid him a good evening. (He plays second guitar for The Tree live.) Finally, showtime neared.
The lights went down around 9:15 and a song left off of Deadwing
, "Revanant", started. I really hope they release it as it sounded awesome. After a couple minutes, the band took the stage and the keyboard intro to "Deadwing" began. After a several bars of it, the band kicked in. And it was loud. Very fucking loud. I was a few feet from stage right in front of the PA. When Gavin Harrison kicked his bass drum, my clothes fluttered. The surreal images were flashed on the screen at the back of the stage and everyone freaked out. The crowd was packed in tight up front but I managed to shake my booty. The dual Wilson-Wesley guitar attack was awesome! There's a part in the middle with the keyboard loop that opens the song, which is like the keyboard part in "Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who, in the fore. Some moody guitar effects and then some thundering drums. It is here that we get a super-disjointed guitar solo. It was done on the album by Adrian Belew so you know it's not your garden variety solo. Then the main riff is recapitulated with a Mellotron string sound in the background - this part of the song just sounds forboding. Like something evil is descending upon you. It was loud and it was intense and it sent shivers up and down my spine. I could feel my scalp tingling. That's rock'n'roll!
They followed with "Sound of Muzak" which sounded great and I sang along the whole time. "Arrving Somewhere But Not Here" will be a PT classic in time. It's epic in that it's 12 minutes long. The first half builds up this tension which is finally released with this just pounding section. Harrison beat the living shit out of his drums while Wesley and Wilson played as fast and as loudly as they could. Almost twice as fast as the album version. Plus Richard Barbieri threw in some great organ. There were a couple surprises for us too. Instead of "A Smart Kid", we got "Stop Swimming" and instead of "Shallow", the track their label gave to radio, they played "Strip the Soul", which was killer. Another highlight was "Hatesong". Just as Wilson was about to tear into the solo, he broke a string. Once he got a new guitar, he went crazy apeshit bonkers! I mean, he let it rip.
Here's the setlist:
Sound of Muzak
Arriving Somewhere But Not Here
Strip the Soul
After one song, someone yelled out, "Nice one!" Steve Wilson asked, "Who said 'Nice one'? That what English people say. You Americas are supposed to say 'Awesome, dude!'" Turns out it was Victor. Wilson also mentioned that they would be returning to the States in October so we all have something to look forward to come autumn. Leaving the hall, my ears were ringing loudly. I noticed that when I spoke, my voice sounded like Donald Duck to me, which made me chuckle.
I love Shank Hall. With a capacity of about 300, it's nice and intimate. The sound guy did a great job as all the instruments were clear and up in the mix. Aside from the new songs, I got to hear 5 songs that they didn't play their last time in town, in 2002. Plus the crowd was different. Sure, there were a lot of middle aged guys who have been listening to progressive rock since 1970, but there were many more younger folk, including several womyn. It seems like the band have been making headway with the kids. If they get even more popular, I hope that they'll still be able to play smaller venues as I'd hate to have to see them at some huge football stadium where I'd be stuck with a nosebleed seat. Maybe they can at least get popular enough that they'd be able to make a stop here in Madtown. For the moment, though, I'm just looking forward to their return in October.
29 May, 2005
History of Madison
I found this page
which has some neat photos from Madtown's past. Here are a few that caught my eye.
Here's East Towne mall being built in 1970:
This is the Orpheum Theater sometime in the 1920s:
Finally, this is a picture of the 4200 block of Milwaukee Street, just a few blocks from where I live. I think the PDQ is where the barn is in the photo.
Dracula BloggedDracula blogged
. Someone is posting Bram Stoker's novel by its own calendar. Pretty neat.
Seven Score and Two Years Ago
I thought this was pretty neat. It's the only known photograph
of Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of the Civil War cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863.
This Memorial Day
My dad was a big World War II history buff. He was more than that, actually. He veered close to being an amateur historian. I remember very well his bookshelves lined with tomes on it. Some were accounts of the war while others were about the machinery. Accounts of the Battle of Iwo Jima stood next to books describing all of the tanks Germany made during the war. One book had a picture which I'll never forget. It was of the face of a Japanese soldier who was caught coming out of one of those tunnels they had on Pacific islands - I can't remember which one. The guy began to climb out of the hole and there were U.S. Marines waiting for him. He got a blast from a flame-thrower and burnt to death. I don't think I'll ever forget his charred face. I also remember one book which described the difference between Panzer and Panther tanks. The illustrations showing how the turrets differed is stuck in my head for some reason. As a kid, I read bits and pieces of some of the books. The story of Pearl Harbor, the great chase of the Graf Spee
, hunging down the Bismarck
, et al
. My dad's specialty was the Pacific Theater. He once rattled off body counts from each major action in the Battle for Guadalcanal to me.
Here in 2005, my grandfathers are long dead and the last relative that I knew to any degree who was in World War II died about a year ago. A couple of my mom's uncles were in the Air Force during the war and were tailgunners on B-17s and they told me stories of fending off Messerschmitts. But most of my experiences with veterans comes from talking to men who served in Vietnam.
When I was a cook, I worked with, Johnny, a Vietnam veteran. He was one of the few who talked openly about his experiences. "My CO told me that no one is to move past this treeline," he once told me. "Then two old women were out foraging or looking for water. They moved past the treeline..."
"And," I asked.
"And I shot them in the dead," he replied. "Those were my orders."
He and I cooked at The Towers, a private dormitory. Several of the Badger football players lived there. (I got to cook for Ron Dayne!) One day, several offensive linemen came down for breakfast and bitched or did something to piss off Johnny, who was the breakfast cook. He came back into the kitchen grumbling to himself about the football players. Don't forget, these guys huge and all hopped up on steroids. So I tell him, "Johnny, don't mess with those guys - they'll kick your ass." He got one of those vaguely serious looks on his face and replied, "Between being stuck in a foxhole by myself for 14 days and having the same old lady for 12 years, ain't nothin' they can show me that I haven't already seen." Then there was the time when one of the RAs, who was 20 at the oldest, burst into the kitchen barking orders and yelling at Johnny about there not being enough water hoolies up in the lobby. Johnny said to him calmly, but firmly, "You know, the last time some kid came up to me like that, he was yelling 'Die G.I.!' and I spit in his face as I was guttin' him." The RA did a quick turnabout and left.
I don't want to forget the Korean War vets I've known. A few years ago, I had a roommate who dad was in it and he lived across the street from us with a friend of his, Luigi, who also served in Korea. One night my roomie and I went over there to find that they were both sloshed and had cooked up a big batch of spaghetti. After eating, they started talking about the war. Luigi broke down in tears describing how he held his best friend in his arms and he died. He looked up through his tears at me and said, "We went there to fight for YOU! So you wouldn't have to fight!"
On this Memorial Day, I'm gonna be thinking about a lot of people. About Johnny and the friends of his that died in his arms. I'm going to be thinking of Miss Pamela's dad, a Vietnam vet who refuses to talk about the war, and his fallen comrades. I'll also be thinking of the vet I met at the Paradise one night who started balling like a baby when we talked about the Vietnam Memorial
in Washington D.C. and the friends he lost. (If you've never been there, do go. It is incredibly moving.) I'll be thinking about Mark's old man, Luigi, and their friends who died across the ocean. My family too - my grandfather and great uncles to did their parts to defeat Hitler. Finally, I'll be thinking about the 1600+ men and women who died in Iraq and those that fell in Afghanistan.
Over at the Library of Congress site, you can read and hear
the stories of veterans in their own words.
You can read Gustav Hasford's The Short Timers
, the story on which Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket
is based upon, at his webpage.
And here's an excerpt from Michael Herr's Dispatches
:A Chinook, forty feet long with rotors front and back, set down on the airstrip by Charlie Med, looking like a great, gross beast getting a body purchase on some mud, blowing bitter gusts of dust, pebbles and debris for a hundred yards around. Everywhere within that circle of wind men turned and crouched, covering their necks against the full violence of it. The wind from those blades could come up strong enough to blow you over, to tear papers from your hands, to lift tarmac sections weighing a hundred pounds in the air. But it was mostly the sharp fragments, the stinging dirt, the muddy, pissed-in water, and you acquired a second sense of when it would reach you, learned to give it only your back and your helmet. The Chinook had flown in with its rear hatch down and a gunner with a .50-caliber machine gun stretched out flat on his stomach peering over the edge of the hatch. Neither he nor the door gunners would relax their weapons until the chopper touched the strip. Then they let go, the barrels of the big guns dropping down like dead weights in their mounts. A bunch of Marines appeared on the edge of the strip and ran to the chopper, through the ring of harsh, filthy wind, toward the calm at the center. Three mortar rounds came in at three-second intervals, all landing in a cluster 200 meters down the strip. No one around the chopper stopped. The noise from the Chinook drowned out the noise of the rounds, but we could see the balls of white smoke blowing out away from the strip in the wind, and the men were still running for the chopper. Four full litters were carried at a run from the rear of the Chinook to the med tent. Some walking wounded came out and headed for the tent, some walking slowly, unaided, others moving uncertainly, one being supported by two Marines. The empty litters were returned and loaded with four poncho-covered figures, which were set down near some sandbagging in front of the tent. Then the Chinook reared up abruptly, dipped horribly, regained its flight and headed north and west, toward the covering hills. "One-nine," Mayhew said. "I'll bet anything."
Four kilometers northwest of Khe Sanh was Hill 861, the hardest-hit of all the sector outposts after Langvei, and it seemed logical to everyone that the 1st Battalion of the 9th Marine Regiment should have been chosen to defend it. Some even believed that if anyone but 1/9 had been put there, 861 would never have been hit. Of all the hard-luck outfits in Vietnam, this was said to be the most doomed, doomed in its Search-and-Destroy days before Khe Sanh, known for a history of ambush and confusion and for a casualty rate which was the highest of any outfit in the entire war. That was the kind of reputation that takes hold most deeply among the men of the outfit itself, and when you were with them you got a sense of dread that came out of something more terrible than just a collective loss of luck. All the odds seemed somehow sharply reduced, estimates of your own survival were revised horribly downward. One afternoon with 1/9 on 861 was enough to bend your nerves for days, because it took only a few minutes up there to see the very worst of it: the stumbles, the simple motions of a walk suddenly racked by spasms, mouths sand-dry seconds after drinking, the dreamy smiles of total abdication. Hill 861 was the home of the thousand-yard stare, and I prayed hard for a chopper to come and get me away from there, to fly me over the ground fire and land me in the middle of a mortar barrage on the Khe Sanh pad - whatever! Anything was better than this.
On a night shortly after the Langvei attack an entire platoon of 1/9 was ambushed during a patrol and wiped out. Hill 861 had been hit repeatedly, once for three days straight during a perimeter probe that turned into a siege that really was a siege. For reasons that no one is certain of, Marine helicopters refused to fly missions up there, and 1/9 was cut off from support, re-supply or medical evacuation. It was bad, and they had to get through it any way they could, alone. (The stories from that time became part of the worst Marine legends; the story of one Marine putting a wounded buddy away with a pistol shot because medical help was impossible, or the story of what they did to the NVA prisoner taken beyond the wire - stories like that. Some of them may even have been true.) The old hostility of the grunt toward Marine Air became total on 861: when the worst of it was over and the first Ch-34 finally showed over the hilltop, the door gunner was hit by enemy ground fire and fell out of the chopper. It was a drop of over 200 feet, and there were Marines on the ground who cheered when he was hit.
Mayhew, Day Tripper and I were walking near the triage tent of Charlie Med. In spite of all the shrapnel that had fallen into that tent no way had been found to protect it. The sandbagging around it was hardly more than five feet high, and the top was entirely exposed. It was one reason why grunts feared even the mildest of the Going Home wounds. Someone ran out of the tent and took photographs of the four dead Marines. The wind from the Chinook had blown the ponchos from two of them, and one had no face left at all. A Catholic chaplain on a bicycle rode up to the entrance of the tent and walked inside. A Marine came out and stood by the flap for a moment, an unlighted cigarette hanging from his mouth. He had neither a flak jacket nor a helmet. He let the cigarette drop from his lips, walked a few steps to the sandbags and sat down with his legs drawn up and his head hanging down between his knees. He threw one limp arm over his head and began stroking the back of his neck, shaking his head from side to side violently, as though in agony. He wasn't wounded.
We were here because I had to pass this way to reach my bunker, where I had to pick up some things to take over to Hotel Company for the night. Day Tripper wasn't liking the route. He looked at the bodies and then at me. It was that look which said, "See? You see what it does?" I had seen that look so many times during the past months that I must have had it too now, and neither of us said anything. Mayhew wasn't letting himself look at anything. It was as though he were walking by himself now, and he was singing in an odd, quiet voice. "'When you get to San Francisco,'" he sang, "'be sure and wear some flowers in your hair.'"
We passed the control tower, that target that was its own aiming stake, so prominent and vulnerable that climbing up there was worse than having to run in front of a machine gun. Two of them had already been hit, and the sandbags running up the sides didn't seem to make any difference. We went by the grimy admin buildings and bunkers, a bunch of deserted "hardbacks" with crushed metal roofs, the TOC, the command latrine and a post-office bunker. There was the now roofless beer hall and the collapsed, abandoned officers' club. The Seabee bunker was just a little farther along the road.
It was not like the other bunkers. It was the deepest, safest, cleanest place in Khe Sanh, with six feet of timbers, steel and sandbags overhead, and inside it was brightly lit. The grunts called it the Alamo Hilton and thought it was candy-assed, while almost every correspondent who came to Khe Sanh tried to get a bed there. A bottle of whiskey or a case of beer would be enough to get you in for a few nights, and once you became a friend of the house, gifts like that were simply a token and very deeply appreciated. The Marines had set up a press "facility" very, very near the strip, and it was so bad that a lot of reporters thought there was a conscious conspiracy working to get some of us killed off. It was nothing more than a narrow, flimsily covered, rat-infested hole, and one day when it was empty an incoming 152 shell sewed part of it up.
I went down into the Seabee bunker, picked up a bottle of Scotch and a field jacket, and told one of the Seabees to give my rack to anyone who needed it that night.
"You ain't mad at us or anything?" he said.
"Nothing like that. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Okay," he said as I left. "If you think so."
As the three of us walked toward the 2/26 positions, two batteries of Marine artillery started firing 105's and 155's from the other side of the base. Every time a round was fired I'd flinch a little, and Mayhew would laugh.
"Them're outgoing," he said.
Day Tripper heard the deep sliding whistle of the other shells first. "_That_ ain't no outgoin'," he said, and we ran for a short trench a few yards away.
"That ain't outgoing," Mayhew said.
"Now what I jus' say?" Day Tripper yelled, and we reached the trench as a shell landed somewhere between the 37th ARVN Rangers compound and the ammo dump. A lot of them were coming in, some mortars too, but we didn't count them.
"Sure was some nice mornin'," Day Tripper said. "Oh, man, why they can't jus' leave us alone one time?"
"'Cause they ain't gettin' paid to leave us alone," Mayhew said, laughing. "'Sides, they do it 'cause they know how it fucks you all up."
"Tell me you ain' scared shit!"
"You'll never see me scared, motherfucker."
"Oh no. Three nights ago you was callin' out for your momma while them fuckers was hittin' our wire."
"Boo-sheeit! I ain't gettin' hit in Vietnam."
"Oh no? Okay, mothafucker, why not?"
"'Cause," Mayhew said, "it don't exist." It was an old joke, but this time he wasn't laughing.
Hollywood has certainly colored our view of the military with images of John Wayne playing the hero. Most of the myth of war that Hollywood has promoted is white. In fact, blacks have made great contributions to our country via military service. I found this site
. While not a super-thorough site, it looks like a good primer with links and reading recommendations. It also includes a section on black women in the services. For instance, here's the Women's Army Corps 6888th Battalion:
Since it is Memorial Day weekend, I've been trying to find out the history behind the holiday. I found this up at History News Network
:The custom of strewing flowers on the graves of their dead soldiers early in the spring of each year originated among the women of the South before the close of the Civil War. In some parts of the North a similar custom grew up, but its observance was not universal.
May 5, 1868, while Gen. John A. Logan was commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, he issued an order fixing the 30th day of May of that year as a day for the general observance of the custom by members of the Grand Army and their friends. Since that time May 30 had been regularly observed as Decoration Day throughout the country.
27 May, 2005
Let's Talk About the Weather
Since Rick Santorum
wants you to pay for your weather forecast
, may I suggest you folks in Los Angeles get it free
from David Lynch.
For Every Occasion
Need a mix tape? Well, here's one for every occasion
Everything I Need To Know...
Robert Fulghum ain't got nuthin' on this guy
Earlier this month I wrote
about having seen Downfall
a film which hronicles the last few days of Adolph Hitler's life. I also wrote about its message. That message was about the all-too human face of evil. Pastor Niemöller's
famous quotation serves as a potent reminder of what ordinary people do:First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist - so I said nothing.
Then they came for the Social Democrats, but I was not a Social Democrat - so I did nothing.
Then came the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist.
And then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew - so I did little.
Then when they came for me, there was no one left who could stand up for me.
Pondering how the Holocaust could happen, psychologist Stanley Miligram performed experiments
in the 1960s which showed that we humans are obedient to authority. Well, I recently found out a little known fact about World War II: beginning on 27 February 1943 and continuing for a week, hundreds of women in Berlin protested the abduction of their Jewish husbands
. This protest "was the only public German protest against deportation of Jews. It shows what happened when German women confronted the regime and refused to abandon their Jewish spouses." Their husbands were set free and spared the horrors of Auschwitz.
Billions and Billions
Does anyone else remember back in the 1980s when Carl Sagan was on PBS all the time with his show, Cosmos
? My dad reckoned himself a very amateur astronomer so he watched the show whenever it was broadcast. All those tales of our solar system - the sun and all the planets, including ours, in orbit around it. Plus his signature line about the seeminly unlimited numbers of suns like ours out there: "Billions and billions..." Do you remember him talking about the Pioneeer and Voyager satellites we sent out into our little neighborhood of the Milky Way galaxy? They carried golden discs with messages from Earth that were selected by a committee chaired by Sagan. They included: "...115 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind and thunder, birds, whales, and other animals. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages, and printed messages from President Carter and U.N. Secretary General Waldheim. Each record is encased in a protective aluminum jacket, together with a cartridge and a needle. Instructions, in symbolic language, explain the origin of the spacecraft and indicate how the record is to be played. The 115 images are encoded in analog form. The remainder of the record is in audio, designed to be played at 16-2/3 revolutions per minute. It contains the spoken greetings, beginning with Akkadian, which was spoken in Sumer about six thousand years ago, and ending with Wu, a modern Chinese dialect. Following the section on the sounds of Earth, there is an eclectic 90-minute selection of music, including both Eastern and Western classics and a variety of ethnic music."
I found an old NASA press release
which describes how Voyager 1 is leaving our neighborhood. It's probably gone by now, in fact. It is over 8 billion
miles away. Just try to fathom that distance. Out there where the solar winds no longer roar.
The Eagle Nebula. Billions and more billions of miles away. Here a wonderful Martian landscape.
And here's us.
A little blue-green speck in a vast ocean. I miss Carl Sagan. I miss his childlike wonder at the universe, his sheer awe of its size and our place in it. Looking at these pictures really lets you know your place in the universe. Better than being put into the Total Perspective Vortex
Remembering Jim Crow
Just because Sherman marched through the South and razed Atlanta doesn't mean that racism ended with the Civil War. Blacks were still being lynched well into the 20th century.
Everyday at work, one of my bosses, Herman, and I drink from the same water fountain. That was illegal here in some parts of the United States not so long ago because of Jim Crow laws.
Some folks at Duke University have put together an audio documentary called Remembering Jim Crow
in which blacks & whites remember life during the Jim Crow era. And these laws were enforced well into the 1960s - only about 40 years ago. That's not a long time. There are still millions of Americans alive today that remember those times.
There Was a Time
With all the Hubbaloo about iPods and P2P technology, hydrogen-powered horseless carriages, and the like, we sometime forget that there was a time when myopics like myself were screwed because there were no spectacles. Luckily for me they were invented around 1285. Check out this overview of Medieval technology
I'm So Old Fashioned
Reading this list of slang words from the 1920s
made me feel so unhip. I use lots of them everyday. Don't kids say "swell!" anymore?
Who Said War Was Civil?
The Chicago Public Library has an exhibition entitled Weapons of the Civil War
This photo shows some of what was left behind by Sherman and there's more at the webpage. If things don't change in this country, we Northerners may have to send someone on a march again.
The Picture of Everything
I think this is pretty neat. Click on the picture for more info and to check out the details.
There's this odd blog thing going on. I guess it is de rigueur
to post a picture of a feline on Fridays in the blogosphere. Something akin to 4:20, I suppose. Well, I don't have a cat so I'm gonna post something else instead.
I see that the Porcupine Tree
show tomorrow at Shank Hall
has sold right out! In addition, Milwaukee progsters Kopecky
will be opening up for them. The latest issue of Progression
has an article about the Brothers K. Tomorrow should be a good time in Brew City!
A judge(activist?) in Indiana has handed down an order in a divorce case that bans the man and woman from exposing their child to "non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals"
. The parents are practitioners of Wicca.The Indiana Civil Liberties Union has appealed the stipulation written into the couple's divorce order, saying it is unconstitutionally vague because it does not define mainstream religion.
Fuck, it doesn't matter how "mainstream religion" is defined. I share the sentiment of a local pagan, Rexie, who said, "The courts have NO RIGHT to interfere with parents choice of religion to teach their children. NO RIGHT." I'd appeal the decision because no judge should be giving orders to parents regarding to which religous beliefs and rituals they expose their children. It is none of the court's or the government's goddamn business. I must wonder if the judge has any idea what Wicca is about. Does he have an understanding of it? Or does he just equate it to satanism? Or does he have some other ulterior motive here? Curiously enough, the parents currently send their kid to a Catholic school. (At least the kid will learn about evolution there.)
The article even has a quote from Wisconsin's own Selena Fox
, misidentified as Elena, "There continues to be misunderstanding and prejudice and discrimination, not only against Wicca but against any religion that is not centered on monotheism." I'm sure many folks reading about the brouhaha have no idea what Wicca is. I'd recommend Drawing Down the Moon
Scott vs. Niccolo
Former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, Scott Ritter, is at odds with Machiavelli and Bush
over means and ends.Democracy as practiced in the United States and Great Britain is far from perfect. However, as long as democracy is practiced with an unbending adherence to the principles of the rule of law, this far from perfect system will remain among the best man has ever had.
But it requires an unyielding embrace of the notion of the means achieving the ends, and a complete rejection of any notion of the ends justifying the means, ever.
He makes the tendentious claim:Far from being liberators, both nations have the status of illegal occupiers. Far from being in the company of President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill, George Bush and Tony Blair are in league with Adolf Hitler when he fabricated an excuse to invade Poland in 1939, and Saddam Hussein when he violated international law and invaded Kuwait in 1990."The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present."
God's Delivery Boy Now Military-Industrial Complex Delivery Boy
Not only does Dubya deliver his god's gift of freedom
, but he also delivers his god's gifts of war, death, and destruction. The NY Times reports that America is selling arms
to many undemocratic nations as well as those with "poor" human rights records.More than half of the top 25 recipients in 2003, either through the commercial sales program or through foreign military sales, were countries that the State Department has defined as undemocratic.
They included Saudi Arabia (purchases of $1.1 billion); Egypt ($1 billion); Kuwait ($153 million); and the United Arab Emirates ($110 million).
In other cases, weapons were sold to countries having internal conflicts, including Angola, Chad and Ethiopia, or where the human rights record was "poor," according to the State Department; this category included Nigeria, Tunisia and Nepal.
If, as Bush theorizes, spreading democracy makes the United States safer, are we helping bolster the destructive powers of nations who scorn what we hold to be so precious? By this I mean democracy, not oil.Black and viscous bound to cure blue lethargy
Jesus on the Broadband
In a little less than a year, people will no doubt be flocking to theaters to catch The Da Vinci Code
. There's a teaser trailer up at the film's official webpage
right now. It's only a teaser, mind you. For some background behind the historical elements of the story, head on over to The Teaching Company and grab a couple free lectures
on the issues involved. They include "the formation of the Christian Bible, Jesus' relationship with Mary Magdalene, and the role of the emperor Constantine in shaping the religion of the historical Jesus."
26 May, 2005
I've been downloading some tunes by a Japanese band, Ars Nova
I've liked what I've heard so far. By the looks of the band, one might think that they were some kind of New Wave or alternative band. You'd think so, but you'd be wrong. Instead they play progressive rock(gasp!) very much in the vein of Emerson, Lake and Palmer
. Lots of kinetic drumming and manic Hammond organ. Think ELP plus a little punk.
Progressive Rock Gets Updated
Most fans of progressive rock are like me - white males who are complete dorks. For whatever reason we enjoy our rock to be contrapuntally-tinged in odd time signatures with some goofball singing about Tolkienesque worlds, cosmic love, or just lyrics that are incredibly opaque. Finally someone has come along and given prog an update. Thanks so DJ Max Graham, we progheads have caught up with the hip-hop generation. He's remixed Yes' "Owner of a Lonely Heart". Plus he's done a video
for it. Now we prog freaks can have bitches and hos too.
State of Mind
Noted Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis recently published a piece
in Foreign Affairs called "Freedom and Justice in the Modern Middle East". The theme of it is that "To speak of dictatorship as being the immemorial way of doing things in the Middle East is simply untrue. It shows ignorance of the Arab past, contempt for the Arab present, and lack of concern for the Arab future. Creating a democratic political and social order in Iraq or elsewhere in the region will not be easy. But it is possible, and there are increasing signs that it has already begun."
He begins by giving an overview of traditional Arab rule and notes the important role of consultation. Rulers consulted with tribal chiefs, the rural gentry, and scribes, among others. Lewis goes on to describe the downfall of this system as having happened in two phases. Napolean's incursion in the 19th century is first while the siding of the rulers of Syria-Lebanon with the Vichy in 1940 was the other. Nazi ideology entered the scene:It was at that time that the ideological foundations of what later became the Baath Party were laid, with the adaptation of Nazi ideas and methods to the Middle Eastern situation. The nascent party's ideology emphasized pan-Arabism, nationalism, and a form of socialism. The party was not officially founded until April 1947, but memoirs of the time and other sources show that the Nazi interlude is where it began.
Since 1940 and again after the arrival of the Soviets, the Middle East has basically imported European models of rule: fascist, Nazi, and communist. But to speak of dictatorship as being the immemorial way of doing things in that part of the world is simply untrue. It shows ignorance of the Arab past, contempt for the Arab present, and unconcern for the Arab future. The type of regime that was maintained by Saddam Hussein -- and that continues to be maintained by some other rulers in the Muslim world -- is modern, indeed recent, and very alien to the foundations of Islamic civilization. There are older rules and traditions on which the peoples of the Middle East can build...
Lewis concludes on a hopeful note for democracy in Iraq:The creation of a democratic political and social order in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East will not be easy. But it is possible, and there are increasing signs that it has already begun. At the present time there are two fears concerning the possibility of establishing a democracy in Iraq. One is the fear that it will not work, a fear expressed by many in the United States and one that is almost a dogma in Europe; the other fear, much more urgent in ruling circles in the Middle East, is that it will work. Clearly, a genuinely free society in Iraq would constitute a mortal threat to many of the governments of the region, including both Washington's enemies and some of those seen as Washington's allies.
The last part is very interesting. What will Washington do if democracy in Iraq threaten its enemies but, at the same time, threatens its friends? What does Neo-Con dogma say about a democratic Iraq making Syria more amenable to our wiles but Saudi Arabia less so? After his re-election (and I use the term loosely), Bush took a Wilsonian stance. As Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progrssive
, noted in a speech that I reprinted a few entries ago, Bush said, "we are delivering the gift of freedom to the people of Iraq." But Wilson spoke of making the world safe for democracy, not imposing it. Even Lewis notes that the Middle East "has basically imported European models of rule". Wilson was a great supporter of the League of Nations, a supporter of the notion that a deliberative body of people from around the world could bring a collective wisdom to bear on the problems around the globe. This idea is very utopian and a true consensus of the world is impossible. But is a "Consensus of the Willing" good enough when it comes to issues affecting the whole world? If democracy begins to flourish in Iraq, can America alone protect it? Doesn't it take a village to raise a democratic state? Will we have to re-invade Iraq at some point like we did Cuba in 1906 and 1917?
James L. Payne writes
for The Independent Review
that he thinks that the minimum requirement for a functioning democracy to take hold in a country is the "restraint in the use of violence in domestic political affairs." If this is true or if it is at least a significant part of the equation in Iraq, then what are the prospects for peace & democracy there? With the Coalition of the Willing shrinking and America's armed forces being spread out ever thinner, is it reasonable to expect an imposition of peace on Iraq so that domestic violence is quelled? Payne cites Philips Cutright and Jared Diamond when he suggests that the relative wealth of the members of a society bears upon domestic strife. If Bush is delivering the gift of freedom to the people or Iraq, then he is also delivering the gift of profits to his cronies. Millions and millions of dollars that were to have been used for rebuilding Iraq are unaccounted for. Haliburton and other mega-companies are reaping huge profits, in part because they are doing some jobs which should be done by Iraqis. I did read recently - I think it was in Time
- that the average annual wage of Iraqis has gone from three hundred some odd to four hundred some odd dollars in the past year. Good news, certainly. So how long can that growth continue? After having accumulated how much wealth does a population become unlikely to commit acts of domestic violence? Iraq's economy is based upon the exportation of oil. Now, if America is seriously committed to alternative fuels, how will this impact Iraq? I suppose that India and China will be gobbling up fossil fuels for decades yet.
I really didn't mean to blather on like this but I find myself frustrated at all the prognosticators in the media saying that we'll be able to pull out of Iraq next year or in 5 years, minimum. While I don't know anyone in the service on the ground in Iraq, I do know that I want them to stop dying. Bush and the NeoCons have committed us to a war against an idea, terrorism, which can only last until we decide to stop it. So who knows how long we can expect our young men and women to return
broken up on the inside as well as the outside. I'm tired of Bush's appeals to his deity and to concepts in explaining our involvement there. I want to know how many thousands of well-trained police officers need to be there before we leave. I want to know what percentage of water filtration and electricity generating plants need to be operational before we leave. I don't want a date for withdrawl but I would like some specific criteria.We the people are gettin' tired of your lies
We the people now believe that it's time
We're demanding our rights to the answers
We elect a precedent to a state of mind
If Only the Ancient Egyptians Had Copyright Law
I recently found a couple webpages which show the parallels between Egyptian myths and the myth of the Christian savior. The first
discusses Osiris as a savior who died and was resurrected.Believing scholars like to bring up differences between Jesus and the earlier Pagan godmen. Attis' faithful hung his likeness on a pine tree, not on a cross, so Jesus can't be Attis. Osiris mother was a Goddess instead of a mortal woman. Believing scholars are right, Jesus wasn't Attis, and He wasn't Osiris. Jesus was a "new" God, the same way the first Honda Accord was a new car. He was a "new" version of God, built from old ideas.
The second site
shows the parallels between the Egyptian god Horus and Christ.According to author and theologian Tom Harpur: "[Author Gerald] Massey discovered nearly two hundred instances of immediate correspondence between the mythical Egyptian material and the allegedly historical Christian writings about Jesus. Horus indeed was the archetypal Pagan Christ."
The site even features a handy chart for comparing Horus and Jesus. E.g.-
Horus: "I am the possessor of bread in Anu. I have bread in heaven with Ra."
Jesus: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven."
Thankfully for the Christians, the Egyptians did not have any copyright laws.
Former Jethro Tull member, Dee Palmer
has a new musical
called "Hank Cinq". (While in the band, Dee was known as David. A sex change operation precipitated the name change.)Hank Cinq - a.k.a. Henry Vth - is an account in words and music of medieval life at the time immediately before, during and after the celebrated and much vaunted English victory, the Battle of Agincourt.
There’s no glorification of war here, though, and certainly not in the way Shakespeare presented the same historical facts to his Elizabethan audiences; that his principal characters come out to play again is both convenient and appropriate!
It sounds interesting as I'm into all things medieval. And while I'm in Tullland, I'll note that the band will be swinging back to the States
this fall. As of now, there's no gig in Wisconsin planned with the nearest appearance being in Chicago at the Civic Opera House on November 20th.
A Couple "Hiddens" May See the Light of Day
A couple Genesis-related items of note for dorky folks like myself. A 7-CD set of Phil Collins tour rehearsals from 1990 and a 2-CD set featuring Genesis working on the We Can't Dance
album look like they'll be given wider circulation soon. The PC release is fairly common as a 4-CD set while anything from the WCD
outtakes have yet to gain wide circulation. Here's the tracklist of the latter:
No son of mine #1 (PC vocals only)
No son of mine #2 (TB very high on the mix)
No son of mine #3 (alternate mix)
No son of mine #4 (slighty different mix)
Jesus he knows me #1 (PC Vocals only)
Jesus he knows me #2 (alternate mix, more TB keys)
Jesus he knows me #3 (roughly instrumental)
I can't dance #1 (PC vocals)
I can't dance #2 (TB percu sounds+piano only + PC real drums)
I can't dance #3 (roughly instrumental)
Tell me why #1 (TB very high on the mix, drums very low)
Tell me why #2 (PC vocals)
Tell me why #3 (PC vocals)
Tell me why #4 (PC vocals)
Living forever #1 (full mix instrumental, shorter than album version)
Living forever #2 (PC B/Vs + guitars & some TB)
Living forever #3 (instrumental section - PC drums very clear)
Hold on my heart #1
Hearts on fire #1
Hearts on fire #2
Way of the world #1 (full mix instrumental, slightly shorter album version)
Way of the world #2 (partial mix)
On the shoreline #1 (instrumental verse)
On the shoreline #2 (instrumental chorus)
On the shoreline #3 (instrumental verse)
Driving the last spike #1 (cleaner PC drums)
Since I lost you (faster edit, considered for single release)
Fading lights (edited)
A "hidden" recording is one that is in the possession of the members of a small clique of Genesis collectors. They tend to be recordings given to these folks by friends and associates of the band and, on occasion, band memebers themselves. The members of this clique tend to keep certain recordings amongst themselves so as to preserve the rarity of them. And rare recordings can be traded for other rare recordings from others in this small group.
George Lucas has been brainstorming and has hit on an idea for a prequel to The Phantom Menace
. But, seeing as how he's getting on in years, he'd have someone else do it. But whom? I'm thinking about how humorous it would be to have Quentin Tarantino do it. That way you could have Mexican standoffs with laser guns. Plus Samuel L. Jackson could reprise his role as Mace Windu. Just imagine this scene:
Windu: And you know what the Sith call a light saber?
Jedi 2: They don't call them lightsabers?
Windu: They call them Saber Royales.
"Now I'm thinkin': it could mean you're the evil man. And I'm the righteous man. And Mr. light saber here, he's the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness." Oh, the potential is enormous.
25 May, 2005
Up at Slate, Bill Saletan has a good article
detailing Bush's hypocrisy on the stem cell debate. He presents a chart with quotes from our leader concerning his opposition to stem cell research in one column and quotes in which Bush justifies his approval of the death penalty. The death penalty, according to Dubya, saves the lives of innocent folks who would be murdered by the savages who would be put to death. On the other hand, his "culture of life" abhors the termination of a group of a hundred or so cells.
Here's Bush on stem cells:"Yet the ethics of medicine are not infinitely adaptable. There is at least one bright line: We do not end some lives for the medical benefit of others."
Now here's Bush opining about the death penalty:"During the course of the campaign in 1994 I was asked, 'Do you support the death penalty?' I said I did, if administered fairly and justly. Because I believe it saves lives."
So, the death penalty saves lives and so will stem cell research. And so how is it consistent to be for one and not the other? But such a view shouldn't be surprising. Let's not forget that Bush's god talks to him - the same deity that directed Moses to commit genocide, ordered Abraham to commit filicide, and punished his children by making them eat their own fecal matter - so it seems unreasonable to expect consistency from Bush as his directives come down to him from a vengeful, spiteful old man up in the firmament blue.
Another bit of hypocrisy which irks me these days comes from people who favor our Iraqi incursion but turn around with shock and dismay at sight of the goings on at Abu Ghraib. It is implicit in the concept of war that there will be civilian casualties. If you are in favor of sending your country's military across the oceans to invade another country and topple its government, then you are giving your tacit consent to the deaths of non-combatants. It's part of the package deal that is war. The deaths of innocent men, women, and children
are inseparable from war. So I find it hypocritical to praise what we've done in Iraq and then turn around and heap opprobrium on the congeries of humiliation and torture at Abu Ghraib. How is it morally consistent and acceptable to give consent to the maiming and killing of children yet denounce torture?
The Prairie In Madtown
Saturday evening I had the pleasure of heading down to the Overture Center to see A Prairie Home Companion
. I'd never been to a live performance before nor seen the fateful attempt by Disney to put it on television so it was to be a real treat.
At stage left was a street sign and in the center was a prairie home. There were folks seated onstage at either side as well as on the porch of the house. Before the show went live, Garrison Keillor led the audience in a few stanzas of "America the Beautiful." He then brought out the lovely Wailin' Jennys
to sing their national anthem, "O Canada". And, just before hitting the air, Keillor had us sing "Working on the Railroad" for his young daughter, who was in attendance.
He then went into a monologue on how nice Madison is:Madison, Wisconsin. It's a town of extremely nice people. Runners (RUNNING FOOTSTEPS, PANTING: On your left. FOOTSTEPS PASS. Thank you! ) You step off a curb and cars come to a stop. (BRAKE SCREECHES TO A HALT — Tom Keith (OFF): After you, sir!) At the coffee shop they always give you an extra shot. (ESPRESSO MACHINE) The biggest Unitarian church in the country is right here in Madison and they are nothing but kind and tolerant — whatever your faith journey may be, they are all for it, just so long as it doesn't involve talking in a loud voice or jumping around with your hands up in the air. It's a city of literate people. The homeless people tend to be former graduate students who realized that if they got their Ph.Ds they'd have to go someplace not as nice as Madison so there they are panhandling on the street (JINGLING CHANGE IN PAPER CUP)— but in a very non-intrusive way—
It ends with high school kids sacrificing their prom so that the money could go to "help old geezers who need prostate surgery". Thus was born "Proms for Prostates". Guy Noir found himself near Dodgeville (a town near Madison) ordering pants from Lands End, which is located in Dodgeville and a sponsor of the show. He was doing community service for having been caught speeding so he was assigned to milk cows for a local farmer.
The Wailin' Jennys performed several times and, besides being beautiful, they had fantastic voices.
Also on hand were fiddle players John Niemann...
...and Ben Sanders. Ben is from Milwaukee and is the reigning Wisconsin State Fiddle Champion.
I was happy to find that Aly Bain
was going to be on the program. I knew that he'd played on Onkel Fish's album, Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors
but wasn't very familiar with his work despite the fact that he's a legendary fiddle player. He was joined by Ale Möller on mandola and they did a few numbers. Ale really got fired up!
A Swedish band, Totta's Bluesband
was also supposed to have been on the show but they had a run-in with the INS at the border and apparently were not able to obtain a visa which would allow them to play before a paying audience. Ergo, Keillor had them come on after the show had ended. And of course I stayed late for to see them. They did pretty good versions of Howlin' Wolf and Elmore James tunes as well as a rockin' take on Bob Dylan's "I Wanna Be Your Lover". A lot of fun.
There was a skit about 2 UW students at their graduation ceremony - a man and woman. They flirt and find they have a lot in common. The guy finally invites the woman back to his place. All is going well until she finds out that he's originally from Minnesota. Now, for us Cheeseheads, this was humorous but I wonder how many people outside of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois found this to be funny. Do other states have animosity like there is between Wisconin & Minnesota and Wisconsin & Illinois? I never heard folks in Lousiana trash-talking people from Arkansas. When I lived in Chicago, I don't recall Chicagoans bad-mouthing Indiana. Surely some sociologist has an explanation for such behavior.
Soup du Jour
On the menu today...
24 May, 2005
From the Kettle
This week's quest for the ultimate salt & sour potato chip takes us to Oregon where the Kettle Foods Company
brings us their take on junk food manna.
I give credit to Kettle for a tasty chip. They use locally grown Russets and fry them in safflower and/or sunflower oils. They lay down the salt and vinegar and let a good thing be. There's no additional seasoning added and there's no preservatives. I bought a 5 oz bag for an ungodly amount at the Coop.
These aren't just salt & vinegar, they're sea
salt and vinegar. Presumably, this is what makes them "gourmet". Like seemingly all such varieties, the chips are thicker than the average chip with a nice crispy texture. At first I thought they'd be crunchy instead as there are deep brown streaks all over the chips. But they were anything but overdone. As I said above, they are tasty. In fact, I ate the whole bag. (I followed it up with a bowl of granola to roto-root the old arteries.) There was a decent amount of sour but not enough to make me pucker up. And the vinegar was your garden variety white stuff. The great disappointment is that there's not enough salt. Is extracting salt from the sea so laborous and expensive that it can only be rationed out or what? Lay that NaCl down there, Bubba!! While the overall taste was good, but the sour was a bit shallow. There was an inital burst of sour but it petered out quickly, much to my chagrin. After devouring the whole bag, my tongue was slightly numbed.
I've begun to hypothesize that the reason why the chips I've tasted so far seem to be short on the sour is that they're thicker than average. It seems like the immediate sour taste is being quickly overrun by the fats in the chip and thicker chips have more fat. I did a little research but didn't come up with much. But I did find this info which is a start:Salty
With salty substances (e.g., table salt, NaCl), the receptor is an ion channel that allows sodium ions (Na+) to enter directly into the cell. This depolarizes it allowing calcium ions (Ca2+) to enter and triggering an action potential in the attached sensory neuron.Sour
Several types of receptors may be involved in detecting the protons (H+) liberated by sour substances (acids).
Clearly more research on my part about the sense of taste is sorely needed.
A Whole Host of Podcasts
I found a neat page
with oodles of podcast links. They're all for public radio programs by NPR and other non-commercial stations as well as Mother Beeb.
Meanwhile, Back in Belleville
I got home to find that my torrent had finished downloading. It's a DVD compilation of television appearances by Uncle Tupelo
. It's Volume 27 of a series of DVDs that a fan has put together and contains some interesting stuff
. It's fun to look at the screenshots
because Jay Farrar looks like he's 17 in the first one and not much older in the second. I've also managed to secure some nice Uncle Tupelo audios that are soundboard recordings. Somebody has gone crazy and is posting a bunch of their sets when they opend for Teenage Fanclub back in early 1992. They were doing "I Wanna Be Your Dog" by Iggy and the Stooges as well as "I Found That Rare Essence" by Gang of Four. Good stuff!
In other music news, I see that Dream Theater's
new album, Octavarium
, is available on the Net even though it's not due until June 7th. And I'm getting psyched to see Porcupine Tree
at Shank Hall
this weekend. While the setlist hasn't changed since the European gigs, I know I'm gonna freak out when they start the show with "Deadwing" and get completely lost in "Hatesong".
Putting the "cock" in Cocktail
I see that there's a new treatment for premature ejaculation
on its way. OK, let's see here. Premature ejaculation is defined as "when sperm release occurs two minutes or less into the sexual act, or even before penetration." And the drug helped "lengthen intercourse three to four times". That means partners of men afflicted with the disorder will enjoy 6-8 minutes of intercourse! Well, I guess it's better than having your man blow his wad before he gets his tool into your orifice. I think I've heard that womyn generally take 20-45 minutes of stimulation to reach orgasm. Pill or no pill, this still means that foreplay is a must
. Science will march on and improve, no doubt. Until then, we've got our Penile Cocktail: the herbal libido supplements I mentioned in my previous entry, Viagra, and now this stuff, dapoxetine.
We Sow the Seeds, Nature Grows the Seeds...
In her kindness, The Dulcinea picked me up early Saturday morning at we headed over to the Farmer's Market
. (Truth be told, methinks there's a farmer's market somewhere around here every day of the week.) We had fun wandering around and salivating like a Pavlovian dog. Here's some pictures:
First we have the Radish Queen.
Next we have some colorful jellies.
Here we have some bees...
...which make honey. Lots of honey. Although I was sorely tempted to buy the super-family size, I refrained.
Here's Hans Christian Heg. Well, a statue of him, anyway. He fought in the Civil War with the 15th Wisconsin Volutneers and fell at Chickamauga. ("Chickamauga's where I am, solitude is where I'm bound...")
Now here's Catfish Stephenson
plying his trade.
Lastly we have one of my favorite tables - Out of Our Gourd's. They let me indulge myself in all things capsaicin-laced: chili pepper oil, hot pepper blends, salad dressing, and probably a few others things I forget.
I ended up buying some flat bread, some Kaluha-laced chocolate ice cream topping, some garlic cheddar - oh! Being Wisconsin, we have more cheese than a teenager has zits. To wit:
I also bought some exceedingly large phallic cucumbers and some radishes which I transformed into some Polish cucumber salad on Sunday. What else did I buy? Some blueberry jalapeno jelly and...there's probably more but I can't recall. We stopped at the Coop on the way back to my place so I could buy some sour cream for the aforementioned salad. While there, we perused the super herbal sex goddess supplements.
Thirty smackaroos for some herbal formula to boost one's libido?! Sounds like a scam to me. Way to take advantage of all those hippie sexual insecurities. But if it was featured on 20/20
it just has to work. Right?
Madisonian Dale Bengston will probably be put on some watch list as dared protest Bush administration policies. Disturbed by all the mercury in tuna, he sent Dubya all his cans of tuna
.Well, we looked at the numbers that the National Resources Defense Council had come up with, analyzing the EPA's data, and found that we really couldn't feed our young daughter tuna fish any more. So we cut it out of our diet completely, which is a shame. Both of my children really enjoyed tuna fish. And my wife got so mad about it she said 'let's send our cans of tuna to the president in protest.' So we did.
When the President Sees Himself As God’s Delivery BoyThe following is a speech given by Matthew Rothschild on October 30, 2004 at the annual convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.
I want to salute the Freedom From Religion Foundation for all the good work that you’ve done over these last two and a half decades. I also want to salute everyone her for your courage, because it takes great personal courage in a country where anywhere between 85% to 93% of the people of this country identify themselves as believers, where 42% of the American people believe that they’re born-again Christians, where people hold these beliefs so strongly that when you tell them that you are an atheist or an agnostic, they shower you with disdain, to say the least.
I was on a radio show here in Madison a little while back on the occasion of Ronald Reagan’s beatification, and I was criticizing the former president and suggesting that he should have been impeached for Iran-Contra, and suggesting that he wasn’t this great moral leader, that he had waged this illegal war in Central America that cost 80,000 lives. I got a call from someone who said, “You know, I think Reagan’s passing was part of a larger plan, part of God’s plan.”
I said, “Well, I’m an atheist, so I don’t really believe that was part of God’s plan.” It was like that person had never heard anyone stand up in public and say they were an atheist. It wasn’t my criticisms of Reagan, my criticisms, of Iran-Contra, my suggestion that he should have been impeached, my suggestion that he was a mass murderer, that got this person so upset. It was my suggestion that there wasn’t a god.
So we have all that to fight against. You, really, are the people that the First Amendment is for. You are the people that our founders had in mind when the created the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment, because our founders were fighting not only against kings, but against the imposition of religious beliefs, against the church. That is a rally essential American doctrine – that we do not have to believe in the divine right of kings, that we as citizens can elect our own leaders, and that we don’t have to take the imposition of religion from on top. The first words of the First Amendment are so precious, “that Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.” That is the Establishment Clause that should prevent our leaders from imposing their religious beliefs upon us.
Unfortunately, today, we have a president who does impose his religious beliefs up us. And I wan to suggest to you how far we’ve slid down the hill since 1960, when President Kennedy was running for office. He gave a very famous speech, saying how important he thought the separation between church and state was. Kennedy used the adjective “absolute”: “I believe the separation of church and state is absolute.” He said no prelate should tell any candidate how that candidate should vote on any particular issue, and that no public funds should go to any church or to any church school.
We’ve come a long way, a very long way from that day, and we got to fight our way back up the hill. Right now, with Bush, it’s particularly tricky, because here is a guy who really actually does believe that God put him in the Oval Office, when in actual fact we know it was William Rehnquist and four of his cronies. Bush actually said in his campaign biography four years ago, subtly entitled, A Charge to Keep
, that God put him in the governor’s mansion of Texas. He thinks ever since he recovered from alcoholism that God has been charting out his path and telling him where to go and what to do.
That is a touch thing for me as a nonbeliever to accept. It’s a tough thing for me as someone who believes deeply in the separation between church and state to accept. It’s a tough thing for me as a creature of the Enlightenment, to believe, because we are fighting really the war of the Enlightenment again. We’re fighting against forces of irrationality, and we need to fight for secularism and for rationality.
David Frum, who was a speechwriter for Bush and claims to have come pu with the phrase, “Axis of Evil,” has a book out called The Right Man
(George W. Bush is “the right man”). He says the first time he went into the White House and saw George Bush, the first statement that Bush gave to him was, “Missed you at bible study.” He said that to understand the White House, you must understand its predominant pre-modern evangelicalism. Fundamentalism is fundamental to this White House. It’s what the leaders in the White House believe, and it’s what the strategists are intent on doing, which is to drive as many rightwing evangelicals as possible to the polls.
Whenever Bush uses the word “values,” he’s not talking about don’t lie, be an honest person, be a decent person, be a compassionate person, be fair person. He’s talking about religious values. So this whole “values” notion is just a code for religion.
Bush still believes, and said so on the campaign trail in July in Lancaster, Penn., to a group of Amish people, “God speaks through me.” That’s a direct quote. The great humorist Molly Ivins, who writes for The Progressive
every month said, “That’s a kind of a strange things for the president to say, because I thought God could conjugate subject and verb better.”
It is quite something to have a president who thinks he has a direct link with God, and that he’s acting on it. I wasn’t surprised when I heard that line, though, because I’ve read Bob Woodward’s two books about Bush – not the greatest books – but they reflect what the president wants to say. Bush said, “There’s a value system that cannot be compromised, God-given values.” This runs right through the administration’s policies, through its domestic policies and its international policies. I want to talk a little bit about both.
Domestically, we see it obviously in the opposition to stem cell research – research that could save millions of Americans suffering from diabetes or Parkinson’s or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a host of diseases. I think almost every American has a relative or a friend or a father or a mother or a son or a daughter or a spouse who suffers from one of these diseases and could be helped to live by stem cell research. Bush opposes it, and he opposes it for religious reasons.
Same thing with same-sex marriage. I once was on a radio program on Wisconsin Public Radio, with Steve King, former head of the Wisconsin Republican party. The issue of same-sex marriage came up, as it has a lot this year. I put it to him that there’s no rational secular reason why two gay men who’ve been together for 20 years can’t go get married and enjoy the benefits of marriage that Britney Spears can get when she runs off to Las Vegas on a whim. I tried to explain that there’s this Establishment Clause, we shouldn’t have religion imposed upon us, and Steve King says, “Well, you know, down there in Madison, it might be a rational secular society, but we’re a God-fearing country.” I tried to point out that he was proving my point, but he didn’t want to hear that.
Then, of course, there’s the issue of choice, the issue of abortion. I was listening to one of the presidential debates, and Bush said he wanted to appoint someone to the Supreme Court who would interpret the Constitution as it was literally written and not impose his own views. He said something about the Dred Scott decision. I’m just sitting there in my living room thinking: “What the hell is he talking about here?”
First, he couldn’t explain what the Dred Scott decision was. He barely got it out of this mouth. He obviously had been told to mention the Dred Scott decision, but couldn’t figure out that it was a pre-slavery decision that verified the Missouri Compromise. But he said it for a reason, or he was told to say it for a reason. I wrote up something the next day, ignorant as I was about what the message was, and said, you know, Bush was out to lunch on the Dred Scott Decision. Turns out he wasn’t out to lunch. He was sending a direct message to his antiabortion followers, because in the rightwing evangelical antiabortion movement, the Dred Scott decision has become a code fro being antiabortion. They compare Dred Scott to Roe v. Wade
. They say Roe v. Wade
is the modern-day Dred Scott. Having someone with the freedom of choice is equivalent in their minds to having a slave. Now, if you’re a descendant of a slave, I an imagine that you wouldn’t be too happy with that analogy, but that was the analogy. And the reason they oppose abortion is a religious-based reason.
They’re also imposing this notion of faith-based social programs. Reference President Kennedy’s line about not giving public money to religious institutions or religious schools. Bush has completely disregarded that, and done quite the opposite.
I was at a synagogue in Chicago about a year ago on some panel on civil liberties, Ashcroft and the New McCarthyism. Up on stage there was a leading reform rabbi and also one of Ashcroft’s deputies. Now, you know about Ashcroft. H was in the hospital earlier this year with some intestinal trouble. I saw his medical charts – he was there because he at the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, the Sixth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment, and the 14th Amendment.
But anyway, his deputy was saying, “Those insensitive people who oppose the policy of the government, the ability of the government to give money to churches and synagogues to carry on faith-based programs, what they are doing is nothing less than trying to impose the religion
That’s how twisted, that how Orwellian it’s become.
I call Bush’s foreign policy “messianic militarism,” because he does believe that he’s on a “crusade.” It slipped out of his mouth, didn’t it? Ignorant as he is of the history of the Middle East and what the Crusades actually did there, he does believe he’s on a crusade. He in a sense believes that God is his Secretary of State, God is his Secretary of Defense. According to the Haaretz newspaper in Israel, he told the Palestinian negotiators – that fleeting moment when he was concerning himself with the crisis in the occupied territories and the conflict between Israel and Palestine – that “God told me to go to war against Afghanistan, and God told me to go to war against Saddam Hussein, and now God wants me to make peace between you and the Israelis.” Evidently God has stopped telling him that, because he’s stopped trying to make peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. It is quite an astonishing thing for the president to be waving that Dog card at every opportunity.
Another thing about this conflict between Israel and Palestine that relates to the question of messianic militarism: This I couldn’t believe until I read it in The Village Voice
. You remember Elliot Abrams of Iran-Contra days, Elliot Abrams who is a convicted felon for lying to Congress and then was pardoned by George the First? Abrams is no in the National Security Council of the current Bush administration. When Sharon was cooking up this idea of unilaterally withdrawing from the settlements of Gaza but to keep building the settlements on the West Bank, Bush wanted to endorse that, but there was a problem. The problem wasn’t that this is totally against the peace plan, that this totally aces out the Palestinians, that they no longer have voice in their future. No, that wasn’t the issue at all. The issue, for the Bush administration, was how is this going to fly with rightwing evangelicals in the United States?
So Elliot Abrams was dispatched not only to go to Israel and talk to Sharon, but to the United States to talk to apocalyptic Christian groups, and to try to assuage their fears that by Israel giving up the West Bank, that the Bush administration would not be getting in the way of the Apocalypse and of the rapture.
Then there, of course, is the war on terror. On September 11, 2001, at the national cathedral, George W. Bush gave his famous speech. “God is not neutral,” he said. His speechwriter, Michael Gerson, who is a rightwing evangelical, in an act of sycophancy, watched the speech on TV and then called up the president, and said, “Mr. President, when I saw you on television giving that speech, I know at that moment that God meant you to be in the Oval Office.” When hit with this flattery, what did the president say? He didn’t say, “Don’t suck up to me, flattery will get you nowhere.” That’s not what he said at all. What he said was, “Gerson, Dog wants us all to be where we are right now.”
Bush believes that he is the liberator . He believes he’s liberated 25 million people in Afghanistan. He believes he’s liberated 25 million people in Iraq. He said in his Sate of the Union speech in January that “we are delivering the gift of freedom to the people of Iraq. But it is not our gift to deliver, it is the gift of God Almighty.” So he views himself as God’s little efficient delivery boy. He views himself as Good’s UPS man. He is delivering the goods for God. That’s the role that he has craved out for himself.
I want to suggest how inappropriate that role is. It is profoundly undemocratic. It is profoundly un-American in the context of the First Amendment, in the context of what our founders had in mind for this country. It’s almost an inarguable proposition to say, “God wants me to do that.” How do you dispute that? I guess you could counter by saying, “No, I heard from God, and he says no.”
Other than that, you can’t really have a discussion. Or you can consult holy text and read them differently, but you can’t do it rationally, you can’t do it democratically. So that’s a real problem.
There’s a bigger problem than that, though. At this particular moment, who is our enemy? The enemy who struck the United States is Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. And who is Osama bin Laden and who is al-Qaida, except fundamentalists? People who believe that they themselves are getting the word from on-high to go attack American and Jews anywhere they can. Just yesterday, bin Laden was invoking God and God’s wish to punish America. So why in the world should George W. Bush engage in a tug-of-war with Osama bin Laden and have God be the rope? That is not the argument we should be having. This is the time for secular discussions, it’s not the time for having General Boykin say, “Our god is bigger than your god.”
And yet that’s what is seems to boil down to with this group in the White House. “We know that God’s on our side, we know that God is not neutral, we’re going to rid the world of evil.” If you counted up every time Bush used the word “evil” or “evil-doers” and gave yourself a dollar, you’d be a rich person.
It’s just not the debate we should be having. We should be winning people over by showing how barbaric Osama bin Laden has been, and by showing that it’s not right to kill civilian people, it’s not right to invoke God as a way to kill people. The even larger problem, though, is that when you believe, as bin Laden does, and as Bush does (though I don’t believe they’re equivalent) that God is telling you what to do, you become deaf to the casualties. It’s okay for bin Laden to kill 3,000 on September 11, because that’s God’s wish. Or Bush, when he’s “liberating” the people of Iraq, and delivering God’s gift, it’s okay that the United States has killed 100,000 people. You don’t see the suffering, or you discount the suffering of people, when you believe that you are carrying out God’s instructions, because after all this is what God wants. It’s God’s plan. And yeah, it’s too bad some people are dying, but it’s for a good reason, it’s for a divine reason.
And so I worry. I worry very much about what’s going on in this country. I worry about another our years of Bush and what that might mean. I worry that maybe he’ll wake up one morning in March 2005 and say, “I’m getting the word here, God wants me to go to war with North Korea.” It’s interesting that in one of those Woodward books, North Korea comes up and in it Bush says, “I loathe Kim Jung-Il.” Woodward reports this is the most animated Bush got in the hours upon hours that he spent with the president. That he practically jumped out of his chair at the very mention of Kim Jung-Il, and said, “This guy is killing or starving 500,000 people in his country, it’s godless communism over there, and I know my advisors are telling me that if there’s a conflict over there that the economy of South Korea may be ruined because North Koreans are going to overrun it, it’ll be like West Germany and East Germany coming together and how bad that was with the economy there, but I don’t buy that,” Bush said. “And maybe it’s because of my religious beliefs,” he added. I take him at his word. It’s a very scary group.
I don’t know how many of you read The New York Times Magazine
cover story from a couple of weeks ago by Ron Suskind, who wrote the book about Paul O’Neill. Not only are they deaf to the harm that they’re causing in the White House right now, they have this idea, this hubris, this chutzpah, that is almost incalculable, almost immeasurable. A senior White House advisor is telling Ron Suskind, who used to be a foreign reporter for The Wall Street Journal
, that: “Look, you guys aren’t in the reality-based community anymore.”
It used to be, you’d insult someone if you said, “Boy, you don’t have your feet in reality, pal. What world do you live in? Get back in the real world.” But no, with these guys, it’s a plus not to be in the real world. They think it’s great not to be in the reality-based community. This senior advisor to the Bush Administration was saying, “We are an empire now. We create our own reality. All you can do in the reality-based community is study what we do. We create your reality. While you’re studying that reality, we’re going to go create another reality and you’re going to study that. And while you’re studying that, we’re going to go create a third reality. We are history’s agents,” he said, “and all you can do in the reality-based community is study us.”
This is the kind of arrogance, this is the imperiousness of power, the likes of which we haven’t seen since we read the Shelley poem Ozymandias
. These people really are drunk with power. And when you’re that drunk with power, you can do a whole lot of damage, especially when you’re the most powerful country in the world. We’re seeing some of that harm right now in Iraq. I would be remiss not to talk about the Iraq war for a little bit because the Iraq war has killed not only up to 100,000 Iraqis, but 1,100 US soldiers and wounded 8,000 other US soldiers, 5,000 of whom had been wounded just since April. Wrap yourselves around that. Bush’ war is wounding almost 1,000 US soldiers a month.
We have this battle for the First Amendment, this battle for keeping the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment. We also have the battle of fighting the forces of irrationality everywhere in this country. We’re fighting for the Enlightenment. But we also have to get over the American superiority complex that “we are the greatest country in the world,” that we were put on the face of the earth by God to go deliver the gift of freedom, or whatever gift we’re delivering these days. Bush has this in spades, but it’s not just Bush who feels that way. Many other presidents have felt that way or at least talked that way. Commander-in-chief is one role, mythmaker-in-chief is another.
And while we’re doing this work, it can – I hate to quote the president, but – “be hard work.” We’re perfectly capable of doing it. I know everyone here is.
There is a concern I have, and that is the concern of despair. That things get so hard, the obstacles are so high, especially at this moment, that people fell almost a sense of despondency. I’ve been telling people in psychiatric community that they should clear their calendars after November 2 if the election doesn’t turn out the way they want or expect or their patients expect, because they’re going to be getting a lot of walk-ins on November 3, 4, 5.
At these moments, I take comfort in one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets, W.H. Auden, writing in September 1939, another very dark time – a darker period. We need to get over the fact that this is the worst time that’s ever been in the United States. Bush traffics on that. He wants us to feel that it’s never been more dangerous here in the United States than it is now. Cheney does, too. Cheney’s slogan is “vote for us or die,” or “vote for us or you’re going to get irradiated by a nuclear weapon.” They want us to keep feeling this fear. In Bush’s speeches, one after another, you can see it. You can go to whitehouse.gov and just type in the word “oceans” and “September 11.” Put those two things together and I bet you’ll get 30 references to Bush saying in speech after speech, “After September 11, we are no long protected by our oceans. Before September 11, we all know that the oceans protected us.” This is the myth of prior innocence.
Of course, the myth is false, the oceans never protected the United States in the war of 1812, the oceans didn’t protect the United States on Pearl Harbor Day, the oceans didn’t protect the United States any day of the Cold War after the Soviet Union got intercontinental ballistic missiles. And the oceans weren’t protecting us on September 10, 2001, when Russia still had (and still has) thousands of nuclear missiles that can hit the United States within 15 minutes.
So you ask yourself as I do, “What’s Bush talking about?” And it’s too easy to say, “Oh, the guy’s an idiot.” First of all, I don’t think he’s as stupid as he appears. He is aggressively anti-intellectual, boastfully anti-intellectual. He appeals, though, to that strain of anti-intellectualism that is so much a part of our history and our people’s mentality. But more than that, what he is trying to do is say, “This is the worst time ever. You gotta be scared, you better be scared, and you better be so scared that you’re going to turn over your civil liberties, and your affections and your votes, to us.” That’s what the ocean metaphor is about.
So Auden says in September 1939, “Our world in stupor lies.” And then he adds at the very end, “May we, beleaguered by the same negation and despair, show an affirming flame.”
Yes, we are beleaguered by negation. What could be a bigger act of negation that the flying of those planes into those towers on September 11? That was negation and nihilism at its height. Then we’ve had four years of negation of progress here with this Bush administration. Then we have this sense of despair that we all fell when we look at what’s going on in Iraq. So how do we get over it?
Auden says we need to show an affirming flame. What is the affirming flame? The affirming flame is what is great about this country, and that’s not a $500 billion Pentagon budget, and it’s not 10,000 nuclear weapons, and it’s not the fact that we’re 5% of the world’s population, yet consume 25% of the world’s resources with our massive economy. The thing that is great about our country in the Establishment Clause and the First Amendment.
I applaud you for fighting for it, and I will fight for it with you in the years to come.
Singer “Tells It Like It Is”The following is an acceptance speech by Peter Singer given on October 30, 2004 here in Madtown. Singer was awarded the Emperor Has No Clothes Award by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
It's a great award and I'm delighted to receive it. Thank you very much. My wife did ask me when I said I'd been given this award, "Does this mean you'll have to take your clothes off?" I said, "No, I'm not the one who's supposed to be naked."
Anyway, it really is an honor, and I’m delighted to be recognized in this way, because I feel I've been doing this kind of thing all my life. I was educated in Australia at the University of Melbourne, and I did have the honor there of first being a member and, before I graduated, becoming president of something called the Rationalist Society. The Rationalist Society was a freethinker's society. In fact, we had a magazine which I edited called The Freethinker
, and our principal sport was to engage in debates with students from the Evangelical Union.
That kind of evangelical activity actually was really active when I was an undergraduate – this was in the early 60s. It died away by the time my daughters got to university, in the '90s. The reason, I think, was that a lot of these issues had faded in Australia. Australia is a much more secular society than the United States. We do not have political leaders who end every speech with "God bless Australia." That would sound rather odd to an Australian audience.
As a result, while there are certainly still people who are religious – although not as many as here – they tend to have a less prominent social/political role. A lot of major political issues here are not issues in Australia. For example, we have a relatively conservative government, but it's not attempting to do anything to restrict abortion, not even to restrict the fact that abortion is something you can be reimbursed for under the national health insurance scheme. (That is another thing that we have in Australia that might be a good idea to think about in this country, too.) We're also allowing stem cell research to be federally funded. All these issues which are so common in electoral politics here have really faded away in Australia. That's probably why the Rationalist Society doesn't exist anymore at Melbourne University.
Having come to live in America five years ago, I can clearly see why an organization life FFRF is very much needed. The need for that increased to a higher order of magnitude once President George W. Bush go elected. What I want to do is talk a little bit about that before talking about some other broader issues as well. But I won't talk so much about the question of the faith-based initiatives and the blurring of the boundary between church and state, because I'm sure that that's something all of you as members of this Foundation already have read a lot about and are well-aware of, and it's probably fairly familiar ground to you.
I want to go a little further than simply saying this separation between church and state is very important. I think, in light of the effect that religion has on life in this country, that we need to go further and do something that is regarded as perhaps not really very polite or very respectful in this country, even perhaps offensive, but it's something that really needs to be done. And that is to challenge the idea of faith as a basis for one's belief and for the way one lives one's life. So I want to do that, and I want to do that in the context of talking in particular about Bush and some of this beliefs.
Let me start with a view put forward by a 19th-century philosopher and mathematician who's not very well-known, William Clifford, whom I quote in the book on Bush. He wrote an essay once about the question of faith, and he uses as an analogy a ship-owner who was about to send to sea a shipful of immigrants. Since he was English – and you know that was a time of a lot of immigration to Australia – maybe the ship was going to Australia, who knows? He knew that the ship was old and perhaps was in need of repair. So he had some doubts about whether it was actually seaworthy. Then he thought again and decided that surely, with families of immigrants going for new life in the New World, surely Providence would see to it that the ship was safe and could make the journey safely. He decided to place his faith in God that the ship would make the journey, and failed, there, to properly inspect it. Of course, the ship sinks, and with great loss of life, but he feels that, well, he did not do anything wrong.
We would be in no doubt that he did do something wrong. We would say that it's wrong to rely on faith when you should be investigating what the evidence is for your belief before putting the lives of others at risk. If you want to put your own life at risk – if it was paddling in a solo kayak, perhaps – we might say, "Well, it's his business if he doesn't want to check whether it's safe." But if other people are involved, it's not just his business and it's wrong to rely on faith. The point is that's a general principle, that we should not simply take things on faith, when there are possibilities of looking at the evidence and seeing what the evidence is.
Now let's switch to George W. Bush. If we look at his own accounts in a book called A Charge to Keep
, which he wrote (or at least his name appears on the cover) before the 2000 election, he talks about his decision to "recommit my heart to Jesus Christ." Famously he traces this to a walk along the beach in Maine with Billy Graham. Conversing with Graham, Bush was, he says, "humbled to learn that God had sent his son to die for a sinner like me." After his decision to commit himself to Jesus, he began to read the bible regularly and joined a bible study group. Later in the book, he describes a visit to Israel that he and Laura made in 1998, which gives further insight into his views about faith. Bush tells us that he and Laura went to the Sea of Galilee and "stood on top of the hill where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount." He says that is was "an overwhelming feeling to stand in the spot where the most famous speech in the history of the world was delivered, the spot where Jesus outlined the character and conduct of a believer, and gave his disciples and the world the Beatitudes, the Golden Rule, and the Lord's Prayer." He concludes his account of this visit by saying that he knows that "faith changes lives, because faith changed min," and this is something to build his life on, a "foundation that will not shift."
Now, what we have if you take all of this together – the account of the walk along the beach with Billy Graham, the statement about standing on the spot where Jesus delivered this famous speech, and son – is clearly someone who takes things on trust without a lot of reflection. He simply says he learned from Billy Graham that Jesus died for our sins. He didn't question Billy Graham about how Billy Graham knew this, what was the evidence for believing in this. He just learned it as a fact, like learning that George Washington was the first president of the United States. He doesn't reflect on the fact – presumably he knows, though it's true that he didn't have a passport, I believe, before he became president – that elsewhere in the world there are quite a lot f people who have other religious faiths that are actually not compatible with the idea that Jesus died for our sings. They equally have faith in their own particularly beliefs, whether they're Buddhist or Jewish or Hindu or Muslim.
So that doesn't seem to trouble the president at all. When he goes to Israel, Bush is so confident that he's standing on the spot where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, that you would think that there was plaque that the disciples had engrave afterward, signing and dating it. It never crosses his mind that although Matthew does tell us that Jesus preached his sermon on the mount, Luke actually says that it was preached in the plain. There seems to be a bit of a discrepancy in the gospels. If you look at New Testament scholarly criticism – those who study the New Testament and how it may have been put together and from what different part – the general view is that in fact Matthew himself composed the sermon, making it up from various saying of Jesus that were part of an oral tradition that had probably been collected from different sources. If they were ever said by Jesus at all, they were not said on one occasion in one sermon. So if that's right, we needn't bother about the problem of identifying the hill from which Jesus delivered the sermon, since her never really preached it at all.
Most Americans, when you talk to them about this, don’t actually see a problem. That in itself is a problem. They just accept that as far as religious belief is concerned, faith is what we have. This is not the view that Christians have always taken. If you look historically at the tradition of Christianity, you find, particularly in medieval times, a tradition of attempting to develop rational arguments fro belief in the existence of God. That was – and to some extent still is in some Roman Catholic circles – the tradition that there are claims about various arguments: the argument of design, what’s called the ontological argument, the metaphysical argument. Medieval scholastics like Anselm, Aquinas, and so on talked about these arguments at great length and thought they were an important foundation of religious belief.
There are very few philosophers nowadays who really think that these arguments are valid. Some of them have been clearly undermined by our understanding of evolution. The universe may appear young to those who don’t understand how old it is, and species may appear to have been designed. But that’s an illusion.
Given that these arguments were debated and were, by the 18th or 19th century, stating to fall into disrepute, we then get, with the Protestant tradition, a disavowal of these arguments, and the claim that they’re not important. What really matters is faith. That’s something we really should reject. Especially when what you’re talking about is something that is going to affect others. If you want to believe something, if you make a claim about the world – such as that there is a God and that this God takes some active interest in ongoing lives and so on – you want to have some evidence for that claim. If I claim that there are fairies in the bottom of my garden and that they tell me to do certain things, or that I’ve been visiting by aliens or whatever else there might be, you might want some evidence. I think we should regard claims about the existence of God or about the divinity of Jesus as exactly similar. In the absence of evidence, nobody should really believe these claims. There is something a little bit crazy, a little bit nutty about believing in these claims if you cannot provide evidence at all.
While we might respect people’s right, in the privacy of their homes, to have these beliefs or to pray or whatever they wish to do, if these beliefs are going to play a role in politics (whether as president of the United States or as simply voting for a candidate on the grounds that this candidate is more in accordance to Scripture), we should challenge this. We should demand that people provide either rational argument, or evidence, for their beliefs. If we take the offensive, we can perhaps resists the die of religion that certainly seems to have been increasing in recent decades.
Now we have a particularly powerful reason for doing so, arising out of the tragedy of September 11, and that, of course, is that the people who carried out those terrible events on September 11 were inspired by religious faith. They had a different faith from Christians, of course, or Jews, but they had a religious faith which is also represented in the country. I led them to do terrible things. But in accordance with their interpretation of that faith, it was as rational or as irrational as the beliefs of Christians who accept on faith the word of the Gospels as being the word of God as being a guide to life.
People will say, “Well, they misinterpreted Islam,” and, of course, there are many Muslims who think that they did do that. But just as with Christianity, there are many sects and many separate beliefs among the Islamic religion, and I can’t really see that the views taken by Osama bin Laden or his followers are any more wrong, in terms of the Islamic tradition, than other interpretations. It’s simply open to a lot of different interpretations, and of course there are many ayatollahs and mullahs who will defend that interpretation. There was something deeply ironic in the events of September 11 leading to that scene, where the assembled members of Congress came and sang “God Bless America,” and people felt the need to reaffirm religious belief at that time. Their reaction should have been just the opposite. It should have been, “See? This just shows how dangerous religious belief is.”
Once you give up standards of reasoning and of using evidence for your beliefs, anything is possible, including a belief that it’s a good thing to fly aeroplanes full of people into office buildings full of more people, an that somehow that will lead to you being rewarded in an afterlife. That’s why I think it’s time to take the offensive on this sort of belief.
Let me just say a little bit about some of the ethical issues that I am interested in, and why I think it important to develop a secular ethic that not only does not have religious foundations, but actually thinks independently of a tradition and heritage of ethical beliefs that comes down in the West from the Judeo-Christian tradition. This tradition is still the heritage even of many people who actually no longer would count themselves as following that tradition.
Some of the views that I put forward that have been most controversial have been used to challenge the idea of the sanctity of human life – views that go beyond simply saying that there is nothing wrong with destroying the embryos for creation of stem cells, provided it si done with the consent of those from whom the gametes came; that there is nothing wrong with a woman terminating a pregnancy when she wants to do so. I also hold, for example, that if a baby is born severely disabled and the parents and the doctors believe that it’s better fro that baby not to live, then they shouldn’t have to “wait for nature to take its course” as many doctors will do even in this country. They should be able to ensure that the baby dies swiftly and humanely. That’s a kinder option, I think.
Because a being is a member of the species Homo sapiens
, it doesn’t mean that being’s life is sacred. Those of us with a secular outlook take a more naturalistic view of the world. We understand that we are one species living among a number of other species on this planet, many of whom are also sentient beings. And the membership of a species in itself cannot make a being more valuable than beings of other species. This is not to say that there’s nothing that makes some beings more valuable than others. Some people misinterpret the things that I’ve written in Animal Liberation
, as if I’m saying that somehow all beings are of equal value and that it’s as bad to kill a rat as it is to kill a normal human being. Or, put it this way, that the tragedy that happened on September 11, 2001, was just a tiny incremental addition to an already tragic day, since on that day, tens of millions of chickens were also being killed, and that the lives of each of those chickens are just as sacred as a human life. That’s not what I hold. There may be some people who do hold that, but it’s not what I hold.
I think that there are a range of things that make life valuable and important. The most basic one is sentience, or the capacity to feel something. If you can’t feel anything, if you can’t experience consciousness at all, there is nothing that can be of benefit to you. You don’t know how your life is going, whether your life is going well or badly. It doesn’t really make sense to say your life is going well or badly, because you have no subjective experiences. If you do have subjective experiences, then you matter, because there are things that people can do to you that will make your life worse, like causing pain, distress, or suffering, or that will make your life better. That’s one important fact about the world, that there are sentient beings in it, and we of course are among them.
There are other capacities, other mental properties , that also make a difference. One of them is being not only sentient but able to understand that you live in the world, that you have awareness over time, that you have a past, that you can make plans for the future, that you can plan your life out. That, for example, might be relevant to what a tragedy it is if you were killed against your will, as people World Trade Center were killed on September 11, 2001. If you’ve read the obituaries that The New York Times
published, there was a great sense of loss and tragedy. These were people who were looking forward to things in life. You will have read how one man was looking forward to getting married to his high school sweetheart, and the family that they were planning to have. All of these things were cut off. That’s why it is a greater tragedy for a life like that to be lost than for the life of a chicken to be lost. The chicken presumably does not make plans of that sort. Which is not to say that the chicken hasn’t lost something. The chicken has lost experiences of enjoying life. At least if the chicken was able to live outside – which unfortunately is a microscopic percentage of all the chickens in this country at the moment – it lost enjoyable moments out there, scratching around and socializing with other chickens. But it didn’t lose the kinds of things that normal human beings can lose.
On the other hand, we have some human beings who tragically are not going to ever have those sorts of experiences. This applies to those who are born with such severe brain damage that they will never be conscious, or that if conscious at all, their consciousness will be of a very limited kind, will have no degree of self-awareness. It’s the heritage of the Judeo-Christian view that say that nevertheless, if they’re human, their lives are enormously precious, much more precious than the life of, let’s say, the chimpanzee, who of course, is a being who is conscious. As Jane Goodall’s wonderful work shows, chimpanzees are clearly self-aware as well. Even if not making detailed plans for the future, they are at least aware of the possibility of doing something in the future, and of having a rich and complex social life with other members of the group.
It’s the religious view that says if you’re human, you’re special. That really is a relic of the idea that you’re made in the image of God, or perhaps you have an immortal soul. Or maybe the animals don’t count so much because we read in Genesis that God gave us dominion over the animals. Many Christians have said that basically mean s we can do what we like with them. Not all Christians say that, but many important Christians, like Paul, Augustine, and Aquinas, developed the tradition that basically we have no real duties to animals at all because they don’t have immortal souls and God gave us dominion over then, and so on.
Rejecting religion ought to make us think more deeply about some of these questions, about the questions of what we owe to nonhuman animals who have been so degraded by the religious tradition, merely into the status of property or things, that we unblinkingly accept locking up billions of them in factory farms where they never get to go outside or see sunlight or fresh air, and live incredibly crowded together for their entire lives before being roughly transported and sorted. That, I think, is a heritage of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
On the other hand, we have this idea that we must keep human beings alive no matter what their condition, even if they are terminally ill and they tell you that they don’t want to go on living any longer. You still cannot assist them to end their lives, or at least no legally – with the sole exception, in this country, of the state of Oregon. Of course, people do provide such assistance all the time, but they are taking legal risks. We need to rethink all of those question once we start to not adhere to the religious traditions from which those beliefs came.
Let me close by saying that I’m honored to receive this award from you. I hope that you’ll think about some of these ethical issues. I hope that you’ll also be considering the role that faith plays in political life.
I’d like to thank the Foundation again for the award.For more info on Peter Singer, go to his home page. A collection of material by and about him can be found here