Saturday, May 29, 2010

Oh. My Bad

A pair of men, one of whom had been sexually abused by an uncle as a child, beat to death an elderly man in an episode of vigilante justice against a sex offender.

Only one problem (outside, of course, of the fact that vigilante murders are illegal): "Although [Hugh] Edwards had a similar name and age as a registered sex offender, sheriff's officials said Edwards had absolutely no criminal record and was not a registered sex offender."

Now, I'd heard about this story (before it came out that the attackers killed the wrong man), but with the Gulf of Mexico becoming an open-air oil well, it didn't rise to the top. Which is a shame, as our collective hysteria around the sexual abuse of children is starting to have (hopefully) unintended consequences. In this case, even if the story had made the big time, I think that the fact that at least one of the killers already has a criminal record with some violent crimes on it would have allowed us to shift all of the blame onto the perpetrators, rather than deal with our own attitudes about this.

And that means, sooner or later, there's going to be another tragic misunderstanding.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Oh, Don't Mind Them

There has been quite a bit of debate (if you chose to call it that) stirred up by the proposed French ban on women wearing the burqa. Commentators on both sides of the issue have also been using it as cover to take pot shots at those they disagree with.

Debates like this usually tend to drift somewhat, and this one is no exception. Perhaps predictably, an element of social enlightenment or cultural superiority tends to creep in when no-one is looking. Consider the following closing statement from Wajahat Ali, writing on Slate: "But France is behaving like the Saudi Arabia of the EU by forcibly removing Muslim women's rights with a legislative guillotine."

I'd say that "the implication is clear," but Ali pretty much comes flat out an says it - you would expect this sort of thing from Saudi Arabia - but France should be above such considerations. Leaving aside for the time being the simple idea that there is something in France that feels threatened by the stereotype of Islam that the burqa represents (in much the same way that there is something in the Islamist worldview that feels threatened by a stereotype of France), why should France be any better than any other nation on Earth when it comes to the idea of: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do?" The world is full of cultural norms and taboos that have been given the force of law. And dress codes are the norm throughout the world, rather than the exception. Granted, in the United States for instance, it is merely culturally inappropriate, rather than illegal, to wear a string bikini to the office. But even a floor-length dress with full sleeves won't prevent the police from being called if nipples are exposed. Sure, if you ask the average American, they might tell you that a woman showing her breasts in public is inappropriate (we seem to have mislaid the word "immodest" some time back), but despite that, that opinion is by no means universal. (The efforts of Christian missionaries notwithstanding.)

Just about every culture on Earth has, to one degree or another, a finely developed sense of insult and rejection when it comes to outsiders who don't conform - some of them codify these things into law, and others don't. Foreign women visiting many Islamic nations are expected to at least wear a headscarf, if nothing else, but there can be severe consequences for non-compliance. Even high-level diplomats like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are expected to dress in accordance with local norms. On the hand, however, were the Japanese to institute a policy that everyone wear a kimono at all times, that would be considered beyond strange.

The French seem to be losing patience with the idea of a minority population that wants to live physically in France, and culturally somewhere else - and is quite vocal about the shortcomings of the locals. And to the degree that such a stand is at odds with their stated values, it's worth criticizing. But it's also worth being careful that we don't write off the places that never showed such patience in the first place, as "just being like that." While "the soft bigotry of low expectations" may be a cliché, it's no less real for that.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Rand Paul has taken it on the chin for his remark that: "I don't like the idea of telling private business owners – I abhor racism – I think it's a bad business decision to ever exclude anybody from your restaurant. But at the same time I do believe in private ownership."

Democrats and their allies have rushed out to paint Paul as a throwback racist, someone who would welcome the return of Whites Only drinking fountains and segregated schools. They've also been rushing to paint him as the face of the new Republicanism, and proof that the Tea Party, with whom Paul willingly identifies, IS chocked full of racists and other ne'er-do-wells who will support people who are bad for the nation.

In fairness to the Left, this is just the sort of thing that the Right does all the time. And, also just like the Right, the Left works to bury the actual point of a juicy comment in well, bullshit, when the ability to use it for political gain (or to stop the bleeding) presents itself.

It's important to realize, if you want to understand where Paul is coming from, that he's a Libertarian. And, in short, one of the central tenants of Libertarianism is: "That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves." - Thomas Jefferson. And in a very real way, many of his critics should be examining their stance. In the Perfect World of Rand Paul, hanging out a "Whites Only" or "Asians Need Not Apply" sign would be economic suicide. Slate's John Dickerson is correct when he notes that: "As a practical matter, that ignores history and the human behavior of the time." But that's true of a LOT of things - many of which we don't honestly expect will ever make a comeback. Do we really suspect that if the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were repealed tomorrow, that race relations in the United States would instantly - or ever - reset to 1963? When Conservatives rail about the Liberals blaming America first, that's one of the things that they're talking about - this idea that barbarism lurks just below the surface in American society, kept in check only by an activist government that's constantly on the lookout to make sure that people do the right thing.

You can make the point that Paul's optimistic view of human (or at least American) nature is misplaced. But not as misplaced as I think his critics would have us believe. Granted, while 1964 isn't exactly the distant past, it was, as far as this nation is concerned, a long time ago. It's unlikely that you could manage to re-instate the sort of society that we had back then, even if there was a very vocal (and perhaps violent) minority calling for it. Paul thinks that Americans have become permanently better than that. Therefore, it's something of a stretch to think that he doesn't support equal rights, just because he doesn't see government as being the best vehicle to deliver them.

To be sure, most Americans are probably too lazy to go out of their way to make the United States a Libertarian paradise. We've become too used to Big Government doing things for us, and are too sensitive to anything that smacks of a hit to our standards of living. But that's not Rand Paul's fault.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


When I was a child, I was a Roman Catholic, although never a very good one. I had only the barest amount of Faith, and even that much with great difficulty. I often found religious strictures and beliefs to be confusing at best and contradictory at worst. But what sealed things for me was attending a Catholic high school. No one, in my experience, can make even simple theological disputes into conflicts that rival world wars faster than a group of teens. When I began to express the idea that Satan was a fiction, in many ways the perfect (if not literal) scapegoat for people to hide behind to avoid facing up to their own bad acts, I became the target of a crusade to convince me that the Adversary was quite real. The primary argument was a simple one of duality - if I didn't believe that Satan was a real, if spiritual being, then I couldn't believe in God either. The potential that the Universe was ruled by a kind and loving God paled before the reality that my classmates needed no supernatural assistance to be jackasses, and so I chose, to the consternation of a surprisingly large number of people, to spend the remainder of high school and pretty much all of college as a staunch, if dour, Atheist with a low opinion of Humanity.

It turns out, perhaps, that I was already lost by that point. In our Theology classes, perhaps the second most contentious topic, after pornography (which took most of us off guard with its sheer breadth) was abortion. We were taught that abortion was pretty much always wrong - with basically one exception.

"Deliberately we have always used the expression 'direct attempt on the life of an innocent person,' 'direct killing.' Because if, for example, the saving of the life of the future mother, independently of her pregnant condition, should urgently require a surgical act or other therapeutic treatment which would have as an accessory consequence, in no way desired or intended, but inevitable, the death of the fetus, such an act could no longer be called a direct attempt on an innocent life. Under these conditions the operation can be lawful, like other similar medical interventions — granted always that a good of high worth is concerned, such as life, and that it is not possible to postpone the operation until after the birth of the child, nor to have recourse to other efficacious remedies."
- Pope Pius XII (Acta Apostilicae Sedis 1951)
Now, the Benedictines who ran the place perhaps took a step farther than this, and basically allowed that the child could be the direct target of a surgery designed to kill it - so long as a) there was no other way to save the mother and b) there was no way to save the fetus. In other words, it if the pregnancy itself were the condition that put the mother's life at risk, and it did so in such a way that the baby could not be saved, then abortion was allowable. Of all of the things that confused or disturbed me about Catholic doctrine, there was some comfort in the fact that it didn't include the idea that God capriciously expected people to watch loved ones die for no reasonable Earthly benefit.

Well, it turns out, depending on who you ask, that we were being lead into Error. Who knew?
"They were in quite a dilemma," says Lisa Sowle Cahill, who teaches Catholic theology at Boston College. "There was no good way out of it. The official church position would mandate that the correct solution would be to let both the mother and the child die. I think in the practical situation that would be a very hard choice to make."

"She consented in the murder of an unborn child," says the Rev. John Ehrich, the medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix. "There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child. But — and this is the Catholic perspective — you can't do evil to bring about good. The end does not justify the means."
I don't know if something changed along the way, or if Church officials have simply decided that making an exemption for cases in which everyone dies is simply too big a loophole. Or if, as in so many other things, those who represent a particular viewpoint are being incorrectly portrayed as representing the whole. Regardless, the moody, misanthropic Atheist of my young adulthood is whispering: "I told you so."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Help, Help! I'm Being Repressed!

While I was chucking junk mail into the recycle bin today, I heard what sounded like a hawk's scream. Despite the fact that for the past three years, I've lived in the vicinity of at least one Red-tailed hawk, and once managed to get within three yards of a bird, I'd never heard one actually vocalize live, so I didn't really know what one sounded like. (Or, to be more precise, I didn't know if the sound effect that I'd come to associate with hawks was the real deal.)

But when I looked up, sure enough, pretty much right over my head was a Red-tailed hawk. The poor thing was being mobbed by a half-dozen crows, with more on the way, and was clearly less than pleased with this turn of events. It's too bad the hawks don't hunt in pairs or groups. A back-up hawk could have easily picked off a crow for their dinner.

It was an interesting contest to watch, and even more interesting to listen to. While the scream of a hawk is one of the more clichéd sound effects out there, there's nothing quite like hearing the real thing, especially from only 30 or so feet away. The hawk was pretty adamant about minding its own business, which seemed to be looking for something on the ground. There are rabbits in the greenbelt, and I'm sure the hawk would have liked to catch one. Of course, as far as the crows were concerned, they, or any chicks they may have had were the hawk's business, and so they came out as a team to protect themselves. (Which sometimes works out badly for the crows. I saw a group of them mobbing a pair of bald eagles not long ago. Bald eagles, it turns out, don't seem to eat crow, even when they bat one out of the sky.)

This episode ended like they usually do, with the hawk gliding off to find a safe perch, and the the crows abruptly breaking off the chase to race back to wherever it was they wanted to keep the hawk away from. But all of the players will be back on stage tomorrow.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

You May Also Enjoy...

I wonder of Blogger has done a little housecleaning. Every so often, I click on the "Next Blog" link up on the top of the page, and see who else is out there. Normally, this is an exercise is island hopping through people's random online diaries, punctuated by redirect attempts to malware sites and random "blogs" that are thinly veiled advertisements. It was, to be quite honest, really disappointing.

But this morning was a different experience - not a single bogus blog in a number of jumps. But there was something else strange - almost every blog I visited was about politics...

The Arc of North Carolina Policy Blog
Welcome to The Arc of North Carolina. Working with and for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities for over 50 years.

Sessions Watch
Keeping track of the voting record and rantings of right-wing extremist Congressman Pete Sessions (TX-32)

General topics of life, people, politics, religion, family, travel, photography, and even sports!


Heavy-Handed Politics

Marc's FTRW Blog
This is my political blog. It is my purpose to attack the foibles of the Right Wing and promote the moderate agenda.

Private Beach
Trying to make sense of a weird world - and maybe make it a little better

Investigating Obama
Examining the underreported ideology, alliances, and allegiances of a "Commander in Chief" who is at war with America
When we showed he was a neo-Marxist before the election, it was not a hoax
A revolutionary agent saboteur (and an unconstitutionally certified "president") destroying our free America of Sovereign Citizens, to transform it into a globally controlled society?
"You decide"

Mitt Rocks!
A Mitt Romney for President Blog

Rabid Sanity
That which does not kill me only delays the inevitable.

Die Welt ist Klein

B.D.'s world

View from Minas Morgul
My blog in English about politics, sports, art, history and basically anything that comes to mind.

Red Right and True
Learn How Politics Affect YOU!

Thinking Out Loud

Middletown Mike
I believe it is possible to have "Truth, Justice and the American Way" all at once here in Middletown, the Bayshore and the great state of New Jersey.

Guelph First .com

The Independent Voice of the UK Independence Party

Christian Philosopher Activist

mr eugenides
trying to hold back the rage...

SheepDog Barking
Hunt the Wolf and the Jackal
After SheepDog Barking, the list began to double back on itself, so that seemed as good a time as any to stop and take stock of my virtual travels. It seemed to be mix of left and right wing, although the Right seemed to be better represented than the Left. There were a few weblogs that didn't have an obvious political bent - those are the ones listed in italics. Almost all were from the United States - there were a smattering of UK blogs (Private Beach is a UK expat in Hong Kong), and one from Serbia. All were in English - gone were the Asian and other international blogs that I used to regularly encounter.

Given that I doubt that the Blogger section of the greater worldwide Blogosphere is populated nearly exclusively by English-language political blogs, I suspect that Google has taken to grouping blogs by general subject matter, and the "Next Blog" button now takes you to the next stop on the Webring (remember those), as it were. Which makes perfect sense - if you're reading one sort of weblog, it's not terribly unlikely that you might appreciate other weblogs like it.

I'm amused by the company that I find Nobody in Particular keeping. Perhaps I'll visit the neighborhood again later and see what's up on the block. On the other hand, maybe I'll try a different focus for a while, and see if the virtual neighborhood changes. It will take a while to eclipse "Politics" and "Society" as the dominant labels, but it will be interesting to see what evolves.

Tunes of the Wierd

I was listening to a story on one of our local NPR stations yesterday, and they were talking about a strange humming sound that can be heard on Vashon Island by some of the residents. At the end of the piece, they used the theme from The X-Files as the outro music.

Now, when I was growing up, such a piece would have been accompanied by the theme from The Twilight Zone, and that prodded me to think about the transition. I couldn't tell you when it occurred, but I realize that by now, it's more or less complete. Were I to be speaking to my niece about some strange happenstance, and start whistling The Twilight Zone, the poor child would be completely baffled, even though my sister would immediately recognize it. I'm curious to know what that cutoff is. And now I wonder if there wasn't some old radio show tune that The Twilight Zone knocked from its cultural perch.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


"Worst-case thinking encourages society to adopt fear as one of the dominant principles around which the public, the government and institutions should organize their life. It institutionalizes insecurity and fosters a mood of confusion and powerlessness."
Precautionary culture and the rise of possibilistic risk assessment
And as the saying goes: "Living in fear is an oxymoron."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Looks like my e-mail address has been busy recently. I didn't realize it was going around signing up for stuff, but I guess if you're going to win, you have to play.

Congratulations!!! Your email address has won $500,000.00USD‏
From: Australian Lottery Inc.

Sent: xxx x/xx/10 4:02 PM

Congratulations!!! Your Email Address won the sum of US$500,000.00 in the Australian Lotto conducted through Electronic ballot from email addresses from different companies in the world. fill the form and also send code "xxxxxx" immediately to Mr. Hart Larry at: for payment now. or call +xxxxxxxxxxxx

Miss. Lisbon Addisson

Head Publicity
Australian Lottery Inc.
I wonder what my e-mail address will do with the money? I could see it getting into real estate, since prices are now so low. Or maybe just living it up in Vegas for a while. I wonder if it will turn up at a Tea Party rally, having decided that it doesn't want to share any of the half-million with the government?

I hope it will write, but now that it's got some money, I guess my e-mail address will move on with its new life, and forget about me. It's like that, isn't it? Your e-mail address suddenly comes into some money, and forgets all about the little guy that made it was it is today.

But I'm not bitter.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Ad Infinitum

And on, and on, and on, and on, and on...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The PC Fascisti* Ride Again

Every so often, political correctness takes over someone's brain and they seem to completely take leave of their senses.

Such was the case in Morgan Hill, California when some students showed up for class yesterday in clothing bedecked with American flags. They were sent home, because it was Cinco de Mayo, and this show of American patriotism was deemed "incendiary." Mexican-American students, it was reasoned, would become so angry that it was feared that fights would break out on campus. Meanwhile, some Mexican-American students played the role of aggrieved minority to the hilt, incensed not at the fashion crime the tacky patriot-wear represented, but at the unconscionable insult of an American student daring to wear the American flag at a school in... America.

"I think they should apologize cause it is a Mexican Heritage Day," Annicia Nunez, a Live Oak High student, said. "We don't deserve to be get disrespected like that. We wouldn't do that on Fourth of July."
Right. Something tells me that if I go to Mexico on the Fourth of July, and find someone with a Mexican flag on his shirt, I doubt that he'll feel that he's disrespecting me by doing so.

White Americans are often portrayed as unreasonably touchy about the whole PC thing, but this, honestly, earns them my sympathy. While Fox News is no doubt salivating over the chance to raise the hackles of their audience by blaring this story from the rooftops, there is a point here. A group of American students (the children of ex-pats) living in a foreign nation, who insisted that the natives refrain from wearing their national flag on the Fourth of July would be branded as Ugly Americans, and half the planet would be disapprovingly clucking their tongues at us. Such behavior would be considered completely unacceptable, a sure sign of Imperialism and American arrogance run amok.

I understand that Mexican-Americans may hold Cinco de Mayo to be important, but for most other Americans, it's little more than an excuse to drink Corona and tequila half the night. That's part of the deal one signs up for when living in a foreign country.

* This is an inside joke. The PC Fascisti was a group consisting solely of a friend's answering machine: Guido - the voice of oppressed small appliances everywhere! As you may have guessed, Guido could be relied upon to regale one with a tale of woe concerning a fellow small appliance whenever his masters weren't present to answer the telephone. Usually in a laughably bad pseudo-Italian accent. But he did offer some amusing insights into his owner's views of political correctness.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Let Us Fray

For those of you that feel deprived because of not having had a "War on Christmas" last year, you may console yourself with the knowledge that a pointless and religiously-themed argument has broken out over The National Day of Prayer this year.

"This makes us who are not religious feel excluded," [Annie Laurie] Gaylor[, who runs the Freedom From Religion Foundation] says. "It makes us political outsiders. It makes me feel like the president is telling me that I'm supposed to believe in a God, and there's something wrong with me — and even if I don't believe in a God, I'm still supposed to pray."
Day Of Prayer Becomes Culture War Skirmish
I expect that the answer to Mrs. Gaylor's dilemma is to not give the President such power over her emotions. Not to be flippant, but if the President calling for a token (and yes, it is a token) day of prayer "makes" you feel that there's some sort of obligation to believe, and that you're a broken person for not doing so, perhaps you care a little too much about what the President thinks, and whether or not he might approve. It's also worth noting that there is an interesting intersection between language and mentality here. While it's common to refer to things as "making" us feel a certain way, this isn't true in a strictly literal sense - no one really has the power to force certain feelings on someone. Granted, our emotions often seem completely outside of our control, but I think that the world would be a completely different place were emotionally manipulating others such a trivial exercise.

This isn't to say that there are no issues. Being an admitted atheist is a nation of believers can sometimes feel like painting a bull's-eye on your back - you can easily become a target for the fears and insecurities of the religious. And there is a strain of religious thought that aims to have the Establishment Clause interpreted in such a way that it would effectively outlaw atheism.
"The Constitution never says there was a separation of church and state. It is the freedom OF religion, not the freedom FROM religion. And that's why we're fighting so hard." Reverend Ken Hutcherson, Antioch Bible Church, Redmond, Washington. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 14 October, 2004.)
(And lest you think I'm reading some insecurity into the reverend's words where perhaps none was intended, you could be right. But this is the same man who proclaimed: "God hates soft men. God hates effeminate men. If I was in a drugstore and some guy opened the door for me, I'd rip his arm off and beat him with the wet end." A model of security and self-validation he is not.)

But - that said, the answer to that is not to play up one's own fears and insecurities.
"[...] we are offended and injured when our government tells us that we have to pray and when to pray and why to pray."
When the requirement for personal prayer is codified into law, and refusal to participate is a crime, let's talk. But if the "coercion" comes simply from the disapproving stares of snobbish believers, even those who happen to work for the government, perhaps the FFRF and like thinkers should just tell them to get bent. (It's very therapeutic, I'm told.) By the same token, it stretches the definition of the word just a bit too far to presume that atheists (or simply those people whose belief system doesn't allow for a personal deity that can be propitiated with prayer) are "disenfranchised" by the idea of a National Day of Prayer. I'm fairly certain that I've never been asked to prove attendance at any sort of religious function to obtain my voter registration card and absolutely certain that I've never perjured myself by attesting that I've been to one on a registration form.

Of course, I'm leaving aside the idea that this very fine public whine is simply a means of attention seeking, using that new American standby of the victimization sob story. That's a post for another time.

And, In Other News‏

I’ve been learning how to use a fire extinguisher. My Irony Detector redlined, then spontaneously combusted.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Well-Kept Secret

Despite the fact that Expo 2010 Shanghai China seems to be a big deal in other parts of the world, it had more or less started before I heard word one about it. I know that there are a lot of other things going on in the world, I was still surprised at the lack of buzz around this event.

It seems that the United States isn't as concerned with such things as we used to be. China, on the other hand, sees events like this and the Olympics as their chance to really impress the rest of the world with their progress and modernity. One wonders if they're disappointed that the U.S. seems too busy to notice.

Spam On Lie

I must be big in the Far East. I keep finding comments in Chinese on my posts - normally followed by a number of periods - each one being a link to some site that likely sells pornography, cut-rate pharmaceuticals or knock-offs, designer goods or stolen property (wonder if I could get a hot new phone that way...).

If I've heard once, I've heard a million times that comment spam and similar stuff persists because it's so cheap. You fire up your automated Blogspot 'Bot, and have it create a few dozen accounts, and then have it simply crawl around to various weblogs and create some random comment filled with links that you hope that some complete idiot encounters and clicks on. And that's the part that confuses me. I get the comment spam that I tend to see on more commercial sites, like newspapers or more formalized weblogs and commentaries that makes no effort to hide the fact that they're selling something. While this up-front approach makes them easy to ignore, you might actually find someone who wants a knock-off Coach bag, and thinks that embedding an advertisement in the comments section of a news story about a quadruple-homicide is a clever marketing scheme. Hey - it could happen.

But who, realistically, is going to click on some random link embedded in some random dot at the end of some random comment on some random posting on some random weblog, and hope for the best? I mean, yeah, it's cheap, so cheap in fact that you only need one hit in a few hundred to make some small profit for your efforts, but do people really even get that? And if you're simply pushing malware, don't you still need something that a potential target with half the sense that dogs gave to cabbage would actually click on? "Hey, look, I found a link to on a blog posting, cleverly disguised as a blue period! This must be my lucky day!" Trust me, anyone that dim likely doesn't have any room left for your malware on his computer.