26 February 2007
I guess this is par for the course for Paula Zahn, who recently aired a discussion about atheism in which no atheist appeared. (Thanks to Five Public Opinions for covering this.) CNN could have brought in any number of qualified people to discuss the matter, and they might have informed the public of just what this is all about. To bring in three interested laymen to discuss this seems absurd.
The fact is we have way too little to go on to ever make such a case. Even if we accept that a Jesus son of Joseph was entombed in this place, and that there is a Mariamne there who is unrelated to this Jesus by blood, it proves nothing about the Jesus who was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Sorry, but that's how it is. Jesus and Joseph were common names. There is no reason to suppose that this Jesus and this Mariamne were married. There is no good reason to believe that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were anything but teacher and disciple, and the references in the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary should be read in the light of various claims that Peter, or John, or Thomas, or Mary was Jesus' favorite disciple.
21 February 2007
[A belated contribution to the late and lamented Word.]
Our president--Mr. Stay-the-Course--is talking about a surge in Iraq. The media, the pundits, whatever, have picked up that word and run with it. Surge. What, if anything, do they mean by surge?
It’s a word I’ve had troubles with before. A century or so ago, when I was in grade school, I remember having to use “surge” in a sentence. I recalled the climax of Henry Kuttner's "What You Need"--when the anti-hero, wearing the smooth-soled shoes given him by the proprietor of a mysterious shop, can't keep his footing in a crowd on a slippery platform, and falls in front of a moving train. Remembering the scene I wrote, "There was a surge towards the edge of the platform." My teacher didn't accept that as a legitimate use of the word. I took my case to a higher authority--my mother--but she ruled that while my sentence was perfectly correct, I had not demonstrated in it that I actually understood the use of the word. Our definition had used the word swelling, or something like that, and from my sentence it could have been supposed that I thought that the platform was swollen at one edge.
Webster’s defines surge as a "violent rolling, sweeping, or swelling motion," among other things. My own feeling is that President Stay-the-Course and the media celebrities trailing in his wake have failed to demonstrate, at least as badly as I did, that they know the meaning of the word. What we are talking about is the gradual introduction of twenty thousand, or forty thousand, or whatever the real number is—not that we’ll ever be told—to Baghdad, to assist in trying to establish order there. Not a surge. More like a seep, or an ooze, a trickle, or maybe a creep. The thesaurus comes up with bleed as a possible synonym, grimly appropriate, but not in the sense I had in mind.
Language change is eternal, or at least so the linguists seem to think, but I feel that a kind of creeping obfuscation has grown up over our language that obscures and defiles the sharp distinctions that should exist. While the infer/imply debate seems to be a lost cause, to the impoverishment of the English language, surely we can still resist new misuses of words, particularly when important distinctions are lost. Parody and burlesque, for example. What Liam Lynch does is parody. What Weird Al does is burlesque. There is a difference, and calling burlesques parodies, and parodies also parodies, makes the language less precise. Likewise, calling a ripple a surge seems to me to blunt the instrument we communicate with, and perhaps we even think with, if Dr. Watson and his followers are right.
Which brings me to the three Rs—Reduction, Redundancy, and Redaction. All three of these words are under attack by creeping obfuscation. Redaction has been confounded with Censorship, Redundancy with Joblessness, and Reduction with Expansion.
Okay, reduction. How on earth could anybody confuse reduction and expansion? Are not increase and reduce opposites? Well, let’s take a look at the position of the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate on this word. The APPCDC is a little-known outfit. The United States belongs to it, as well as Australia, South Korea, India, Japan, and China. According to one writer it is one of George Bush’s unsung triumphs. The APPCDC is promising to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by half by the end of the century. And this without slowing the economy down or requiring any painful sacrifices by the people of the world. Sound impossible? Well, actually, it is, at least by the methods pursued by the APPCDC. The thing is, the APPCDC has its own private definition of reduce. We usually think of reduction as meaning decreasing the amount of something. The APPCDC has its own notion. For it, reduce means increase at a lower rate of speed. A scene from The Motor Chums in Strange Waters may perhaps illustrate the point:
“Slow down,” shrieked Ben Hangdog wildly, as the car increased its pace down the narrow country lane. “We’re going to crash!”
“Oh that’s impossible,” chuckled short Ned Eliot, “as the piano tuner said of the twelve-inch pianist. Not with Tom Wilshire driving.”
“In any case,” Harry Fletcher observed precisely, “Tom is in fact slowing down.”
“How can that be?” inquired Ben Hangdog wildly. “The speedometer just rounded sixty.”
“As you just observed,” replied Harry, “It took Tom no less than thirty-eight seconds to go from forty miles per hour to sixty.”
“So what?” screeched Ben. “We’re almost up to sixty-five! The gear box will never stand it!”
“But it took him almost twelve seconds. At the present rate we will only be at seventy-five when thirty-eight seconds have elapsed. The car is thus slowing down.”
“You’re crazy,” muttered Ben nervously, reaching for the door handle.
“No, it’s the simplest of simple math,” said Tom Wilshire confidently.
Made Redundant is now a synonym for being without a job, Redundancy refers to joblessness, and the word is a synonym for superfluous, even useless. This blunts the meaning. A certain amount of redundancy is necessary in a system, to make it robust. Redundancy refers to multiplication, not to necessity. We have perfectly good words for the concept of lacking necessity—superfluous, for one, and unnecessary, for another. Gratuitous. Uncalled for. Unneeded. Unwanted. The language itself uses redundancy as a device to counter noise, with such points of grammar as agreement of subject and verb, or of adjective and noun. The fact that the same information is delivered in more than one way is an example of redundancy—but the redundancy is nonetheless necessary grammatically. Huge systems (like the electrical grid that supplies the power we use to write and read this very entry) are designed with a certain amount of necessary redundancy in order to ensure that the failure of a part doesn’t mean the failure of the whole.Now the other day when I was watching TV, or at least I had it on in the background, I heard a bit of dialog. The prosecution offered the defense a copy of an avadavat. “The name of the witness has been redacted,” protests the defense attorney. Redacted! I believe the term she was looking for was removed, or perhaps obliterated. The technical term is censored. Redacting a document does not mean censoring it—though censorship may well be one object of a redaction. Redacting a document is editing it—creating a new edition, perhaps to add material, perhaps to abridge it, perhaps to combine it with another account of the same events. Redaction criticism examines such an edited document, focusing on the differences between it and its source. This new and perverse use of the word to mean censor seems to me a kind of political correctness—censor is a bad word, so we just say redact. Never mind the damage done by this abuse of language.
15 February 2007
That the solid earth we stand on might be hurling at some inconceivable speed through space is counter-intuitive, to say the least. But if we accept it--and the idea was by no means new when Galileo started peering through his primitive telescope--might not the other bodies we see be worlds as well? The moon, Venus, Jupiter? Could they be inhabited? And why hadn't the authorities, either religious or secular, said anything about all this? And if God wasn't up there sitting above the sphere of the fixed stars, keeping everything in motion, turning the cosmic mechanism with a gigantic crank--well, then, where was he?
In the end Galileo, and Kepler, and Newton, and those that followed them would crack the tiny medieval cosmos open like an egg, revealing the splendor of the universe we know today. More than that, as time and distance commingle, we get to look back in time, and see the universe as it was. It's been one hell of a trip from the tube Galileo looked through to the massive arrays of mirrors here on earth and the Hubble out in space, but he was there at the beginning, and he helped to start it all.
As 15 February 2007 is Galileo's 443rd birthday, a look at how he fares in the news might be interesting. Eminent climatologist and Nobel laureate Frank Beckmann compares himself to Galileo in connection with the "controversy" over global warming. (I assume from his magisterial tone on the subject that he must be an eminent climatologist and Nobel laureate in addition to holding a day job at WJR.) "No, I consider myself and fellow doubters to be more like Columbus (and Galileo), going against the grain of conventional thought. Columbus was ridiculed by his contemporaries who, by ‘consensus,’ had determined that the world was flat, much as Galileo did with his earth/sun argument. It’s the alarmists who represent the Catholic Church of your example."
This is not inspiring. Columbus, by the by, was "ridiculed by his contemporaries" for believing that the world was about twelve thousand miles in circumference, instead of the twenty-five thousand or so they had determined it was. The issue was the size, not the shape, of the earth. And Columbus's experimental proof of the concept--his reaching the Indies by crossing the Atlantic--in fact failed, when it was determined that Columbus had not in fact reached the Indies at all. Does everybody sleep through history, or what?
Elsewhere, we find Jack Cashill describing one Dr. Richard Sternberg as "the Galileo of the Smithsonian scandal". "What did happen to Dr. Sternberg is shocking even by Washington standards. The damage done to his career is real, irreversible and symptomatic of the lengths the science establishment will go to suppress challenges to the most vulnerable of its paradigms, namely Darwinism and its derivatives."
Again, not exactly inspiring. "The most vulnerable of its paradigms"? I don't have the facts on this, but as far as I can gather from the report, it looks as though Dr. Sternberg as editor of a scientific publication bypassed the ordinary review process to publish a substandard paper by a buddy of his. As I don't see that much of anything was actually done about this shocking breach of ethics on his part, I likewise don't see how this makes him a "Galileo". Perhaps somebody can enlighten me.
I don't know how Galileo became the patron saint of the anti-science crowd, but it seems somehow not wholly inappropriate. From the hindsight of history we watch Galileo take the first steps towards something resembling science--but they are baby steps. He reached wrong conclusions about comets, and tides, and the elliptical orbits of planets, and defended them doggedly in the face of what appears today--in hindsight anyway--considerable evidence. His understanding of science was primitive--much like the understanding of those who cite him today. Of course he had the excuse of having grown up in a dense jungle of medieval superstition, christian theocracy, and fossilized natural history. What, I wonder, is Beckmann's, or Cahill's excuse?
(17 February 2007: The Lippard Blog provides a link to a piece expounding the Sternberg Affair.)
13 February 2007
And the world continues to turn. I can't help but feel that these Ku Klux Katholics need to get out in the real world a bit more. There's real anti-Catholic bias out there, without making things up.
12 February 2007
Apparently I am not alone in hearing these questions. Blue Bayou (John Edwards and the Bloggers) notes: "I spoke to several Catholic friends this week who described them as a 'bunch of scary lunatics,' actually. The Catholic League is a political group that represents a pretty extreme fringe; that's fine, but let's not mistake them for something else." That's kind of reassuring, and removes a black mark from the church St. Peter is supposed to have founded.
Ah, but fortunately we have Custos Fidei (The Ignorance of John Whiteside) to set us straight. "The Catholic League is the largest Catholic civil rights organization in the United States. Because several of his alleged 'Catholic friends' state that the Catholic League is a bunch of 'bunchy of scary lunatics,' is not investigative reporting nor accurate reporting for that matter." So much for that, I guess, and the Church is once again mired to her hips in this moral filth.
Still, a look at the names of those who direct this organization has a lot of familiar names; it kind of makes it look like a shill for the Republican party. (The anti-Democratic remarks on the site don't help that appearance either.) Is the Catholic League an "Astro-Turf" Group? Bulworth asks, noting that "Members of the Catholic League's board of advisers include conservative author and media analyst L. Brent Bozell III; conservative radio host and syndicated columnist Linda Chavez; right-wing pundit and author Dinesh D'Souza; former Republican presidential and senatorial candidate Alan Keyes; and National Review Washington editor Kate O'Beirne. | Yeah, some Catholic group. It reads like the board of the Heritage Foundation."
So--I don't know. However many people they may represent, whoever is behind them, the key point here is their bizarre double standard on bigotry. Apparently it is all right for them to say any evil or disgusting thing they like about people they oppose for whatever reason, but any criticism whatsoever of the social agenda being pushed by the Roman Catholic Church in America is is (mis)labeled anti-Catholic bigotry. It is just fine for the church to come into my state, call us murderers and accuse us of trying to defraud doctors (as they did in opposing our Death With Dignity ballot proposition--which I voted against, by the way) and say all sorts of evil and disgusting things about us. It is perfectly okay for their leader to accuse our country of hating the handicapped (as Pope John Paul II did in my hearing) and in his vast ignorance accuse us of other imaginary crimes. But it''s "anti-Catholic bigotry" if we have the audacity to call them on their lies and hatred.
As Blue Bayou quite rationally pointed out, "Criticizing the Catholic Church or its belief is not 'anti-Catholic bigotry.' ... if a church is going to act like a political action committee, those activities are a valid target of criticism."
Oh no they're not, cries Custos Fidei; the Church, he says does not "[act] as a political action committee." Instead, he claims, "the Catholic Church teaches timeless truths in Catechesis and during Mass, among many places..." Thus Custos Fidei thinks there is a "line between the teachings of the Church and political activism."
I know for a fact that Custos Fidei is full of crap on this point. Nobody has any quarrel with the Church teaching timeless truths in its own private ceremonies for those who wish to be there, though if those "timeless truths" still include heretic-burning and gay-bashing they qualify as bigotry. But again, when the church came to Oregon to try to force a change in our laws, these guys woke me up with foul and offensive phone calls, they sent filthy fliers to my house, and they stomped around the state with political rallies making false claims and absurd judgments. In other parts of the country they have tried to influence the way politicians vote by making threats, they have tried to get their theology passed as law for the rest of us, and have engaged in all sorts of anti-democratic and anti-American behavior. It is thus Custos Fidei who comes off in this as ignorant, misinformed--or a liar.
Fidelis (Hate Speech Tolerated; Fidelis Decries Double Standard) claims to be "shocked and appalled that John Edwards would stand by a campaign staff member who has viciously attacked Catholics and all Christians publicly on her personal blog. If any staffer had written similarly about gays, blacks, or Jews, there is no question Edwards would fire them immediately. Sadly, it appears that former Senator Edwards applies a different standard to attacks on Catholics." This is crazy talk. There is no parallel. Words fail me, but fortunately not Raging Red (Undecided Voter). She notes that there is a big difference "between challenging people for what they believe and attacking people for who they are. The latter is the definition of bigotry, the former is not." Exactly. Her next paragraph is worth reading in its entirety:
Criticizing Catholics and other conservative Christians for their desire to enshrine their anti-abortion, anti-contraception, and anti-sex beliefs into law is not anti-Catholic or anti-Christian or anti-religion. It's not intolerant of religion per se, it's intolerant of a particular political philosophy, and there's nothing offensive about that. Maligning people because they are Jewish or Muslim or gay is bigoted, it's intolerant of people simply for who they are, and it's offensive. That's a big difference, and unfortunately, it seems to be the opinion of many that it is not okay to criticize people's religious beliefs, even when those beliefs take the form of political activism.After that, what more can I say?
[Other sites that noted this story include No More Mr. Nice Blog (The Head of the Catholic League Wants An Extra Fifteen Minutes), Matthew Yglesias (Catholic League), America Blog (AP Quotes Anti-Semitic Homophobe), and News Hounds (Special Report Gives Platform to Catholic League President)].
10 February 2007
Check out this story. If you can believe it, two teenagers have been convicted of child pornography for taking private pictures of themselves. The facts of the case, taken from the decision of the court, seem to be as follows. On 25 March 2004 two teenagers, 16-year-old AH, and her 17-year-old boyfriend, JGW, "took digital photos of themselves naked and engaged in sexual behavior." This would seem to be harmless enough, depending what kind of "sexual behavior" is meant, but not according to the state of Florida. The state admits that "the photos were never shown to a third party" but asserts that the state has a "compelling ... interest in preventing the production of these photographs," and goes on to claim implausibly that "criminal prosecution was the least intrusive means of furthering the State's compelling interest." Following this line of illogic, Florida charged 16-year-old AH with "producing, directing or promoting a photograph or representation that she knew included sexual conduct of a child in violation of section 827.071(3), Florida Statutes." AH's seventeen-year-old boyfriend, JGW, was charged in addition with possession of child pornography. This latter was apparently because AH and JGW "e-mailed the photos to another computer [JGW's?] from AH's home."
On 24 October 2005 AH "filed a motion to dismiss ... arguing that section 827.071(3), Florida Statutes, was unconstitutional as applied to her." She argued this on the commonsense grounds that violating her and her boyfriend's privacy was obviously not "the least intrusive means of furthering a compelling state interest", noting by the by that her "victim" JGW was in fact older than she was. Although in any rational jurisdiction this should have been the end of this nonsense, we read that on 30 November 2005 her motion to dismiss was denied.
The illogic of this? Follow along closely; this is like reading medieval theology--it requires devout attention.
Assuming that the child’s right to privacy is implicated, the standard for evaluating whether the State may regulate the sexual conduct of minors, articulated in B.B. v. State, 659 So. 2d 256, 258-59 (Fla. 1995), requires the State to show both that it has a compelling interest and that it is furthering this interest in the least intrusive manner.
As to the first prong of the test, whether the State has a compelling interest in regulating the sexual behavior of minors, this Court recognizes a compelling state interest in protecting children from sexual exploitation, particularly the form of sexual exploitation involved in this case. This compelling interest exists whether the person sexually exploiting the child is an adult or a minor and is certainly triggered by the production of 117 photographs of minors engaging in graphic sexual acts.. State v. A.R.S., 684 So. 2d 1383, 1387 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996).
The Court further finds that prosecuting the child under the statute in question is the least intrusive means of furthering the State’s compelling interest. Not prosecuting the child would do nothing to further the State’s interest. Prosecution enables the State to prevent future illegal, exploitative acts by supervising and providing any necessary counseling to the child. The Court finds that the State has shown that Section 827.071(3), Florida Statutes, as applied to the child, is the least intrusive means of furthering the State’s compelling interest in preventing the sexual exploitation of children, rendering the statute constitutional.Now please note--prong 1--Florida's "compelling interest in regulating the sexual behavior of minors" consists in its need to protect children from exploiting themselves. Was there any evidence shown whatsoever that AH or JGW used or intended to use these photographs for any purpose except as a remembrance of a special occasion? Well, I don't know--we don't have the trial transcript available (quite properly by the way) and so maybe that was covered, but it is the key question, and it is entirely ignored in the decision.
As for prong 2--that trying AH (and for that matter JGW) as child pornographers was the "least intrusive" option for the state--the argument (if that's what it can be called) is ludicrous. "Not prosecuting the child would do nothing to further the State’s interest." That's the entire argument. In point of fact the state could have taken many actions that did not involve harming AH and JGW by labeling them (falsely) as child pornographers, and that could have involved supervision and necessary counseling to protect them from exploiting themselves in the future. I would have suggested as a good start dismissing the original case with prejudice. However, that's neither here nor there. Only an absolute idiot could suggest that this extreme approach was the "least intrusive" option for Florida. As Frank Zappa once memorably observed in another connection, it's like opting for decapitation as a cure for dandruff.
Not that I see anything that needs "curing" here. People memorialize important moments in their lives in a variety of manners; if taking private photographs is to be construed as "child pornography", then what about minors writing accounts of their experiences in diaries or journals? People have a right to preserve their memories and document their lives in whatever way works for them. To first violate their privacy and then use that as an excuse for prosecution seems to me to go beyond Kafka into stark insanity.
Ah, but did they have a right of privacy? Not according to Judge Wolf, who reviewed the lower court decision on appeal. According to Wolf, they lost their right of privacy by the mere act of recording the event. I cannot stress this enough--in Florida the mere fact of keeping a record of one's private affairs constitutes the giving up one's right to privacy, if Wolf's reading of the law is correct.
This is only his first point, however. In his second point the Judge appears to go off the deep end, spouting ageist clichés and suchlike nonsense. According to Judge Wolf, teenagers have no reasonable expectation of privacy for pictures or other mementos because "Minors who are involved in a sexual relationship ... have no reasonable expectation that ... the photographs will not be shared with others intentionally or unintentionally." Minors, it seems, by definition cannot "be involved in a mature committed relationship," unlike adults, and so "have no reasonable expectation that their relationship will continue." He goes on to speculate that greed might be a good motive for somebody to show the pictures to others.
The irrationality of all this makes my skin crawl. Something is missing in the judge's argument. What does the tendency of teenagers who engage in sexual relationships to ultimately move on to another partner have to do with the likelihood of the pictures being shown to others? I suppose the judge is suggesting that a former sexual partner would be more likely to share the pictures with others than a present sexual partner, but this seems tenuous. Does the judge have any data to support this notion? And in particular does he have any data to suggest that this risk is so great as to be a significant danger?
In my experience, most such mementos end up destroyed or tucked away somewhere safe after a breakup. As far as I can tell, only a minority of these end up circulating to others through malice or indifference. Judge Wolf seems to be suggesting that the situation here is different, because one partner or the other would almost certainly be motivated by bravado or greed to distribute these pictures. I would like to see the evidence that supports this astounding assertion--and I don't mean anecdotal evidence about the occasional exception. I mean hard statistical data about the actual likelihood of it happening.
Here is what Judge Padovano makes of the argument in his dissent:
The majority concludes that the child in this case did not have a reasonable expectation that the photographs would remain private. To support this conclusion, the majority speculates about the many ways in which the photographs might have been revealed to others. The e-mail transmission might have been intercepted. The relationship might have ended badly. The boyfriend might have wanted to show the photo to someone else to brag about his sexual conquest. With all due respect, I think these arguments are beside the point. Certainly there are circumstances in which the photos might have been revealed unintentionally to third parties, but that would always be the case.The Judge goes on very rationally to note that "We cannot gauge the reasonableness of a person’s expectation of privacy merely by speculating about the many ways in which it might be violated." We need to keep in mind here what AH actually did. She took pictures of herself and her boyfriend engaged in intimate acts and gave copies to her boyfriend. Personally I find that kind of touching. Like any other couple, they had a reasonable expectation of privacy in their intimate lives. Judge Padovano goes on to observe with clear common sense:
The critical point in this case is that the child intended to keep the photographs private. She did not attempt to exploit anyone or to embarrass anyone. I think her expectation of privacy in the photographs was reasonable. Certainly, an argument could be made that she was foolish to expect that, but the expectation of a sixteen year old cannot be measured by the collective wisdom of appellate judges who have no emotional connection to the event. Perhaps if the child had as much time to reflect on these events, she would have eventually concluded, as the majority did, that there were ways in which these photos might have been unintentionally disclosed. That does not make her expectation of privacy unreasonable.Exactly. I don't see that Judge Wolf's strictures make any sense; they could apply to anybody who keeps private records. AH and her boyfriend had a reasonable expectation that their private affairs would remain private. The fact that there are perverts out there who would love to get their hands on such pictures in no way changes that. And that the state of Florida chose to violate their privacy, and then prosecute them on such grounds, is an outrage. It is the height of stupidity, discourteous in the extreme, and to my way of thinking, downright perverted. Judge Wolf and the State of Florida should be ashamed of themselves.
Afterword: I see that The Lippard Blog also has this story. The text of the decision can be found here. A PDF is available here.
09 February 2007
...the Catholic church is not about to let something like compassion for girls get in the way of using the state as an instrument to force women to bear more tithing Catholics.This is a fair and unprejudiced statement about the social agenda Catholics have been promoting. As long as the church insists on promoting medieval superstition over scientific fact, and insists on having the state enforce its "theology" on the rest of us, they have no legitimate complaint against the rest of us who object strongly to their notions. Only a perverse or intolerant reading could see this as anti-Catholicism; it is rather resistance to Catholic bigotry against the rest of the world.
...the Pope’s gotta tell women who give birth to stillborns that their babies are cast into Satan’s maw.This is sound Catholic theology. I don't like it, but there it is. If Catholics find it offensive, they should complain to their leaders, not about those who expose their idiocy.
...some of Christianity’s most prominent leaders—including the Pope—regularly speak out against gay tolerance.And this is anti-Catholic how? Pope John Paul II made many bigoted anti-tolerance statements, and I doubt very much that Pope Benedict is any different, though as I haven't listened to him (I out of principal do not listen to Nazis) I can't say. Catholicism has made anti-gay bigotry a cornerstone of its theology for centuries, and has cruelly persecuted this minority for a long long time. If you want to support evil, don't bitch if somebody calls you on it. As long as the Pope continues to speak out against tolerance, as long as the church takes this bigoted and hateful position, to call somebody who protests a bigot is beyond hypocrisy. It is the bully bitching about his victims protesting to the authorities.
For the supreme example of bigotry, however, consider this: they took one satiric example out of a piece exposing Catholic lies about contraception and claimed anti-Catholic bigotry. This from an organization led by a Nazi, for God's sake. This from an organization that has burned people at the stake (and yes I do know about their lame evasion of turning people over to the secular arm to be burned, an excuse worthy of a mafia boss or Ronald Reagan), has racked and hung and tortured people for trivial theological points of interest to nobody, has spread antisemitism and antiatheism and antiscience far and wide. And they have the unmitigated gall to call people bigots for protesting it.
I suppose these people take their cue from their leaders. Roman Catholic leadership during my lifetime has been, well, marginal at best. Most of the people they have selected to be called Pope frankly turn my stomach. Pope Pius XII, Hitler's pope, a little man called when the times required greatness, a small-souled man who looked the other way--whatever his motives--when the great abomination of the Holocaust blackened the earth. Pope John Paul II, who had had such guts in standing up to the Soviet beast before being raised to the papacy, and then kowtowed to the most ignorant and evil kinds of superstitions rather than be bothered with learning the truth. And Mr. Ratzinger--such vile filth defiles the institution he purports to serve.
On the other hand, I can't help but think of some of the greats who reconciled themselves somehow to the Roman Catholic faith. Galileo Galilei, who did so much to liberate humankind from medieval superstition and ancient mythologies; Gilbert K. Chesterton and J. R. R. Tolkien, brilliant writers who have provided entertainment that was not just junk, but gave us spiritual nutrition as well; Roland de Vaux, who made antiquity come alive. These guys show that bigotry isn't a Catholic phenomenon, but rather a human one. Maybe there's something about the papacy that corrupts the spirit. Galileo's good buddy Maffeo seems to have been a relatively enlightened character, until he became Pope Urban VIII and made it an article of faith that the sun moves and the earth stands still. (He was half right anyway.) But even so, what on earth motivates these clowns over at the Catholic League?
Which brings up an obvious question: are these guys even Catholic? Their utter indifference to the truth, their filthy lies about others--how do they sleep at night? Do they really believe in hell? Do they think their God will forgive them for the evil they've done, because it was in a righteous cause? Do they confess their crimes to their priest and receive absolution for them?
Or is this all some gigantic fraud? Perhaps these guys are Ku Klux Klansmen posing as Roman Catholics to bring the faith into discredit. I certainly prefer to think that. Of course wishful thinking is one of the most basic fallacies the human brain is heir to, but still--doesn't it make sense? How could God-fearing types spew such lies and slander? Aaargh, I don't know. It's too much for me. In the end I can only judge them by their fruit--and theirs are soft, brown, and filled with maggots.
06 February 2007
Isn't it high time that we disband the department of Homeland Security? And who picked that appalling name, anyway? It sounds like something out Orwell, or the Soviet Union, or the Third Reich. But, horrific names aside, any outfit that can't tell a bomb from a glowing advertisement is wasting the money the citizens have been throwing at it.
We've seen its glorious triumphs in New Orleans, in Boston, in the arrest of a (relatively) harmless lawyer here in Portland. We're assured that it's accomplishing great things that we are not allowed to hear about, but how the hell are we supposed to know that? When we do hear anything, it is these mare's nests and smoke-and-mirrors parlor tricks. Conspiracies of the impotent, old people in need of medicine, foreign med students enjoying a quiet lunch--these are worth going after? And to cap it off, now we learn that they seriously regarded a cartoon villain--and at that the lesser Mooninite, one of the least effective villains of all time--as a threat?
Gack. The world wonders. There is some good news out of New Jersey, however. Coach David Paskiewicz, who took to preaching in a United States History class, has been vindicated by his school board. Believe it or not, the board decided to ban voice recorders in classrooms. It also concluded that teachers should be instructed in the proper ways of smuggling religion into the classroom, or, at any rate, that's what I got out of it. They were to be reminded of the distinction between church and state in America or something like that. When I told that bit of news to my nephew Brandon, he asked, "Shouldn't they be teaching that to the students?" Exactly. Of course all this has nothing to do with the coach's real sin in all this--his confusing the students in the class by misrepresenting the nature of science. He blatantly lied to those who (it seems) trusted him by saying that scientists say that "nothing somehow exploded", that the age of the earth, and of the universe, cannot be scientifically observed, and so on and so on. But for the principal of his school, these are "high level" discussions that should be encouraged. If filling the kids' heads with religiously-inspired lies--and that's what his "high-level" discussion consisted of--is what passes as education in New Jersey, and should be encouraged, then New Jersey is on a slide straight to hell.
I have plans to take a look at the coach's view of science in a future entry. Allah willing, anyway.