Archive for June, 2012

Lessons of the fire

June 29, 2012 6 comments

If there is a Christian Evangelical “New Jerusalem” in this country, it is Colorado Springs. There are megachurches galore, think tanks, institutions, and of course Focus On The Family. Even the Air Force Academy, located there, is known for evangelizing its recruits in violation of various rules and the US Constitution. It’s a home-rule municipality that seems to attract right-wing evangelicals like a magnet collects iron filings. So if any city in America should have God’s favor, it is Colorado Springs.

Today, Colorado Springs faces the advance of a monstrous wildfire that is burning homes and businesses, and even threatens the Air Force Academy. This is, by any humanitarian measure, an awful thing. At the very least it should teach us; “Install a fire-rated roof and make sure your home has a 25-foot vegetation-free zone around it. And under NO circumstances use vinyl siding.”. It Should, except that evangelical Christians, including some Congressmen, have made such a big deal over the years about natural disasters as bearing messages from God.

Every time there’s a hurricane that strikes a coastal city (there’s always sin in coastal cities) it’s God sending a message about gays, or adultery, or (against) affordable health care. Earthquake? Gays again. Or abortion, or labor unions or whatever. For some reason God only sends messages to places that were already set up for natural disasters – like Earthquakes to cities on fault lines or hurricanes to cities on the Gulf coast. And God never seems to get mad at Wall Street, unless maybe it’s gay Wall Street. Also, you would think God would really go after the Netherlands, a gay-tolerant, secular country located below sea level on the coast of sinful Europe. Or Canada, which has had gay marriage for a while now.

Not to say evangelicals aren’t onto something with the idea of trying to find lessons in natural disasters, however. It’s just that they’re picking up the wrong lessons. For some reason evangelical Christianity has latched onto the idea that anthropogenic global warming contradicts the bible. To me this would be a little like contradicting the mathematical lessons of Star Wars, except that saga makes a far more consistent story than the bible. But if Colorado Springs can burn (and last year, godly Texas) then maybe there’s something to the idea that the extreme-weather dice are loaded by global warming.

The lesson I suggest for evangelicals is this: stop getting your climate information from your pastor or his various analogs. I’m not worried that Gays will destroy society, but it has occurred to me that you might – by using your political power to delay action. This is an all-hands-on-deck situation, and you’re not helping. It is possible to practice Christianity in a way that isn’t an embarrassment to the human community; I’ve seen it done. Take off your damn tinfoil hat for once and listen.


Categories: Uncategorized

Things we used to say: “There but for the grace of God, go I”

June 18, 2012 7 comments

I read today that Rodney King was found dead in his swimming pool. OK, I thought, time for sad reflection on one of the less-proud chapters in American history. But then I made a big mistake: I read the comments.

I should know better. Crikey, how do you un-see these things? His memory is splattered by a storm of invective and racist cruelty. Where’s that planet-destroying asteroid when we need it?

So you think you’re better than Rodney King…

“Good riddance. More trouble than he was worth.” +28

“The man was a career criminal before his beating, and cashed in on failing to stop when ordered by the police. No loss to society at all.” +37

“If he wasn’t a criminal in the first place, he wouldn’t have been running from the Police so he only had himself to blame.” +15

“Crack for 16 years, ok. Sorry, no offense to any one, but the police weren’t beating a man, they were beating a crack head. Now I see why they were acquitted” +2


“When driving at high speed, high on drugs, and you see blue flashing lights in the rear view mirror, pull over, turn the ignition off, put your interior lights on, put your hands on the steering wheel, and answer the cops with yes/no/sir/. This is called common sense. end of story.” +6

…and lots more about how many people died in the riot, about Reginald Denny, about how Jews didn’t take vengeance when injustice was done to them, and about how he supposedly got rich because he had a swimming pool and various “jokes” comparing him to Whitney Houston.

I was particularly struck by the judgmental take on King. By the recurring theme that if one is obstreperous with the police, then one has no right to complain about a life-threatening beating. By the judgment that drug addiction means you have no civil rights. And by many commenters who indicated the blacks are somehow sub-human. Or that poor people are. In any case, the writers appear to believe that if they were dealt the same cards in life that Rodney King had, they would have made different, better choices.

Admonished by other commenters not to judge what they did not understand, or to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, or not “lest they be judged”, many responded with even greater anger and hatred against King.  Against poor people. Against drug users and blacks and people who live in cities and even against anyone who does not hate as they do.

Once upon a time Americans used to say:

“There but for the grace of God, go I.”

The saying is a humble recognition that you are not immune to bad luck. That you are not immune from making bad decisions. That you, too, could become addicted to a drug. That you, too, are affected by the culture in which you were raised. That the moral character on which you pride yourself owes something to good fortune.

But the saying has fallen out of fashion. Now, if your life ends up in bad straits, it’s all and exclusively your own fault. Traceable to Ayn Rand, this philosophy was popularized by Ronald Reagan, who closed mental health facilities and referred to homelessness as a “lifestyle choice”. It is, simply, unbridled hatred of the less fortunate.

Case in point

Rodney King was, as so many opined, “no role model”. He was a troubled, damaged and at times (I think) unwittingly dangerous person. But this actually makes his call for calm and against violence all the more profound. Severely beaten by police, he saw the violence erupting and asked what I believe to be one of the most urgent questions of the twentieth century: “Can’t we all just get along?”

We have at our disposal the alleged moral teachings of every philosopher and every religious founder and almost every religious teacher who has ever lived. If we cannot figure out from this body of work how to live in peace, I suspect the fault does not lie with one badly-injured drug addict.


  • The exact wording of his question is in doubt; I have seen it reported in various ways. But the substance is clear enough.
  • No deity is required to understand the saying. If you are an atheist, it works just as well with any number of event-branching descriptors. “There, but for the lucky combination of economic background, good inherited genes, good schools, lack of brain injury, and many other things beyond my personal control, go I.”
  • Points of fact: King wasn’t on PCP, though he was drunk. The beating was so severe he had permanent brain damage. He unequivocally condemned the riots. He certainly did have trouble getting his life together afterward.
  • Although the police were acquitted of criminal wrongdoing under the traditional “Cops Are Almost Never Found Guilty” rule, he was still awarded $3.8m in a civil suit. His lawyers got most of it.
  • Earlier entries in the “Things we used to say” series about cliches that made America strong: ”Don’t be a litterbug“,  ”Stitch in time saves nine“, “You get what you pay for“, and “If you can’t stand the heat


Categories: Uncategorized

The Invention Of Lying

June 12, 2012 Comments off
Movie Poster, Invention Of Lying

I stole this image from Wikipedia

Romantic comedy isn’t a genre in which you’d expect to find any new ground, but The Invention Of Lying does just that; it takes place in a world of totally honest people. A woman asked out on a date tells her suitor, straight off; “I just don’t find you attractive”. A man calling in to work says; “I’m not sick or anything, I just don’t want to come in.” The cashier at a casino says; “You’ll probably lose all your money, and even if you win, we’ll most likely win it back in the long run!” A man on TV implores us: “Please don’t stop buying Coke.” But everyone is accustomed to this level of brutal honesty. They accept statements with a depressed nod that would lead to violence in our world.

There’s a downside, however; it is a world almost completely without imagination. There’s no fiction, so TV shows and movies consist of someone sitting in a chair reading a script about history. Unlucky you, if you are a writer assigned to the 13th century. Your ratings will go down and you will probably be fired. That’s Ricky Gervais’ dilemma, on the same day that Jennifer Garner rejects him “You’re short and pudgy! You have a pug nose!” To top it all off his mother is dying. He sits by her bed as she recounts how terrified she is facing an eternity of nothingness. Just before she dies, something snaps in his brain and he invents lying. “You don’t go to an eternity of nothingness,” he tells her. “You go to an eternal mansion and everyone you’ve ever loved will be there!” A look of peace and joy spreads across her face, and she dies.

The even worse downside of a completely honest society is that once lying is invented, it operates in an utterly credulous environment. Gervais looks up from his deceased mother to find the doctor and nurses staring in wide-eyed amazement. “Tell us more!” they say. This gets out of hand fast, and on a global scale. Gervais finds himself the unwitting founder of the world’s first religion. And on a personal level he explores what his new power means in terms of wealth and career – and finds it by turns exhilarating and terrifying.

The movie is sweet and it appeals to my sense of humor for what that’s worth. It’s rated PG-13, “Parents Strongly Cautioned”. After all, there’s some crude language, and one of the characters casually mentions masturbation. (Be sure your teens never find out about masturbation. This will only happen if they see some reference to it in a movie.) The premise of the film is thought-provoking too, and we certainly don’t want children thinking about lying as a pretense of virtue, or as a social lubricant. In fact, it’s as good an examination of the ethics of lying as I’ve ever seen in a comedy. No lie.

Categories: Uncategorized

Please fly, little fellow. You’ve got to fly!

June 10, 2012 3 comments
fledgeling blue jay on the ground

Fledgling blue jay on the ground - click to embiggen

Three or four crows seemed awfully interested in something outside our window…

To a bluejay, a crow might as well be an armored tank but mama and daddy bluejay mounted a relentless attack, facing down the crows in the air and on the ground, and they finally moved back. Crows are smart and patient. They’ll make a note of it, to see if this little fellow could be an easier snack later in the day.

That was an hour ago. Little bird is still on the ground, parents in the branches above. Coaxing him to fly.

Categories: Uncategorized

“green planet” water – in a petroleum-free bottle!

June 9, 2012 6 comments

There’s science-based environmentalism, and then there’s corporate greenwashing. This is an example of the latter:

Plant-based plastic bottle

green planet, Vapor Distilled water, minerals added for taste, Petroleum FREE bottle Made 100% from plants

Plant-based plastics are nothing new; in 1941 Henry Ford made a whole car out of soybean resins. But where to even start, when the marketing implication is that this is somehow an environmentally-sustainable product because it’s got a plant-based plastic bottle?  The whole idea of water in disposable bottles is horrible. Get a re-usable bottle and fill it from the drinking fountain, already. Especially if you live in Normal, Illinois; our water is excellent.


  • The bottle is probably corn-based, grown with high-energy fertilizers in an industrial farm, trucked to a processing plant to be made into plastic (perhaps as part of a by-product step) and then trucked to a manufacturing plant where the bottles are made, with paper labels affixed that are printed somewhere and trucked to the plant. Then the empty bottles and lids are trucked to the water processing plant, where the  water is “vapor distilled” (lots of energy use) with minerals added, then transported to the restaurant in trucks and kept refrigerated. Is there anything they are not doing wrong?
  • If you live or work in a building with old plumbing, you’re still ahead environmentally and economically to get a water filter and use it to refill reusable bottles
Categories: Uncategorized


June 2, 2012 3 comments

Despite their tax breaks, their record profits, and the congressmen they have in their pockets, The Rich have never been more endangered. Any day now, America could turn Communist and let the Bush tax cuts expire. And then where would we be? More importantly, where would they be?

(h/t @RelUnrelated)

Categories: Uncategorized