Friday, May 30, 2008

There Is a God. You're Not Him.

The deal humans struck with domesticated animals some thousands of years ago is that they give up their ability to do very well in the wild in order to hang out with us, providing us various types of service and companionship. In return, we humans will replace the natural survival skills they've allowed to atrophy with our own resources and dependability. Since they can't take care of themselves so well anymore, we go ahead and take care of them.

People who take on pets or work animals agree to that deal. You can watch the Animal Planet cop shows to see examples of oxygen waste who don't live up to humanity's part of the bargain, but decent folks buy into it even if they don't necessarily think of it that way.

And then the day comes that you can't take care of them, and the only thing you can give them is an end to their suffering. You can't promise new life. You can't promise to make everything right. You can't promise forever. Even though you know that, and you know it's the right thing to do part of you feels like the lowest traitor who ever lived.

Thanks be to God, Who can promise forever, promise to make everything right and promise new life -- and Who can keep every last one of those promises, too.

Use Our Power for Good...

I don't just like this piece because the writer and I share a first name. It's some apologetics with muscle and a demonstration of how Christians need not fear honest inquiry from science and other disciplines -- with the focus here being on our history. Peruse and enjoy.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Happy Trails, Hedley...

Sayin' goodbye to one of the best straight men ever -- even if he never managed to keep it together when Tim Conway started in on him.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thanks for the Tunes...

If they play Earle Hagen's most famous song at his funeral, I sure hope they whistle it...

Monday, May 26, 2008

By the Time I Get to Phoenix...

Geek-out time yet again, as NASA lands a successful probe on the surface of Mars, near the north pole (Hey -- anyone can blog about an Annual Conference -- my version would just bore you).

No word yet on contact with Talu, Jeddak of Jeddaks, Ruler of Okar.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

God, Science and P.J. O'Rourke

I would have imagined that lassoing these particular three things into one post would have required the proverbial million long-lived monkeys and their typewriters. But Science & Spirit manages.

O'Rourke does a fine job for my money. And as always he's funny; if it wasn't for the fact that I'd probably also have to try to use his liver, I wouldn't mind spending a few days using his talent.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Trickster Motif in Obscurity: Mocking the Titles of Ridiculously Hyper-Specialized and Linguistically Bloated Theses at Harvard

Harvard annually awards its Hoopes prizes to its best undergraduate theses. What's amazing is how quickly the clotted sclerosis of academic language grabs hold of people. These aren't tweedy profs who by now, actually speak like this and would probably run afoul of the various English-only laws states sometimes try to pass. These are undergrads who no more than four years previously might have thought "Zarathustra" was the silly old-people spelling of well-known rapper Z-Thurztee (There is not, as far as I know, any such person. But I don't follow hip-hop very well, so don't go by me).

Few of the theses are literal scientific papers, which by their nature have strings of long words -- chemical names and scientific processes need precise descriptions, and precision seems to require lots of syllables. Most of the rest seem more the victims of the old idea that longer sentences and longer works somehow sound smarter.

Not that they aren't precise -- when I read the title Globalizing Actionable Rights: The Role of Policy Elites in Health Care Reform in Chile and Bolivia, 1982-2007, I'm pretty sure I'd be reading about health care reform in Chile and Bolivia during the last quarter-century or so. I probably won't have a clue about what it means to globalize actionable rights or how to qualify as a policy elite in Chile and Bolivia, though. Although I suspect improving my Spanish would help.

Also, Shifting Animal Exploitation Strategies in Late Neolithic China: A Zooarchaeolgical Analysis of the Longhsan Site of Taosi, Shanxi Province seems pretty clear as to what it's about. But by the time you've printed the title, your ink cartridge has run out and you can't tell me why it matters at all to we post-Late Neolithians (AKA Really Tardy Neolithians), unless there's something in there about getting my cat to change her own litterbox.

Academia has a rare genius at making the simple complex. Exhibit A: Shoes: The Arch Enemy? Contrasting the Kinetics and Kinematics of Habitually Shod and Habitually Barefoot Runners. Although I'll give the guy points for the pun -- as academic writers set their phrases to stun, they generally lose the ability to have any fun with their words.

And somewhere, parents are weeping as they realize they paid $45,600 or so a year to Harvard so its world-renowned instructors could guide a study such as this: Being B-Boys: Style, Identity, and Respect Among New England and Miami Street Dancers. Hey, cheer up, Mom and Dad. It takes a pretty clever mind to figure out how to fold your spring break trip to sunny Florida into your course work.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A New Standard in Low

Apparently, if one were to attend Hamilton College in New York and one were to completely tank one of one's courses, one would receive the letter grade FF, which denotes "serious failure."

For grade point purposes, that score is a 40, which makes the lowest possible GPA at Hamilton a 1.6 mark. That would definitely have been some good news for Mr. Blutarsky.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Today would have been Jimmy Stewart's 100th birthday. It would have been my grandfather's 101st, but Grampa would have said let the young guy have his day. Here's a pretty good appreciation of Stewart -- you may or may not like Mark Steyn's politics, but few modern writers have a better grasp on the TCM period of movies, especially in their context with movies earlier and later than that era.

One of my favorite Stewart roles is Glyn McLyntock in Bend of the River. I'm pretty much a sucker for redemption arcs or storylines, which may or may not stem from my job. But I also love Stewart's speech to Arthur Kennedy's Emerson Cole after Cole has commandeered the wagon train they're leading and send Stewart out to fend for himself without weapons, a horse or supplies. Cole thinks he gives the bursh-off to his former partner, but Stewart turns it around for a top-level mind-game that leaves little doubt as to who's going to win, no matter what it looks like now:
Cole: I'll be seeing you, Glyn.
McLyntock: You'll be seeing me. You'll be seeing me. Everytime you bed down for the night, you'll look back to the darkness and wonder if I'm there. And some night, I will be. You'll be seeing me!
Kind of freaks you out to watch kindly Mr. Smith go psycho, but Stewart was that good, even if he was never flashy.

Steyn's article notes one of Stewart's most important roles, of course -- pilot during World War II, when he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. Not as big as an Oscar, but probably worth more in the end.

Flying High

I've already confessed I'm a geek, so my regular visits to some of NASA's sites should be no surprise. Click here today and take a little aerial cruise over Mars. Alas, no scarlet towers of mighty Helium visible during this flight.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sure, It's Silly, But...

This website does have a little fun in the wish-fulfillment category.

Yes, I know the wish-fulfillment comes from a bunch of atavistic, violent and simplistic misunderstandings of the way the world works, or so certain people would like to tell me. Part of me doesn't care; I cite the late Mike Royko's take on John Wayne movies:
I never went to a John Wayne movie to find a philosophy to live by or to absorb a profound message. I went for the simple pleasure of spending a couple of hours seeing the bad guys lose.

The Christian in me knows this isn't the best witness to make, but I'll confess I don't mind watching the real-world bad guys lose either. I'm working on that.

And yes, the site creators obviously never watched one of McClane's favorite old Westerns, or they would know how to spell "Yippie-ki-yay" properly. The video, by the way, has a few moments of that free-range vocabulary some people don't like, so be warned.

But isn't it interesting how easily the concept of this movie character can be slotted into a presidential race? Isn't it interesting how easily people can come up with reasons why he fits the broad strokes of one of our ideal politician profiles, like regular guy or gal, tough on crime, you know where he or she stands, not afraid to take action, not afraid to handle tough issues, etc. Watch almost any candidate for any office and you'll find those sorts of things sprinkled all over the advertising as well as the news coverage of their race. Even candidates who for personal reasons take a pass on violence will still talk about common-man (or woman) roots and do their best to play the "know where he or she stands" card.

Some of this rhetoric shows up because these are probably not bad qualities to want in people who hold public office. But I think some of it also shows up because these images are those into which candidates think they must find a way to fit themselves if they expect to win votes, regardless of how well their ideas, policies and plans actually mesh with those public expectations.

I've heard few candidates for any office talk about policy goals as well as idealist visions, real-world rationales for their plans as well as rhetorical tropes, etc. At least, few candidates who aren't stuck in the land of Microscopia when it comes to their poll numbers. And I've seen few media outlets devote much time to finding out those ideas, rationales and policies. After all, there's all that all-important Angelina Jolie womb-census we need to report on.

I guess I could get ticked off that a made-up Hollywood character is being inserted into one of the most important decisions we Americans make. But I find it hard to do. For one, I'd be a hypocrite. For another, I groove on the idea of someone who would say, "Yes, there are bad guys, and they should lose." And for another, it's a joke; you know, the whole "not serious" thing.

And probably most of all, a significant portion of the political candidates above the state level are as much created image as they are actual substance. In my gloomier moments, I get the feeling the percentage of image increases along with the level of office sought.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Umm, Yeah...

In this story about his work at the Cannes Film Festival, Sean Penn previews the yet-to-be-chosen winner:
Penn said it was impossible to separate film from politics, and promised that the winning film would be a reflection of the current climate.

“One way or another, when we select the Palme d'Or winner, I think we are going to feel very confident that the film-maker who made the film is very aware of the times in which he or she lives.”

Dude, you married Madonna. Like I can trust your judgment.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Well, that's not his song, but I really don't like "My Way," so I didn't quote it. Frank Sinatra passed away a decade ago today, so I hoped you managed to Ring yourself A Ding Ding in his memory...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

How to Waste Time, Vol. 28

Say you're a sports-minded person facing issues, tasks, assignments or whatever name has been given to this particular instance in which you personally are being kept down by the man.

Say you've got access to these things we call the internets, on which you can find cool stuff, smart stuff, relevant stuff and all sorts of other things (Links not provided as my choices would make it obvious that I am neither cool, smart nor relevant). And say you don't really want to cooperate with the man in his efforts to keep you down.

Then obviously you must point your web browser to the site of the Sports Illustrated Vault. There you can use many hours of the time which the man would otherwise use to keep you down. He of course will know that you are trying to counter his down-keeping efforts and will try to deride them as "time-wasting," but you and the people will know that for the hollow oppressive claim that it is.

While at the Vault, you can look back through SI history to times when the magazine dared to talk back to the schools and teams it covered, like this. Or looked at some of the less seemly aspects of professional athletes that are now smoothed over and covered up by a sort of unspoken commitment to boosterism between the teams, their leagues and the media outlets that want to cover them. You could also check out SI's early commitment to covering athletes equally and fairly, regardless of race. That Althea Gibson article, by the way, hit the scene seven years before the U.S. Civil Rights act outlawing segregation did. Ms. Gibson wasn't the cover story that issue, but she made it the next year. I imagine one could count the number of national magazines in the 1950s with African-American faces on the cover without involving one's second hand.

If you're in a goofy mood, you could check out how many times a favorite athlete made the cover. Or how many times some oddball sport made the cover, or was featured in an article. Rumor has it that there are some issues which feature attractive young ladies in swimsuits. I will not link those either -- I may be a revolutionary fighting oppression, but my mind is firmly away from the gutter, and I know what you will think of if you look at them.

Eventually you may run out of ways to keep your time as your own, and be confronted again with whatever oppressive tactic the man is trying to force upon you in his imperialist desire to take away your time. But there are other ways to continue the struggle, as we will explore in How to Waste Time, Vol. 29, "Blogging About the Time You Have Just Wasted."

Friday, May 9, 2008


If you will, for the people of Burma, also called Myanmar. After a devastating cyclone, the military thugs that rule the nation refuse to allow international aid agencies to distribute needed food and water. Or they insist the materials be left to them to distribute, and not even the U.N. is gullible enough to believe these leaders will do anything with the aid other than tighten their grip on power.

At the college where I used to work, I met people who have families in Burma, and that helps me focus my prayers. You may or may not know someone there, but you can of course continue to pray for them. Pray that the leaders of this nation have somewhere inside some remnant spark of humanity that will stir them to allow their people to be helped. If they haven't got that spark, then pray for their souls, because they walk a path whose sure end is damnation.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

"The Scottish Play" Goes to 11...

One of my regular movie/music stops notes the DVD release of a Japanese production of Macbeth. Only this Macbeth is set in the middle of the Japanese heavy metal music boom of the 1980s (with some parts set in 2206, for some reason I can't quite figure out). Some more info is here.

The writer wonders where this version of Macbeth was when he was undergoing forced exposure to it in the 9th grade. But for the fact that I underwent my exposure in the 11th grade, I have the same question, and I am seriously hoping Netflix adds this to their library.

No word on whether or not the drummer survived the show...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

What the? (Again)

Local cops and the Drug Enforcement Administration have arrested nearly a hundred students at San Diego State University as part of a drug sting operation.

SDSU pres. Stephen Weber says he's proud of how his school confronted the problem and suggests other schools could follow its lead. This may be the week for dumb stuff said by guys named Steve. Because when I check the story, I see exactly one constructive action taken by SDSU: Picking up the phone and calling the cops. And they did that because their inability to keep an eye on their own campus allowed a drug-selling ring to be organized among six fraternities that, in its most recent inventory, had $100,000 of merchandise on hand and a number of weapons available for use.

What else did SDSU do? Well, they suspended the frats, suspended the arrested students, and kicked them out of university housing. Bold. Daring. As brave as banning tobacco. Unless I'm wrong about how the court system works, law enforcement often provides other accommodations for its guests and has a check-out time that hampers class attendance.

I'm not sure if this is what people mean when they tell you that a college degree really increases your earning power.

(H/T University Diaries) I offer a caution to those who may not enjoy writers with a free-range vocabulary; Dr. Soltan is sometimes among them.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Signs are Cloudy...

An article in today's Oklahoman newspaper suggests that the kinds of pets people have says something about what kind of people they are. Border colllies, for example, like to do things and like to have a job to perform. People who own them, according to a sidebar in the print edition, like doing stuff outdoors so their dogs can enjoy freedom and activity as well.

The story doesn't say what kind of person you are if you own a 20-year-old deaf cat that will not die.


No matter what one's position on the current war in Iraq, I think it's probably a poor idea to see the people who are volunteering to serve as illiterate lunkheads. But apparently Stephen King thinks that if one fails to learn to read, one's only choice is the military.

No word on what Steve thinks of people who've been writing the same book over and over again for the last 15 years, just making it longer and longer each time.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

She Ain't Heavy...

And this, Gentle Reader, is why -- though I am disgusted by the thugs colleges call students because they can catch footballs or dribble basketballs, by grown men worth millions who dress like rail-ridin' hobos and leave vapor trails of illegitimate children behind the team bus and by organizations that will invariably put profit over product and paying fans -- why, in spite of all those things, I love sports.

Living the Cliché

At my second church the other day, I threw some paper in the wastebasket in the kitchen and heard something move when I did so. I figured it was simply settling papers, but when I looked into the basket, something rustled again. I looked closer at what at first seemed to be a wet, wadded-up brown paper towel in a styrofoam cup. It was not. It was a small bat which had apparently been drinking from the cup.

I know bats eat lots of bugs (contra Calvin, who claims bats are bugs: cf. "Bats: The Big Bug Scourge of the Skies," in professional-styled clear plastic binder). I appreciate anything that reduces mosquitos. But bats are also God's own rabies vector so I do not want them in our church building. The bat was wrapped up in its residence, a black plastic bag, and disposed of. Later I learned the people who clean the church found another bat, although this one was already dead. They also said they heard at least one more in the space above the fellowship hall ceiling.

Since I know you're going to ask, yes, this church does have a church bell in a tower just beneath the steeple. Thus has been proven true what many have long claimed: I have bats in my belfry.