Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Greetings from Jupiter

Today they released the latest photos from New Horizons, the space probe that was launched a year ago on a mission to Pluto, and due to arrive there in 3057 days (according to the clock on the website). Currently the probe is passing by Jupiter for a gravity-assisted flyby. The pictures are glorious, and worth checking out. Planned flybys in the next few days include several of Jupiter's moons - they already have several way-cool shots of Io on the site.

Dr. Keith

My sister-in-law Helen and her husband Betty were on the Dr. Keith show recently. Some of their friends have posted the segment on YouTube. The first part is available here, and the second part is available here.

While they did a bang-up job, I found the segment disappointing somewhat, as they didn't mention Helen's latest book, the superbly written 'She's Not the Man I Married,' which just got published, and is available from Amazon. Flood your local bookstore with requests.

I confess that the segment got me to think. Betty, a superb actor, has been reluctant to appear on stage for the past several years in large part to a reluctance to portray what are essentially traditionally defined masculine roles.. I have known of that for some time. Yet recently I asked her to do a voiceover for some TV spots that my company was hired to do to promote a condo development. I naturally hired her for her masculine voice, a glorious sound, without making the obvious connection. Betty has a different voice when presenting as a woman, and I had completely ignored that when I blithely hired her to essentially present as a man. For that I owe her an apology.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


Earlier this month the Governor of Texas, a religious Republican named Rick Perry, issued an executive order requiring the state to immunize girls aged 11 and 12 against HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that is known to be a cause of types of cervical cancer that kills and estimated 3-4000 women each year. This new vaccine has given social conservatives across the country a major case of heartburn - they were responsible for the year long delay by the Bush administration in getting the FDA to approve the drug in the first place. The concern is that by offering protection against an STD it in effect encourages these girls to have sex by eliminating all of the downside of engaging in intercourse.

Once Rick Perry signed the executive order, the shitstorm began. Religious conservatives attacked Governor Perry,saying, 'The mandate makes sex seem permissible.' Allegations have also be swirling that the decision has something to do with the governor's former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, who is a lobbyist for Meurk, the company who developed the vaccine.

Perry, however, has fought back. Pointing out the obvious, that taking anti-malarial medication doesn't increase one's desire to get bitten by mosquitoes, he said:

'...Providing the HPV vaccine doesn't promote sexual promiscuity any more than providing the Hepatitis B vaccine promotes drug use...If the medical community developed a vaccine for lung cancer, would the same critics oppose it claiming it would encourage smoking?...'

Reading that quote about 2 weeks ago, got me to thinking. There exists a clear scriptural base to the sexual concerns of the religious right; sex is mentioned many times in the Bible - according to the New International Version, sex/sexual is used 28 times in the Old Testament and 28 times in the New Testatment - and usually not in a postivie light, which is to be expected for any scripture that advocates transcending the material in favor of the spiritual.

But what about the tobacco comment? Would the religious right go after a cure for lung cancer? Does the Bible mention Tobacco? Not at all, again for obvious reasons - tobacco is a New World plant, unknown to the denizens of Europe and Asia until the time of Columbus. In the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam there are no specific proscriptions against tobacco use. Smoking of course is frowned upon in those three religions, even rejected by some members as immoral. However the scriptural basis for such proscriptions is interpretive, not literal.

For instance, most modern Christian writing on the evils of smoking continually refers to the same passage in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: 'Do you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.' This famous phrase is constantly being used out of context (oddly enough a common occurrence by those who take the Bible literally): it specifically refers to sex (1 Cor. 6:18 - the immediately proceeding verse - 'Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.')

That arguement also ignores the passage in Matthew 15:10-11: 'Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'. This passage is clearly not in the context of smoking but is a reference to the hypocritical nature of the temple Pharisees in Jerusalem. Matthew 15 is one of the many passages in the gospels where Jesus and the disciples violate the laws of Moses (in this case not washing their hands before eating.) thereby earning the wrath of the Temple Pharisees. These passages pretty much consistently lampoon the Pharisees as prisoners of an almost bureaucratic focus on scriptural rules and regulations. In Matthew 15:8-9, Jesus quotes the book of Isaiah:

'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'

So kudos to Governor Perry, fighting the good fight against the Pharisees. It's good to know that not all religious conservatives have read the Bible with their head instead of their heart.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Friends of mine have wondered (and worried) about my constant reading of the New Testament over the better part of the past year. As I have explained to them, I've been doing this out of a realization that our culture and national discourse is utterly dependent on the Bible and, more importantly, its interpretation by Christian churches. I had managed to live this long without reading the entire New Testament, which is shameful, and so I began reading and studying the books. Along the way I have developed a deeper respect for Christianity, and at the same time a profoundly diminished respect for self-professed Christians.

I have not seen a better example of this than in the new 'Conservapedia'. Founded ' November 2006, as the class project for a World History class of 58 advanced homeschooled and college-bound students meeting in New Jersey...' and run by a number of conservative bloggers and their ilk, they are apparently fixated on the 'liberal bias' of Google and Wikipedia. Evidence of this is mentioned on the front page:

'...Conservapedia is a much-needed alternative to Wikipedia, which is increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American. On Wikipedia, many of the dates are provided in the anti-Christian "C.E." instead of "A.D.", which Conservapedia uses. Christianity receives no credit for the great advances and discoveries it inspired, such as those of the Renaissance. Read a list of many Examples of Bias in Wikipedia...'

Sadly, No! linked to it, noting with tremendous satisfaction the Conservapedia posts on Orwell's 1984 '...a utopian book because it talks about a place where everyone is watched over by Big Brother, who makes sure people are doing what they are supposed to...Thre [sic] is something about rats at the end, but it is confusing. The end is probably supposed to be ambigous [sic]...' and unicorns '...Secular opinion is that they are mythical. However, they are referred to in the Bible nine times which provides an unimpeachable de facto argument for their once having been in existence...'

For such a 'Christian' focused site, one would expect a rigorous series of articles on Christianity. One would be wrong - here is the article on the Bible, in its entirety:

'The Bible is the collection of canonical religious texts in Christianity. Most Christians believe these men were under Divine Inspiration, and/or that the Bible is God's infallible Word to men. Exactly what is included in the Bible is a matter of some dispute. In particular, certain books counted as part of the Bible by the Roman Catholic Church are regarded as non-canonical by many Protestants and vice-versa. Accordingly, it is impossible to be certain which books of the Bible are truly canonical. However, it is certain that those books that are canonical, whichever they may be, are Divinely inspired and infallible.'

So apparently some of the books in the Bible are the Divinely Inspired Word of God but we don't know which ones.

Because of the open nature of wiki posting, the site is probably going to collapse soon. The original article on religion (again, in its entirety) read, 'There is only one type of religion, Christianity. The others are frauds.'. To that has been added by one wag, 'Christians used to look to the Bible for God's word, but now they have the Blog of the Gods, which relays His word directly in modern language people can understand. It is also less silly than the Bible.'

So as Sadly, No says, 'Enjoy it now before it becomes a wholly-infiltrated parody site!.'

Monday, February 12, 2007

Still going to Heaven

I meant to post on this earlier, so it’s a bit out of date, but it’s important to keep everyone abreast of the latest developments in the ongoing saga that is Ted Haggard, former pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs who got caught using meth. and having sex with a gay prostitute.

On February 4th, Ted Haggard sent an email to his friends, helpfully posted by the Denver Post here. Some informative bits:

“…As part of New Life's efforts to help me, they sent Gayle [his poor wife] and me to Phoenix for a three week psychological intensive [sic] that gave us three years worth of analysis and treatment…”

I want to know what that program is, that can give you three years of treatment in three weeks. Sort of like those Department of Defense language courses. But it continues:

“…Gayle and I have decided to move from Colorado Springs to go back to school. We love Colorado Springs so much, and will always regard the believer's at New Life Church as family, but we have to go in order to let the church determine its own course and for us to retrain. We haven't decided where we are moving but so far have been offered two places, one in Iowa and one in Missouri. We are both planning on getting our masters in Psychology so we can work together serving others the rest of our lives. Since we are taking our classes on-line, we can live anywhere that's affordable…”

Clearly they need to Get out of Dodge by Sundown. They are taking ‘on-line classes’ to get their Masters in Psychology, so they wouldn’t need to leave Colorado Springs for that.

Then on February 6th, it was announced that Ted Haggard is ‘completely heterosexual.’ Now having read into it I’ve discovered that the initial news reports, and more lighthearted reporting such as on the Daily Show, got it wrong. It was reported that Mr. Haggard was ‘cured’, when in fact the report from the overseer at the New Life Church doesn’t say that:

“…Ralph [the overseer] said three weeks of counseling at an undisclosed Arizona treatment center helped Haggard immensely and left Haggard sure of one thing. ‘He is completely heterosexual,’ Ralph said. ‘That is something he discovered. It was the acting-out situations where things took place. It wasn't a constant thing.’…"

In fact it looks like he wasn’t cured of homosexuality, because he was never gay in the first place.

So if I have sex with a man, with or without meth., apparently that doesn’t mean that I’m gay. Which is sort of cool in a way. Because even though I’ve never met a man I would want to have sex with, it’s nice to know that the option still exists whereby I can maintain my non-threatening and get-out-of-hell-free-card hetero status.

Stay tuned for a follow-up: On February 18th, the New Life Church will be getting another progress report from the oversight board.

Friday, February 09, 2007


"Heroin, be the death of me
Heroin, it's my wife and it's my life
Because a mainer to my vein

Leads to a center in my head

And then I'm better off and dead

Because when the smack begins to flow

I really don't care anymore

About all the jim-jims in this town

And all the politicians makin crazy sounds

And everybody puttin everybody else down

And all the dead bodies piled up in mounds"

-Velvet Underground 'Heroin'

For your latest fix, try Dicewars, a Flash game based on Risk. Don't say I didn't warn you...

All You Humans are Vermin in the Eyes of God

So despite the hype, Satan's actually pretty lame. At least according to where it really counts, total death statistics. Writer and blogger Steve Wells has tallied up the total killings in the Bible, God v. Satan. The final total? 32,900,000 to 10.

It's Old Testament of course. In the New Testament, its 3 to 0. All three are killed in the book of Acts. Two are Ananias and Sapphira, whom I wrote about earlier here. The third is Herod, eaten by worms. Still Mr. Wells makes an attempt at 'future killings.' At 3.3 billion it's not a pretty finale.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Defending Marriage

In July of 2006, The Supreme Court of the State of Washington ruled in Andersen V. King County that "Limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers procreation, essential to the survival of the human race, and furthers the well-being of children by encouraging families where children are reared in homes headed by the children’s biological parents." This has been a common approach to courts that limit marriage to only heterosexuals – marriage is for breeders, dammit.

Not to be stopped, various activist organizations in the state of Washington set up the Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance, with the specific intent of forcing the state legislature to eat the court’s words. A ballot initiative was written up and today the Secretary of State accepted what is now Initiative 957, which forces the state to recognize marriages only if the couple to be married can have kids. In addition, a married couple will have only three years to file ‘proof of procreation’ or have their marriage annulled. This will apply to out of state marriages as well. Also, divorce would be forbidden for any couple who has children, and any unmarried couple who has a child will be automatically married.

Of course for the initiative to get on the ballot, 224,800 signatures are needed by July 6, which is a pretty steep challenge. But it’s an inspiring piece of political protest, essentially forcing the state to live with the results of its bigoted and narrow minded approach to marriage. Some may consider it extreme, but as the organization says on their website,

“Absurd? Very. But there is a rational basis for this absurdity. By floating the initiatives, we hope to prompt discussion about the many misguided assumptions which make up the Andersen ruling. By getting the initiatives passed, we hope the Supreme Court will strike them down as unconstitutional and thus weaken Andersen itself. And at the very least, it should be good fun to see the social conservatives who have long screamed that marriage exists for the sole purpose of procreation be forced to choke on their own rhetoric.”