Friday, August 31, 2007

The Current Score

One of the most commonly asked religious questions is, "why is there evil in the world?" Some halfway decent answer needs to be arrived at for a religious faith to be taken seriously, otherwise it's just mucking around and wont get any real respect from people.

Of course this question begs an assumption, namely that the world is inherently a good place and that it is in some way contaminated with evil. Which in and of itself is quite an assumption, theologically speaking. So to be fair, one should also posit the question, "why is there good in the world?" This question, of course, makes the opposite assumption, namely that the world is an evil, or at the very least indifferent, place, potentially contaminated with good.

So what do people around the world think? It's almost a gauge for hope or hopelessness in the world. In the effort to find out, I Googled both phrases to see where the population of the world stands, or at least the population with internet access. I used quotes in the search string to count up only results that use the entire phrase.

"Why is there evil in the world" - 967 times

"Why is there good in the world" - 681 times

So people assuming that the world is inherently a good place seem to be leading, 967 to 681. To be honest this is a lot closer than I though it would be, since "why is there evil in the world" is much more of a catch phrase. I'll try to make this study an occasional feature to see how things are heading.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Is our Children Learning?

I am so going to start watching beauty pageants from now on. This is a great entertainment value. H/T Bob Harris, who also notes that this is the winner from South Carolina.

Friday, August 24, 2007


And now it's war. To follow up on various nations declaring 'the war on drugs', the 'war on terrorism', and 'the war on Christmas', China announced that it is declaring war on Toys, or rather tainted ones:

'... China has launched a four-month "war" on tainted food, drugs and exports, state media reported on Friday, as beleaguered officials embraced time-tested campaign tactics to clean up the country's battered image.

Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi told officials the campaign, to run to the end of the year, would focus on problem products that have badly dented domestic and foreign consumers' confidence in the "Made in China" label.

"This is a special battle to protect the health and personal interests of the public and to protect the reputation of Chinese goods and the national image," Wu said, according to the government...'

Personally I've been rather suspicious of the timing of all of the revelations of crappy products coming from China. It's as if suddenly over the past six months, everything from pet food to toys has been contaminated. What, there was no problem before? Suddenly it's all happening now, and prior to that everything was hunky dory? I doubt that. It's not passing the smell test to me (though to be fair, I doubt that the pet food is either.)

So China is now trying to defend itself in the media, which is smart, since that's where the problem is originating. Their products have always been crap - crap for the environment, crap for the workers and crap for the consumers. That's why American companies love them so. The entire country is one and a half billion people living in a Dickens novel, and like all of the people of the nineteenth century who lived in their own Dickens novel, it's going to take at least a century to make their lives better. But in the meantime there's billions to be made!

Actually both the US consumer and China could learn from each other. China needs to catch up with how to play in the media battlefield. They could do worse than following the former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's latest endeavors. Seems he's hired a Republican lobbying firm to try to set the groundwork for his taking over Iraq. That's $300K well spent. He'll go far.

And the US consumer definitely could learn a thing or two from China. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission is currently a man down, operating with only two of three necessary people needed to run it. Nancy Nord is currently running the show and is famous for her pro-business attitudes (she comes from the US Chamber of Commerce). The President is pushing for Michael Baroody to take over the whole agency. His experience? He's the head lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers. Talk about putting the foxes in charge of the hen house.

But what could the US Consumer learn from China? Well, when the Chinese government found out that their head of the national food and drug safety watchdog was as corrupt as any Bush administration crony, they dealt with him rather severely:

"The execution of Zheng Xiaoyu was also part of that campaigning approach to get officials' attention," said Mao, referring to the former head of the national food and drug safety watchdog, who was executed in July for taking bribes."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wednesday Cat Blogging - Vital Interests

Still posting pictures. Wee ones protecting their vital interests edition. Matthew Yglesias makes a good point in his latest post:

'...The essay [Edwards' Foreign Affairs essay] is almost 6,000 words long, but Edwards doesn't name any vital interests. In his defense, Barack Obama's manifesto also says that "We must retain the capacity to swiftly defeat any conventional threat to our country and our vital interests" but doesn't say anything about which interests are the vital ones...

...when Edwards or Obama talks about vital interests I actually have no idea what they're talking about. You have a very wide range of substantive disagreement as to what our interests are (and, of course, which of our interests are the vital ones) as well as how best to advance them, and I also here [sic] people trying to stretch the notion of an "interest" to encompass other kinds of policy priorities like genocide prevention. An essay on the subject of "what I think America's vital interests are" (heck, even a numbered list) would tell us a lot more about where these candidates are coming from than do these essays...'

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Wednesday Cat Blogging

Bonus Misty Edition. Misty historically has been rather camera shy so this post should make up for some of his lacking presence in this blog. Above, he's hanging out outdoors (where he can get away from the other tortuous beasts). In the middle he's in his basket, where he hangs out during the cooler, non-summer months. At the bottom is a typical major attitude action shot.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tuesday Cat Blogging

I just downloaded about 100 photos from the digital camera, dating back several months. So I will be doing a bunch of photo blogging this week. Above are all four of the gray things hanging about in our abode.

Baptist Seminary Finally Admits Women

From the North Texas Star Telegram:

'...The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary offers coursework in Greek and Hebrew, in archaeology, in the philosophy of religion and - starting this fall - in how to cook and sew.

Southwestern Baptist, one of the nation's largest Southern Baptist seminaries, is introducing a new academic program in homemaking as part of an effort to establish what its president calls biblical family and gender roles.

It will offer a bachelor of arts in humanities degree with a 23-hour concentration in homemaking. The program is only open to women.

Coursework will include seven hours of nutrition and meal preparation, seven hours of textile design and "clothing construction," three hours of general homemaking, three hours on "the value of a child," and three hours on the "biblical model for the home and family."...'

This whole 'biblical roles' for women is based on an essential fallacy: namely that gender based roles in biblical times are the same as the gender based roles today. While the Bible clearly talks about and assigns gender roles (liberal protestations about this tend towards the silly) these roles more often than not have little or no correlation to gender roles preached by fundamentalist churches today. The above list of coursework is a classic example. 'Clothing construction' is not a biblical gender role, but anointing the dead is - read the endings of the gospels of Mark and Matthew. This betrays the motivation for this sort of bizarre degree. That and the fact that the only female teaching at the seminary is the wife of the School President.

What's also missing from this program is any mention of gender roles for men. Oddly that always seems to be lacking. No men's coursework for undertaking the lifestyle of the 'suffering servant' of Isaiah, for instance.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Like the proverbial rats, people are fleeing the Bush administration in droves. This week Karl Rove announced, and today it cam out that Tony Snow is decamping for greener pastures (his excuse – he’s too poor on a $160,000 plus per year salary). Of course people leaving an administration as it ends is very common; what’s not common is this time there is well over a year left.

As we all know it’s not just the members of the administration that are fleeing. The entire Republican party is abandoning the President, and not just rhetorically by not invoking his name the way they refer to Reagan. People are making noises about how Bush really isn’t a conservative – he’s actually a liberal. They’re making noises about how the policies of conservatism didn’t fail the President, the President failed the policies. In short, he’s a Judas figure.

Glen Greenwald in his new book, A Tragic Legacy, documents some of this:

‘…Bush’s unpopularity has become so intense and toxic that self-identified political conservatives have taken to distancing themselves from Bush by insisting he was never really a ‘conservative’ at all. In the aftermath of the 2006 midterm elections, the New York Times reported, “Since the election, a chorus from the right has been noisily distinguishing between conservative and Republican, blaming deviation from conservative principles for the election losses. From George Will to Rush Limbaugh, conservatives cut loose with criticisms of the Republicans for spending too much at home and getting bogged down in Iraq.”

The day following the election, Rush Limbaugh assured his conservative audience, “Liberalism didn’t win anything yesterday; Republicanism lost. Conservatism was nowhere to be found except on the Democratic side.” Writing in the National Review, Jonah Goldberg in 2006 actually went so far as to claim that Bush is a ‘liberal’ Republican: “But there is one area where we can make somewhat useful comparisons between Nixon and Bush: their status as liberal Republicans.” Thus, reasoned Goldberg, Bush is the opposite of what “conservatives” support: “The modern conservative movement, from Goldwater to Reagan, was formed as a backlash against Nixonism.”…

…The dramatic turnabout in conservative characterizations of Bush is nowhere better demonstrated than by comparing Goldberg’s accusation in 2006…to Goldberg’s 2002 polar opposite claim that Bush “takes far more after his father’s old boss [Ronald Reagan], than he does his own father” and that “George W. Bush has proved that he’s a Reaganite, not a Bushie.”…

…The dynamic is as obvious as it is corrupt. They are desperately trying to disclaim responsibility for the disasters that they wrought in the name of “conservatism” by repudiating the political figures whom they named as the standard-bearers of their movement but whom America has now so decisively rejected…’

“Bush betrayed the conservative movement” is the meme that we will all be seeing as we get closer and closer to 2008. In the more rabid parts of the discussion, the word ‘Judas’ will be referred to more frequently. But what will happen to President Bush once this ‘betrayer’ leaves office? Fortunately I’ve recently finished Bart Ehrman’s book on the Gospel of Judas, which helpfully consolidates the various available stories.

So what happened to Judas? Like in most cases, the different books of the New Testament disagree. In Paul’s letters, for instance, Judas isn’t even mentioned, and in fact when Paul refers to the last supper, he uses the Greek word paradidomi (to give or hand someone or something over to someone else) to refer to what the Gospels mention as the betrayal. The problem is that when Paul uses that word, he always refers to God doing the handing over (Romans 8:32 – ‘He who did not spare his own son, but handed him over for all of us – how will he not give us all things with him?). So when in 1 Corinthians 11:23-24 (‘For I received from the Lord that which I also handed over to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after giving thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body given for you.”) Paul uses the word paradidomi, if he is using it the same way he does in the 15 other times he uses it in his letters, he is in fact referring to God handing Jesus over, not Judas. This could indicate the story of Judas arising in the early church, not in Jesus’ lifetime, for Paul’s letter were written at least ten years prior to any of the Gospels.

In Mark, the earliest Gospel, Judas is sketchily portrayed. First of all, no specific motivations are given for Judas’ betrayal (though the word betrayal is used). And there is nothing in the gospel about what happens to him, after he betrays Jesus with a kiss. Presumably he doesn’t fare too well for it would have been better for him “not to have been born.” (Mark 14:20).

Matthew, which used Mark as a source for his gospel, enriches the Judas episodes. In Matthew, for instance, we find out that Judas betrays Jesus for the bling: after the account of the anointing of Jesus by the unnamed woman and the disciples object due to cost reasons (Matthew 26:8), Judas heads over to the high priests to cut the deal. And thus the thirty pieces of silver. We also get a wrap up to the Judas story: it is in Matthew that he tries to return the 30 pieces of silver, gets rejected and goes to hang himself. Then the priests use the ‘blood money’ to buy potter’s field, which may be a synonym for ‘Field of Blood’ – red potting clay and all that.

Luke, which also used Mark as a source, has it different. Luke 22:3 “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was a member of the twelve; he went out and consulted with the chief priests and soldiers how he might betray him.” So the devil made him do it. Judas doesn’t die in Luke, but instead dies in the book of Acts, the ‘sequel’ to Luke. Acts 1:18-19: ‘Now this one [Judas] purchased a field with the wages of his unrighteous act and falling headlong he burst forth in the middle and all his intestines spilled out. And this became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that this field is called ‘Akeldamach’ in their own dialect, which means ‘Field of Blood.’” Not made clear is how he fell, so theoretically this final story is not in conflict with Matthew.

John actually combines some of the two stories in Matthew and Luke. Judas gets more screen time in John than in any of the other Gospels. He’s actually the treasurer for the 12 Apostles (John 12:6) and would steal from the community funds. He get’s pissed off at the cost of the ointment (John 12:5) and yet Satan “put it into the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, that he should betray him” (John 13:2). Judas’ death is not mentioned, however, in the book of John.

After the writings of the New Testament, things start to get out of hand as the legend grows. In the writings of Papias, from the beginning of the second century, we get the following story about the end of Judas:

‘…But Judas went about in this world as a great model of impiety. He became so bloated in the flesh that he could not pass through a place that was easily wide enough for a wagon – not even his swollen head could fit. The say that his eyelids swelled to such an extent that he could not see the light at all; and a doctor could not see his eyes even with an optical device, so deeply sunken they were in the surrounding flesh. And his genitals became more disgusting and larger than anyone’s; simply by relieving himself, to his wanton shame, he emitted pus and worms that flowed through his entire body.

And they say that after he suffered numerous torments and punishments, he died on his own land, and that land has been, until now, desolate and uninhabitable because of the stench. Indeed even to this day no one can pass by the place without holding their nose. This was how great an outpouring he made from his flesh on the ground…’

Knowing this, one wonders if the writers of the National Review and other conservative apologists want to keep up the ‘betrayer’ meme going. Would any of these endings be an appropriate conclusion to Bush’s two terms as President? Some would certainly agree. The good thing for the President is that these days there is a very easy solution to elephantiasis and parasitism. One just simply goes to the emergency room.

Off to the Races!

Well it's been a good while since we last had a nice old fashioned bank run:

'...Anxious customers jammed the phone lines and website of Countrywide Bank and crowded its branch offices to pull out their savings because of concerns about the financial problems of the mortgage lender that owns the bank.

Countrywide Financial Corp., the biggest home-loan company in the nation, sought Thursday to assure depositors and the financial industry that both it and its bank were fiscally stable. And federal regulators said they weren't alarmed by the volume of withdrawals from the bank.

The mortgage lender said it would further tighten its loan standards and make fewer large mortgages. Those moves could make it harder to get a home loan and further depress the housing market in California and other states.

The rush to withdraw money -- by depositors that included a former Los Angeles Kings star hockey player and an executive of a rival home-loan company -- came a day after fears arose that Countrywide Financial could file for bankruptcy protection because of a worsening credit crunch stemming from the sub-prime mortgage meltdown...'

This goes hand in hand with a couple of figures released yesterday that oddly enough didn't get much media coverage:

'...The cash positions in mutual funds stand at 3.8%, slightly below the 3.9% low established in 1972.

Margin debt as a percentage of the S&P market cap has climbed to 2.4%, an all-time high. The previous peak? Early 2000, at the height of the Internet bubble...'

So cash positions are at an all time low, and margin positions are at an all time high. It looks like the roller coaster days on Wall Street aren't going to be ending anytime soon. (h/t Atrios)

A Modest Proposal

National ID cards are back in vogue again. Actually I think that it's a good idea, though there are some details that need to be worked out. First of all, the biggest problem with ID cards is that with so much of your existence riding on them, it would completely suck if you lost one. So they need to rethink this 'card' concept, which is so 19th century tech. anyhow.

What would make more sense is if the government simply tatooed the information directly onto your skin - your forearm, say. That way you wouldn't loose it. The information could include your date of birth, height, eye color and such, and even could include an identifying number, so that everyone could be kept track of.

But why stop there. So much other information could be tattooed on our arms as well. For instance, our religious affiliation and ethnic backgrounds could be identified using cute little colored symbols...

...Oh, wait...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


'Trees planted for last pope to be chopped down for new pope's visit to Austria.':

'...They were planted to honor one pope. Now they're being purged for another.

Four stately lime trees ceremoniously planted near a popular Roman Catholic shrine in 1983 for a visit to Austria by the late Pope John Paul II are being uprooted to make way for a large grandstand for next month's pilgrimage by Pope Benedict XVI...

..."The church does not sacrifice trees," Paul Wuthe, a spokesman for the papal visit, told the Catholic news agency Kathpress...'

Still no final word on the shitting issue.

Monday, August 13, 2007

San Diego

Just got back from San Diego where I was speaking at a conference on digital visualization of city models. My presentation went quite well, but the city was an interesting surprise, since the last time I was there was in the mid seventies, visiting as a kid with my parents. The city has grown up a lot since then, but at least in the limited downtown area I hung out in, the beach town vibe still seemed to hold. The weather was perfect, so perhaps the next time I end up over there, I could spend a bit more time at the beach.

When I first went visited, back in 1975, it was right when Jaws had been released and a White shark fever was gripping the nation. A week or two before we arrived at the beach hotel, someone had caught a small great white on the pier in front of the hotel. So by the time we got there, no one could go into the ocean, because the entire pier was covered with people dangling large chunks of bloody red meat into the water in the hopes of catching another shark. It was quite disappointing being a small kid on their first visit to the ocean, not being allowed to step more than an inch into the water, since the entire beach had been turned into Chum Soup.

Family Force Five

Above you can behold the five members of the Christian Rock Group Family Force Five: Soul Glow, Crouton, Phatty, NaDaddy, and Chap Stique (no joke). Busy spreading the word of the Lord, they have lots of influences, as mentioned on their myspace page: Jesus, The Beastie Boys, Rage against the Machine, Public Enemy, Rick James and page three sweetheart Debbie Gibson. All known to be devout disciples of the Son of God. Jesus' General has the skinny on this and other bands being promoted by devout Christian Steven Baldwin.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


After 9-11, the people in our great nation were encouraged to come together and consume in order to soothe our grief and allow our society to recover. I've always loved the concept of an entire society shamelessly organized around consumption: essentially reducing us to some base level of foragers like a huge colony of locusts with credit cards.

One of the more entertaining movies I've seen was released about twenty years ago - a John Carpenter throwaway, 'They Live.' The basic premise is that we are all under the control of space aliens but don't realize it. They keep us in check with subliminal messages embedded into everything we see - messages that endlessly repeat chants such as 'Sleep...' and 'Consume...' Our hero discovers a pair of glasses that allows him to see the truth and we are off to the races. There's some good quotes in the movie, to:

'...Television Host: The feeling is definitely there. It's a new morning in America... fresh, vital. The old cynicism is gone. We have faith in our leaders. We're optimistic as to what becomes of it all. It really boils down to our ability to accept. We don't need pessimism. There are no limits...'

and what John Carpenter movie would be complete without:

'...I have come here to chew bubblegum or kick ass, and I'm all out of bubblegum...'

One of my favorite things to consume is Jesus kitsch, and I have recently found a motherload courtesy of the site We are Fishermen. Little plastic statues of Jesus skateboarding, playing football, and (soon to come, according to the promotional brochure they sent me) Jesus crawling out of a wrecked race car, like some holy crash test dummy. I've already got two, Jesus surfing and Jesus bending it like Beckham (images above, on either side of stoner Jesus with a dove). Not all are available yet, but I'm definitely getting more, especially when Jesus riding the bull is released.

And speaking of consumption and movies, this one looks too cool:

Sunday, August 05, 2007


Quote of the day:

'...One may intelligently wonder why, if seminarians are not taught a simplistic conservatism about the New Testament, they do not communicate more nuanced views in their preaching. A common excuse for this failure is that anything more complex and nuanced might disturb the people - now an increasingly specious explanation when far more Catholics receive college education and might be encouraged if they found out that their church, once a danger has passed, is capable of changing its mind in face of evidence. Probably a major factor is that to communicate nuanced biblical views in a way that people will find constructive (rather than puzzling or disturbing) requires more effort and imagination than many preachers are willing to expend. The bland is often effortless and survives even when the church teaches the contrary...'

From Raymond Brown's An Introduction to New Testament Christology. I'm about a quarter through this brief but excellent book, which I wanted to read before tackling his tome, Death of the Messiah. Thanks to Mike, who recommended to me Brown's Community of the Beloved Disciple which I finished last year.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Mine Mine Mine

I see that the Russians have discovered the power of the Flag:

'...A Russian expedition descended in a pair of submersible vessels more than two miles under the ice cap on Thursday and deposited a Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole. The dive was a symbolic move to enhance the government’s disputed claim to nearly half of the floor of the Arctic Ocean and potential oil or other resources there...'

Scientists Say That By 1970 Over 10,000 People Will Be Living On The Moon!

(Above, the Earth, not the moon...)

So in the past week, the roads in front of Grand Central Station have exploded upwards and the bridges in Minneapolis have collapsed downward. The future doesn't look bold and beautiful like the cover of a 1950s Popular Mechanics magazine, but rather looks like a slow decline into senescence and irrelevance, a dull narrative for the ending of our culture. And to think that merely a generation or two ago, things looked so bright.

The crazy innocence of the atomic age 1950s didn't seem to last all that long. By the 1980s, that Popular Mechanics imagery had already become an ironic emblem of a naive age, and now it's even fading from our memories as a cultural touchstone.

But hope remains. On August 11th and 12th at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station is the 2007 Rocketbelt convention. (h/t This Modern World).

So although a vacation on the moon doesn't seem on the horizon anytime soon, at least we can still get our damned jetpacks.