Saturday, October 31, 2009

Conservatives rewrite the Bible

This is not what you think it is

No, this is not a post about Conservapedia's hilarious project to create a more conservative Bible translation. Plenty of sharp bloggers have already offered wry comments on Andy Schlafly's misbegotten endeavor.

A post on Daily Kos drew my attention to a wacky editorial in the Portland Press Herald endorsing the anti-gay Proposition 1 on the Maine ballot. Orono resident Linda E. Pletka is the writer. She is upset about the possibility that Maine's voters will allow a marriage-equality measure to become state law by opposing the Proposition 1 referendum:
Do a majority in Maine really wish we would revert back into a heathen nation?
“Revert back”? Those words are an indication of the fantasy world in which Ms. Pletka resides. The correct phrase is “advance forward.”

But the writer wants us to know that she has the Bible on her side. For some people, that's a pretty powerful argument. The bachelor saint Paul of Tarsus was pretty explicit in his letter to the Romans about how much he disliked gays, perhaps because they used to flirt with him (or perhaps because they didn't; maybe it was his companion Timothy who got all the action). But Linda Pletka doesn't quote St. Paul. No, she doesn't settle for epistles. She goes straight for a gospel:
“What God has joined together—as he made them, man and woman—let no man put asunder.” (Mark 10:9)
Killer quote, right? A perfect prop for Pletka's argument.

Tiny problem. That's not Mark 10:9. This is Mark 10:9:
What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
The interpolated phrase “as he made them, man and woman” is missing from the King James Version. (Perhaps the king's boyfriend made him leave it out.) But the New International Version is no more helpful to Pletka's cause:
“Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
Oops! It's just not there.

Make no mistake. The rest of Mark 10 makes it abundantly clear that the topic is opposite-sex marriage. I am not arguing otherwise. I am merely pointing out that Ms. Pletka has taken it upon herself to rewrite the Bible. How dangerous! If this gets out, her most devout fellow-travelers might find it necessary to stone her or burn her at the stake.

You can't be too careful when it comes to Christian love.

One of the comments on the Portland Press Herald website may have said it best:
MudDoctor of Portland, ME
Oct 31, 2009 9:36 AM

This op-ed piece couldn't come at a better time for the No on 1 campaign.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I've become a Republican

Or maybe just a crazed wingnut

I was noodling away at my work in my usual innocent fashion, preparing a quiz for my students. The radio was tuned to the local classical station. The music murmured in the background and I wasn't paying a lot of attention to it. Then the announcer started talking, and I wasn't paying a lot of attention to that, either—until I heard him say a name.

Antonin Scalia.

Huh? Why was a classical radio announcer mentioning the name of a Supreme Court justice?

It immediately occurred to me that it must be a news bulletin. An emergency? Perhaps Scalia had died.

Good, I thought, my hopes soaring. What could be better than to lose one of the high court's most conservative justices while a relatively liberal Democrat is in the White House?

I instantly felt guilty, chagrined at my reflexive response. I was not behaving like a nonbelieving liberal Democrat.

No. I was behaving like a right-wing Christian Republican. The evidence bears this out.

Ann Coulter on liberal Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens:

“We need somebody to put rat poison in Justice Stevens's crème brûlée.”
Pastor Wiley Drake prays for the death of President Obama:

“If he does not turn to God and does not turn his life around, I am asking God to enforce imprecatory prayers that are throughout the Scripture that would cause him death, that's correct.”
Pastor Peter J. Peters calling down condemnation on the Obama administration:

“Set in slippery places those who feel secure in their deceptions and lies, conspiracies, treacheries, and false hopes and cast them down to destruction. You said you could and that you would and so we believe you and hold you to your word. With authority we call for it now to be done as they sit up straight and gloat in their so-called high and mighty positions and fortresses.”
Baptist minister Robert Hymers begs God to kill Justice Brennan:

A fundamentalist Baptist minister, upset by Brennan's vote in Roe v. Wade, hired an airplane that bore a streamer: “Pray for Death: Baby-killer Brennan.” (Kim Isaac Eisler)
I am better than these people, these hypocritical death-mongers who pay lip service to their Christian faith. (Who Would Jesus Murder?)

Therefore I rein in my contempt for Justice Scalia (who thinks a cross is an appropriate way to honor Jewish war dead) and refrain from hoping for his demise. It would suffice if he merely resigns from the court to enjoy a long and healthy retirement, where he can do little harm.

As for the radio news item? It turned out that Justice Scalia had appeared as a supernumerary in the Washington National Opera's production of Ariadne auf Naxos. He joined a crowd that included Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the Act I party scene, during which Scalia provided a lap for the coquettish Zerbinetta.

No doubt Scalia was gone by the time Ariadne came on stage in Act II to beg for death in Es gibt ein Reich. For herself. Someone should tell the soprano that's not how it's done in Christian Republican circles.

Monday, October 19, 2009

An outlier goes mainstream

Measures of Central Valley Tendency

During a recent weekend down in California's Central Valley, I had breakfast with my parents at a restaurant in the city of Tulare. There I picked up a copy of the Valley Voice, a free weekly newspaper whose coverage area spans Kings and Tulare counties. In general, its pages reflect the conservative perspective of its rural readers. I hope, however, that the paper's editorial policy has erred on the side of free speech in deciding what to permit in its Letters to the Editor column. Some newspapers would balk at publishing the spittle-flecked ravings of the emotionally unhinged.

The following is not annotated in any way, but think of it as being labeled with one big “[sic]”:
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

For 230 years, men and women were willing to fight and die for “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” President Obama says we now need a new “Declaration of Independence” and the U.S. Constitution is too restrictive.

On Nov. 4, 2008, we switched enemies. Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, Israel, are now our enemies and Castro, Hamas, Hugo Chavez, are now our friends. We can't call Al Qaeda terrorist, now those attending the Town Hall Meetings are terrorists.

Barak Obama, Bill Ayers, Louis Farrakhan, all have the same goal, overthrow our government.

All Communist dictators have one thing in common, they will squelch all opposition, public execution of their own citizens.

Obama's first action as President was to murder more unborn, now passing health care will allow Obama to get rid of old people who are resisting his transforming America into a Communist regime.

How is it possible to have a Commander In Chief who hates what America stands for and loves our enemies.

All Czars should have been vetted, but the truth of the matter is that Barak Obama was not vetted. Obama would not have passed the F.B.I. background check and he did not submit the proper documents, birth certificate that was sealed, to the Election Committee. This committee should be held accountable.

It's so sad that we have an inept President that has never run a business, made payroll and paid payroll taxes.

Vernon B
This is another example of what David Neiwert has been documenting as the mainstreaming of extremist rhetoric. Mr. B's letter is an incoherent rant, a scatter-shot blast at a list of things he's heard about on talk radio and Fox News (and perhaps Free Republic). And this example comes directly from my old home turf. (Is it safe to drive down Highway 99 with an Obama sticker on your car?)

Perhaps after national health care reform is enacted, Mr. B will finally be able to get the psychiatric treatment he so desperately needs.

A lesson in grammar and punctuation would help, too.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Deep inside the math box

Don't let the reality in!

This is depressing. I gave my intermediate algebra students the following problem. It's a standard distance-rate-time exercise (I added some emphasis to some important words):
Jane rides her scooter 6 miles to the mall to buy some shoes. Eager to get them home, she drives 2 miles per hour faster on the way back, traveling the same 6-mile route. The total travel time for Jane’s round trip to and from the mall is 2.5 hours. How fast did she travel on her way to the mall?
It's not a catchy, exciting, and engaging application problem, but it's comfortingly mundane. Certainly people live in a world where distance, rate, and time are not entirely foreign. Most of my students drive and know that traveling for 2 hours at 60 miles per hour equates to a 120-mile trip.

It's not scary stuff. Not rocket science.

One of my students—and not an indolent homework-shirking student either—quite innocently asked me (after she screwed up the problem), “What words in the problem were supposed to tip us off that we had to add the two times together to make an equation? How we were supposed to know that 2.5 was their sum?”

No, I didn't slam my head on the board multiple times, even though I felt like it.

How about “total time”? How about “round trip”? How about “to and from”?

Would it have helped to include “Hint: Add the freaking times!”?

This particular student (among quite a few others) has put math in a box. The real world isn't allowed to leak in. Don't think about how things operate in reality. It's not permitted! Math is a pure mind game that doesn't mean anything. It's just a formal system that you have to beat if you're going to graduate.

I answered her question with a question: “If it takes you ten minutes to get to school and seven minutes to get back home, how long did you have to travel?”

“Seventeen minutes,” she answered instantly, her expression suggesting that I had asked a dumb question.

I waited for the light to dawn.

Still waiting.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

God'll get you for that

Let us pray

I keep hearing religious people say that “God is not mocked.” What they really mean (since God is actually mocked all the time) is that the divinely benevolent invisible “man in the sky” will get even. So there!

We must therefore be careful not to offend the easily offended resident of the cerulean heights. My father thoughtfully forwarded me some “inspirational” spam-mail that had all the usual earmarks of multiply-forwarded tripe. It's based on a true story, and is supposed to stir the reader into righteous indignation that officials at public high schools can't lead attendees at football games in prayer. (Please note that football is a religion to a lot of people.)

Here are some key bits of Dad's forwarded e-mail:
This is a statement that was read over the PA system at the football game at Roane County High School, Kingston, Tennessee, by school Principal, Jody McLeod:

"It has always been the custom at Roane County High School football games, to say a prayer and play the National Anthem, to honor God and Country."

"Due to a recent ruling by the Supreme Court, I am told that saying a Prayer is a violation of Federal Case Law. As I understand the law at this time, I can use this public facility to approve of sexual perversion and call it "an alternate life style," and if someone is offended, that's OK."

"I can designate a school day as "Earth Day" and involve students in activities to worship religiously and praise the goddess "Mother Earth" and call it "ecology."

"I can use literature, videos and presentations in the classroom that depicts people with strong, traditional Christian convictions as "simple minded" and "ignorant" and call it "enlightenment."

"However, if anyone uses this facility to honor GOD and to ask HIM to Bless this event with safety and good sportsmanship, then Federal Case Law is violated."

"This appears to be inconsistent at best, and at worst, diabolical! Apparently, we are to be tolerant of everything and anyone, except GOD and HIS Commandments."
I seem to have missed the commandment that says “Thou shalt pray at sporting events.”

"Nevertheless, as a school principal, I frequently ask staff and students to abide by rules with which they do not necessarily agree. For me to do otherwise would be inconsistent at best, and at worst, hypocritical.

"For this reason, I shall "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's," and refrain from praying at this time."

"However, if you feel inspired to honor, praise and thank GOD and ask HIM, in the name of JESUS, to Bless this event, please feel free to do so. As far as I know, that's not against the law -- yet."
Oh, oh! She's on to us! The next step, of course (supported by all secularists as part of our international conspiracy) is to ban private prayer. We dished the public stuff, next it's equipping a national police force to hunt down and punish people who pray in secret. (I know it seems impractical, but Satan commands!)
One by one, the people in the stands bowed their heads, held hands with one another and began to pray. They prayed in the stands. They prayed in the team huddles. They prayed at the concession stand and they prayed in the Announcer's Box!

The only place they didn't pray was in the Supreme Court of the United States of America -- the Seat of "Justice" in the "one nation, under GOD."
It gives you a lump in the throat, doesn't it? (Try to keep it down.) And anyone who didn't pray was beaten up in the parking lot during half-time. (I just made that last bit up. I doubt anyone dared not pray (or at least pretend to) in the face of so much public pressure.)

This message in my in-box concluded with the exhortation common in such e-mail: “If you are not ashamed, pass this on.”

Actually, I am a little embarrassed that I have so many family members who think this is a telling tale and that it's worth sharing.

I could dismiss it as just another example of the small-mindedness of the true believer, who insists that the public sphere should conform to his or her personal religious beliefs—and that local majority rule can establish a religion because that's what (most of) the people want. But I didn't simply ash-can the message.

Something about “Kingston, Tennessee” tickled my brain cells. I poked it into Google to discover the following:
And last year, a billion gallons of muck containing coal ash flooded the town of Kingston, TN, in a spill 100 times larger than the notorious Exxon-Valdez spill.
An Act of God! The prayer incident occurred in 2000. The toxic ash spill happened in 2008. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, y'all!

I readily confess that this is a puzzler. Despite my nonbelief, I'm wondering if perhaps God exists after all and gets pissed off when his silly followers make asses of themselves.

“These jerks are an embarrassment to me. I think I'll smite them.”

Ashes to asses, you true believers.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Do the right thing

Give them what they want

A lot of people have weighed in on the significance of President Obama's selection as this year's winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Most folks seem to think it's at least a little bit anticipatory. Perhaps the president can put it on lay-away until he's got the political capital to redeem it. Others have been slightly less charitable—which confuses me, of course, since many of the most virulent objectors are overtly and cloyingly Christian. (Of the three great virtues of faith, hope, and charity, only the first seems to carry any weight with them.)

I suppose I could simply sit back and enjoy the spectacle of exploding Republican heads, but I prefer to take the initiative and offer some sure-fire ways to alleviate the anguish of the angry right.

We should give them what they want.

The elfin Michelle Malkin, who always reminds me of the vicious little fairy creatures (bloodthirsty “alate pseudosimians”) in Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars, mocked the Nobel Peace Prize award by saying, “The World Apology Tour yields dividends.” Michelle, you see, preferred George W. Bush's unilateral bully-boy approach to international relations. Treating other nations as peers fails to remind them of their inherent inferiority. (As we all know, people are nicer to you if you tell them they're scum.) To make Michelle Malkin happy, I think President Obama should arrange to have her bitch-slapped like the slut she is and hustled off in chains to a confinement facility. (I know the language is politically incorrect and sexist, but Michelle disapproves of prissiness and P.C.)

She likes it when we imprison our minorities, so I think it would be especially appropriate to lock her up in Tule Lake, where Japanese-Americans were penned up during World War II. Visitors to the historical facility could be invited to poke at her with sticks, making it a fun hands-on experience for the entire family.

Malkin could hardly protest. She thinks this is a good way to treat your political opponents and rivals throughout the world. There is no question but that she is one of the president's most outspoken opponents. She would have, therefore, to be gratified that he was following her advice so specifically. Since Malkin posits that the president is deeply connected to Chicago's notorious corruption, it should be easy for him to put out a contract for a bag-job on her.

It's only what she would expect.

Rush Limbaugh, radio entertainer and sexual athlete, says the the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Obama in gratitude for his campaign to create a “weakened, neutered U.S.” To demonstrate his possession of balls that even the Viagra-powered Rush would envy, the president should dispatch a special-ops team to drag him off to one of the empty cages at Guantánamo. They could strip Limbaugh naked (it's only a frat-boy prank anyway, which Rush wouldn't mind), bind his wrists to his ankles in a stress position (it's not torture), and stuff Oxycontin up his ass till he sings the president's praises (because people respect you when you beat up on them).

I'm flexible about this suggestion because Limbaugh isn't. The fat boy doesn't bend too well in the middle, so some alternative stress position might need to be devised. I have confidence that America's patriotic Cheney-trained interrogators are up to the job.

And Rush would be proud of an American president who stands up to those who oppose him.

Glenn Beck is a special case requiring special handling. He thinks the president should turn the Nobel Peace Prize over to the motley crew of malcontents, sore losers, racists, conspiracy nuts, GOP agitators, and idiots that comprised the so-called “9-12 Project.” (The label is especially ironic, demonstrating that Beck and his minions must remember nothing at all about the sense of national unity that prevailed during the aftershock of 9-11.)

Beck should be strapped down into a chair with his eyelids clamped open (à la Alex in A Clockwork Orange) and forced to watch a video loop of George W. Bush's speeches on his determination to track down Osama bin Laden (remember him?). I haven't quite decided whether Beck's eyes should be periodically swabbed with his preferred Vicks VapoRub (which may be losing its effectiveness in inducing his crying jags) or the more potent pepper spray. I'm thinking the latter. Get maximum-strength name-brand stuff like Mace. Nothing is too good for our out-front leader of the wacko patriot fringe.

I'm certain that some sissified liberals would say that my proposals are too extreme, too edgy. To them I say that they have obviously not been paying enough attention to the creative protests of the pugnacious right wing. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

You know what to do, Barack. Earn that prize!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Pornography on campus!

A shocking exposé

Last year I posted an article featuring the rantings of a student at American River College in Sacramento. The writer, who was part of the right-wing cabal that took over the student government at ARC (and which has since been ousted), had his concerns published in the school paper:
Pornography at school? Don't look, but there is pornographic art in the Learning Resource Center (LRC)
At the time I wrote my original post, I had not had the benefit of visiting ARC's Learning Resource Center to view its collection of lewd artwork. Recently, however, I was in Sacramento and visited my friend “Steve,” who is a former student of mine and teaches at ARC. Naturally I could not resist the opportunity to peek into the LRC to witness in person the depravity of this capital city college.

And now, at last, I know why the concerned student was so concerned. I had to hunt for a while (probably attracting attention from the denizens of the LRC, who must have been wondering why I was wandering around the place). In fact, I initially walked right past the offending and offensive art, an oil painting which is near the main entrance. (Just take a right from the lobby and look at the first picture on the wall on your right. It's the only art in the whole building that seems to be even a remote candidate for salaciousness.) When I finally noticed the “pornographic” content of the painting, I fumbled my camera out of my pocket and snapped a couple of shots (probably causing the people at the front desk to start thinking about calling campus security).

I can now share the fruit of my brave mission into ARC's salacious den of iniquity. It turns out that the college's innocent students are having their virgin eyes assaulted by ... bare boobies. Yes, manifest mammaries. The mind reels.

You have to keep a sharp eye open if you're going to notice them (or, more accurately, it), so I suppose the artist intended to seduce students subliminally. The artist in question painted a picture of an artist (a self-portrait perhaps?). The artist is in the foreground, surrounded by the tools of his craft. In the background one can see a painting by the artist (a painting in a painting!) that depicts a nude model. And you can see her left breast!

Yep. That's it. And that was enough to prompt one screwed-up right-wing hyper-Christian student to blow a gasket about on-campus pornography. When Steve drew my attention to the student's letter in his school paper, I enjoyed poking a little fun at the boy's excessive delicacy and prudishness. Now, however, I confess to being conflicted. It's not nice to mock people who so desperately need help.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Counting cows

Accidentally in glut

People have been bringing a recent New York Times article to my attention: “From Science, Plenty of Cows but Little Profit.” (If the New York Times is behind a subscription wall for you, try the News & Observer's reprint here.) Just when milk prices crash and dairy farmers are taking it on the chin, science has foolishly tampered with nature and created more cows! As reporter William Neuman explains,
Three years ago, a technological breakthrough gave dairy farmers the chance to bend a basic rule of nature: no longer would their cows have to give birth to equal numbers of female and male offspring. Instead, using a high-technology method to sort the sperm of dairy bulls, they could produce mostly female calves to be raised into profitable milk producers.

Now the first cows bred with that technology, tens of thousands of them, are entering milking herds across the country—and the timing could hardly be worse.
There's less to this story than meets the eye.

It's true, of course, that any dairy farmer who invested in sex-selection technology wasted his money. Money he almost certainly cannot afford in these straitened times. The extra heifers are of no benefit, since he certainly does not need more milk cattle while the market for fluid milk is glutted. Dairy farmers are now receiving about $11 per hundred-weight, while a year ago it was over $19. The dairymen who went into debt to expand their herds at the price peak are now losing those herds at the low point. (My brother, who is a dairy farmer, knows of two men who got out of the business the hard way: one used a rope and the other used a gun.) It's a disaster out there, as depicted recently on ABC World News (“Dairy Farms Disappear”).

The problem, therefore, is real. The sex-selection technology, however, is the merest blip. It might be a significant boon in the future, supposing that there is a recovery in the dairy industry, but in the short run it has minimal impact. You see, each milk cow needs to give birth in order to start lactating. You may remember that fact from basic biology. Perhaps at some point we will overcome that limitation, but for now it still holds true.

This basic law of milk production means that each cow in a milking herd is a mother, implying the existence of a calf. The number of calves isn't going to change. In the past, you had a fifty-fifty split in the number of heifers (female calves) and bull calves (male calves). As reported in the New York Times,
The male calves are usually sold for little money to be raised as meat, and the females are raised as milk producers.
All too true. The occasionally bull calf may be raised to adulthood for stud services, but most of the boys go right to the auction block (along with an excess girl or two).

Such a waste of breeding time and effort, producing all those useless males!

It looked for a moment like the problem of excess males had been fixed. Unhappily, under current circumstances, the fix merely means that we have begun producing useless females—in a one-to-one substitution for the useless males. The excess heifers will be sold off instead of being bred and joining the milk herd. The unneeded heifers will command the same meagre meat-product prices as the unneeded bull calves. The girls will, unfortunately, have cost more than the boys used to because of the investment in sex-sorted semen for artificial breeding purposes, but they won't be adding a single drop to the milk glut.

They'll never be milked.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Trompe l'oeil

Not what it seemed

I was pulling apart Wednesday's issue of the Sacramento Bee when a photograph caught my eye. I didn't immediately recognize that it was a photograph. When I first glimpsed it, I thought it was a realistic painting in the style of Norman Rockwell (as in his self-portrait). Only when I looked right at it did I realize it was a news photo.

I have no idea whether Bee photographer Manny Crisostomo was going for this effect when he snapped the shot. Or perhaps it was something in the way the photo was processed for publication in the newspaper. Does it strike you the way it struck me?