The Personal and Political Ramblings of one guy in Texas.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004


I'm walking the dogs this morning and I notice a bumper sticker on one the vehicles parked in a driveway. It shows a grave with a headstone, and the caption reads "Now even Darwin believes."

As an actual believing Christian and regular churchgoer, I have to say that sort of thing really irritates me. How many people out there know that ol' Chuck Darwin was a clergyman? And that he struggled a lot with the implications of his theory? Would that their opinions any? Maybe. But they don't know, of course.

I can sort of understand where that sort of sticker comes from, though. I think its been ten years since I saw the first "Darwin" fish on a car. You know what I mean, the parody of the Christian fish symbol with the word "Darwin" in it and little feet on the fish. I was hugely offended when I first saw it and still find it grating.

I think I see the point of such a display -- but it still strikes me as needlessly offensive.

Naturally, it wasn't too long before Christians shot back -- we started seeing Darwin fish being eaten by the Christian fish. Then it was vice-versa, and nowadays you can occasionally find flying saucer variants flitting about on the backs of cars. I haven't seen a Cthluhu one yet, but its only a matter of time.

I haven't put a bumper sticker on one of my vehicles since I was in college (I don't think my Texas A&M Association of Former Students window decal quite counts. Does it?), but I'd seriously consider paying money to get a sticker that has a Darwin Fish and Christian fish shaking, fins. Or feet. Whatever.

Literal biblical interpretations actually have a very recent history. Ancient Hebrew scholars didn't think the Genesis story was literal truth, its amazing that 21st century fundamentalists can peddle that line and believe it. The mental gymnastics required to buy into literal interpretations are pretty impressive (and that doesn't include going into the fossil record. There are two creation stories in Genesis, for example). Not for the average Joe of course, but quite a few of these fundamentalist types are not only smart, but well read on the Bible, knowing all the passages and even studying the Greek.

Then there is the fossil record. I think the prevailing fundie trope is that its a test of some kind, but God doesn't seem to be into that sort of test, in my opinion. Science and religion do not have to be in conflict. That they often are is a failure of our imaginations, not a law of nature (or God).

So anyway, I want those fish shaking hands. There was a place online where you could design t-shirts, cups, that sort of thing, with your logo on them. If they are still there (and I could find them) I wonder if I could do the fish. And if anyone else has done it yet. Be nice to get some beer money out of the deal if they haven't. If I drank beer, that is, which is a whole 'nother story.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004


I've not had much to say of late. There's only so much time to write something good, and I've been working on some book reviews I intend to post here.

But suddenly the War has become a topic, and you have to decide what is going to be the way to go. Do you think Bush has the right idea, only he's messing it up? Do you think Kerry will do it, only better? Or do you think the war in Iraq is totally wrong, but the WoT is okay? Or are they both wrong?

Greg Djerejian argues that however bad Bush has been, if you truly think the WoT is something to fight and win (and especially if you think Iraq should be won, regardless of whether or not it was a good idea), you're wrong to be betting on John Kerry:

Empty talk (I'll get tough on the Saudis!). Chimerical policy options (Bring the Europeans into Iraq!). Panic-stoking (Nuclear nightmare in NoKo--would that we had pursued another Clinton 'deal'!). Intellectual laziness (we'll 'train and equip' better! We'll eradicate poppy better!) Pretension ('I have been to Paris'; I have a secret plan) 20-20 Hindsight (I'd have done almost all of it differently [ed. note: Hell, at least tell us you would have done it all differently!). And, if all else fails, repeat after me: Fallujah, Fallujah, Fallujah...

As they say, read the whole thing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


My friend Mike grumbles about his feeling that liberals are getting unfairly caricatured. Well, that's the thing about political caricature; its pretty much never fair. Take a look at the editorial cartoons sometimes. They can be funny or poignant, but fair is exactly what they aren't.

Mike's a good guy, but I suspect he doesn't even notice the conservative caricatures that are present on the liberal/left, and run rampant through its more popular blogs and the comment sections on them. And I reckon I don't notice or think about much of the liberal bashing I see and read unless its especially offensive.

Indeed, I think most of us pretty much ignore it all until we see something bashing our tribe one time too many or in some especially nasty way, whereupon we whip out out keyboards and lay into the creeps.

All this is not to belittle Mike's real outrage. Nobody likes to be made fun of, and all this sort of referencing to pony-tailed, tweedy academics and slick-haired, born-again homophobes does the world of ideas a pretty poor service (though Jimmy Swaggart proves that sometimes caricatures might not go far enough).

Friday, September 17, 2004

Friday Miscellany 

A quick shout-out to those coming here from my old friend Mike Thomas' site, Rhetoric & Rhythm. I'm assuming all those hits are not just Mike looking for updates at rate that would make Instapundit a bit tired.

Speaking of Instapundit, I found something funny over there the other day. I guess I wasn't the only one who remembered those old Bloom County 'toons about Dan Rather.

My friend Chris over at Southpaw has a tendency to wax apocalyptic from time to time. Here's an example where he appears to be afraid of right-wing violence on election day. I suppose the import of his piece is a tad undercut by the fact he still believed in the CBS memos at the time, as regarded anyone who questioned their provenance as a bit out there. Consider this statement:

Let's be clear: if some guy in comments at can incite a nontrivial bloc of voters to believe CBS' (and USA Today's) memos were fake, all facts to the contrary be damned, then there is no documentary evidence that anyone can produce that these people will accept, if it violates their approved storyline. They have entered the cocoon of a group hypnosis now. They will not be swayed.

Considering events, the irony here is too staggering not to make note of. By the way, I personally leave open the remote possibility that the memos might in some wacky fashion, turn out to be for real after all. But as I say, its quite remote.

He might also want to read this piece by Todd Gitlin, who worries about the potential for violence from an embittered Left should Bush win, and counsels learning a lesson from the Goldwater Republicans of '64 if that Bush victory should happen.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Fake But True, And Nothing Else Matters 

How swiftly things change. The dominant meme on the leftward side of the blogosphere (from those who chose to keep on keepin' on, as opposed to those who decided to move quietly away) has been "The memos are real! Real, I tell you!" from the start. Then, as doubts set in, there came a few shadings of "It doesn't matter, there is plenty of other data to prove Bush is a shirker", but a lot of people clung to the sinking ship until the final torpedoes came in to scuttle it.

Well, get your forks out, everyone but CBS has pretty much concluded the Killian memos are indeed fake, and the new meme appears to be "They may be fake, but they are still true", which is indeed a possibility, but you gotta admit its going to be a hard sell to anyone not already committed.

Oh, and it doesn't matter that a major news organization got caught with its hands in the cookie jar on a major news story it broke about a presidential candidate. That's not important, and anyone who celebrates the idea that they got nailed is missing out on the real truth, justice, Mom, apple pie, etc. Amazing. Imagine if it was Fox that broke a story about Kerry's medals and it developed that part of the story depended on a faked memo. Ya think some opinions might be different? Maybe? Maybe.

I thought it funny that I was the guy saying "They might be real, but I don't think you can ignore the many different arguments made that they are fake" and I was the one accused of being close-minded. And this days after people agreed with my posting on the Stupid Media, CBS suddenly became imbued with Olympian detachment and wisdom.

Implications and fallout?

Well, CBS and Dan Rather are pretty screwed in the near term. The fact that they went with these memos on such scanty evidence and in the face of reported concerns is bad, very bad. Even totally real docs that surface from now on will be examined by the swing voter with a gimlet eye.

Bloggers of the right are going to be pretty full of themselves for a while. Will Big Media pay more attention to them, and also try a bit harder to make sure they have there "i's" dotted and "t's" crossed. That would be nice. Will it last? Don't know. It might take a few more scandals like this one to jar the big media folks into serious reconsideration of their methods.

ObBipartisan: I harbor no illusions that rightwingers would have been any more honest had the memos turned out to not be forged.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

No Typewriters Here! 

In my last post I noted that the story of the election would probably change at least twice before it happened. Last week it managed to do so in the space of 24 hours. I'll not bother with links; if you don't know all about the memo flap by now, you need to read a lot more blogs than this one.

Most blogs that have paid attention have almost gotten themselves lost in the details of typefaces and kerning, and other things I've never heard of. Fewer have considered the impact of the story. That's not not to say none have, but not as many.

If these documents are proven fake, or if there is a strong enough odor of doubt attatched to them, Bush's Guard service ends as an issue. It will be dead. We'll leave aside for now the argument of whether or not it should have mattered in the first place. And not only will it be dead, CBS News will be wounded and out of action for the remainder of the election. That's too bad, but if they are fake memos, and given some of the other things people have said about the creation of the story, then it will be all CBS's fault.

I try not to engage in blogger triumphilism, but as I posted a while back about the stupid and lazy media, this sort of thing was once only noted by individuals who had the knowledge, but no way to communicate it to the wider world. Now, with blogs, and blogs read by people who do have these hooks (blogs themselves are not yet widely read enough to get through to the general public, but newshounds looking for a story read them) to the big media, its getting harder and harder for lazy reporting to go unnoticed by a wider audience.

The media can either tighten up their standards, or try to discredit the new media and hope it all goes away. Otherwise, it is going to go down with hoots of derision.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Venus, Mars, and All That Rot 

So I'm reading my wife's book (which suffers a bit from "Academic Writing syndrome", but that's what academic publishers want so don't count that as real criticism. No one who wrote the Chester FAQ should be accused of inability to write informally), which is about how to teach argument, why that is a good idea, and why people are not doing terribly well at it these days. And while I'm pretty early in it, something she said there struck a chord.

In a way, its an old old point, but something about it struck me in a fresh way. What she said was (I'm seriously paraphrasing -- any errors are strictly my fault) that a major problem with teaching argument is that the various theories make very different assumptions about how the world works (or should work) and that this influences the purposes (and thus the structure) of argument. Its made worse when authors sort of mix the different theories together.

It a variation of the "Americans are from Mars" bit, but its always very useful to remind ourselves that when making arguments about health care or gun control or whatever, we often start with very different assumptions about the role of government, the role of the people, and what represents a good outcome.

Lets consider guns for a second. Where I grew up, guns and hunting were pretty much common. Our truck had a gun rack over the seat (do they even make gun racks anymore?). When I moved up to a bigger bed at around age 7, I slept in the guest room (which doubled as my parents "office") for a time, which contained a display-style gun
cabinet -- with the key in the lock. Oh, and some of the guns were loaded. Loaded!

Granted, they were all rifles and shotguns, hard things for a kid to play with, but still...
Of course, I knew better than to play with them. My Dad never took me out back and shot a watermelon saying, "this could be your head" but I knew, somehow, that guns weren't toys, that those heavy wood and metal things in the case were not the same as the ones in my room.

I got my own personal first real gun at the age of 8, I think. It was a single-shot .410 gauge shotgun. We hunted birds with it. When wandering around the ranch, we carried a little .22 semi-auto with a scope mounted on it for shooting jackrabbits and other varmints.

Finally, while I had heard of people who died in hunting accidents or whatever, I don't think a single person I ever knew personally was ever even scratched by a bullet.
In short, guns are just objects to me. They can be used for fun activities, but need to be treated with care, like a power drill. They aren't scary, they aren't talisman of power, they are just there.

Now, if you're from the inner city, and gangs cruise your street and occasionally shot at their rivals, and you knew a couple of people that had died from violence -- well, I can understand that your attitude on gun control might be different than mine.

I'm not sure how well either of us could understand the other person's position way deep down in the gut, where it matters. Intellectually, either of us might be able to get that we have very different perceptions about why guns are or aren't a big deal. But when it comes time to determine policy on guns, intellectualism is pretty thin gruel. We aren't Vulcans. However much I might sympathize with someone from the city, I can't get my experience of responsible and downright bland gun ownership out of my head.

The point here? People from different worlds are going to have a hard time communicating with each other, even when both are sincere in attempting to listen. You can find that writ large in today's politics.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

True Lies? Not so Fast, My Friend! 

Dave Fried in this quickie points to an AP story and says flat-out that Arnold S. lied in his speech. I suggest you take a gander over here or over here and reconsider. Pay particular attention to what Arnold actually said vs. what the accusation is. You might have to follow a link or two to get it all, but the basic thrust is that the historians say Arnold wasn't born in the Soviet sector of Austria. No, he apparently lived about 50 miles from it (insert Kerry-Cambodia joke here), and in his speech he says "visited the Soviet sector", not that he lived in it. Further, a socialist economic system does not preclude a democratic government, and to Americans of today, even conservatives of the euro cast are pretty socialist.

Can we be done with this now? Frankly, I'm surprised the Nixon reference didn't make more headlines (I know a few people remarked on it, but not what I would have expected). I'm surprised they let him keep that in, anyone saying something even vaguely nice about Nixon tends to draw a lot glances, even if its non-political.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Twits to the Left of Me! Twits to the right! 

...volleyed and thund'rd".

This may be my one post dedicated to events of the two political conventions. I'm not certain, but I think the last time I watched an entire convention speech might have been Ann Richards' famous savaging of Bush the elder, which featured the memorable line "he was born with a silver foot in his mouth" way back in '88. Conventions with all their pre-packaged pablum, are just boring (mostly). I also find it very hard to listen to any politician speak. I roll my eyes so much I'm afraid they may get stuck pointing the wrong way. How am I supposed to make it to the emergency room with my eyes rolled back?

Anyway, a couple of days back, some activists managed to get on the RNC floor and make a spectacle of themselves.

I really have a low tolerance for this sort of crap, from either the Left or the Right. Demonstrate all you want, but let people have their meetings and speak.

My disgust for this sort of cheap theater goes way back. I think my first encounter with it may have been the Texas governors race of 1990. A fellow named Clayton Williams was the Republican candidate. One of my roommates was a volunteer, and asked us to drop by for his speech announcing his candidacy. I happened to be in the area at the time, so I dropped by.

I don't remember a word of his speech. But I do recall the protesters. I honestly don't know if they had a more compelling reason to show up than he was a Republican, and they wouldn't have to drive far to act up. Maybe he once supported a neo-Nazi group, maybe he just wanted to cut taxes. I don't know. These were obviously left-wingers, but they could just as easily been rightists at an Ann Richards speech -- these guys are cut from the same cloth, just from different sides.

Anyway, they first just tried to get up front with their signs. And naturally, the Clayton supporters used their signs to block them. I guess since the sign thing wasn't working, they gathered in the back and one of their number proceeded to do his best Hitler impersonation. No, I'm not kidding. It even sounded like actual German, but I don't speak it, so who knows.

This sort of thing is NOT funny. Not just the Hitler bit, but the whole idea of messing up someone else's speech. It is not exercising your first amendment rights to screw up someone else's attempt to exercise theirs. And no, there is no justification for it. Not in this country.

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