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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Location: Surreality, Have Fun Will Travel, Past Midnight before a Workday

Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Vaginal Re-Gifting

Just when you thought this country couldn't get any dumber:

Victoria Watts, a 23-year-old single mother of two small children who lives in Canton, Ohio, lost her virginity at 16 with her high school boyfriend.

She was the granddaughter of a Pentecostalist pastor and the daughter of an assistant pastor, and she believed sex outside marriage was wrong. “I felt really bad from a religious standpoint,” she recalls of the experience. “My thoughts were really clouded because I was so emotionally bonded with my boyfriend. That overshadowed my religious world.”

Though the relationship lasted for seven years and produced two beautiful children, a part of Watts always felt guilty. She wished she could step back in time and recapture her lost virginity. Thinking of how “I could have ruined one of greatest fulfillments of my life,” the first time having sex with a husband, she wanted to “have that opportunity again. I know my [future] husband deserves a whole person.”

So Watts engaged in a lot of prayer and thought, and now declares herself a virgin once again. “The most important thing was to realize what my values were and what I want in the future and the bigger goals in my life," she says. "That’s why I can call myself a renewed virgin.”

Across the country, "revirginization" appears to be gaining steam. Spiritual efforts to reclaim virginity emerged back in the early 1990s and now, prompted by abstinence-only school courses taught to thousands of girls nationwide, and by religious teachers, there are reports of more and more young women like Watts attempting a sexual do-over. Other women are opting for a more radical route to reclaim their virginity: surgical replacement of the hymen, the small membrane that stretches from the walls of the vagina and that typically breaks when a woman first has intercourse — or for many other reasons, from tampon use to vigorous exercise.

Yeah, well, something tells me that we don't have to worry too much about hymens breaking during "vigorous exercise" other than the kind of exercise that is supposed to break hymens.

Religion gives one an excuse for everything.

Just put an "r" between the "g" and the "i" in my post title, and there you have it. That's what it is, folks.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Call for Atheist Poetry

Via Friendly Atheist and Incarnate Muse Press.

Incarnate Muse Press is currently accepting submissions for two poetry anthologies forthcoming in 2008. Incarnate Muse Press is seeking poems for its second atheist poetry anthology.

Confront, question, or deny the god of your youth, the sacred text of your culture. Express your disbelief, disapproval, doubt, or dismay. Looking for honest, thought-provoking poetry daring to speak against the social norm of belief and/or attempting to take the stigma from nonbelief. Interested in nontheism expressed positively rather than solely in opposition to theism.

Avoid gratuitous vulgarity and unfocused anger. We feel that atheism is often defined too narrowly and inaccurately. A theos means without god(s). If there is no god you believe in, if you are not a theist, you are, by literal definition, an atheist. These categories fit anthology also: humanist, freethought, agnostic, biblical revisionist, sacrilegious …

Up to 6 poems, SASE. Please write atheist in your cover letter or email subject title. Pays copies. Deadline: July 30, 2008. Need ideas? Send SASE for suggestions.

Incarnate Muse Press is seeking poems from adult survivors of childhood emotional and/or psychological abuse. We are looking for poems of high literary quality rather than poems that are simply cathartic.

We are not wanting to see poems about physical or sexual abuse, but about the other abuse, the one that can be much harder to recognize. Parental bullying, neglect, disinterest, mental illness, personality disorders, etc., interest us. Possible topics: loneliness, self-blame, confusion, deep feelings of worthlessness, anger, recognition, acceptance, healing, forgiveness, distance, the impact on your adult relationships, etc.

Up to 6 poems, SASE. Please write abuse in your cover letter or email subject title. Pays copies. Deadline: June 15, 2008.

Addresses for submissions:
Incarnate Muse
℅ Michelle Rhea
PO BOX 5756

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This Fluff Was from Its Screening Room Untimely Ripped

Red [and they mean that] alert! Red alert! There has been a security breech [sic] at the Expelled moon base! We need to raise a lot of money to encircle the moon with our space ships and prevent the Reds from seeing this film before it opens in Februar - uh, April, and in - well, wherever it's supposed to be playing.

We already had our first security breech [sic] and are asking YOU now for your support to stand up for EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed. Hosted by Ben Stein, EXPELLED contains a critical message at a critical time. As an underdog in Hollywood right now, we need your support.
Recently Robert Moore, a film critic from The Orlando Sentinel pretending to be a minister, snuck into a private screening, did not sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, and criticized the film the next day in his article.
Moore compared Stein, who is Jewish, to Holocaust Deniers and charge that Stein's linking of Darwinism to the Holocaust was "despicable." Stein states, "The only thing I find despicable is when reporters sneak into screenings by pretending to be ministers. This is a new low even for liberal reporters."

As someone who's been a film reviewer, this just makes me want to cry with laughter. If someone had made a film with this plot, I wouldn't have believed it. I would have ripped that film for being utterly preposterous.

Robert Moore was invited to attend the Expelled screening! We don’t sneak into films just to ruin anyone’s premier (or preview), honest.

This reminds me of the drama that ensued when I was the only person (as far as I know) on the fucking planet to review a hideously sophomoric novel that tried to be both a Philip Marlowe rip-off and a public service announcement about wife battering. The (very liberal) author, having just whined on MPR about how nobody was reviewing his book, slammed me in the next issue of Twin Cities Revue for my “subjective” “trashing” of his “art.” Well, the only claim to objectivity this hack had was a correspondence writing course, which he actually bragged about in his author’s bio! Holy cow, you do not do that! To get the last laugh I snuck into his disastrous book signing at Barnes & Noble and giggled in a corner as his blank-faced friends stood figeting at his lonely table. Good times. :-)

Ben Stein’s paranoia has now reached a fever pitch. I’m sure in response to this “news” we’ll get a flutter of breathless blog posts from self-styled evangelical gadflies who think that education consists of puerile arguments launched from one side to the other in “Crossfire” fashion while engaging in the same repetitive, popular foolishness, the madness of the crowd.

As for me, upon reading Christopher Hitchens’ thoughts on anti-Semitism in the latest Atlantic Monthy, I had this to say at AtBC to one of the writers for Expelled (isn't the internet wonderful?) about Ben Stein:

"You may be interested in Christopher Hitchens' essay about anti-Semitism (Hitchens is particularly enraged by it) in the current Atlantic Monthly. What is particularly revealing, in my opinion, are the parallels between it and the arguments made (including those by Ben Stein) against evolutionary theory:

Political anti-Semitism in its more modern form often de-emphasized the supposed murder of Christ in favor of polemics against monopolies and cartels, leading the great German Marxist August Bebel to describe its propaganda as “the socialism of fools.” Peter Pulzer’s essential history of anti-Semitism in pre-1914 Germany and Austria, which shows the element of populist opportunism in the deployment of the Jew-baiting repertoire, is, among other things, a great illustration of that ironic observation. And then there is the notion of the Jews’ lack of rooted allegiance: their indifference to the wholesome loyalties of the rural, the hierarchical, and the traditional, and their concomitant attraction to modernity. Writing from the prewar Balkans in her Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West noticed this suspicion at work in old Serbia and wrote:

'Now I understand another cause for anti-Semitism; many primitive peoples must receive their first intimation of the toxic quality of thought from Jews. They know only the fortifying idea of religion; they see in Jews the effect of the tormenting and disintegrating ideas of skepticism.'

The best recent illustration of that point that I know comes from Jacobo Timerman, the Argentine Jewish newspaper editor who was kidnapped and tortured by the death-squad regime in his country in the late 1970s. In his luminous memoir, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number, he analyzes the work of the neo-Nazi element that formed such an important part of the military/clerical dictatorship, and quotes one of the “diagnoses” that animated their ferocity: "Argentina has three main enemies: Karl Marx, because he tried to destroy the Christian concept of society; Sigmund Freud, because he tried to destroy the Christian concept of the family; and Albert Einstein, because he tried to destroy the Christian concept of time and space." [emphases mine]

"Note that Albert Einstein has now been replaced by Charles Darwin. Note also that 'Darwinism' is, as was Jewry, portrayed simultaneously as a hideously strong force about to overwhelm the nations, and as on the brink of collapse.

Anti-Semitism is an elusive and protean phenomenon, but it certainly involves the paradox whereby great power is attributed to the powerless. In the mind of the anti-Jewish paranoid, some shabby bearded figure in a distant shtetl is a putative member of a secret world government: hence the enduring fascination of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. (Incidentally, it is entirely wrong to refer to this document of the Czarist secret police as “a forgery.” A forgery is a counterfeit of a true bill. The Protocols are a straightforward fabrication, based on medieval Christian fantasies about Judaism.)

"ID has its lengthy record of straightforward fabrication as well.

That is perhaps what distinguishes it from other forms of racism. Almost every tribe or ethnicity has a rival tribe or ethnicity that it views as inferior or dirtier or more primitive: the Hutu with the Tutsi, the Sinhalese with the Tamil, the Ulster Protestant with the Irish Catholic, and so forth. The “other” group will invariably be found to have a different smell, a higher birthrate, and a lazier temperament. These poor qualities are sometimes attributed even by Jews to Jews: elevated German and Austrian Jews once wrinkled their nostrils at the matted sidelocks and large families of the poor Ostjuden who had come from the backwoods of Galicia and Silesia; and Ashkenazi-Se­phardic rivalry in Israel sometimes recalls and resembles this hostility. But garden-variety racists do not usually suspect the objects of their dislike of secretly manipulating the banks and the stock markets and of harboring a demonic plan for world domination.

"Note now this quote from Stein [from his infamous New York Times column]:

Just as a tiny example, years ago a close friend, now deceased, was a trader in London for a big financial house. As he told it, one day I.B.M. came out with stellar numbers. The boss of the trading floor said, “O.K., the guy who’s getting the prize is the one who can make us money selling I.B.M. short.”
So the traders grabbed for their phones and started to put out any bad thoughts they could dream up about I.B.M. They called journalists, retailers, anyone. They sold huge amounts of I.B.M. short. Soon, they had I.B.M. on the run, made money on their shorts and went to Langan’s to drink champers.
As I see it, this is what traders do all day long — and especially what they’ve been doing since the subprime mess burst upon the scene. They have seized upon a fairly bad situation: a stunning number of defaults and foreclosures in the subprime arena, although just a small part of the total financial picture of the United States. They have then tried — with the collaboration of their advance guards in the press — to make it seem like a total catastrophe so they could make money on their short sales. They sense an opportunity to trick other traders and poor retail slobs like you and me, and they generate data and rumor to support their positions, and to make money.
MORE than that, they trade to support the way they want the market to go. If they are huge traders like some of the major hedge funds, they can sell massively and move the market downward, then suck in other traders who go short, and create a vacuum of fear that sucks down whatever they are selling.
Note what is happening here: They are not figuring out which way the market will go. They are making the market go the direction they want.

Weeks before this it was Goldman Sachs out to corner the market and dominate the world. Stein's allegedly being no one's toady does not rule out his having a blind spot to his embracing of this absurd archetype of paranoiac revelation, in his own words, of cliches such as "the scales fell from my eyes." I am not a biologist, but a scholar of languages and literature. The use of rhetoric, special pleading, and emotional manipulation, as opposed to sound arguments, in both of these cases leaps out at one."

It certainly does leap out at one, and the bright spot in all of this is, ideas have validity when they stand the test of time, and scholars are going to have real fun with this phenomenon in the coming years. I certainly look forward to researching the making of this film, Expelled, for therein lies the real story. From what I have seen so far of the behavior of Stein, his producers, and his writers, I can only guess at the treasures that await me. Hand-picked audiences, non-disclosure statements, a security “breech” – this film is certainly experiencing a painful birth! Come April, will it be aborted or replaced with a changeling? What will posterity say about this film?

I can guess.

Shimmies to Pharyngula.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

All that Glisters is So Hawt!

"Space 1999." Good music, first season; okay music, second season. Silly premise. (Even sillier premise, second season.)

Laughable plot. (Even more laughable plot, second season.)
Inability to make audience (even the twelve-year-old audience that I was) suspend disbelief.
Dissed for its scientific absurdity by Asimov and Ellison.
Sniggered at for its English accents mouthing plodding dialogue from American writers.
New Agey "introspective" psychobabble, first season.
Goofy monsters, second season. (I'm talking about the thing in a costume, not the actors mouthing lines worthy of amateur re-dubbing.)

A script even the lead actor finally threw against the wall in disgust.*
Hawt lead actor.
Nostalgia - I has it.

*From Wikipedia: Members of the Space: 1999 cast became disenchanted with the scripts. Martin Landau: "They changed it because a bunch of American minds got into the act and they decided to do many things they felt were commercial. Fred Freiberger helped in some respects, but, overall, I don't think he helped the show, I think he brought a much more ordinary, mundane approach to the series." (Starlog 108 1986, pp. 44-47). Under the pseudonym of Charles Woodgrove, Fred Freiberger wrote three episodes, The Rules of Luton, The Beta Cloud and Space Warp, known pejoratively as the "Woodgrove Trilogy" for its simplistic approach to storytelling. One particular episode (All That Glisters, which dealt with the threat of an intelligent rock) was of such allegedly deficient quality that it sparked a confrontation between Freiberger and the cast. Landau disliked the story so strongly that he wrote the following notes on his copy of the script: "All the credibility we're building up is totally forsaken in this script!"; "...Story is told poorly!"; and "The character of Koenig takes a terrible beating in this script — We're all shmucks!"

Martin, you were a hawt shmuck.

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Introvert Versus Shy

Many introverts get the message all our lives from the dominant culture that there is something “wrong with us.” And yet, ironically, introverts are the ones who seem to have the most adventurous social lives – traveling the world, enjoying the arts, engaging in creative work, displaying curiosity and an inquiring mind, talking ebulliently about literature and politics, eschewing passivity and traditional roles, refusing to be hemmed in by routine, and bucking “the system.” Why this contradiction?

People confuse introverts with being shy. However, there is a difference.

The introvert needs to be alone to recharge, to think, to create; we enjoy parties and other social events on our own terms; we are apparently more sensitive and attentive to detail than the average person and can get easily bored with small talk, and quickly overwhelmed by stimuli. We cannot take too much noise, people’s rowdy children, flashing lights, arrogant displays of ignorance, “joining in” with the other kids in some stupid activity or sport, meaningless chatter, and emotional dramas.

We prefer short but sincere interactions with people, and meaningful discussions. Liars, boasters, gossipers and chatterboxes, puritanical finger-wavers, people who engage in irrational thinking, and the unimaginative will get the cold shoulder because, no offense, introverts like people but these kinds of people are a living hell for the introvert to be around.

Previous MRI studies have shown that during social situations, specific areas in the brains of loners experience especially lively blood flow, indicating a sort of overstimulation, which explains why they find parties so wearying. But Guyer's results suggest that introverts may be more attuned to all sorts of positive experiences as well. This added sensitivity, she speculates, could mean that people who are reserved have an ability to respond quickly to situations—such as coming to your aid in a moment of need—or show unusual empathy to a friend, due to their strong emotional antennae.

Research by psychotherapist Elaine Aron bears out Guyer's hunch, demonstrating that withdrawn people typically have very high sensory acuity. Because loners are good at noticing subtleties that other people miss, Aron says, they are well-suited for careers that require close observation, like writing and scientific research. It's no surprise that famous historical loners include Emily Dickinson, Stanley Kubrick, and Isaac Newton.

From Psychology Today: Field Guide to the Loner

Shy people, on the other hand, long to reach out to other people but are prevented from doing so by their fear.

Those who remain "enforced loners" long to spend time with people, but shyness and anxiety inhibit them from doing so. "Introverts are people who like to be alone," says Paula Montgomery, an accountant from St. Louis. "I prefer to be around other people, but because of my shyness, it's difficult for me to join groups and make friends."

Such loners have several stress-inducing strikes against them: They may get butterflies whenever they have to face in-person encounters, and they are subject to outside pressure to be sociable. When major life problems crop up, loners are also less likely to seek out social support.

Being shy has nothing to do with how quiet or talkative one is – I have discovered that jovial chatterboxes are often quite shy. But being shy also depends on the situation. There are times when I am more quiet than others, particularly when the conversation is superficial.

Usually in these circumstances, when I am finally asked what I do and what I enjoy, I dread letting this out because I know that after the litany of women bragging about their children, their church, their knitting, craft fairs, shopping, and various other activities that I don’t care for, what I have to say about myself will cause the room to fall silent. This has happened over and over to me.

There is immense pressure on introverts, particularly those who are women, to be more outgoing in a shallow way, when in fact we seem to be better able to handle the unknown than the conventional person who chats easily, but doesn’t really stray beyond the confines of family, church, community, work, or nation. I have no idea if these people are frustrated by their lives; I know I would be.

Introverts are frequently alone but rarely lonely. More often than not we are lonely in a crowd. I have mixed feelings about the usefulness of Carl Jung’s work, but one of the best things he ever said was, when one is an introvert, in order to be well-balanced and happy one must become more, not less, of an introvert.

UPDATED: A reader writes to Dr. Joyce Brothers that she feels is upset by the morning news because 1) there is so much less news being reported (morning television is just a wasteland), and 2) she can't identify with the people who scream and yell outside the station windows, and in her own words feels "like a fool."

I don’t know why she feels so bad, because certainly I think these people are the fools, but Dr. Brothers says something interesting. She assures the writer that, of course, there is nothing “wrong” with her, and remarks, “One of the reasons you might feel a bit lonely is because our country is considered one of the more extroverted nations.” She also states that introverts tend to be “early birds” whereas extraverts are “night owls.” I agree with the former, but disagree with the latter. I am most definitely a “night owl.”

As for America being one of the more extraverted nations, I do believe this is true. However, that does not mean that an introvert does not suffer in other cultures. My experience with other cultures is that in cultures that are more “introverted,” e.g. Muslim societies, women are still expected to be chatty with each other. Middle Eastern societies tend to center social life around the dinner party – more sitting around and talking – and particularly in a group segregated by gender the stifling, chit-chatty, passive sitting around is as much torture for the independent introvert as is a football game or the church coffee klatch.

I have experienced many different religious rituals and to put it bluntly, after the novelty wears off, they are just as boring as one’s own religious tradition. I am glad that I got to know diverse types of people, but in the end, most of the world is bourgeois, concerned with conformity and conventionality.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Harvard Votes for the Open Access Policy

Harvard University faculty in the art and the sciences voted on February 12 to approve the Open Access Policy, which will give the general public free online access to the university's scholarly articles. Harvard's library will act as a repository for the material through its new Office of Scholarly Communication. Faculty will retain copyright, and can for special cases request waivers of the free license.

This is a major triumph for the advocates of free, open, and permanent access of peer-reviewed and scholarly information for the public. I heartily applaud Harvard's decision.

How can the public trust peer-reviewed, scholarly information if it doesn't have access to it, and/or doesn't know what it is? (Peer-reviewed, for example, does not mean that a friend of yours writes a good review of your article to help you out - as is the case with creationist "scientific" articles.)

The cost of journals has skyrocketed in recent years, to the point that some libraries are forced to cancel their subscriptions, further restricting access. I do not agree with the Association of American Publishers Vice President for Legal and Governmental Affairs, Allan Adler, when he says that this and the congressional mandate that publicly funded scholarship (PubMed) be made freely available to the public, will damage the peer-review process. If anything, the mandate and free access will help make the peer-review process more transparent and comprehensible to the public.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Lunar Eclipse

I poked my head out just briefly last night (the best nights for viewing are the cold ones), but others were more intreped and got some shots.

Wesley Elsberry did, Nomad at AtBC did, and people are posting theirs at the Bad Astronomy/Universe Today forum.

Note: Don't use a flash when trying to photograph a lunar eclipse!

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008


A pastor in Florida is encouraging couples to have sex once a day for 30 days.

Sweet, no? Well, no. That's (heterosexual) married couples only, if you please. Single people get to (oh goodie, what? What do we get to do? What? Anyone?) abstain for 30 days. No sex. None. Nada. Zip.

Even if they've been together a long time? "Even if they've been together a long time," says Relevant Church head pastor Paul Wirth.

Even if they live together?

"Even if they live together," he proclaims. "We're asking the single people to take a break from sex, maybe take a sex detox [detox? WTF?] for 30 days ... even if they've been together for years. Because maybe the sex for them has been the central theme of their relationship and maybe they're missing a part of it," proclaims he. Hmmmm.

What do you think the response of Amused Muse is going to be to this (and now this has a new meaning) busybody? Anyone? Anyone? How about...


Minding our own junk as usual? As Pastor Wirthless should be doing?

Video courtesy of CapnOrdinary at You Tube.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I Give Up

I'm going to renew both Harper's and the New Yorker. I just can't live without these magazines.

I can face life without Astronomy, but not those.

UPDATED: For one thing, Ursula Le Guin never writes for Astronomy.

As people these days can maintain nonthreatening, unloaded, sociable conversation by talking about who murdered whom on the latest hit TV police procedural or mafia show, so strangers on the train or coworkers on the job in 1841 could talk perfectly unaffectedly together about The Old Curiosity Shop and whether poor Little Nell was going to cop it. Since public school education was strong on poetry and various literary classics, a lot of people would recognize and enjoy a reference to Tennyson, or Scott, or Shakespeare—shared properties, a social meeting ground. A man might be less likely to boast about falling asleep at the sight of a Dickens novel [as an AP reporter recently did - geez, people usually brag about not getting sleep!] than to feel left out of things by not having read it.

The social quality of literature is still visible in the popularity of best-sellers. Publishers get away with making boring, baloney-mill novels into bestsellers via mere PR because people need bestsellers. It is not a literary need. It is a social need. We want books everybody is reading (and nobody finishes) so we can talk about them.

If we bought books over from England by ship these days, crowds would have swarmed on the docks of New York to greet the final volume of Harry Potter, crying [as they did for Little Nell], “Did she kill him? Is he dead?” The Potter boom was a genuine social phenomenon, like the worship of rock stars and the whole subculture of popular music, which offer adolescents and young adults both an exclusive in-group and a shared social experience.

Books are social vectors, but publishers have been slow to see it. They barely even noticed book clubs until Oprah goosed them. But then the stupidity of the contemporary, corporation-owned publishing company is fathomless: they think they can sell books as commodities.

Gotta love Le Guin.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

The Designer Really Oughta Open a Restaurant

(Things I post because I can’t find a complete and unedited version of Genet’s Chant d’Amor on the Web):

Day No. 1:
And the Lord God said, “Let there be light,” and lo, there was light. But then the Lord God said, “Wait, what if I make it a sort of rosy, sunset-at-the-beach, filtered half-light, so that everything else I design will look younger?”
“I’m loving that,” said Buddha. “It’s new.”
“You should design a restaurant,” added Allah.

Day No. 2:
“Today,” the Lord God said, “let’s do land.” And lo, there was land.
“Well, it’s really not just land,” noted Vishnu. “You’ve got mountains and valleys and—is that lava?”
“It’s not a single statement,” said the Lord God. “I want it to say, ‘Yes, this is land, but it’s not afraid to ooze.’ ”
“It’s really a backdrop, a sort of blank canvas,” put in Apollo. “It’s, like, minimalism, only with scale.”
“But—brown?” Buddha asked.
“Brown with infinite variations,” said the Lord God. “Taupe, ochre, burnt umber—they’re called earth tones.”
“I wasn’t criticizing,” said Buddha. “I was just noticing.”

Day No. 3:
“Just to make everyone happy,” said the Lord God, “today I’m thinking oceans, for contrast.”
“It’s wet, it’s deep, yet it’s frothy; it’s design without dogma,” said Buddha, approvingly.
“Now, there’s movement,” agreed Allah. “It’s not just ‘Hi, I’m a planet—no splashing.’ ”
“But are those ice caps?” inquired Thor. “Is this a coherent vision, or a highball?”
“I can do ice caps if I want to,” sniffed the Lord God.
“It’s about a mood,” said the Angel Moroni, supportively.
“Thank you,” said the Lord God.

Day No. 4:
“One word,” said the Lord God. “Landscaping. But I want it to look natural, as if it all somehow just happened.”
“Do rain forests,” suggested a primitive tribal god, who was known only as a clicking noise.
“Rain forests here,” decreed the Lord God. “And deserts there. For a spa feeling.”
“Which is fresh, but let’s give it glow,” said Buddha. “Polished stones and bamboo, with a soothing trickle of something.”
“I know where you’re going,” said the Lord God. “But why am I seeing scented candles and a signature body wash?”
“Shut up,” said Buddha.
“You shut up,” said the Lord God.
“It’s all about the mix,” Allah declared in a calming voice. “Now let’s look at some swatches.”


“Shouts & Murmurs -Intelligent Design” by Paul Rudnick The New Yorker, September 25, 2005.

Now from the Wedge Strategy:

Governing Goals
To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.
To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God.

Five Year Goals
To see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research being done from the perspective of design theory.
To see the beginning of the influence of design theory in spheres other than natural science.
To see major new debates in education, life issues, legal and personal responsibility pushed to the front of the national agenda.

Twenty Year Goals

To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science.
To see design theory application in specific fields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics and cosmology in the natural sciences, psychology, ethics, politics, theology and philosophy in the humanities; to see its innuence in the fine arts.

To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.

Now, come on. Does any one idea “permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life” and is our diverse and pluralistic religious, cultural, moral and political life to be “permeated” by intelligent design forever?

“To see its influence in the fine arts,” bwahaha. Good luck with that, peasants. If there’s anything the fine arts cannot tolerate, it’s dogmatism and puritianicism of any stripe.

They just don’t get it, do they?

UPDATED: Whereas the true meaning of life is to be found written on refrigerator magnets!

Funny, non-sappy video on You Tube (by someone who knows how to write music):

Note this commenter's remarks:

Reading comments i noticed that creationists sound rather childish and less educated than those arguing against them. Creationists use biblical fables, simple, abstract concepts of love and very low level baseless claims (like the comment below mine) and get responses that they probably cannot comprehend, supported by logic, scientific theories and big words.

Good luck with the art world!

SECOND UPDATE: Oh, please! Now William Kristol in today's New York Times yokes art into the service of propaganda with his column, "Democrats Should Read Kipling." Sir, I have read Rudyard Kipling, being that he was second to Edgar Allen Poe in my list of favorite authors. While it's true that Kipling identified with the colonizers rather than the colonized, Mr. Kristol, in your simplistic characterization of Republicans as the beleaguered ruling class and the Democrats as the “opposition,” you reveal your sad lack of knowledge of history and even more tenuous grasp of literature. Kipling understood as you do not that the relationship between the empowered and the disenfranchised is never so simplistic as you make out. You, sir, are also no literary critic.

Read the train wreck of a column if you want. Scott Horton has, and he summed up my sentiments precisely:

George Orwell, my favorite essayist, described reading Kipling’s poetry as “a shameful pleasure, like the taste for cheap sweets that some people secretly carry into middle life.” That, I have to admit, is much the attitude I have towards Bill Kristol’s New York Times columns. They’re so bad, so predictable, so thoroughly clichéd that it’s a sort of malicious treat to read them. And today’s exercise, “Democrats Should Read Kipling,” which offers us Rudyard Kipling supposedly through the optic of Kristol reading Orwell, is a veritable stale Milk Dud. It’s too bad to resist.

Creationists (Kristol is also an apologist for intelligent design) just can't create.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's Valentine's Day


Don't forget to wish JanieBelle a happy birthday, too!

UPDATED: I think someone at You Tube has been playing matchmaker for this lil' baboon lady:

Come to think of it's what's "Peter" Graves doing these days?

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Incest (the Diary)

If I could travel in time it would be a difficult choice, but I suppose I’d go back to Paris in the 1920s. The film Henry and June is set in Paris of the 1930s, though there are anachronistic elements that evoke the previous decade. Here, Anäis Nin and June Miller, wife of the writer Henry Miller, flee Henry’s apartment after an argument and end up in a speak-not-so-easily. This is a flawed film, but beautiful and worth seeing.

My first novel also includes Nin and some mentions of Henry Miller, but they’re only side characters in my portrayal of Antonin Artaud and Robert Desnos.

(Desnos was an atheist in a foxhole, by the way, fighting the Nazis in the French Army and in the French Resistance. He died in a concentration camp with a student who had studied Desnos’ poetry at his side. Desnos is my hero, and so is Artaud, though for different reasons.)

Nin’s great autobiography of this time is Incest.

Read a scene from my novel here. Enjoy! (Genet coming up, I promise.)

UPDATED: My, it certainly got quiet around here. ;-) (Although the "You'll Be Sorry" post passed 2300 hits, and this post, 400. Thanks!)

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Monday, February 11, 2008

From Mud to MANsions

The events of the past few days brought some passages from E. M. Forster to mind. I guess E. M. Forster had nothing to say, either. Here, in his great novel A Passage to India (does anybody read great novels anymore?), he writes of a western tourists’ experience in the Marabar Caves:

If one had spoken vileness in that place, or quoted lofty poetry, the comment would have been the same—“ou-boum.” If one had spoken with the tongues of angels and pleaded for all the unhappiness and misunderstanding in the world, past, present, and to come, for all the misery men must undergo whatever their opinion and position, and however much they dodge or bluff—it would amount to the same, the serpent would descent and return to the ceiling… But suddenly, at the edge of her mind, Religion appeared, poor little talkative Christianity, and she knew that all its divine words from “Let there be Light” to “It is finished” only amounted to “boum.”

And here, a group of Hindus asks questions of two Anglican missionaries:

All invitations must proceed from heaven, perhaps; perhaps it is futile for men to initiate their own unity, they do but widen the gulfs between them by the attempt. So at all events thought old Mr. Graysford and young Mr. Sorley, the devoted missionaries who lived out beyond the slaughterhouses, always travelled third on the railways, and never came up to the club. In our Father’s house are many mansions, they taught, and there alone will the incompatible multitudes of mankind be welcomed and smoothed. Not one shall be turned away by the servants on that verandah, be he black or white, not one shall be kept standing who approaches with a loving heart. And why should the divine hospitality cease here? Consider, with all reverence, the monkeys. May there not be a mansion for the monkeys also? Old Mr. Graysford said No, but young Mr. Sorley, who was advanced, said Yes; he saw no reason why monkeys should not have their collateral share of bliss, and he had sympathetic discussions about them with his Hindu friends. And the jackals? Jackals were indeed less to Mr. Sorley’s mind, but he admitted that the mercy of God, being infinite, may well embrace all mammals. And the wasps? He became uneasy during the descent to wasps, and was apt to change the conversation. And oranges, cactuses, crystals and mud? and the bacteria inside Mr. Sorley? No, no, this is going too far. We must exclude someone from our gathering, or we shall be left with nothing.

And nothing to say, I guess. ;-)

[No, I'm not a Buddhist.]

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

"You'll Be Sorry!"

I can't imagine a mentality more degraded than someone marching up to us in a coffee shop and saying, essentially, "You'll be sorry that you're atheists!" and asking a person why they exist.

What this person actually said was, after a long harangue about how "everyone in the world needs an answer to life" and "has to have somebody to talk to" (and that's not true - not if you've studied eastern philosophy and religion. The Asian conception of religion, God (if any), and reality is very different from those of the Abrahamic religions), was "you'll see!"

"When you're on your deathbed, you'll see! What would you say to a child who's dying? You have nothing to say! Everybody needs an answer, and you do, too! You'll see!"

My answer that, 1) this person who’s assuming that I’ve never had trouble in life obviously didn't know anything about me, and 2) in my experience, children are quite irreverent about death and have less fear of it than adults, and 3) each person's death belongs to that person alone and I would be more inclined to listen than to preach, was drowned out by this person then telling me not to speak for everyone, which I wasn't trying to do, since he wouldn’t even let me speak for myself.)

"Why are you alive?" this person blared at us, and kept on his harangue while I asked if he knew about the sperm and the egg. Why am I alive? Is he joking? If he's so offended that I'm alive, holy shit, just wait a while and that will take care of itself. If that's not fast enough for him, because he's a mean old coot, then kill me and STFU.

I didn't initiate this discussion but I left it in tears. Man, I didn't see that coming at all. This from who looks like a kindly old man. (Was that a threat BTW?)

That has got to be the lowest blow ever by someone who is obviously never satisfied with anyone. This person has bitched and bitched about religion. This person asked for a copy of the Minnesota Atheist newsletter. Well, he was obviously looking for a fight, or else he's crazy.

What is this "answer" of which people speak? I don’t get it. Life is almost completely nonverbal. The earth orbiting the sun, the waves crashing on the shore, the wind in the trees, birth, death, eating, sleeping, making love, dance, art, music - all nonverbal. Where is there an "answer" in all this? Where is there meaning in life, except in the living of it? Do people actually want to reduce physical phenomena to a trite fortune cookie blurb? Is that what the word "spiritual," tossed around so much that it now has no meaning, mean to them?

Life is doing. When you do something instead of sitting on your ass watching life pass you by, and when you avoid making mistakes instead of hurling yourself into making bad decisions, or no decisions at all (which is a decision), you're much less inclined to ask "What's it all about?"

"What's is all about?" In my opinion, that has to be the stupidest question the human race ever came up with. We learn by doing, and we find purpose by doing. But that kind of purpose cannot be explicitly verbalized to someone who is so profoundly unhappy as to ask someone why he or she exists. Life is what happens to you while you're asking other people what it's all "about." As the Chinese say - "Westerners are always getting ready to live."

Personally, I think our ability to speak and engage in abstract thought is overrated if it culminates in this inexplicable sense of despair, which gives rise to this perverse desire to hurt someone else's feelings to the point of slamming into a coffee shop and informing someone that "you'll see in the future, when you're under stress and cry out to God," just so they can proclaim, “I told you so!” Yeah, and if I were waterboarded for a sufficient amount of time I'd probably betray my family, my friends, and everything that I hold dear, too. Should that define who I am? If I were starving and the only alternative was to rob someone, I suppose under certain circumstances I'd do it. Should that define who I am?

The behavior or a person reduced to an extreme state of misery should not be the basis of human morality, unless you think the rich and the middle class should be regularly stealing bread to feed their families, or driving away from gas pumps without paying, or holding someone's Jesus statue hostage even if the neighbor doesn’t have a dog pooping all over one’s yard.

As I said before, I think the problem is that too many people are cut off from nature. There’s no “meaning” or “meaninglessness” in nature, nor does there have to be. Nature is necessity and necessity is relentless, but never deliberately cruel. I realized this in the Galapagos.

Nature will eventually kill you, but it will never mock you, call you fat, make you feel ugly, call you stupid, humiliate you in front of others, scare you with hell-talk, engage in emotional blackmail, or make you feel like you can never be perfect enough. Nature just is, as I just am, in all our glorious imperfections. Screw the people who are always looking for perfection, an answer, or "meaning." They are more hurtful and incomprehensible than the so-called "meaninglessness" of life could ever be.

UPDATED: Scott to the rescue!

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Heh. I Just Coined A Term

Go to the Sandwalk for details. Regular UD commenter Mats shows up!

Also see this discussion, which followed from this one in which Answers in Genesis fans complain that scientists are defining science as science, and won't let creationists publish biblical allusions in science journals. Therefore, scientists are elitist meanies.


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Monday, February 04, 2008

"Videophilia" Killing Outdoor Life

When it comes to meaning, I prefer to grow my own.
-Nancy Franklin

As people spend more time communing with their televisions and computers, the impact is not just on their health, researchers say. Less time spent outdoors means less contact with nature and, eventually, less interest in conservation and parks.
Camping, fishing and per capita visits to parks are all declining in a shift away from nature-based recreation, researchers report in Monday’s online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.“
Declining nature participation has crucial implications for current conservation efforts,” wrote co-authors Oliver R. W. Pergams and Patricia A. Zaradic. “We think it probable than any major decline in the value placed on natural areas and experiences will greatly reduce the value people place on biodiversity conservation.”
“The replacement of vigorous outdoor activities by sedentary, indoor videophilia has far-reaching consequences for physical and mental health, especially in children,” Pergams said in a statement. “Videophilia has been shown to be a cause of obesity, lack of socialization, attention disorders and poor academic performance.”

The research was funded by The Nature Conservancy.
By studying visits to national and state park and the issuance of hunting and fishing licenses the researchers documented declines of between 18 percent and 25 percent in various types of outdoor recreation.The decline, found in both the United States and Japan, appears to have begun in the 1980s and 1990s, the period of rapid growth of video games, they said.


UPDATED: Related story - Communing without Nature.

I’m reading The Creationists by Ronald Numbers, which offers perhaps the only definitive history of creationism. Ironically, theologians in Darwin’s day and soon after were quick to embrace an old earth and, in many cases, some form or aggregate of evolutionary theory (which had been around for years before Darwin). They just didn’t like natural selection and common ancestry with apes and monkeys, which were Darwin’s real contributions to the theory.

The literal 6-day, 6000 year-old Creation and present Flood Geology is a recent invention, adovcated by George McCready Price, a Seventh-Day Adventist in the 1920s, and popularized by Duane Gish (fundamentalist-Baptist) and the late Henry Morris (Independent Presbyterian*) in the 1960s. This has coincided not with any “evidence against” evolution or a 4.5 billion-year-old planet, but with the growing pentacostal, fundamentalist, and evangelical movements in America.

As people’s lives become more enveloped in human inventions, as more people have longer commutes between work and home, as television viewing and videogaming takes up more hours, as rural grocery stories disappear**, as fewer children have unsupervised free time and experience a disconnect with nature, is it any wonder that, in this era of the Total Makeover, Americans paradoxically see nature as designed, a “machine” like our clocks and mousetraps, an artificial and passive entity – the same way that television has taught us to regard ourselves?

Is it any wonder that we have completely lost sight that nature is natural, alive, self-replicating, self-organizing, and through us, self-aware?

*“Faith alone, Christ alone, Grace alone, Scriptures alone.”

(**See also "Food Deserts")

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Ben Stein's Greatest Hit(ler)s

a.k.a. "Stalin! Stalin!" Stallin'

UPDATED: I'm not sure if these are trolls, but commenters are congratulating Ben Stein for "leading people back to Christ" with his film. Awkward! Ben Stein is Jewish! Hello!

This is just like what happened during Shabbos, when some lil’ telemarker from Missouri (I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but I could hear her all the way from the living room) called and fell silent when my friend informed her of the Sabbath and said he didn’t want to talk right now. "Oh, she's never heard of it," he informed me with a dismissive wave of his hand. Yeah, we atheists sure are close-minded. *eyeroll*


At dinner with friends over the weekend (my first Shabbos), I told them about Ben Stein’s upcoming “documentary,” Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Their jaws dropped. (Yeah, I still can’t get over it, either.)

I have since learned that in the 1990s Ben Stein penned an introduction to one of those lurid “Bill Clinton had people killed in Arkanasa” screeds. My jaw dropped again.

Maybe he penned it as a joke, giving absurd rein to his well-known hatred of Bill Clinton but counting on the fact that it would never be widely read?

I have been searching for that book, without success so far. But while searching I’ve found a lot of other pieces penned by Ben Stein. And my jaw dropped again again.

Ben Stein claimed that Clinton wouldn’t leave office in 2000, in defiance of the Constitution. But maybe he was joking.

Q: The post-election spirit of bipartisanship is vanishing fast. How bad will things get? Do you see President Clinton leaving office under a cloud of scandal?

A: No, I worry about whether he will leave office when he's supposed to. He has shown such extraordinary contempt for the Constitution that I question whether he believes it applies to him. Q: Seriously? How would Clinton extend his term? A: He'd start by convening a task force to study repeal of the 22d Amendment. I don't consider that far-fetched in the slightest, because after Nixon was re-elected in 1972, he convened an informal group to study the issue. Q: Whom might Clinton appoint to tell him, ''Hey, good idea''? A: The President has a lot of friends. Now that he's won, he has even more on CNBC.

Har-de-har, must be a joke.

Ben Stein on the Mark Foley scandal: “Misguided” Republican with thing for boys – who cares? What about Bill Clinton having consentual sex with an adult female? *Gasp*

If there were an Academy Award for Hypocrisy, the surefire favorite for 2006 would be the Democratic Party. Just two recent items make the decision a virtual certainty:

The Representative Foley "scandal" is really worthy of a whole book on hypocrisy. On the one hand, we have a poor misguided Republican man who had a romantic thing for young boys. He sent them suggestive e-mail. I agree, that's not great. On the other hand, we have a Democratic party that worships ( not likes, WORSHIPS ) a man named Bill Clinton who did not send suggestive e-mails as far as we know, but who had a barely legal intern give him oral sex kneeling under his desk in the Oval Office while he talked on the phone to a Congressional Committee Chairman, took great pleasure in putting a cigar in her orifice and then smelling it and tasting it, and having her fellate him when in the sacred seat of power of the world's leading Republic. And the Democrats cheer themselves hoarse for him. His wife has a great shot at being our next President.

Original link here.

Huh? He's got to be joking.

In 1987, Ben Stein said that all Presidental candidates should be asked if they are homosexuals. In 1988, Ben Stein said that any Republican Vice-President chasing tail was no one’s business.

Long before he became a Comedy Central game show host, Ben Stein was a prominent conservative media critic. On CNN's Crossfire in 1987, Stein praised the news media's exposure of extramarital activity involving then-Democratic presidential frontrunner Gary Hart as "one of the highest moments of the press's utility."

CROSSFIRE HOST: "How far would you have the press go? Would you say that a candidate should be asked if he's ever had a homosexual experience?"

BEN STEIN: "Absolutely, as far as I'm concerned. Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely."

Stein appeared again on Crossfire a year later, as reporters were pursuing an alleged dalliance between vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle and a female lobbyist. With a Republican being probed, Stein remained "absolute" in his convictions, only they'd rotated precisely180 degrees.

CROSSFIRE HOST: Do you think the media was fair in going after Senator Quayle on the subject of Paula Parkinson?

BEN STEIN: Absolutely not. I think that if they started going after all the presidential candidates on the subject of their sex lives, they could really talk about very little else. I think it's a very dangerous subject for the Democrats to open, or for anyone to open, and it's a complete irrelevancy as well.

Well, it’s too late now Ben, because your man Guiliani dropped out. Joke's on you.

Ben Stein gives Arianna Huffington the finger. (But I get damned tired of the "Great role model!" riposte, I must say. Does everything an adult does have to be a role model for children? Lock me up, then!)

Ben Stein thinks Clinton murdered people in Iraq to distract from the impeachment.

BS: Because... Well, I can't just say "most," because there are so many things. He's a liar. He lied repeatedly and set a very bad example for truth-telling for children. It's just become a joke among my son and friends of his generation that when you lie, you can say, "Why? The president does it; why can't we do it?" It's become commonplace for them to do that. I see it and hear it all the time. Second, he has disgraced the office, which is a great and noble office. Third, he has not accomplished anything. Nixon, you might say, did many of the same bad things Clinton did, and I guess that's true. He did. But he also did many great things, and you can't point to any great things that Clinton has done. Also, and this is going to be in my column in The Spectator but I'll let you in on it, I think he's a murderer. I think he murdered those people in Iraq to divert attention from his political problems. I don't think that all those people in Iraq needed to die. At least, certainly not when they did. He just killed them to distract people from the impeachment, and that's murder. If he'd really meant to go in there and take out Saddam Hussein and create a safer Middle East, a peaceful Middle East, that's one thing. But it was all just cosmetics to show off his toughness. Everyone says, "Oh, it's Wag The Dog." It isn't Wag The Dog, because nobody got killed in Wag The Dog. In this sad story, a lot of people got killed. Those Iraqi soldiers who were there, they don't necessarily deserve to die just because they're wearing an Iraqi uniform. They're not wearing it voluntarily.

I guess they are now.

Ben Stein on MSNBC: “Horrible, Stalinesque persecution, not prosecution, of Scooter Libby,” and Patrick Fitzgerald is a “thug.” (With video.) In the words of Dan Quayle, he doesn't look like a happy camper who thinks, "What a waste it is to lose one's mind." He doesn't seem to be joking. In fact, he seems to be losing his mind. (And did he say the word "Stalinesque" again? Let's play that video back.)

Ben Stein plays Freud:

I was reading Newsweek when I hit bottom. Bug-eyed and salivating with unseemly cravings, I was devouring last week's issue. I'd plowed through six major articles and five sidebars on the scandal and then I started reading a 12th piece -- "Clinton on the Couch" by Jonathan Alter. It was the kind of idiotic journalistic psychoanalysis that rational readers instinctively avoid, but I was no longer rational. I got to the third paragraph, where Alter theorized that Clinton's alleged womanizing stems from his childhood pudginess. To buttress this dubious claim, Alter quoted an expert. "He is remedying an early deficit in female attention," the expert said. "Like all childhood deficits, it can never be filled."

Who was this psychological savant? Alter identified him as "Ben Stein, the writer-actor-armchair shrink." Good Lord, I thought, he means Ben Stein, the guy who played the soporific teacher in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," the guy who hosts a game show called "Win Ben Stein's Money," the guy who writes a hideously narcissistic column for the American Spectator. Who died and made him Freud?

Peter Carlson, “Monthly Cure for a Scandal Overdose,” The Washington Post, 2/3/1998.

It seems so innocent now, all that crap about Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Today, Ben Stein thinks he's John the Baptist and that he's found God in Godwin's Law.

Straight propaganda, to be sure. But again, if Michael Moore or Robert Greenwald can do it, why not Ben Stein?

It's a movie that uses animation, archival documentary footage, interviews with outraged people of science who want ID on the table, and "atheists" who see that as a step backward to make its case.

It just isn't particularly funny. Or the least bit convincing.

I lost track of the number of times Stalin's image hit the screen, and in the ways the movie equated science with Darwinism with atheism with Hitler or Stalin. Subtle, it's not.

Stein (he co-wrote it) builds his movie on classic Big Tobacco Tactics. Create just a sliver of doubt about evolution by pitching this argument in terms of academic freedom. "Legitimate" learned scientists are being silenced by the Darwinian cabal of thought police. Says Stein.

He uses anecdotes from a few Fox-over-publicized cases of people who claim to have lost tenure/their jobs/their position in the scientific world for daring to suggest the hand of a supernatural being in the creation of life. He hasn't a scintilla of proof of, well, anything. Then he has the audacity to whine, "Where's the data" when questioning cellular biologists and other real scientists who build their lives around doubt, and finding testable, legitimate answers to those doubts. Where's YOUR data, Ben?

Speaking of which, I am trying to independently confirm these another story – a rumor, basically, that when Ben Stein’s sister died, he received a letter of sympathy from Bill Clinton and reacted with venom, calling Clinton a "rapist." Actually, I don't know if this is true, but Stein has called Tom Delay "morally probably the highest level public servant I have ever met."

Hitler, Hitler, Hitler. Stalin, Stalin, Stalin. So what's stallin' the release of this film? Anyone?

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed at Uncommon Descent

Evolutionary biologist PZ Myers debated a creationist named Geoffrey Simmons, and William Dembski's intelligent design weblog, Uncommon Descent, linked to it.

PZ Myers shredded the uninformed and unprepared creationist, and even the true believers at UD started posting in the comments that PZ won and that they were disappointed in the performance of Simmons.

Uncommon Descent's post about the debate, and all of the comments, disappeared. Again. As they always do whenever the news is bad for intelligent design!

Fortunately, one of the commenters at our intelligent design watch forum, After the Bar Closes, saved the entire post.

Comment 10 Atom 01/31/2008 5:09 pm
I’m with you bFast, I was disappointed by Dr. Simmons’ arguments and performance and think PZ easily won the debate.Oh well, hopefully they’ll choose someone else for the anti-Darwin side next time…(Sorry Dr. Simmons!)

And Richard Dawkins has now linked to it.

People like Ben Stein, William Dembski, and other intelligent design apologists make a big noise about "censorship" because religion isn't being taught as science in science classes, but when it comes down to it, they are the ones who have something to hide!

Like Ben Stein making preview audiences (in megachurches) of his creationist film, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, sign Non-Disclosure Agreements.

That's the mnemonic device Stein came back to, time and again, last night in an Orlando screening of his new documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. It's a rabble-rouser of a doc that uses all manner of loaded images, loaded rhetoric, few if any facts and mockery of hand-picked "weirdo" scientists to attack those who, Stein claims, are stifling the Religious Right's efforts to inject intelligent design into science courses, science curricula and the national debate.

He was showing the movie to what he and the producers hoped would be a friendly, receptive audience of conservative Christian ministers at a conference at the Northland mega-church next to the dog track up in Longwood. They're marking this movie, which they had said, earlier, they'd open in Feb. (now April) the same way they pitched The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia, said Paul Lauer of Motive Entertainment, who introduced Stein.

In other words, a stealth campaign, out of the public eye, preaching to the choir as it were in an effort to get the word out about the movie.

They postered the Orlando Sentinel with email invitations, then tried to withdraw the one they sent to me. No dice. They also passed out non-disclosure "statement of confidentiality" agreements for people to sign. I didn't.

What are they hiding from you? [emphasis mine]

Yes, what are they hiding from us? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

I'm familiar with a lot of the names of the commenters at Uncommon Descent. I wonder how these intelligent design supporters feel about having their comments deleted.

UPDATED: Rich Hughes at After the Bar Closes is the wizard of photoshop! And teh sexi hawt, may I say.

SECOND UPDATED: The "missing link" at Uncommon Descent is now posted at Panda's Thumb.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Evolution Didn't Just "Happen By Chance"

It's amazing how often a misconception gets repeated in the face of facts.

Ben Stein, hyperactively promoting his forthcoming (likely straight-to-DVD) film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, keeps harping that the theory of evolution states that species (he says "life," but he means species) arose by chance. Nothing could be further from the truth. (The origin of life is the study of abiogenesis, and that is the field of chemists.)

Mutations arise by chance, yes. But natural selection, the engine that powers evolution, is a series of causal events. The problem seems to be that there are multiple (in fact, seemingly endless) causes, rather than natural selection being a singular force. However, this should not that difficult to understand - an election, for example, or better yet, the marketplace is also a complex, decentralized interaction with multiple causal events.

Natural selection is not random.

Bay of Fundie has an excellent takedown of Ben Stein's talking points here. I must say that Stein himself is his own worst public relations for his own film, as he seems bound and determined to make an ass of himself even when writing about about subject he should know about, namely, the market.

I think it’s a fundamental (as opposed to fundamentalist) truth that conspiracies cause very few of the world’s events, whereas the old adage “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” continuously proves to be the case. Ironically, creationism itself is a good example of this.

Creationists like William Dembski, Jonathan Wells, Philip Johnson, et al. of the Discovery Institute devised a strategy, called the Wedge Strategy, to force creationist teachings into our public schools by undermining the public’s confidence in science. A conspiracy, yes? I think it qualifies as a conspiracy – which is why it’s gone so badly.

However, the American public largely prefers creationism over evolution anyway, and so the push to get creationism in the public schools is actually a decentralized, multi-causal, organic process. In other words, it is largely a grassroots effort – now bolstered by the Discover Institute. The result has been a disaster for creationism.

Ben Stein makes a “documentary” touting the teaching of intelligent design. The Discovery Institute applauds. Ben Stein goes on Bill O’Reilly’s The Factor and calls intelligent design “the idea that a deity created life.” The Discovery Institute gets pissed off and sends out a press release correcting Ben Stein.

(Shhhhh! They’re trying to keep that under wraps! Because, ahem, teaching creationism as science is unconstitutional, remember? So the Designer still could be space aliens, you know. *Wink*)


The Dover, Pennsylvania school board votes to include a disclaimer about evolution to be read to students before science classes. The Discovery Institute applauds. The Dover, Pennsylvania school board votes to include a book about intelligent design, Of Pandas and People, in the school library. The Discovery Institute applauds. Pro-science parents, most of them devout Christians, sue the school board. The Discovery Institute applauds. William Dembski gets ready to testify on behalf of intelligent design in a trial that puts evolutionary scientists on the stand, as he’s always dreamed of doing. The Discovery Institute applauds.

It comes out in the press that one of the school board members, Bill Buckingham, had made a statement at a public meeting: “Two thousands years ago, someone died on a cross. Can’t anybody stand up for him?” Oops – intelligent design is only supposed to be about science. In fact, the Designer could be anyone – space aliens, a time-traveling biologist, etc., not just God – and certainly not just the Christian God! Big tent, gotta appeal to people of various faiths, etc.


Bill Buckingham goes on camera and advocates the teaching of “creationism” alongside evolution in schools. Oops. The Discovery Institute gets pissed off and sends out a press release correcting Bill Buckingham. William Dembski walks away from testifying in the Dover courtroom, leaving these freelance creationists in Dover with only one expert witness.


Bill Buckingham gets on the stand and has to answer for why, instead of one or two copies of the scientifically discredited Of Pandas and People for the school library, dozens have been purchased, apparently for their inclusion in the science classroom despite all that the school board has promised. Bill Buckingham says he doesn’t know anything about it. Then he says that maybe he does, but didn’t handle the money. The judge gets pissed off and takes over the cross-examining himself. Bill Buckingham admits that he took up a collection in church to buy 80 copies of Of Pandas and People. Judge Jones III, himself a devout Christian and a Bush appointee to the bench, is royally pissed off now.


And as we all know, Kitzmiller v. Dover, Pennsylvania School District is now history, with Judge Jones issuing a (sorry) damning ruling against the defendants, and intelligent design is now extinct in Dover science classes, and the school board responsible for these shenanigans (costing the taxpayers in Dover, Pennsylvania one million dollars in damages) was voted off the board.

So you see, evolution doesn't happen by chance, whereas it sure seems that real-life conspiracies, themselves the opposite of random events, mushroom out of control. It's a hard lesson that the fellows at the Discovery Institute have yet to learn.

You can read the Dover trial transcripts at Talk Origins.

(Shimmies to JanieBell and Kate and Atheist Experience and Bay of Fundie.)

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