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Preview: A Progressive on the Prairie

A Progressive on the Prairie

Thoughts while vastly outnumbered in the Northern Great Plains

Updated: 2012-04-15T19:03:08.360-07:00


Time to close the doors


While I still need to clean up a few of the aisles (mainly, the 800+ posts I exported from here), I've decided to close the doors here and open them at my new site. Blogger outages and problems and trying to post here while working on the new site didn't seem worth the effort.

Although the content that's already here will remain, tomorrow the "moved to a new address" signs will be going up for good (barring mistakes on my part). For those who want a peek ahead of time, while the address is changing, the name remains the same: A Progressive on the Prairie.

But watch even the stars above
Things that seem still are still changing

"Still," Ben Folds, Supersunnyspeedgraphic (image)

Dicta and miscellany


  • Chad at CCK points us to a study purportedly showing that the more psychotic a voter is, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.

  • I missed this NPR story on "reading the law" when it aired. I recall watching Archie Bangs of Rapid City in the courtroom when I was a reporter. He was purported to be the last South Dakota lawyer to have been admitted by "reading the law" and he was a top-notch lawyer. Although I have only my own 20 years of law practice to base it on, I think an apprentice approach is too dangerous today because I don't know that the quality of lawyers has grown commensurately with the number.

  • Another NPR story I missed was one marking the fifth anniversary of the death of George Harrison on Wednesday. I wasn't the only one to overlook it. A news search reveals virtually no traditional media took note of the anniversary, other than "today in history" items. From my perspective that's shameful. Harrison's death brought tears to my eyes and I wore a black t-shirt with the cover photo from Hey Jude on it to our office Christmas party that year in honor of him. Harrison was really the only one you could see on the shirt on under a sport coat. Just listening to the NPR story online saddened me.

  • Nathalie Rothschild at Spiked is one of the few to have openly acknowledged that just because actor Michael Richards went on a n-word tirade doesn't mean you can't still love Cosmo Kramer.

  • Nature reports that a geared mechanical device called the Antikythera Mechanism that spent 2,000 years at is technically more complex than any known device for at least a millennium after it was built. Belived to have been built in Greece near the end of the second century BC, the device computed and displayed the movement of the Sun, the Moon and possibly the planets around Earth, and predicted the dates of future eclipses.

  • All things must pass
    All things must pass away

    Title Track, George Harrison, All Things Must Pass

    More marginalia


    A variety of matters have kept me from doing anything substantive outside of work, let alone reading and writing reviews I need to do. Thus, another collection of marginalia, to be soon followed by some dicta and miscellany.

    • The NYT announced its 10 Best Books of 2006. I've read two, both nonfiction: Rory Stewart's excellent The Places in Between (reviewed here) and Danielle Trussoni's Falling Through the Earth (reviewed here). Interestingly, the books that won the National Book Award for fiction and nonfiction didn't make the NYT's cut.

    • And the award we've all been waiting for has been announced: the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award. I'll let you see what won in the winner's thoughts on the accolade. (Via, somehwat appropriately, Blog of a Bookslut.)

    • As a follow up to the last Marginalia entry, The Library of America has announced what will be in its Philip K. Dick volume. And Ron Hogan at GalleyCat, who really broke the news on the PDK entry, collects a list of other suggestions for LOA volumes.

    • When it comes to giving up on a book, I don't have any hard and fast rules. The 100 Page Rule, the Page 99 (or 69) Rule or the 33% Rule all seem just a tad bit more artificial than necessary. Fortunately, I have yet to encounter a book I've been selected to review that I couldn't finish. I may not have liked it but I made it through.

    • The Encyclopedia Britannica has launched its own blog. (Via Rebecca's Pocket.)

    A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.

    Franz Kafka

    Marginalia and miscellany


    Kudos to John Scalzi for providing free electronic editions of his book The Ghost Brigades to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. He did the same last year with Old Man's War (review here). By the way, this is a perfect time of year to once again go and read John's Being Poor.Unrelated kudos to Clinton Fein for his honest and excellent analysis of what we now call "the n word." As the great Lenny Bruce said in a routine based on the word, "it's the suppression of the word that gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness." Back to electronic versions of books, thanks to Stumble Upon, I stumbled across this PDF copy of the original of Abbie Hoffman's iconoclastic Steal This Book.It appears Philip K. Dick is going to end up with a volume in The Library of America series.Bud Parr at MetaxuCafe provides a nice summary with linkage about what he terms another critic missing the point with book blogs. Premier magazine comes up with a list of the 20 most overrated movies of all time. While I agree with most of it, two (American Beauty and 2001 - A Space Odyssey) would be on my top 10 best movies list. I also struggle with Easy Rider and Mystic River making the list. (Via SF Signal.)The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.Philip K. Dick, I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon[...]

    Cyberspace relocation ahead


    I actually started making the arrangements when Blogger starting acting so funky a month or more ago. Then, the fact Blogger is rolling out a new system (which is in beta already) in the near future raises concerns that it will pose even more trouble.

    But this tops it. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Blogger required me to put in a password before I could save any draft or publish a post because "Blogger's spam-prevention robots have detected that your blog has characteristics of a spam blog." Gee, thanks.

    While late today Blogger decided I am a real person and not a spambot, several weeks ago I got a web host and have been in the process of moving this blog to its own domain. I'm still working out some of the glitches that come with migrating to a new host and kicking the tires on the software. Yet within a few weeks and certainly before yearend I'm outta here. I'll provide a forwarding notice here and keep this up as long as possible if for no other reason than archival purposes and in the event the host proves wholly unreliable. But at this point it looks like it's time to move a bit farther down the prairie.

    And the last one out of the circus has to lock up everything
    Or the elephants will get out and forget to remember what you said

    "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby," Counting Crows, This Desert Life(image)

    Book Review: This is Your Brain on Music (2006)


    Many freely admit they are addicted. I am one of them. We can't go through a day without listening to music on the radio, a stereo or MP3 player. Purchase of concert tickets or a new release by a favorite artist ranks among the necessities of life. Snippets of songs heard in passing almost immediately bring back memories of other times and places. Regardless of how many times we may have heard them, other songs inevitably give us goose bumps.It all seems so easy. The music just goes in your ears and there's a range of positive to negative reaction. But as Daniel Levitin makes clear in his book, This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, there is so much going on behind the scenes that even the world's top scientists and psychologists cannot explain it. And although far from perfect, Levitin's effort and its related web site is a worthy exploration of what we know about how and why music is such an integral part of the human experience.Levitin's books is, in his words, "about the science of music, from the perspective of cognitive neuroscience." Don't let that scare you off. The introduction establishes that this isn't going to be simply a dry recitation about music, science and the brain. In fact, Levitin's introduction is reminiscent of the scene in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous where the young, fictional Crowe is enthralled as he listens to The Who's Tommy while exploring and being entranced by the LP cover. For Levitin, it is not album covers but headphones. They revealed a depth to music he had never encountered.To me, records were no longer just about the songs anymore, but about the sound. Headphones opened up a world of sonic colors, a palette of nuances and details that went far beyond the chords and melody, the lyrics, or a particular singer's voice. .... Headphones also made the music more personal for me; it was suddenly coming from inside my head, not out there in the world.That experience helped lead Levitin to become a session musician, recording engineer and record producer. Yet his fascination with the perception of sound and music took him even farther, leading him to a degree is neuroscience and, ultimately, to become the head of the Levitin Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition, and Expertise at McGill University in Montreal.The introduction is typical of how Levitin approaches the subject. He blends experiences all of us have had, songs most of us know and his personal history with the more straightforward details of music, science and scientific studies to help us understand the impact of music. And in that respect, the title may be perfect. Borrowed from the advertising campaign on the impact of illegal drugs on the brain, Levitin shows us the entirely legal effect music has on our brains and brain chemistry.This is not always an easy task. For one, it is not easy to explain music principles and theories to non-musicians. By the same token, the anatomy and chemistry of the brain aren't always easily grasped by those who aren't that interested in science. That is the hurdle Levitin seeks to overcome in the opening chapters, which attempt to explain not only basic music theory and concepts but also basic brain science. Levitin describes these areas as plainly and simply as possible. Still, some of the terminology and concepts may cause a reader's eyes to glaze over a bit and their mind to wonder if they grasp, let alone need or want to know, all the concepts. But ultimately the pay-off is worth the price.We think it comes so easy. Throw on a CD or put the earphones from an MP3 player in your ears and you hear music. What is stunning and fascinating, though, is that your ears don't hear music per se.Sound is transmitted through the air by molecules vibrating at certain frequencies. These molecules bombard the eardrum, causing it to wiggle in and out depending on how hard they hit it (related to the volume or amplit[...]

    Thanksgiving trimmings


  • Scott H. nails it again with his holiday shopping tips.

  • SF Bookworm, which I have now added to my RSS reader, has a two-part post on 20 collectible SF and fantasy authors. (Via SF Signal.)

  • Charles Shields, who wrote the well-received biography of Harper Lee(image) , is now working on a biography of Kurt Vonnegut.

  • While surfing the internet, where did I find an excellent list of the best live rock recordings from 1969-1979? All About Jazz, of all places. While a couple years old, it's hard to argue with at least half the selections.

    Nothing survives
    But the way we live our lives

    "Daddy's Tune," Jackson Browne, The Pretender(image)

  • Daughters and dreams


    I am still exhausted. Who would have thought watching a daughter win a state volleyball championship could be so wearing? Then what I knew all along hit my consciousness upside the head. I wasn't just invested in the tournament for my daughter. It was for an entire group of girls who have become almost another family over the last several years.Although it doesn't seem that long ago, I remember sitting in a motel room in the midst of winter listening as some middle school-aged girls talked about playing in their first club volleyball tournament. These girls, who met through school and Y volleyball programs, bonded more than any of us expected and developed a common love of the game. It wasn't that long before, as young kids will do, they starting talking about maybe winning a state volleyball championship some day.By the winter of 8th grade, the parents were amazed at how these girls seemed to read each other's mind on a volleyball court and the synergy they created by their focus on working as a team. One or two faces departed and one or two more joined but for at least four years, if not more, there was the same group. Even when school or other programs occasionally split them among different teams, the bond of these girls turned the dream of a championship into more than just a wish. It was a goal and a destination, one they had no question they would reach together.In addition to middle and high school volleyball, they traveled hundreds and hundreds of miles over the years from Fargo to Omaha to Minneapolis and anywhere in between playing Junior Olympic volleyball. They spent hours in cars, vans, motel rooms and, most important, on volleyball courts, nurturing the dream and working toward the goal. As their senior year arrived this year, they were all together again like when they started out. They also knew that the time was now.The dream become wish become goal became reality Saturday night. The many tears shed when one suffered a season-ending injury one game short of the championship left them shaken yet even more resolved that nothing would stop them. While younger teammates gained in recent years were invaluable to reaching the goal, there is no doubt the championship and the fire and determination they showed winning it began in a motel room on a cold winter night years ago.Since that night there have been more than a few tears of sorrow and pain but far more laughter and love. Regardless of personal differences or problems that arise in any relationships and friendships, none of it mattered when they set foot on a volleyball court. There, they were indivisible and would do anything asked of them for each other. As a result, as one said Sunday afternoon, Saturday night was "the most fun ... ever."To Betsy, Chantel, Grote, Kylie, Sam and particularly my "niece" Erica and daughter Andrea, you proved and learned that, with desire and work, dreams can become reality. Thanks for letting a few of us old folks tag along with you on your journey.A man doesn't have to have all the answers -- children will teach him how to parent them, and in the process will teach him everything he needs to know about life.Frank Pittman, Man Enough[...]

    2006 State "AA" Volleyball Champs



    I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.

    Mia Hamm

    Awards, marginalia and miscellany


    As I prepare to leave for the state volleyball tournament, posting may be sporadic and perhaps little more than occasional compilations, such as this:The National Book Award winners were announced last night. The Echo Maker by Richard Powers won the Fiction award. I just finished the book last week and, frankly, have relatively ambivalent feelings about it, ambivalent enough that I may not even post a review. If you're interested, a couple blogs provide good lists of information and comment. Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time, about surviving the Dust Bowl, won the Nonfiction Award. Thanks to the good folks at Siouxland Libraries, it will soon be in the TBR pile.Prometheus Books and its SF imprint, Pyr, are offering a neat deal. You get a 35 percent discount if you buy any combination of one Prometheus title and one Pyr title. Both are excellent publishers. You can find reviews of a couple of the books that are part of the offer here and here.Kimbofo's post on book bloggers getting free books is getting some critical, semi-critical and more general attention. Even the debate at the site of one of the original posts is getting lively.Interest in atheism and faith seems to keep booming. Newsweek and the WaPo have launched a site called On Faith and Sam Harris and Karen Armstrong are among the impressive list of contributors.Plain(s) Feminist posts an interesting history of Catholicism and abortion.This application perhaps should be standard on almost any computer connected to the internet.And this may be the most painful non-surgical lobotomy of all time. (Via Remaindered Links.)In It To Win It2006 Roosevelt High School state volleyball tournament t-shirt[...]

    Road rants


    Trying to get things cleared up to get away for the state volleyball tournament, dealing with a seemingly endless stream of idiotic problems and being just plain fed up with dealing with road construction leaves me in a ranting mood. While I'm nowhere near as good as Scott H., these things are among the irritants striking me during my battle with roadwork over the last day or so. Hey, at least it's not true road rage.First, a quote from a short item from Tuesday's Argus Leader saying work began Thursday, i.e., Nov. 9, on a construction project on I-29 south of Sioux Falls. "The contractor was awarded the contract on June 20 and was to have the project done by Nov. 3, [a state engineer] said." My main question is, didn't the Argus, AP or whomever was responsible for the story think to ask, "Why is this contractor starting a week after the deadline for completing the project and how much is it being fined missing that completion date?"Another construction debacle is the never-ending one on West 12th Street near I-29. According to the DOT website, "the Contractor must have all lanes of Interstate 29, Marion Road and 12th St. complete and open to traffic" by Nov. 3. Not even close. Even as of today, there is only one lane each way on both Marion and 12th and you cannot get on to I-29 from 12th Street. And you know how many yards of concrete the contractor laid for the driving lanes on 12th Street from Nov. 4 through Nov. 8, when the temp was in the 50s, 60s and 70s? Exactly zero. When did they start putting concrete down for the driving lanes? This week. Of course, that means they are working in the dark tonight when the temp is below freezing. Anyone wanna lay any bets on how long it will be before the concrete on those stretches of 12th Street are torn up to repair the spalls, cracks and craters?I recognize various Sioux Falls law firms have conflicts that preclude their involvement but was it really necessary for this gentleman to go to Rapid City to find a lawyer to challenge the red-light cameras in Sioux Falls? By the way, I saw at least two motorists get their pictures taken by the cameras when I was at the intersection on my way home tonight.That leads to another continual irritant with traffic lights. Twelfth Street is complete between Minnesota and a couple blocks east of I-29. Why is it that the traffic lights are set so you have to stop for between half and three-quarters of them if you drive at or under the speed limit?So endeth rants. I do feel better. Like having opened my window and yelled.I want you to go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell. I want you to yell, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this any more!"Paddy Chayefsky, Network[...]

    Midweek miscellany and marginalia


    Air & Space magazine gives us what is supposedly the first photo of Earth from space. (Via Boing Boing.)On a tangentially related note, isn't it somewhat appalling to read in 2006 that NASA has never had a Space Shuttle in orbit on Dec 31 or Jan 1 because they aren't sure the onboard computers can handle the year switch over. (Via Remaindered Links.)Rick Kleffel at The Agony Column explains the joy that can be found in publishers' book catalogues alone.Kimbofo of Reading Matters has a thoughtful examination of the pitfalls of book bloggers (like me) receiving free books. While I may not agree with everything, I do receive a certain number of books gratis from publishers. While I do not believe that has ever influenced a review, I am considering noting in a review if the book was given to me by the publisher or a PR firm.Amazon is among those seeking to get that "Best of 2006" book list out in time for Christmas shopping. I was pleased to see that The Places in Between and The Road were in the top 10 of its editors' s Top 50. Field Notes from a Catastrophe was right behind at No. 11. I'm not as sure about Rory Stewart's The Prince of the Marshes making the list (No. 41) but that could just be a result of comparing it to The Places in Between. For what it's worth, Suite Française, actually written 60 years ago, was at the top of the list.Tired of just seeing red and blue on political maps? Here's a map of the 10 regions of American politics. (Also via Remaindered Links.)Finally, based on my trip in September, I have a hard time disagreeing with this. (Via StumbleUpon.)There are moments when everything goes well; don't be frightened. It won't last.Jules Renard[...]

    Book Review: Kill the Messenger (2006)


    Virtually no one disputes Gary Webb died in 2004 of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Yet the question "What killed Gary Webb?" still exists.Was it that his August 1996 "Dark Alliance" series in the San Jose Mercury News regarding how some Nicaraguan "contra" rebels backed by the CIA received funds from crack cocaine traffickers was seriously flawed? Was it that the Mercury News distanced itself from the series and Webb? Was it that "Dark Alliance" was the subject of withering attacks by such major metropolitan newspapers as the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and the Washington Post? Or was it as simple as the depression Webb suffered and the fact he found himself divorced, unemployed and sufficiently impoverished that he was moving back in with his mother at age 49?While Nick Schou's Kill the Messenger does not -- and cannot -- answer those questions, it is an excellent exploration of how and why they, Webb, and "Dark Alliance" remain relevant today. Schou may be a perfect author for this book. An investigative reporter himself, Schou has examined the "Dark Alliance" series for a decade. Equally important, he applies a journalist's eye and style to the story, examining such things as the way the editing process and even internal newsroom politics may have contributed to the problems in "Dark Alliance."Webb's three-part series was not unique solely by virtue of exploring the relationship between the CIA and crack cocaine traffickers. It also demonstrated the impact the so-called mainstream media could have via the internet. Given its location in the heart of Silicon Valley, the Mercury News simultaneously published the series on its web site and provided links to many of the documents Webb used. Once the series appeared, the paper's site went from thousands of hits per day to half a million per day. Yet as we have learned over the last decade, things not only seem to take on a life of their own on the internet, it is fertile ground for conspiracy theories. A large number of people, including significant portions of the African-American community in and around Los Angeles viewed the series as confirmation of suspicions the government was behind the explosive growth of crack cocaine.The Mercury News did not help the situation. The graphics used to illustrate the story showed the silhouette of someone smoking a crack pipe over the CIA seal. The headline suggested that the crack cocaine problem in Los Angeles grew from the battle between the contras and the Nicaraguan government. Webb was not involved with either of those decisions. Similarly, the story's opening sentences, revised during the editing process, suggested that millions in drug profits had gone to a the contras and that this helped sparked a crack "explosion" in America. Yet as Schou makes clear, the series did not accuse the CIA of being behind that explosion.That is a position Webb himself always took but seemed never able to convince people. Webb wrote in his own 1998 bookthat henever believed, and never wrote, that there was a grand CIA conspiracy behind the crack plague. Indeed the more I learned about the agency, the more certain of that I became. The CIA couldn't even mine a harbor without getting his trench coat stuck in its fly.Schou agrees with and supports that assessment. According to Schou, Webb's series was correct in its most important respects, that being that the CIA had at least some ties to those bringing cocaine into the U.S. and that some money from the drug traffic was finding its way into the hands of the contras. At the same time, he details how neither Webb nor his series accused the CIA of being involved in the distribution of crack cocaine.While Webb's series was an unprecedented explorati[...]

    Search term follies


    First, I will ackowledge stealing this idea from Vonnegut's Asshole (and that's a sentence that is incapable of sounding quite right). It occasionally looks at some of the, shall we say, odd search terms that bring viewers to the site. While I still get plenty of hits from searches like those using "Stephanie Herseth" and words like lesbian, hottie, boyfriend or naked, those aren't the ones that leave me scratching my head.

    Although I'm not positive how all of them led people to this blog, here's a list of 10 recent interesting queries and my responses in case the searchers return. I am hoping to make this a regular (or irregular) feature.

    GOOGLE SEARCH: "circle jerk pictures"

    Don't have 'em. Don't want 'em. Am concerned that you do.

    GOOGLE SEARCH: "ron branson jail insane"

    To quote the Magic 8-ball, "Outlook good."

    MAMMA METASEARCH: "9th Amendment Meaning apply to child molesters"

    Last time I checked, the 9th Amendment applied to everyone, although it doesn't really create any rights, saying simply that the Constitution's enumertion of certain rights doesn't deny other rights that may exist.

    GOOGLE SEARCH: "wife have 7 month pregnant want a abortion".

    Got to defer to the Magic 8-ball on this one, too. "Don't count on it."

    GOOGLE (SWITZERLAND) SEARCH: "she's lie wind music"

    Sorry, I, too, am bemused by Zen koans.

    GOOGLE (CANADA) SEARCH: "medical testing for pregnancy first 16 percent then 29 then 49 does it mean i could be pregnant"

    I'm not sure, but I feel confident saying the odds appear to be increasing.

    GOOGLE SEARCH: "what would happen if you dropped a junior mint into someone during surgery"

    Seems I saw a TV show about that. I don't recall if it was a documentary but think it had some guy named Kramer in it.

    GOOGLE SEARCH: "Tim's grandfather's son is Mike's dad"

    Not sure if this is a riddle or someone concerned about inbreeding. In either event, please be aware that it will be unconstitutional for Tim and Mike (or their male relatives) to marry each other in South Dakota.

    GOOGLE SEARCH: "Compare and Contrast Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana"

    I don't even do my kids' homework but... Both play guitar. Jimi is dead. Carlos is not.

    YAHOO SEARCH: "annual fatalities from running with scissors"

    I speculate there are not a great number -- unless your parents told you otherwise, in which case they are correct.

    If you follow every dream
    You might get lost

    "The Painter," Neil Young, Prairie Wind(image)

    The Atheist Manifestos III:
    The Heathen's Guide to World Religions (2006)


    It might be unfair to include William Hopper's The Heathen's Guide to World Religions with reviews of works by Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. That's because Hopper's work is a Marxist manifesto. Marx as in Groucho Marx.Yet that may be what is ultimately required when it comes to advocating atheism. Religious faith and belief are not founded on concepts of logic, reasoning or the scientific method. As a result, perhaps humor is the only way to draw believers in and educate them.Farce is not Hopper's sole approach to his "secular history of the One True Faiths." It is actually two-fold. The serious side examines the precepts and contentions of various religions in the context of what history actually reveals. The other is to approach it all with biting satire and flat out humor. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.Hopper, a Canadian who pursued a college program in world religions, turns a skeptic's eye toward the largest of the world's religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. One thing is certain. When Hopper offends, he does so on an equal opportunity basis. Thus, Jesus is referred to as "JC" or "Josh" (short for Joshua, his actual Hebrew name), Buddha as "Sid" (short for his real name, Siddhartha Gautama).People like me who tend to look askance at religion likely will find The Heathen's Guide far funnier and less offensive than believers. And, certainly, believers will find that shots Hopper takes at other religions far more palatable than any shots he may take toward their own. But Hopper is also intent on trying to educate people about what history really says.Thus, in his examination of Christianity, Hopper takes an honest and serious look at what a messiah was insofar as Judaic tradition meant. That is a wholly acceptable approach since that is the only religious tradition in which the term had meaning at the time. Likewise, Hopper seeks to belie some of the gloss put on the religions, such as the view of Jesus as this bearded, long-haired, fairly attractive white man. He quotes a description of Jesus that appeared in the work of 1st Century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus:His nature and form were human; a man of simple appearance, mature age, dark skin, small stature, three cubits high [about five feet], hunchbacked, with a long face, long nose and meeting eyebrows, so that they who see him might be affrighted, with scanty hair with a parting in the middle of his head . . . and an undeveloped beard.Not quite the image with which most people today are familiar.While Hopper's work is replete with such information, it is within a satirical setting that, once again, does not discriminate based on religion or creed. A few examples:His description of the Essenes, a Jewish sect in which Hopper believes Jesus was a member: "They're the nutbar, genuinely certifiable Jews; the ones who would have been in the Waco, Texas standoff if they'd lived today."The Christian concept of the Rapture "is basically like being beamed up to the Enterprise, except you end up in Heaven instead of the transporter room."His description of when Mohammed first saw the archangel Gabriel: "There's nothing scarier than being half-asleep on a mountain and having an archangel show up out of nowhere with a silk scroll and commanding you to read. Unless, of course, it's being half asleep on a mountain and having an archangel show up out of nowhere commanding you to read when you're illiterate - which, as luck would have it, was what Mohammed was."His description of the death of the caliph that caused the split between the Shi'a and Sunni sects of Islam: "[T]he orthodoxy got together and removed Hussein from his position as head [...]

    The Atheist Manifestos II:
    The God Delusion (2006)


    With two books on the bestseller list raising questions about the validity of belief in God, some observers see a movement they call the New Atheism. If they are right, Richard Dawkins is to New Atheism what Bertrand Russell was to what is now apparently "Old Atheism."Yet there is a fundamental and significant difference between Dawkins, the author of the bestselling The God Delusion, and Russell. Russell was a philosopher. As such, he approached the question of the existence of God as an interesting exercise in logic and philosophy. Dawkins, in contrast, is an evolutionary scientist at Oxford University. He approaches the subject with an eye honed by scientific analysis and reason. His conclusion: belief in God is a "delusion" because religious faith is a false belief in the face of extremely strong evidence to the contrary. His use of science to reach that result is the topic of significant recent discussion. In fact, a "debate" between Dawkins, described as an "atheist biologist," and "Christian geneticist" Francis Collins is the cover story of this week's Time magazine.There is also a difference between Dawkins and Sam Harris, the author of the best-selling Letter to a Christian Nation (the subject of the first review in this series). Harris provides a condensed view of the problems many people see with Christianity. Dawkins' scope is much larger. He presents a lengthier and perhaps more erudite analysis of not just Christianity but the whole idea of a belief in God. In fact, Dawkins frequently challenges the reader intellectually with his analysis and commentary, particularly when he embarks into philosophical ideas and examines them with a scientific eye. At the outset, for example, Dawkins even invokes Russell in explaining why he believes agnosticism -- the position that it is impossible to know whether there is a God -- is untenable. He also devotes a chapter to deconstructing arguments for the existence of God advanced by thinkers from St. Thomas Aquinas to C.S. Lewis and, more recently, the mathematical approach of Stephen Unwin.Yet even here the scientific method that permeates this work shows through. His scientific approach becomes stronger as the book progresses. He uses evolutionary principles to show why arguments that the existence of life supports the existence of God cannot withstand scrutiny. Likewise, in examining why all human cultures seem to have religion, Dawkins discusses not only evolutionary principles but alleles, memes (a term Dawkins is credited with coining) and memeplexes.With his razor-like approach, Dawkins is almost brutal in his deconstruction of the argument that religion is necessary as a source of morality. He says "much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird." Anyone who wishes to "base their morality literally on the Bible," he writes, "[has] either not read it or not understood it." In response to criticism that no one takes every word of the Bible literally any more, Dawkins says[T]hat is my whole point. We pick and choose which bits of scripture to believe, which bits to write off as symbols or allegories. Such picking and choosing is a matter of personal decision, just as much, or as little, as the atheist's decision to follow this moral precept or that was a personal decision, without an absolute foundation. If one of these is "morality flying by the seat of its pants", so is the other.Dawkins, like Harris, also sees inconsistency evidenced by the Ten Commandments as being the foundation of morality. He points out:If we took the Ten Commandments seriously, we would rank the worship of the wrong gods, and the making of graven imag[...]

    The Supremes and Kevin Costner


    No, not as in "Diana Ross and." The South Dakota Supremes.In a decision handed down today, the Supreme Court helped Kevin Costner keep the Midnight Star casino in Deadwood going and saved him hundreds of thousands of dollars in the dissolution of a limited partnership that currently operates the it. From a legal standpoint, the case resolves questions about the legal rules South Dakota courts should use when a partnership is dissolved. From a voyeur standpoint, it attracts attention because of Costner's involvement.The casino is named after the saloon in Costner's breakout film, Silverado, and its restaurant and sports bar are named after characters in the movie. It is operated by Midnight Star Enterprises, L.P. ("limited partnership"). Midnight Star Enterprises, Ltd. is the general partner in the partnership, owning 22 percent. Costner owns 71.5 percent and Francis and Carla Caneva each own 3.25 percent. That is somewhat deceptive, though, in that Costner is the sole owner of Midnight Star Enterprises, Ltd. and, thus, essentially owns 93.5 percent of the partnership.According to the Supreme Court decision, the Canevas managed the operations of the casino but Costner became concerned about their management. The Canevas' employment was terminated and they declined to participate in "an amicable disassociation." Costner then filed an action to dissolve the partnership. An accountant hired by Costner indicated the "fair market value" of the partnership was $3.1 million based on a hypothetical transaction between a willing seller and a willing buyer. Another Deadwood casino owner, however, offered $6.2 million for the partnership. Although Costner claimed the offer was solicited by the Canevas, the trial court ordered Costner to buy the business for $6.2 million within 10 days or the court would order it sold on the open market.On appeal, the Supreme Court adopted Costner's position. After rejecting an argument by the Canevas that the partnership agreement required the casino be sold on the open market, the Supreme Court said a hypothetical transaction was the proper test of fair market value. It said Costner offeredsound policy reasons why an offer cannot be the fair market value. For example, what if a partnership solicited a "strawman" to offer a low price for the business? What if a businessman, for personal reasons, offers 10 times the real value of the business? What if the partnership, for personal reasons, such as sentimental value, refuses to sell for that absurdly high offer? These arbitrary, emotional offers and rejections cannot provide a rational and reasonable basis for determining the fair market value.As a result, the Court said the value of the casino was $3.1 million and, hence, Costner could not be ordered to buy it for $6.2 million. The Court also concluded that rather than the remaining partners (Costner) having to pay for the entirety of the partnership, they were only required to pay any interests the withdrawing partner is due. Thus, Costner is obligated "pay the Canevas the value of their 6.5 partnership units, if any value exists after revaluation." If Costner refuses to pay that amount, though, the Court said a forced sale of the business would be appropriate.If the valuation remains the same and each partnership unit is equal to one percent of ownership, that means, at a minimum, Costner's cost to buy out the Canevas dropped from $403,000 to $201,500.The 5-0 decision was handed down roughly four weeks after the Court heard oral arguments in the case.I don't believe a lady has to explain anything to a man this ugly.Jake (Kevin Costner), Silverado[...]

    Marginalia and dicta


  • I think that, by definition, this takes you beyond being a jackass. (Via Boing Boing, whose headline is a classic.)

  • Wired magazine gives us its top 20 SF films. While I think it admirable they apply set standards, the fact Gatacca can beat out The Matrix, 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange shows that when it comes to the arts, it truly is in the eye of the beholder. (Via SF Signal.)

  • Speaking of best of, you know how Christmas starts in the stores well before Halloween now? Well, it looks like the same is true of "books/CDs/movies of the year." SF Signal points out that Publishers Weekly has already posted its "Best Books of the Year."

  • And reinforcing my status as an "illiterati," I've read one of PW's fiction selections and none of the SF and nonfiction picks.

  • Kafka on the Shore(image) won Best Novel at the 2006 Fantasy Awards. (Via SFBC Blog.)

  • gets the award for best single political blog line this week: "It's like happy happy joy joy day in liberal land today [Wednesday]....first the election stuff and now Rumsfeld is 'resigning'."

  • And the award for the best two lines may have to go to SD blogger Doug Wiken, who asks: "Do Democrats have a Plan? Or are they the dog that caught the car?"

    God made us number one cause he loves us the best
    Well maybe he should go bless someone else for a while, give us a rest

    "All U Can Eat," Ben Folds, Supersunnyspeedgraphic - The LP(image)

  • The Atheist Manifestos I:
    Letter to a Christian Nation (2006)


    Is atheism "in"? Multi-page expositions in national news weeklies and two books advocating an atheist viewpoint on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list for a month. If atheism is in, it is thanks in no small part to Sam Harris, the author of one of those bestselling books, Letter to a Christian Nation.If you aren't familiar with his prior bestseller, The End of Faith, his latest book leaves you no question where he stands. In the opening note to Letter to a Christian Nation, Harris is explicit in the purpose of the slim volume: "I have set out to demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms." Evidently due to his high profile, Harris was asked by Newsweek to write a "dissent" for the magazine's cover story this week titled "The Politics of Jesus."Just as The End of Faith was Harris' response to the role of religion in 9/11, his latest is his response to the reaction of Christians to that book. Harris received thousands of hate-filled e-mails from supposedly devout Christians. Their reaction demonstrated to him that many Christians who invoke and claim to be inspired by the love of Jesus "are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism." Letter to a Christian Nation is his response to them. At the risk of sharing in the hate mail he receives, let me not only praise this work but suggest it needs as widespread distribution and reading as possible.Despite what the introduction might lead one to believe, Letter to a Christian Nation is not simply an ad hominem attack on Christianity. It is a thoughtful précis of some of the bases, impacts and ramifications of Christian thought and the concept of atheism. First things first, though. Harris acknowledges that his epistle does not necessarily apply to each and every Christian. He narrowly defines the term Christian for this book. It means "a person who believes, at a minimum, that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that only those who accept the divinity of Jesus Christ will experience salvation after death." That doesn't mean others of Christian persuasion may not be equally subject to some, if not most, of the points Harris makes.Even Harris would admit that the Christians to whom his work is nominally addressed are probably the least likely to read it. As such, it serves more as an invitation to moderates and what he calls "secularists" to examine religion, in particular Christianity, and its impact on this country. Harris, however, is not necessarily directing his book to "atheists." The reason? Harris says that "atheism" is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a "non-astrologer" or a "non-alchemist." We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs. An atheist is simply a person who believes that 260 million Americans (87 percent of the population) claiming to "never doubt the existence of God" should be obliged to present evidence for his existence — and, indeed, for his benevolence, given the relentless destruction of innocent human beings we witness in the world each day.The bulk of the book is devoted to why Harris views these beliefs as unjustified and how they adversely affect the U.S. and the world. As for justification, for example, Harris points out that millions of devout Muslims, just like millions of devout Christians, believe theirs is t[...]

    Book Review: Air America: The Playbook (2006)


    It seems somehow sadly fitting that Air America: The Playbook hit the bookshelves less than four weeks before Air America Radio filed for bankruptcy. Just as the radio network's financial problems seem to display some degree of a lack of planning and execution, the playbook also suffers a lack of focus and goals. In that respect, it is also illustrative of the often self-inflicted problems liberals and the liberal media have had in going on the offensive in America.The Playbook is a collection of interview transcripts, original writings and humor from the staff of Air America. The problem is that you're never quite sure what niche the book is intended to fill. Does it want to be a humorous like Al Franken's prior works or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book)? Does it want to be a "Best of Air America"? Does it want to be a vehicle by which Air America's hosts and contributors present their expositions and views of liberal ideas and the errors of the Bush Administration? While there's nothing wrong with trying to blend such approaches, The Playbook tends to weave from one to another like a football back in the midst of a broken play.For example, the book contains transcripts of interviews with guests dealing with Hurricane Katrina and a timeline of the disaster. Plopped amidst that material are excerpts from a June 2006 interview with Robert Redford about global warming. While some might argue there is some connection between global warming and the ferocity of Katrina, that isn't suggested in the interview excerpts. In fact, Katrina is not even mentioned. Similarly, intermingled in an extended series of interviews and pieces on the role of the religious right are one in a series of fake advertisements about 10 corporations who are "the very best in global industry" and a "Creep of the Week" award to Tommy Noe, a Republican fundraiser in Ohio convicted of illegally funneling money to the 2004 Bush-Cheney reelection campaign. Certainly, there is no requirement that all the pieces on a particular topic go together. But here there is no subject or chronological order, leaving the reader wandering the fields of thought in the book.Don't get me wrong. There is some funny material and very well-written serious pieces here. In the former category is Al Franken's introduction and some of the phony magazine and promotional literature covers. Standing out amongst the latter are several of Mike Papantonio's "Pap Attack" pieces, in which he takes a hard look at everything from "Rapture Republicans" to stem cell research to the tobacco industry; Mark Riley's "Media Mind Game," which addresses just how incestuous media-political relationships are inside the Beltway; "Freedom Thieves" by Mike Malloy and Kathy Bay, which looks at the dichotomy between the Bush Administration using freedom as a mantra for foreign policy while at the same time seriously eroding civil liberties in the United States; and, Rachel Maddow's wonderful closing essay, the self-explanatory "What I Want in My Next President."Similarly, some of the transcripts and excerpts are interesting, particularly Randi Rhodes' interview with Ralph Nader on Air America's first day and Franken and author Joe Conason's self-professed ganging up on Edward Klein, who wrote The Truth about Hillary, an attack book about Hillary Clinton. Yet as with the humor and essays, the good unfortunately gets lost in items that range from average at best to banal at worst. Part of it is inherent. As we all know from reading plays or scripts, someti[...]

    One more election post


    I was thinking of doing a brief roundup on South Dakota blog election coverage but came across a post that beats them all. Go read Scott Hudson's post-election wrap-up, where his "Get Out of Town" stylings nails the "boneheads" of election day.

    It always rains like hell on the loser's day parade.

    "Broadway," Goo Goo Dolls, Dizzy up the Girl(image)

    My two cents on the JAIL vote


    My initial reaction to the election results? KELO might want to think about evaluating what polling firm it uses. (For what it's worth, a quick review shows its also missed on the outcome of both the "gay marriage amendment" and the property tax initiative, with the error on the latter being almost as large as the error on the final results on JAIL. In contrast, the Watertown Public Opinion's totally unscientific straw ballot was almost identical to the actual JAIL results.)I certainly hoped JAIL would be rejected. The final result, though, reflects why I think many of us stay here. While my liberal political views do, in fact, leave me vastly outnumbered, I credit my fellow South Dakotans with their ability to recognize true lunacy. The last thing South Dakotans want or need is some out-of-state kooks hooking up with a few local extremists to turn the South Dakota Constitution into their test rat. That is fully evidenced by yesterday's vote.As expected, we read in the paper today South Dakota JAILer-in-chief Bill Stegmeier said there might be voter fraud. BS and crew have been laying the groundwork for that approach for a while now and the drumbeats have been louder the last few days. I actually hope they challenge the election. It will be yet more proof to the voters of JAIL's utter lack of credibility, that campaign's disrespect for voters and democracy, and one more opportunity to hopefully stick another nail in its coffin. Yet there are things to be learned from the election.First and foremost, the judiciary needs to recognize there is a level of public uneasiness if not outright distrust. It needs to strive toward achieving more transparency. Education and openness are keys to helping kill viruses like JAIL.Likewise, the judiciary and those of us who opposed JAIL can't just ignore those voters who cast ballots for JAIL out of a sincere and true belief that change may be necessary. Anyone who thinks the system is infallible is either nuts or lying. I encourage those with concerns about openness or judicial oversight to not let the lunatic fringe sacrifice those issues on the JAIL altar of anti-government hatred. Have problems with the Judicial Qualifications Commission, its membership or how it operates? Don't think there's enough information to enable fully informed votes in judicial elections? Talk to your state legislators, the governor and the court system about ideas to improve the shortcomings you see. Believe a judge or attorney has acted improperly? File a complaint. In other words, use the system to improve the system. Don't simply try to decimate it.By the same token, JAIL opponents cannot shut the door on critics of judicial and political accountability. Politicians and the judiciary not only need to be open and responsive to legitimate concerns, they need to stand ready to work with critics to address deficiencies. There was plenty of unity in working to defeat JAIL. We need to stress working together with them to help improve our judiciary, our court system and our government. The citizens of South Dakota deserve no less.What role did my this blog and my participation in the No on E blog play in the defeat of JAIL? Little or none. This blog is an extremely insignificant speck in the blogosphere and an even smaller mote in the eye of the internet. I would wager 99 percent of those who voted Tuesday never heard of this blog or the No on E blog, let alone visited them. I would be surprised if it swayed more than a [...]

    Election Day


    Several people have asked about my plans for Election Day. Whether it's because I quickly revert to my cynical view of politics and elections or simply can't wait to go back to the things I enjoy, my plans are very simple:

    Leave work early to vote

    Finalize arrangements for and host the volleyball team meal late this afternoon

    Attend the District 1AA volleyball championship game

    Hopefully celebrate the Riders qualifying for the state volleyball tournament

    Go home and watch the Minnesota Wild until the live coverage kicks in by the only election news team I trust -- Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert

    While I may flip over to a local network to see if there's results during commercial breaks in or at the end of the latter, I'm not going to fixate on the election. It's over. Time to move on with life.

    When you've seen beyond yourself
    Then you may find
    Peace of mind is waiting there

    "Within You Without You," The Beatles,
    Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band(image)

    "Now That It's Over"


    Okay, maybe it's not really over but the polls are open, the voters are casting their ballots and the campaigns are in their last gasp.I moved my blog away from politics because of the level of political discourse in this country. I have to say, though, that jousting with South Dakota JAILer-in-chief Bill Stegmeier, Bonnie "Shriek" Russell, Jake Hanes and the JAILer in Worthing who was capable of only leaving insults as comments but lacked the nerve to sign his or her name not only reinforced that belief, they showed me new lows could be reached.Confronting opponents on their statements, tactics, misrepresentations, outright lies and dissembling is part and parcel of political discourse. That, however, is far from the approach of the lunatic fringe behind Amendment E. Their level of intellect is such that they must call opponents such things as ass, dipshit, dick, "boy," and bastard, to name just a few. Personal attacks don't bother me in and of themselves. As I've said before, I've been called worse by better. Still, I can't figure out how literally cursing and damning the other side educates voters or advances a cause. It must be the resort of those who lack any modicum of reason and are incapable of engaging in honest debate.But "Shriek" took it to extremes to which even the dirtiest campaigns don't stoop. One of the comments she left on my blog (you know, the one she claimed to never read) attacked one of my daughters, even though the post had nothing to do with JAIL. Yet insulting and attacking a young woman who has nothing to do with my blogging or opposition to JAIL wasn't enough for "Shriek."In one of her always just barely literate blathers this past weekend, she suggested state judge Lee Anderson committed suicide because he had "second thoughts" about having donated to the No on E Committee. Evidently "Shriek" is oblivious to or could care less about the seriousness of depression, the effect it had on Anderson and his family, or that Anderson's wife has been courageous enough to speak publicly about it in the hopes of helping others. No, to "Shriek" a man's death at his own hand as a result of a debilitating and disabling disease is just one more opportunity to spew hatred that serves no political or logical purpose. It is stunningly repulsive and abhorrent.Although I doubt it will ever really be over with these wingnuts, the election soon will be. I'm hoping that, except for any final comment or wrap-up post, my blogging on JAIL is over. I know any political discourse with and about these miscreants is over. Therefore, please forgive me while I allow myself to stoop to JAIL's standard of discourse for a moment to close this chapter. I think Everclear's "Now That It's Over" concisely expresses my thoughts about these reprobates in the vernacular they seem to love so much:I wish that I could find the words to tellYou to politely go fuck yourself.I'm posting this the morning of Election Day to make it clear that this admittedly hypocritical deviation from my own criticism of political discourse is not dependent upon or reflective of the election results. Now please excuse me, I have far more important things to do. There's work, making final arrangements to host a high school volleyball dinner and attending tonight's district volleyball championship. First, though, I need to at least try to wash off the stench of Stegmeier and "Shriek."Idiot wind, blowing every time you move[...]

    "Reverend" Branson still pounding that drum


    Ron Branson continues beating the drum of legally bogus and idiotic claims of fraud in his latest rant and rave. Today's again deals with Attorney General Larry Long's ballot explanation and the South Dakota Legislature unanimously passing a resolution urging voters to vote against Amendment E.According to Branson's keen and insightful analysis, "it behooves the F.B.I. to move in swiftly and arrest and try government officials statewide before this evil blossoms in other states. 'Know ye not that a little little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?" I Cor.5:6." (Italics in original). Fortunately, Branson has a three-part solution."First, we recommend you pray."Once that is accomplished, you are advised to compose a criminal affidavit setting forth the particulars as described above, and submit it to your local F.B.I. Office, urging them to open a criminal investigation of State Attorney General Larry Long for seeking to influence an election. In a nutshell, the Attorney General has inverted, through manipulation, the objective of J.A.I.L. from jurors going after judges to criminals going after jurors. Likewise, name specific State Legislators in their individual capacity for the crime of utilizing their public offices and public funds for campaigning against a state ballot initiative, in violation of South Dakota Codified Law 12-13-16.(Bold in original.)"Lastly, again seek God's face and ask Him to plead your cause and show you His Wondrous Works on our behalf."Branson is so busy trying to somehow say the Bible and God endorse JAIL that he missed a few legal elements.As for Long, Branson ignores the fact that the ballot explanation has been determined to comply with state law as a result of Bill Stegmeier's legal challenge to it. As such, there is, by definition, no crime. Likewise, an order Friday in Stegmeier's latest trip to the courts he detests so much reinforced the fact that saying JAIL might lead to "criminals going after jurors" is also true.Second, Branson ignores the fact that affidavits are to be based on personal knowledge that the facts set forth in it are true. I guess I'm not quite sure how Branson or any of his out-of-state zombies have personal knowledge that Long or the Legislature "inverted, through manipulation, the objective of J.A.I.L. ," particularly in light of the binding court decisions. Of course, maybe that's why he calls it a "criminal affidavit."Finally, the statements contained in the legislative resolution are true. Moreover, as I've pointed out before, courts in other states have specifically recognized that if a legislative body is not disseminating literature or purchasing ads for or against a measure, such resolutions are legal. In fact, they have been viewed as "serv[ing] beneficial purposes, including generation of public interest and debate [and] informing citizens of their elected representatives' stands on the ballot issue."But then, Branson and people like Stegmeier and Bonnie "Shriek" Russell want nothing to do with the facts or the law. Those things tend to get in the way of their effort to gut justice and democracy.We have just enough religion to make us hate[.]Jonathan Swift, Thoughts on Various Subjects[...]