31 March 2008

Mike Huckabee is Being Reasonable

Hey, credit where credit's due. Apparently in an interview (transcript here the Huckster said with regards to Obama and the Reverend Wright comments:

And one other thing I think we've got to remember: As easy as it is for those of us who are white to look back and say, "That's a terrible statement," I grew up in a very segregated South, and I think that you have to cut some slack. And I'm going to be probably the only conservative in America who's going to say something like this, but I'm just telling you: We've got to cut some slack to people who grew up being called names, being told, "You have to sit in the balcony when you go to the movie. You have to go to the back door to go into the restaurant. And you can't sit out there with everyone else. There's a separate waiting room in the doctor's office. Here's where you sit on the bus." And you know what? Sometimes people do have a chip on their shoulder and resentment. And you have to just say, I probably would too. I probably would too. In fact, I may have had a more, more of a chip on my shoulder had it been me.

Now, I'm no fan of Mike Huckabee, but this is a very reasonable point of view for him to have. Huckabee's also much more environmentally-attuned than a lot of the old-guard evangelical movement, and is ever so slightly more to the left on issues of homosexuality and other social issues. While I certainly would never even begin to consider voting for the man for the presidency, he's a much more positive voice for the religious movement than the older generation, and seeing him as a future leader of that movement is probably a good thing overall.

This just illustrates the larger point that sometimes these kinds of social issues resolve themselves over time, and that civil rights for LGBTQ individuals and the like are pretty much historically inevitable. Which isn't to say that liberals shouldn't be fighting for all our might to gain these rights now, but simply that in fifty years our children and grandchildren will look back at these gay marriage fights the way those of us today look back at the interracial marriage fights of the fifties and sixties.

30 March 2008

I'm Behind

I've been feeling under the weather for about the last month. I've been watching a lot of movies and reading books, but I haven't been up to writing full-on reviews. I may be missing one or two, but here's the list of stuff I've missed:

Patton Oswalt: Werewolves and Lollypops
Hard Candy
Wings of Desire
Double Indemnity
Six String Samurai
Undead or Alive
A Fish Called Wanda
Catch and Release
Husbands and Wives
South Park: The Imaginationland Trilogy
Lake of Fire
For the Bible Tells Me So
Straw Dogs
The Dallas Connection
Diary of the Dead

Isaac Asimov presents Invasions
Debatable Space
The Crying of Lot 49
The Final Solution
The Subtle Knife

And probably one or two more I'm missing. Some of these will get full-on reviews (like The Crying of Lot 49 but most of them will either be dealt with in small bundles (the two religious documentaries, for instance) or in miniature capsule reviews. If there's anyone out there who wants a full review of any of the above, though, please leave comments and I'll post as full a review as I can.

Beer Review: Rogue Ales Dad's Malt Liquor

Rogue Ales Dad's Malt Liquor

That's right, while this beer is now retired Rogue Ales at one point made a craft version of a malt liquor. Was it any good?

Appearance: Pours dingy orange yellow into the glass, soapscum head on top. 2.5/5

Smell: Corn-based aroma, slightly bready. A touch of sweetness. Could be any ordinary American Macro Lager. 2.0/5

Taste: Slightly sweet, notes of caramel deep in the highly malted flavor. Some residual sweetness in the aftertaste. I don't think this uses the Pacman yeast that Rogue is so famous for. (Note: I just read the back of the bottle -- this one uses Czech Pils Yeast.) Goes down more smoothly than I anticipated, and is quite pleasant. 3.5/5

Mouthfeel: No discernible carbonation, somewhat thick. Slight hoppiness. 3.0/5

Drinkability: This really isn't a bad beer at all, and I'd go for this before I'd go for a lot of lagers and pilseners. It's by no means a great beer, and six bucks a bomber is a bit pricey, but for an American Malt Liquor this is top-notch. (Not that that's saying much.) 3.0/5

Overall: 2.9/5

29 March 2008

Does This Mean Batman's Going to Do a Stooges Routine?

Over at i09, Charlie Jane Anders has a roundup of Batman/Superman teamups, and gives a suggestion for a future version:

So here's how I'd make the dynamic between Superman and Batman more interesting: I'd turn them into Lethal Weapon.

Superman is the cautious one, the straight arrow who does everything by the book despite (or because of) his almost limitless power. Batman is the crazy, out-of-control risktaker who keeps dragging Superman into situations he's not equipped for. Batman is the guy who sends Superman and himself diving into a black hole on a spaceship with one dud engine. He's the one who drags Superman and himself into a nest of trolls, whose magic weapons can hack Superman to pieces. He seems to make impulsive, rash decisions, but always turns out to have a plan. Sort of.

And yes, I know that since Grant Morrison's JLA Batman has been portrayed as the uber-control freak who always plans twenty steps ahead in every situation. But he's also the non-powered guy who dresses up in a bat costume, with his face unprotected, and jumps off rooftops into gunfire every night of the week. He's the crazed, half-suicidal Mel Gibson to Superman's Danny Glover.

As crazy as this sounds, it might actually work if the tone is done just right. I can't say that I'm a huge fan of comic books in general, but I'd probably read this just for the "what the fuck was that?" factor.

Beer Review, Burton's Old Expensive Ale

Burton's Old Expensive Ale, Burton Bridge Brewery

Appearance: This beer nearly leaped out of the bottle at me, likely overcarbonated. First pour leaves huge head that fills up nearly two-thirds of the glass -- after removing some of it I managed to fill up enough of the glass to get an idea of the color and consistency. Dingy brown body, very hazy. Very thick head (obviously), off-white colored. 2.0/5

Smell: Hard to classify. Slightly musty, malty. Reminds me more of a brown ale than an Old Ale. Slightly nutty. No hops in nose. 2.5/5

Taste: Very malty, roasty. A touch of unfermented sugar in the wort I think -- slightly sweet and somewhat cloying. Slightly astringent, not complex at all. 2.0/5

Mouthfeel: Thin, watery. Apparently this one lets all its carbonation out in the original bang, 'cause I'm not getting it in this glass. 2.0/5

Drinkability: I'll finish this one, but this is really a brown ale marketed as an Old Ale. Reclassify it as a brown and it isn't so bad, but this is just a disappointment. 2.0/5

28 March 2008

Round Numbers

Mike Dunford over at The Questionable Authority has a post up about the futility of the number 4000.

Somehow or another, I doubt that the parents of the 3683rd soldier to die are somehow injured less than the parents of the 4,000th. I doubt that the parents of the 4010th will feel any differently. And, of course, American soldiers aren't the only ones who have died in the course of this disaster. We don't know how many Iraqis have died. Every estimate that's been published so far has been the subject of some controversy, because the different estimates aren't in complete agreement with each other. After five years, the whole country is still so comprehensively screwed that it's not possible to safely conduct the censuses and surveys needed to come up with an answer that everyone can agree with. The survivors of the family that becomes the collateral damage from an American air strike don't mourn any less than the family of the American soldier killed by friendly fire.

His wife is a military doctor serving in Afghanistan, and he goes on to talk about the "holes" that having a family member in the service leaves in the life of the family. (Dunford has two small children.)

She was home, briefly, for Christmas, then gone again for a few more months. By the time she came back, she'd missed several inches of growth between the two of them and a year of their education. The kids had changed. I'd changed. She'd changed. Fitting everything back together was not easy, and it often wasn't pretty. But we managed. And a little more than a year later, we got to do it all again.

The second time, when she deployed to Iraq, was harder. She'd changed more by the time she got back, we'd changed more, and we had to start dealing with the whole process of putting the family back together again. The whole process wasn't helped by our inability to comprehend why the whole Iraq thing was even necessary to begin with. At least with Afghanistan, we could fall back on the necessity of someone doing something. Even that limited comfort was gone when we dealt with Iraq.

This is the kind of reasoned but emotion-laden stuff that we forget all-too-often when talking about this war, on either side. "The Troops" are not some monolithic entity that are all having the same experience in Iraq or Afghanistan, and pretending that they're all poor kids scared to death, not caring about the overall mission, and just trying to get home in one piece or even that they are all noble gentle(wo)man soldiers fighting for a noble cause in the face of adversity for what may be a pointless conflict is overly simplistic.

The soldiers are people, first and foremost. They have varying opinions about what the best option for the future of Iraq (or Afghanistan) is, and have gone through varying experiences there. War is an incredibly serious thing, and if we could all stop chanting slogans long enough to listen to people like Dunford and others who either have themselves or had family members in these conflicts, then maybe we could actually come to some kind of reasonable consensus on the best option for the future.

Go read the whole thing.

27 March 2008

Movielog, 3:10 to Yuma

3:10 to Yuma, 1957
Written by Halsted Welles
Based on a story by Elmore Leonard
Directed by Delmer Daves
92 minutes

A weathered old rancher (Van Heflin) is rustling cattle with his two sons, when a stagecoach carrying bars of gold is robbed by a gang of robbers run by the famous Ben Wade (Glenn Ford). Wade's an agreeable kind of guy, asking politely for the money and only killing when the stagecoach driver pulls his weapon first. He takes the old man's horses, but only so they won't follow him, and agrees to set them loose near town.

The rancher's name is Dan Evans, and his farm is thirsting to death -- they're in the midst of a drought, and his cattle and family are slowly starving to death. Witnessing a murder is a terrible thing, sure, but as he says, you have to witness all kind of terrible things every day. In his words you feel the conviction of this bleak attitude towards life, which his wife doesn't quite share. She thinks he should have done something about the robbery, although she doesn't know quite what he could have done.

The robber is living large. He and his gang go to the nearest town and are served drinks by the pretty young bartender. He reports the robbery to the town marshal, although he doesn't fess up to it himself, and when the rest of the gang hightails it to move on to the next location, he sticks around and charms the young woman -- if there's anything this thief lacks, it isn't charisma.

Of course, sticking around was a bad move, because he's quickly recognized and put under arrest by the local law enforcement. And the rancher agrees to take part in an audacious plan to get him onto the train to Yuma, not so much for the ideals of it but for the $200 he's promised in exchange for the dangerous assignment.

It's funny how much plot there is in the above, because the various machinations of the storyline really only exist to get the two men into a closed motel room, with Wade trying to tempt Evans into letting him go free. It's a tempting argument, as Wade at one point offers $10,000 just to drop the gun and let him walk out of the door.

There's not much to say here without ruining the pleasures of the film, but in the performances of these two (and the supporting players, such as Leora Dana as Evans' wife, and Henry Jones as the lovable town drunk) the film comes alive, and as the tension mounts and Wade's gang gets closer, we find out what really drives these men.

It's a common complaint about 3:10 to Yuma that it ends rather anticlimactically, but the truth is that not much would be gained with a lengthy shootout. Everything that needs to be said is said, and you can read the subtext in the faces of the leads.

This film was remade last year with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in the lead roles, and having seen the 1957 version I'm very interested in seeing what the more modern filmmakers can do with it. I'll see it soon and movielog it when I do.

22 March 2008

Beer Review -- Rogue Kells Irish Style Lager

Rogue Kells Irish Style Lager

Appearance: Pours light orange, yellow-tinged, with a small but persistent white head. Highly carbonated and quite effervescent. 4.0/5

Smell: Very sweet, somewhat malty. No notes of corn. Reminds me more of an amber from the nose than a Euro Pale Lager. Slightly citrusy, almost like... grapefruit? Complex, rewarding, much better than expected. 4.5/5

Taste: Crisp, clean, slight notes of corn here but basically just a sweet lager. Hops are present but the don't exert themselves. Sweetness is a bit cloying on the finish, but it doesn't stick around and makes me want another taste. Quite nice. 3.5/5

Mouthfeel: Moderately thick. Goes down smooth and silky. Not watery, but thin. The carbonation is quite mild. 3.5/5

Drinkability: Rogue's website claims this is 5% ABV. This would make a nice session beer. Quite drinkable. 4.0/5

21 March 2008


I knew as soon as I saw that news item about the "fossilized dinosaur" that creationist organizations would start having a field day with it. Especially since the original press release includes the words "rapid burial." Grab the clue stick -- just because an ancient fossil indicates rapid burial doesn't mean that it died in Noah's Flood.

So why the date of 65 (or 67) million years?2 Hoganson explained, “[The Badlands are] one of the few places in the world where you can actually see the boundary line where the dinosaurs became extinct, the time boundary. In the Badlands, this layer is exposed in certain places.” Hoganson is referring to the K–T extinction boundary, which allegedly divides the Cretaceous Period from the Tertiary Period in the fossil record and marks the extinction of the dinosaurs. Thus, the team must date the find as at least 65 million years old—despite any evidence otherwise—just so it lines up with evolutionary theory and the uniformitarian understanding of the fossil record.

That "uniformitarian understanding" is based on particle physics that has been known for at least a century and has withstood literally thousands (if not hundred of thousands) of direct tests. Scientists aren't "assuming" the age of the fossil any more than you are "assuming" that I was born more than ten and less than two hundred years ago.

That said, we find a few flaws in assigning this date to Dakota—and it’s important to remember that that’s what scientists do: assign dates based on circumstantial evidence. Fossils don’t come stamped with exact dates!3

Depends on what you mean by "exact" -- creationist blustering about the ineffectiveness of radiometric dating is so overblown as to be ridiculous.

The scientists explain how Dakota must have been “buried rapidly.” That is exactly the explanation creation scientists give, but we have a clear, global explanation for the millions of fossils we have, which are time and time again shown to have been buried rapidly and catastrophically: the Flood of Noah’s day, which unleashed catastrophes worldwide and covered the world in water for a year. Starting from this viewpoint, we can make sense of these many fossils buried rapidly and recently—just a few thousand years ago.

Making shit up is so much easier than actually trying to understand the world, isn't it? And scientists do have a clear explanation for why so many fossils are buried relatively rapidly -- if they weren't buried rapidly, we wouldn't find them at all, or at least not at that level of preservation. It's a form of the anthropic principle.

Ultimately, this news shows us once again that science is beholden to one’s worldview. In this case, as in many, the old ages required by the fossil record—which are in turn required by the time line evolutionary theory needs—dictate the dating of the fossil. Starting from Scripture, we have the answers that explain why we find millions of fossils laid down catastrophically in rock layers all over the earth: the global Flood that the Bible describes.

I'm not going to bother detailing them, but anyone who isn't familiar with these issues should head on over to talkorigins.org to check out all of the scientific problems with a global flood. When Larry Moran wrote his post on people being fractally wrong, this is what he was talking about.

20 March 2008

Beer Review -- Ettaler Curator Dunkler Dopplebock

Ettaler Curator Dunkler Dopplebock

I believe I picked this up at either Riverside or Greenlife in Chattanooga.

Appearance: Thick brown syrupy body, very minimal head. Approximately appropriate for-style. 4.0/5

Smell: Very sweet, malty, nutty. Slight astringency due to high alcohol. Smells more like an eisbock than a dopplebock to me. 3.5/5

Taste: Rich mahogany nut brown. Deep. Notes of chocolate and coffee buried way down under. Strongly alcoholic and with quite a bit of unfermented sugar -- this is a very sweet beer. Grows on me instead of becoming cloying. 4.0/5

Mouthfeel: Like a mix of water and syrup. (Maybe like a simple sugar?) Runs across the tongue and down the throat like velvet, swishes around the tongue easily. 4.0/5

Drinkability: Dangerously so, given the alcohol. I'm not always the biggest fan of dopplebocks, but this one is really quite nice for the style. 4.0/5

Overall Rating: 3.9/5

Death of a Science Fiction Writer

Arthur C. Clarke is dead.

There's so much I could talk about. He wrote so many wonderful books, great, classic science fiction that will stand the test of time -- I don't even blame him for winning the 1974 Nebula over Gravity's Rainbow I love Rendezvous with Rama so much. He spent years researching psychic and other paranormal phenomena before declaring it to be bunk, he invented the geosynchronous satellite, the list of his brilliant short stories includes "The Star", "The Nine Billion Names of God", "The Sentinel", the wonderful-but-underrated "Death of a Senator"... and that's just off the top of my head.

I could spend hours talking about his wonderful novels. Aside from the aforementioned Rendezvous with Rama and the three amazing sequels co-authored with Gentry Lee, apart from the early promise of Childhood's End with that amazingly unexpected ending, not counting the first examination of the Y2K problem that I ever saw in a non-technical publication in The Ghost in the Grand Banks... I have a personal story. Not that I ever met Arthur C. Clarke. But I was touched by him all the same.

I was in sixth grade. Eleven years old. 1991. I used to prowl the school library looking for good books, but I had read basically everything of any interest already. I was growing past these cheesy kid's books with the young protagonists and the rocket ships on the cover and the completely implausible science. (Yes, even at eleven I was a bit of a science purist.) I was looking through the shelves one day when I saw it. It was a blue-and-black hardcover without the dust jacket. And on the spine was a title which I had seen elsewhere in the monthly Disney channel guide as a good space movie that had something to do with spaceships and space stations.

You're way ahead of me. It was 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I checked it out and started reading it that day, probably during my spare time in class. (I always finished all my assignments early.) I loved it. I loved the story of Moon-Watcher, the proto-human who with his tribe nearly starved to death before a crystal alien monolith visited and taught his tribe to use tools. (Yes, in the book it was a crystal monolith -- it was changed to black in the movie for technical reasons.) I loved the way that section ended, telling us that when the Ice Ages returned that Moon-Watcher's species died out, but left another species in their place, with enhanced intelligence and social structure. Us. I loved Heywood Floyd's trip to the moon, with the zero-gee toilet, and the discovery of TMA-1 on the moon. I loved the space ship Discovery, on its slow trip to Saturn, with most of its crew in hibernation. I loved the trip through the asteroid belt, the quick flyby analysis of the composition of an asteroid. And the repair of the AE-35 communication unit, with all of the emphasis on the need to work slowly and carefully while in space.

And HAL. Oh, HAL. In a book filled with two-dimensional characters (no knock on Clarke -- that was de rigeur for SF at the time) HAL comes alive. The descent into madness and, eventually, murder by this shipwide computer, by this thing that is the very definition of the inanimate made animate, is heartbreaking. The image of HAL singing "Daisy, daisy" as his memory blocks and power are cut is a justifiably famous one -- it still maintains its power to haunt the imagination, forty years later.

And then Bowman's long journey alone in the darkness of space. Clarke's description of the loneliness on-board the lifeless Discovery is pitch-perfect, and Bowman's solitude is at once haunting and poetic. When Bowman finally reaches the monolith in orbit around Iapetus and goes into the wormhole it is the culmination of a brilliant novel, one that has subtly explored what it is to be human from the steppes of Africa to the stars and beyond.

I remember finishing the last line of 2001: "But he would think of something." I closed the book and just stared into the distance. I've read many books since then, but few that I can say were as affecting and ultimately transformative as that one. It was my introduction into books meant for adults, and it was quite a way to begin -- I would never again approach a novel in the same way again. Years later, when I had heart surgery to correct tachacardia, it was the newly-published sequel 3001 that my parents bought for my convalescence. It was largely because of that novel that I discovered a love of science, real science like astronomy and physics, and it was because of Arthur C. Clarke that I wanted to work in the space program, to be part of the future progress of the human race. It was ultimately because I read 2001 when I was eleven that I moved to Huntsville for college when I was eighteen, and while my life's path hasn't moved in the direction I thought it would, Arthur C. Clarke has a great deal to do with the man I have become since.

Sure, his later books don't hold up to the early ones. And yes, my adult eyes can find faults even in my beloved 2001. But subjectively speaking that was one of the great reading experiences of my life, and it is for that reason that I always wanted to have the opportunity to tell Sir Arthur how much he meant to me. There are few celebrities whose birthday I know, but I always tried to note December 17th, even though I knew that as an old man his time was coming sooner rather than later.

Goodbye. You'll be missed.


The Onion AV Club reviews Mamma Mia's Pizza Beer. Though they admit to be completely incompetent when it comes to reviewing beer, their tasting notes make it look interesting. I'd be interested in trying it.

16 March 2008

You Are All Going to Hell

PZ posted this yesterday. It's really quite amusing and catchy.

And no, the fact that the girl is totally adorable has nothing to do with me posting this!

Beer Review -- Seahorse Pale Ale

I've been reviewing beers over at BeerAdvocate off and on for a few years now, but I'm going to start cross-posting my BA reviews here and see how I like the mix of stuff I'm interested in.

Last night, I tried Seahorse Pale Ale by Rogue Ales. Here's my review:
Appearance: Yellow-orange body, very hazy, some effervescence from bottom of glass. Significant white head leaves considerable lacing.

Smell: Clean, sweet hops, slightly citrusy. Notes of coriander and grapefruit.

Taste: Hops up front, clean and smooth. A strong citrus flavor follows, like lemonade mixed with orange juice. Slightly bitter, leaves a strong aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: Moderately thick, heavily carbonated. Hops bite a bit, but gives a clean finish.

Drinkability: Overall a pretty drinkable beer. Rogue doesn't always produce quality beers in "lighter" styles, but this one isn't bad. Not a replacement for my favorite pale ales, but I'd love to try this on-tap.

I've got dozens of new beers at home to try, so we'll see how this works out.

Tips for Reading Against the Day

This was linked by someone over on the P-list.

3. Whenever you do not know what is going on in the story, drink two cups of coffee and try again. If you still don’t get it, drink some NyQuil. If you’re STILL having no luck, ask your friend with adult A.D.D. for his “concentration pills” and dissolve them in Red Bull and vodka and sit naked in a circle of scented candles with Radiohead playing in the background … and then chant the many permutations of the name of God.


5. When you are in bad neighborhoods, bring Against the Day with you. You can throw it at someone and hurt them so that they won’t steal it from you. Or you can cut a square out of every page so that you can keep your money in it, like in the movies. That way, when you get mugged, the stick-up kid will snatch the book, exclaim, “I couldn’t even get through The Crying of Lot 49,” and toss it back to you.


7. Don’t even think about CliffsNotes. They are longer than the novel itself. And they are written by Thomas Pynchon himself. In Esperanto. With invisible ink. And viewing them requires a special light filter used only by WWI-era Burmese cryptographer-assassins.

I'm re-reading Gravity's Rainbow now, with help by the Weisenburger companion, and most of those could also apply here. Can't wait to get back to ATD again, but since I'm re-reading them all in publication order it'll be awhile before I get back to it.

15 March 2008

You'll Never Git Rid of the Undead That Way

Geekologie has a link to an ebay auction with a zombie survival kit. It's got a fake shotgun and five shells. Maybe if your family only has five members and you're hoping to spare your loved ones the sight of the zombie apocalypse by blowing their heads off this would work, but otherwise you're just boned.

14 March 2008

Milky Way Trivia

The Bad Astronomer has a post up detailing ten things that you probably don't know about the Milky Way. I'm pretty up on my science knowledge, but there were three that were somewhat new to me. (Forgive me -- it's been awhile since I'm spent any significant time reading about astrophysics and astronomy on the galactic level.)

1) It’s a barred spiral.

You might know that the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy, perhaps the most beautiful galaxy type. You’ve seen ‘em: majestic arms sweeping out from a central hub or bulge of glowing stars. That’s us. But a lot of spirals have a weird feature: a rectangular block of stars at the center instead of a sphere, and the arms radiate away from the ends of the block. Astronomers call this block a bar, and, you guessed it: we have one.

Is fact, ours is pretty big. At 27,000 light years end-to-end, it’s beefier than most bars. Of course, space is a rough neighborhood. Who wouldn’t want a huge bar located right downtown?

Yeah, everybody knows that the Milky Way is a spiral, but a barred spiral? That's pretty awesome.

8) Spiral arms are an illusion.

Well, they’re not an illusion per se, but the number of stars in the spiral arms of our galaxy isn’t really very different than the number between the arms! The arms are like cosmic traffic jams, regions where the local density is enhanced. Like a traffic jam on a highway, cars enter and leave the jam, but the jam itself stays. The arms have stars entering and leaving, but the arms themselves persist (that’s why they don’t wind up like twine on a spindle).

Just like on highways, too, there are fender benders. Giant gas clouds can collide in the arms, which makes them collapse and form stars. The vast majority of these stars are faint, low mass, and very long-lived, so they eventually wander out of the arms. But some rare stars are very massive, hot, and bright, and they illuminate the surrounding gas. These stars don’t live very long, and they die (bang!) before they can move out of the arms. Since the gas clouds in the arms light up this way, it makes the spiral arms more obvious.

We see the arms because the light is better there, not because that’s where all the stars are.

Again, interesting. I always thought the spiral arms were in some sense actual real entities held together by gravitational forces and angular momentum, but that's just one of those things that I just thought I knew.

9) It’s seriously warped.

The Milky Way is a flat disk roughly 100,000 light years across and a few thousand light years thick (depending on how you measure it). It has the same proportion as a stack of four DVDs, if that helps.

Have you ever left a DVD out in the Sun? It can warp as it heats up, getting twisted (old vinyl LPs used to be very prone to this). The Milky Way has a similar warp!

The disk is bent, warped, probably due to the gravitational influence of a pair of orbiting satellite galaxies. One side of the disk is bent up, if you will, and the other down. In a sense, it’s like a ripple in the plane of the Milky Way. It’s not hard to spot in other galaxies; grab an image of the Andromeda galaxy and take a look. At first it’s hard to see, but if you cover the inner part you’ll suddenly notice the disk is flared up on the left and down on the right. Andromeda has satellite galaxies too, and they warp its disk just like our satellite galaxies warp ours.

As far as I can tell, the warp doesn’t really affect us at all. It’s just a cool thing you may not know about the Milky Way. Hey, that would make a good blog entry!

Again, I tend to think of the galaxy as a simple rotating platter, so this is another thing that I simply didn't know. Then again, since most of my knowledge of large-scale astronomy comes from books I read when I was a kid in the early nineties, and most of those books were at least five or six years old even at the time, it's possible that this is stuff that wasn't even known to astronomers at the time I was reading about it.

Guess this is just a sign I need to spend more time reading about large-scale astronomy!

08 March 2008

This Makes It So Much Worse

Just ran across this video from a few days ago on The Daily Show.

Bush? Doing something positive? With no direct gain for himself? What is this world coming to?

01 March 2008

Fundie Friday -- The Bible

Sorry I've been away for a couple of weeks, as I've been busy at work latey and thus have had little time to think. I've also been battling a bit of depression (hopefully seasonal) and just a general ill-feeling (which I'm hoping is a simply viral or bacteriological infection that my immune system can dispose of soon). I missed last week's Fundie Friday, and this one will be a day late, but I haven't forgotten them, and as my way of doing penance (ha!) I'm going to be tackling a big topic today.

The Bible.

(Almost makes me want to stick a "booklog" tag on this thing... hey, a booklog entry for the Bible might be really interesting...)

So anyway, my goal for today is to talk a bit about what the Bible is and how it has been viewed historically, and then to contrast this with how modern-day American fundamentalists see it.

The Bible is composed of 66 books, 39 in the Old Testament which were originally the Jewish scriptures (slightly edited and shuffled for the Christian Bible) and 27 in the New Testament focusing on the life and meaning of Jesus. It was assembled sometime in the third or fourth century AD in its current form, and around 1500 was translated into English. (The King James Version was originally published in 1611.)

Throughout most of the history of the text, most of those who would call themselves Christians were illiterate, and therefore the Catholic church relied on the education of priests to get the message out about the nature of Christian doctrine and belief. Catholic theology emphasized the Bible as a source of information about the faith, but also considered authoritative were (and are still today) the traditional understanding of Christian belief from the earlier Church fathers, and the interpretaion of the Pope, considered Christ's ultimate representative on Earth.

Then came the Reformation. Luther rejected the teachings of the Church and placed his emphasis on the Bible itself. This got passed on to the entire Protestant movement, especially to the Americas, where being an entire ocean away from Rome made depending on traditional Church heiarchy a bit of an impossibility. When modern-day Fundamentalism was born, this was made explicit -- the only authoritative work in this sense was the Bible.

Add to this a certain amount of anti-intellectualism and lack of respect for learning in general, and you end up with the idea that any person, no matter what their education and understanding, should be able to approach and gain moral and spiritual instruction from the Bible without any kind of contextual framework. Modern-day fundies believe that the Holy Spirit guides each of us in our understanding of the Bible, and that simply reading it will give us all the understanding we're trying to get.

This is important, so let me belabor it a bit more. Parts of the Bible approach five millennia in age -- the earliest parts of the Bible were written by nomadic goat-herders trying to communicate their understanding of the rules of society to each other. Despite their antiquity, they had a very complex society with a highly complex set of social rules and mores. Even the newest parts of the Bible were written some nineteen-hundred years ago, by persecuted followers of a Jewish rabbi in the Roman era. These are books written to and for a specific audience, in a very different context for today's people, even today's Christians, and expecting the same rules for living and stories to speak directly to modern people without any sort of context is to remove the entire meaning of the stories.

For instance, how many people today have any idea what a "Samaritan" is? It's something that even many educated Christians don't know, yet it is essential for understanding the meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

So modern-day Fundies read the Bible with a total lack of context, with the view that any person can read it and gain knowledge of the divine. This is bad enough, but they also believe that the Bible is inerrant, i.e. completely free of defect of any kind. This is different from the primary historical view, which indicated that the Bible was merely infallible in matters of faith and practice, while details of geography, science, history might be distorted by those who wrote the texts. No, modern-day fundies believe that is the Bible claims the universe was created in six days, then that's exactly how long the universe took to be created. And if it says that forty thousand people wandered the desert for forty years, then there's no way that 39,999 wandered for thirty-nine years and 364 days.

This leads to the curious phenomenon of "proof-texting" whereby in order to prove that something is true, it's only necessary to find some place in the Bible where a sequence of words lends some credence to your position, without consideration of context or overall meaning. In honesty, proof-texting is one of those things that even fundies tend to look down on, acknowledging at least some respect for context, but it's also the sort of thing that they call accuse the other guys of doing -- i.e. if you don't agree with me it's because you're clearly just "proof-texting" instead of really understanding.

This has gotten a bit long, but all of this is just a preamble to the weirdest element of the way fundies treat the Bible. Despite their reliance on the Good Book as a sort of infallible instruction manual for the universe, despite their belief that this is a text that simply cannot be wrong, that the Bible is quite literally God explaining Himself to the universe...

...most fundies haven't read it. Many of them haven't even read a whole book of the Bible, or even a whole chapter. Instead they read it in quotations, or take the tack that the ignorant peasants of Europe in the Middle Ages did, and simply accept what their spiritual leaders tell them about the contents of scripture.

This view of the universe through the contents of a book that is not understood and in most cases not even read influences the very fabric of the way that fundamentalists view the world, and will obviously be a focus of future entries in this series. Which I hope will be a bit more timely than this one.