Friday, March 31, 2006

Praying Doesn’t Help

The AP reports that in what has been described as the largest, and best organized, study of its kind, heart patients who were prayed for by strangers experienced no benefit.

Why doesn’t this surprise me?

As a matter of fact, patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of complications than patients who only knew that such prayers were a possibility. Well that’s pretty weird.

The researchers had no explanation for this result other than perhaps patients felt some additional anxiety knowing they were being prayed for. One doctor speculated "Did the patients think, 'I am so sick that they had to call in the prayer team?'"

Yeah, I guess I can see how that might tend to inhibit recovery.

The range of reaction as to why the study found no effect was, as expected, driven by the initial prejudices of the individual.

“Paul Kurtz, professor emeritus of philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, had a blunt response when asked why he thought the study found no effect of prayer.

‘Because there is none," he said. "That would be one answer.’”

LOL! Yeah that sounds like Paul. As a matter of fact he’s probably been working on his “reaction” since before the start of the test.

“The new work, he (Kurtz) said, ‘gives added emphasis to those who have been skeptical.’”

Yes, it certainly does.

“Dr. Harold G. Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at the Duke University Medical Center. said the results didn't surprise him.”

Perhaps not, but I’ll bet they disappointed you a bit.

“’There are no scientific grounds to expect a result and there are no real theological grounds to expect a result either," he (Koenig) said. ‘There is no god in either the Christian, Jewish or Muslim scriptures that can be constrained to the point that they can be predicted.”’

Yo Harold, you forgot Matthew 21:22 didn’t you? Allow me to refresh your memory about a quote from Jesus himself.

Matthew 21:22 "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."

So I guess the Christian groups doing the praying didn’t really believe or was Jesus mistaken?

“Dr. David Stevens, executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, said he believes intercessory prayer can influence medical outcomes, but that science is not equipped to explore it. “

LOL!! I’ve seen the excuse that science isn’t really equipped to measure the effect used to explain paranormal flops on tests for everything ranging from dowsing to astrology. I guess we’ll have to now add the effect of prayer to that list.

Basically this is nonsense. Science can measure any effect on the natural world. The claim is, and always has been, that prayer can, and does, bring about effects on the natural world, so science is very much capable of measuring such effects if they exist.

"’Do we control God through prayer? Theologians would say absolutely not. God decides sometimes to intervene, and sometimes not,’ he (Stevens) said.”

Dave, I also refer you to Matthew 21:22. Theologians might say “absolutely not,” but it appears to me that Jesus promised that those that truly believe, would have what they ask for in prayer given to them.

“As for the new study, he (Stevens) said, ‘I don't think ... it's going to stop people praying for the sick.’”

I don’t think it will stop people from praying for the sick either but how about it prevents us from wasting another $2.4 million on a question that has now been answered in the negative multiple times.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Palace of Ajax?

That’s what, according to the AP, an archaeologist excavating on the island of Salamis believes he has located.

Someone found the palace of one of the heroes of Troy? That’s pretty bizarre. And even better, one of the artifacts that was located was a piece of copper armor with the name of Rameses II stamped on it. Rameses ruled Egypt 3,200 years ago and is the Pharoah that Cecil B. DeMille presents as the pharoah of the Exodus! Can you imagine that Rameses himself may have given this object to someone or it came to Salamis in trade from ancient Egypt? Boy, if only it could talk.

Sigh, I wonder if it’s possible to develop a temporal viewing machine?

Afghanistan Heats Up

The disturbing trend in Afghanistan of attacks by Taliban Militia units appears to be at least continuing and at worst accelerating. More than one observer fears what would amount to a major spring offensive by the Taliban is about to occur.

Aren’t these the guys that were supposedly beaten? I guess the continued insurgency in Iraq is fueling unrest in Afghanistan as well. This is not a good thing and simply reinforces the need for us to get out of the area as soon as possible.

Yes I understand that the result might be chaos and civil war, that withdrawing will jeopardize the oil supply and that it's uncertain what kind of political entity will emerge in the region after a civil war.

You’ll excuse me, but it’s a little late to worry about that now. Those were the reasons we said it was a dumb idea to enter Iraq in the first place. If we weren’t in Iraq, I doubt the lid in Afghanistan would be threatening to blow off.

We screwed up and we’re not going to be able to fix this one. Now the people of the region need to struggle with the situation and determine what they can salvage. They need to determine their own destiny. We can’t, and shouldn’t, be trying to ram our ideas down their throat. It’s not clear that a western style democracy, or any style democracy, is right for everyone at any time. It’s time to cut our loses and run like hell. Just more evidence that the Bush administration should be crowned the worst in the history of this country.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Bible Unearthed

“The Bible Unearthed,” by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, is an attempt to establish a moderate position on how much “history” is in the Hebrew Bible. This is certainly not a “the truth must be somewhere in the middle” approach to reconcile the “minimalist” view of the Copenhagen School with the “maximalist” view of Conservative Christians, rather it strikes me as a honest attempt to understand what the combination of the Bible, extra-biblical sources and modern archaeology is telling us about the history of Canaan and the development of the Bible itself.

I’m still in the process of studying the book, but I’ve run into a commentary about the book by Finkelstein and Silberman and I thought some of the quotes in that commentary were interesting.

“Our main contention is that the historical narratives of the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomistic History can be convincingly linked to the ideological and political program of the Judean kingdom in the 7th century BCE.”

In other words, the forensic evidence seems to line up very much with the Documentary Hypothesis which places the authorship of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel and 1& 2 Kings in the reign of Josiah and identifies the motive behind the history as a desire to legitimize the territorial aspirations of the King of Judah toward the lands which previously formed the northern kingdom of Israel..

"…we lay out the argument for this contention by examining how weak is the archaeological evidence for the patriarchs, Exodus, conquest of Canaan, and United Monarchy of David and Solomon."

Weak appears to be something of an understatement. The authors make a very strong case that the story of Joshua, for example, demonstrates clear evidence of it being written in the 7th century BCE if for no other reason than the match in the description of the geography of the area. They find NO evidence for the patriarchs or the Exodus. While the lack of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence, they argue, rather convincingly, that there SHOULD be evidence of the Exodus. Not finding evidence where one should find it is generally recognized as evidence that something didn’t actually happen.

More about the United Monarchy later.

"While hardly anyone these days gets exercised over the suggestion that the Mahabarata’s Hindu Prince Arjuna might be a powerful literary creation rather than a specific historical figure, or that a particular Achaean named Achilles might not have slain a particular Trojan named Hector, something strange and emotional seems to happen when doubt is cast on the historical character of the kingdom of David and Solomon."

That’s because there aren’t any Fundamentalist Homerians around that think the Iliad is the inerrant “Word of God” and should be interpreted literally. Philosopher Michael E. Berumen makes the observation that “people of a religious bent are especially apt to confuse their beliefs with understanding or knowledge.”

I believe it, therefore it must be true and any disagreement is viewed as persecution. Berumen also observes that the religious have “an overwhelming need to have others believe the same things…By their very existence, nonbelievers, deviants, and apostates shake a believer's confidence in his view of the world, which he finds wholly intolerable.”

This is why very religious people tend to react so strongly to any criticism or mockery of their beliefs. I understand the sensitivity, I’m just not prepared to allow it to prevent me from saying what I believe needs to be said.

"For the last two centuries archaeologists and biblical scholars have been engaged in a continuous struggle to separate the purely theological or mythic narratives of the Bible from those that contain what might be regarded as reliable history."

A struggle which I might point out has occurred largely below the radar of the average person. However, with the emergence of the Communications Age, and in particular the Internet, the information about this struggle is slowing seeping its way into the general public. The effect, if any, of that seepage is unclear to me. I suspect that for some it will mean abandoning any remaining vestiges of belief and for others it will mean digging in their heels and trying to censor the positions that contradict religious dogma. But the overwhelming majority will probably just shrug and ignore the whole thing.

"…today, the scholarly disputes over the historicity of a seven-day creation of the world, of the Garden of Eden, and the story of Noah’s Ark are over —even though some nasty skirmishing occasionally flares up at school board meetings."

Yeah, pathetic ain’t it? Even biblical scholars agree with scientists that evolution is a fact. This is clearly a swipe at the U.S. and we deserve it. It is incredible to me that this level of ignorance exists in a so-called modern nation. Then again, see Berumen’s observation above.

"Long gone also are the serious scholarly attempts to trace archaeologically the progress of the Exodus of 600,000 Israelites across Sinai toward Canaan."

In other words, most modern archeologists are convinced that the Exodus, as described in the Bible, never happened. To be honest, I’ve yet to locate a non-Evangelical Christian archeologist, historian or Egyptologist that still thinks it did.

"The extensive surveys carried out in the West Bank by Israeli archaeologists during the 1970s and 1980s showed that the settlement of the Israelite Tribes in Canaan was not a lightning invasion but a complex process of social transformation."

Clearly no Exodus equals no campaign in Canaan. It appears that there is a pretty wide consensus that the kingdoms of Israel and Judah evolved over time from indigenous people in the southern and northern highlands and the forensic archeological and extra-biblical evidence seems to support that consensus.

"Today, the frontline has come to rest in the era of David and Solomon. Indeed there is now an ongoing scholarly free-for-all debate over the historical reality of the Kingdom of David and Solomon in which tempers have sometimes flared, names have been called, and sneering accusations of hidden political and religious agendas have been tossed back and forth."

At least Finkelstein and Silberman are not denying the existence of King David as a historical figure. Even I’d have a big problem with that one. If King David didn’t exist, he should have, so let’s not rock the boat. What they do argue, is that it’s rather unlikely a United Kingdom of Judah and Israel ever existed or, if it did, that it was as spectacular as the bible implies.

They make a strong case that the northern kingdom of Israel was a major power under the Omride Dynasty while the southern kingdom of Judah existed as a sort of poor rural cousin. The Omrides, and especially Ahab who married Jezebel, was absolutely demonized in 1 Kings and the Bible wasn’t too happy with Jezebel either.

I have to say that reading “The Bible Unearthed,” as well as other papers by the authors, has built up a healthy respect in me for them as dedicated scientists and honest men. They’re not out to further a cause, they’re just trying to understand, as best they can, what the evidence is telling them.

Obviously I have no way of independently verifying their conclusions and, unfortunately, all of the counter-arguments I’ve been able to locate are from Christian Apologists and are about as compelling as the Creationist arguments against evolution. In other words, pending further evidence, I have to accept the author’s general conclusions as probably true.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Christian Convert on Trial

Ah yes, the lovable Muslim clerics of Afghanistan are calling for the death of the guy that converted from Islam to Christianity. I just love some of the quotes reported by the AP.

"Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die."

So much for religious tolerance and pluralism.

"The government is scared of the international community. But the people will kill him if he is freed."

Obviously a government of the people and by the people but clearly not one FOR the people.

"Cut off his head! We will call on the people to pull him into pieces so there's nothing left."

Tell me again how Islam is a religion of peace?

"If he is allowed to live in the West, then others will claim to be Christian so they can too. We must set an example. ... He must be hanged."

LOL! Isn’t this sort of admitting that lots of people would GLADLY trade in Islam for a chance to live in the West? I’ll bet they would too!

Here's a basic question. Do these guys actually think that God is so petty that he cares whether a man worships him as a Muslim or as a Christian or as a Hindu or even as an atheist that simply lives a moral life? Needing to worship a God that you think is that petty is pretty pathetic and, if you ask me, thinking he's so petty is a much greater insult to the deity than changing which silly rites you choose to perform to demonstrate your devotion.

I suspect, that if there is a God, then being polite to an elderly lady crossing the street or smiling at an infant would be viewed by Him as greater worship than all the "Glory be's," "Hosannah's" and "Praise Allah's" ever spoken.

These people are not worth the trouble. Bring the guys home and just let these "peaceful" Muslims kill each other if that's what they want to do. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, religion is the antithesis of democracy. Only in a secular society can democratic freedoms, including freedom of religion, be secure.

It’s stories like this one, that convince me I’m right, as well as scare the hell out of me that the next major war will be a religious one.

So why wait? Let's ship all the Fundamentalist Muslims and Fundamentalist Christians to some plain in Africa somewhere and let them kill each other. I guarantee the world would be a much better place if we did. The only problem with this plan is that it's a terrible thing to do to the good honest folks in Africa.

Maybe we could use Kansas instead? There's certainly nothing worthwhile in Kansas. I've always wondered why Dorothy wanted to get back there?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Japan Wins WBC

Japan tops Cuba in the final of the World Baseball Classic which, as hoped, turned out to be lots of fun. If I would improve anything it would be the umpiring which made at least two horrible calls that I am aware of.

Maybe this would be a good venue to try out instant replay in baseball?

Friday, March 17, 2006

New Jersey Attorney General says Death Penalty is not Needed

The New Attorney General of New Jersey, Zulima Farber, has been quoted by the Death Penalty Information Center as saying that she doesn’t believe that the Death Penalty is a deterrent, that it isn’t a necessary tool for prosecutors and that she would not oppose extending the New Jersey moratorium.

I assume from that statement that Ms. Farber also wouldn’t oppose abolishing the Death Penalty in New Jersey although she apparently didn’t say that specifically. New Jersey has never executed anyone under its current law but does have 10 folks on death row at the moment.

That’s another nail in the coffin so to speak. If the commission studying the Death Penalty in New Jersey should recommend abolition, the State Attorney General’s office won’t contest the recommendation and may very well support it.

Speaking of Zulima, while I applaud her position on capital punishment, I still believe that her appointment as Attorney General was a disgrace and I’m still holding it against Governor Corzine.

Since 1979, this lady has had some 15 traffic tickets, a dozen for speeding, three license suspensions and two bench warrants issued for her arrest due to failing to appear for court dates related to traffic violations. There is a point where trivial crosses the line into “there’s something seriously wrong here.” I don’t think anyone that has shown such a disdain for the laws of the state of New Jersey deserves to be Attorney General.

If that wasn’t bad enough, when asked about this problem at her Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, while she did apologize for what she called a “flaw,” she also joked about it by saying it was a good thing the job came with a driver. I think the joke clearly demonstrated that she doesn’t think this is serious and therefore her apology was hollow.

She may have her head screwed on straight about the Death Penalty, but don’t let her behind the wheel of a car!

In the meantime, with executions in Texas and North Carolina, the total number of executions so far in 2006 has reached double digits. Half of the ten executions have been in the state of Texas which has fourteen more scheduled through August.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Two converging events lead me to consider the question of polygamy. The first is the new HBO series “Big Love” starring Bill Paxton. Now while I like Bill Paxton and I understand that he’s still traumatized over not finding The Heart of the Ocean, I have no intention of watching this show. It just has no attraction for me.

The second event was an article in the most recent Newsweek about REAL polygamists. Incredible as it may seem there is actually an organization trying to get it legalized.

According to Newsweek, while the polygamy supporters are observing the gay marriage process with interest, they’re not supporters. It seems most people pushing polygamy are conservative Christians that believe homosexuality is immoral. About the only justification for polygamy they seem to have is that it’s in the Bible so it must be ok.

What the heck is a flaming pinko card carrying member of the ACLU to do? Can a staunch civil rights supporter from way back possibly take a position opposed to polygamy? Wouldn’t that be hypocritical?

Yes I can and no it wouldn’t. Aside from the fact that any guy that wants more than one wife is by definition mentally deranged and shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce, the idea strikes me as impractical and unjustified.

I believe the question of gay marriage is fundamentally different from the question of polygamy. Homosexuality appears to not be a matter of choice while polygamy clearly IS a matter of choice. No one is suggesting that polygamy is a genetic trait nor have I seen any argument that it’s a religious necessity. So what’s the justification?

When infant mortality was sky high, and even the ability to carry a child to term was questionable, there may have been some justification for polygamy especially in a society with a life expectancy in the thirties or even late twenties. This was the situation at the time of the stories in the Bible that feature polygamy. What’s the justification today in an era of modern medicine and nutrition?

I might also point out that in a polygamous society, only some males get to father offspring, so there has to be some means of deciding who gets that privilege. Historically it was the royalty and the rich that had the privilege and the peasantry could go pound salt. Not exactly consistent with modern democratic principles is it?

I’m sorry but “it’s in the Bible so it must be ok” ain’t a valid reason. There are lots of things in the Bible, like genocide, rape, incest and religious intolerance, that ain’t ok and I’m not about to support making legal. Polygamy is one of those things.

Just because it’s Trivial Doesn’t Mean it Shouldn’t be Accurate

I was surfing the web trying to gather information about the movie “Warrior.” To be honest with you, I’m not even sure there is such a thing. There was some indication that the movie, which is supposed to be about the Celtic Queen Boudica, who led a revolt against the Roman Empire in 60 or 61 CE, was supposed to be released this year.

I was curious about the fate of the project so I went around checking some movie blurbs on the web. What I found funny about the blurbs was the amount of historical misinformation present while describing the plot. Whether this was due to poetic license on the part of the developers or simply sloppiness is unclear. The beauty of the Internet is that it’s SO easy to search for corroborating or conflicting information that there is little excuse for gross errors in simple facts.

What ever happened to the idea that accuracy, even about trivial issues, was important?

The story of Boudica is based primarily on the history of Tacitus and, to a lesser extent, the history of Dio Cassius. If I were to believe the movie blurbs then:

- Boudica rose from peasant beginnings to Warrior Queen
- Boudica was looking to avenge the death of her husband
- Boudica rebelled against the Romans in the 9th Century
- Boudica led a rebellion of all the tribes of Briton

Wow. Well let’s see. First of all Boudica was married to the King of the Iceni and most likely as the result of a political marriage. That would mean that she was herself of royal, or near royal, blood rather than a peasant. The rebellion took place in the 1st century CE, around the year 60 CE, and only two tribes, the Iceni and the Trenovantes, both from the East Anglia region, took part.

As for looking to avenge her husband, King Prasutagus, her hubby, died of natural causes and while it was his death which precipitated the trouble, she was looking to avenge herself and her daughters. According to Tacitus, following the death of her husband, the Romans moved in to confiscate the kingdom. When Boudica resisted, she was beaten and her daughters raped by Roman troops.

Exactly WHY the Romans moved in to confiscate the lands of a deceased client king is a little unclear. Tacitus blames it on Catus Decianus, the procurator in Britain, who ignored Prasutagus’ will, which left his kingdom in equal halves to his daughters and the Emperor, and tried to curry favor with Nero by taking the whole lot. Modern writers like to focus on the idea that the Britons treated women as legal equals, while the Romans didn’t. Since a woman, under Roman law, could not inherit, Prasutagus’ will would have been considered illegal. Or at least that’s how the argument goes.

Dio Cassius claims that good old Prasutagus had actually been living high off of loans taken from Rome and secured by his kingdom. So, when Prasutagus died, the Romans moved in to collect. I’m sure the movie will present the more sympathetic nasty villain Decianus story, but personally I think the loan explanation is more plausible.

So, was Boudica a true heroine? Well, her cause may have been just but she was no war leader and made the same mistake the Jews would make ten years later. She badly underestimated the professional Roman Army.

Boudica started with a string of victories. First she overran the Roman colony at Camulodunum (current day Colchester) which was unfortified and only defended by about 200 light troops. Then the Celts managed to ambush and maul a detachment of the 9th Legion of around 2,500 men because the general of the 9th made the mistake of not gathering any intelligence before rushing toward Camulodunum upon hearing of the revolt.

Boudica then marched toward Londinium. Paulinus Suetonius, the governor of Britain, had been crushing the Druids on Mona Island several hundred miles away to the northwest when the rebellion occurred. Being a lot smarter than the general commanding the 9th Legion, Suetonius marched toward Londinium with a small force in order to gather information. He left orders for his own troops, the 14th and 20th Legions, to follow him while conserving their strength on the march and sent word to the 9th and 2nd Legions to rendezvous with his army. However the 9th Legion was in no shape to respond and, for some unknown reason, the commander of the 2nd Legion chose not to do so.

When Suetonius arrived in Londinium and found out about the scale of the forces marching against him, which may have been as many as 100,000, he realized he couldn’t hold the town and abandoned it. He then rejoined the 14th and 20th Legions and retreated northwest along Watling Street looking for a favorable battlefield.

He found it. According to Tacitus, Suetonius selected a narrow field guarded on both flanks by heavy woods. He set up his 10,000 or so legionnaires and waited for the Celts.

In the meantime Boudica and her army burned Londinium, killing everyone they could find, and marched after Suetonius. Along the way they destroyed Verulaminun, near current St. Albans, as well. Regardless of what you think of Boudica’s cause, her army’s actions weren’t terribly laudable. The killed everyone, men, woman and children, that they could find without mercy.

When the Celts found Suetonius, they prepared to meet him in battle. Boudica’s “army” was more like a massive migration than what we would consider a real army and had lots and lots of wagons and non-combatants. When they pitched camp, they set up the wagons in the rear blocking their line of retreat. The next day, they got ready to engage Suetonius.

Boudica make three horrendous errors. First, she allowed her easy victories over tiny or unprepared forces to inflate her assessment of her army’s capabilities. She wasn’t facing 200 auxiliaries nor taking on a small contingent in ambush, she was going up against 10,000 seasoned, and ready, front line Roman troops.

Second, she allowed Suetonius to pick the battlefield. A battlefield that, with its narrow front, would not only neutralize the Celts numerical advantage, but would actually turn it against them.

And finally, as already noted, she had her wagon train blocking her path of retreat. This would turn a defeat into an unmitigated disaster. The Romans broke two waves of assault and then, in wedge formation, drove Boudica’s troops back into the wagons and proceeded to kill anyone and anything in the vicinity. Exactly how many Celts died on the field is unknown but it could have been as high as 80,000. The Romans lost 500 dead and about an equal number wounded.

As for Boudica, according to Tacitus, she and her daughters survived the battle but committed suicide to avoid capture. Suetonius, unamused by the revolt, appears to have exacted a punishment on the Iceni and Trenovantes so extreme that even Nero was appalled and replaced him as governor about a year later.

Not a very romantic tale and there was enough barbarity to go around. Assuming the movie project is still underway, it should be interesting to see what kind of spin Hollywood puts on the story.

A long essay about nothing of any great interest except how, as a society, we appear to have lost our demand for accuracy and truth. It wasn’t all that long ago that this was a high priority in this country. So high a priority that even innocent misinformation was frowned upon and led to abject apologies when the error was identified. Today we shrug at blatant lies or distortions not seeming to care about the millions of folks that never find out they were lies or distortions.

What the hell happened? The responsibility for correcting inaccuracies is with those that have the necessary knowledge and that responsibility exists regardless of how trivial or unimportant the matter. Maybe if we get back into the attitude of zero tolerance for lies and inaccuracy we can start to get things back under control.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Censure Bush?

That’s what the AP is reporting that Russ Feingold, the junior senator from Wisconsin, is suggesting. Russ says "The president has broken the law and, in some way, he must be held accountable.”

I agree with that and since it’s unlikely he’s going to get impeached anytime soon, a censure might not be a bad idea IF he’s willing to admit that the spying without a warrant is wrong and promises to make it stop. I figure there's two chances of that happening, slim and none.

Not unexpectedly, the Republicans disagree. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, according to the AP, called the proposal "a crazy political move" that would weaken the U.S. during wartime.

You will notice however that Frist didn’t call the NSA eves dropping legitimate and within the scope of Presidential authority now did he? Frist is no dummy and a statement like that would certainly come back to haunt him.

But Billy baby, how would censuring Bush "weaken the U.S.?" You afraid it's going to distract or demoralize the guys in Iraq? Trust me, they have enough to be demoralized about already with a "Commander-in-Chief" that clearly (a) doesn't know what the hell he's doing and (b) doesn't seem to care much about the safety of the troops while he's doing it.

I like the idea of a censure although I doubt Russ is going to be able to pull it off. At least he’s taking a position. He keeps doing that and they’ll have to kick him out of the Democratic Party. Democrats are only supposed to wring their hands ineffectively these days.

Who Left Early?

I saw the replay of the call in the 8th inning of the Japan-USA game in the World Baseball Classic and guess what? It didn’t look like he left early to me.

I think that’s called “Getting Hosed.”

Still, it was a darn good game.

Now, if we could figure out some way to get the US Champion play the Japan or Asian Champion for a REAL World Series, that would be nice.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The DaVinci Code Case

It doesn’t sound like things are going too well for the two authors of "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail," who claim that Dan Brown copied their ideas in “The DaVinci Code." Given that the legends about Jesus and Mary Magdalene have been around for centuries, the charge did seem like a bit of a stretch. Just because YOU write something about something doesn’t mean that no one else can address the same subject.

What I might believe is that Brown used "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail” to shorten his own necessary research for the novel. Is that the same thing as violating copyright?

I mean, let’s be practical, if you were going to write a novel based upon some historical event or historical legend, wouldn’t you consult any books written about the topic? Especially if we’re talking about a topic whose treatment, from a historical viewpoint, has been fairly limited.

I guess it’s even possible that "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" was the initial inspiration for Brown to write something around that theme. Brown tends to write about conspiracy type stuff and the hero of “The DaVinci Code” takes on the Illuminati in his first adventure “Angels & Demons.”

Interestingly I thought “Angels & Demons” was the better of the two books and I’ve been trying to locate an Illuminati recruitment center even since as that’s clearly where my sympathies lie. To be honest, "The DaVinci Code" was basically the same plot built around the same Robert Langdon character. The characters had different names but all of the same character types and the same plot elements were present. The brilliant murdered father and the daughter that helps Langdon follow the complex trial of clues, the sinister agent of evil going around reducing the church population, the historical legend that turns out to be true, the law enforcement official that doesn't trust Langdon and even the surprise real villain. Just the city, the legend and the artist responsible for the clues changed in order to protect the publisher.

Anyway while I suppose Brown could have used "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" to a greater or lesser extent, I’m not sure he did anything wrong and its unlikely anyone could prove it anyway. In other words, I don’t have a clue about the nuances of copyright infringement.

Since the case appears to be going nowhere, we’ll probably get the movie on May 19th which, by coincidence, is Malcolm X’s birthday. This will be the first movie since the last Harry Potter that I’ll be looking forward to. The only problem is, my wife didn’t read the book and I may have a problem talking her into going.

While there was some complaining from the Christian Right about the book (what is it about the concept of F-I-C-T-I-O-N that you don’t understand?), I don’t really expect much commotion about the movie when it comes out, but we’ll see.

A Furry Lobster?

What will they think of next? The AP reports that a combined team of American and French divers in the South Pacific have discovered a new crustacean that is so bizarre and different that they had to designate a new family and a new genus for it.

The beastie is about 6 inchs long and looks like a lobster with furry claws! Discovered at 7,500 feet below the surface (damn that’s over a mile down!) the creature is blind with simply a membrane instead of eyes. The creature was named Kiwa Hirsuta and the new family Kiwaida in honor of Kiwa, the Polynesian goddess of crustaceans.

Now why the heck do you suppose the fur like stuff evolved? Maybe to help keep it warm at a mile and a half below the ocean? How come everyone seems to have a more fun job than I do?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bush Approval Rating

Based upon a CBS Poll Bush’s job approval rating has dropped to 34%. While that’s encouraging, it means that 1 in 3 Americans still think he’s doing a good job. What are these people smoking and can they please blow some of it in my direction?

Monday, March 06, 2006

The 78th Academy Awards

Good Lord that was awful. I don’t usually watch but my wife was on the computer and I didn’t feel like reading, so I said what the heck. Yuck. I’d never seen Jon Stewart before and I never want to see him again! He was absolutely dreadful; I think 100% of his so-called jokes fell flat.

Then I’d like to meet the bozo that thought the take-offs on political advertising related to campaigning for the Academy Awards was funny. I found it embarrassing and, as far as Dame Judi Dench was concerned, downright insulting.

And who talked Tom Hanks and Ben Stiller into doing those idiotic shticks about the thank-you speech length and green screens? Talk about DUMB! I would have preferred longer thank-you speeches.

As far as the awards were concerned, who knows? I had only seen “Good Night and Good Luck” of the nominated movies so who could tell? I did get to hear all three songs of course and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised when “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp” won. It was by far the best song. Other than that, I was glad for Philip Seymour Hoffman when he won for Best Performance by an Actor. He’s always a done good job and I’m glad he took advantage of his big opportunity.

I was a little surprised that “Crash” won for best picture, but that was more based upon all the hoopla than any personal knowledge.

So, did watching the awards show make me want to run out and see any of the flicks I’ve missed? Not really, with the possible exception of “Capote,” but I wanted to see that even before the show.

I think next year I’ll just read about it the day after like I usually do.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Katrina Briefing Tape

Geez, it just goes on and on. I have three major reactions to this tape. My first reaction is that clearly the potential scale of the disaster was understood but no extraordinary precautions or actions appear to have been taken.

This doesn’t really surprise me. Human nature hopes for the best and it takes a true leader to realize he is facing unusual circumstances which call for unusual actions. There were no true leaders in that room. There are no true leaders in this administration. Therefore it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the need for extraordinary action went unrecognized or, if it was recognized, the courage and the will to take the necessary measures were lacking.

My second reaction is, regardless of the failure to recognize the potential seriousness of the situation, this tape presents evidence of lies, lies and then more lies. Again we have evidence of an administration that will lie to cover up its errors and incompetence. At least if they had acknowledged that they dropped the ball here, they could have salvaged some measure of my respect. Instead they continue to demonstrate their distain for the American people by simply lying. I guess they figure we’re too stupid to notice and too easily manipulated to cause any trouble even if we do notice.

My third reaction is MY GOD THAT WAS A SECURE TAPE! And you expect me to believe you can protect the borders and the ports when you can’t even keep a video tape out of the hands of the Associated Press!?!? Are you kidding me? HELP, there are still three more years, somebody, please help, we’ll never make it!

A tape was the downfall of Nixon and compared to Bush, Tricky Dick was a great President. I really don’t want Bush out of the way because that would leave Cheney President. I don’t even want the demise of the Republican Party. What I would like to see is a revival of a true Conservative Republican Party focusing upon true conservative issues rather than the Potemkin Village junk put forward by the Christian Right.

What the hell ever happened to fiscal responsibility and balancing the budget? Now all you’re worried about is what two dudes in the East Village are doing to each other behind closed doors? Come on! Let’s get off the nonsense stuff and get things back under control or future historians will mark the year 2000 as the beginning of the demise of the American Nation.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Muslim Refusenik

I caught Irshad Manji on the second installment of Bill Maher the other night. Ms. Manji is the author of "The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith," a book that has the distinction of having been banned in a number of countries.

So what’s her reaction to that? Ms. Manji is posting free translations of her book in Arabic, Urdu and Persian on her website. This is one tough lady and I am very much impressed. She calls herself a “Muslim Refusenik.”

I wish Bill had let her talk more on the show. Then again, it is his show so I guess he didn’t want to get upstaged too badly. Ms. Manji has free rein on her web site though and it’s certainly worth a visit.

Since I can’t resist playing with my e-mail, I sent off this (the subject came up as “Change the World” when I hit the “Contact” button).

Change the world? I guess one child at a time would work, but that's not what I'm writing to you about.

I saw you on the Bill Maher show which in turn led me to your website which in turn led me to send you this e-mail.

I wish Bill Maher would have let you say more on the show. Now I guess I'll have to read your book. I absolutely promise to do so at the first opportunity but I’m still wading through Israel Finkelstein’s “Unearthing the Bible” at the moment.

I enjoyed your website immensely although some of the negative comments you’ve received, and especially the vulgar ones, depressed me terribly. I wish I could say that they surprised me, but unfortunately they didn’t.

While I can see the value of religion in keeping the poor (and ignorant) from murdering the rich as well as its value from a historical, cultural and psychological perspective, I have trouble seeing any value in its mystical aspects. To my mind the “God Question” is unanswerable, always has been unanswerable and probably always will be unanswerable.

As far as the moral aspects, I see religion as no more than one possible, and very selective, source for the establishment of a code of ethics. Let’s face it, for every acceptable moral position in the Koran or Bible you can find a position (slavery, treating women like property, capital punishment) that modern western society would find anathema and outdated.

So, after that long winded and boring introduction, my question is what value do you see in adhering to Islam? Or is it that your adherence is more cultural than religious?

Off the top of my head I would have said that the trouble with Islam (as well as with Christianity) is its acceptance of the existence of Absolute Truth. When you’re convinced that you’re implementing God’s will, it’s a little tough not to want to impose what you “know” (the religious always seem to confuse belief and knowledge) absolutely to be true on everyone else, not to become exasperated with non-believers and, as a necessary corollary, want to suppress anyone else’s “truth.”

As for supporting your Project Ijtihad, I think I'll wait on that one until after I've read your book although I have to admit, that anything that helps to substitute rational discussion for irrational action has to be a good thing.

Anyway, keep up the good work. Perhaps, as Bill said, you are one of the “good ones.”

In other news on the Bill Maher front, I thought Gary Hart was going to split a gasket during Bill's New Rules segment. He looked like he was pain he was laughing so hard.

I Know My Rights!

Well, actually, in a survey conducted by the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum in Chicago, it seems that most of us don’t or at least we don’t know the five freedoms protected by the 1st Amendment. When 1,000 adults were asked to name the five freedoms only about 28% could name more than one. In contrast, 52% could name more than one of the cartoon characters featured in the Simpsons.

Freedom of Speech was the best known and the Freedom to Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances the least known. The percentage of people that identified each of the five freedoms was as follows:

Freedom of Speech – 69%
Freedom of Religion – 24%
Freedom of the Press – 11%
Freedom to Assemble – 10%
Freedom to Petition for a Redress of Grievances – 1%

Only 1 in 1,000, .1%, could name all five freedoms compared with 22% that could name all five Simpson family members and 25% that could name all three American Idol judges. To be fair some folks just got their amendments mixed up. 55% identified Trial by Jury (7th Amendment) and 38% Freedom from Self-incrimination (5th Amendment) as part of the 1st Amendment. Hmmm, what do you suppose that 38% thought the phrase “taking the 5th Amendment” meant?

Then we get the idiot factor. Amazingly 36% thought that the 1st Amendment protected the right of women to vote (19th Amendment), 21% thought it protected the right to own pets and 20% the right to drive a car!

The right to own pets? We let these people vote? I’ll bet they all voted for Bush. WTF is wrong with us!

Now I took the test before reading the survey and I have to admit that I could identify three of the Simpsons (Bart, Homer and Marge), one of the American Idol judges (Paula Abdul because I just watched Bill Maher last night and he had a New Rule about her) and, I have to say four of the freedoms because I lumped Freedom to Assemble and Petition for a Redress of Grievances together as one freedom. I forgot about the comma so I can say I learned something, or rather that I relearned something.

One doesn’t think of the Freedom to Petition too much. I guess every time any of us sends a “you have got to be kidding me” e-mail to a congressman we’re exercising that freedom in addition to freedom of speech.

Anyway, the museum looks like a pretty cool place.

McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum

Muslim Cartoons at the University of California

The AP reports that a student panel “discussion” sponsored by the College Republicans and the United American Committee at the University of California, Irvine, got into some rough going and some heated verbal exchanges.

I put “discussion” in quotes because based upon the article and feedback from some who attended, it sounded more like an evening of Islam Bashing than anything else. The AP says that things got off to a rocky start when “the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, founder of the conservative Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, said that Islam was an ‘evil religion’ and that all Muslims hate America.”

Yeah, I can see how that might torpedo any ideas related to a celebration of tolerance and brotherhood at the meeting.

I have my problems with Islam, as I do all religions, and I haven’t made any secret of the fact that I found the deadly protests related to a bunch of cartoons ignorant, barbaric and unworthy of a modern society, BUT I don’t think it’s a good idea to wave a red flag in a bull’s face for no other reason than getting the bull upset either.

There are limits. Feel free to display cartoons of The Prophet if you have a legitimate reason for doing so. I don’t consider doing it because the Muslims won’t like it a legitimate reason. If you think it is, then why don’t we take a little trip over to Harlem where you can exercise your freedom of speech by calling everyone the N-word simply because you know it upsets people.

Tolerance works both ways and I guarantee you that statements like “all Muslims hate America” are derived from prejudice not knowledge. I know for a fact there’s at least one Muslim guy down in Hoboken that’s neutral toward America, so there.

Sorry about that, but I couldn’t resist. Seriously, as for the folks that organized this session for the express purpose of bashing Muslims, WTF is wrong with you people?

Sex Change Teacher

The AP reports that a 71 year old substitute teacher in Eagleswood Township New Jersey will be allowed to resume classroom duties after switching from male to female.

Of course “allowed to” and actually getting into the classroom are two different things as all substitute teachers know. If you’re at the bottom of the list, assignments can be few and far between, or even non-existent.

Still, the simple fact that the school board voted 4-1 to accept her application and then decided to take “no action” after a public meeting on the subject is encouraging.

Boy, a Death Penalty Moratorium in place, the question of Gay Marriage before its Supreme Court and now allowing a transgender teacher back into the K-6 classroom. New Jersey can proudly say that it’s starting to give Massachusetts some competition. Then again, any state that sends Scott Garrett to the U.S. Congress has plenty of reason to be embarrassed as well.