Always Certain, Often Wrong, Usually Ignorant

22 February 2006

When Bush first “won” in 2000, after I recovered from the stun, I took the perspective that he’d just be a benign idiot. But that was when we were still in the peaceful and prosperous glow of Clinton’s terms. We know how all that turned out.

This deal with the UAE company to run a port is perplexing. Frankly, I don’t buy into the xenophobic stereotyping to think that everything the UAE does is evil (that’s Bush’s style of thinking, usually), but clearly this is the kind of deal that warrants a special level of scrutiny. Yet Bush not only vehemently defends it and threatens a first-ever veto of legislation to block the deal, but he also revealed that he didn’t even know about it. Neither did Rumsfeld, who’s on the board that approved the deal.

Now, I can think of 3 potential reasons for this position:

  1. He wants to show he’s an independent thinker by vetoing something that everyone likes.
  2. He wants to give Frist an opportunity to show strength (Bush’s favorite word) by heading the effort to kill the deal against Bush’s apparent wishes.
  3. He’s just plainly after a deal to benefit his friends.

I can see any of these holding up, but these are bizarre times, and I can’t tell when he’s playing stupid and when he’s actually stupid. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take lax security to find out.

PS Jeez, I’m actually writing about “security.” I’ve been sucked in by them!



22 February 2006

Just in the last couple weeks, I’ve established contact with Jeff, a guy who was probably my best friend in the mid-late-elementary years. He moved to another school, and then I moved to Tulsa, and we haven’t had any contact until this month, when he sent me an email via I’m not totally keen on those kinds of things, but it’s been a kick to hear about this guy for the first time in 25 years.

I remember him well, but I think that’s a time when you don’t really have much of a personality, so it’s weird to think that we could be friends now. He lives in Taiwan, so I expect we won’t establish contact beyond email for the foreseeable future. But we seem to have a lot in common. Mainly, he referred to the present federal administration as “fucking scary.” True, that. So now I’m looking over the past to look for signs foreshadowing our common worldview, at least as far as I can tell. We both lived in small-town midwestern America, which should have made us Republicans like Fred Phelps. But we’re not. Anything but.

So, I’m looking forward to learning more about Jeff. We were both in some of the “gifted” classes (Jeff considerably more gifted than I, as I remember), so maybe we had more curiosity about other people and ideas. ‘Course, that’s what the conservatives call the liberal elite, so maybe I’m full of shit.

Cheers, Jeff.

Obligatory Cheney Shooting Entry (or, Dick, the Dick)

14 February 2006

So, the VP shot his friend in the face, neck & torso. An accident, to be sure. No one is contending malice (would the same be said of someone different?). I’m not suggesting that there was intent here, but why would this not be “involuntary manslaughter” or something like that (I guess manslaughter might mean the guy died, which isn’t out of the question, now that he’s had a heart attack caused by a pellet in his heart and has been in intensive care and won’t leave the hospital for a week or so)?

I don’t have more to add to the story than everyone else has, except that as a vegetarian and Reasonable Person, I need to mention that killing birds for fun or practice (let’s face it, these guys weren’t going to eat their pen-raised prey) is sad and heartless and provides a microcosmic metaphor for the entire administration’s disdain for life. “Pro-Life” is right up there with the other moronisms of W like “compassionate conservative” and his dad’s “education” and “environmental” president. Saying it don’t make it so.

Even though I’d never enjoy killing something, I’ve never been anti-hunter. I believe that hunters and fishers (fisherpeople?) do more to protect the environment than lots of folks, and they have more appreciation for their kill than people who buy their stuff from the grocery store under celophane. So I don’t have a problem with them. I do, however, have a problem with people who think it’s macho to do it, or fun to kill things. Yes, I realize that may be the motivation of many hunters, but the means sometimes justify the ends.

So I hope Wittingham doesn’t die. But I hope Cheney pays a price (he won’t).

Genius Bob Harris points us to some lessons from the recent events.

Update: What’s up with Bush’s analysis? He calls Cheney’s explanation “powerful.” That’s absurd. He basically said, “My bad.” That’s powerful??? Get me outa here.

Cartoons, Faith, & Extremism

9 February 2006

So buildings are being torched and people are being killed because of some offensive cartoons? Hmm. I don’t mean to be all “they hate us for our freedoms” or anything, but WTF? I can certainly understand being offended by people violating your religious laws, and I can understand the need to express that through just about any means, but why would one get violent over it? I imagine there’s more going on here and that the hostility has been seething for a while now, but I can’t imagine that Muhammad would really be this pissed off to say that you should kill someone over his depiction. More to the point, so what if he does? I think that’s a sign that maybe the religion has some, say, problems. Now, I know enough Muslims that I don’t believe that most Muslims are really inclined to kill or harm over such things, but all religions get trouble when they try to be literal or fundamental. There are just too many contradictions.

It’s the same with just about any religion, which, frankly, drives me further and further from them. Nietzsche respected Christ but not Christians, and I can identify with that perspective. I have grappled with the notion of faith in general. On the one hand, it means trusting in the unknown. But how does one know where to put one’s faith in that case? It seems a bit like a crapshoot. I guess you just feel it, but what happens when other people feel it differently?

I think about people who freak out over things like cartoons. At what point do you decide that God wants you to kill over the thing, and at what point do you say, “That’s not really my thing, so this isn’t the religion for me”? That’s a human choice, but it seems sensible to me. Maybe I just don’t have enough faith.

But then, what about morons like E’s ex who are afraid of numbers like 666 and stuff? I think that’s similar to the cartoon issue, because if your faith is really so strong, then it shouldn’t be affected by such superficial things. Maybe I’m trying to be too rational (although my argument might not be so rational) and I’ll pay the eternal price, but I just can’t make myself believe something on that level.

When it all comes down, I suspect that all the potential gods are pretty disappointed right now.

Penn Jillette, Genius; Also, Faith

7 February 2006

Nice article here on Slate about the intellectualism of Penn Jillette. I’ve long loved Penn & Teller, and their promotion of skepticism really fits my worldview and my teaching philosophy, even if I do have faith in some things that they don’t. But it’s faith, and I think it’s ok to have it, as long as you know what it is… and isn’t.

For example, in BullShit, their genius show, they claim that there’s no evidence that secondhand smoke is unhealthy. Well, as much as I trust numbers, I think their assessment of the data was a bit limited, so I keep faith that they’re wrong. Not that I’m certain that they’re wrong, but I believe they’re wrong. I’m still skeptical, and willing to be corrected.

As I tell my students, the scientific approach is the best way to know something, but that doesn’t mean we have to abandon our beliefs. We just have to acknowledge that they’re beliefs. To claim positivity in things unproven is troublesome because it doesn’t allow for potential disconfirmation. I don’t know that anyone’s religious beliefs are *definitely* wrong, but they don’t know that they’re *definitely* right either.

Anyway, read the Penn thing.


7 February 2006

I don’t think it’s quite appropriate for people like me to profess to know whether the wiretapping procedures the preznit is defending are legal or not. Although they sound illegal, there are always some nuances that keep me from being able to judge. Sure, I’m inclined against the taps because of who’s doing them, but that isn’t enough.

Still, this article from the NYTimes seems to spell things out pretty well. We know that Gonzales is a lackey for Bush, who likes his AttyGens close, loyal, and fascist. Here he’s saying that the law granting Bush war powers essentially trumps far more specific laws in place previously. So is anything verboten given these war powers? Perhaps, hitting kittens with hammers?

Get Back, Coretta…

6 February 2006

The greatest editorial writer in the country (my strongly held opinion before he won the Pulitzer), Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald, wrote an interesting column on the passing of Coretta Scott King. Although I stand by the praises I extended her way (appreciated, I’m sure), I can’t counter Pitts’ much-more-informed take.

He takes his privileged position to criticize some of the more money-grubbing nuances of how the King family has treated MLK’s legacy. I guess he was stating concerns I’ve had from what I’ve read but haven’t felt comfortable mentioning. From my position, I’m not entitled to do so, but Pitts is, and, as usual, he does so with eloquence.