Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Fricking hilarious.

Chester (Chuck) Smalkowski, a member of American Atheists living in Hardesty, Oklahoma, has been found Not Guilty on all counts by a twelve person jury in Guymon, Texas County, Oklahoma.
The Smalkowski case attracted national attention after Nicole Smalkowski was kicked off of the girls' basketball team after refusing to stand in a circle with her teammates on the gymnasium floor of the Hardesty public High School and recite the "Lord's Prayer." After school officials learned that she and her family were Atheists, lies were created about her as grounds to take her off of the team.
The night of the verdict, tornados of unusual violence descended on the panhandle of Oklahoma. The home of the Principal who had brought the false charges against Chuck Smalkowski was severely damaged.

This fact has no relationship whatsoever to the verdict.

The story itself is funny in a sick way — a happy ending that shouldn't have been needed, that sort of thing.* The thing I called hilarious was a comment to the blog post where I found out about it.

You know, you make "Monty Python's Life of Brian"; religious nuts everywhere go mad; nobody gets struck by lightning.

You make "The Last Temptation of Christ"; religious nuts everywhere go ballistic; nobody gets struck by lightning.

You code "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas"; moralists everywhere rupture arteries; nobody gets struck by lightning.

You write "The Blind Watchmaker" and drive the creationists to fury; you remain unstruck by lightning.

Your wardrobe malfunctions on live TV; suddenly you're a moral vacuum; nobody gets struck by lightning.

But you make "The Passion of the Christ", which the fundaligionists love - and THREE PEOPLE get struck by lightning.

You persecute atheists - and your house gets ripped apart by a tornado.

It's enough to make you believe a) that there's a god and b) he's on the atheists' side...

Just to toot my own horn, I noticed the passion of Thor at the time. I think the commenter at Pharyngula got the number of people struck by lightning wrong, but maybe he just meant "people got struck by lightning three times", or maybe a third person was hit after the article I read, I don't know.

Of course, there's no need to read too much into this. Unlike the other five controversial events the commenter mentioned, "The Passion of the Christ" was the only one for which its creators had to spend a whole lot of time on a hill, during stormy weather, with lots of metal objects, with one guy on a large pole for good measure. The fact that that crew got struck with lightning a lot probably has more to do with their sense of self-preservation than a divine message.

* DISCLAIMER: I couldn't find anything about this on Google News. I'm sure the story isn't totally fabricated, but my only experience with the American Atheist Magazine is an interview which struck me with just how bad it was. Not incorrect or offensive, just plain bad, boring, and focused on the least interesting facts about the interviewee. On a similar note, capitalizing words like "atheist" is akin to multiple exclamation marks. Technical writing skill does not correlate perfectly with reliability, even in a magazine, but it's worth mentioning.

Friday, June 23, 2006

When the cat's away, the mice will... sleep.

The editor, John M., took off yesterday for his summer vacation. And for some reason the guy who normally delivers the papers to stores wasn't around, so the publisher drove the route instead, which means he didn't make it to the office until after 2 p.m. So no one was actually "in charge" yesterday. And it seems today was the most relaxed deadline day I can remember. That's probably due to both the fact that more of the work is getting done outside the room where I spend my time, and the fact that more stories and stuff were saved up for the time they'd be shorthanded. Sooo... overall, relaxing.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I was reading a discussion earlier about great TV shows, and I was almost surprised at how little I knew about them. I mean, I'm a twentysomething guy with a fair amount of disposable income (well, some), I'm supposed to be everyone's target demographic, right? But a dozen TV shows — Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Sopranos, stuff like that — were mentioned in a blog comment thread on what people liked, and I hadn't seen a complete episode of any one of them. It made me wonder, am I missing out on some really good stuff here?

During most of college there were quite a few shows I watched regularly. Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jake 2.0 (notice the blog title), X-Men Evolution, Alias, Futurama, Smallville and Stargate: SG-1, at one time or another depending on when I discovered them and stuff. As well as some shows I wasn't attached to but would enjoy when I got around to it, like Family Guy. But most of those have been cancelled and I lost interest in others. Smallville and Stargate: SG-1 are the only ones still on my "must watch" list, and they're both in reruns for the summer.

I dunno. It sounds dumb to be worrying basically that I'm not watching enough TV. But a more valid concern is broadening my horizons. I don't think I've finished reading a book this year, for example, except for the latest installment in series I've liked for a while.

... in fact, that's dumb to be worrying about too. There's a difference between not reading anything, and not reading as many fiction novels. And if I ever get to the point where one of my interests completely replaces the rest, that's bad. But until then, I have half a dozen hobbies and interests like politics and Magic: the Gathering and World of Warcraft. If it turns out I really am missing out on quality TV, I can always buy DVD box sets later.

All that being said, though, if anyone I know wants to rave about a specific TV show or something, now is a good time.

Wow. If that's not my longest and most meandering introduction to a simple request, it's close.
Posting from work, unfortunately. (Procrastination, sure, but if I'm going to do it, there are few better times than Tuesday morning, I guess.) I still don't have Internet access in the apartment. In fact, when I left this morning I didn't even have power — sometime yesterday afternoon the previous tenant called CVPS to close her account. I called yesterday to get power back on, and the customer service person said their technicians were busy fixing outages due to the storm. I said screw it, I didn't want to pay an extra fee to get my power on right away if even the fee might not do the trick.

So let's just say I was glad I knew where I had packed my flashlight, and I should get power back sometime today.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Was the last post the restart of regular posting activities? I don't know. There's a little more to post about in my daily life these days than there was, say, a month ago. And I expect there will be more than a little in a couple weeks, one way or another. Also, I should probably do more thinking of my own about politics and current events. I've had to do three Clippings columns so far - a column in the opinion section of the paper that rotates between writers - and for the last two I had to frantically search for a topic and found them only at the last minute, and if I did more stuff like this, it would probably be easier. So I hope to do more, but as I said at that post in February or whenever... if I don't get around to it, so be it.

I am putting this up, though, to say that I certainly won't be getting around to it over the weekend, because this is the move. If all goes to plan, all the furniture will be set up and all the basic necessities will be in place by tomorrow night at the latest, and I should have done most of the unpacking too, hopefully. However, Internet access falls under none of those categories. I'll have it as soon as possible - this is me, after all - but even if I were an organized person, it might depend on the whim of Adelphia Cable, for all I know.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

If I had the drive and technical skill to write articles like this, I wouldn't be news reporter (with, among other things, the farm beat) at a twice-weekly paper in Vermont. Not to sell myself short, of course — I'm just starting out, I've never tried something that ambitious in the first place, I do enjoy my current job, and I have written quite a few pieces I'm proud of. But I have agreed with the basic idea of that article for quite a while, and I've posted comments to the effect of it on other blogs here and there, and putting it this well is in another class entirely from the semi-rants you'd find from me or Digby or Tristero or random commenters.
Through all these laments there pulsates a sense of desperation: A conservative president and an even more conservative Congress must be repudiated to enable genuine conservatism to survive. Sure, the Bush administration has failed, all these voices proclaim. But that is because Bush and his Republican allies in Congress borrowed big government and foreign-policy idealism from the left. The ideas of Woodrow Wilson and John Maynard Keynes, from their point of view, have always been flawed. George W. Bush and Tom DeLay just prove it one more time.

Conservative dissidents seem to have done an admirable job of persuading each other of the truth of their claims. Of course, many of these dissidents extolled the president's conservative leadership when he was riding high in the polls. But the real flaw in their argument is akin to that of Trotskyites who, when confronted with the failures of communism in Cuba, China and the Soviet Union, would claim that real communism had never been tried. If leaders consistently depart in disastrous ways from their underlying political ideology, there comes a point where one has to stop just blaming the leaders and start questioning the ideology.

The collapse of the Bush presidency, in other words, is not just due to Bush's incompetence (although his administration has been incompetent beyond belief). Nor is it a response to the president's principled lack of intellectual curiosity and pitbull refusal to admit mistakes (although those character flaws are certainly real enough). And the orgy of bribery and special-interest dispensation in Congress is not the result of Tom DeLay's ruthlessness, as impressive a bully as he was. This conservative presidency and Congress imploded, not despite their conservatism, but because of it.
If government is necessary, bad government, at least for conservatives, is inevitable, and conservatives have been exceptionally good at showing just how bad it can be. Hence the truth revealed by the Bush years: Bad government--indeed, bloated, inefficient, corrupt, and unfair government--is the only kind of conservative government there is. Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well.

It's not perfect. I wouldn't stand by some of the sweeping generalizations he makes.
Liberals, while enjoying the perquisites of office, also want to be in a position to use government to solve problems. But conservatives have different motives for wanting power. One is to prevent liberals from doing so; if government cannot be made to disappear, at least it can be prevented from doing any good. The other is to build a political machine in which business and the Republican Party can exchange mutual favors;

If I read a sweeping unsupported assertion like that written by someone I disagreed with, my fallback response would be sarcastic congratulation on their mind-reading powers.

But on the whole, this guy puts it very well. A theme of the past several years has been moderate right-wingers regretting their support for Bush. It's great, but sometimes it's frustrating as well because it seems so close, and yet so far away. Bush is a fuck-up, so many people say, but he's a fluke, a Benedict Arnold, a random accident, as unforeseeable as a bolt of lightning, so we'll just have to be more careful when we pick the next adherent to the same ideology. That's maddening because it's always seemed to me that Bush's style of governing is a predictable consequence of the "government is the problem" belief held by a plurality (if not a majority) of Americans.

Via Kevin Drum.