Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Eric Muller on the Pope's Auschwitz comments

Unlike Eric Muller at "Is That Legal?", I don't have really strong opinions on the Pope's comments at Auschwitz either way. Some of what the Pope said could be disagreed with, but it does not seem like he was trying to minimize or negate what happened to the Jews there.

There are some curious details: Being a Methodist, I don't understand the statement that "as a Christian and a Jew, [nun Edith Stein] accepted death with her people and for them" [emphasis mine], which seems to invoke some Catholic formulation.

The comments section is pretty active. Most readers seem to disagree with Muller's criticism, at least in tone or details. Here's one that caught my eye:

Note too that the Pope said that the Holocaust was an attack on God. This, too, sounded like calculated language to me. It is designed to turn the traditional "Murderers of God" argument on its head, to say no, it isn't the Jews who should be blamed for killing God, it is the anti-Semites who should be treated as deicides.

Interesting point! I'd never heard the "murderers of God" charge against Jews until just recently (and even then, just from TV show plots), but that might be from my background (rural conservative Methodist Southerner), but to the extent some people believed or believe it, this would seem to be a good way of turning that around.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Astronaut Tom Jones on NASA's Moon Plans

Tom Jones, a former NASA astronaut, writes about NASA's moon mission plans on Popular Mechanics' website. I haven't read his article yet, but I'd take seriously whatever he says. I met him at a talk he gave to the Washington, D.C. Phi Beta Kappa Association a year or two ago. Good speaker, and he's both an astronaut and a planetary astronomer.

I see from the bottom of that page that he has posted other articles on PM's blog. I'll have to start checking that regularly.

I'll comment more on this, once I've read the story...

The "Tar baby": More false cries of "Racism!"

Once again showing the cultural ignorance of some media elites, Tony Snow has been criticized for saying he didn't want to "hug the tar baby" on a particular issue. Jeff Goldstein has a good take-down of this inanity. Did these people not read the tales of Uncle Remus?! The tar-baby has got to be one of the two most memorable stories out of Uncle Remus, for me, second only to the briar patch. If any of Snow's critics had read this, they would have recognized the apt reference and not confused it with any supposedly racial terms. For those from a different culture, let me summarize the story. Br'er Fox has decided to catch Br'er Rabbit, and so he makes a figure of a baby out of a ball of tar. Puts clothes and a hat on it, and sets it by the road. Br'er Rabbit comes along and says a friendly "Good morning!" to the tar-baby, but, of course, "he don't say nothin'." Br'er Rabbit tries again, with the same result, and eventually gets so mad at the tar-baby's refusal to be friendly with him that he punches him. Of course, his paw gets stuck in the tar, and in trying to get himself free, he gets his other paws stuck, so that he's completely trapped.

Snow said he wanted to avoid discussing a particularly sticky issue, so as not to "hug the tar-baby." Now, read Snow's transcript again and recognize how good an analogy that is.

What kind of idiots see this and think, not of Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Fox, but of a supposed racial slur. One I've certainly never heard of in my life. Goldstein rightly says that "intentionalism" is the only way to interpret what people say. Groan.

Will Iranian clothing law single out Christians, Jews, & Zoroastrians?

The story I linked to below, regarding an upcoming Iranian law on clothing, might not be true. Or rather, the claim of identifying colors for Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians might not be true. Iran apparently is planning to require Moslems to wear a standard dress, though. Unlike other commentators, I don't regard that in itself as fascist, because I think there have been prohibitions on various kinds of clothing for religious reasons in otherwise free societies in the past. This sounds far mroe restrictive than those, however, so it will probably be a real annoyance to the Persians. Let's see how Jews and Christians are treated under this...

Friday, May 19, 2006

Outrageous rudeness and abuse of the law by a Baltimore policewoman

I thought this was ridiculous, just from the first paragraph quoted on the Best of the Web today, but the whole story makes me outright angry. How dare these Baltimore police officers mistreat somebody who simply wanted to ask them directions?! Yes, they ran a stop sign (apparently by accident, given the situation), but that's a simple traffic ticket, which the driver didn't argue with. But the snide response to a request for help! What a jerk that officer is. And then to arrest them when they pulled up to the curve (with hazard lights on) to try to phone for help. Was it a no-stopping zone? Well, that's another traffic ticket, and the article doesn't even say that. "Trespassing" on a public street? What nonsense.

Frederica Mathewes-Green on The DaVinci Code

She makes a good point, here--one which I've said to friends family and probably heard expressed by the same--that while there's all this excitement over Dan Brown's claim that Jesus was married, that's actually a really insignificant point to Christianity.

"The Bible, in fact, doesn’t say that Jesus never married, though if he had it probably would have popped up in the communal memory somewhere. If it turns out that that detail somehow slipped the first evangelists’ minds, it would make no difference to the Christian claims."

You wouldn't have known that if you listened to certain sources arguing over the book. In fact, before I read it myself, I had assumed that this was the only reason the book was controversial to Christians. I actually told a friend, in a "hey, take it easy," sort of voice, that it doesn't make any difference to our faith whether Jesus was married or not (although of course there's no good evidence for it), so why worry about the book?

I think that objection was really obscuring the important reasons the book is a problem. The problem comes from its claims that Christ was only human, there's a necessary male-female duality within the godhead (the pagan ashera of the Old Testament being examples), and that religious observance could involve ritual sex. Those are the problematic conclusions, but there are also many false supporting claims within the text that need to be refuted, too.

Anyway, I'm glad to see Mrs. Mathewes-Green bringing this out.

Wow--score one for the Archbishop!

This may be the first time that I've said an "amen" to Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. I normally regard him as a wobbly on religion, but he's certainly standing up for the faith here: "Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, used his Easter sermon to criticize Mr. Brown's book [the DaVinci Code] for making the true story of Christianity seem 'automatically suspect.'"

This ought not to be newsworthy, of course...

The return of Jewish clothing insignia

And not just for Jews, but for Christians and Zoroastrians, as well. Iran's parliament, the "Islamic Majlis," has passed a law requiring non-Moslems to wear distinctively-colored ribbons. Yellow for Jews (sound familiar?), red for Christians, and blue for Zoroastrians. "It would make religious minorities immediately identifiable and allow Muslims to avoid contact with non-Muslims," according to the article.

I wonder if this will finally push our erstwhile European allies to get tough with the Iranian government. What'll the next step be out of Iran?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ray Bradbury's wonderful Ode to Immigrants...and America

This is a wonderful poem! I didn't realize that Bradbury was a poet at all, let alone a good one.

I'll quote the first and last stanzas:

We are the dream that other people dream.
The land where other people land
When late at night
They think on flight
And, flying, here arrive
Where we fools dumbly thrive ourselves.
Run warm those souls: America is bad?
Sit down, stare in their faces, see!
You be the hoped-for thing a hopeless world would be.
In tides of immigrants that this year flow
You still remain the beckoning hearth they'd know.
In midnight beds with blueprint, plan and scheme
You are the dream that other people dream.

Read the whole thing for yourself.

Tony Snow as White House press secretary

I haven't gotten to see all of Tony Snow's first full press conference, but from the clips on the web, it looks like he did a good job. The reviews are in, and the critics agree. Odd to have TV reviewers and the like getting into this, but hey--it's on TV.

I'm a long-time fan of Snow, from 'way back in the '90s when he occasionally substituted for Rush Limbaugh, up through his days hosting Fox News Sunday, and then FNC's Weekend Live and his radio show. That's over a decade, I reckon. And as Rush has put it well, radio is a very intimate medium. You can get the impression the host is having a conversation with you (admittedly rather one-sided, unless you yell at the radio...not that I do...). Of course, he's been on TV more than radio in recent years, but he's got that easy-going manner that still gives off a friendliness to the viewer.

And so it's been an odd feeling to see him up there in front of the assembled White House reporters, speaking to a crowd. It feels like this is someone I've known personally who has gotten to be the president's spokesman--it's exciting. Weird, too, because I have to remind myself I have not met him. But I'm enjoying watching him, and I think he did a good job yesterday. I look forward to the rest of his tenure there and wish him the best.

Atheist argues against religious toleration

A certain Sam Harris has a book out called "The End of Faith," whose topic is pretty self-evident from the title. In this excerpt, reprinted at Beliefnet, he argues against religious toleration. All religions ought to be smashed alike, rather than respected.

Now, I've complained before about the misunderstanding of the word "tolerance." At least in a legal sense, it started out as the government not compelling people to believe a certain way, even if you might publicly criticize what it is that they believe. These days, it seems to have morphed (an example of "semantic drift"?) into an idea that you shouldn't even criticize other beliefs. This misunderstanding has led to all kinds of logical nonsense, such as that too-cute phrase, "Intolerance will not be tolerated!", which seems like a truly profound statement, until you think about it and realize it really is self-contradictory.

I don't argue for going around criticizing others' beliefs, by the way. That can be quite rude, unless it's in an appropriate context--a political debate, letters to the editor, blogs, etc. You don't walk up to people, or start conversations with colleagues, lambasting their beliefs.

But when the topic comes up, there is no need to say that all beliefs are equally true. Many are contradictory, and those cannot all be true simultaneously. You can believe what you wish and have the right to do so, without being compelled to agree with anybody else. That is tolerance. Harris is against any kind of such restraint, from what I get out of this (admittedly, I haven't read the whole thing).

But let me get to the criticism I was about to start on. Harris has a crude understanding on the degrees of belief:

People of faith fall on a continuum: some draw solace and inspiration from a specific spiritual tradition, and yet remain fully committed to tolerance and diversity, while others would burn the earth to cinders if it would put an end to heresy. There are, in other words, religious moderates and religious extremists, and their various passions and projects should not be confused. However, religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a terrible dogma: they imagine that the path to peace will be paved once each of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of others.

Get that? If you are religious at all, you're either an "extremist" or a "moderate." Moderates advocate respecting the "unjustified beliefs of others" and are "fully committed to tolerance and diversity." Extremists "would burn the earth to cinders if it would put an end to heresy." What a load of crap.

I am neither. I am a committed Christian and while I would never compel other men to believe as I do, I certainly advocate missionary work to change their minds. I am not committed to "diversity." I think it would be great if everybody agreed with me on matters of religion (although as a Methodist, I'm not too concerned with specific details that faith and salvation don't depend on). But I wouldn't force my beliefs on anyone.

So Harris starts off with a fallacious premise. Not a surprise.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The supposed "Ugly American" phenomenon

I'd heard of this pamphlet before, but it's starting to inspire some pretty good discussions now. Jim Geraghty over at National Review's Kerry Spot (Will that need a name change now? But then, I thought "20th Century Fox" might update to "21st Century Fox" back in 2001, and they didn't. No need, really. And Kerry is one of those gifts that keeps on...well, you know.) has a couple of good posts on it. Click here and scroll down for more.

I certainly agree with the ideas of being polite and respectful of the local culture. But I would not say that this is a particular failing of Americans. As several correspondents of Geraghty have pointed out, this is often a virtue of traveling Americans, especially in comparison to tourists of other countries. As far as dress, I do dislike the apparent tourist dress code of T-shirts, shorts, and tennis shoes, unless you're out hiking in hot weather or are on the beach. (Of course, those clothes are *really* comfortable in hot weather, and I'll wear them myself. I did it all the time when I was younger.) When touring around the ruins of Mayan cities or visiting cathedrals in Europe, though, I'd prefer to see people a little more conventionally dressed. But again, dressing-down isn't a particular thing with Americans. When my cousin spent a semester studying in Spain, she made a comment that you could really pick out American tourists--they were the ones wearing khaki slacks and denim shirts. "Really? What do the Spaniards wear?", I asked. "T-shirts and too-tight jeans."

So, at least in some situations, it's the Americans who are dressing more nicely even than the local population. Incidentally, I especially like the khaki-and-denim look, myself. It's both nice-looking and comfortable.

I won't comment too much right now on the document itself, aside from pointing out that its title, "World Citizen Guide," is mired in that cosmopolitan mindset I detest. Let me reprint here the bigger points made in it, according to this Reuters story:

*** Think as big as you like but talk and act smaller. In many countries, any form of boasting is considered rude. Talking about wealth, power or status -- corporate or personal -- can create resentment.

*** Speak lower and slower. In conversation, match your voice level and tonality to the environment and other people. A loud voice is often perceived as bragging. A fast talker can be seen as aggressive and threatening

*** Dress up. You can always dress down. In some countries, casual dress is a sign of disrespect. Check out what is expected and when in doubt, err on the side of the more formal and less casual attire. You can remove a jacket and tie if you are overdressed. But you can't make up for being too casual.

***Listen at least as much as you talk. By all means, talk about America and your life in the country. But also ask people you're visiting about themselves and their way of life. Listen, and show your interest in how they compare their experiences to yours.

"Speak lower and slower," followed by, "match your voice level and tonality to the environment and other people." You know, those two commands are often contradictory. Have you ever been among a bunch of Italians? Canadians? Australians? Have you ever been in a group of mixed nationalities when the subject of soccer came up? Lower and slower gets ignored in those situations.

From an American's perspective, I'd like to issue a polite request to foreigners visiting our country or working here, in the same spirit of the above. Some of these can also be applied to Yankees visiting (or moving to) the South.

(1) Please stop running your mouth on about how you think we're doing everything in our society wrong. Complain about us all you want to when you're by yourselves, but it is quite rude to go into somebody else's country and start poking your nose into their business. Would you visit someone's house and spend the night criticizing his family? It's like that.

(2) No, we Americans don't drink as much (beer, wine, distilled perfume...) as y'all do. Please don't complain when we don't feel the absolute need to get drunk whenever we're all eating out. And no, Taco Bell does not serve vodka at the drive-through. Or inside. I swear, a foreign classmate of mine in college was mystified when he discovered this fact. And when you do wind up being the one person from the lab who's drunk at the end of the night, please keep in mind Point (1), above.

(3) And lower your voice when you do. Really. People over at the other side of the dining room are starting to stare, now.

(4) No, we don't follow soccer. And there's no objective reason we need to. You like it; that's great for you. We have our own sports. Honestly--do Americans visiting Europe feel the need to go on like this about baseball, basketball, or football?

(5) Yes, we have local news on our TV. Lots of it. Far more than we cover the goings-on in Lower Slobovia. This doesn't mean we're ignorant. Things happening right around you are much more your business than what they're doing over there is, and so we pay more attention to it. Plus, I thought you wanted us to stay out of other countries' businesses, anyway.

(6) Listen as much as you talk. Wait--wasn't this one on the Ugly American list? Well, it applies to some foreign visitors. I've listened to you going on and on about how much you dislike everything about us and how we need to do it like you do it. How often have you actually asked my opinions about anything?

(7) Stop making fun of our religiousness. Sure, your countrymen have fallen into the atheist sinkhole since World War II, but that doesn't make you sophisticated or intelligent. It's part of a slow decay that we can only hope y'all will crawl out of before this generation is out. Do you actually think that you are showing any sophistication when you sneer so? Actually, maybe that is a trait of sophisticates. But it's not a good trait. It's supremely arrogant, condescending, and rude.

Furthermore, our religiousness is not a vice. It is a great virtue, and it is something which will carry this country through whatever will befall her.

As my wife said to a German friend recently, who was bragging(?) that only half of his country was religious, "Yes, half of your country is religious: they're the Turks, Arabs..." Good point, honey.

(8) To sum up: be polite, and mind your own business. Think of visiting another country (like anybody's) as being a guest in someone else's home. His country is like his family. Keep your criticisms to yourself, unless you're asked for them.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The right way to respond to the Da Vinci Code

Illustrated by the Greek Orthodox Church. Summary: don't go threatening to sue Dan Brown; don't prohibit parishoners from seeing or reading it; rather, pass out flyers in church that explain that it's fiction and pretty obviously false as far as history and theology. I even like how they conclude--saying that church members who go see it for themselves will realize how silly its claims are.

Dumber still...

They were even trying to get the mailing address of the city changed?!!? "The article quotes the resort’s trademark lawyer from Washington, D.C, Stephen Trattner, as saying of Pinehurst, 'It’s a resort, not a town.'"

What unadulterated arrogance! D--- Yankees.

More on Pinehurst

As a follow-up from that previous post on trademark cases, here's an old (1999?) article on the fight between Pinehurst, North Carolina, and the golf course there. I don't know what has happened more recently, and maybe the golf course has won, but I agree that it's a bad idea to let anybody trademark a geographical name. I hope it's not possible, and if it were, it's idiotic. Just as bad is the apparent reliance on common-law-like effects: it seems that if the public generally associates a phrase with a given business, they've got a better case for trademark protection. But if the town had the name first, what does it matter what other people think of when they hear the name? This aspect of trademark law seems to run roughshod over individual rights.

Digging for the real news

OK, last month, CNN's prime-time audience fell by 38%. Fox News' fell by 17%. MSNBC's rose by 16%. So what's the story to follow here? According to the L.A. Times, it's that Fox fell by 17%.

Let's see; if I were a reporter, I think I might write a story about how MSNBC is doing so well and avoiding the problems hitting the other two cable networks. Or if I were in a mood for blood, I'd write about how CNN's ratings were double-plus-bad over the past month. But who seriously looks at the numbers and decides to slam the guy in the middle?

The LA Times' Scott Collins needs to take some rudimentary lessons from reporter school and figure out what the subject of a story should be. If he were covering a plane crash in which a third of the passengers died, a third came out with broken arms, and a third said they'd "never felt better," he'd write a long article on those broken arms. Weird.

Smiley-face trademarking

This is why I hate trademark law. Patents? Great. Copyright? Absolutely. Trademarks? Ugh!

Pinehurst, North Carolina, has had trouble with the Pinehurst golf club there, which somehow trademarked the name "Pinehurst" and wanted to stop anybody else from using it ("Pinehurst Barber Shop"? The trademark-stealing crooks!). Donald Trump tried to trademark "you're fired." Etc.

I have a problem with claiming exclusive rights to anything you didn't create. Trump wasn't the first guy to tell somebody "you're fired," and Pinehurst, N. C., has been called that since before the golf course was built. Yes, the "village" was planned and developed by the same guy who built the golf course, but it's stupid to go name a town and then try to tell people they can't use the name of the town to describe their other businesses!

In Wal-Mart's defense, they've said they were only trying to trademark the smiley-face because the Frenchman who claims to have created it (there are earlier American claimants, but they haven't tried to trademark it) was saying he was now going to trademark it in the US. Still...

Lileks translates Ahmadenijad's letter to Bush

This is hilarious.

US tattling on the Minutemen to Mexico?

It seems the US government has been sending Mexico information about where the Minutemen and other citizen border patrols have been working. Andrew McCarthy in National Review has a detailed article and commentary on this today. My goodness, this is stupid! First, there were the reports that border patrol agents had been occasionally told not to arrest illegal aliens caught by the Minutemen, and later, that they'd been told not to let the number of arrests go up after the Minutemen left. Now, they're actually telling Mexico where the civilian patrols are!

Maybe--maybe--there are good reasons for this, but the consular notification treaty they're using as an excuse doesn't require it, and we're left with the strong impression that higher-ups in border patrol don't actually want the agency to do its job.


Monday, May 08, 2006

*Another* "Da Vinci Code" suit?!

Ugh. This is unbelievably wrong-headed. A Roman Catholic cardinal (Francis Arizne, who was considered a contender for pope last year) has suggested Christians sue Dan Brown over the depiction of Christ and Christianity in The Da Vinci Code. Great--go ahead and turn us into some twisted combination of Scientologists and radical Moslems!

I read the book, and while the claims in it really annoyed me (I wrote a long page of notes on where Brown got his facts wrong) (although I thought it was a pretty exciting book to read, nonetheless), Brown's got every right to write what he has. He can write things as wrong as he wants. He can make fun of Christianity ("make fun" isn't quite the right phrase--it seems more like he's got a real chip on his shoulder about the religion) all day long.

The response should be exactly what we Christians have been doing for the last few years--writing books and holding lectures showing where Brown went wrong. It's wrong to use the law to try to silence critics--honest critics or dishonest ones. Now, Cardinal Arizne isn't an American, and maybe he doesn't have an appreciation for the freedom of the press. But in our political philosophy in this country, we believe that our fundamental rights aren't creations of the government, to be given or taken away by it, but are natural rights that a government has the obligation to protect. This freedom of the press isn't just something for us Americans, but it is a right of all men, whether it's protected elsewhere or not.

I've never gone for boycotts, either, even for causes I believed in. I don't like the bullying. Let's stick to writing and talking to get our objections across and leave the law out of this. Leave lawsuits to the cults.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Papal convention

Interesting little protocol detail I'd never heard before. Not that I care that Mrs. Blair didn't observe it.