Friday, December 21, 2012

So This Is the End of the World, Huh?

I pictured it looking and sounding very different than this. So far, around here, anyway, it's been very quiet -- but not spooky quiet, as if all life had died. I can still see people walking their dogs and driving -- and it looks as if there's been a light snow shower, and now a moderate wind is blowing the snow around.

Oh, well. The world was fun. Goodbye, everybody!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Chess Log: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 d6 4.d4 a6 5.Bxc6+ bxc6 6.dxe5 Bg4 7.exd6 cxd6 8.Qd3 Bxf3 9.Qxf3 Nf6 10.o-o Be7 11.e5 Nd5 12.c4 Nb6 13.Qxc6+ Nd7 14.exd6 Bf6 15.Re1+, Black resigns.

This was a 5-0 blitz, I played White, my opponent was rated more than 100 points higher than me, when Black resigned we each had almost 4 minutes left on our clocks. It's not unusual for me to beat someone rated that highly -- in fact his rating was lower than my personal all-time high. And no, my high didn't come when I was new and my rating was still close to provisional, it came recently, after I'd played thousands of games -- but it is rather unusual for me to beat someone with a rating like that in so few moves and so little time. Some of the questions which analysis of this game presents to me are:

Did I win because my opponent made an uncharacteristic blunder, or did I beat his best game?

If it was the former, how soon did he blunder? I couldn't see anything which looked to me like a terrible move on his part. To me. That is not to say that none of his moves looked like a blunder to him, making him wince a second after he'd done it. And of course much less that a Grandmaster observing the game wouldn't have seen blunders. As an Expert once told me, chess is a game of mistakes. He who makes the least mistakes wins. Weaker players constantly make mistakes which stronger players spot and exploit, this is why the stronger players win. I assume that a Grandmaster observing a game between players on this level would almost always easily spot blunders all over the place as soon as the 10th move or sooner. I say that with the caveat that I know that it's risky to assume anything about Grandmaster-level chess. What they do is way, way, way over my head. More often than not even the commentary they write for the general chess public is over my head. When it comes to chess, in short, Grandmasters and I represent two entirely different species of primates.

Was 11. ...Nd5 a terrible mistake? Or was Black doomed much earlier, perhaps as early as 4. ...a6? I'm used to seeing 4. ...exd4 at this point, followed by 5.Qxd4 Bd7 6.Bxc6. Modern Chess Openings, 13th ed, 1990, refers to this line as "old" and "better for White." I can't find 4. ...a6 in there. (Which doesn't necessarily mean it's not in there.) I googled "1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 d6 4.d4 a6," though, and I couldn't find anyone putting a bunch of "???"'s after. 4. ...a6. Not that that necessarily says more about the soundness of 4. ...a6 than about my ability to find sound chess analysis.

Was Black right to resign after 15.Re1? Black is down by three Pawns, White's Queen, his Rook on e1 and his Pawn on d6 all looked pretty well-placed. If two Grandmasters were playing, it would probably be reasonable for Black to resign at this point. I qualify it with "probably" because, again, I can't keep up with what those guys do. Maybe there's a shockingly-obvious advantage for Black by the 25th move for those who can see 10 moves ahead. If I'm really cookin' I can sometimes see 5 moves ahead.

How much better than me would a player have to be to take over for Black at this point and be reasonably confident of beating me?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hi-Ho, Mr Rove! Rrrring the Bells!

Salon.com reports that Karl Rove has accused President Obama of wanting a civil war within the GOP.

Well clutch my pearls, Karl! A lot of us want to see conflict within the Republican Party! Or to be more precise, we've been seeing it, and loving it. We would like very much for the GOP to destroy itself, leading to decades of Democratic domination of the US, or even better, competition between Democrats and some party like the Greens for control, with the Republicans as dead as the Federalists. Yeah, that'd be great, thank you very much, Mr Rove! That'd be extra-swell! The President, naturally, because he is the President, must be discreet about wanting to see the GOP terminally implode, just as he must be discreet about so many other things. But us little people? We've formed into circles, Karl, and joined our little hands, and in our squeaky little voices we're singing:

Ding-dong, the witch is dead
Which old witch? The wicked witch!
Ding-dong, the wicked witch is deeeeeeaaaaaaaad!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Are the Biblical Scholars Partly to Blame For the Shortcomings of the New Atheists?

As I've mentioned before on this blog, Bart Ehrman is wrongto associate people who question whether Jesus existed with people who question the overwhelming consensus of meteorologists when they say that global warming is catastrophic, getting rapidly worse, and caused by humans; or with people who think aliens landed in Roswell in 1947; or even with people stupid enough to doubt that the Holocaust happened. Meteorologists and serious historians and journalists have gotten through with great ease to these people who aren't sure Jesus really existed; with tremendous ease compared to Biblical scholars who seem, the very great majority of them, to be sure that Jesus existed. Perhaps the problem isn't really so much that the doubters are terribly uninformed or resistant to reason, but that the Biblical scholars are, quite simply, unconvincing.

Perhaps even worse: maybe the Biblical scholars aren't even particularly interested, when push comes to shove, in sharing their findings to a broad public in a convincing way. If there is a general lack of a feeling of pedagogical responsibility in this academic field vis-a-vis the general public, an ivory-tower mentality, then it should surprise no one if that general public is more poorly-educated about the background and creation of the Bible than it is about most subjects.

Yesterday, online, I came across someone whose tagline reads "question everything," and who expressed the opinion, which is widely found among New Atheists and people who question Jesus' historical existence, that the Genesis story of Noah and the flood was "obviously directly plagiarized" from the Epic of Gilgamesh.I responded to this person that apparently the assumption that this "plagiarism" had not only occurred but that it was obvious and direct did not appear to be included in the "everything" of the person's tagline. This person hasn't gotten back to me yet. I've been wondering whether the response, if and when it comes, will include the assumption that I am a Christian interested in upholding a fundamentalist reading of the Bible. Such assumptions are quite common when I make such remarks. I'm so often prematurely labeled a Christian by New Atheists that I've been getting quite weary of correcting them on that point. Some friends of mine don't usually bother to make such corrections. Yesterday I thought for a short while about joining them in that respect, when I had a, you will please excuse the faddish expression, come-to-Jesus moment. Why had I bothered to communicate with this person at all? Was it only for the sake of making them look (even) sillier to a small onlooking group of my friends and admirers? Or was I actually trying to make them question whether their assumption about Gilgamesh and Noah might be, not necessarily wrong, but perhaps hasty?

It was the latter. I was actually trying to get through to them and convince them not to believe everything they read at jesusneverexisted.com or -.org, and not to mistrust everything said by an academic Biblical scholar other then the famous (in our circles) few who are skeptical on the Jesus question.

I have a feeling that the mainstream of today's Biblical scholars, who are so annoyed with all of these New Atheists for showing their scholarship so little respect, indeed so little heed whatsoever, have themselves brought about this state of affairs, by the lack of the will to make themselves and their work understood. Let's not forget, the New Atheists, who make the Biblical scholars cringe with their constantly-showing lack of competence in Biblical scholarship, include, indeed to a great extent are led by, Richard Dawkins. Who is about as far from a tinfoil-hat-wearing, global-warming-denying conspiracy theorist as one can be, so much for Bart Ehrman's thesis, with a mention of which I began this essay. Dawkins and many other New Atheists are in fact superbly well informed about global warming, aliens etc. The Biblical scholars are right that the New Atheists, even including Dawkins, are appallingly ignorant about fields of inquiry involving and overlapping with theirs. But how long are they going to stand pat with explanations of this state of affairs such as that the New Atheists are former fundamentalists who still apply fundamentalist preconceptions to the study of the Bible, and smile at the others in their little clique about how ignorant those people are who criticize them, before they actually decide to take responsibility, some responsibility, for the public being so ill-informed about their specialty? In the final analysis, whose fault can this be except the specialists'?

It's certainly easier simply to find fault and shake one's head and tell one another in the clique how learned and misunderstood you are.

Let's take the historicist/mythicist fooferah. 1) If on the one hand the number of specialists in the New Testament who are not strictly historicist is actually higher than the public perceives, whose fault could that mistaken perception possibly be except the specialists'? 2) If on the other hand the firmly-historicist position is so obviously correct to anyone with a basic grasp of the evidence as Ehrman, Crossan, Smith et al have insisted, whose fault can it possibly be that this obviousness has yet to be disseminated among people bright enough that they have no trouble understanding a consensus of meteorologists or evolutionary biologists?

I've been continuing to read the standard works of New Testament scholarship. And over and over I've been reading about how, although it's now agreed that the New Testament can tell us little if anything about what Jesus did or said, it has nevertheless by now been so firmly established that Jesus did exist that mythicism has been relagated to the realm of extremists and cranks, to tinfoil-hat territory -- wait wait, what?! Where was that firmly established? And how exactly? Yes, I missed it too, this convincing evidence they all insist is there. (WHERE?! Why TF can't any of them just point it out to me, or summarize, as the case may be, the dizzyingly-complex process by which clarity was achieved?) Gentle readers, I promise you, as soon as I gain the faintest glimmer of what these people are talking about when they say it's firmly established, if and when I ever have that come-to-Jesus moment, I will let you know.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Is There Any Statement Beginning "You Imagine Yourself[...]"

-- or words to that effect, which couldn't be greatly improved by replacing it with a question to the effect of: "Do you imagine yourself[...]?" I can't think of any examples where the question isn't a substantial improvement over the assertion. Personally, I know I much prefer to be asked what I'm thinking or intending than to be told what I think or intend. For the sake of accuracy if nothing else, clairvoyance being, so far as I can tell, non-existent.

I know I'm not exceptionally polite, and no, I'm not proud of that, not at all, nor do I imagine myself -- and thank you so much for asking! -- to be any sort of authority on the subject of etiquette. But every couple of years or so, it seems, a modest contribution to the subject occurs to me. So. Until late in 2014.

Monday, November 26, 2012

It Looks As If the Pope and I Aren't Going to Be Friends After All

I don't think I'm going to be reading Benedict XVI's new book about the birth and infancy of Jesus. On the Amazon page for that book, there is an excerpt from Chapter 1.That excerpt was enough for me. As some wise man has said frequently, you don't need to drink the whole ocean to know that it's salty. (Oh yeah, that's right -- it's me! I'm the wise man who came up with that one.) You don't need to read an entire book to know that it's silly.

In the excerpt, as you can see, Benedict comments upon the meeting of Jesus and Pilate in John, chapters 18 and 19, with reference to some other passages from the Bible. And as you can also see if you read chapters 18 and 19 in John, Benedict gets a lot out of those passages which wasn't in them to begin with. For example, three sentences from Benedict say: "All this must have seemed like madness to the Roman judge. And yet he could not shake off the mysterious impres­sion left by this man, so different from those he had met before who resisted Roman domination and fought for the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. The Roman judge asks where Jesus is from in order to understand who he really is and what he wants."

It's good that we have Benedict to "interpret" things for us. Because the Bible actually doesn't say that it all must have seemed like madness to Pilate, nor that Jesus gave him a mysterious impression, nor that Pilate could not shake off this impression, nor that Jesus was different from others Pilate had met, nor why Pilate asked where Jesus was from.

Of course, this sort of thing is familiar to anyone who's heard a certain type of Christian sermon, where the pastor or priest first reads a passage from the Bible somewhere between one and ten verses long, and then proceeds to comment upon that passage for half an hour or longer. Assuming you're not speaking to an audience composed of linguists, historians or textual critics, and sometimes even then, it's very hard, maybe impossible, to go on for so long about a passage so short without straight-up making stuff up. Now, I have no problem with this as long as you are clear that what you are presenting is historical fiction, as I was clear when I called the book I wrote about Pilate and Jesus what it is: a novel.

When theologians do it they call it exegesis. The Methodist theologian Ben Witherington calls it exegesis. Here Witherington describes some of his adventures preceeding the publication in 2011 of the Pope's book about Jesus during the Holy Week. To his obvious great excitement, he was chosen by someone connected in some way with the Pope to participate in a discussion of the Pope's new book: 4 Catholic scholars, 1 Jew, and just 1 Protestant. Witherington doesn't make clear whether he was asked to take part in this discussion or just told that he would do so. I assume it's the former, but he doesn't actually say. (See what I did there, kiddies? I could have indulged in exegesis, but I didn't, I actually confined myself to the information contained in Witherington's written account.) Witherington says that he had to read and digest the book in a great hurry in order to be ready to participate in this discussion. He doesn't say whether there was such a hurry because he was the Vatican's 12th choice to be the token Protestant. Poor puppy, I wonder whether such a thing even occurred to him. He just says, "I considered this an honor. Somebody out there must trust me as an exegete and a theologian."

And he considers the Pope to be a very great exegete indeed, and happy happy joy joy bla bla bla. Not only do these people believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, disturbed in this belief neither by modern scholarship nor common sense, they applaud each other for embellishing greatly upon the Bible, they dress up their common wish not to want to know with academic jargon, they praise each other to the skies as great theologians, and insist that a great theologian, a great Student of He Who Is Not, is a great intellectual, just as much as Nietzsche or Russell or Sartre is, the better, I think, to drown out the derisive laughter of those few brighter people who have troubled to look in upon their little academic fiefdom.

In that excerpt from his new book Benedict refers to Pilate as "The 'enlight­ened' Roman judge, who had already expressed skepticism regarding the question of truth (cf. Jn 18:38)" To me, that one question of Pilate's, "What is truth?" alone makes him the most interesting character in the entire Bible, the only one who might actually be thinking about things in a challenging and deep way. (Not that I assume that Pilate ever actually posed such a question, simply because the Bible states that he did.) To Benedict it makes him worthy of derision, of being called "enlightened" only with that word in quotation marks. So, for all his elegant prose and imposing jargon, Benedict is anti-intellectual. Like a snake-handling televangelist, but better-spoken. What a shame. He and I can't be friends, it's just not in the cards. Each of our raisons d'etre is to oppose the other and what he stands for.

And "exegesis," at least when it refers to Bible interpretation, is Greek for "pulling stuff out of your butt."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Last Night's Dream Was Sort of Like a Symphony in Three Movements Plus a Coda

1st Movement: Menace Intrudes Upon Beauty I was driving a car which was not large -- it could have been a Saturn Ion like the one I drive in real life -- on a crowded road which wound through a very picturesque urban landscape. It could have been Edmondton, Alberta, Canada, parts of which are very picturesque and have winding roads.

Less nice was that a very large vehicle was following very close, so large and so close that I had no idea what kind of vehicle it was. All I could see in the rearview mirrors was a patch of sheetmetal painted silver grey, somewhere below the windshield. Its impatience to pass was clear, and I would gladly have given it room, but I had no room to give: I was as close to the vehicle ahead of me as I was going to get, the shoulder was too narrow to pull off and the lane to the left of us -- this was a very nice four-lane avenue with trees and manicured grass in the middle -- was as stacked-up as we were.

Finally I pulled into the parking lot of a discount-warehouse type store, and an enormous silver-grey bus zoomed past on the road from behind me with its bus-horn blaring. Jerk!

2nd Movement: The Menace Increases But So Does the Beauty and Tenderness Inside the wholesale discount store, which had many low-ceilinged stories and walls of concrete blocks buttressed by rude timbers, and which reminded me of a place where poultry or rabbits were inhumanely raised, I was soon being pursued by a crime organization. I didn't know what I had done to offend them. My only guess was that maybe the maniac who'd been driving that silver-grey bus was one of them. Many of the people inside the store, which seemed to belong to the gang, were members of the gang, but they weren't being obvious: rather, they did their best to blend in with the customers and sneak up on me. A young man pushed me into a corner. He was smiling in a very strange way, which might have been meant to be threatening. He was saying equally-enigmatic things which might have been threats. I really wasn't certain whether this young man was a gangster or just very odd. But since he was not letting me pass peacefully out of the corner, I felt I had to punch him in the face. This left him groggy, and I was able to get away. I felt bad about punching him, but I felt that my life was in danger and that I had to do some desperate things to stay alive.

At this point I was joined by my girlfriend. I was upset with myself for getting her into this situation, and determined to keep her from all harm. She was not any specifically identifiable person from real life. She was very pretty, bearing a slight resemblance to the actress Lauren Ambrose -- slight enough that it was unlikely someone would mistake one of them for the other. Her hair was cut into a very short pageboy, and she was wearing a simple dress with a denim jacket over it and sneakers. I felt a very great tender affection for her.

No matter how many flights of stairs we descended, it seemed, looking out the windows, that we never got much closer to the ground. At this point I seemed semi-aware that I was dreaming, and I got angry with myself because in real life we would have been out of that building long ago by now. I was determined to get out in spite of the unrealistic frustrating aspect of the dream stairs. On the 2nd floor we found a parking garage. We broke into a huge old Cadillac, I hotwired it and we drove right through one of those concrete-block walls, falling to the ground without injuring ourselves, and with the Cadillac right side up and still running, and I drove us to a nearby mall.

3rd Movement: Love Flees We were inside the mall. If the gangsters weren't in the mall already, they would be very soon. We had no money. I told my girlfriend that we would have to steal clothes that looked very different and change into them, and then go to a salon and change the colors of our hair and dash out without paying, in order to save our lives. And so we did exactly that. With our appearances changed, we held each other tight and felt each other's hearts pounding. My girlfriend said that if we could get a hundred miles away in any direction, we probably would be safe. I told her it was unfortunately more like five hundred miles in most directions and a thousand miles in some directions.

Coda: I Tell Mr Smug What's What A white-haired, pink-faced man with a long pointy nose and an unpleasant smug smirk was about to write The Meaning of the Dream into a an enormous book with a quill dipped in ink. In his opinion the dream had meant something about how dogs rule and cats suck. I said, "Hold on there smug guy. There are people like you who love dogs and hate cats, and there are people who love cats and hate dogs, and then there are people like my beautiful girlfriend here and I who love both cats and dogs and post pictures like this
on the Internet."

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hey There, Paul Krugman!

You didn't endorse Obama, didn't campaign for him, criticized him during the campaign with no apparent thought at all about whether the criticism came at politically inopportune moments, and the only Presidential administration you have worked for was Reagan's, that's right, REAGAN'S!

And now that Obama has managed to get re-elected by a wide margin even without you getting your hands dirty by helping him, you've got some advice for him.

Well I've got some advice for you too: sit back, relax, enjoy a nice steaming-hot mug of STFU and stop constantly stepping on the dicks of the political pros as they try to actually accomplish something. Because that's what politics is about, it's the part you never could handle, never wanted to have anything to do with: accomplishing things, doing what is possible, dealing with what is rather than lecturing the world about what should be. The latter is your job. Just please don't confuse it with politics. And please stop telling Obama what will and won't work politically. It's like a man blind from birth grabbing Picasso's brush arm as he tries to paint and lecturing him about art. Obama knows what he's doing, and it's difficult enough as it is. With "advisors" like you, he really doesn't need saboteurs. Please, Paul, at long last, take your appropriate place in politics: work for the Green party. Be Ralph Nader's successor, the Great Stupid Third-Party Hope. Unless and until the US gets proportional representation. Then working for the Greens won't be silly and useless at all anymore, and you'll have to find something else to do, something appropriate to your talents, as they say.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Wrong Monkey Endorses Obama/Biden 2012, And The Straight Democratic Ticket

-- just in case that wasn't already perfectly clear to everyone.

Like some others on the Left, I am a bit disappointed in the current administration for a few things: ramping up the insane, inhumane War on Drugs; being a little too cozy with some big businesses, and too accommodating with Republicans, most of whom have made it clear they have absolutely no intention of reciprocating.

Unlike those few turnips who are voting Green or Socialist or another party to the left of the Democrats, besides grasping the concept of proportional representation, and the fact that we don't have it yet in the US, as I explained in my previous post, I understand that politics means compromising to achieve something rather than sticking strictly to my ideals and accomplishing nothing, or worse than nothing, as that nincompoop Ralph Nader and his nincompoop followers did when they helped W take the Presidency in 2000. (Nota bene, as usual, I did not say that W was elected President, because I don't think he was.) And unlike them, I can see the huge obvious differences between Obama and Romney, and between Democrats in general and Republicans in general. Democrats actually want government to help people who need help. Republicans want to work people to death at sweat-shop wages and let them die in the streets -- or the ER's, as the case may be. Democrats respect women. Republicans say that their "religious freedom" includes their right to push women's rights back to the 19th century. Many of them, let's be clear, are not only against all abortion, they're against all birth control. Romney and Ryan won't go on the record with this last bit, but neither will they call out and denounce the whackos in their party who are the record in this way. Romney and Ryan also won't distance themselves from the birthers and the racists. Decent people who are more than half-witted need to send the Republicans a real message here. Not just in the Presidential race but all the way down the ticket.

Get out and vote! I know that many of you already have: help get others to the polls. Let's do this, hard. Let's show the whackos that the grown-ups are still in charge.

(And then after the election we can start to get on Obama's case to end the Drug War, and to be more serious about financial and corporate regulation and the environment and so forth. And we can promote a change to proportional representation. After the election. One thing at a time. I repeat: politics means compromising to achieve something rather than sticking to your ideals and thereby accomplishing nothing or worse than nothing. Vote Democrat.)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Proportional Representation

Since 2005 the Chancellor of Germany has been Angela Merkel of the CDU, the Christian Democrats, the conservatives, a party which has very much in common with the Republicans in the US, including, traditionally, a very cozy relationship with the petrochemical industry and the disdain for less-poisonous forms of energy generation which goes with that relationship. But Merkel broke dramatically with that position. She has supported a massive change to green energy. When she took office as Chancellor in 2005, the percentage of electricity in Germany generated by renewable means was around 10%, in 2011 it was over 20%, as we speak it's over 25% and growing fast. By comparison, when W was "elected" in 2000, a little less than 9.5% percent of the electricity in the US was generated by renewable means, and when Obama was elected in 2008 the percentage was about exactly the same. Now it's somewhere between 12.5 and 15% and growing, which is definitely a nice improvement, but Barack, of the more forward-leaning, progressive, green-friendly of the major parties in the US, is not even close to keeping up with the conservative, traditionalist Angela when it comes to being green. What's going on here? Are Germans just more intelligent?

No. I've been to Germany, and believe me, they're just as stupid as anyone else. But they have something that we don't have: (I feel like the Wizard of Oz here) proportional representation. In Germany, any party polling over 5% in an election gets a share of the national, statewide or local legislature chosen in that election, and since it hardly ever happens that one party gets over 50% of the vote, they have to come up with a coalition of parties of over 50%, and that coalition forms the administration. One of the things this means is that in Germany, (or France, or Belgium, or Italy, or Norway, or Finland, or a lot of other countries) if you vote Green, you're not throwing your vote away. This in turn means that a lot more people vote Green in countries with proportional representation than here in the US with our quaint antiquated winner-take-all system, although popular support for renewable energy is as strong here as elsewhere. And in turn that means that no political party in those countries can ignore the Greens anymore. Not even the Christian Democrats in Germany, the party of Helmut Kohl, appropriately named because Kohl means coal and traditionally the Christian Democrats have just looooooved coal and been paid very well to do so. Even before he retired back in 1998, Kohl was forced to say publicly that the Greens weren't so bad, something which sounded downright bizarre coming from him, something which since then Christian Democrats say quite often, especially when they're not getting along so well with the Social Democrats. The Greens have made it into national administrations in quite a few countries as the junior partner of the Social Democrats (Joschka Fischer, the most prominent single German Green politician so far, was Gerhard Schroeder's Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor from 1998 to 2005), into state and local administrations in coalitions with the Social Democrats and with others, sometimes in coalitions with the Christian Democrats, (or whatever the conservative party is called in a particular country) sometimes in coalitions of three or more parties, as the senior partner in some places, and the next Chancellor of Germany could conceivably be a Green. That's the sort of thing that can happen in a country with a political system which lets you vote for a third or forth or fifth party without throwing your vote away.

The sort of system we don't have yet, remember, so first things first: vote for Obama if you haven't yet, and for every other Democrat you can; and then support a Constitutional amendment to let you vote Green if you want to, or Socialist or Pirate or (shudder) Libertarian -- there are Libertarians (Free Democrats, they're called) in the Bundestag along with the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats and Leftists and Greens, and Pirates will surely be in the next one, elected next year -- or anyone else you might happen to like better than the candidate put up by either the Democrats or the Republicans, without throwing your vote away. Imagine such a thing.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Yet Another Idiot From Real Life!

IDIOT: I wish I lived in a swing state. Not only would Obama and Romney actually care about my vote, my vote would count! My vote has been written off by the media and the two major presidential campaigns. I voted third party! I voted against the status-quo and for real change!

ME: Well aren't you special! Now, if you want to do something which could actually lead to real change, support amending the Constitution so that we have proportional representation like they have in many other countries, where voting for a third or fourth or fifth or sixth party is not throwing your vote away.

IDIOT: How would that weaken the two party system? You think for one moment the two parties will do anything to help third parties? Every time congress passes a law about campaign finances or elections, it's for one reason and one reason only: protect incumbents! If you vote democrat or republican, you're just enabling the status quo, voting for more dead soldiers, and voting for fewer civil liberties!

At this point I considered giving up, but I gave it one more try:

ME: Seriously, how would proportional representation weaken the two-party system? It would completely do away with the two party system.

IDIOT: How so? Would the two parties still control the debates? Would they still control how money is spent on campaigns? Would incumbents still get free mailings?

It's depressing. Some things are so simple that I don't know how to explain them. I don't have the patience to be a teacher of morons.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Of Mice and Internet Chess

There are no takey-backies in big-boy chess. The chess I play is certainly not very advanced, but it's for-realsies chess. Hence: no takey-backies. Period. On the Free Internet Chess Server, via which I play Internet chess, now and again an opponent will send me a message asking me for a takeback. Luckily for me, I won't see that message during the game, because the interface I use with the Free Internet Chess Server allows me to choose a full-screen board which, during the games, completely blocks out the console containing all messages. It happens now and then that an opponent, waiting and waiting for a response while his clock ticks down, not sharing my no-takebacks policies, will send me a further message informing me that I am a **** for not granting the takeback request. These sorts of angry messages may continue for a while after the game is over. I never respond to abusive messages on chess servers, but if I were to respond I'd say something like this: "You're right, I'm a **** who never grants takeback requests. Please, tell everyone you possibly can. It'll be a win-win, because everyone who doesn't share my policy will now know that I'm a **** and carefully avoid playing me, while I will be spared reading tedious messages like yours."

Often the afflicted opponent will explain that what has just happened was a mouse slip. If I were to respond to these plaintive missives -- I don't, but if I were to I would say "I thought it probably was a mouse slip. You know what I do if I suffer a lot of mouse slips one after the other? I fix my mouse! Cause it comes under the category of my problem, just as this comes under the heading of yours." (Similarly, sometimes an opponent will ask to adjourn the game, saying that their boss is approaching. Naturally I won't grant the adjournment, as I won't see the message during the game, but I wouldn't grant it if I saw it. As regular readers of this blog know, in most things I'm decidedly pro-labor, but this would be one of those rare exceptions: I sat down to the game expecting to finish it in one sitting, it's usually a 5-0 blitz game, 5 minutes allotted per side, no increments, no extensions, no timeouts, no takebacks, no mercy! and if I have anything to say about it, no adjournments either, and my opponent's boss apparently expected him to be doing something other than playing chess. This one time I sympathize with the boss.)

Some time ago I discovered that I could disable the feature on the Free Internet Chess Server which enabled my opponent to hit one button and cause a "Takeback" button to light up on my board, which if I pressed would grant the takeback request. It was a good day when I disabled that feature. Now, I don't know whether the "Request Takeback" is not on the opponent's board when he plays me, or if it simply no longer responds. I suppose it might be different on different interfaces. And I don't care. I'm not there playing chess in order to be nice. Among other reasons, I'm there to vent some of my aggressive, less-than-nice tendencies, so that I might tend to be more nice when I'm not playing chess. It is said that precisely such an improvement in one's day-to-day behavior may have been the main reason chess was invented to begin with, back in India around the 6th century. Bobby Fischer said that the object of chess was to crush the opponent's mind. Like a lot of things Bobby said and did, that remark was a little over the top, but you get the idea.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"In 2000 Years People Will Believe Harry Potter Is True"

No, of course I don't believe that. I'm quoting stupid atheists, as I did in the blog post entitled We Possess the Works of Over Fifty Historians Who Were in Jerulsalem During Jesus' Supposed Lifetime, And None of Them Mention Him! And even if I ever did express such a harebrained notion, I would express it more elegantly, saying "nonfictional" rather than "true." ("Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?") This one about Harry Potter seems very popular, and it's staggeringly stupid, of course. (Was it actually started by someone like Dawkins or Hitchens? Harris seems a much more likely suspect.) When the Bible, or the Iliad,for example, was written, people regarded them as nonfiction. A lower percentage of their readers regards them as nonfictional today. Conversely, when the plays of Plautuswere first presented, over 2000 years ago, they were not thought of as depictions of actual people and events any more than Rowling's novels are today. And over the past 2000 years, people have not gradually come to think that they were depictions of actual people and events. Likewise, Dante's Divine Comedyand Shakespeare's Tempest,both clearly understood to be fiction right from the start, are not gradually being regarded as nonfiction.

If I were to argue in court that, indeed, there is a significant group of atheists running around loose who bear striking resemblances to religious fundamentalists, this garbage about Harry Potter just might be Exhibit A. (Hopefully 2000 years from now Rowling's mediocre children's novels will be long forgotten.) Just as a fundamentalist Christian will quote a verse or two from the KJVand stand there grinning smugly at you as if she just showed you something, so many a stupid atheist will say that 2000 years from now people will think Harry Potter is true, and stand there with the very same stupid smug grin on the front of his pointy head. When I first heard the term "fundamentalist atheist" a few years ago I found it to be ridiculous, and I wrote a blog post proudly claiming the intended insult as a label for my own, just like a punk rocker or a Gothic cathedral. Now I see that the term has its legitimate application. I still think that, by and large, the brightest folks tend to be atheists and the dimmest bulbs tend to believe in some deity or deities, but there are atheists who don't think about religion, but just parrot stupid memes about religion, just like the fundies. Let's make it perfectly clear now, I am not on their side. I am on the side of open minds, intellects which exert themselves and reach for more, people who are capable of being corrected. People who love to learn. It's never been atheists against believers with me. Scorsese and Cormac McCarthy and Kazantzakis and Kierkegaard are still my homies. Christianity is still stupid, but a person is often stupid in some areas and brilliant in others, and those four Christians are miles and miles brighter than these atheist yokels who just will not stop repeating their memes about Harry Potter becoming a religion over the next 2000 years and the Bible being written by illiterate [sic!] Bronze Age goat herders or by Constantine and the Pope at Nicea.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Mitt Romney Is a Creep!

Well, there goes my career as a big-time journalist, unless MSNBC, Mother Jones or Rolling Stone will have me.

The US is cursed with a terrible misconception about "objective journalism." Actually, it's several misconceptions: 1) That there is such a thing as objectivity. 2) That objectivity is particularly important when reporting about politics. 3) That it is particularly important -- outside of exceptions such as editorials, but to a great extent even there -- for a reporter not to share whatever personal opinions he or she may have about particular politicians, as if anything anyone ever said was more than either a personal opinion or a lie, but to confine him- or herself to a narrowly-defined category of "facts."

Some sensible journalists and observers of journalism, including Hunter S Thompson, have put a dent in such silly notions, but it's still only a dent. And so most political journalists in our mainstream media feel it is part of their job description to carefully hide, as much as they can, how much they loathe Mitt Romney. Those who are both intelligent and forthright are accused of extreme liberal bias, nut just by the idiots and tools at Fox "News," but also by some otherwise-intelligent and upright citizens who have been infected with the "objective journalism" nonsense.

Still, despite this huge barrier between US voters and relevant information, I think the word has somehow gotten around, to wide enough circles, that Mitt, for religious and/or whatever other reasons, is a pathological liar, and a sadistic homophobe and a creep in other ways, that he will not be elected President.

Friday, October 5, 2012

"We Possess the Works of Over Fifty Historians Who Were in Jerulsalem During Jesus' Supposed Lifetime, And None of Them Mention Him!"

Well, no, we don't possess the works of fifty such writers, of course we don't. I put it in quotes because it's someone else's assertion, not mine, and I put it in the headline because it's so breathtakingly wrong. That's right, kiddies, it's Stupid Atheists Time again here at The Wrong Monkey!

The thing is, a meme is abroad in the land of those who feel qualified to pontificate upon the nonexistence of Jesus without first taking something like a good World History 101 course, to the effect that it is downright suspicious that there are no contemporary mentions of Jesus. I'm not the world's leading authority on the evidence for Jesus' existence, but clearly, I'm way ahead of some people. I could be wrong, but I believe that the number of historians whose works are extant who spent so much as a day in Jerusalem between 10 BC and AD 40 -- that's right, we don't know when Jesus lived if he did but if he did it was very likely somewhere in that time frame -- is not fifty, but zero.

I expressed this opinion to the person who holds the position immortalized in the headline of this blog post, and challenged him to name those fifty writers and more. He produced the following forty names: Apollonius, Persius, Appian, Petronius, Arrian, Phaedrus, Aulus Gellius, Philo, Columella, Phlegon, Damis, Pliny the Elder, Dio Chrysostom, Pliny the Younger, Plutarch, Epictetus, Pomponius Mela, Favorinus, Ptolemy, Florus, Lucius, Quintilian, Hermogenes, Quintius Curtius, Josephus, Seneca, Justus of Tiberius, Silius Italicus, Juvenal, Statius, Lucan, Suetonius, Lucian, Tacitus, Lysias, Theon of Smyran, Martial, Valerius Flaccus, Paterculus, Valerius Maximus, and Pausanias.

I pointed out that many of these writers were not historians, that many of them did not live during Jesus' supposed lifetime, and that to my knowledge just one of them, Josephus,had ever spent any time in Jerusalem. Even if they were just passing through. Upon closer inspection of the list, I see one other person who may well have spent some time in Jerusalem: Joseph of Tiberias. And he was an historian, too. But none of his works have survived. We know his name only because Josephus and, centuries later, Photiusmentioned him. And Justus was a contemporary of Josephus, who was not a contemporary of Jesus. It may be that a couple more from the list at least for a moment stood in Jerusalem or rode through it; still, we're woefully short of possessing the works of fifty historians contemporary with Jesus who were in Jerusalem. And, much more to the point, still many clowns short of a rodeo inasmuch as this guy is nowhere near ready to realize that his image of the extent of ancient writing we possess about Jerusalem is drastically mistaken, and perhaps even more to the point, nowhere near ceasing to assume that anyone such as your humble correspondent who attempts to direct him to broader knowledge and away from error is a Christian.

By the way, when this turnip gave me this list he chided me for not doing my own research. I let it go at the time, and mention it now to give you more of the flavor the whole experience. Also, another person mentioned to him that we possess no contemporary non-Roman evidence of Julius Caesar, to which he startlingly replied that there was an abundance of such evidence in Britain, that Julius Caesar had spent time in Britain after its conquest by the Romans had begun under his predecessor Claudius. I pointed out that Caesar was Claudius' predecessor and that he had been killed in 44 BC. Judging from my experience with him so far, that attempt at correction will not leave much of a dent.

It's all just breathtakingly stupid. Not just ignorant, but ignorant and bitterly determined to stay that way, determined not to learn. And I'm telling you all this because this individual is far from unique. There is a whole huge wave of stupid atheism rising, accurately diagnosed here by the very intelligent atheist and historian of early Christianty R Joseph Hoffmann, who is so intelligent that he's often mistaken for a religious believer by those among the atheists who cannot comprehend writing written in breaths longer than sound bites. This wave didn't rise spontaneously. It has leaders, and the leaders' conceptions of ancient history are crunked up. Just as the "moderate" Christians and Muslims energetically shirk responsibility for the extremists they breed, so do Dawkins, Hitch & co overlook their role in the spread of beliefs such as, "We possess the works of more than fifty historians who lived in Jerusalem during Jesus' supposed lifetime, and none of them mention him!" That's right, I'm finally coming right out in public and dissing New Atheism. It gets a C- or worse in Ancient History. I've been somewhat unclear about that for too long, but I finally decided to grow a pair.

Btw, Dawkins' work on biologyremains brilliant. Hoffmann seems to think so too.

Monday, October 1, 2012

He's Gotta Go!

That big scary Italian guy from the Lower East Side, Gyp Rosetti, ever since he first appeared near the beginning of the 1st episode in season 3 of "Boardwalk Empire" and killed that nice friendly dog-owner for absolutely no good reason, I've been thinking: somebody needs to kill that asshole. 3 episodes of the season have been shown now, and almost everything the character has said and done has only hardened my opinion that he needs to be made thoroughly dead without delay, for the good of all mankind and very likely some other animal species as well, and yet, unfathomably, he's still above ground and breathing. It's not right.

And it's not as if I can kill him myself, because, one, this is all taking place 89 years ago, and, two, of course, the big jerk doesn't even really exist, he's just a character on TV show. It's all very frustrating, as you might imagine.

What are all the other relatively sane and civilized characters (Rosetti makes Luciano look like Rothstein.) waiting for? Why can no-one except me see that he needs to go?

Or at the very least that he needs to be kept away from things like guns and cigarette lighters, and honestly, why do I even have to mention something like keeping him away from a gasoline pump? Do you let an untrained and ill-mannered dog chew on the launch button of a nuclear missile? No! You don't! And nobody had to tell you that you don't! Sheesh!

Seriously, though, Bobby Cannavale is doing a magnificent job playing Gyp Rosetti. He's menacing like Jack Nicholson was menacing in The Departed and like DeNiro was menacing in Goodfellas and Cape Fear. If you're an actor or you love good acting you gotta watch "Boardwalk Empire" to see Cannavale. (There are lots of other reason to watch the show, but damn! Bobby!)

Mainstream Media Coverage of Discoveries of Ancient Manuscripts Tends to Be Pretty Awful Generally --

-- but in the case of the papyrus containing the fragment of the text which has become famous as the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, I wonder whether the coverage isn't really even much worse than average.

Let's compare it to news coverage of the Syriac gospel of Barnabas which was recently found on a shelf in a courthouse in Turkey, having landed there as evidence in a criminal case brought against some pirates. For a little while the media buzzed with reports, almost entirely untainted by expert evaluation, that this manuscript was thought to be 1500 years old. Then, when the fact began to circulate that it seemed obvious to experts that it was more like 500 years old, the stories dried up very quickly. Hardly anywhere was an update, with a revised estimated age of the artifact, to be seen in the more popular networks and newspapers. They pretty much surrendered the field to religious news outlets, who kept the story going for a while longer as they rejoiced at this contemporary crushing of heresy. And the readership for scholarly journals remained tiny.

Par for the course.

Now, in the case of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, the artifact is being presented to the public not by layman government officials who just happened to stumble across it, but by an an expert, Prof Karen L King, who has thoughtfully made a pdf of her upcoming paper about it available to the public. The journalists of the world started off with an expert opinion at their disposal, although you wouldn't know it from most of the stories, not even the ones which linked Prof King's pdf. The stories jumble up things like the estimated dates of the papyrus and of the original Greek text of which the papyrus' Coptic text may be a translation, King's reservations about the papyrus' authenticity pending chemical tests, her interpretation of the historical and theological ramifications if the text is proved to be authentic, etc. Still all par for the course.

What's worse than par for the course is how the media are reacting to news that some experts believe that the text on the papyrus has been forged. Normally such doubts would be ignored, and the media would either stick with their original positions, or just drop the whole subject like a hot rock and hope not too many readers would remember it. Bad enough. Worse, though, in this case, headlines trumpteting that it's a forgery are now far outnumbering all of the previous stories about the document. And it's very far from having been proven a forgery. An expert in Coptic -- but not notably more of an expert than King or her collaborator on the pdf, AnneMarie Luijendijk -- has published his opinion in the Vatican's newspaper that the artifact is a "crude fake," and all the media seem to be running with that. "Crude fake" would have been a much more appropriate headline concerning the James Ossuary or the Shroud of Turin, to which these media outlets tend still stupidly to refer to as controversial. Everyone's quoting the Vatican's guy and the handful of experts who agree with him, and mostly ignoring the experts who think the artifact is genuine, and even the majority of experts who just want to wait for more evidence before they decide.

Was that Syriac Gospel of Barnabas a boy crying wolf, and this papyrus fragment a wolf being ignored because people don't believe the boy? Or is there some other explanation for this latest round of ineptitude?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Irony, Distinguished Professor Bart D Ehrman!

There are epoch-making books, which even when they are still very recent make readers feel as if the time before their appearance were very long ago. Bart Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth,published just last spring, is definitely such a book. And not because it argues its case for historicism well, but, on the contrary, because Ehrman is such a highly-respected figure in the field of the study of the New Testament and early Christianity, and here he argued the case so surprisingly poorly. Or to put it more plainly, because he did not argue the case at all so much as state it and insult whoever might not agree.

In the light of the brouhaha over Did Jesus Exist? it is very interesting to read something published just a short while before it, a passage from the Afterword to the 2011 2nd edition of Ehrman's The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament,a book originally published in 1993, which seemingly everyone still regards quite highly, including all of those who were disappointed, or worse, by Did Jesus Exist? which, again, seems to include just about everybody.

Dixit Ehrman in said Afterward:

"But that is the way of scholarship. Sometimes the most obvious problems escape our notice. We ourselves should not be overly smug about the unquestioned assumptions of our predecessors. Our day, too, will come."

And so their day, Ehrman's and other historicists', has come with a fearful promptness. Some obvious problems do not escape so much as they are repeatedly set free, or banished only to reappear again and again at the gates, never having wanted to escape at all. It is time at long last for the question of Jesus' existence to be discussed at the center of academic study of early Christianity, and no longer at its fringes while being sneered at form the center. Is it really so convincingly plain to any expert that Jesus existed? Fine, then convince us, the public. Sneers are not convincing, and we're having the discussion anyway. The experts really should take part. It's only proper.

Friday, September 28, 2012

My First Food Blog Post. (Everybody's Doin' It!)

Okay, but this is a little different from a typical blog entry by a sophisticated foodie, which I am not: It's a review of a pre-prepared frozen food item.

Okay, now that all the pretentious foodies have gotten the vapors and left in horror, it's just us regular folks who enjoy the occasional -- or more than occasional -- TV dinner or frozen pizza. (If you're at work and you only pretend to be more sophisticated than that, just be ready to close the screen quickly if anyone looks over your shoulder, and claim you were looking at porn.) What we've got here today is a main-course item which serves 7: a Boneless Stuffed Chicken from Big Easy Foods, Stuffed with Broccoli, Cheese & Rice. They took all of the bones out of a chicken, and all of the organ meat too, but left the skin on. Then they stuffed it and put it in a bag that looks like waxed paper.

Whatever it is, waxed paper or something else, it's not very flammable, because you leave the chicken in the bag, cut a 1-inch slit in the bag, put the bag in a pan and put the pan in a 400-degree oven. You can either let it thaw in the fridge for 24 hours first and then bake it for 45 minutes (recommended), or put it in the oven while it's still frozen and bake it for 1 hour and 20 minutes. I put it in the oven frozen, because by my calculations this allowed me to eat it 23 hours and 25 minutes sooner.

The picture on the box shows a chicken with appetizingly brown skin. I may try the thaw-first method next time to see whether it yields crisp brown skin. The way I did it the chicken came out all pretty greyish, and the skin was pretty much the same color as the meat, and not crispy. Which no doubt is a problem for some people. But for gross unsophisticated people like me, the limp grey skin is just fine.

Apart from the uninspiring greyish appearance, you gotta love the meat. (Unless you're really, really sophisticated. But maybe even then.) Generally speaking, I dislike chicken white meat, unless some combination of breading, sauce and/or processing completely hides what it is. White meat by itself, even if it's well cooked, is too dry for me. But not on this chicken. The white meat is as moist as dark meat usually is, and the dark meat? Fuggetaboutit. This is outstanding chicken. And the stuffing is great, too. I mean, more delicious than you might think something which is mostly rice and broccoli could be. The package says "Stuffed with Broccoli, Cheese & Rice." What I got was less cheesy and more buttery than the package led me to expect.

Laissez les bons temps rouler! (That's French for "Yummy!") I will definitely be checking out some other products from Big Easy Foods, because if this one is any indication, they do your stomach-belly up right, Ah guar-own-tee!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Public Reactions To the Gospel of Jesus' Wife

"Even tiny fragments of papyrus can offer surprises with the potential to significantly enrich our historical reconstruction of the range of ancient Christian theological imagination and practice."

That is the conclusion of a paper, Jesus said to them, My wife… A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus, written by Harvard Professor Karen L. King, with contributions by Princeton professor AnneMarie Luijendijk, concerning a recently-discovered papyrus manuscript which, King says, appears to have been made in the 4th century, with a Coptic text copying and/or translating a text from the 2nd century in which Jesus refers to his wife. There had been some hints before in other New Testament apocrypha that Jesus might have been married, but this would be the first text in which Jesus himself says so. I say "would be," because the manuscript has yet to undergo some tests to make sure it isn't a modern forgery. I would be surprised if it is found not to be as old as King estimates. This is not like that "1500 year old" Syriac gospel of Barnabas recently discovered on a shelf in a Turkish courthouse, which rapidly turned out to bee 500 years old or younger; nor like the now-infamous "James Ossuary," purported for a short time to have originally stored the bones of the brother of Jesus, which furthered the career of a fake archaeologist who has his own TV show, while tarnishing the reputations of a few archaeologists who were either taken in or incorrectly cited by the fake archaeologist as believing that the things had not been crudely tampered with by someone whose knowledge of 1st century Jews in general and the state of the art of research into Jesus' life in particular had several serious deficiencies. This Coptic manuscript is either real, or an exceptionally good forgery.

The reactions from the general public have been many, varied and interesting. Not surprisingly, many people have been turned off by things like the "1500 year old" Gospel of Barnabas and the "James Ossuary" and other frauds, and assume that this is just another fraud. Others are confused about the dates of the manuscript and of the original text. Mainstream media outlets, as usual in stories about finds or possible finds of ancient artifacts, are contributing to this confusion with stories by laypeople full of inaccuracies -- although I must draw the reader's attention to one great exception among the mainstream media in this case: the Washington Post has published at least one story by an actual scholar, with competence in related fields, about King's discovery. Nice! Dare one hope that this is the start of a trend?

Many fundamentalists and other strictly traditionalistic Christians are rejecting this story out of hand, often without even noticing that Prof King is very careful to point out that she is making no claims about Jesus himself, but merely saying that this manuscript, if authenticated -- she's careful to include that reservation as well -- would shed some light on what some 2nd century Christians believed. A surprising number of others, on the other hand, both Chrisitna and non-, say that they had already assumed that Jesus was married, because, they say, all Jewish men of that time were married.

Say what?! Where did this meme come from? I labor mightily to put down one widely-held misconception after another, such as that the Old Testament was written in the Bronze age or that the New Testament was written at the Council of Nicea by Constantine and the Pope, only to see other ones pop up. Of course not all Jewish men were married. In some cases the misconception is limited to thinking that all Jewish men who had devoted their lives to religion were required to marry, but of course this was not the case either. For example, many of the Essenes were celibate.

Another common reaction to the news of the discovery of this Coptic manuscript wherein Jesus says, "My wife[...]" is, "Ah, so Dan Brown was right after all!" Well, one, a stopped clock is right twice a day, and if ever anyone was due to be right about something completely by accident, it's Dan Brown; and two, to parrot Professor King, this manuscript says something about the beliefs of some 2nd century Christians, and not necessarily anything at all of substance about Jesus himself.

As faithful readers of this blog know, I'd much rather see an old manuscript by Livy turn up than yet another old Christian manuscript, but still, I'm fascinated by textual transmission and old manuscripts to the point that any newly-discovered 4th century manuscript at all, or even a reasonably well-made forgery of one, regardless of its contents, will interest me greatly. (Not, let me make this perfectly clear, that I sympathize with forgers in the slightest. On the contrary: forgers are the natural enemies of people such as myself. They are The Right Monkeys.) My interest leads many people who are not paying close attention at the moment, or who do not ever pay close attention to anything, to assume, judging from my reaction when the conversation turns to old Christian manuscripts, that I must be Christian. These people also tend to assume that Professors of Religious Studies and biblical archaeologists must be religious. I'm getting used to such reactions. Whaddayagonnado? They're not paying attention. Anyway, by all means, read Professor King's paper, linked at the beginning of the 2nd paragraph above! It's good stuff!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Election-Season Math

Bill has 40-some dollars left on his food-stamp card, and between 9 days and two weeks to go before he gets his October food stamps. He's 12 pounds overweight. 45 years ago Bill got some shrapnel in his left leg in Vietnam. He has had surgery on that leg four times. The most recent time was 12 years ago and removed the last remaining shrapnel embedded in Bill's bones. 9 years ago Bill tore his right ACL, and it's been 2 years since his limp (both legs) decreased enough that only 3 percent of the people who see him walking notice it. Bill ran 1/2 mile yesterday and plans to do it again tomorrow. Bill has 3 kids, 2 daughters-in-law, 3 grandchildren, 1 wife and 2 part-time jobs. One of these jobs pays $7.25 per hour. On Friday, Mitt Romney released his 2011 Federal tax return. If one train leaves Chicago at 9 PM traveling westward at 45 miles per hour, and another train leaves Dallas traveling northward at 35 miles per hour, how many times does Bill want to punch Mitt Romney in the head?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Open Letter to R Joseph Hoffmann

(Originallly posted on Dr Hoffmann's blog, as a comment on these collected remarks of his. Reprinted here with slight corrections)

You have much to say about Terry Jones that is very illuminating. And it was very tempting at first to go along with your suggestion of arresting him. But only at first, and the more I think about it the more opposed I am to it. You say “no one realistically” believes that a USA is coming where it would be a crime to burn Bibles. But because the law is a great stupid lumbering beast, and not an ethereal spirit with all of the wisdom of Oliver Wendell Holmes, arresting Terry Jones for his hateful stunts would be a big lurching step in the direction of that USA. That’s how this beast works: crack down on expression you don’t like, and it makes it easier for them to crack down on yours. Sauce for both goose and gander. Blind justice, a stupid lumbering beast, a Brontosaurus disguised as a pretty blindfolded lady.

And if we’re going to arrest people for inciting Muslims, we really need to arrest W and many members of his administration before we get around to relatively small fry like Jones. They did much, much more damage than Jones, and holding them accountable for their crimes would do much, much more to show Muslims that we respect them.

Although it would involve chiming in to some degree with people we find quite ghastly — indeed, although it would involve to some degree chiming in with Terry Jones himself instead of arresting him as we would like to do — we need to address those mostly young men who are angry and falsely pious enough to kill for any real or perceived insult to their religion. Yes, Jones is inciting them. But it’s a problem which must be addressed that they are so easily incited that an empty-headed bumpkin like Jones, or the mention of a stupid YouTube video which I’m sure most of them have never seen — have you seen it? I haven’t — or the pronouncement of one of their leaders about a fine novel by an Indian-British-American novelist which neither the leader nor they have read, will induce them to murder. Something needs to get their attention. Just as Western bumpkins need to be educated about crucial facts such as that the great majority of Muslims, even including the duly-elected heads of state of the Arab Spring, condemned with the usual ignorant haste by Western bumpkins great and small, really do condemn the actions of those mostly-young fanatics.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Probably My Last Comments For a While About Karl Barth's Einfuehrung in die evangelische Theologie

My third post about this book, following this post and this one.

If you know more than a dozen Christians personally, chances are that the main thrust of this book will be quite familiar to you: an embodiment of Nietzsche's definition of faith as "Nicht-wissen-wollen, was wahr ist;" nonstop elaboration of the dimensions and qualities and implications and effects of that which is not, accompanied by a stubborn refusal to consider even for a moment the reality of anything which is real, and frequent childish denunciations of reality and its fans. With Bible verses cited occasionally. What makes Barth unusual is that this everyday, thoroughly pedestrian, utterly mediocre content is transmitted in elegantly convoluted prose employing a large vocabulary and frequent sprinklings of Latin and occasional references to Greek. Barth is a fine example of someone who received an excellent education which didn't work. Much like William F Buckley in that regard.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

National Security

A day before the 11th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, former Vice President Dick Cheney jabbed President Barack Obama over a new report that he opted not to attend a number of presidential daily briefings, a decision that Cheney claims is indicative of his aloofness on national security.

(Trying to imagine possible reasons why security briefings with W may have been scheduled more often and lasted longer than with Obama: "Mr President, today in Pakistan... no, over here, Mr President. Pakisten is over here on the map... No, over here, Mr President. It's this big blue country on the map... No, Sir, that's Madagascar... No, that's Canada... [aside] Jesus Christ! Well, it's a living. Do you have any keys on you? Keys on a chain, something like that. Something shiny and jingly I can use to get his attention... Thanks... [full voice again] Over here! See? Over here! Over here! Yes! that's Pakistan, Mr President! Yaaaaay, Mr President! Now, Mr President, as I was saying, today in Pakistan...")

Monday, September 10, 2012

Karl Barth's Einfuehrung in die evangelische Theologie up to page 18

This might be my last post on Barth's book. Not only has it been hugely disappointing so far, but it's extremely familiar: I'm finding in this book many of the harebrained assertions currently en vogue in Christian and also Jewish theology, or at least in the versions of those disciplines or undisciplines (How disciplined is it to make things up willy-nilly in order to defend one's preconceived notions?) which make it onto the Huffington Post. Either HP's theologians have been greatly influenced directly or indirectly by Barth, or else they and Barth share important influences.

Or maybe this is actually as close as theology can come to making sense. (Not close!)

As I mentioned in my first post on this book of Barth's, Barth wastes no time in making the untenable and insulting assertion that everyone has a God or gods, and that therefore everyone is a theologian, the only question is: what kind of theologian? From this point he rushes, as any sensible German would agree, "von einem Kurzschluss zum naechsten," from one premature conclusion to the next. He describes the God of the progressive person and of the "deified progressiveness" as a human being with all sorts of nasty qualities: aloofness, contempt, deadliness, a God of No, bringing Bad News directly opposed to the Good News of the Gospels, from which people would flee if only they could, and he throws in terms such as "Uebermensch" just in case anyone might have any doubt that he was implying that progressivism, humanism and National Socialism are all one and the same.

Nazis may have referred to themselves as "progressive." That doesn't mean that it made any sense at all when they did, any more than when Barth implied that German progressives in the 1960's were like Nazis. The Nazis were of course thoroughly regressive, regressing back to a time when the primary occupation of the Germanic times was war. Barth is also regressive, harkening back to a time of unquestioning belief in the fairy tales of the New Testament. Of course I greatly prefer Barth's regression to that of the Nazis, and of course Barth resisted the Nazis in a very courageous manner. But still he's building an entirely fictitious world here and insisting that it's real. And perpetuating the fiction of the Nazis that they were Nietzscheans, when in fact Nietzsche despised antisemitism and did all that he could to keep his sister from associating his name with it. But Nietzsche suddenly went insane in 1889, leaving his sister in charge of his estate, and she published altered editions of his work and actively associated his name with so much that he despised, and in 1935 Hitler attended her funeral. The false association of Nietzsche and the Nazis persisted for quite a while, but one expects to find it mostly among non-German non-academics. To find it in the work of a German professor who is considered to represent the twentieth-century epitome of his field is downright discouraging, even if that field is only Protestant theology.

And by the way, yes, I am referring to Barth's theology as Protestant, not Evangelical. Yes, the German words "protestantisch" and "evangelisch" look very much like the English words "Protestant" and "Evangelical," but they do not mean exactly the same. There is no exact English equivalent for either of those German terms, but "Protestant" is much closer than "Evangelical" to "evangelisch." Thst's how these things go sometimes. Yes, I know that other English translations of Barth say "Evangelical." They're wrong.

So, Barth says that everyone has a God. He goes on to say that the God of progressives is horrible, cold, distant, negating -- basically either a Nazi or potentially a Nazi -- and then compares this imaginary God to his equally-imaginary friend, "the God who is the subject of Protestant theology," who in and with mankind wishes to accomplish a helpful, healing, correcting work which will bring joy and peace. How nice! And what a stark contrast to that awful, awful God of progressivism which doesn't exist outside of his imagination any more than his own wonderful Protestant God does.

This is the sort of gibberish which is considered by many Christian theologians to represent the very best any of them has ever accomplished. And perhaps they're right.

The (Real) Universe

Regarding "The Purpose of the Universe" by Rabbi David Wolpe on Huffington Post, and also in reply to these silly, silly statements by so many contemporary Christian theologians claiming that fundamentalism and the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture are no more than two centuries old:

I recently obtained a reprint copy of the 1617 edition of Copernicus' De revolutionisbus. Here is the same edition on Google Books. It's very science-y, with a lot of diagrams and a lot of tables of astronomical observations, which is not usually my thing in reading material. But this book caused such a furor for so long and was at the heart of so much conflict between science and religion that I wanted to get back to the source of the ruckus and see what caused so many people to flip out, in both positive and negative reactions. I wanted to study the original untranslated text.

It knocks me out, the extremely painstaking, methodical way in which Copernicus -- a priest -- lays out his case and turns the mental world of his day upside-down -- or right-side-up, if you will.

And the response to all this careful observation of the movements of the objects in the sky and careful reading of thousands of years' worth of other scholars' observations on the subject? Luther's response, and Melanchthon's response, and the Holy See's response -- for once the Lutherans and the Vatican were in perfect agreement -- was: this contradicts Holy Scripture, therefore it is false and wicked and must be suppressed. As one reads Copernicus -- even a lay reader like myself -- one's admiration for him and one's anger against his dull-witted, all-powerful opponents grows and grows.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The First Couple of Pages of Karl Barth's Einfuehrung in die evangelische Theologie

I received my copy of Karl Barth's Einführung in die evangelische Theologiein the mail yesterday and began reading it right away. I began writing notes about it, and it occurred to me that I might want to write a review of the book here in The Wrong Monkey after I was done reading. But then I decided not to wait that long, because I don't know how long it will take me to read the entire book, and because I already have quite a few notes. Maybe I won't have much to say about the rest of the book. (Or maybe I'll write many blog posts about it, who knows.)

The first thing to say is that I hate this simple-minded crap, as I have hated all of the theology I've read so far in my life. So why am I reading Barth if I hate him? Same reason I've read some -- not all. Shuddering at the very thought -- of Augustine and Aquinas and other Christian "thinkers" -- because Christianity continues to rule a very large portion of the Earth. Perhaps I will actually like some parts of this book by Barth. I continue to hope that someday I'll find some theological writing, Christian or otherwise, which I find interesting. But to be frank, that hope is fading.

Well no, that's not entirely true, not if you consider the writing of Hesiod and some of that of Homer and Ovid to be theological -- and why shouldn't you? I love that stuff. But it's so very different from Christianity. It's true that Christians were sometimes systematically persecuted by some ancient pagan Roman Emperors, who tried to stamp them out. One of the chief recurring pagan charges against the Christians was impiety. Christian apologists have pointed to this as evidence that the pagans simply didn't understand Christianity, but these apologists, most of them, don't understand what piety was to the Romans: it was a respect for every religion and every deity on the face of the Earth. Don't worry, I'm not about to become a pagan. I don't agree with any concept of piety, but I find this pagan inclusiveness much more sympathetic than any monotheism. It has a lot in common with the multiculturalism of today, and, if I have not been misinformed, with some strains of Hinduism and Buddhism. Naturally, Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians and every other sort of monotheist flew straight in the face of piety as the Romans defined it.

Back to Barth. Right off the bat, at the very beginning of Einführung in die evangelische Theologie, he offends me by making a very familiar assertion: that everyone has a God or gods and that therefore everyone is a theologian. Over and over again in "modern," "enlightened" Christianity there's this attempt to drag everyone down to their level. Is this sort of thing familiar to me because the contemporary theologians I know are all, directly or indirectly, influenced by Barth? Or does Barth merely swim in the same putrid stream as they? What about apes, Karl? Are they all theologians too? And dogs and cats?

I don't want to assume things and then believe them -- I'll leave that to Barth and his ilk -- but I wonder whether Barth would entertain for a moment my question about apes and cats and dogs and whether they, too, are all theologians. Most theologians, of course, would dismiss such a thought with a contemptuous snort, betraying that their image of mankind comes not from science, because of course science tells us that we share our DNA with other species, and they evolve just as we do (some of us anyway), but from the Genesis legend, which portrays man as a thing apart. (Unfortunately many biologists obviously still follow the Genesis legend rather than science inasmuch as they reject out of hand, in the face of ever-mounting evidence, the very possibility that animals may possess certain qualities and states of consciousness traditionally -- at least in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition -- thought to belong to mankind alone.)

Barth says that "we" -- presumably "we humans" -- are all theologians, and then he loses me even more thoroughly by revealing that the theology he follows has all to do with the Bible and particularly with the Gospels, the Evangelium, that God Himself, the Creator of All, the Infinite, has expressed Himself most clearly in Bible, and in the Bible especially in the New Testament, and in the New Testament especially in the Gospels. (Note the complete contrast to pagan Roman piety or modern multiculturalism.) He wrote that in 1962, after centuries of textual criticism of the Old and New Testaments, after the discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi library and thousands of scraps of papyrii at Oxyrhynchus, and he is considered by many Christian theologians to still represent the state of the art of theology, and that's just about the most damning thing I can think of to say about Christian theology. So many books in this world, such a big world, so many discoveries piling up concerning the world around us and things long ago, and we can see so far and ever farther beyond this Earth into regions which make it look tiny indeed, and the man many Christian theologians call the greatest philosopher of the 20th century insisted that the key to understanding Everything is distilled into Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It was a pretty silly notion when those four books were freshly written, and the more we learn the sillier, the more infuriatingly, arbitrarily narrow-minded it becomes.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

...and maybe 400

At ElectoralVote.com they have a Rasmussen-free electoral-vote map which shows 332 electoral votes going for Obama and 206 for Romney. But they consider only 138 of those electoral votes to be "solidly" for Romney. Six states are only pink instead of red, and a seventh, North Cackalacky Its Dangself, is only outlined in pink. Seven states where Romney's lead is less than lead-pipe-cinch certain. If Obama takes all the blue states on that map plus those seven he will have a nice round 400 electoral votes. In my opinion Missouri and and Arizona should be pink too, so make it 421.

What? All the "experts" are doing this all the time, except in the opposite direction, talking about how Romney could win if he won in all the red and pinks state plus every state that isn't dark blue. All except for Nate Silver at the New Times' 538.com. Everybody calls him a genius. But none of the other pundits seem to listen to him, let alone benefit from his good sense. Nope. It's just Nate and me, all alone in a sea of rubes.

Will 421 be enough for all of you people out there to stand up to those of your friends, families and neighbors who have embraced the bagger/birther/everything's-Obama-fault horseshit, and firmly tell them that they are stupid and that enough's enough and it's time for them to listen to the grownups and the brighter ones among the children? Would 421 give you balls enough to talk sense right out in public?

It's not enough for Obama to win. They have to really, really lose, once and for all.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

350+

Is how many electoral votes Obama will take on November 6. Take that to the bank. Bet the farm.

There seem to be very few "experts" on the subject who can see that Obama is way ahead of Romney.

Okay, for one thing, is it really so hard to see that nationwide polls are completely useless in predicting an election which will be decided by electoral vote? These news stories claiming that the race is close keep pointing to nationwide polls and ignoring state-by-state polls. That kind of story defines the term "useless" about as well as anything I can think of. Not one electoral-vote projection based on current polling shows Romney ahead -- Huffington Post's Speculatron electoral-vote map is based on what Speculatron Boy has pulled out of his butt -- and some show Obama with as many as 332 electoral votes. The latter seem like the most sensible projections to me. I think there's widespread bias and/or incompetence among the "experts" who are calling this thing close.

Romney didn't get a bounce from the RNC convention. This doesn't surprise me. I know, my claim of not having anticipated a bump would have been much more impressive if I had posted it before the Republican convention. It seems to have surprised a lot of "experts," but don't expect a lot of articles and editorials with headlines like "OK, WE'RE IDIOTS!" Idiots can't admit to themselves that they're idiots. This is one of the reasons they stay idiots.

The "experts" predicted small post-convention bumps for both Romney and Obama. I'm predicting a big bump for Obama, big enough that the projection of 332 electoral votes will have to be adjusted upward. Maybe much higher.

And I predict that after Obama's big post-convention bump, the "experts" will continue to find a way to claim that this thing is close. I predict that they will predict that the bump will melt away quickly. I predict it won't.

Why are the predictions of the "experts" so far off, and why will they continue to be? I don't know. Straight-up stupidity, maybe. Maybe they don't care whether people will look at their performance as prognosticators when considering in the future to hire them.

Maybe there's some grand conspiracy here which would be easier for me to see if I were neurologically-typical. Anyway, what I'm predicting is that enough voters will be able to see the difference between a highly-intelligent centrist powerfully motivated to do the country good, and a pathological liar who chose another pathological liar as his running mate, and the difference between a campaign based on good ideas and one based on lies and irrational fear, to make this thing lopsided. Maybe more like 380 than 350.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Real-Life Bigotry, And My Too-Hot-For-Huffpo Response!

I don't know whether this is particularly brilliant, but it's okay, and I haven't been posting a lot lately, and frigging lame-ass Huffington Post didn't post my first attempt to reply to “I can tell you how the catholics[...]" and that was almost 24 hours ago so it looks like they're not going to post it, and below is my 2nd attempt, and who knows when or if they'll post that. (The moderation on HP Religion continues to be messed up. As you can see, in this exchange I'm not even the anti-religion party. But I think I may have ticked off some unbalanced obsessive ueber-troll who's gotten herself the position of HP Community Moderator and hangs around the Religion section and has made a project of me. Or maybe it's just messed-up business as usual.)

The Rev. James Martin, S.J., wrote the first HP piece of his which I like, a satire of the religious views of today's GOP, and a Bigoted Nimrod responded:

FIRST BN: Oh, this is rich coming from a Jesuit. They practically invented money-grubbing. Say "Father," why don't you tell us about the Jesuits and the slave trade?

ME: Why don't you tell us about a religion that never was involved in the slave trade?

SECOND BN: I can tell you how the Catholics got all up in bed with the Nazis if you wanna hear that one...

ME: I've heard that one. And you didn't answer my question: what religion was never involved in the slave trade? Even some Quakers owned slaves, although Quakers were a very strong force in the political movement which finally abolished slavery in the US. Have you heard about Maximilian Kolbe? Or Bernhard Lichtenberg? How about Kurt Gerstein? Ever read any Heinrich Böll? Joseph Roth?Franz Werfel? Alfred Döblin?How about regarding people as individuals instead of as members of a group? And while I'm at it --

"[The Jesuits] practically invented money-grubbing."

-- are you KIDDING me? Money was around for thousands of years before there were Jesuits, does FIRST BN really think the people who invented the first money didn't rig their cool new system in their own favor, the way rich people have rigged the US tax code? Does he really think something very similar to money-grubbing wasn't going on long before there was money, when trade was mostly barter? I think I'm going to disagree with just about any statement in the form of: "Everything is the ______ fault," whether you fill in the blank with "Catholics'," "Muslims'," "rich people's," "Mormons'," "Jews'," "Germans'," "Devil's," or whatever else. The world is actually more complicated that that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

PC Speech

Someone mentioned that using the term "Moslem" instead of "Muslim" tends to correspond to less enlightened and more bigoted attitudes toward Muslims. I don't doubt that it generally does, because language usage and beliefs generally tend to be group phenomena. On the other hand, I may sometimes write "Moslem" because I've read a lot of books written in the mid-20th century and earlier, and the current preferred usage has slipped my mind. I apologize if I've caused offense in this way.

When I notice that the preferred name for a group has changed, I tend to change my usage. A more complete description of my situation is: I change my usage, and I resent it. I'm with most progressives on almost every issue, but I hate PC language rules. When this topic comes up I often mention Bob Fosse's movie Lenny, starring Dustin Hoffman as Lenny Bruce. I love that movie. In one scene, Bruce starts off a stand-up routine with a little speech containing every insulting term for ethnic groups you could think of, including an insulting term for his own ethnic group. He makes the point that they're just words, and that they hurt more when we taboo them, not less.

There's a musical from the 1970's called Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope. It makes a similar point when a father remembers when he was a boy decades earlier, and he insisted on being call a negro. On the playground a white kid called him black and he hit the white boy in the eye. Then his son talks about how today, in the 1970's, he insists on being called black, and on the playground a white boy called him a negro, and he hit the white boy in the eye.

One more example of the silliness, that's right, I said silliness, of PC language rules: at the end of the 1980's you could infuriate a lot of feminists by referring to any full-grown human female as a "girl" and not a "woman." I knew one of those feminists, who happened to be a huge Sinead O'Conner fan, and in 1990 I infuriated her in that way several times without wishing to cause any offense. Her response was so angry that I changed my usage. Two years later, not only was grrrrl feminism everywhere, but Sinead O'Conner herself released an album entitled Am I Not Your Girl?

Back in 1990, after the last time I had forgotten and called my friend a girl and she became infuriated again, I apologized again and promised, again, to try to remember not to do it again, and then I asked her whether I had ever treated her disrespectfully, or as if I thought she was not an adult. She said no. I wonder if she got my point. I wonder if she thought about that conversation in 1992 when she learned the title of Sinead's next album.

Sticks and stones will break your bones, and words will hurt about as much as you allow them to.