Thursday, November 29, 2007


Carl Levin makes me nervous. He is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and is against the war (one of the few who voted against it back in 2002). He also believes he must continue to fund the war, so that he can “support the troops.” My main concern about Levin is that if I hear him say one more time that he must continue to fund a war he is against so he won’t undermine the troops, I’m pretty sure that my hair will spontaneously catch fire and my head will explode.

On the upside, without a functioning brain, I might be able to accept his logic, which would then open the door to believing all sorts of fantastical things. I could finally live in that happy place where occupation is freedom, torture is strength, and my only responsibilities are to watch TV, spend money, and make sure my Escalade is always idling.

Since I still have a more or less functional brain, I wonder what other missions Sen. Levin would continue to fund in order to show his support for the troops:

  • Mission: Burn $100 bills and throw the ashes into the Grand Canyon until it is filled to the brim. Not sending soldiers $100 bills would surely undermine them and cause them to fail.

  • Mission: Invade the marshlands of Florida with tanks and cluster bombs until they are subdued. We would certainly undercut the soldiers’ ability to vanquish marshlands if we stopped giving them tanks and cluster bombs.

  • Mission: Attack the sun because it causes cancer and is a source of radiation that terrorists can use against us. It would be disrespectful to the soldiers we have already sent into the sun to not keep sending more until they succeed. If you disagree, you want the sun to win and America to lose.

Sure, we can argue whether these missions are analogous to the Iraq War, but that’s not really the point. All I’m saying is that supporting the troops demands that we not fund ill-conceived missions. And that Carl Levin is crazy if he thinks he is maintaining some kind of anti-war position.

Democrats had better get their act together. They aren't as loyal as Republicans are. It isn't going to take them six years to figure out that their leaders are unfit for power.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

God Is Better Than I Am

One reason I’m vaguely universalist is that I believe God loves people more than I do. Also, since I try to take seriously Jesus’ teachings on love and compassion, there are very few people I believe deserve to spend eternity in the fiery pit of hell. Hence, if God’s grace is more abundant than my own (and it most certainly had better be) it stands to reason that an awful lot of people are going to make the cut and get into heaven.

Sure, people are often selfish, wrong-headed, lazy, incompetent, and egotistical. But does that mean they deserve to be condemned for all eternity? I don’t personally know a single person who is unquestionably evil - someone I’d be happy to see in infinite, unbearable pain. There may be murderers, child molesters and conservative radio hosts who deserve eternal damnation, but I don’t happen to know them personally.

I also cannot imagine a loving God throwing entire religionfuls of people into a sulfurous lake of fire, simply because they don’t acknowledge Jesus as divine. If God is to cleave the saved from the doomed, I would think he would care a lot more about behavior than belief.

I know it is not for me to judge, but that’s the point isn’t it? I have to believe God would do a better job than I would. If God is truly our creator, I would guess he loves humans even more than I love my own children. There is very little my own children could do to deserve eternal damnation from me, although if they don’t stop bickering at each other soon, I just might threaten it, again.

So, I’m guessing almost everyone gets into heaven. And even the bad ones, like evil dictators and sugar plantation owners, should probably just lose their consciousness forever. Otherwise, it seems like revenge, which is the kind of thing I or my fellow humans might be tempted to engage in, not an all-loving and grace-filled God.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Seriousness of Human Rights

Bill Richardson was blasted after the Democratic debate the other night, not just by the corporate media, but even by Tim Grieve over at What was his egregious sin? Richardson said that human rights are, at times, more important than national security. This is apparently something that no "serious" person would say. I was glad to see Jane Smiley over at The Huffington Post defend him.

I can understand not wanting to choose which is more important. After all, look at Iraq. They had security but not human rights prior to our occupation, and now they don't have security or human rights, and neither situation is acceptable. You might argue that it requires security to have human rights, so security is more important, but I could argue just the opposite. Without human rights, you'll never have real security, because there will always be resistance to oppression.

What bugs me is the implication that no "serious" person would put human rights before security. To me, security is worthless if it isn't defending human rights. That's why torture and rendition are such cancerous developments. If we ignore the very values we claim to be defending in our desire for security, then our security is not worth much.

In the end, it is a false dichotomy, because you really need both to have either. Nonetheless, if I were forced to choose (say, at gunpoint, because Jack Bauer thinks I'm a terrorist and a nuclear bomb is about to go off), I would hope I would be a faithful Christian and choose human rights over security. Clearly, those were Jesus' priorities during his time on earth.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Let the Writers Eat All the Cake

The writer’s strike seems to be trudging on, with no end in sight. The main point of contention is that writers are not getting a cut of the internet revenue generated from their work. The media companies claim there is no revenue to give.

If that’s the case, you have to wonder why media companies don’t just trick the writers and give them 100% of internet revenue. After all, 100% of zero is still zero. Writers are well-known for their lack of math skills, so it might seem like a good deal to them.

I can survive without most TV, but am really missing the Daily Show. Instead of the real thing, I’ll have to settle for segments like this:

With their usual devastating truth telling, they point out that Viacom is suing YouTube for a billion dollars of lost revenue. A different Viacom exec has publicly estimated that internet revenues for Viacom will reach $500 million dollars. “Of course, to a pessimist, that’s like half of NOT a billion dollars.”

My favorite strike-related quote is from Steve Bodow on the picket line: “Warren Leight—a playwright who’s now show-runner on Law & Order: Criminal Intent—was there, and he offered a protest chant: “What do we want? For the girls in high school who rejected us for the jocks to finally see how wrong they were! When do we want it? Then!” It didn’t quite catch on, but only because it doesn’t rhyme.”

If the Daily Show writers continue to produce segments like this, and put them up on YouTube, I would be willing to send them a check for one dollar per segment, and also try to convince a million of my friends to do the same.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Poet Herds

I often enjoy the daily humor piece over at McSweeney's. Here's one by John Moe on the Ripple Effects of The Writer’s Strike. My two favorite worst case scenarios:

Grocery-store produce managers
Unable to skillfully phrase sales like "Grapes—$1.99/lb.," retailers panic and choose instead to throw fruits and vegetables at customers while screaming, "MONEY NOW!" Frightened by the prospect of facing a grocery store full of wild-eyed produce managers clutching rotten bananas while cloaked in ersatz-broccoli cloaks (fashioned after long bouts of existential madness), customers stay away. Consumer economy collapses.

With their natural predators, the screenwriters, out of the literary ecosystem, poet herds thrive and proliferate, soon overrunning their native habitats and exhausting their food supply. Before long, having any unlocked windows in one's house becomes an invitation to poets to bust in, which they unfailingly do, spouting some goofy-ass nonsense while grabbing whatever is in the fridge. All are shot on sight, of course, creating an unwelcome sanitation problem.

I'll have to alert dw, the only poet I know, to be careful from now on when rooting around in my refrigerator. It would be a shame for something bad to happen, especially since it would be his his own beer that he would most likely be grabbing. Having just sent for the roto-rooters today, I've learned that I don't like sanitation problems in my house.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Bridge World’s Dixie Chick Moment

The US Bridge Federation is sanctioning its women’s championship team for displaying a small, handmade “We did not vote for Bush” sign during their awards ceremony at the world bridge championships in Shanghai. The sanctions include a one-year suspension (which means one year of lost wages, since they are professionals), 200 hours of community service, an apology and a statement ratting out whose idea it was and when they decided to do it.

From the NY Times:

Ms. Greenberg said she decided to put up the sign in response to questions from players from other countries about American interrogation techniques, the war in Iraq and other foreign policy issues.

“There was a lot of anti-Bush feeling, questioning of our Iraq policy and about torture,” Ms. Greenberg said. “I can’t tell you it was an overwhelming amount, but there were several specific comments, and there wasn’t the same warmth you usually feel at these events.”

Ms. Rosenberg said the team members intended the sign as a personal statement that demonstrated American values and noted that it was held up at the same time some team members were singing along to “The Star-Spangled Banner” and waving small American flags.

“Freedom to express dissent against our leaders has traditionally been a core American value,” she wrote by e-mail. “Unfortunately, the Bush brand of patriotism, where criticizing Bush means you are a traitor, seems to have penetrated a significant minority of U.S. bridge players.”

It should not be a surprise that one of the natural outcomes of our broad policy of scorning international cooperation, as well as specific policies like interrogation (known as “torture” in civilized countries), is that it causes people to question the integrity of individual Americans. As it should. It is being done in our name, so we should be answerable to it. That’s the price of allowing it to happen in a democracy.

These women were trying to tell their international community that they don't support the instigator of these policies. In fact, holding up an anti-Bush sign at this point is about the most patriotic thing a citizen can do, since it indicates some level of interest in the rule of law and human rights as core American values.

Nonetheless, I do understand annoyance at the politicization of a non-political event. I would be annoyed if I were playing bridge at a tournament and someone was wearing an “Club Gitmo” T-shirt. It is hard enough to bid and count cards without all the emotional baggage of playing against an enthusiastic supporter of torture.

But, if politics is to be banned, then it should be part of the bylaws of the organization, and should include everything from “I support the troops” to “Save baby whales,” as well as banning the use of flags and patriotic songs. You either allow politics in, or you don’t. You don’t discriminate based on the specific politics being expressed.

I especially enjoyed this tidbit though:

Robert S. Wolff, one of the country’s pre-eminent bridge players said ...“While I believe in the right to free speech, to me that doesn’t give anyone the right to criticize one’s leader at a foreign venue in a totally nonpolitical event,” he wrote by e-mail.

He believes in the theory of free speech, but apparently not the practice of it. Or, more accurately, he believes in freedom of thought, not freedom of speech. Maybe he should work on getting that pesky constitution changed. After all, it's only a few words.

If the ladies end up caving, I think they should do their 200 hours of community service for the ACLU or Amnesty International. Perhaps they can be put to work by doing training seminars for American bridge players who confuse the exercise of liberty with "conduct unbecoming a federation member."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Price of Sugar

I was in Boston this past weekend and jumped at the chance to see The Price of Sugar, since it will be showing in Champaign-Urbana probably never. It is a documentary about sugar cane workers in the Dominican Republic that I had heard about on NPR. It was certainly a sober counterweight to our recent Halloween excesses. I came away thinking that perhaps I should never use sugar again, or anything that contains sugar, or anything that might bring me joy, if even for a moment. When I mentioned this to my wife on the phone, her only comment was that she would try to make sure our sugar supply was gone by the time I got home.

The story is actually as much about immigration as slave-like working conditions. Dominicans apparently hate Haitians, since they are poorer and darker, and one of the few groups that Dominicans can look down on. Haitians are willing to work for a lot less, so sugar plantation owners illegally bus them across the border and into the plantations. The plantations provide squalid living conditions under the constant threat of violence and don’t even provide enough food for the workers to eat. If the Haitians manage to leave the plantation, the Dominicans arrest them for being illegals. When a local priest succeeds in raising the Haitians’ standard of living a little, the Dominicans hold protests that the Haitians are stealing their jobs. It all seemed so depressingly familiar, but with much worse conditions and more nastiness.

I know this is incredibly naive of me, but I just don’t understand why it has to be this way. It can’t take that much money to provide workers with basic housing and food. I doubt the sugar plantation would lose any competitive advantage in treating their workers humanely, rather than as medieval serfs. What possible rationalization justifies the added wealth brought about by the complete dehumanization of workers? That’s one area where the documentary disappoints, because it only shows the workers being abused, and not the bigger picture of why. If it is simply that plantation owners are evil, then I want to see them sniveling and rubbing their hands greedily into the camera.

So, my question of “why are people bad?” must remain open for now. And sadly, I’m not really going to stop using sugar. It is hard to resist something so ubiquitous that also tastes so good. The problem isn't the sugar itself, but that our entire economic system is designed to produce low prices, rather than fair and just working conditions for workers. The best thing I can do is buy fair trade sugar, chocolate and coffee, which only takes more work and money on my part. More work and less money for me doesn’t sound so bad compared to what sugar cane workers have to endure to provide a steady supply of cheap sugar to the world.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Keyword Search Mania 3!

These keyword search posts are so easy that they feel cheap. And, they are probably getting a little stale, like a Church Lady skit from in the mid-90s.

So, this might be the last one. But, I feel honor bound to do at least one more, since I'm sure everyone has been waiting with mouse-baited breath for the answer to "How Long Do Dead Mice Stink?"

The answer: About a week. Wisps of dead mouse did linger for a lot longer. I'll have a spreadsheet graph made available for those interested in the full logarithmic decay.

For the keyword searches, "Mennonite porn" continues to be a popular way to reach this blog. I am now number two for google search results for that phrase (yes, I checked), and number one when it is fully spelled out to "Mennonite pornography." Hurray for me! I'll have to write mom about that - she'll be so proud that I'm number one among people who are more or less literate.

My favorite this time around is "congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested exiled or hanged". Three separate people entered that phrase somewhere, or one person who really liked what I had to say about it. I'm not sure I would say it exactly that way though. I'd probably word it more like "Congressmen who have courage to do the right thing and cut off funding for an illegal and immoral war should be given flowers and kisses." I can see why someone would come here for guidance on what to do in that situation though.

Also, three people were very concerned about why Mennonites are so arrogant. It may have something to do with why we look so perfect (one person) and our secret "mennonite juice" (one person). I think it is because we are going to heaven, unlike everyone else we know.

OK, here they are, The Most Interesting Keyword Searches that have led people here since the last time I did this:

Mennonite Porn (11)
mennonite pornography
mennonite sex
why do the mennonites look so perfect
jesus violent Mennonite
minor chords in mennonite
just a little talk with jesus nwc
black specks in bowel movements (3)
poor vs wealthy pictures
dead bat in side walls stinks
mennonite stereotypes
mennonite of the Midwest
Mennonite movie
dead mouse in the wall stinks- what to do
famous amish figures
john howard yoder jokes
ritual around mascot in sport event
why do people want hillary clinton as president
need an essay on how peanuts makes us healthy
mennonite stereotypes (2)
possessed computers
committee jokes
head injury cartoons
a day in the life of a mennonite teenager
journey of salvation colors
tightly squeeze image
why are mennonites so arrogant (3)
ways to find a person who drunk beer
dead puppy pictures
irony in the fugitive
minors right to money
reasons for not being able to grow facial hair
phrase on the prowl
ten thousand villages exploit
wash away your sins with nun in a soap
what do mennonites look like
mennonite heresy
mennonite sex scandal
who was the 7 headed hydra’s parents
mennonite juice
democrat dark dungeon
amish medication
dirty mennonite
congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested exiled or hanged (3)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Congress Finally Accomplishes Something Useful

Since I moan and complain so much on this blog about misguided or absent social policy, it is only fair to point out when Congress actually accomplishes something worthwhile. Sure, they consistently abdicate their constitutional responsibilities and stubbornly continue to fund a God-forsaken occupation, but I can now happily report they have finally made a positive contribution to American life: establishment of a reasonable weekend on which to end daylight savings time. Yea for Congress!

For any family that participates in Halloween, this is huge. Daylight savings time has traditionally ended the last weekend in October, just before Halloween. This means that not only are children an hour more tired than usual on Halloween night, but it is also an hour colder and darker during trick-or-treating. So, in order for the kids to stay warm enough (due to the extra dark and cold) to avoid frostbite, they must cover up their beloved costumes with big wool coats or parkas, which invariably ends with them crying and stamping their feet (due to the extra fatigue). Sometimes a parent (say, me, for instance) will give in and let them go outside without a coat, which ends with them crying and stamping their feet (because they are cold and tired, see above).

This year, by order of Congress, daylight savings time has been moved to the first weekend in November, which is now after Halloween. Plus, they had the foresight to do nothing about global warming, which means it is much warmer on Halloween than it used to be, so the costume/parka issue did not even come up this year (in Champaign, anyway). Parents have less cold, dark and exhaustion to deal with, and can now spend all of their time and attention on bringing their children down from their sugar highs before bed, which is what Halloween should be about.

Speaking of which, the last two years on Halloween we’ve hosted some families and individuals from outside the US (Ireland, Kenya, China, and Tanzania). To a person, they all thought Halloween was at least very weird, and at most, that something is very wrong with Americans. I’ve had a hard time explaining the custom: Well, see, we let kids dress up as dead people or princesses, and then they go to the houses of strangers and beg for candy, and if a house doesn’t have any, they are in danger of being “tricked”, by which we mean various unlawful misdemeanors, and then we have some apple cider, after which all the children melt down, each in their own way. Also, the children will be generally misbehaved for the next month while the Halloween candy works its way through their systems.

When explained this way, I have a hard time justifying it myself, except to use the misdirection trick of “it’s just tradition.” Some cultures throw virgins into volcanoes, and we do Halloween. So, it’s not so bad, really.