Monthly Archives: March 2007

Christians against Sarah Silverman!

Oh oh (“Offensive Sex Scene with ‘God’ Upsets Christians,” 09-March-2007):

Comedy Central, home to controversial shows such as South Park and Drawn Together, rebroadcasted an episode of the Sarah Silverman Program on Thursday in which the female comedian has sex with “God.”

Dear The Christian Post:

I’m not sure South Park or Drawn Together are particularly controversial anymore. They’re sort of like how The Simpsons were by 1995: mainstream.

Sorry!

And the only controversy I see here is this: why would Sarah Silverman want to even pretend to have sex with a crusty old man who Michaelangelo seems to think looks like Santa Claus? (At least Michaelangelo made him into a swarthy Santa Claus.) Next, maybe she can copulate with Odin—who is much less swarthy, although he is missing an eye.

The Bible: Georgia in the news again

From the Associated Press (“Ga. close to OKing Bible classes,” The Associated Press, March 8, 2007):

Georgia is poised to introduce two literature classes on the Bible in public schools next year, a move some critics say would make the state the first to take an explicit stance endorsing — and funding — biblical teachings.

The Bible already is incorporated into some classes in Georgia and other states, but some critics say the board’s move, which makes the Bible the classes’ main text, treads into dangerous turf.

I say, cool! Anyone who actually reads the bible isn’t going to come out believing a lot of that crap anyway. Learning the Bible properly is a critical component of understanding our culture and traditions, and why many of them are so goddamn ridiculous.

While many might be skeptical of teaching the Bible, it must be remembered that it doesn’t need to be taught in a way to indoctrinate the youth to make fundamentalists happy. This might even backfire for religious fundamentalists. Fundamentalists depend largely on teaching their own interpretations of the Bible in churches, newsletters, party propaganda, and on TV. I’d really be quite surprised if fundamentalists actually wanted their congregations to read and understand the Bible. When they do the interpreting, it’s easy to just ignore the really absurd passages like:

Deuteronomy 23:1 He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.

Some may scoff at the degree to which religious fundamentalism is taught, but it really should be remembered that the Catholic Church depended on keeping scripture esoteric for centuries. Part of the reason the printing press was seen as so dangerous was because it actually made mass production of ideas, including religious ideas, viable. When scripture was translated from Latin to colloquial languages, scripture became accessible to the masses.

When students actually have to read the text of The Bible, or at least significant portions of it, they’ll inevitably draw their own conclusions. Naturally, as happens when students actually are stimulated to think for themselves, the conclusions they’ll draw about the Bible won’t make some people very happy.

Sweet, innocent, little girls go bad!

Stuff like this really bugs me:

ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) — The mother of a 19-year-old arrested in a bank theft scheme said Monday that her daughter isn’t a bandit, she just fell in with the wrong crowd and made a bad choice.

Joy Miller said her daughter, Ashley Miller, is sorry for what she did.

“I want (people) to know that her and Heather both are not bandits,” Joy Miller told ABC’s “Good Morning America” Monday.” “They’re little girls that made a bad choice.”

That’s from CNN (“Mom: Giggling bandits ‘little girls that made a bad choice’,” March 5, 2007). What I didn’t paste from the article is that both these “little girls” were 19. The father of the other daughter, Ashley Johnston, had something possibly even more mindless to say:

Johnston’s father, Edward Johnston, has said his family was in shock.

“God gives us free will and it’s up to us what we do with it,” he said. “Any adult has to make decisions and live with them — good, bad or indifferent.”

Well, at least he acknowledges that his sweet “little girl” was actually an adult. Though I’m not sure any offering from God plays into this. Perhaps it was determinism!

Don’t forget this is Georgia. These “little girls” should feel lucky that they’re white. At least they’ll get off easy, as long as the feds don’t get involved. Hell, if you get away with bank robbery, the rewards are probably great.

The slow death of the Mandeans

The Mandeans are a small ethnic and religious minority who live on the frontier bordering Iran and Iraq. They’re semi-nomadic, and have lived in the area for over 2000 years. In the power vacuum left by the fall of Saddam Hussein, they’ve been persecuted by Islamic fundamentalists who regard them as heretics.

Saddam kind of tolerated the Mandeans. The new religious orders taking shape in Iraq feel they shouldn’t exist. As a result, Islamic fundamentalists have begun a systematic campaign of rape, torture, and even murder.

The Mandeans aren’t often discussed in the mainsteam media. It might be because they probably blend in with the other nomads and semi-nomads in Iraq, like Marsh Arabs. In a lot of ways, they’re strangely reminescient of southern U.S. baptists (actually, in a bit of a turdabout, Mandeans are indeed baptists, but not Christians). Like the American baptists, they’re very ritualistic, speak in tongues, perform baptisms, and exorcize demons.

What’s so strange about the Mandeans is not any particular belief they have, but their history. They’re a throwback to a loosely organized group of monotheistic religions known as gnostics (actually, many would classify them as the last gnostic group still in existence, barring perhaps strange traditions carried over from whoever or whatever loosely inspired groups like the Masons). Gnosticism was all the rage in early Christian history, but most of its literature and followers were destroyed by the Catholic Church. The Mandeans don’t believe that Jesus Christ was their lord and savior. Actually, they believe Christ was something of a usurper of divine autority and perhaps even an evil demon. They believe themselves to be followers of John the Baptist, whom they see as their major prophet (kind of like Muhammed is to Islam).

According to an article on the BBC, the Mandeans are now trying to get out of Iraq. They’re going to slums in urban areas of neighboring countries. A small group already, there is fear that they may become extinct. This is yet one more toll of Bush’s moronic war.

The environment: taking small steps to ruin the atmosphere; Grassley doesn’t mind funding terrorists

“Moderate” Senator Grassley has something to say about ethonal imports. And other interests would hate to see the United States actually import cheap energy other than oil (“U.S. and Brazil Seek to Promote Ethanol in West,” New York Times, March 3, 2007):

In a letter to President Bush on Thursday, Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said he failed to understand “why the United States would consider spending U.S. taxpayer dollars to encourage new ethanol production in other countries.”

The proposed partnership, Mr. Grassley warned, could become a backdoor way for Brazil to escape the tariff on imported ethanol that currently insulates American producers.

Meanwhile, of course, we cap some our oil wells because we can’t cheap with cheap, cheap OPEC oil. The article continues:

The United States imposes a tariff of 54 cents a gallon on imported ethanol, but Caribbean nations and countries in the Central American Free Trade Agreement are exempt from those duties if they make the ethanol from products grown in their own countries. Using Brazilian technology for refining sugar-cane-based ethanol, such countries could in time become exporters to the United States.

In addition, Caribbean nations can export a limited amount of ethanol that comes indirectly from Brazil and other countries. Under the Caribbean Basin Initiative, which has been in force for years, countries can take partly processed ethanol from a country like Brazil and carry out the last step in processing before shipping it to the United States. But the region is allowed to export that kind of ethanol only up to a limit of 7 percent of United States’ ethanol consumption.

Last year, the United States imported about 600 million gallons of ethanol, and about 200 million gallons came indirectly from Brazil through the Caribbean, according to Robert Dineen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, a trade group that represents ethanol producers. The total imports of all kinds of ethanol amounted to slightly more than 10 percent of American consumption last year.

For the moment, American ethanol producers are watching warily but not protesting.

“I don’t believe the fundamental objective of the administration is to produce ethanol in the Caribbean for export to the United States,” Mr. Dineen said. But, he added, American companies will be watching to see if the initiative becomes “the camel’s nose under the tent.”

Really, why not? It sure as hell beats exporting petroleum from the Middle East. I’m not saying that because I think ethanol is going to be our savior. It actually seems to have very few benefits. But it is something.

It seems to me that if demand for ethanol actually grows to the point where it becomes a common component of fuels (face it, we probably can’t produce enough to make it our primary fuel), there might be enough demand to make every producer, foreign and domestic, happy—especially with subsidies we already offer American producers still in place.

It’s imperative that we reduce our dependence on petroleum products. Setting aside the environmental aspects of consuming gasoline, the fact remains that buying oil puts money into the coffers of terrorist governments like Saudi Arabia.

I’m by no means a fan of preserving the subsidized transportation and development of the American suburb, but at least this has the potential to reduce the damage wrought by cheap gasoline. I feel that we should do more to limit that damage that cars do to our cities, however.

One solution is better public transportation in urban areas, which allows for energy to be produced at a better scale than a small internal combustion motor, as well as move emissions away from densely populated areas (reducing that smog effect you see even in cities with good public transportation, such as New York).

Public transportation is itself admittedly a dangerous proposition. Despite the common belief that public transportation causes little or no damage to the environment, it indeed does when it’s not used effectively. Enter a case such as Washington, D.C., where the heavy rail rapid transit system allows workers to live ever further away from the central city. They may take the train into the city and reduce traffic congestion (it’s possible, but I’m not sure if I believe that either), but the fact of the matter is most of them probably go in for work. When they get home, they’re using their cars at least as much as they would at any other time. And if you imagine that some people who live in distant exurbs have to drive a long distance to get to a train station, you also have to figure many of them are living in places where they have to drive to get food, clothing, go out, go to church, visit friends, and do whatever other things exurbanites do. So in reality, not only is the public transportation idea a wash, but it’s very likely that people are venting more emissions because of public transportation in some cases.

Image information:

  • Image Information (smog in New York, 1988, from WikiPedia)
  • The second image I took after taking off from Los Angeles International Airport in January; some of the distortion probably comes from the plane window, but it’s a striking image of the smog in the L.A. metropolitan area.

Links:

  • David Owen wrote an interesting article in The New Yorker (“Green Manhattan,” PDF) on the positive effects of places like Manhattan on the environment, and also spoke about the D.C. transportation system and its effects on the environment.
  • From the Washington Post: “Around D.C., A Cheaper House May Cost You” (October 12, 2006)