Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lo! The conquering hero comes!

Fantasy versus reality

Last year I had occasion to travel to Pasadena for an education conference. Despite a busy schedule, I had a grace period after the Saturday afternoon sessions and made plans to stroll over to the Caltech campus. More than a decade had passed since my last visit to my alma mater. I was keenly anticipating the experience. Caltech is a curious mix of sights and structures: Millikan Library is a soaring city landmark; Beckman Auditorium is architect Edward Durrell Stone's fanciful Greek temple; the Olive Walk is the east-west axis of the campus, running from the Athenaeum faculty house to the old site of Throop Hall (demolished after incurring damage in the 1971 San Fernando Valley earthquake).

When I was originally at Caltech in the 1970s, the campus was split by San Pasqual Street and my classmates once amused themselves by painting an unauthorized crosswalk to make it more convenient to get to Booth, the computer science building. When I visited the school in the 1980s, the institution had succeeded in getting San Pasqual shut down between Holliston and Wilson Avenues, freeing the center of the campus from vehicular traffic. I knew from the alumni magazine that new buildings had continued to pop up as Caltech expanded its research programs and the facilities that housed them.

It was early in the winter quarter of 2008 when I arrived on the California Boulevard side of the campus, retracing a path I had often walked during my junior year. Some things never seem to change. As I strolled past Sloan Laboratory, where I had spent many happy (and unhappy) hours learning advanced calculus, abstract algebra, complex variables, and combinatorial analysis, I noticed that the old metal plate in the sidewalk was still there. I still don't know what is hidden underneath (which, I admit, shames me as a former Techer; perhaps it connects to the ancient and legendary steam tunnels), but I passed over it with the familiar clang I recalled from yesteryear and made my way to the student houses that flank the Olive Walk.

Suddenly things were different, but you had to get close enough to notice it. The student houses had undergone extensive renovation but the plans had called for preservation of the original architectural features. (The new fiber-optical cables and other technological enhancements were hidden and the building interiors had been restored after reconstruction and reinforcement.) In most respects, they looked the same. However, as one approached more closely, dramatic changes were revealed. It's the age of homeland security.

I was locked out. The big main doors were secure. I could not recall that they had ever been locked during my undergraduate years, but I was not certain. I was certain, however, that there had never been locked gates keeping one from the central courtyards. The formerly open archways were no longer open. The new gates were metal grills overlaying clear plastic panels. You couldn't even stick your hand between the bars. Electronic locks offered card-swipe access for those with appropriate IDs. I hovered tentatively, wondering what to do next.

The Fantasy

“May I help you, sir?”

I looked to see who had spoken. A young man with dark hair had come up behind me and asked the question.

“Hello,” I replied. “I was a member of this student house over thirty years ago and I'm a little surprised to see how everything is buttoned up these days.”

He favored me with a quizzical expression. It all seemed normal to him, of course.

“These gates are new,” I continued. “I wasn't expecting them.”

“I can let you in,” he offered. “Would you like to look around?”

He swiped his student ID card through the reader and held the gate open for me. I asked his name and learned he was Abih, a student from North Carolina. He escorted me into the lounge of the student house. The big fireplace and the old piano were still in place. The portrait of the house's namesake was sitting atop the mantle, awaiting the finishing touches of the remodeling that would rehang it in its customary place.

My presence attracted the curious attention of the resident students, who wondered what odd circumstance had caused them to be visited by a middle-aged man in coat and tie. My escort clarified matters: “We have a visiting alumnus. He was a member of this house.”

That piqued their interest a little, if only out of politeness.

“How long ago? What was going on at Tech back then?”

I played my best cards: “Well, when I was here they demolished Throop Hall, the cannon appeared on the Olive Walk, the ‘Impeach Nixon’ banner was unfurled on Millikan Library, and one of our alumni walked on the moon during finals week.”

Throop was not even a memory for the current crop of Techers and the Fleming House cannon was now a mundane and regular fixture of the Olive Walk, but the moon landing story was intriguing to this assembly of students for whom rocket science was simply another elective. They warmed to me.

“Why are you here today?”

“I'm in town for an education conference. I'm a math professor from up in northern California. Before that I used to work at the State Capitol as a legislative assistant.”

One of the Techers brightened: “There's a Tech graduate who blogs under the name of Zeno. Do you know him? He's a math prof and a former government worker, so you have a lot in common. Sometimes he mentions Caltech, which is why we know about him.”

“Yeah,” said another. “It pops up in my Google reader alerts whenever he does.”

I grinned. “I have to admit that I know him pretty well, since that's the name I use when blogging.”

By now the word had trickled out from the lounge and throughout the student house. They crowded in to check out the minor celebrity in their midst. A couple of hours later, my stock of ancient Caltech lore finally tapped out, I begged their indulgence and excused myself for the night. There was another conference session in the morning and it wouldn't do for me to stay up any later. Even as energized as I had become, all good things have their end. I thanked the current residents of my old student house for a delightful evening and faded away into the night.

The Reality

“May I help you, sir?”

I looked to see who had spoken. A young man with dark hair had come up behind me and asked the question.

“Hello,” I replied. “I was a member of this student house over thirty years ago. I'm a little surprised to see how everything is buttoned up these days.”

He favored me with a quizzical expression. It all seemed normal to him, of course.

“These gates are new,” I continued. “I wasn't expecting them.”

“I can let you in,” he offered. “Would you like to look around?”

He swiped his student ID card through the reader and held the gate open for me. I asked his name and learned he was Abih, a student from North Carolina. He escorted me to the lounge of the student house. The big fireplace and the old piano were still in place. The portrait of the house's namesake was sitting atop the mantle, awaiting the finishing touches of the remodeling that would rehang it in its customary place.

“Thanks for letting me in, Abih. It's nice to see the place again.”

“You're welcome. I'm on my way to meet friends, so I have to go, but you know your way around, right?”

“Sure. Thanks. I can let myself out.”

We shook hands and he hustled down the hallway. There was no one else around. I wandered about for a few minutes, taking in the familiar lounge, dining room, and courtyard. I had expected that at least a few students would be in residence even on a Saturday night, but perhaps the grinds were holed up in their rooms and the more sociable types had found activities to attend.

I decided to exit by the big wooden main doors, which swung ponderously open. The lock engaged noisily when I shut them behind me. My visit to my old student house had been very brief. I had plenty of time to roam the campus and take in some other sights. As I strolled down the Olive Walk, I considered how differently my visit might have turned out.

There were many possibilities.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

To have and to hold

What's mine is mine

My grandfather liked to think he ran a taut but happy ship, but he was still surprised to hear the tuneless whistling coming from behind the dairy barn. He circled the building to where he found Josezinho pitching hay into the manger of the calf pen. Josezinho noticed the presence of his boss and paused for a moment, leaning on the handle of his pitchfork.

Bom dia, patrão.”

Bom dia, Josezinho,” replied my grandfather. “You seem especially happy this morning.”

“Yes, patrão. I have good news. Very good news.”

Josezinho pulled a carefully folded letter out of the pocket of his jeans and passed it to his boss. It was postmarked the Azores, and it was from Josezinho's wife, who was awaiting her husband's return after he had made his stake in the United States. Forty years earlier my grandfather had faced a similar prospect, joining the stream of Azorean men who came to the U.S. to earn enough American dollars to return to the Portuguese islands as men of substance. In Grandpa's case, however, his wife had vetoed the idea of his going by himself. Grandma's insistence on accompanying her husband had transplanted the entire family to California, inadvertently setting the stage for their permanent residency in the U.S. Now my grandfather was one of the well-off American employers who could pay munificent wages to immigrant workers.

He unfolded the letter and scanned it quickly. For several seconds Grandpa was speechless. He looked back up at the smiling Josezinho with a puzzled expression on his face.

“You see why I am happy, patrão? I have a son!” Josezinho's grin broadened.

My grandfather cleared his throat.

“Yes, Josezinho. Yes. Your wife says she had a healthy little boy who is doing very well.”

“Yes, he is strong, like his father!”

Grandpa paused for a long painful moment.

“Josezinho— You must know— Uh, yes.” Grandpa took a deep breath and tried again. “Josezinho, you know how long you've been working for us.”

“Of course, patrão. I remember very well. It will be two years next month.”

My grandfather waited for Josezinho to grasp the nettle, but his hired hand was still beaming.

“But, Josezinho, you haven't been with your wife in almost two years. I'm very sorry, Josezinho, but there is no way that boy can be yours. How could you not see that?”

Josezinho stood up straight in his righteous wrath, took back his letter, and answered his boss emphatically.

“What do you mean, patrão? She is my wife! She had a son. That boy is mine! You see that calf right there?” Josezinho pointed at one of the young cows he had been feeding. “You call that your calf, don't you? Because its mother is your cow. Same thing. My wife has a son, so it is my son!”

Josezinho sniffed indignantly and took hold of his pitchfork again, stabbing it into a bale of hay and breaking it apart so that he could resume his feeding of the calves. My grandfather stood regarding his employee for a while longer and finally nodded his head.

“All right, Josezinho, all right. Thank you for explaining. Congratulations on your son.”

Somewhat mollified, Josezinho gave his boss a curt nod in acknowledgment and redoubled his hay pitching. Grandpa turned and walked away, waiting till he rounded the barn before shaking his head in bemusement.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Knock, knock

A classroom passion play

The door rattled on its hinges at the impact of the heavy blow. We jumped at our desks and our heads snapped around to stare wide-eyed at the classroom's back entrance. A second loud rap. A third. The knocking became louder and more rapid. Almost frantic.

Those of us who could tear our attention away from the door looked to our teacher. She seemed as startled as the rest of us, but as the only adult present it fell to her to respond. She worked her way through the crowded room and approached the back door. The pounding continued as she reached for the knob.

We were in a parochial school classroom, grades one through four jammed into a single room. Our parish was not big enough to support a full-scale Catholic school, but our priest was an ambitious man who had struggled to make our school a reality. Monsignor had done much of the construction himself and dragooned parishioners into volunteering their assistance. My family and I had spent many weekends contributing our time to the construction of the buildings. My dutiful parents had enrolled me despite the school's meager resources and suboptimal conditions. I was deemed resilient enough to survive the ordeal, but my siblings remained in the cozy cocoon of the public school.

The teacher turned the knob, the door burst open, and it was Monsignor who charged into the room. He pushed past the teacher and glowered at the assemblage of students, some of whom were trembling. We were not necessarily relieved that the manic door-pounder had turned out to be someone we knew. Monsignor was an intimidating principal.

“Why didn't you answer the door?” he demanded.

No one spoke.

“Didn't you hear me knock?”

All too well. We made no answer. Some of the first graders were hiding their faces. That wouldn't please Monsignor, but it was better than letting him see you cry.

“You know, it's customary to open a door when someone knocks. You could miss a special opportunity or an occasion of grace.”

Yes, we'd all seen the kitschy pictures of Jesus at the door. None of them appeared, however, to show our Savior pounding the portal like a psycho.

“What if it had been an emergency?”

It had certainly sounded like one.

“What if I had been running away from a maniac?”

Instead of just being one?

“What if he had had a knife? I could have been running away from a maniac with a knife! I could have been running for my life!”

Much as we wanted to. Right now.

“I could have been trapped on the other side of the door and unable to escape. I could be lying on the ground right now, bleeding to death from stab wounds, all because you didn't open the door!”

We savored the thought.

Monsignor moved toward the center of the room, having discharged his pent-up emotions and calming visibly. He was apparently satisfied that he had taken the opportunity to teach us an important life lesson. Evidently we were not to encourage knife-wielding maniacs to stalk our pastor or to abet their pursuit of him. I was still too young at the time to consider the possible nature of the demons that might be in pursuit of Monsignor. Our unhappy pastor languished in our tiny parish, his heavenly reach clearly exceeding his earthly grasp. He lived in a kind of purgatory.

He scanned the class in a leisurely fashion, taking in his pedagogical domain. One of his tentative smiles flitted across his lips. Pleasant expressions never lingered long, knowing where they were unwelcome, but Monsignor had made his shift into his avuncular mood. It was his best effort to embody the concept that “the principal is your pal” (as if the statement were something more than a simple spelling mnemonic).

“So what have you been learning today? What has Mrs. Roe taught you?”

It was an impossible question. There were four grades in one room. Our teacher circulated among us, priming each group with a lesson and then leaving us to scribble in our workbooks while moving on to the next. She was in constant motion, trying to keep us all occupied in much the same way that a juggler tries to keep all the balls in the air. We all had different answers for Monsignor, which was the same as having none. We all remained silent.

Monsignor's brow clouded as the silence lengthened. We were in danger of losing his relatively benevolent mood. I raised my hand. (One did not blurt out answers in Catholic school.) His eye lit upon me and his smile flickered back into unsteady existence like a guttering flame.

“Yes, Zenobius, can you tell me what you've been learning today?”

I don't know about other Catholic schools, but in ours there were no diminutives or nicknames. We had no Bills or Bobs or Kates, only Williams and Roberts and Catherines. And you had to have a saint's name, which Monsignor would insist on using. (Sorry, Courtney and Madison. No room for you at the inn.) Monsignor would not dream of calling me “Zee” if he could dredge up a suitable saint's name.

I stood up at my desk. You don't remain seated while addressing Monsignor.

“Yes, Monsignor. We were learning about the Bible.”

The priest smiled down at me. I was already one of his favorites, the little kiss-ass smarty-pants who was reading well above grade level and could spout the memorized Latin responses at mass like a seminarian. No doubt I was already marked down as a potential vocational recruit. My classmates were undoubtedly relieved that I had forestalled Monsignor's potential wrath, but it was equally certain that I was not their hero. It would be advisable for me to watch my back during recess.

“Very good, Zenobius. Very good. And could you recite the names of the books of the Bible for me?”

The school uniform for boys mandated salt-and-pepper corduroy pants for everyday wear. They had the significant advantage of concealing whether or not you had wet your pants. At that moment, I was suddenly on the verge of benefiting from that feature. It wasn't possible that Monsignor seriously expected me to know that. Genesis was the first one, but what came after? I was completely blank and completely horrified that Monsignor would put me on the spot like that. What cruel game was he playing?

It was a game, but I didn't know the rules. More to the point, Monsignor was playing the starring role in a movie that he had scripted in his head, but the supporting cast hadn't seen the script and we often failed to respond appropriately to our cues. It was one of the reasons that Monsignor's life was a series of disappointments, both minor and major. I was about to be another minor one.

“Um. I don't know, Monsignor.”

A look of mystifying disappointment crossed his face. How could he be surprised? I was utterly perplexed. No kid my age could be expected to remember all seventy-three books.

“The list begins with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy,” he patiently told me.

“Yes, Monsignor.”

“And then you say, ‘Please move over, Monsignor.’”

My confusion increased; but then, suiting his actions to his words, Monsignor stepped aside and I saw the names of the books of the Bible written on the chalkboard, right where Mrs. Roe had written them earlier in the week. The penny finally dropped. Or, more to the point, I glimpsed the page of Monsignor's mental script that included my cues. He had projected upon me his own sly cleverness and had composed a little comedy sketch in which I had failed to play my part. No doubt his disappointment in me was keen. I had not risen to the opportunity and had, in fact, completely forgotten what was on the board behind him. No doubt he had even positioned himself to block my view of it, setting up the entire scenario, but I insisted on missing my marks and my cues.

“Oh. Sorry, Monsignor.”

But he had already retreated into his cynical mode, probably berating himself for having expected anything from anybody, and waved his hand dismissively to indicate that I should sit back down. Monsignor looked around for our teacher, nodded his head at her, and then swept out of the classroom. I noticed that he exited by the front door. That made sense, especially since it was possible that a knife-wielding fanatic was lurking by the back door.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bush trimming

Conservation of negativity

A few people have felt compelled to point out to me that the Bush countdown clock in the right margin of my blog has served its purpose: “Hey Zeno, your Bush countdown is moot now.” Well, maybe. But I'm still enjoying it. I deliberately left it in place to see if it would decrement into negative numbers and was pleased to see that it did. While a negative influence has been removed from the White House, a negative factor now appears in the countdown clock. Negativity has been conserved!

And Bush's place in history is secure.

The clock won't last much longer. For now, though, it serves as a reminder every time I visit my blog that he really is gone. It's a nice feeling.

Goodbye and good riddance.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Four-letter word

Short words and small minds

Oh, oh. We are apparently in the grip of a tsarist resurgence. Had you noticed? The national media assures us that this is so. This is especially true of the petulant right-wing publications that are having trouble processing the fact that liberals triumphed in the last election. (Liberals! In a center-right nation!) But even the more moderate national press isn't exempt. Here's a sampler of examples:
President-elect Barack Obama is nearing an appointment of his “car czar” and appears to be focused on Steven Rattner, the financier with close connections to the Democratic Party, according to people briefed on the conversations. —New York Times, January 13, 2009

Role of Federal Tech Czar to Be Defined by Obama. —Washington Post, November 14, 2008

Sen. James M. Inhofe, ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, asked Nancy Sutley, Mr. Obama's pick for Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) chairman, whether she would be undermined by the new climate czar, Carol M. Browner. —Washington Times, January 19, 2009

Obama Era of 1,000 Czars Ushers in Caesar. —, November 14, 2008.

Too Many Czars? —Sacramento Union, January 22, 2009
It's scary, I tell you. The latest item, published in the Sacramento Union, is from the columnist Peter Hannaford, a relic of the Reagan years who has yet to come to terms with the 21st century (and apparently wasn't too crazy about the 20th either). As Hannaford puts it,
The Obama White House starts out with no fewer than eight “czars” (including at least two czarinas). There is one each for the economy, energy, health care, counter-terrorism, government performance, regulations, urban affairs and education.

All modern presidents have had staff specialists for various major topics. The National Security Council and Council of Economic Advisers have been with us for decades. The idea is to develop information and options for the president in various areas independent of the bureaucracies of the cabinet departments. A specialist, however, is one thing, a czar quite another.

The term “czar” implies that the person holding the title is supreme in his particular area, not only coordinating the work of various relevant agencies, but also determining priorities and conveying the president’s orders.
Yes, the term “czar” smacks of supreme arbitrary authority. Imagine the effrontery, the nerve, the cheek of the Obama administration to so lightly assume the trappings of totalitarianism!


It didn't.

Go ahead and check the White House website. In fact, try searching it with Google (now that President Obama has revoked the Bush blockade on search-engine indexing of on-line executive branch information). Use “czar” to see what you get.

Nothing, basically. All the hits are from the Bush administration. Nothing from the new Obama administration, despite the new president's supposed fondness for creating positions for a new horde of little despots and using titles from the days of imperial Russia.

Carol Browner, the energy (or climate) czar? She's actually Obama's “energy coordinator,” although Time magazine headlined her appointment as “Energy Czar: Carol Browner.”

Cass Sunstein? The president has appointed him as chief administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the executive branch's Office of Management and Budget. The Chicago Tribune, however, heralds Sunstein's nomination with “Left not sold on Obama's regulation czar pick.”

I think I gave the game away with that one, right? Sunstein's real title is just too long. The Tribune's headline writer would be hard pressed to fit “head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs” into the space allowed for an article heading. Even “OIRA administrator” would be a challenge, but hardly anyone would understand it.

There are only two reasons that “czar” is the word of the moment:
  1. It's short, fitting into headlines and serving as a convenient synonym for much lengthier titles. It's not perfect, but convenience rules the press in circumstances like these.
  2. Right-wing commentators have so little to work with these days that they seize upon anything as a basis for their fulminations. After eight years of autocratic rule by their boy George, they need a way to project the hubris of the past onto the new occupant of the White House.
Reason (1) I fully understand, especially in print media, but I decry its casual use in broadcast media and don't see why newspapers insist on using it in the main body of their articles (as opposed to headlines). Laziness and convenience are not difficult to understand.

Reason (2) I also understand, but for those wingnut propagandists I have no patience. They are spinning as hard as they can, trying to whip something out of nothing. (It ought to work. They turned a transplanted Texas lackwits into a president.) For them I have a four-letter word other than “czar”:

Forget you!

Darn. I think I misspelled it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The lidless eye

Evil stalks us

An unsleeping malice has crept up from the Dark South and lain in wait for me. Today it pounced. I was minding my own business, tending to the fuel requirements of my vehicle, when the gas pump came to electronic life and began to bombard me with commercial advertisements. Yes, a northern California Shell station had become infested with TV ads, with small televisions blaring out commercials from atop each pump. It was a nightmare come true.

The ads were interspersed with public-service announcements, offering me advice about road conditions. I guess that's supposed to make it all okay. Then the screen flashed an in-house ad for PumpTop TV, extolling the benefits of shoving advertising into yet a another new venue. (Yesterday, the inside surfaces of restroom stalls; today, the tops of gasoline pumps; tomorrow, the world!) The purveyors of this new intrusion into our lives are not shy when it comes to bragging about their intentions:
PumpTop TV is a premier Out-of-Home Digital Media network that delivers current news, entertainment and advertising to millions of drivers as they fuel their vehicles at the gas pump. Daylight-viewable LCD screens mounted at eye level on top of gasoline pumps at select, high-volume gas stations provide a broadcast television-like experience (video and audio) to a desirable, captive audience out of the home.
Yeah, “captive audience.” They actually say it.

Damn them.

Apparently this new venture has been building for a couple of years. Westinghouse brags that their equipment is now installed in some 700 service stations. The invasion apparently began in Los Angeles in the first half of 2007. I was blissfully unaware of its gradual encroachment on northern California until the ads began to blare at me.

I will not go to that gas station again, but I fear I am fighting a doomed rear-guard action. The soulsuckers are here.

I'm too mild-mannered to use the hammer from the toolbox in the trunk of my car, but I can think of some nice new applications for contact paper.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Snubbing Sully

Credit where it's due

The editorial cartoonist for the McClatchy newspapers decided this weekend to honor the hero of the New York City airliner crash. You might be thinking that Rex Babin chose to sing the praises of Chesley Sullenberger, the veteran pilot who lives here in California and whose cool-headed response to the air-borne emergency resulted in the survival of his plane's entire crew and all of its passengers.

Nope. Babin says God did it.

Now if only God had chosen to be more helpful during other plane crashes. The ones in which he let people die. But I guess he was busy.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I beg your pardon?

Will Obama be 45?

Everyone is anticipating the swearing-in on Tuesday of Barack Obama as our 44th president. Three years ago, however, I considered the possibility that the person sworn in on January 20, 2009, would actually be our 45th. In speculating about the future, I hit some marks (Pelosi is speaker; Bush is hugely unpopular) and missed others (the Senate does not have a 50-50 split; the House did not aggressively investigate the Bush administration; Al Gore was not the Democratic candidate), but there are some things we may never know.

What if George Bush and Dick Cheney decided it would be good, as a precaution, to immunize themselves from criminal prosecution? You can read my original 2006 post for the entire scenario, but here are the key paragraphs:
The president had hoped that someone would say something uplifting on the occasion of his last day in office, but his guests were all business. It would have been difficult in any case to offer the customary platitudes about missions accomplished or goals achieved. The nation was eager to see him gone and his approval numbers had long languished in the low twenties, rivaling Nixon's just before his resignation. The disastrous 2006 elections had saddled him with a Democratic House of Representatives and nonstop congressional hearings on executive branch corruption had taken a toll. Articles of impeachment had not been voted, but scores of Bush administration officials had scrambled to secure immunity in return for their testimony. The American people seemed simultaneously disgusted and fascinated by the spectacle. The president had been disappointed in his hopes that they would soon be sated and lose interest. Instead the voters had decided that the 2006 results were a half-measure. They had used the 2008 election to increase Speaker Pelosi's margin in the House and broken the tie in the Senate, making Harry Reid the majority leader. Both the Democratic and Republican nominees for president had campaigned against the incumbent, the latter only slightly less overtly than the former.

The secretary of state was carrying a slender portfolio. She slipped a single sheet of paper out of it, stiff bond paper carrying the White House letterhead, and placed it on the desk before the president. He took up a pen and quickly signed it. “Here you go, Dick.”

“Thank you, Mr. President.” The vice president accepted the proffered sheet of paper, folded it carefully, and slipped it into the inside pocket of his coat. The secretary of state pulled another sheet of paper from her portfolio and placed it before the president. George Bush stared at it for several seconds, then wielded his pen again.

“Thank you, Mr. President,” said the secretary of state, suddenly keenly aware that it was now just a courtesy title. She carefully placed the resignation letter back into her portfolio. Mrs. Cheney began to rummage in her large handbag and pulled out a Bible. With impeccable timing, a muffled rap on the door accompanied the entrance of Mr. Alito, the junior associate justice of the Supreme Court. The Court was precariously split down the middle and the president had been unable to fill the Stevens vacancy because the emboldened Democrats in the U.S. Senate had blocked his nominee. The Democratic president-elect would begin his term of office with a crucial Supreme Court appointment.

President No. 44

Justice Alito was wearing a business suit rather than judicial robes. He greeted the occupants of the Oval Office and they quickly arranged themselves, Cheney with his right hand lifted, his left hand on the Bible in his wife's hands, and Bush and Rice to one side. “Please repeat after me. I, Richard Cheney, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The former vice president echoed the justice's words, ending his recitation with an emphatic, “So help me God!” The words were a traditional coda to the presidential oath of office, but they were not actually in the U.S. Constitution.

“Congratulations, Mr. President,” said Justice Alito, shaking Cheney's hand. The new president exchanged a quick kiss with the new first lady and then shook hands with his immediate predecessor and the secretary of state. “Okay,” he said. “Let's finish this.”

Secretary Rice dipped into her portfolio again. In addition to the presidential resignation letter, it contained her own previously signed presidential pardon and one other sheet of White House stationery. She placed it on the desk and President Cheney signed it. He handed the document to Bush, who stared at it until Rice suggested she take care of it for him. He gratefully handed his own presidential pardon to the secretary of state.

“Of course, it's not like we are really going to need that,” he said, trying to make light of it.

“It doesn't hurt to be safe, George,” said President Cheney. The former president's eyes widened at the use of his first name and he flinched as if struck. Bush opened his mouth as if to speak, then closed it again.
Think it couldn't happen? It all depends on Dick, doesn't it?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

No longer with stupid

Going ... going ... gone!

The days dwindle down to a precious few and George W. Bush is nearly out the door. He and his remaining handful of die-hard supporters are spinning like dervishes in their efforts to salvage some shreds of historical respectability for him. It's not easy defending the James A. Buchanan Lifetime Achievement Award for Lousy Presidents. His accomplishments are all like the “most improved” awards they give to lousy high school athletes who no longer mess themselves while on the playing field:

For example, George W. Bush kept us safe (if you don't count 9/11). George Bush made sure Iraq would not have weapons of mass destruction (but found out that they didn't have any). He overhauled the leadership of FEMA (after his original appointees completely screwed up during the Katrina crisis).

What is an unrepentant Bush lover to do with a record like that? It's a difficult task, but Melanie Morgan is eager to give it a try. She lost her talk-show position at KSFO last year, but she still has an outlet for her right-wing opinions at WorldNetDaily. She writes the Hot Talk column (which is an amusing rip-off of KSFO's “Hot Talk 560” slogan). Her January 9 post was a tongue-in-cheek welcome to the new president and a wistful farewell to the departing incumbent:
Ever since Bill Clinton left office—and left the stained blue dress behind – I began reading celebrity gossip magazines for entertainment. I love the tawdry talk, which has been in low supply with the Bush administration.

Let's face it: The Bushes are downright boring. No interns.
Yeah. Boring Bushes. No scandals at all.
So, even though the Bush administration has kept us safe from terrorist attacks since 9/11, I have to admit I love the excitement of the Chicago mob's takeover of the White House. President-elect Barack Obama is rebuilding the Arkansas mafia before our eyes and, just to up the ante, he's giving the keys to the White House to the Chicago Political Machine.

Even before Mrs. Obama decorates the living quarters, scandal is following Obama like stink on a dead skunk.
Good old Melanie. Still nasty after all these years.

I can think of a better way to mark the occasion of Bush's departure. It's time to listen to the tribute composed by the Pet Shop Boys for former British prime minister Tony Blair. I'm with Stupid celebrates the political love affair between the leaders of the U.S. and the U.K. Despite being a man of the moderate left, Blair cozied up to George Bush to such a degree that he was widely dismissed in his own country as Bush's poodle or lap dog. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe clearly agreed. Now that Stupid is departing, we can enjoy the Pet Shop Boys' song with a smile instead of a grimace.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Carnival time!

Starting the new year right left!

The liberals are taking over the United States government this month and wouldn't you know it? We're just giddy about it! And we're celebrating, too. A new installment of the Carnival of the Liberals (#82) has just been unveiled at Accidental Blogger. Go check it out! And while you're there, don't forget to notice that yours truly has a recent post in the list of delightfully left-of-center articles. Of course, I'm sure you've already read it.

Maybe I should send the link to my right-wing father. I'm sure he'd get quite a thrill from the new Carnival of the Liberals. It would shake his world (view).

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Darwin anti-celebration

They have Answers

Under the selective pressure of the great Year of Darwin, creationists are scrambling to adapt and survive. Answers in Genesis has long pretended to be an educational organization. The first issue of AiG's Answers magazine for 2009 is devoted to “teaching” antievolutionists to withstand the thousand natural shocks they will be subject to while the world celebrates the anniversaries of Charles Darwin (his bicentennial) and The Origin of Species (its sesquicentennial).

Darwin himself peers out at us from the cover of Answers (in the form of a detail from the famous John Collier portrait. Inside the magazine, on p. 6, publisher Dale Mason uncaps his pen to scribble a few thoughts under the title “Year of Darwin Opportunity.” Cute.
You see, 2009 is a huge year for evolutionists. They’ve been preparing for it with all the excitement and energy of Beijing’s Olympic committee. Dubbed “the year of Darwin,” 2009 marks Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his infamous book On the Origin of Species.
Ah, yes, that “infamous” book. Mason can't simply admit that it is one of the greatest works of science of all time. It has to be infamous.
This new year may herald the greatest mockery of the Bible since the Scopes trial “media circus” of 1925. With the world now swimming in anti-God propaganda, the stage is set for evolution to be promoted as never before.

PBS, NPR, BBC, National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, tax-funded schools, nearly every natural history museum, and hundreds of secular periodicals—all these and more are poised to idolize this man, Darwin, whose worldview totally rejects the God of the Bible. The combined dollar value of their campaign to further Darwin’s ideas is staggering.
Actually, I expect there to be rather little mockery of the Bible. I do, however, anticipate quite a bit of mockery of Bible literalists like the pseudoscientists at Answers in Genesis.
Now, it’s late at night, and I have the proofs for this issue laid out before me on my kitchen table. Knowing all the behind-the-scenes obstacles that have nearly derailed this issue, I’m especially delighted with what God has done!
As anyone who has ever published a magazine knows, it takes divine intervention to get it in print. (So how does Skeptical Inquirer ever get done?)
The articles for the special Darwin section contain intriguing stories and facts that set the story straight. Most of us have never heard the real story.

As parents, educators, and influencers within our churches and communities, we all need to read and share the Bible-upholding, God-honoring truths of this issue. Each article is designed to give you the tools necessary to repel the onslaught of misinformation that you are about to experience.

Friend, if “good people [you] do nothing,” 2009 will very likely be a banner year in the recruitment of new believers in the evolution myth.
Did you get that, folks? Mason exhorts “good people” to do things in 2009, which I take to mean he wants creationists to get active. You and I and the rest of the sanely scientific population are therefore not “good.” There you have it: Evolutionists are bad people. I knew it all along!
But there is no limit to what God can do to rescue the misinformed, and revive the faith of Christians who have bought into the idea that compromise is an appropriate response.

Compromise on God’s Word was Darwin’s response. And look where that led us.
Yes. Look where Darwin led us. Let us praise and honor him.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ex Post Factor

Too much, too late

Some of my students never quite go away. This can be a good thing, such as when those students become friends whose company and communications you enjoy. A couple of my best friends are former students from several years ago. Then there are the others. The ones who excel in the long goodbye.

Please go away.

One of my calculus students from last semester cannot seem to let go. In his case, a pratfall on the final exam resulted in his getting a C in the class. Before that, a B had been well in hand. (His position would have been even stronger had he shown more of his work. I had to break him of the habit of just writing down calculator answers for definite integrals.)

He was understandably dismayed when grades were posted and he discovered that his D− on the final exam had dragged him down to a C+.

And then we became pen-pals. His first message was posted the day after Christmas:
From: *joe* *jack*
Sent: Friday, December 26, 2008 9:52 PM
To: Dr. Z
Subject: Cumulative Gradesheet

Would it be possible for you to send out the cumulative gradesheet, with our final, so we may double check our grades again?

Joe Jack
But I had already e-mailed everyone the semester results, complete with final exam scores. The request puzzled me, but it was simpler to respond directly rather than ask what he meant.
From: "Dr. Z"
To: "Joe Jack"
Subject: RE: Cumulative Gradesheet (Engr Calc)
Date: Fri, 26 Dec 2008 22:06:09

Hi, Joe. I did send out the cumulative grade sheet, complete with a separate column for your final exam score. It should have popped into your campus e-mail last Saturday. In case you didn't get it, I also posted it on my course web site. Click here.


Zeno Ferox
LCC Math Dept
It turned out that Joe hadn't meant the cumulative grade-sheet after all. He explained that he actually wanted to see the spreadsheet printout that I had posted in the classroom during the last week of class. It contained every score recorded in my gradebook. Each student could find the row of data labeled with his or her student ID number and ascertain that I had recorded all the points to which they were entitled. But Joe hadn't really bothered.
From: *joe* *jack*
Sent: Saturday, December 27, 2008 5:27 AM
To: Dr. Z
Subject: RE: Cumulative Gradesheet (Engr Calc)

Yes I did get the one, I meant the one with each individual score for each quiz, HW, exam and so on. I'm so close to a B (79.5%) that I want to double check everything to see if there might have been a slight error that would move me up that 0.5 %.

I chided him gently.
From: "Dr. Z"
To: "Joe Jack"
Subject: RE: Cumulative Gradesheet (Engr Calc)
Date: Sat, 27 Dec 2008 12:26:37

Okay, Joe, now I understand. It would have been so much better if you had bothered to check it while I had it posted on the classroom wall during the last week of the semester (and before I filed the grades). Nevertheless, I won't deny one of my students to opportunity to do some double-checking, even if it's after the fact. The raw-score file is attached. You'll need to find about 20 missing points in the homework & quiz scores to raise you up to 80.0 and I don't think that is at all likely. But let me know if you discover anything. Keep in mind that I don't simply "round up" scores to give students a higher course grade when the final exam grade is so much lower. You actually have to find points that I forgot to record or entered incorrectly.


Zeno Ferox
LCC Math Dept
Joe admitted he hadn't bothered to check before. Not really.
From: *joe* *jack*
Sent: Saturday, December 27, 2008 6:29 PM
To: Dr. Z
Subject: RE: Cumulative Gradesheet (Engr Calc)

I did check that one on the wall but it was more of a scan to see if it all looked decent. Sorry.

But I was in a charitable mood. (Not enough to give him a higher grade, but enough to forgive him his youthful fecklessness.)
From: "Dr. Z"
To: "Joe Jack"
Subject: RE: Cumulative Gradesheet (Engr Calc)
Date: Sat, 27 Dec 2008 21:45:36

No need to apologize, Joe. I can't blame you for wanting to check and double-check.


Zeno Ferox
LCC Math Dept
I assumed that our correspondence was over. Days passed with no further missives from Joe Jack. Then, two weeks after his last e-mail, Joe struck again. This time, finally, he had something. Good for him! Unfortunately, it wasn't much. I had indeed omitted one of his scores—and he hadn't bothered to take an earlier opportunity to correct it.
From: *joe* *jack*
Sent: Saturday, January 10, 2009 11:42 PM
To: Dr. Z
Subject: RE: Cumulative Gradesheet (Engr Calc)

I did find one error on Q34, I have a 8/10 and it's blank on your grade sheet. I was looking back through the syllabus to see if you had listed how you weigh HW, Quizzes, Exams, and the Final but I did not see it. I don't know if you would mind but could you tell me how you set that up so I can do the math myself please? I'll need to know the grade I got on the final too so I can compute it.

Thank you,
Joe Jack
Not encouraging. He hadn't found many points and he didn't know how to read the syllabus. And he had forgotten his final exam score again. I think I see the source of his problem. It was part of the same pattern. Why didn't he put in this much effort before the end of the semester?
From: "Dr. Z"
To: "Joe Jack"
Subject: RE: Cumulative Gradesheet (Engr Calc)
Date: Sun, 11 Jan 2009 00:11:39

Thanks for the information about Q34, Joe. I think that was the one that I handed back before I remembered to record the grades and had people bring them back in to me. I did not notice that you had not done that. I'll add it into my gradebook for the sake of completeness, but it won't change your overall score significantly since it's only one out of forty quiz scores and quizzes have such a low weight in grades.

The syllabus does contain the weights. It's on the first page in the Grading section: 65% for exams, 20% for the final, and 15% for everything else (quizzes, homework, etc). As for your grade on the final exam, it was included in the grade report that I sent out to everyone: 63%.


Zeno Ferox
LCC Math Dept
Joe wrote me back the next day.
From: Joe Jack
To: Dr. Z
Date: Sun, 11 Jan 2009 08:20:01
Subject: RE: Cumulative Gradesheet (Engr Calc)

Thank you for all the information, the math looks correct.

Damn right it's correct.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Moving the goalposts

But it's still the same game

Joe Soucheray needs my help and cries out for my assistance in an opinion piece published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press:
What we need is a margin of victory that is mathematically bulletproof, not one-half of 1 percent. I don't know what that margin is, but a mathematician could come up with it based on vote totals.
As a civic-minded mathematician, I hasten to answer his call. Joe probably won't appreciate it, though, since my response boils down to little more than, “Wow, Joe, you sure are a dumb-ass, aren't you?” Under those circumstances, it's easy to see how he might think I'm not being very helpful.

I just said “he might think.” Now that, you see, would have made a difference. Soucheray believes that the hassle in the Minnesota senate race could have been resolved by setting a new standard for victory.

Nonsense. And you don't have to be a mathematical genius like me to realize that. You just need to give it a tiny bit of thought. Soucheray didn't:
Out of 2.9 million votes cast, there would have to be a margin of victory that could not be automatically challenged as questionable. One vote below that number would call for the coin flip—yes, a coin flip.
Now that is just dumb-squared. Not the bit about the coin flip. That's a perfectly respectable way to break a tie. It's Joe's comment about “one vote below.” Freaking hilarious. Can you imagine the hassles and lawsuits every time the results teeter on the boundary of Soucheray's new margin-of-victory standard? It doesn't matter how many wise mathematicians and statisticians choose the new standard. Any time you put a dot on a number line, the question arises whether you're on one side or the other. It makes no difference whether the standard is “more votes than the guy in second place” or “a margin of at least one percentage point,” the tally will be disputed and adjudicated every time it's close.

You can't fix this problem any better than Minnesota already did. A bipartisan panel looked at each disputed ballot that made it through the process (some, of course, were disqualified at earlier stages and a batch of those are under litigation) and voted, usually unanimously, to allocate the vote to Franken, Coleman, or neither. The whole thing played out on live video, complete with images of each questioned ballot. You can't improve on that a great deal.

It doesn't matter whether you're trying to determine who won a simple plurality (as in the current Minnesota contretemps) or if some arbitrary margin of victory was achieved. In the end it comes down to counting individual ballots and trying to figure out what side of the line you're on.

Even the proposal for a run-off election suffers from the same potential problem. Saxby Chambliss thought on election night that he had avoided a run-off in the Georgia senate race. He later found out that he had not quite won an outright majority and had to face the Democratic nominee in a second round of balloting before he secured re-election. If the margin in the first round of voting had been within one or two votes, you can be sure that Sen. Chambliss would have been in court seeking to declare himself the majority-vote victor who did not need to risk a second ballot.

The notion that some new definition of victory will solve all of our problems is a delusion on the part of Joe the Columnist. It is, frankly, quite illogical.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

I see the light

You get out what
you put into it

FightingAtheist posted a helpful video on YouTube so that theists could understand what it would take to turn him into a believer. FA suggested that a fulfilled prediction could fill the bill, supposing that the prediction had sufficient specificity to demonstrate genuine knowledge of the future and wasn't trivial in nature. He also observed it would have been impressive if Jesus had tipped off his disciples to the theory of relativity and Einstein's equation for mass-energy equivalence:
Just think, what if Jesus had said something like this? “My disciples, I say unto thee that energy is mass times the speed of light multiplied unto itself.”
Yes, that would have been a killer item to embed in the Bible and way better than most of the stuff you find there. I also agree with FightingAtheist that it would have made the Bible a much more credible tome. If Scriptures were that scientific, a lot of us would have to line up behind FightingAtheist to be inducted into the ranks of the believers.

Unfortunately, however, the Bible is more famous for things like the implication that pi might be 3 or that crickets have four legs. The Bible is not a work of science.

Or is it?

FightingAtheist challenged his theistic viewers to post videos explaining what it would take to change their minds about God and turn them into atheists. Some of the respondents, however, preferred to try to convert FA instead and prove to him the existence of their supreme deity. (No doubt FA could have predicted this without requiring any miraculous foreknowledge of the future.) I was especially taken by the rebuttal posted by h20Enthusiast, aficionado of quack energy schemes, Christianity, and 9/11 conspiracy theories. It is h20's contention that the Bible is a book of science. The Bible clearly identifies—with astonishing accuracy—the value of the speed of light. He can prove it mathematically!

Of course, you have to do a little work to winkle it out, because it's not like Jesus simply says, “Verily I say unto you, but light traveleth as many cubits in a day as the number of weeks in a year multiplied unto itself eight-fold. That's a lot, bitches.” (There are 52.177 weeks in a year and (52.177)8 = 5.49 × 1013, which equals a light-day for a cubit of slightly less than half a meter—which by most accounts it was in the time of Christ. It would certainly have been in the ballpark.) h20 says it's more subtle than that.

You can (and should, but with the sound turned down) watch h20's video for the full impact of his reasoning (try not to be offended by his obligatory use of “Fools say there is no GOD” and “ATHEISTS are FOOLS”), but here's a summary of his delightful argument:

The second epistle of Peter, in chapter 3, verse 8, says, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” It's obvious, of course, that 2 Peter 3:8 is referring to time dilation, right? How fast does one have to be traveling in order to achieve a time dilation where one day in the traveler's frame of reference equals a thousand years in the rest frame? It's simple algebra, right?

Hmm. It looks like we're about to subtract a number very close to zero from 1, leaving a number very close to one (just a tiny bit smaller, of course). Which means that we're about to discover that v, the speed of travel, is awfully goshdarn close to c, the speed of light. (But just a tiny bit smaller. Big surprise.) In fact, we get v = 0.999999999996c. To the utter amazement of h20Enthusiast, however, when he plugs in 299,792,458 m/s for c, he gets v = 299,792,457.999, plus some loose change and a bunch of exclamation points. (He's very good about showing all of his decimal places, less good in his prose style.)

h20Enthusiast finds the results compelling, astonishing, and thoroughly gratifying. You see, God encoded the speed of light into the Bible. Yes, indeed. You can tell, because when you apply Einstein's theory of relativity, which says that extreme time dilation occurs near the speed of light, and demand extreme time dilation equating 1 day to a thousand years, you get a velocity very near the speed of light. Awesome. And when you plug in a long decimal expression for the speed of light, you get it back!

Amen. And try not to laugh.


h20Enthusiast may be pleased that his YouTube video went from 60 viewings to 300 in less than half a day after I cited it here (and drew a crowd of visitors from Pharyngula). He seems less pleased that his argument (which he attributes as original to xRevelator) is regarded as unpersuasive. He's posted some responses to the comments on the YouTube page for his video:
h20Enthusiast (1 hour ago)

I do understand your objection.... it doesn't look like evidence to you ... I get it.

h20Enthusiast (1 hour ago)

im implying the AUTHOR also CREATED the speed of light.

sorry if that doesn't fit inside your head.
Actually, it fits inside my head just fine. Perfectly comfortably. Vacuous statements don't take up much space.


h20Enthusiast quickly grew tired of being assaulted by atheist hordes (or so it appears) and made his video private. Although I captured the key items in this post (and you can see other details at Good Math, Bad Math, the entire content of h20's video is essentially a video transcript (with a few anti-atheist insults sprinkled in) of xRevelator's screed on his YouTube page, which you can check out in its original form here. Or just pore over the following rant, where I quote xRevelator's statement in extenso for your edification:

Why do I believe in God? I am a scientific person and everything should be weighed carefully by facts and evidences. No compromises.

The verse that peaked my interest is this one:

Peter 3:8 NIV

"But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day."

One might ask, how can a day be a thousand years and a thousand years be a day? This sounds rather absurd. But, using scientific knowledge, the absurd becomes logical.

It is called Einstein's Theory of Relativity - Time Dilation.

Here is a mathematical explanation:

Say, if a spaceship traveling at 80% the speed of light for 1 hour, how much time has passed by relative to Earth?

Δt' = γ Δt
. . = Δt / √( 1 - v² / c² )
. . = ( 1 hr ) / √( 1 - ( 0.8c )² / c² )
. . = 1 hr / √( 1 - 0.64 )
. . = 1 hr / 0.6
. . = 1.667 hr

The earth experiences 1.667 hours.

Therefore, the spaceship is effectively traveling to the future as 1 hour on the spaceship traveling at 80% the speed of light equals 1.667 hours on Earth.

Reading the verse again (Peter 3:8), how fast is the Lord traveling so that a thousand years on Earth is like a day with Him?


1000 years=1day/√(1-v²/299,792,458² )
365250 days x √(1-v²/299,792,458² )=1 day
133407562500 x (1-v² / 89875517873681764) = 1
133407562500-133407562500v²/89 875517873681764=1
-33407562500v²/898755178736817 64=-133407562499
-33407562500v²= -11990073767863191518066568236
v²=89875517873008072.672541095 531972
v=299792457.998876403809564537 24992

The answer is 299,792,457.998876403809564537 24992 m/s. The speed of light is exactly 299,792,458 m/s. It strangely yields a resultant of 99.999999999625% of the speed of light. This is truly baffling.

We should take note of the strange accuracy of the verse. It could result to any random number, but what is truly baffling is that it registers a resulting answer digit for digit accuracy of the speed light except for the last digit before the decimal.

The answer obviously should be less than the speed of light because time will cease to exist at infinity at the speed of light.

The Bible has clearly demonstrated by this simple verse on its precise accuracy of scientific facts way beyond its time. The first quantitative estimate of the speed of light was only made in 1676 by Ole Christensen Rømer and Time Dilation by Einstein only in 1905.

How is it possible that the ancient Bible holds hidden knowledge of time dilation and the speed of light? This is quite strange which offers no logical explanation.

Either we dismiss this as mere coincidence or we accept the Bible as a book of truth.

This is no longer a matter of belief, but rather a matter of accepting reality.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Conservapedia versus reality

Reality is winning

The well-known liberal bias of reality seriously irks conservatives. They have responded by declaring that they make their own reality, but that didn't pan out too well. They have worked to build an alternative universe where Fox News is the voice of truth and the GOP is God's Own Party. Conservapedia is part of that alternative universe, the conservative counterpart to Wikipedia.

Conservapedia first came to my attention when its founder Andy Schlafly (yes, the spawn of Phyllis) appointed himself a peer for purposes of peer-reviewing a scientific research paper on E. coli mutation. Aschlafly (as he unselfconsciously styles himself on the Conservapedia site) demanded that Richard Lenski “post the data supporting your remarkable claims so that we can review it.” (Schlafly is the holder of a B.S.E. and a J.D., which he proudly appends to his name, so he's more than qualified to evaluate research in biology.) There followed an exchange between Lenski and Schlafly in which Lenski thoroughly eviscerated Schlafly, and even dangled the guts in Schlafly's face, but Schlafly never seemed to grasp the offal truth. The one-sided fight was followed with much amusement by several blogs, including Pharyngula, which is where I learned what was going on.

Since then I have always been able to count on Conservapedia as an infallible source of comic relief. It's actually difficult sometimes to remember that Schlafly and his minions are in dead earnest. The Conservapedians take themselves very seriously, which is probably one of the reasons Aschlafly mistook himself for a scientist.

Now Schlafly turns out to be The Shadow, who knows what lurks in the hearts of men. In particular, Schlafly knows that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Probably, anyway. The likelihood is so high, at least in Schlafly's opinion, that he insists on including his speculation in the Conservapedia entry for the next president of the United States. You'll have to risk going to Conservapedia itself if you want to track down all of the references yourself. I didn't preserve the links in the following excerpt. I did, however, stick in a bunch of comments, which you'll find embedded in braces:
Obama will likely be the first Muslim President

The argument that Obama is a Muslim is largely based on his Islamic background. It also includes:
  • Obama's background, education, and outlook are Muslim, and fewer than 1% of Muslims convert to Christianity.[26][27] {Notice how Aschlafly assumes that Obama at least used to be a Muslim, because otherwise the argument about the paucity of conversions is inane.}
  • Obama's middle name (Hussein) references Husayn, who was the grandson of Muhammad,[28] which most Christians would not retain.[29] {On what basis does Aschlafly think that it's common for Christians to change their names to remove non-Christian antecedents?}
  • Obama recently mentioned his religion as “my Muslim faith.”[30] {Aschlafly pretends not to know that Obama was referring rhetorically to McCain's welcome refusal to insinuate that he was a secret adherent of Islam.}
  • Obama said the Muslim call to prayer is “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset,” and recited “with a first-class Arabic accent” the opening lines: Allah is Supreme! ... I witness that there is no god but Allah ....”[31] {I think Handel's Messiah is wonderful, but that doesn't make me a Christian.}
  • Obama stated that the autobiography of Malcolm X, a Nation of Islam leader who became a Muslim, inspired him in his youth.[32] {Damn, but this one is weak! I once read Moby Dick, but I'm not a whaler.}
  • Obama raised nearly $1 million and campaigned for a Kenyan presidential candidate who had a written agreement with Muslim leaders promising to convert Kenya to an Islamic state that bans Christianity.[33] {The citation is to WorldNetDaily, so that tells you all you need to know about their credibility.}
  • Obama's claims of conversion to Christianity arose after he became politically ambitious, lacking a date of conversion or baptism.[34] {This is actually good, because it means Obama isn't one of those who prattle on about the date of their “second birth.”}
  • On the campaign trail, Obama was reading “The Post-American World” by Fareed Zakaria,[35] which is written from a Muslim point-of-view.[36] {Shocker! That Fareed is such an Islamic militant!}
  • Contrary to Christianity, the Islamic doctrine of taqiyya encourages adherents to deny they are Muslim if it advances the cause of Islam. {Yeah, so?}
  • Obama uses the Muslim Pakistani pronunciation for “Pakistan” rather than the common American one.[37] {This may prove that Obama isn't really an American, since we can't pronounce foreign names!}
  • Obama was thoroughly exposed to Christianity as an adult in Chicago prior to attending law school, yet no one at law school saw him display any interest in converting. Obama unabashedly explained how he became “churched” in a 2007 speech: “It's around that time [while working as an organizer for the Developing Communities Project (DCP) of the Calumet Community Religious Conference (CCRC) in Chicago][38] that some pastors I was working with came around and asked if I was a member of a church. ‘If you're organizing churches,’ they said, ‘it might be helpful if you went to a church once in a while.’ And I thought, ‘I guess that makes sense.’” {Law school is one of the best places to convert to Christianity, right? Why wait till pastors recruit you when you could fellowship with law professors?}
  • Obama is mentioned as helping to organize the 1995 million man march led by black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan from the Nation of Islam. [39] {Obama attended the march but criticized the organizers in an interview with a Chicago newspaper. Was he criticizing himself?}
  • Obama has chosen the Secret Service code name “Renegade”. “Renegade” conventionally describes someone who goes against normal conventions of behavior, but its first usage was to describe someone who has turned from their religion. It is a word derived from the Spanish renegado, meaning “Christian turned Muslim.”[40] {Presidents don't pick their own code names. The Secret Service assigns them.}
  • Obama enjoyed a bigger increase in voter support in 2008 (compared to 2004) by Muslims than by any other voting group, including blacks;[41] “Muslim turnout in the U.S. elections reached 95 percent, the highest Muslim turnout in U.S. history.”[42] {Proving exactly nothing, except perhaps that Muslim voters despise the GOP.}
  • “President-elect Barack Obama has yet to attend church services since winning the White House earlier this month, a departure from the example of his two immediate predecessors.”[43] {Obama should be more willing to disrupt church services by his security-accompanied presence.}
Obama tries to downplay his Islamic background by claiming that his Kenyan Muslim father was a “confirmed atheist” before Obama was born, but in fact less than 1% of Kenyans are atheists, agnostics, or non-religious.[44] {What? No record of Obama Sr. joining an atheist church?} There is apparently no evidence of any Christian activities or local church participation by Obama while he was in Massachusetts from 1988 to 1991, nor of Barack Obama's joining of a Mosque (The Islamic house of worship) at any time in his life. Finally, Obama abruptly left his radical Christian church in Chicago in 2008, when it became politically controversial, without first finding another church to join. Obama was sworn into the US senate on a Bible.
After the Lenski affair, no one can possibly be surprised that the standards for evidence at Conservapedia are skewed in whatever bizarre way Andy Schlafly prefers. Even some of the moderators at Conservapedia have noticed this and are concerned. One of them summarized the dissension in the right-wing ranks:
The facts, however, remain that:
  1. DanH—a strong editor and respected sysop—quit this project in disgust at what he saw as an attempt to “smear” Obama as a Muslim.
  2. PJR—the most patient and eloquent defender of YEC I have ever encountered—categorically refutes the idea that there is any credible evidence that Obama is a Muslim.
  3. Conservative—principal author of several of Conservapedia's defining articles—remains wholly unconvinced of the strength of the Obama/Muslim case, and is concerned that its inclusion in the article could damage Conservapedia's credibility.
  4. Tim/CPAdmin1—one of the original members of this project—has repeatedly objected to its inclusion.
  5. And finally, ChrisS—again, one of the original Conservapedians—even felt moved to describe this article as the most sorry excuse for an encyclopedia entry I have ever seen.
What kind of synthesis do you hope to achieve in the face of such demonstrably principled opposition? These are not lone, liberal voices. These are long-standing contributors who collectively insist that this is plain wrong and must be removed.

Good night (and good luck). —JohnZ 17:39, 18 November
How can Aschlafly respond to this detailed and specific indictment? Not a problem:
We respect the views of a minority among us (and note that the minority you cite has displayed almost no experience with Islam and/or Islamic education). Regardless, obviously logic prevails over even the opinion of a majority.

—Aschlafly 17:46, 18 November 2008 (EST)
No question, therefore, why Andy is resolutely standing his ground. Unlike his in-house critics, Schlafly is an expert on Islam.

Just as he is on biology!

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Bush legacy

Giving credit where it's due

Bush apologists are understandably a frustrated group of people. With the days dwindling down to a precious few, it's increasingly difficult to hope that the president will accomplish anything worth celebrating before his exit from office (which, of course, will be an event worth celebrating, but that's not considered an “accomplishment,” as such).

Richard Nixon began his presidential tenure with the expressed hope that he would meet the challenge expressed in a young girl's placard: “Bring Us Together.”
“I saw many signs in this campaign. Some of them were not friendly. Some were very friendly. But the one that touched me the most was—a teenager held up the sign ‘bring us together.’ And that will be the great objective of this administration, at the outset, to bring the American people together.”
Nixon achieved his goal in the worst way possible when the American public united against him and cheered his resignation in 1974. Now George W. Bush has nearly matched him. While he is not leaving office any too soon, Bush is as unpopular today on the verge of his departure as Richard Nixon was on the eve of his forced resignation, with less than a quarter of the citizens approving of his job performance.

So what dregs can a Bush apologist find while scraping the bottom of the barrel for something good to say about our lame-duck president? What can we give him credit for, apart from uniting America against him and poisoning the well for Republican candidates?

With a little bit of creative thinking, some right-wing pundits want us to give President George W. Bush for “keeping us safe” from terrorism. That is, we're supposed to grade him on a generous curve. After the epic fail of his negligent security policy of 2001, ignoring the chatter of our enemies and the explicit warning (“Bin Laden determined to strike in the US”) of the presidential daily briefing of August 6, 2001, thereby permitting the events of 9/11 to occur, the president got semi-serious about homeland security. Since then, of course, there have been no major terrorists strikes on U.S. soil. The president, however, has chosen to expend even more American lives than were lost on 9/11 in feckless actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the idea being that Americans won't be killed on American soil if we make them available to be killed overseas.

The action in Afghanistan started well, ousting the Taliban government that had sheltered al Qaeda, but then lapsed when bin Laden was allowed to escape and Bush decided it was more important to launch a second war to settle a family feud with Saddam Hussein. Even Bush admitted in 2005 to 30,000 deaths among Iraqi civilians, but it's all in the good cause of preserving (or restoring, that is) the American homeland security that he failed to protect in 2001.

It's not a proud record, but it's all Bush apologists have to work with. Conservative editorial cartoonist Lisa Benson is on board. She celebrates George W. Bush's legacy by first mocking the media's obsession with Barack Obama and his Hawaiian beach vacation. The poke at the media is perfectly on target. The suggestion that they turn their attention to Bush's homeland security legacy, however, expects way too much forgiveness on our part, even if Benson makes Bush look rather pathetic as he seeks our notice.

I don't have Benson's artistic skills, but I can offer an improvement to her cartoon that is more in keeping with the reality of George W. Bush:

Goodbye, George. And good riddance.