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Relearning Chinese
May 27, 2012 — 2:01 pm

This post is part of my stated goals mentioned here.

Years ago, I could read, write, listen to, and speak Mandarin Chinese rather well. Well, by “rather well,” I mean at a level which would allow me to survive if I were dropped off in the middle of Beijing at any given moment.

Sadly, those skills have atrophied. It’s common knowledge (at least, conventional wisdom dictates) that language skills are highly perishable, in that they decrease significantly the less you use them. Fortunately, in my case anyway, it seems that once the initial difficult work of learning the basics of the language have been mastered, the process of reacquiring those skills are not incredibly arduous. I gleaned this fact when I traveled to China last August. Though I was extremely rusty and more than a little embarrassed, I found that within a few days in country, I could walk up to a ticket window, make inquiries and purchase rail tickets with little difficulty. I pride myself on this because it’s a well known inside joke among those who know Chinese culture how convoluted and backwards rail travel can be.

Anyway, I’ve been informed that if I wish to advance professionally within my work role, I must increase my Chinese proficiency; which means I need to take the Defense Language Proficiency Test within the next year. I’m not willing to take any classes outside of work to reach this goal, as my free time is severely limited. That leaves me with somewhat limited options.

One of those options is ChinesePod, which is an extensive Chinese podcast offering hundreds of lessons in tiered difficulties. If you are just starting out, you’d be at the basic level. Next is Elementary, then Intermediate, Upper Intermediate, and then Advanced. Also offered are supplementary PDF files which go over all the vocabulary and grammar necessary to understand each lesson.

When I first dove back into this, about two weeks ago, I went immediately for the Intermediate level, which deals more with everyday conversations one might have (or overhear) while visiting or working in China. Unfortunately, I quickly found that what was being said (and how fast it was being said) was above my comprehension skills. The vocabulary was off just enough where I was only catching about 50% of the conversation. To complicate matters, the explanation about what is going on in the conversations is also done in Chinese.

I have a way of approaching the learning of new materials (whatever it may be) which is cognitively dissonant. This is a very common theme throughout my life, and I’ve never been able to figure out how to defeat it. When I approach a new subject (or try to learn something new or more difficult in a subject I know), I always assume that the material will come to me intuitively. That is, I just wade into it and expect to just “pick up” what I need easily. When that doesn’t happen (and it only does about 25% of the time), I get frustrated, embarrassed, and mad at myself for not just “knowing” the material.

This, of course, is crazy. I should know that I won’t just “pick up” the knowledge I want to gain intuitively, and I should further know that getting frustrated about it is just…silly.

But, that’s how I work. It’s always been that way.

I think there are several factors at play, here. I’m certain there’s a bit of the Dunning Kruger effect going on. I go into a subject assuming I’m more knowledgeable than I really am and expect my brain to act accordingly. Again, this is silly. It’s only when you’re quite good at something that you recognize how much you suck at it. It makes no sense to approach a subject you know you’re sub-par at and make the assumption that you’re actually quite good.

Impatience is probably also a factor. I’ve gotten much better at this over the years. I’m able to focus longer and with more clarity than in the past. Some of that has to do with just living life. Most of it has to do with working at it, consciously.

Anyway, all of that is a rather long way of saying that I pretty much suck at Chinese. I’ve been forced by the limits of my comprehension to drop from Intermediate down to Elementary lessons. So, now I’m in the realm of facial features, shopping for shoes, catching a bus, getting directions, etc…

And, that’s fine. It was embarrassing at first, but I’m relearning the fundamentals of the language. There are nuances I’ve forgotten about, sentence patterns I’ve neglected, and vocabulary words I’ve never heard before.

I’ll be back up to Intermediate level in no time.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
The Reivers
May 26, 2012 — 9:20 pm

This post is part of my stated goals mentioned here.

Back about 12 or 13 years ago, I picked up The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner because I decided it was about time I gave him a whirl. Having never read Faulkner before, I had no idea what I was in for, other than the assorted murmurs I picked up from time to time about how difficult of an author he was to read. Those murmurs proved to be completely founded, as I got about 10 pages in and set it down in frustration, not to be picked up again for nearly a decade.

It was a friend at work who convinced me to give Faulkner another try (after we had a very in-depth discussion about Thomas Pynchon), but he advised that I start with something a little less daunting. I held off until I went down to Jazz Fest in New Orleans in 2010, where I bought Collected Stories from the William Faulkner House located in Pirate Alley (right behind the Saint Louis Cathedral). It may sound hackneyed, but I took the book around the corner, sat in an open-air bar, ordered a Scotch and began reading. I’ve never looked back.

The Reivers is the 8th Faulkner novel I’ve read (not to include Collected Stories or other short stories). The Sound and the Fury is well behind me, as is Light in August, As I Lay Dying, and Intruder in the Dust. I may write about those novels later (The Sound and the Fury is probably the second best book I’ve ever read, behind Lolita).

I mention those novels because The Reivers stands apart from them, not in substance, but in style. Published in 1962, it was Faulkner’s last novel, and probably one of his most accessible. There is little to no stream of consciousness flowing through the narrative. Gone, too, are the long, but breath-taking descriptive paragraphs found in his earlier works.

What’s left is a pretty straight-forward book of dialoge between three main characters, and about a dozen ancillary players. There’s little left to the imagination about plot or motivation, and the reader can take it pretty easy reading through the pages.

I don’t stand with other critics who call this one of Faulkner’s “lesser works,” however. Even stripped down, it’s a better piece of work than most contemporary authors produce; for one, simple, yet universally true reason: Faulkner understands the human condition better than anyone I’ve ever read.

I’m no good at writing a synopsis of anything, really. The Wikipedia article will probably do a better job at giving you an idea of what the book is about than anything I write. In the end, it’s a comedy. There’s nothing “soul-crushing” about it. I found myself surprised and chuckling continuously throughout, and was grateful for a “light” read. But, it has all the elements of something much more “heavy” and engaging. The ever-present racial and social undertones are there: The hard, dirt life of Mississippi dirt farmers; The stupidity, meanness, and pettiness of power-mad authority figures; Women who have no choice in life but to sell their bodies to those who will buy them for a night…it’s all there.

The big takeaway, in my view, is the biblical story (I’m thinking Eve, here) of the loss of innocence of an eleven year old boy, how he mourns at that loss, and how he finally learns to accept it. It sounds shlocky, but it turns out to be rather touching in the end.

If you haven’t guessed by now, one of my goals is to read every book by Faulkner. I figure I’m about half way there. The two other Faulkner books I have in the queue for this year are Soldier’s Pay and Pylon.

Next up, however, is Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae. At nearly 600 pages, I hope to blog about it as I work through it so I don’t have to save up all my thoughts until the end.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Stated Goals
May 23, 2012 — 1:38 pm

I have too much stuff.

In particular, I have too much stuff going on in my head.

Well, maybe that’s not right. Perhaps I have just the right amount of stuff going on up there and I’ve been thus far unable to organize it. Perhaps upon a well thought out organization, I will discover that I have far too little going on up there.*

But, for now (pre-reorganization), the stuff I do have going on up there is often contrary and mutually exclusive. I find I’m unable to turn most thoughts into actions when those actions would interfere with other actions.

In short, I’m saying I’m really, really bad at things like prioritization and following through.

It has always been thus.

I’m hoping to work on that now as I have a list of goals I would like to accomplish before year’s end.

To that end, I’m experimenting with self-motivational techniques. I think one way to prod myself into accomplishing my stated goals is to blog about them as I work through them. Combined with other techniques (to include heavy list making and note taking), I’m hoping this will give me the traction I need to cross the finish line.

So, I expect there will be a great deal more posting by myself on these pages.

Here are some of my goals for this year. I’m keeping one or two of my goals to myself, as even writing them down would provide way too much pressure to succeed. They may be overly ambitious, but only time will tell. If I get them accomplished, I’ll write about it.

  • Complete my 2012 Reading list (which will feed into larger goals).
  • Run a half marathon.
  • Increase my skills in Chinese.
  • Write 4 posts for The Lesson Applied.
  • Start another blog I’ve been thinking about related to parental advice for my daughters.
  • Self publish a photo book.
  • Practice the guitar at least 2 hours per week.
  • Take two college level math courses.
  • Finish on massive blog post for Shrubbloggers (which has been languishing for nearly two years).
  • Make a walking stick.
  • Get the 3×3 Rubik’s Cube solved in less than a minute.

Some of these things don’t make much sense, but I have a reason for all of them, which I also hope to express in upcoming posts.

*I find it strange that I wrote “going on up there” when referring to the thoughts in my head. It’s as if I’m disambiguating myself somehow. It would be much more correct to say “going on in here,” I think.

Or would it?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (2)
Steve Jobs: A Man of Good Works — Part I
November 6, 2011 — 10:30 am

First, allow me to clarify a few points about the video below before I start into the meat of the matter.

The video is obviously edited — for what purpose, I do not know. It could have been to cut down its length or to stitch together a narrative that puts the person being interviewed in the worst possible light. Though, admittedly, given his statements, I don’t know how that’s possible.

I understand that people who are put on the spot with a camera in front of their face are going to stammer and search for words. After seeing thousands of these kinds of videos, I’m convinced that people generally do not do well when confronted with on-the-spot interviews. . . . Read more!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (2)
A Life of Good Works
November 2, 2011 — 8:13 pm

Over on Reddit, I stumbled upon this post in the Atheist subreddit:

Idolize Bill Gates, Not Steve Jobs: At the end of his life, Steve Jobs obsessed over his legacy: Apple. Bill Gates stepped away from Microsoft in 2006 and has devoted his genius to solving the world’s biggest problems, despite the fact that solving those problems doesn’t create profit or fame.

I quickly pointed out that it was laughably ironic that this was posted in an atheist forum as it oozes religiosity.

Well, no, actually. This has everything to do with being in the Atheism subreddit because it is religious nonsense. Let me rewrite that for you:

Idolize Bill Gates, Not Steve Jobs: At the end of his life he did not repent his sins and he obsessed over his legacy: Apple. Bill Gates stepped away from sin and is living a life of good works, despite his prior sin.

There are no economic or philosophical arguments here. We are just told whom to admire (idolize) and whom not to admire (idolize) based on a moral judgment, when none is warranted. How many people benefited from the success of Steve Jobs? How many people’s lives are better off because of that success? How many more people have access to free or near free limitless information because of the competitive nature between Apple and Microsoft?

These questions aren’t asked. Don’t admire Steve Jobs because he didn’t rebuke sin on his deathbed. Admire Bill Gates because he has rebuked sin and is now doing good works.

Religiosity is a very hard thing to let go of, apparently.

Edit: It’s not only astounding that this was posted in an Atheist forum without comment on its religious nature, it’s fantastic that my comment is getting down-voted for pointed it out.

I made a few more running comments, but most were down-voted rather quickly.

This is something that has been on my mind for quite a long time, now. That ardent ‘atheists’ recycle this kind of religiosity is amazing to me. The modern atheist movement has developed some of the most effectively devastating rhetorical tools arguing against the case for God that it’s sometimes embarrassing to watch people try to defend against them.

Yet, many are blind to this kind of religious thinking. More ironically, the same arguments are just as effective against it. And still they do not see.

Religiosity and biases are indeed powerful forces in our nature.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
What I’m Reading
November 2, 2011 — 6:40 pm

I’ve been thinking that I should probably start posting around these parts again on a semi-regular basis. The problem is, I always have a ton of things to write about, but it all seems so laborious when I get down to it.

So, I figured I’d start writing about what I’m reading. Maybe that will get the creative juices flowing. So, for a while, anyway, I’ll be posting about the books that’s I’m reading, as I read them. Fun, huh?

Currently in my hands is, Watching Baseball Smarter. A professional Fan’s Guide for Beginners, Semi-experts, and Deeply Serious Geeks.

Those who know me, know that I’m not much of a sports fan. I have no love for football or hockey. I’ve never been interested in soccer or basketball. But, I do have a history with Baseball, of a sort. Like most kids, I spent a few summers playing the sport in loosely affiliated city leagues. I don’t remember liking it that much. I never have been much of a “team player”, so that’s not too surprising.

I do remember owning a baseball glove well enough. I liked the ritual of oiling it up, shaping it with a baseball and sleeping with it under my pillow. I always liked playing catch with the neighborhood kids, and older family members, if I was lucky. But, for all that, I never followed the sport, apart from watching a few games when the Cardinals are in the World Series.

Which, to be honest, is partly why I picked up this book. If you’ve ever been in an office environment during a home team’s post season play-offs, you know you can look forward to hearing about it, ad nauseum, until the end of the season. Which is what happened. But, I would find myself drawn to these conversations, in spite of my lack of knowledge about the overall game.

The conversations I would get sucked into were all about statistics and strategy based on all sorts of known and unknown variables. How pitching worked. What the probability of hitting a fast ball or a curve ball were based on how many strikes or outs there were, etc…

I find this kind of stuff fascinating. I’ve come to realize that baseball is a game played for and by individuals as much as it is played for or by a team. Individual strategy counts every bit as other factors. When I read the quote by Red Barber that said, “Baseball is dull only to dull minds”, I knew I found a sport I could follow.

So, in anticipation for the beginning of next year’s season, I’m reading as much about the sport as I’m able. And, since I live in St. Louis, I may as well align my tribal allegiances with the Cardinal Nation.

Go Cards!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
More Bailouts for the Rich
October 20, 2011 — 7:45 pm

The rich on Wall Street are demanding more bailouts:

The Demands Working Group of Occupy Wall Street unanimously endorsed and is circulating for discussion the following demand, which will be submitted to the General Assembly of OWS:

Jobs for ALL – A Massive Public Works and Public Service Program

We demand a massive public works and public service program with direct government employment at prevailing (union) wages, paid for by taxing the rich and corporations, by immediately ending all of America’s wars, and by ending all aid to authoritarian regimes to create 25 million new jobs to:

-Expand education: cut class sizes and provide free university for all;
-Expand healthcare and provide free healthcare for all (single payer system);
-Build housing, guarantee decent housing for all;
-Expand mass transit, provided for free;
the infrastructure—bridges, flood control, roads;
-Research and implement clean energy alternatives; and
-Clean up the environment.

Wait, you didn’t think I was talking about corporate bailouts, did you?

No, I’m talking about the rich people who make up the Working Group of Occupy Wall Street.

There is a very inconvenient and awkward question that is not being answered by the OWS crowd, as it pertains to wealth. Even making the assumption that the majority of those protesting are lower-middle class (a very liberal assumption, by anecdotal evidence), that would still mean that they are richer than 80 to 90 percent of the world’s population.

In fact, the poorest 5 percent of the United States is still richer than 68 percent of the world’s population. When compared to the poorest in India, China, or Afghanistan, the inequality is breathtakingly staggering. That college kid who is 60 grand in debt may as well be Bill Gates to a girl born in parts of rural China or Afghanistan.

Whenever this is brought up, you will inevitably hear this as a riposte:

“The problem is that attitude can be very easily used as an excuse for dismissing the complaints of literally anyone who is not the most oppressed, marginalised, and miserable people in the world.”

In other words, you cannot ignore what is bad here because things are worse elsewhere.

Well, that statement may well have merit, were it argued in another context. In this context, it is meaningless. Here’s why.

The above “demands” have everything to do with trying to bring the classes to a parity rather than fixing the economy. We are constantly barraged with the 99 percent vs. the 1 percent rhetoric. This, in itself is a lie. At worst, the people protesting on Wall Street are the 32 percent. More likely, they are the 20 percent and up.

If there were one shred of intellectual honesty in this movement, the above demands would be much, much different. They would be calling for taxing everyone in America at a much higher rate and redistributing that money to the poor in China and India. As the holders of 20 percent of the world’s wealth, they surely can afford it. After all, there are millions upon millions of people living in soul-crushing, abject poverty at this very moment. A vast number of them can never hope to make more than $1 per day, if that.

Instead, we get demands for free education and free housing for all (well, for all the rich people living in the United States, anyway — everyone else can go get stuffed). This is nothing more than the rich seeking taxpayer money for bailouts through the use of force.

Sound familiar?

I’m not being flippant, here. When it comes to entitlements, tariffs, trade barriers, immigration or where I purchase my goods, I’ve not yet heard a convincing argument for why I should regard a middle-class or working poor American in any higher regard than the absolute poor of other countries.

When I’m told that I should buy American in order to save American jobs, I wonder why a South Korean’s job is of any less importance. When I’m told that I must pay my fair share to help the deserving and undeserving (relatively) poor of this country, I wonder why the absolute poor from other countries shouldn’t get that money first.

But this is what it’s come to, now.

Rich college-age kids asking for taxpayer funded bailouts in order to relieve them of a debt (paid by the taxpayers) that they voluntarily took on with full knowledge that they would have to pay it back. Not only that, the vast majority of them have the means to pay off said debt through hard word and dedication.

Now, tell me again why I should care that a rich kid got a liberal arts degree that didn’t pan out, when tens of millions are living in absolute poverty around the world. Tell me again why rich kids with liberal arts degrees aren’t sacrificing their income, well-being, and happiness to redistribute their wealth to those more in need.

It’s time that we stopped focusing on this murderous idea of “inequality” when we should be thinking instead of relative standards of living over time.

Maybe then we can focus on what’s wrong with our economy rather than just fight about which rich group of people get which bailouts.

[Cross-posted at The Lesson Applied.]

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Wherin I Clarify
July 10, 2011 — 10:25 pm

With my previous post, I waded full-on into our ongoing gender war, though that really wasn’t my intention.

After a good bit of discussion with friends and loved ones about the issue, I feel that I should ‘walk back’ some of my comments, clarify others, and expound on the issue as a whole.

My concerns are not with the original incident (man in the elevator) or Ms. Watson’s initial reaction. It’s with her reaction to people questioning her over the incident and then the piling on from P.Z. Myers and Phil Pliat. This I’ve well documented in my previous post.

As I’ve said before, her concerns were with her feeling sexually objectified (which I’ll address downstream), rather than feeling like she was in any danger of being assaulted. The whole specter of rape only came up after P.Z. Myers jumped into the debate; and as far as I can tell, Watson has done nothing to correct that misconception.

Now, allow me to ‘walk back’ or clarify a few points.

Starting from the beginning: That Watson felt uncomfortable is not in question, nor is it really part of the debate. I believe her when she said the incident made her feel uncomfortable. I have no earthly reason not to. However, we are dealing with so many layers of conjecture and speculation here that it’s nearly impossible not to project your own feelings, prejudices, and biases into the discussion. Because of this, I am doing the best I can to look at this without any preconceptions.

Regardless of what Phil Pliat says, the problem was not because a man was in an elevator with a woman late at night. The problem people have is with the solicitation. Had the man never said a word to her, or looked at her during the ride, not a word would have been spoken about this.

Which is interesting to me. A rational person would recognize that a man and a woman alone in an elevator together does not heighten the risk of sexual assault by any degree of certainty. In fact, if we are to extrapolate out for population, it can be assumed that this very scenario occurs hundreds of thousands (if not millions of times) per day around the world and we don’t see internet blogs blowing up about it.

So, at what point does it turn into a “potential sexual assault” in people’s minds?

Where is the line? Is it when he speaks to her? Is it because it’s at 4:00 a.m. instead of 4:00 p.m.? Is it when he says he “finds her interesting?” Or is it only after he utters the words, “would you like to come back to my room for coffee?”

This is a serious question. From where I stand, it seems to me that if the guy had sexual assault on his mind, then the act of solicitation posed no more of a threat than him just being there.

This is where I take extreme issue with people like P.Z. Myers and especially Phil Pliat. That they are blind to the above is a cognitive failure. Do sexual assaults happen on elevators? Yup, of course. But, how statistically prevalent are they? Under what conditions do they occur? How often are the two parties known to each other? What other factors come into play? That these questions are not being asked or addressed by skeptics is distressing to me.

Cannot men and women alike agree that when Phil Pliat jumps right to “potential sexual assault” just because a man and a woman are alone in an elevator demeans the whole conversation? Do people not understand that this goes right to the heart of irrational bigotry? I don’t care what Pliat’s motivations are, here. I care about what he said. If you are going to spend most of your professional career debunking things like astrology, religion, psuedo-science, and general quackery under the umbrella of skepticism, don’t be surprised when people call you on it when you fall for the very same cognitive biases that you attack on a regular basis.

This is why, under the conditions that Watson herself described, I see no reason to fall into the “Oh my God, she could have been raped!” line of thinking.

I also see no reason why one cannot state, in a perfectly civilized tone of voice, that though the fear of being raped on an elevator may be valid for some (given their past histories, experiences, etc.), it is an irrational fear for most people to hold onto.

Given that, I also see no reason why men (or anyone else for that matter) should feel obligated to change their behavior to accommodate those with irrational fears, regardless of the subject matter.

Of course, more empathy is needed from everyone. Never intentionally make someone else uncomfortable, if you can avoid it. To do otherwise is impolite and boorish. But there is no need to kowtow to irrationality as you go about your everyday business.

Onto the matter of the solicitation. This is a bit trickier to tackle, as there are several issues wrapped into one, here. I can easily understand why such a solicitation would creep many women out. However, I can just as easily understand why it would not. I’ve heard excellent arguments from women taking both sides.

To me, that means it’s all situational. Would I proposition a woman on an elevator at 4:00 a.m.? I honestly don’t know. Certainly not if all the right signals were not there. Certainly not out of the blue, like this gentleman apparently did. But what if she were looking at me suggestively? What if our chit-chat was sexually charged in some way? What if we just got done talking for three hours in a group and I felt there was a strong mutual attraction between us? What if, what if, what if.

So, all this talk of “never solicit a woman in an elevator at 4:00 a.m.” may be too ridged. I make this point because there have been dozens of follow-on posts instructing men on “how not to pick up women”, etc. This may very well be good advice to follow, but how do we allow for outliers?

The questions that aren’t being answered or addressed are:

  • How many times has this tactic worked on women?
  • Would we even hear about them if it did?
  • If there is a significant population of women who do not mind being propositioned in such a way under the right circumstances, why should men not attempt such a proposition when they feel they have a chance?
  • How many women proposition men in this fashion?
  • How many men have said it’s creepy when women do this?

These nuances are exactly what inflames the “gender war” and sends people swirling into orbit with righteous indignation. You have people of both sexes claiming everything from “misogyny” to “potential sexual assault” to “creepy behavior.” Then again, you have people of both sexes insisting that absolutely nothing bad happened in that elevator. That this is a non-issue, to be forgotten and derided.

So, what are we as skeptics to do in this situation?

We need to ask difficult questions and rely on the facts. If something is irrational, we need to point it out. We ask people to show their work. We do not accept emotional overreaction or unfounded conjecture to cloud our judgment. This is an important point as the “skeptic movement” has taken great pains to be a “big tent” organization, inviting people in from differing political ideologies, social strata, genders, race, etc. That there will be conflict when such diversity is present is a given. Feminists and men’s rights activists cannot expect to be immune to people questioning their beliefs any less than skeptics question religiosity, psuedo-science, or quackery. In a skeptical organization, everything is up for debate. Feelings and beliefs do not matter as much as reason and facts.

As stated above, I do not hold any truck with the “potential sexual assault” line of thinking, but I do have sympathies for Watson’s feelings of being objectified, to a point. From what I can tell, this is what Watson’s main complaint is. If so, it’s rather more difficult to pin down any solution.

We can take Watson’s word for it that she gets a great deal of wanted and unwanted attention from men. Obviously, her gender and her looks have a great deal to do with this. But so does the field of interest she’s in and the way she comports herself therein.

If I may clarify, Watson can’t help being a woman anymore than I can help being a man. She can’t help being an attractive woman, anymore than I can help being an average looking man. That people are attracted or disinterested in us for those reasons and those reasons alone are beyond our control. Just because she is a woman means she will attract a good deal of men. Just because she is blessed with good looks means that she will attract even more men (and women). This is basic biology and to deny it would deny the very precepts of biological and social sciences.

So, that’s not the issue, here. The issue is how men (and women) approach her, under what circumstances, under what motivations, etc. I can very well accept the fact that because of her gender and looks, she receives more unwanted attention from men (and women) than an average-looking man would. If this is bothersome, I honestly do not know how to fix it. It depends on the circumstances.

For example, after I wrote my first blog post, my girlfriend and several very close female friends stated to me that I just didn’t understand what it was like to be leered at, ogled over, and approached in an unwanted sexual manner on a near-daily basis for no other reason than being a woman.

They were absolutely correct. I do not know. I have no idea what it’s like, nor do I have any frame of reference on how that would make me feel.

I will not, however, concede the point that this is due to “male privilege.” Just as I would not claim “female privilege” for women who do not understand or have any frame of reference for how men feel in certain situations. This is a conversation-stopper and serves no purpose other than to position yourself as morally superior.

I can only think of one conceivable solution to the problem, and I am open to suggestions.

Anyone at the receiving end of or a witness to such obviously bad social behavior (man or woman), should not hesitate to shame the person/people engaging in such behavior. Do not stand by and allow yourself or other people to be bullied. People (men and women) get away with vile social behavior because people around them allow them to get away with it. I fully understand that a woman might be too intimidated to say something, but this isn’t because of gender. Plenty of men are also afraid to speak up as well. What this says about humanity, I’m not sure. I do recognize that these are social pressures, however. That we turn a blind eye to vile social behavior says more about us as people or a culture than it does about us as men or women.

Watson’s field of interest and how she comports herself are much more under her sphere of control, however. Though many women are beginning to join such organizations, it is still recognizably male dominated. That many more women are joining, however, speaks volumes for the adaptability of such organizations.

How she comports herself is something completely under her control, and it’s a point that is most likely to be misunderstood and attacked. It is not unreasonable to state that if you play the “sexy skeptic” role to your advantage by way of pin-up calendars, sexual innuendo, sexually charged conversations, sexually charged blog posts, semi-naked pictures, whatever, you cannot expect some men (or women) not to approach you as a sexual object. As I stated before, it is not liberating for a woman to talk about sex, but objectifying for a man to talk to a woman about sex. That’s an obvious double standard.

It’s also not unreasonable to point out that double standard when you make the claim of objectification, whether right or wrong.

This is where I’ll be attacked for saying “she was asking for it.” Of course, this is not the case. I’ve been very clear. Every man and woman has the right to express their sexuality without fear of harm or the need to apologize for it. What every man and woman does not have the right of, however, is to not accept the consequences for their actions. If that means that more people view you as a sexual object, then that’s what that means. It does not give a pass to anyone to engage in bad social behavior (leering, ogling, foul language, a repeated unwanted sexual advance) without censure. It does not give anyone the right to initiate force against you (physical contact, herding, etc.) without the the law becoming involved.

A single, unwanted sexual advance does not necessarily equate to “objectification.” I think an argument can be made in this case, taking the entire evening into context, that it could be, but I’m still not sure why anyone should feel overly offended by it. Certainly not to the point of Watson’s actions after the event.

I’m going to deviate a bit from the skeptic point of view, here, and wade into some gender issues that I’ve been thinking about.

A good friend of mine brought this point up when commenting on my original blog post:

Phil Pliat = pre-crime? Your reworking is brilliant by the way, because it underscores the essential challenge of equalization of society. We all approve of setting a disenfranchised group apart in order to provide some uplift and legislation to assure them that the dice cast of all lives are not twisted and turned unfairly by the powers that be. However, who really is willing to draw the line and say – ok, we’re done here. Even steven. I have yet to see that happen. No one who achieves a victory just goes home. I don’t believe it is a slippery slope – I believe it is more like gambling. When you are winning, you don’t leave the table.

First, let me say, I am not a men’s rights advocate anymore than I am a women’s rights advocate. As I have clearly laid out on this blog, I stand up for human rights. Nobody should get special treatment under the law, regardless of their gender, race or, creed.

Women certainly have been cruelly oppressed throughout history. It is my belief that the strides in equality that have been made have much more to do with democratization, industrialization, free trade, and our over-all shunning of religious dogma rather than the feminist movement. Indeed, it is only because of the liberalization of our society that feminism even exists. I believe this is empirically demonstrated by comparing western, First World societies to Third World dictatorships and fiefdoms (which was Dawkins’s whole point when he spoke up).

As we come ever closer to a parity between the sexes, the differences become more stark, and more trivial.

It is not unreasonable to point out that there have been some severe societal over-reactions in our attempt to achieve parity.

It is also not unreasonable to point out that men have serious negative issues relating to their gender, just as women do.

Men are overwhelmingly the victim of more assaults and murders than women, for example. Men are more likely to commit suicide than women. They are more likely to be diagnosed with depression or schizophrenia. Though there are more men on top of the IQ spectrum, there are more on the bottom end, as well.

Diseases like colon or prostate cancer are just as deadly and more prevalent than breast cancer, but they do not receive anywhere near the amount of attention.

Men are more likely to die on the job than women.

Men have shorter life-spans.

Men are more likely to suffer from PTSD.

If a man does not sign up for the draft when turns 18, for whatever reason, he is automatically shut out of all opportunities that would include federal or state funds (college) or any government job. Can women say the same? If this were really an issue for women (as I’ve been told it is) it would have certainly been fixed by now, as women make up at least 50% of the voting block.

Men will overwhelmingly lose custody of their children in a divorce case. Divorce laws around the country are so unfairly biased towards women that it borders on a civil rights issue.

I accept that you are leered at, ogled over, and sexually propositioned more than you care to be. Will women accept that I am also stared at, pointed at, or angrily talked about in a passive-aggressive way by women who see me holding my daughter’s hand out in public?

As a woman, can you imagine any scenario where you would be under immediate suspicion were you walking by yourself in a park where children were present? What if you were out taking pictures?

Do women understand that because of our socialization, men are expected to approach women when they are interested in them, thereby putting themselves in a position to accept all the rejection? Do women face the same social pressures? Must they face the same amount of rejection throughout their lives?

This is a very serious question, because I believe it goes right to the very core of this whole issue. Rebecca Watson is just a much a victim of how women act in the dating world as of how men treat her. If you can imagine a society where both genders take an equal amount of risk when it comes to rejection, I think you would find the incidences of men approaching you would drop somewhat.

Men and women each have their own problems because of their gender. This is where so many people fail when entering this discussion. Some men are every bit as dismissive of those problems as women are. However, feminists cannot expect to be taken seriously by many men until they are willing to at least concede that these problems exist.

Feminists also cannot expect to be taken seriously until they concede that many of the problems listed above (on both sides) are, for the most part, First World problems.

Finally, a point about Richard Dawkins’s statement in all of this. I’ve read hundreds of comments lambasting him for being an “asshole” and “insensitive” for making those comments.

First, not very many people in the atheist movement were very concerned when Dawkins was being an “asshole” or “insensitive” about religion. I don’t know how you can deride him when he attacks something else that he finds equally as irrational in the same manner.

Second, Dawkins repeatedly asked people to explain to him why what he said was wrong. He asked for clarification and intimated that if he were wrong, he would change his statement. Can the same be said about Phil Pliat, P.Z. Myers, or Rebecca Watson?

I wouldn’t think so, certainly not from her “rich, white, male, heterosexual” statements. How does this add to the discussion? How can Watson expect to be taken seriously from this point forward?

Lastly, I’ve run up against the “privileged white male” statement a number of times over the past few days. Please understand that when confronted with such inanity, I will be more than happy to repay you in the same coin by referring to you as a “spoiled brat.”

And, until further discussion arises, I guess that’s all I have to say about that.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Wherein I Go Apoplectic
July 8, 2011 — 8:41 pm

I’m going to write two blog posts about this, because it fascinates me so much and I’d like to approach it differently, for different audiences. This first post will be followed up by a second on The Lesson Applied at a later date. You can expect this one to be a bit more charged.

This will be a rather long post, so brace yourself. Much back story is needed to set all of this up properly, and it delves into atheism (for a part), skepticism, feminism, and rational thought, among other topics.

I can’t promise that I’ll get the whole story straight, as it is a bit muddied, but I will do my best. I’ll be happy to correct any factual errors. I’ll be willing to modify any speculation made by myself if persuaded. Where I will welcome all challengers, however, is in the opinions I reach about the whole affair, great or small.

Before I begin, a few disclosures about my preconceptions of the main players, least I be blamed for any type of confirmation bias:

  • Before a few days ago, I had never heard of Rebecca Watson (aka Skepchick). I have since read through several of her blog posts and have watched some of her videos. I think I understand her shtick and have no real problem with it, in and of itself. I do have problems with it in the context of what I’ll be writing about below.
  • I have read several of Richard Dawkins’s books and have frequented his website from time to time. I like his personality and have no problems with his ideas on atheism, although his delivery methods have made me squeamish from time to time. I have frequently and loudly derided his enthusiasm for the moniker The Brights, for example. People like Christopher Hitchens agree.
  • P.Z. Myers has crossed my radar a few times in the past, but never about scientific/skeptical issues. I can’t vouch for his scientific knowledge, but I assume he knows what he’s talking about, given that he’s a highly regarded figure in the scientific community. The area where I have taken strong issue with Myers is in his take on libertarians. See here, here, and here for examples.

My take on libertarian thought is well documented, as you can see elsewhere on this blog or over at The Lesson Applied, so it’s only honest to say that I have somewhat of a dog in this fight. But this particular post isn’t about libertarianism. I’ll try not to belabor this point too much, but it ties directly into how P.Z. Myers conducts himself in what I’ll be writing about below. Suffice it to say, I find his opinions on the matter lazy, unoriginal, vacuous, and far beneath any reasonable measurement of “rational thought.”

Phil Pliat (aka The Bad Astronomer) is someone I came across about five years ago, peripherally, when I started reading books by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. I also have an amateur’s interest in cosmology, so I always enjoyed reading his posts. To date, I’ve not read his book and have only rarely visited his blog in the past year or so.

A few notes on some beliefs I hold, relevant to this subject …

I am an atheist myself, but apart from some writings back and forth a few years ago, I mostly keep that to myself now. I don’t think that I, or anyone else, is intellectually superior for being an atheist. Too many people conflate being an atheist with being intellectually superior to everyone who isn’t, which I find amusing. As you’ll hopefully see in what I’m about the write, atheists, “free thinkers,” and skeptics are just as prone to cliquish behavior, psychological biases, cognitive dissonance, and downright willful ignorance.

As for feminism: I have serious problems with feminist ideology when it deviates from equality for both sexes. I am happy to concede that women, as a gender, have their problems. I am more than happy to educate myself about those problems and help work towards an equatable solution. I would hope, that in return, feminists acknowledge that men, as a gender, have their own problems.

I’ve talked to very few feminists who will concede this point. But, apart from rampant objectification of men in society (turn on any sitcom at anytime and witness the oafish man that is there but for the grace of his girlfriend/wife), let me point this out, just as a primer. According to many feminists, girls are oppressed into gender roles early on by the Patriarchy. May I suggest trying to imagine yourself as a young boy growing up in rural Texas or Montana and showing absolutely no interest in sports? Also victims of the Patriarchy? Do mothers not shame their sons into pursuing these goals as well? Do young women reward socially awkward, chess club members with physical and emotional affection? Or, are they instead labeled creeps or nerds?

Once people realize that both genders have their problems and social pressures they must adapt to, they can start learning to work towards equality. But when those problems are flatly ignored, or, worse, denied for half the population by the very people who should be most sensitive to gender equality, well, you can understand why there’s quite a bit of cynicism out there.

Granted, this is an oversimplification to a very complex problem, probably better left for a longer post later on, but I wanted to put it out there for the sake of honesty. This is how I’m approaching this debate.

Onward:

On June 20, 2011, Rebecca Watson posted a video on YouTube and her blog discussing random goings-on in her life and her recent panel discussions at an atheist convention in Dublin. At around the 4:30 mark (I encourage you to watch the entire video so you can put this completely into context), she says:

… so I walk to the elevator, and a man got on the elevator with me and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?” Um, just a word to wise here, guys, uh, don’t do that. You know, I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman, you know, in a foreign country, at 4:00 a.m., in a hotel elevator, with you, just you, and — don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner …

So far, so good. At first blush, I don’t have much of a problem with this. We all have our discomforts and we are all free to express them.

However:

There has been an incredible amount of speculation as to the circumstances surrounding this event, and I’ve taken the time to read through several accounts. Some of this is supposition, but most of it is based how Watson has described the evening.

Watson and others were in the hotel bar until around 3:30 to 4:00 a.m. There was a recent discussion revolving around sexism and feminism in the atheist community. It is unclear whether the man in the elevator was present for this discussion. At the end of the night, Watson said something to the effect of, “I’m tired and I want to go to bed,” and excused herself to do so. Again, it is unclear whether the man in the elevator followed her or whether he too decided it was time for bed and also excused himself. In the end, I don’t think any of this really matters, in the slightest.

What we do know (according to Watson’s own account) is the following. As they were riding the elevator, he turned to her and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?” There is no talk about him being threatening. No talk of leering or aggressive body language. No talk of anything at all, really. He asked a question; it’s assumed that she politely declined, and that was it. I assume they got off at their respective floors and went on their way.

Of course, it can probably be safely assumed that “coffee” means “sex.” But, without the benefit of reading this gentleman’s mind, I can’t ascertain that with perfect certainty. It is possible, I suppose, that he really meant just having a cup of coffee.

Before I wade into the resulting explosion in the skeptic/atheist community, I’m going to tip my hand, here.

Regardless of how Watson felt about the incident, if I’m to take her version of events as an accurate accounting of what happened, I pretty much see nothing wrong with anything that transpired that night.

Without casting aspersions upon the gentleman in the elevator or making any assumptions on his awkwardness or lack thereof, this kind of thing happens thousands of times a day, all over the world. Men ask women for sex. And, surprisingly, women also approach men and ask them for sex. We do this whole dance about “coffee” because it’s a psychological defense that allows both sexes to pretend that if the offer is made and rejected, it really was just about coffee. In fact, asking someone out for coffee as a euphemism is a whole hell of a lot LESS creepy than just saying, “hey, wanna go fuck?”

I’m not saying this as a criticism to Watson. I’m not obtuse enough that I can’t mentally put myself in an elevator at 4:00 a.m. in the morning with a strange man and imagine how that might make me uncomfortable, or fearful. That’s fine. I get it. But where I draw the line is her making sweeping statements for all men and women as a reaction to that fear.

Um, just a word to wise here, guys, uh, don’t do that. You know, I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable …

If Watson feels uncomfortable being alone with a man in an elevator during its 40-second accent, that’s fine. However, the correct thing to say here is, “Men, don’t do that to ME.” This would be a perfectly rational, sane, defensible, and responsible thing to say. It clearly delineates boundaries. It lets the rest of us know what you are and what you are not comfortable with. Problem solved.

What Watson is blind to, and what I take exception to, is the idea that many women don’t feel uncomfortable in that situation. In fact, I’ll wager a guess that that line of approach has worked for scores of men AND women.

She is also blind to the way that she is treating men in general. I know it’s a cheap trick, but this is a fast way to get my point across. Let me just change what Watson said slightly and see if you feel any differently:

… so I walk to the elevator, and a black man got on the elevator with me and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I like those shoes you have on, and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?” Um, just a word to wise here, black guys, uh, don’t do that. You know, I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out that I was a smaller white man, you know, in a foreign country, at 4:00 am, in a hotel elevator, with you, just you, and — don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when black men talk about shoes in that manner …

Racist and reprehensible. The very definition of base human thought. And yet, if I take a page from the Watson’s defenders, I would have every right not only to feel that way, but to say publicly that I feel that way, without recourse. After all, just as most rapists are men, there are more African-American men in prison for violent crimes than any other race or gender, so it must follow that my fears were justified. These are verifiable, yet unnuanced, facts.

Yes, most perpetrators of rape toward women are men — unless we are talking about our astronomical prison population, in which case, men also consist of the overwhelming number of victims. There is no hard statistical evidence, but the incidence of prison rape is so monumental that it nearly brings the instances of man-on-woman rape down to parity.

Also not mentioned is that the majority of non-consensual sex occurs in situations where the two people know each other in some way. All the way from casual acquaintances to close family members. Women being raped by strangers is certainly not rare, but it’s not anywhere near the level where anyone should feel uncomfortable (to an irrational level) sharing an elevator ride with a man who asks you to his room for “coffee.”

As for the African-American man analogy, although it is true that there are more African-American men in prison than of any other race or gender, a closer look explains much of that statistic away when one examines how our immoral and — dare I say, irrational — War on Drugs has done everything it can to destroy the African-American community.

But, to be fair to Watson, she never brought up the specter of rape. She did, however, imply it, as unintentional as that may have been. She was just talking about “creepy behavior,” here, but “creepy” is just too subjective to define.

This is sexism defined. Watson expects all men everywhere to curb their behavior to a level she finds “comfortable,” while not bothering to take into account that many other women may, in fact, not mind being propositioned in such a way.

Before I move on to the other players in this docudrama, this is the very crux of what bothers me about Rebecca Watson. Most of her shtick is the “geeky, nerdy, hot girl who likes to talk atheism and skepticism and stuff.” I’m not denigrating her by saying that, because I’ve watched a number of her videos and read through her blog, and I’m impressed by her intelligence. She’s articulate, well-spoken, and has a grasp on complex and complicated problems.

But she also does a good deal to sexualize herself. She plays the “hot geeky girl” angle to the hilt. There have been Skepchick pinup calendars, sexually suggestive blog posts, public sexual innuendo, cutesy and provocative pictures, etc., etc., etc.

There is absolutely nothing in the world wrong with this. I find it all a bit obnoxious after a while, only because I get bored easily and would like to skip to the substance rather than linger on the filler, but that’s a personal preference. I’m not going to Dawkins’s or Hitchens’s websites for their sex appeal, for example.

It seems to me that this is what gender equality is all about. Women shouldn’t hide their sexuality or apologize for it, just like men shouldn’t hide or apologize for theirs. If you don’t want to be “sexualized in that way,” don’t sexualize yourself in that way. You can’t justify the opinion that women talking about sex is liberating, but a man talking to her about sex is objectifying.

As a final note, one has to wonder what exactly Watson’s objection is, here. Was it the come-on, or where the come-on took place? Had this happened in the corner of a crowded lobby, for example, would we be hearing about it? And was she really being “sexualized” at all?

If you parse out the language, I don’t think even that plays out:

Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting and I would like to talk more

This takes whatever “creepy” factor there was way down. The guy obviously cares about what she thinks of him, and about the overall situation. He’s genuflecting and trying to connect to her on an intellectual level (however awkward it may be). It sounds like this gentleman was attracted to the whole package, not just tits and ass. Is that sexualization? Don’t men and women get together all the time based on mutual attraction, and fornicate?

What’s the problem, here?

Phase Two: The Plot Thickens.

I’m not the only one who is thinking along these lines, and thank goodness for that.

On June 22, Stef McGraw posted what I thought was a well-thought-out rebuttal to the original video.

Here’s the money quote:

Watson is upset that this man is sexualizing her just after she gave a talk relating to feminism, but my question is this: Since when are respecting women as equals and showing sexual interest mutually exclusive? Is it not possible to view to take interest in a woman AND see her as an intelligent person?

Someone who truly abides by feminist principles would, in my view, have to react in the same manner were the situation reversed; if a woman were to engage a man in the same way, she would probably be creeping him out and making him uncomfortable and unfairly sexualizing him, right? But of course no one ever makes that claim, which is why I see Watson's comment as so hypocritical.

If you really want social equality for women, which is what feminism is, why not apply the same standards to men and women, and stop demonizing men for being sexual beings?

Yup, pretty much exactly what I said above.

Things start to rapidly fall apart from here, and Watson is to blame for it. In a boorish move, while giving a talk about the Religious Right’s War on Women at the CFI’s Leadership Conference, Watson publicly called out Stef McGraw — who was sitting in the audience, with no chance to defend herself. From Watson’s blog:

I pointed out that she posted a transcript of my video but conveniently left off the fact that I had already expressed my desire to go to sleep. I also pointed out that approaching a single woman in an elevator to invite her back to your hotel room is the definition of “unsolicited sexual comment.” But those are unimportant details in comparison to the first quoted sentence, which demonstrates an ignorance of Feminism 101 – in this case, the difference between sexual attraction and sexual objectification. The former is great – be attracted to people! Flirt, have fun, make friends, have sex, meet the love of your life, whatever floats your boat. But the latter involves dismissing a person’s feelings, desires, and identity, with a complete disinterest in how one’s actions will affect the “object” in question. That’s what we shouldn’t be doing. No, we feminists are not outlawing sexuality.

I hear a lot of misogyny from skeptics and atheists, but when ancient anti-woman rhetoric like the above is repeated verbatim by a young woman online, it validates that misogyny in a way that goes above and beyond the validation those men get from one another. It also negatively affects the women who are nervous about being in similar situations. Some of them have been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted, and some just don’t want to be put in that position. And they read these posts and watch these videos and they think, “If something were to happen to me and these women won’t stand up for me, who will?”

Here’s where we start to descend into irrational tripe disguised as righteous dogma. It is important to take note (because this will be a HUGE factor later on in this post) that Watson isn’t complaining about feeling threatened in an elevator late at night, here. Her complaint is her feeling of being objectified. Oh, and it just happened to happen on an elevator.

This is a classic shaming tactic, used in an unforgivable condescending tone from someone who calls herself a “free thinker.” Basically, she’s saying, if you don’t believe that I was objectified, you’re a misogynist. If you’re a young woman who questions if I was objectified, you can’t help it, you’re just parroting “ancient anti-woman rhetoric.” You’re a victim of the patriarchy, you poor young thing. But it’s OK. I’m here to help you through this.

This is offensive to the point of stupidity, and nobody should ever accept being talked to in that tone.

So, this is where Watson loses me. Her original post was flawed, but fine, as things go. She felt uncomfortable, she expressed that (in a poor way), and as a “free thinker” she should by definition be open to criticism without resorting to vile behavior.

Ah, but it gets so much better.

After several people took Watson to task for her boorish behavior at the CFI conference, P.Z. Meyers waded into the swamp with a classic bait-and-switch tactic.

You’ll have to read it for yourself, because it is rather long, but here’s a paraphrase: That guy in the elevator was a complete and total creep. Men and women are equals, but they really aren’t equals, so men should know better than to ever talk to them in any way that they might find creepy or make them uncomfortable. Don’t ever approach them about sex, because that’s inappropriate and it’s “unwanted pressure.” Also, all men see women as “lower status” creatures, but they’re totally equal, and stuff. Oh, and yeah, that guy was a total creep and probably a rapist. But I don’t want to talk about that, so I’ll get to my point.

He insisted that how Watson conducted herself at the CFI conference was defensible and not passive aggressive. He likes it when people “name names.”

Which is fine. I get it. Debate should be open and free, especially among those who call themselves “free thinkers.” (See how I keep harping on that point?)

Here’s what he says:

As Watson says, she loathes passive-aggressive behavior. So do I, and this is a fine example of it. Name names, always name names, and always do your best to be specific. It is right and proper as good skeptics to confront and provoke and challenge, and you have to be direct about it. Would it have been better if Rebecca had talked vaguely about broad-stroke disagreements, fuzzily mentioning some unnamed persons with some unrecognizably blurred wording of disagreement, and then taken that blank-faced effigy to task? I don’t think so. It also would have been a tactic to blunt subsequent rebuttals.

But that’s not the point, here.

The point is, Watson used her time on a panel addressing the Religious Right’s War on Women to publicly call out a member of the audience who wrote on a blog something about her with which she happened to disagree. Name names? Well, sure. Get on your video blog and respond that way. Don’t waste everyone else’s time talking about something you weren’t invited to talk about, while at the same time tying a woman’s valid criticism (as unintentionally as it may have been) to right-wing bigotry. And certainly don’t do it in a way where she can’t respond. On top of that, don’t make lame excuses later that she could have used the Q&A session afterward to state her claim, especially when you yourself have stated in the past that you don’t appreciate people who use up Q&A sessions as a way to facilitate a debate.

As I said before … very boorish behavior.

P.Z. Myers misses this point, completely:

And now, of course, Watson is getting all this heat because she was willing to stand and deliver the goods. Disagree with her all you want, but apparently, you’re not supposed to be confronted over your differences, ever. You can name Rebecca Watson as a villain, but she can’t take you to task over your characterization. When did skepticism become a one way street?

Stupid and lazy thinking. Watson was free to name names and respond all she wanted, on her own time and on her own dime. That this escapes Myers is nothing but a mystery to me.

This is right about where Richard Dawkins comes into the picture.

In the comment section of Meyers’s blog, Dawkins wrote:

Dear Muslima

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren't allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep“chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

Richard

This is when everyone starts to go ape-shit crazy, of course. But I think there’s a great deal of astuteness in this statement. It has always really bothered me, for example, that western feminists seem to turn a completely blind eye to horrific, barbaric, and downright evil conditions that the majority of women live under in underdeveloped or developing countries.

Forced abortions in China. Women stoned in Iran. Girls suffering acid attacks for daring to go to school in Afghanistan, zero reproductive rights, forced to wear identity-stripping and soul-crushing clothing, rampant rape and genital mutilation, etc., etc., etc.

Yes, yes, I know these things have been addressed, but you’re more likely to hear it from the conservative side of the spectrum than from second-wave progressive feminists. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has spoken extensively on this subject, and was so disenchanted with her treatment from the “left” that she shifted her whole political ideology to the right and has been speaking out on this subject through that prism ever since.

I cannot account for why western feminists so blatantly ignore women’s plight in the Third World. I have my ideas, but they are based on pure supposition. What I do know is that because of this nearly unforgivable failure, it makes many people give up completely on gender issues.

This isn’t to say that what happens here is irrelevant because people have it worse elsewhere. But it does call for a bit of perspective.

This is what Dawkins is saying … and remember, up to this point, nobody has overtly brought up sexual assault or rape (except for P.Z. Meyers, in his lazy way). What happened between Watson and the man in the elevator was a complete non-issue. Given the facts at hand, nothing happened that was objectionable. The worst criticism you can come up with is that it might not have been overly smooth to attempt such a verbal pick-up in an elevator, but … meh.

But Watson is waving the bloody shirt, here. She’s taking up the mantle of feminism and deriding anyone who disagrees with her. Men who think differently are misogynists. Women who think differently are victims. Only Watson herself has the right to speak on behalf of both genders, shaming one and patronizing another, all over a perceived belief that she was “objectified” by a man who asked her to his room for “coffee” in what appears to be a slightly awkward yet polite way.

When you have a wider world view of real suffering and oppression, how can this be taken seriously? A better question: Why should it be taken seriously?

Enter Phil Pliat:

In a blog post titled Richard Dawkins and male privilege, Pliat attempts to take Dawkins to task for his comment. You’ll have to read the back and forth to get the full context, because Dawkins follows up on his original comment with two more that clarify what he meant. It’s all here on the provided link.

Pliat rambles on about male privilege and then proceeds to get the vapors:

I can understand that it’s hard for men to truly grasp the woman’s point of view here, since men rarely feel in danger of sexual assault. But Jen McCrieght’s post, and many others, make it clear that to a woman, being alone on that elevator with that man was a potential threat, and a serious one. You may not be able to just press a button and walk away — perhaps he has a knife, or a gun, or will simply overpower you. When there’s no way to know, you err on the side of safety. And what makes this worse is that most men don’t understand this, so women are constantly put into situations ranging from uncomfortable to downright scary.

Put even more simply: this wasn’t a guy chewing gum at her. This was a potential sexual assault.

So you may not think anything bad happened to Rebecca on that elevator, but something bad did indeed happen. He didn’t have to physically assault her for the situation to be bad. The atmosphere in there was enough to make it bad. And Rebecca was absolutely right to talk about it and raise awareness of it.

I have never witnessed such a horrible case of twisted thinking, cognitive dissonance, and just pure stupidity from someone so intelligent.

Let me break this down for you again with the same tactic I used way upstream and you can determine whether or not it’s fair:

I can understand that it’s hard for black people to truly grasp the white person's point of view here, since black people rarely feel in danger of being robbed by whites. But Jen McCrieght's post, and many others, make it clear that to a white person, being alone on that elevator with that black person was a potential threat, and a serious one. You may not be able to just press a button and walk away — perhaps the black person has a knife, or a gun, or will simply overpower you. When there’s no way to know, you err on the side of safety. And what makes this worse is that most black people don’t understand this, so white people are constantly put into situations ranging from uncomfortable to downright scary.

Put even more simply: this wasn’t a black guy chewing gum at a white person. This was a potential mugging.

So you may not think anything bad happened to the white person on that elevator, but something bad did indeed happen. He didn’t have to mug the white person for the situation to be bad. The atmosphere in there was enough to make it bad. And the white person was absolutely right to talk about it and raise awareness of it.

I’m not prepared to say that Pliat is an idiot. But his statement goes beyond idiocy. It’s reprehensible.

If Pliat believes, actually believes, that all women must be protected from being alone with a man she does not know on a 40-second elevator ride because just him BEING THERE makes the “atmosphere bad,” then he’s a sexist fool. It demonizes all men and infantilizes all women in one fell swoop. As I said above, nobody (man or woman) should ever submit to being talked to like that.

If Pliat believes, actually believes, that the situation Watson described was a “potential sexual assault,” then he is a dangerous sexist fool and I cannot understand for one moment why anyone would take him seriously on any subject thereafter. What he is espousing is worse than any kind of religious fundamentalism I’ve ever run up against.

Following his logic, any woman is a potential prostitute.

It’s meaningless to the point of absurdity, and offensive to any person who values reason and intellect. How someone could twist their way into that way of thinking confounds me. There is nothing else I can say but shame on him. And I mean that. His conduct is shameful and it’s right that people are calling him out on it.

To kind of wind this back and forth up (up to this point, anyway), we’ll end where we started, with Rebecca Watson.

In a July 5 post titled The Privilege Delusion, Watson gets in her jabs against Dawkins:

Well, PZ Myers, Jen McCreight, Phil Plait, Amanda Marcotte, Greg Laden, Melissa McEwan and others have all already said it, but I figured I should post this for the record: yes, Richard Dawkins believes I should be a good girl and just shut up about being sexually objectified because it doesn’t bother him. Thanks, wealthy old heterosexual white man!”

This is just pathetic and lazy and … OK, I’m running out of pejorative adjectives.

Feel free to read the rest of the post, because it really is quite the education, but I’ll just comment on the paragraph above before I move on to my closing comments about this whole brouhaha.

And again, please note, Watson is using the term “objectified,” here. Not “harassed,” not “threatened,” not “scared” or “uncomfortable” or “in danger” or “rape” or “assault.” “Objectified.”

Of course, Dawkins didn’t say or imply anything of the kind. As I stated above, he was adding a bit of perspective to the discussion. Agree or disagree with the tone, the message is clear. He’s saying that if this is the worst you can come up with as a feminist, well, I don’t respect it, nor do I have time for it, but here, have a bit of my biting sarcasm, just because.

This needs to be said. You can feel like you were sexually objectified all you want. That’s your right. You can talk about it all you want. That, too, is your right. What you cannot do is demand that men change their behavior because you feel you were sexually objectified, especially when there are plenty of women in the world who would not feel sexually objectified under the same conditions.

You cannot claim to speak for half the human population in defining what is and what is not sexual objectification. I believe that individual women can make that decision on their own, thank you very much. We all know well enough now not to approach you in that manner, so you’ve made the job that much easier for all men.

You do not get to go around implying that because men have a penis they are just waiting to rape you in an elevator once they get the chance and not expect people to go ape-shit crazy about it. The very idea is sexist.

You do not get to make a huge deal of how you are a sexually liberated, hot, geeky girl who talks about science and atheism and cool nerdy stuff, via pin-up calendars, sexual innuendo, sexually charged discussions, being overly flirtatious and then cry foul when someone actually dares to approach you based on your sexuality. If you are really concerned about not being perceived as a sexual object for men, don’t promote yourself as a sexual object for men.

If this above paragraph is confusing, scroll up to the part where I wrote that any man or woman should feel absolutely free to express their sexuality nor should they feel they need to apologize for it. But, if it’s equality you’re after, you can’t have it both ways. Men are going to be sexually attracted to you. Some for your intellect, some for your body, some for both; and you would be lying if you said you weren’t attracted to others for the same reasons.

Lastly, the “wealthy old heterosexual white man” comment makes me embarrassed for Watson.

I’m going to assume that Watson isn’t an overly affluent person, but given her status in the community and the number of speaking engagements she attends (worldwide), along with other gigs, I would guess that she does alright for herself. But, let’s just say for argument’s sake that she makes around $50,000 per year.

At that rate, she is richer than about 97 percent of the world’s population.

Sure, Dawkins might be a tad wealthier. Let’s say he’s worth $50 million dollars, and I imagine that’s an over-estimation. That would make him about 98 percent richer than the rest of the world’s population.

Kind of changes things when put in perspective, no?

As a woman, Watson will statistically outlive Dawkins (in overall years). And, as such, her life expectancy is greater than almost every other human on the face of the earth (in the aggregate).

Unless I missed something, Watson is white, too, is she not?

I assume she’s heterosexual, but I could be wrong.

So, in perspective, the only real difference we are looking at here, is gender, right?

And, I don’t see anyone rushing to Dawkins’s side of the argument because he’s a man. I do see a whole lot of that on Watson’s side, which is interesting to me. It’s not what she’s saying or even how she’s saying it that’s being defended. It’s because she’s a woman, and women should never, ever have to be in the situation where they are alone in an elevator with a man who awkwardly, yet politely asks her for “coffee,” ‘cause that man is a potential rapist. And he’s creepy. And he objectified her. And, blah, blah, blah, blah …

So, who’s the person with privilege, here?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (8)
What Depression Is
April 14, 2011 — 5:59 pm

Depression is an agglutinative affliction, combining unease and malaise. It shirks confidence and pushes it towards the bottom of a medicinal bottle, where it lingers, offering an unworthy and self-destructive release.

It’s a weary temptation, crowding out the rational, promising the unattainable.

When its shadow crosses my mind, I attempt to throw my thoughts towards the sublime. A remembrance of fingers interlocked, resting on the center console of the car, in perfect unilateral symmetry, her thumb resting slightly, effeminately upon my own.

When that fails. And, it will fail; I turn towards a path in the autumnal woods, treading lightly upon halcyon leaves not yet turned to dust; the air slightly penetrating, carrying the sound of my footfalls throughout creation, daring another soul to reach out towards its origin.

These paths are well worn. Distant footprints from past episodes are mutely present; some meandering, some following a well traveled groove. Trenchant and indecisive shadows of journeys past intermingle, recreating muted synaptic firing, retarding serotonin uptake.

This is where depression takes me, shrouded in reds and golds, the surrounding trees perpetually shedding their life-force, catching me in a rain of falling chlorophyll starved leaves, spreading themselves upon the forest floor as a dryer fresh blanket is snapped upon a waiting bed, smoothed out at the corners by still warm hands, gently patting down unsightly lumps that fight against conformity.

It’s an indulgence that lulls one to complacency, a siren song willing you to rest your nodding head upon your breast, shushing you with a whispering lullaby. Sleep. Sleep. There’s always tomorrow. Sleep.

One must always fight this, one must always lift leaden legs and begin to stomp through the woods, crashing into the scenery, making a mockery of, and destroying the landscape.

One must make this place uninhabitable, turn a cold eye towards it and tear down its facade.

It’s a battle. It’s always a battle. It’s the ineluctable and unwanted chore of turning against yourself, mocking that part of you that wishes to ablate. The strongest part of you must reach down to the bottom of that medicinal bottle and torch the leaves, kill the landscape. One must be unmerciful about the matter.

One must always hope that others hear your baleful footfalls carried over a penetrating breeze.

Though it stoops, the diminutive must not be allowed to conquer.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
The Language of Markets
April 14, 2011 — 4:29 pm

Diane Ravitch of NYU talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

Click here for the podcast and the supplementary information.

Here’s the money quote from the very end of the discussion:

I think the problem with what I would call a market language rather than a market process is that, too often, government policy takes the language of markets, which is fundamentally about incentives, which is what this is about, and then tries to graft them into institutional arrangements where there’s no market process. There’s bureaucracy or government mandates, and the incentives are supposed to then be tailored and tweaked so that it looks like…acts like a market, because it has these incentives. And, the problem is without the full range of effects, it doesn’t work at all.

It reminds me of the California energy market, when they tried to use incentives to allocate energy, but they didn’t have a market. It was a government created market. And, it seems we’re are doing that in education, that the main beneficiaries are the people who, as we talked about earlier, who fund the…who create the circular ad-ons, the consulting, the training, all the bells and whistles. They don’t get to the students. And, yet, it has the language of markets, so people like me are going to be lured into thinking, ‘well, they’re incentives, so it’s just like a market.’ But, it’s not. And, there’s no fundamental process that allows those market improvements to take place.

[Cross-posted at The Lesson Applied.]

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Burn This Post
April 4, 2011 — 7:20 pm

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

—A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt

In 1919, Oliver Wendell Holmes proclaimed that you cannot “shout fire in a crowded theater.” The ignorant, the credulous and the cynical have been misusing that phrase ever since. The argument usually follows a well defined euphemistic process:

Person X says something offensive or inflammatory. Person Y denounces not person X but rather his speech by saying, “there is no such thing as free speech. You can’t shout fire in a crowded theater.” Implied is that speech is already restricted, so there’s no problem in restricting it further for whatever the reason du jour.

I’ve heard this argument from both sides of the political spectrum.

Here’s the thing. Justice Holmes was using the ‘fire in a theater’ analogy to refer to speech that had no “conceivable useful purpose,” or was “extremely or inherently dangerous.” In this case, the speech in question were fliers handed out in Yiddish opposing the draft for Mr. Wilson’s war. (In case you missed it, Mr. Wilson is the great “Progressive” president that oversaw a government apparatus of which Josesph McCarthy could only dream, longingly.)

Is this perfectly clear? Justice Holmes, with the full weight of the judicial branch behind him, with enthusiastic support from the executive branch, ruled that any verbal or written opposition to war was of no purpose and was extremely dangerous, essentially nullifying any First Amendment rights on the issue. Many hundreds of people languished in prison for long periods of time for the “crime” of “shouting fire in a crowded theater,” and this is inevitably the problem with arguments from authority or arguments from tradition. They almost always lead back to Yiddish-speaking pacifists. Please remember this the next time one of your friends feels the need to use this canard in any future discussions about speech.

I am going to be unequivocal in what I say next. There will be no genuflection. There will be no apologies. I ask for no quarter and welcome all challengers on the subject.

I will stand up for and next to mentally ill, idiotic, book-burning pastors with all the ignorant religiosity and disgustingly offensive things they stand for before I’ll give one nod of acknowledgment to the likes of Senators Harry Reid and Lindsey Graham (Democrat and Republican, respectively) and their pusillanimous simpering; anytime, anywhere.

When Harry Reid says, “We’ll take a look at this of course … as to whether we need hearings or not, I don’t know,” I say, “It’s none of your business. It’s none of the government’s business.” Not only should Harry Reid be fundamentally embarrassed for uttering such a statement, his constituency should be incredibly alarmed.

When Lindsey Graham says, “I wish we could find a way to hold people accountable. Free speech is a great idea, but we’re at war,” my response is to ask, “when are we NOT at war?” I will also go on to say that in all of human history, nothing thoughtful or nuanced has ever been uttered after the phrase, “Free speech is a great idea, but. …”

Any bien pensant has more than a few choice words for the likes of Pastor Terry Jones and his ilk. He has expressed his First Amendment rights, as is his birthright, and we fight him in kind, with … wait for it … free speech. That’s how it works. We want people like Terry Jones and his maniacal followers in the light of day. We dare not use the force of government to censor him, for fear of driving him underground to fester, to lend him credence. That’s how it works in an enlightened, secular, civil society. When offended, we do not go around beheading people. We do not rend our clothes and beat our breasts. There are no overwrought gesticulations. We go to the public square, without hindrance of or succor from the government, and we fight it out.

It needs to be said. Clichéd euphemisms do not need protection. They are banal and lazy, but rarely offensive. We fight these battles at the desolate outer fringes of respectability. We do this because we understand that to censor speech is to set up a chair in the anteroom of all our minds, inviting any petty bureaucrat to have a seat. Whom do you trust to take on such a role? Senator Harry Reid? Senator Lindsey Graham? Who among your friends would you appoint the gatekeeper to your thoughts?

Burn a book? I would stand on the side of any person who burned every beloved word of William Faulkner if it demonstrated how serious I am about free speech. I say that with no small amount of emotion. Just the thought of it makes me tear up.

I do not wish to have the devil turn on me and, in turn, have no protection, all the laws of the land laid low.

Shame on those who think otherwise, whatever their political ideology.

[Cross-posted at The Lesson Applied.]

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
A Flagging Stupidity
May 20, 2010 — 4:23 pm

“The essential difficulty of pedagogy lies in the impossibility of inducing a sufficiency of superior men and women to become pedagogues. Children, and especially boys, have sharp eyes for the weaknesses of the adults set over them. It is impossible to make boys take seriously the teaching of men they hold in contempt.” — H.L. Mencken

For the most part, the out-of-proportion response to the suspension of five juveniles for wearing clothing emblazoned with American flags to school on Cinco de Mayo is all over but the shouting. Though this incident serves as incredibly effective fodder for the ever increasingly silly (and almost wholly invented) culture war being waged at the fringes, it also reminds those of us less prone to “the vapors” to recognize what’s important in cases such as these … and it is a central libertarian theme.

Sometimes we are put in the position where we feel obligated to defend stupidity.

Let’s not be coy about it. The act of donning over-the-top patriotic garb on Cinco de Mayo was an act of adolescent sophistry. Not that I’m opposed to such actions, were it aimed in the proper direction. But this was not an act aimed against an authority or unjust policy. It was simply aimed to, well … disrupt. Being such, it was impolite, uncouth, and a bit stupid. Certainly not an action that would elicit my sympathies. Until, that is, the Man stepped in and screwed everything up.

When the principal of the California school got involved, things got a bit surreal. Telling the students that they were welcome to wear such accoutrements any other day other than Cinco de Mayo, said principal immediately made himself out to be a bit of a buffoon. When he suspended the boys for the day and sent them home, he unwittingly thrust himself and the entire brouhaha into the national spotlight, proving to everyone in America what children have known for ages: A school administrator wielding arbitrary power is an irresistible recipe for ridicule.

Don’t let’s get caught in these culture war traps. What these boys did was silly and unwarranted, a feat begging to be ignored. Any intelligent school administrator would have recognized this stunt for what it was, and acted appropriately — that is, not at all. What we have now is a principal (and the school administrators who backed him) worthy only of ridicule and censure.

Race and immigration policies are tangential, here. This is about restraint (the wisdom of knowing when to wield and when to yield the power you have) and personal responsibility, two capacities for which individuals could stand to develop more.

[Cross-posted at The Lesson Applied.]

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Pop the Corn Bubble Burst
March 31, 2010 — 7:45 pm

When first I saw the headline “Israeli MP plans ‘popcorn law’ for movie munchers’,” I was sure the corresponding article would have something to do with either taxing or banning popcorn at movie theaters because of supposed health concerns.

It turns out, the reason given was much less nuanced and rather refreshingly honest:

Carmel Shama, from the governing Likud party, plans to bring the “popcorn law” for a vote when parliament returns from its Passover break next week, the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper reported Wednesday.

“We have to put an end to this. The public should not have to mortgage their houses for a soft drink and a snack,” Shama told the paper.

A large box of popcorn usually sells for about five dollars (four euros) at theatre concession stands, more than double what it costs at a supermarket and 10 times more than it would cost to make at home.

When I say “refreshingly honest,” I mean that there are no hidden overtones here. Carmel Shama doesn’t appear to be overly concerned with health. This doesn’t appear to be a redistribution scheme, where the proceeds from taxed popcorn would go into some government coffer. This is pure, straight-up theft.

This does raise an interesting question, however. Why is popcorn so expensive at the movie theater?

Economist Steven Landsburg isn’t so sure that it is. In chapter 16 (aptly named, “Why Popcorn Costs More at Movies”) of his book, The Armchair Economist, Steven Landsburg goes through a number of explanations for why the price of popcorn is as expensive as it is. The reasons may surprise you.

Intuitively, we would guess that the price of popcorn is high because once we enter the theater, we are a captive audience. They have, in effect, a monopoly on popcorn, since most theaters won’t allow outside food onto their premises. But, as Mr. Landsburg points out, at that point, the theater has a monopoly on pretty much everything within the sphere of its influence. There are no other restrooms, for example, other than those provided. There are no other drinking fountains or front row seats, etc… And yet, all of these conveniences come gratis with the ticket price. The reason for this is easy enough. Any ancillary charges once inside the theater would make said theater less attractive to customers. In order not to lose those customers, the theater would have to charge less for the ticket price. In essence, it’s a wash.

And so it may be for popcorn, as well. We pay higher prices for popcorn in order to pay lower prices for our tickets. But, in order to make prices attractive to all (popcorn munchers and popcorn abstainers alike), a happy medium must be found. This may be a matter of one part of the theater subsidizing another. Not everyone, after all, partakes in popcorn. They are only paying for the ticket to the movie and are therefore taking advantage of those who buy popcorn at a higher price point so ticket prices can economically be lower.

Another theory put forth by Mr. Landsburg suggests that since most movie goers go to movies in groups, it follows that some of them will want popcorn and some won’t. If a theater offers low popcorn prices and high ticket prices, those that don’t eat popcorn may not want to go. The same follows, visa-versa. The trick is to get both the popcorn and the ticket prices to a level both groups can agree upon.

This is economic theory backed up by the very theater owners that would be affected by such a law:

Yaacov Cohen, the owner of one of Israel’s largest theatre complexes, said owners made virtually no profit from ticket sales and would be hard pressed to survive if food sales were limited.

“It would destroy the entire industry,” he told Yediot.

Also, as a parting shot, it bears remembrance that those who trade $5 for a medium popcorn value the popcorn more than they do the $5. Even if said bags of popcorn sold at $100 per, the same holds true. And although the New Paternalists may have something to say about that (waiting periods for high-cost items, etc…), it is still a voluntary exchange, of nobody’s business but the two parties involved.

One last unintended consequence. Carmel Shama may well succeed in making high popcorn prices illegal. If so, people will no longer have to worry about mortgaging “their houses for a soft drink and a snack”. They’ll be doing that just to buy a ticket. Either that, or a whole lot of movie theaters will be going under.

[Cross-posted at The Lesson Applied.]

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Noncensus
March 29, 2010 — 9:06 pm

If you’ve had occasion to listen to the radio for any amount of time recently, you’ve probably heard the slew of commercials about the ongoing Census. What you’ll hear, unfortunately, is not an explanation of the original purpose of the census, but instead a rather inane and commonly incorrect interpretation of basic economics.

The one I hear most goes something like this (and I’m paraphrasing):

Imagine you live in a growing city approaching one thousand people. Imagine a transportation system that has 3 buses. If you don’t fill out the census, how will we know if we need more buses? Do you want to be on a really crowded bus? Of course not! Fill out your census so we can know how many people live here so we can buy more buses!

I’m not as droll as the narrator of this piece, but I can attest that this is the thrust of the argument. If you don’t fill out the census, public transportation will become ineffectual because, well, apparently that whole “three overly crowded buses” in a small metropolitan area is not enough to signal to the powers that be that…”hey, we need more buses!”

Ironically, what this commercial hints at is the complete failure of centralized planning (a rather funny unintended consequence). A public transit system needs a form filled out every 10 years letting them know how many people live in the area in order to function? Really?

Would several competing, privately owned mass transit companies need this information? Of course not. Private companies pay attention to the ‘signaling’ their costumers telegraph their way. It’s not too difficult to literally SEE buses becoming overcrowded. What inferences would you draw from that observation? Perhaps it’s time to put another bus on the road?

If markets were more fully involved in supplying transit services, when people demand more buses, the market will provide more buses, until supply and demand meet at a parity. But that’s another post altogether. I just can’t tell if this propagation of incorrect economics is willful or just ignorant. Perhaps both?

Edit: Marginal Revolution just picked up on this phenomenon, independent of myself.

[Cross-posted at The Lesson Applied.]

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Rent-Seeking Potheads
March 28, 2010 — 12:59 am

I honestly could not initially decide whether or not to post this, as I could not determine if it was a hoax or parody (a la The Onion). But the more I thought of it, the more plausible it seemed.

Outlaw pot farmers in Calif. fear legalization could actually hurt their business:

“The legalization of marijuana will be the single most devastating economic event in the long boom-and-bust history of Northern California,” said Anna Hamilton, 62, a Humboldt County radio host and musician who said her involvement with marijuana has mostly been limited to smoking it for the past 40 years.

Local residents are so worried that pot farmers came together with officials in Humboldt County for a standing-room-only meeting Tuesday night where civic leaders, activists and growers brainstormed ideas for dealing with the threat. Among the ideas: turning the vast pot gardens of Humboldt County into a destination for marijuana aficionados, with tours and tastings — a sort of Napa Valley of pot.

The irony is deliciously delicious…in so many ways. But, foregoing all that, this is basically an issue of rent seeking. People who deal in black-market goods are protected from the ‘legal’ market. Not only do the goods they are producing/trading have an unnaturally high price point, they are shielded from competition from the free market. If anyone can get into the pot growing business, prices will dramatically fall. Some of the former illegal growers will then be priced completely out of the market.

We see this type of rent seeking behavior every day. Groups from manicurists and hair stylists to HVAC repairmen to interior decorators insist on licensure laws as requirements to enter their professions.

Those doing the rent seeking will nearly almost always claim that these types of licensure laws are needed so that only qualified people get the job. It’s a safety issue. Or a quality issue. Or, well, pick your reason.

In truth, it’s none of those. Rent seeking protects jobs using the force of government by way of restrictive fees and time-costing measures. It protects the few at the cost of hurting everyone else by way of decreased competition, higher prices and fewer employed people. You have a limited amount of money and you want to become a florist? Do you have the right license? Have you paid enough fees and attended enough classes? Sorry, you’re now priced out of the market. Some select florists benefit; the aggregate suffers.

But back to the rent seeking pot farmers of Humboldt County, California. Not only are their actions unbelievably immoral, they’re frightfully hilarious. The whole thing reminds me of the Simpsons episode where Homer Simpson is bullied out of the chiropractic market:

Steve: [walks in] Simpson! You’re not a licensed chiropractor, and you’re stealing patients from me and from Dr. Steffi.

Homer: Boy, talk about irony. The AMA tries to drive you guys out of business, now you’re doing the same to me. Think about the irony.

Steve: [grabs Homer by the collar] You’ve been warned. Stop chiropracting.

Homer: Not unless you think about the irony.

As pot legalization becomes more likely, I would expect to see more of this type of behavior. Just remember, the behavior is equally ridiculous when applied to interior decorators or florists, or the nearly other 30% of the workforce that requires licensure.

[Cross-posted at The Lesson Applied.]

— Justin M. StoddardComments (2)
Environmental Polylogism
March 26, 2010 — 7:04 pm

Does cognitive brain function determine your belief in anthropogenic global warming? Or, rather, do your political beliefs determine your cognitive brain function? George Lakoff, professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at UC Berkeley would like you to believe so.

Over a span of several articles on the subject, Professor Lakoff attempts to explain what he calls global warming denial as problem of ‘framing’ the discussion; meaning, well…several things:

In a May, 2009 article on the Huffington Post titled, “Why Environmental Understanding, or “Framing,” Matters: An Evaluation of the EcoAmerica Summary Report,” Professor Lakoff says:

How the environment is understood by the American public is crucial: it vastly affects the future of our earth and every living being on it.

The technical term for understanding within the cognitive sciences is “framing.” We think, mostly unconsciously, in terms of systems of structures called “frames.” Each frame is a neural circuit, physically in our brains. We use our systems of frame-circuitry to understand everything, and we reason using frame-internal logics. Frame systems are organized in terms of values, and how we reason reflects our values, and our values determine our sense of identity. In short, framing is a big-deal.

All of our language is defined in terms of our frame-circuitry. Words activate that circuitry, and the more we hear the words, the stronger their frames get. But if our language does not fit our frame circuitry, it will not be understood, or will be misunderstood.

That is why it matters how we talk about our environment.

It’s worth it to read the entire article to really see what Professor Lakoff is driving at, here. Framing is a ‘big deal’ because it is basically the storage space where ‘input’ is translated into ‘output’. Apart from the first sentence, regarding the environment (I’ll get to that in a bit), I have no particular argument with this line of thinking since, admittedly, my knowledge of cognitive scientific theory is spotty, at best.

I do, however, know a little bit about praxeology, being a rational person (in an economic sense) who voluntarily interacts with other rational people (a society!). Where Professor Lakoff looses me (and veers off into dangerous nonsense) is when he abandons hard science for pseudo-Freudian theory.

In February, 2010, Professor Lakoff wrote the following in: A Good Week for Science (Or, What Eating Worms Reveals About Politics):

All three results follow from a cognitive science study called Moral Politics, which I published in 1996 and was reprinted in 2002. There I observed that conservatives and liberals had opposite moral worldviews structured by metaphor around two profoundly different models of the ideal family, a strict father family for conservatives and a nurturant parent family for liberals. In the ideal strict father family, the world is seen as a dangerous place and the father functions as protector from “others” and the parent who teaches children absolute right from wrong by punishing them physically (painful spanking or worse) when they do wrong. The father is the ultimate authority, children are to obey, and immoral practices are seen as disgusting.

Ideal liberal families are based on nurturance, which breaks down into empathy, responsibility (for both oneself and others) and excellence — doing as well as one can to make oneself better and one’s family and community better. Parents are to practice these things and children are to learn them by example.

Because our first experience with being governed in is our families, we all learn a basic metaphor: A Governing Institution Is A Family, where the governing institution can be a church, a school, a team, or a nation. The Nation-as-Family version gives us the idea of founding fathers, Mother India and Mother Russia, the Fatherland, Homeland Security, etc.

Apply these monolithically to our politics and you get extreme conservative and progressive moral systems, defining what is right and wrong to each side.

There are a couple of ideas put forth here that strike me as wrong-headed. We of ‘conservative’ political ideology (I’m assuming Professor Lakoff is lumping anyone who is not ‘progressive’ into this realm, which, in effect, is a false dichotomy, and rather meaningless as there are plenty of Republicans who don’t have a conservative bone in their body) tend to believe that Liberalism* is a philosophy that cannot help but lead to overly patriarchal forms of government. (Communism, Socialism, Fascism, Stalinism, Maoism, etc… are all movements from the Left). That, essentially, is what we are always railing against.

*The word Liberalism is used here to describe a leftest ideology. I do notice, however, that Professor Lakoff has cleverly ‘framed’ his own language throughout his writings. He consistently refers to Liberals as Progressives (never the left-wing). Conservatives are still conservatives and often the “right-wing”. Historically aware people may find this a bit curious as the term “Progressive” was once proudly used by the most racist, war-mongering, intolerant group of people our country has ever witnessed. 100 years ago, “Progressives” got us into World War I, outlawed dissent, outlawed alcohol, banished African Americans from federal employment, purposely starved to death thousands of Germans after the November 11 armistice was signed, censored newspapers and the mails and generally acted like the worst kind of abusive parent. Not to mention their “enlightened” view on eugenics, an idea supported by a majority of scientists and politicians of the day (sound familiar?). A policy so repugnant, it led directly and irrevocably to the gas chambers in Hitler’s Germany.

I would be wary to hitch my wagon to such a term.

Secondly, this strikes me as an example of polylogism; the “belief that different people or groups of people have different forms of logic.” This is a collectivist idea most famously used by Karl Marx when he referred to proletarian logic vs. bourgeoisie logic.

Ludwig von Mises addresses this form of polylogism in Chapter 2 of his book, Human Action:

Marxian polylogism asserts that the logical structure of the mind is different with the members of various social classes. Racial polylogism differs from Marxian polylogism only in so far as it ascribes to each race a peculiar logical structure of mind and maintains that all members of a definite race, no matter what their class affiliation may be, are endowed with this peculiar logical structure.

There is no need to enter here into a critique of the concepts social class and race as applied by these doctrines. It is not necessary to ask the Marxians when and how a proletarian who succeeds in joining the ranks of the bourgeoisie changes his proletarian mind into a bourgeois mind. It is superfluous to ask the racists to explain what kind of logic is peculiar to people who are not of pure racial stock. There are much more serious objections to be raised.

Allow me to rewrite that last paragraph in more modern terms, with apologies to Lugwig von Mises:

There is no need to enter here into a critique of the concept political belief as applied by these doctrines. It is not necessary to ask the Progressives when and how a leftist who succeeds in joining the ranks of conservatism or libertarianism changes his liberal mind into a conservative/libertarian mind. It is superfluous to ask the Progressives to explain what kind of logic is peculiar to people who are not of pure progressive thought. There are much more serious objections to be raised.

In any case, this is all a pretext. To get back to the original intent of this article, what astonishes Professor Lakoff the most is the simple fact that there are individuals out there who are skeptical (he uses the blanket term ‘deniers’) of anthropogenic global warming.

Professor Lakoff is further quoted in this article:

“It relates directly (to global warming) because conservatives tend to feel that the free market should be unregulated and (that) environmental regulations are immoral and wrong,” Lakoff said. “And what they try to do is show that the science is wrong and that the argument is wrong, based on the science. So when it comes back to science, they try to debunk the science,” Lakoff said. On the other hand, he added, liberals’ cognitive process allows them to be “open-minded.” “Liberals say, ‘Look seriously at the science and look at whether people are going to be harmed or not and whether the world is going to be harmed,’” Lakoff said.

Lakoff, however, said that “99.999 percent of the science is final” on global warming and, in fact, the term “climate change” should be changed to “climate crisis” to more accurately describe the phenomenon. “Climate crisis says we had something to do with it and we better act fast because that’s the reality,” Lakoff said

There are plenty of excellent reasons to be highly skeptical of Professor Lakoff’s claim that “99.999 percent of the science is final”. (How do you empirically come up with such a statement about science, anyway?). Trying to explain all this away by claiming conservatives and liberals are cognitively different smacks of metaphysical desperation.

[Cross-posted at The Lesson Applied.]

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
We Are All Children, Now
March 24, 2010 — 12:46 pm

Like I said yesterday, when everybody is responsible for everybody else, the logical outcome is, well, this:

Proposal to ban toys in unhealthy kids’ meals

“One in three kids are overweight or are obese, and we’re finding out more and more that if you’re obese as a child, you’re going to have health problems your entire life,” said Yeager.

In an effort to combat the nation’s epidemic of childhood obesity, Supervisor Yeager is proposing Santa Clara County create an ordinance regulating fast food restaurants’ ability to offer toys or other incentives with kids’ meals.

“Ten out of 12 meals that are associated with the promotional toys are the high-caloric, high-fat, high-sodium meals,” said Yeager.

No empirical scientific data is alluded to. We are to take it at face value that giving toys away with children’s fast food meals is…bad. According to Mr. Yeager, it’s bad because these meals are “high-caloric, high-fat, high-sodium meals.”

Here’s a list of proposed questions for Mr. Yeager:

-What scientific studies have been conducted proving a correlation between fast-food toys and childhood obesity?

-If no scientific studies have been conducted, are we just talking about a feel-good, anecdotal trope, here?

-What experience to you have, personally, with the science of nutrition and obesity?

-What other items that are ‘bad for you’ are you willing to ban?

-Do you feel you have a right in assisting me in determining the choices I make for my children?

-If yes, why?

-Do you lay awake at night, fists clenched, with the knowledge that somewhere, somebody is enjoying themselves beyond your scope of control? (My apologies to H.L. Mencken).

The article ends thusly:

Supervisor Yeager expects such a public health ordinance banning fast-food toy incentives could draw a challenge from the California Restaurant Association, but that it would legally fall under the health and safety codes.

If it is passed, this would be the first such legislation in the nation.

It will be the first, but it most assuredly will not be the last. We are all children, now.

[Cross-posted at The Lesson Applied.]

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Unintended Consequences II
March 23, 2010 — 9:19 pm

I wrote earlier this evening about some possible unintended consequences of the newly signed health care legislation. While attending my daughter’s orchestral debut, I thought of a few more.

-An increase in the Nanny State.

I first heard this argument put forth in my Junior year at high school: “Seat belts should be mandatory because we pay for the uninsured drivers who would get hurt without wearing them.” Since then, this argument has taken on more manifestations than I care to acknowledge. We need to regulate trans-fats, salt, cigarettes, cigars, MSG, butter, alcohol, fast cars, ad infinitum…for the same reason.

It’s about to get a whole lot worse. ‘We’ not only pay for the uninsured, now, ‘we’ pay for everybody. Since ‘we’ pay for everybody, ‘we’re’ now responsible for everybody’s health.

This is in no way hyperbolic. It’s happening right now: Brooklyn Dem Felix Ortiz wants to ban use of salt in New York restaurants.

As absurd as this sounds (and we’ve all had our laugh), his reasoning is ominous:

Ortiz says his bill is designed to save lives, just like laws that ban the use of trans fats and require chain restaurants to post nutrition information.

“It’s time for us to take a giant step,” Ortiz said yesterday. “We need to talk about two ingredients of salt: health care costs and deaths.”

He claims billions of dollars and thousands of lives would be saved if salt was taken off the menu altogether.

On second thought, perhaps this consequence won’t be so unintended, after all.

-People are going to get sicker and more obese

There is good reason to believe that the fault of our country’s current “obesity crisis” can be placed directly at the feet of well-intentioned governmental interference based on incorrect science. If we can expect the government to have an ever increasing role in what we can and cannot put into our bodies (see above), it follows that people will be lead to the conclusion that the way to maintain a healthy diet is to decrease fatty foods (red meats, butter, natural fats, etc…) and increase the intake of complex carbohydrates in the form of grains (whole wheat breads, cereals, rice, oats). This is most certainly the exact wrong thing to do.

There is enough on that subject for a whole different post (one that I believe Eric will be undertaking, soon). For the purposes of this post, it will have to suffice to say that the current model (the government backed food pyramid) is based on wildly outdated and faulty science. But, even if you don’t believe that a low-carb, higher fat diet is the road to health, at least you had a choice in the matter. Doctors have slowly been coming around to the notion that low-carb lifestyles have terrific benefits. Can anyone doubt that obesity patients (and patients with Diabetes, blood sugar problems) will soon be robbed of those choices? If the government backed model is X, you can bet that when the government pays doctors who treat obese/diabetic patients that X will be the prescription. The result will be an inescapable negative feed-back loop.

-When everyone is forced to have health care insurance, only criminals won’t have health care insurance.

As snarky as that may sound, this legislation will make criminals out of a whole new class of people. It’s really rather simple. There are no provisions for those who want to opt out. If you’re a woman and you don’t want maternity coverage…tough. If you don’t want mental health coverage…tough. If you don’t want coverage at all, for reasons that, quite frankly, are none of anyone’s business…tough.

Oh, we’re assured (wink, wink) that nobody will actually end up in jail for not buying coverage, but don’t you believe them. The end result is always the same. It’s always force.

-We will see a sharp increase in mental health cases in this country.

Everyone must now be covered for mental health. This can be as innocuous as a couple of trips a year to your therapist or as serious as treatment for Schizophrenia or OCD or ADD. Psychotropic drugs (Prozac, etc…) will also be covered.

When something is universally offered at a price below market value, people are going to naturally take advantage of that something. I imagine we are going to see a rather steep incline in the number of people seen by mental health professionals. This, of course, leads to a whole separate Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences. How much more money will be funneled into mental health, thus creating another negative feed-back loop? More people see more mental health professionals, triggering more federal money pouring into the field of mental heath, triggering more people seeing mental health professionals, etc…

Also, will more people be forced to take psychotropic drugs either based on bad advice or against their will? That, too, may be a subject for a future post.

Unintended consequences are a powerful thing. I wish more people were able to think deeply about them before jumping on bandwagons, however well intentioned they may be.

[Cross-posted at The Lesson Applied.]

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Unintended Consequences
March 23, 2010 — 5:14 pm

It seems appropriate to start my first entry on this blog with a quote from Henry Hazlitt, author of Economics in One Lesson, which is the inspiration for the name of this new adventure.

“The most frequent fallacy by far today, the fallacy that emerges again and again in nearly every conversation that touches on economic affairs, the error of a thousand political speeches, the central sophism of the new economics, is to concentrate on the short-run effects of policies on special groups and to ignore or belittle the long-run effects on the community as a whole.”

By far, the aspects of economics I pay attention to the most are those of Unintended Consequences and opportunity costs. When Hazlitt talks of “the short-run effects of policies on special groups and to ignore or belittle the long-run effects on the community as a whole”, Unintended Consequences and Opportunity Costs come into play

Several such consequences/costs come immediately to mind when thinking of the current Health Care bill recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama.

-We can probably expect new innovations in medical science to stagnate.

We can never know what amazing technology will never be invented simply because the money or the incentive no longer exists to invent that technology. This points to Bastiat’s Broken Window Theory Fallacy, which simply states that though a broken window may unexpectedly enrich the window maker, it impoverishes the person who must now replace the window. His money could have been spent on something else, entirely.

-We can probably expect a new wave of crackdowns on immigration.

Though I have some problems with Milton Friedman, he had it exactly right when he said, “You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.” I understand that ‘illegal immigrants’ are not explicitly covered under this new legislation, and there is a good deal of economic proof that immigration is a net boon to the economy, but we must face some inconvenient truths. There is a strong movement in this country to give millions of immigrants ‘amnesty’, meaning they will not only be in the country legally, they will be on the first step to obtaining citizenship.

Do not misunderstand me, I applaud the efforts to make this happen as I agree with open borders/immigration. However, as the majority of elected Republicans are against this, if it is passed, it will be because of the Democrats. I do not mean to be cynical here, but the legalization and naturalization of millions of immigrants as a political movement coming from the Left has to be repaid somehow. Namely, there will be millions more in the Democratic party 10 years hence.

This will cause a huge, irrational backlash against immigration. An ‘unintended consequence”. Instead of attacking the welfare state, Republicans and others from the right will score points by fear-mongering and know-nothingness. We can assuredly expect the passage of a National ID bill sometime in the near future, and that’s not even mentioning the hundreds of millions of more dollars that will go towards “protecting the borders”.

It is going to be interesting to see how this plays out.

[Cross-posted at The Lesson Applied.]

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Prinicipal Idiocy
February 9, 2010 — 9:43 pm

I know I’m late with this, but when one comes across such blatant idiocy, one must point it out for what it is.

There’s not much that can be said here that hasn’t already been said. Evelyn Mastroianni certainly deserves to have her name linked to this in perpetuity. I am often gobsmacked at how utterly evil some adults can be. That’s a good word for Principal Mastroianni…evil. “Bully” and “Coward” don’t quite sum it up nicely enough. If you doubt it, consider the following:

“They made me sign a statement,” the tear-stained fourth-grader said. “She told me to write that I had a gun,” he said. “She said, ‘A gun is a gun’.”

Keep in mind, this child is 9 years old.

I think we can all agree that it is axiomatic that a Lego gun is not, in fact, a real gun. In this case, A is not A. That such a priori knowledge is not evident to a principal (all of whom have Doctorate degrees, if I’m not mistaken), is a perfect example of why we should not mistake education for intelligence or wisdom.

Principal Mastroianni has apologized to the boy, only after the news broke nationally. There is no indication she has lost her job, however. More’s the pity. One can hope that this experience will temper any further idiocy in the future. I’m not hopeful. It is my experience that such evil is not so easily assuaged.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Camera Obscura
January 23, 2010 — 5:54 pm

My camera and I have a very interesting relationship. There are times when it feels as if it’s literally an extension of my body. No, that’s not right. There are times when it feels as if it’s literally an extension of my entire being. In those moments, time has no hold on me. I will spend hours composing one shot and feel none of the regular distractions of life. Hunger, thirst and weariness have no meaning. It’s what I imagine Zen feels like.

There are other times, however, when my camera feels no more than a brick in my hand. I have no connection to it. No matter what I do to get that shot, the camera will not cooperate.

This has a great deal to do with my personality. I’m much more comfortable in solitary situations than being surrounded by people. When I attempt to immerse myself in those kinds of situations, I find myself completely off center. The concept of taking pictures of perfect strangers (candid or not) is absolutly foreign to me. I envy those who are able/willing to pull that off.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been able to get some pretty good pictures in those situations, but even so, I don’t feel that same special connection to my camera as I would photographing an abandoned barn or a solitary trail in the woods, etc… When doing so, I’m able to take in all of my surroundings. I’m able to hear what is going on around me, breath in the air, feel the soil beneath my feet. I’m able to relax. It is then that my camera and I meld.

I don’t know what’s to be done. I often find myself in chaotic, loud situations, surrounded by chaotic, loud people. The introvert in me can always act the extroverted part, but it becomes much more complicated when one has a camera in one’s hands. The dichotomy becomes ever more strident. The camera either serves to connect you more with people OR to cut yourself off from them. Want to hold a psychological experiment? Put a camera in an introvert’s hands in a room full of people and see what happens. I’m telling you, it could go either way.

Anyway, back to the original point of this post. I don’t like feeling disconnected from my camera. It almost feels like a betrayal. (I know, I know…a bit hyperbolic). This almost leads me to believe that perhaps it’s a good idea to just occasionally leave the camera behind.

I know the camera won’t mind, but I have doubts about myself…

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
This is Just to Say…an Homage
January 16, 2010 — 10:07 pm

H.L. Mencken once said, “A poet more than thirty years old is simply an overgrown child.”

I’m certainly over thirty years old, but I’m no poet. Though, occasionally I’ll jot something down.

I wrote this one several years ago and it’s still my favorite:

Stepping out on the threshold
The jostling of bodies
The whiff of cigarette smoke
The constant negotiations of con artists and whores
Beverly loves the night life

Wandering aimlessly, hardly caring about the destination
Catching a reflection in the Victrola store window
Cheap, sensible shoes
Pleated skirt
Eggshell blouse, a touch of rouge

She pretends to be thrown up against dark buildings
Hair mussed up, blouse ruffled
She speaks coyly to the man next to her
Brushes his hand off her shoulder
Walks away clicking her heels

Flapper girls dancing the Lindy
Gold coins a jinglin’
Pushing and pulling

In her bedroom she lies supine, almost satisfied
She quietly invites him to leave
Sighing, she falls into slumber, a vacant look crosses her face
Beverly loves the night life

Meh, it’s not Wadsworth, but it will do.

One of the most oft’ imitated poems is William Carlos Williams’, “This is Just to Say”:

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Go to Google and type in “This is Just to Say Parody”, and you’ll see what I mean about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.

I guess I’ll add to the corpus:

This is Just to Say (for William Carlos Williams)

I tried to listen
to the poem
you wrote
just for me

and really,
your intonation
was beautifully
melodic

Forgive me
it’s the ADD
look!
there’s a squirrel!

Eat your heart out, Charles Bukowski!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
I Am Vast…
January 12, 2010 — 7:25 pm

I often have counter-intuitive feelings when in large crowds. Rather than feeling boxed-in, it’s almost as if the space between me and the mass of humanity scrunched up against me is hyper-amplified. Though we all jostle for space, seeking out a vacuum to fit our bodily forms, brushing up against each other, sometimes brusquely, sometimes apologetically, those around me may as well be standing miles away; so disconnected I feel from them.

Some might call this a form of agoraphobia, but I’d disagree. I have absolutely no problem with public places, whether they be wide open or not. Neither do I feel claustrophobic or have any anxiety in crowds. It’s difficult to explain. I just feel, well…disjointed, somehow.

While up in Chicago this weekend attending the Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker concert, this feeling came over me very suddenly. For some reason, while standing in the crowd, I just could not figure out what to do with my hands. Do I put them in my pocket? Cross my arms in front of me? Raise them up in the air? Put them behind my back in the position of a modified Parade Rest?

It did not help that the extremely cute girl next to me was dancing lithely, without affectations. She even hip-checked me a few times with a sly, knowing smile. And there I stood, unable to figure out what to do with my hands. The space around me multiplied exponentially until, in a crowd of hundreds, I was alone. At one point, I became so flustered with the odd situation that I actually (God help me) put my hands up in the air and made the “devil horns” sign with my hands while yelling, “Woooooooooooooooooooooo!”.

When the concert was over, the cute girl next to me slid up, put her arm around my waist and half yelled in my ear, “Thanks for hanging out with me! I had a great time! I gotta go home, now!”

And then she was gone.

And I was left there. With my stupid hands. Which I happily put into my pockets, while walking towards the coat check room…smiling all the way.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Staging the Scene
January 6, 2010 — 3:04 pm

As I have a specific film project in mind to kick off this summer, I’ve been contemplating differing ways to use the video camera to stage a scene. This has proven to be an interesting mental exercise as for three weeks (or so), I’ll be a one-man show. Meaning, I’ll be the actor, director, cinematographer, sound-guy and producer of this little project. Hell, I don’t even know if it will work; but there’s something both liberating and a bit scary about undertaking each of the roles listed above.

Alone.

I mean, I have to figure out all this stuff by myself.

Which brings me to a dilemma. Yesterday, while watching the show Man Vs. Wild with the girls, I realized exactly what I did not like about the show (not the genre of show, which I love, but that specific program).

The whole thing is staged.

Unlike some other shows of the same sort, Bear Grylls is never in any real danger. He has a full camera crew stalking him at all times. This is illustrated by the oh, so cleaver ways the editing team makes sure you realize this from show to show (the camera man’s shadow, Bear talking off screen, etc…). This is done (post-edit) so you have a hint that even though there’s all this drama, there’s no real danger. So yeah, when he’s scaling that canyon wall, there’s a guy with a camera right next to him shooting the footage. Which leads me to ask, no matter how dangerous Bear makes his plight out to be, (with dramatic music effects and that heightened, slightly stressed out voice of his) I’m always thinking to myself…”Dude! There’s a guy(s) right next to you filming the whole thing, doing the same things you are..with a camera rig in their hands! How freaking hard can that be?”.

I don’t know if this is fair or not. But, really, it all just points back to my dislike of “staged scenes”. Even in photography, I try to avoid this. I’d rather catch something in its natural state rather than position something to make it look appealing. I’ve seen plenty of breath-taking photographs that, in the end, I’ve devalued simply because they were “staged”. I don’t know what this says about me. I don’t know if this is a simple preference or something much deeper. But, it does present a problem.

There are a couple of scenes I want to film during this upcoming journey of mine that, unfortunately, will require some amount of staging. These will be poignant, slightly emotional vignettes. The only way I can capture these scenes if to set up the camera and “stage the scene”. Something that is meant to be an impromptu moment will actually be planned out. Those heart-felt words or actions will have been thought over for months ahead of time.

That seems like cheating to me. But, pursuing other solo documentaries, I see that this technique is done all the time.

I wonder how they come to terms with it.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (2)
Lomography
January 3, 2010 — 3:34 pm

From the book, Diana F+, More True Tales & Short Stories:

The Diana loves the little things. It loves breakfast, your dog, your boyfriend or girlfriend, that crazy hat in the window, the unbelievable morning traffic, those gummed up salt shakers, a blazing afternoon sun, your nose when it’s all close-up an blurry, the shoes that you didn’t buy, and your hamburger-champion uncle. It’s lightweight body feels good next to yours, and it doesn’t bog you down with a lot of weight…

I got one of these beauties about a month ago, but haven’t tried it out, yet. I can’t wait.

In the meantime, there’s always the Diana Gallary.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
What Did You Do Today?
January 3, 2010 — 11:45 am

I’ve had this blog since 2003 and have never really thought of it as any more than an outlet for what I may be thinking/feeling at the moment. As I am wont to do, I have engaged in a few abortive attempts at something larger throughout the years (blogging the bible, one photo a day, 1001 Journals project, etc…). I don’t regret that. I often shoot for something and end up wide instead of deep, meaning I gain just enough experience from something to sate me…then I move on. I’ve been this way for as long as I remember and I don’t regret it. My ability to shift focus rapidly has served me well over the years, though it’s been a source of great frustration and amusement for those close to me.

The above, of course, is a symptom of ADD; something I’ve lived with all my life. When I was younger, the condition completely ruled me. A child psychologist once recommended that I be put on Ritalin (something my mother disregarded, thank God) and when in class, a screen be put around me so I would not be distracted by the other children. I repeated the 2nd grade. It seems I had “great potential” but just couldn’t sit still long enough to get through the lessons. I was always the odd one out…the one the other kids beat for sport. That all changed by the time I was 14 or so. I learned to fight back. I learned to use wit and intuition to be likable. Later, I learned to relax and just kind of be myself…a confidence born from bloodied knuckles and a knack for comedy. In those years I made some of the best friends of my life. Friends I still talk with on a weekly basis.

But, nothing has ever cured me of paying attention to things that bore me. And, brother (sister), school bored me. I graduated high school with the lowest GPA possible. I’m still proud of that fact. It was the same with college. I really did try my hardest. I did. But, in the end, it bored me. I realized later that I simply cannot abide being told what I should and should not learn. If something does not interest me, it’s not worth my time. That’s just simply the essence of me.

This is how my mind works. I once saw the line, “Hell is other people”, while reading a newspaper one day. Sure, most anyone educated in the Liberal Arts should understand this reference right off. I, however, did not, but it spoke to the introvert in me. So, being intrigued, I searched the net. I then went out and bought three books by Jean-Paul Sarte and read them all. A week later something else caught my attention. And, so it goes. Like I said, my vision is miles wide.

But, sometimes it’s deep as well. In spite of all this hopping about from one subject to another, I have had some constants in my life. The over-arching constant is a passion for learning. The specific things I focus on more than others are: art, photography, literature, science, languages and traveling. One can see that by looking back on this blog over the past several years. I imagine I’ll be following these pursuits for the rest of my life.

Which kind of brings me back to the beginning of this post. As I said, I never really thought of this blog as anything more than a “snapshot in time”. “Hey! This is what I’m thinking right now!”. But, I’m starting to realize that it can be so much more. It can be used as a tool to help strengthen my focus on those things above that I love so.

There are several projects bouncing around in my head at the moment and I don’t want them to bounce away…they really are great ideas. So, I think I’ll start using this space to document what I’m working on. Perhaps this will keep me on track to completion. Perhaps it will allow others to provide encouragement.

Perhaps.

When dusk starts to encroach, the eyelids get heavy and the labors of the day are behind….when I inevitably ask myself, “What did you do today”.

I don’t ever want the answer to be, “Not much”.

. . . Read more!
— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From … Which, Till Recently, Came From Afghanistan #1
December 25, 2009 — 11:14 am

Subject: Home!

For those of you not on Facebook…I’m home! And none to soon as a winter storm came in last night while I was sleeping.

I’ll write more later. For now, I have to figure out how to go get some food. :)

Merry Christmas, everyone!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #37
December 21, 2009 — 10:46 am

Subject: Leaving Kabul

Greetings, all!
Well, tonight is my last night in Kabul. I’m catching a flight out of here tomorrow. The next challenge is to get from here to Qatar, which could take a couple of days. Once I’m in Qatar, I’ll be looking at changing my flight so I can get to the states a little earlier than I expected. Christmas, anyone?

So, I spent the past two days saying my good-byes and getting everything in order here. I’ve made a ton of new friends here…and I’m very sad to be leaving them. I am, however, excited to be coming home to my old friends (and some new ones).

Thank you everyone for making my deployment that much easier by staying in touch and giving me well-wishes when they were needed.

I can’t wait to see and talk to you all when I get back.

Merry Christmas!!

And, to that little red-headed girl…write me back! :P

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #36
December 15, 2009 — 2:50 am

Subject: Everything is fine

Just so everyone knows, I’m fine. There was an explosion this morning about 1/2 a kilometer away from where I’m stationed. The news is sketchy right now and we’re still waiting for info. I’m fine, though I’d rather not have these sorts of events happen so close to me leving country. Well, I’d rather not have these sorts of events happen at all, but you get my drift…

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #35
December 13, 2009 — 3:34 am

Subject: Quick Update

I know I said I’d probably be writing less now that I’m so close to leaving country, but I have found myself with a bit of free time and some ideas on my mind.

First, I’m not sure if you are all aware, but all of these letters have been put on my blog: www.shrubbloggers.com. Eric took the initiative to do this, as I could not get the blogging interface to work from here. So, you’re always free to go back and read about this whole journey from the beginning.

Speaking of blogging, I think I’ll be paying much more attention to it once I get home. There are about a dozen projects I have in the back of my head that I’d like to see come to fruition…and blogging about them seems like a good idea.

I’ve been pre-approved for a mortgage, so house-hunting will be in my immediate schedule the first few months home. Ideally, I’d like to get a place that’s in the same general location but is out of the control of a neighborhood association. I’ll cut my grass when I damn well want to, thank you very much. My ideal house will have a full basement in which to build an ad-hoc, DIY digital/music studio. Nothing fancy, just a nice quiet corner where I can start working on all the things I want to work on.

Eric and I have been talking a great deal lately of starting to play music again. I have no idea where this will lead, though I have my ideas. As eclectic and varied as our musical tastes are, this should be a lot of fun. In that vein, I’ll be buying a tuba within the next couple of months. Most of you know that I played the tuba for a few years in high school, but I’ve always suspected that that instrument can do much more than any lay person may guess. I don’t know what to tell you what to expect…I can only advise that everyone “stay tuned”. Whatever happens, it’s gonna be a lot of fun.

I have several ideas for documentary photo/audio work, but my thoughts have also been branching out to film. More to follow on this, as well. I’ve been talking to Eric about this on and off over the past few months…perhaps he can post something on his side of the blog explaining his thoughts.

It’s nice to finally get out of the “dreaming” phase and to actually start work on something you’ve thought about for years. Oh, I’ll keep my day job, but I look forward to adding lines of definitions to myself via these projects.

So, anyway…8 days to go until I fly out of Kabul!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #34
December 9, 2009 — 9:08 pm

Subject: Winding Down

So, if I go by my calender, I have 12 days left until I leave Kabul. Depending on how long it takes to get a flight out of Afghanistan, I may or may not be home in time for Christmas. Only time will tell.

This will probably be my last long email to everyone before I leave as I expect I’ll be farily busy preparing for my replacement and getting all packed up. I just wanted to write down some thoughts I’ve been having.

  • The Day Care project we undertook here was successful beyond what I could have imagined. So far, we’ve received well over 50 boxes of supplies ranging from pens and pencils to winter hats and gloves to clothes to cool toys. To date, we’ve delivered about half of those supplies. We are planning on another run down next week. We have also received about $1,500. This was completely unexpected to me. At best I thought we would be able to get MAYBE $100 for various supplies. Though I won’t be here to see what that money is used for, I suspect we can now seriously start thinking about rebuilding the classroom that was mortared several years ago. At the very least, we can get their building repainted and work on some basic repairs.

    I know I’ve said it before, but thank you to everyone who took time out of their lives to help out. I’ve always believed in a a sort of “cosmic” underlying benevolence (those that really know me, know how silly that sounds coming from me, but there’s no real good way of putting that thought into words in such a medium) and you have all validated that belief. Since I’m leaving soon, I’ll be passing everything over to my friend, Scott Poole. He will be here until March. I will also be asking my replacement if he would like to take up the cause when I leave. Again, thank you. I hope that I’ll be able to see each of you in person soon to pass on my gratitude.
  • There are a couple of projects I want to work on when I get back home. Some of you know that I’ve spent the past four months purchasing equipment needed to do photography/film/audio documentary work. I’ve had a fascination with my family (both sides) for some time, now. I’ve always warned my mom that someday I was going to write a book about my family. I think she has always been amused and slightly horrified at that prospect. I don’t believe I have the talent needed to write any sort of book, but I do seem to have a knack and a passion for documentation (through photographs, video and audio). Over the next couple of years, I’d like to travel around the states and get an oral history of my family…but that’s only half of what I want to do. While out and about, I think it would be fun to be the modern day John Steinbeck and just experience America. I couldn’t verbalize what I have in mind, but it’s all in the back of my head…swirling.
  • (Those of you who are uncomfortable with personal stuff may stop reading now, but you are all friends and family…so I don’t think you’ll have a problem with this). It’s time for me to find my partner in crime, so to speak. I recently watched a video from the Rev. Tom Honey (a Vicar in the Church of England). In it, he was discussing the “nature of God”. He had some rather surprising things to say and I would encourage anyone to watch the clip, as it was rather moving to me (an avowed Agnostic/sometimes Atheist).

    In it, he said (and I’m paraphrasing here), in order to know the nature of God, we must cultivate our own inwardness, through quiet meditation and gently setting aside our passing thoughts. This, of course, speaks to the introvert inside of me. I’ve spent years “cultivating my own inwardness”. What he said next was profound to me…though not overly profound as an overall thought. Once we have cultivated our own inwardness, once we have recognized the God inside of ourselves, we must move out into the world and establish intimate connections with others. We must allow our inwardness to touch the inwardness of others. We must allow the God inside ourselves to touch the God inside others.

    Of course, I don’t do this thought justice. Rev. Honey explains it much better than I. And, I know to many of you, this probably sounds like metaphysical claptrap. Perhaps. But, I find it an utterly beautiful thought. There is an Indian (the sub Continent) custom where two newlyweds will look at each other for hours (days) to attempt to recognize the God within them, therefore recognizing the God within themselves. I believe this transcends what we know about our own trifecta in the field of psychology (the sex drive, romantic love and long-term attachment).

    So, where was I before I went off on what seems like a “self help” lecture? :P Oh, yes…a partner in crime. One wonders….one wonders…
  • There’s a good chance that I may be coming back here for a few weeks next year to conduct more training. But, I think this will be my last deployment for a long while. Though I had a wonderful time over here, I just hate to be away from my daughters for such a long period of time. But, we are going to have a good time getting to know each other again when I get back.

So, that’s it for now. With any luck, I’ll be back in the states in two weeks time. It’s going to be great getting back into a regular routine…warm showers, a variety of food, supermarkets, etc…

Have a wonderful day! As always, I love getting emails from all of you.

Talk to you soon!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #33
November 27, 2009 — 5:51 am

Subject: Thanksgiving at Camp Eggers

All,

MSNBC was here yesterday covering Thanksgiving at Camp Eggers. Here are two clips. Alas! I didn’t make the cut, but I was nearby. :)

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #32
November 26, 2009 — 5:05 am

Subject: Happy Thanksgiving!

This is just a quick note to all my friends and family. First, I wanted to tell you all how proud I am to have such a great support network…namely, you guys! We made our first delivery to the childcare center yesterday morning. It was utter chaos and I’ll have to write down my thoughts about it later. But, there are about 75 more kids in Kabul who have warm clothes, toys and school supplies to last them through the winter because of you.

I’ve led a blessed life. When I reflect back upon my childhood and think about what we had to do without in order to get by, I then think of all the places I’ve seen in this world…China, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Eastern Europe, etc.. and I’m completely and utterly grateful for living where I live and having what I have. There is no place I’ve ever experienced in America (and I’ve seen a lot of it) that can touch the abject destitution that pervades Afghanistan. It’s literally soul-crushing.

I’m not here to tell you what you should be thankful for. We’ve all figured that out throughout our lives. Me? I’m thankful for you guys. You’re the best. You always will be.

Here are some pictures taken over the past couple of days. I don’t have time to caption them all, but most are from the child-care center. The others are from our Thanksgiving celebration here on Camp Eggers. . . . Read more!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #31
November 21, 2009 — 2:37 am

Subject: The Most Beautiful…

This update really has nothing to do with Afghanistan, but I just came across something I felt I had to share.

As most of you know, I’m an aspiring amateur photographer. I make my rounds through the photography blogs, read books, experiment with new ideas, etc… I probably have 10 cameras of varying sizes, formats, quality, etc… back home.

Every once and a while, I come across a picture that actually elicits an emotional response from me. I’ve had this response only a couple of times looking at my own pictures, and I get it occasionally by other people’s pictures as well.

When I saw the following, I literally involuntarily sucked in my breath. A chill went down my back. The only way I can explain the feeling is for you to imagine sitting in a room and hearing the perfect musical chord being played. Imagine that feeling that starts at the base of your head (where the most primitive part of your brain is located) and then radiating down your spine…tingling the entire time. Shallow breaths, surrendering yourself to the feeling…it’s Divine.

http://nicnichols.com/FourCornersDark/?p=3224

I know this picture won’t elicit the same response from everybody, if anybody…but, I thought I’d share a glimpse into what I find moving.

Make sure you click on the link and check out his other photos.

Take care!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #30
November 17, 2009 — 12:34 am

Subject: The Meme, The Seashell, The Blathering…

There’s a meme* going around on Facebook right now requesting that you pick up your iPod, put it on shuffle and write down the first 15 songs that pop up, regardless of what they are or how embarrassing they may be. I never have my iPod with me unless I’m sitting at work, so I never got around to it. I had a bit of free time today so I thought I’d go for it. Keep in mind that my iPod now holds 3258 songs, with more added per week.

Here are my first 15 songs that popped up on “Shuffle Mode”:

  1. Recuerdos De Le Alhambra – Fransisco Tarrega
  2. The Killing Moon – Echo and the Bunnymen (From the Donnie Darko Soundtrack)
  3. Summertime – Gershwin
  4. U-Mass – The Pixies
  5. Symphony #3 in D Major, Op. 29 “Polish IV.” – Tchaikovsky
  6. Entry of the Gladiators – Julius Fucik
  7. Gold Dust Woman – Fleetwood Mac
  8. The Aquarium – Saint-Saens
  9. 5/4 F.T.D. – Critters Buggin
  10. Look at That Old Grizzly Bear – Mark Mothersbaugh (From The Royal Tenenbaums Soundtrack)
  11. Joe Stalin’s Cadillac – Camper Van Beethoven
  12. Whole Lotta Trouble – Cracker
  13. Will the Circle Be Unbroken – The Neville Brothers
  14. Sax and Violins – The Talking Heads
  15. Halloween Parade – Lou Reed

Not too bad. Number 16, by the way, was Brian Eno’s 2-1 from his Music for Airports album.

*A “meme”, for the benefit of those among you who may be a bit Facebook challenged is, according to Wikipedia: “a postulated unit of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena.”

I have a little under six weeks left here in country. Things are beginning to wind down for me. I’ll start shipping my stuff back home in about two weeks. My replacement will be here in four. I have quite a bit of work to accomplish between then and now, but I’m so set in a routine now that the work hardly phases me. We have a running joke here. Every morning when everyone gets to the office, we say, “Hey! Do you know what day it is?”. “No! What day is it!?”. “It’s Groundhog Day!”.

And so it is. Wake up at the same time. Eat the same food, Do the same work, Go to bed at the same time. I catch myself looking at the date from time to time and thinking, “Is it already the 17th? Wow!”. The days just kind of bleed into each other after a while.

I’ve discovered some new things about myself while here and have reconfirmed others. It’s almost impossible for me to “go along to get along”. It always has been. I tend to call stupid actions, well…stupid. You’d think that after 12 years in the Army, a little tact would have sunk into my head.

I’ve found that I miss the military. I miss the camaraderie, the brotherhood, the irreverent joking, the horse-play, the seriousness of it all.

I’ve found that though I have a tendency to jump into situations I find exciting, I need to make time to be sentimental. In one of the first care packages I received, my daughters included a number of sea-shells they gathered from their recent trip to California. There is one shell fragment, in particular, that is a bit thicker and smoother than the others. It’s about the size of a silver dollar, though not shaped like one. I don’t remember when I did it, but sometime ago I slipped it into my pocket and have been carrying it around ever since. When I change pants, I transfer all the contents of my pockets into the new pair before I send the old pair off to be washed.

Along with the pen I bought before coming out here, that shell has been a consistent and constant companion. I take it out every now and then, place it between my thumb and fore-finger and just hold it, running my thumb over it as you would do with a poker-chip or an old coin. This simple shell…a conglomeration of Conchiolin, Calcite and Calcium…picked up on a beach somewhere in California and then transferred via mail all the way to me in Afghanistan serves as a life-line, a direct link between myself and my daughters.

Sentimental? Sure. But, that’s how it is. When Jordan and Zoe held that shell in their hands, billions of their atoms by way of skin cells, skin moisture, etc… transferred themselves onto its surface. It just as Crosby Stills Nash and Young said, “We are stardust. We are golden”.

Indeed. Ultimately, we are all stardust. Ultimately, we are all the same. 100 billion years from now, the atoms that have now formed to make me will still be part of this great Cosmos. And you, my friends, will all be there with me. That has always given me great comfort.

By the way, The Imperial March from Star Wars just started playing on my iPod. Carl Jung would call that Synchronicity. I simply call it Kick-ass Awesome.

So, another long email down. :) I hope everyone is well and happy.

Buddha taught that “The cessation of suffering is attainable”. The Pixies keep pointing out, “Here comes your man”. Bach gave us “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and Disco Stu, “Don’t advertise”.

Love you guys!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #29
November 15, 2009 — 10:17 am

Subject: Going Native, Part II

The closer I get to coming home, the more I blend in… . . . Read more!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #28
November 13, 2009 — 1:50 am

Subject: A Quick Note

Greetings, all!

So, it appears that I’ve been a bit lax about my updates and keeping up with friends and family as I just got chided by both my mother and my sister for not keeping them up to date. Sorry, mom.

This will be a short update. It’s a little crazy here right now. We had an explosion about 10 miles off to our north-east at Camp Phoenix. A number of U.S. military were hurt and several U.S. contractors were killed. We have the national inaguration here next week and there are indications that there could be violence before-hand.

The good news it, I have 45 days left here.

Sorry to cut this short. I just wanted to get this out so everyone knows all is good here.

Talk to you soon!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #27
November 6, 2009 — 11:10 am

Subject: Going Native . . . Read more!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #26
November 5, 2009 — 11:37 pm

Subject: Most current, most awesome update from Afghanistan, yet!

I ordered a copy of the Qur’an from Amazon about a month ago and have steadily been making my way through it in my free time.

I was struck by the phrase: “…if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.”

Regardless of my views on religion and the death penalty, I understand and respect the poetry of this phrase. It seems to hearken back to the Gospels (the Beatitudes, which are my favorite passages in the bible). Given where I am right now, the phrase is apt. I have had long discussions with my Muslim friends over here regarding it. One particular friend of mine (a translator that accompanies me) is very passionate about this particular verse. He despises the Taliban and everything they stand for. He explained to me that people who carry out suicide attacks do not understand the Qur’an.

And yet, there is a cognitive dissonance at work. A while back, we were in an office waiting for a meeting. A newscast was playing in the background. My friend got very excited and started pumping is arm up and down in the universal “victory” motion and was saying “yes! yes! yes!”. As was a bit puzzled (the newscast was in Dari) and asked him what was up. He told me that a suicide bomber just blew himself up in Pakistan, killing dozens. He said “I hate Pakistan. They have ruined Afghanistan and they are finally getting what they deserve”.

I looked at him for a long moment and quietly said: “If any slew a person, it would be as if he slew the whole people”.

He was very quiet for the next half an hour but finally said, “You are right, my friend”.

Nothing else was spoken about it, but it was then that I realized just how deep and cyclic this violence is. I hope Afghanistan can eventually recover from it. This is a beautiful country, filled with wonderful people.

Another interpreter we work with is an older gentleman who is a U.S. citizen. He is over here on a two year tour and has three children and a wife back home. I asked him yesterday over lunch what his story was.

In 1982, in the middle of the Soviet invasion, he was kidnapped by the Soviets and held in a jail cell for over a year. He was 15 at the time. He said he was beaten and made to work hard labor the entire time. His entire family was finally able to get enough money together to secure his release. His entire family then escaped to Pakistan and were able to get political asylum in the United States. Now he’s back trying to help get the country back on its feet.

I asked him if there was still a lot of animosity in Afghanistan towards the Russians. “Oh, yes”, he said. “But, it’s the British they really hate”.

The British. They occupied the country over one hundred and fifty years ago and they are still hated because of it. More so than the Russians! I found this to be an absolutely fascinating view into the Afghan psyche.

—–

I have also made some observations about my own experience over here. I’ve been to a war-zone before, for a longer period of time and under about the same conditions, so I thought I was absolutely emotionally prepared for this deployment.

When the first car bomb hit after I got here (I was close enough to feel the blast-wave), I felt emotions I haven’t felt in a long time. When I was sitting in the bunker waiting for the all clear to sound, I was chagrined to realize I was actually scared. After the all-clear sounded, I wanted to share that experience with others, but I found that everyone just kind of went on with their business, like nothing happened. Just another day.

When the second car bomb went off (I was close enough again to feel the blast-wave), I just kind of shut down. OK, grab my gear. Load my weapon. Stand by. All clear. Go to lunch.

When the third car bomb went off, my reaction was to sigh. “Really? Again?”

When the explosions and running gun battle was happening outside our perimeter a week and a half ago, I was to the point of just going about my business. like nothing special was going on. When it was over it wasn’t even spoken about. We all just went about our business.

I find it amazing how quickly we adapt and compartmentalize. I understand it’s an effective coping/defense mechanism, but I’m not all entirely sure it’s healthy.

—–

Donations for the child care center are coming in quickly, now. Scott (the Lt. Col) who works with me and I have received about 6 boxes between us so far. All have been filled to the brim with toys, blankets, games, warm clothing, sanitary supplies, etc. I’ll be using some of the monetary donations to get them two space heaters this week. Winter is coming up fast and the cold is a harsh enemy.

Of course, you can all can view pictures of my adventures (as well as pictures of the child care center I’ve adopted) here: www.flickr.com/cosmicslop

—–

Friends, I can’t tell you how much I miss Chipotle. :)

Have a wonderful weekend!

Love to all!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #25
November 3, 2009 — 9:00 am

Subject: 30 Days in Afghanistan

Some insanely good pictures taken in Afghanistan over the past 30 days. Number 18 is from the car bomb that tarketed the Indian Embassy here on October 8th. That’s the one I got a picture of while walking to work.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #24
October 31, 2009 — 11:21 am

Subject: After the run

Just wanted to send along a few pictures:

We had our Halloween 5k tonight and had a blast!

The second picture actually has nothing to do with the run, but this is the room where I’ve been staying for the past two months, and will be staying for the next two.

The others are just of me, hamming it up or running.

Happy Halloween everyone!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #23
October 30, 2009 — 10:04 pm

Subject: Happy Halloween from Kabul!

As many of you know, Halloween is favorite holiday. Though there will be no Trick or Treating here, I will be running my first 5k tonight.

I’ll send pictures. :)

Happy Halloween!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #22
October 29, 2009 — 2:51 am

Subject: Some Happy Pictures…for a change. :)

Good morning, all!

Well, after all the chaos I reported yesterday (with the pictures of the explosion/gun fight) and all the bad news that’s been coming out, I thought I’d send you some more upbeat photos from here.

As many of you know, I’m sponsoring a child-care center over here. Some of the pictures below are from a visit I had with them today.

Here’s a short explanation for each photo:

One: Well, that one is rather obvious. I’m sporting a knit cap someone left here from last year. I think it’s rather becoming. :) The scarf is a traditional scarf worn in the Middle East and in Central Asia. It keeps the sun off your neck, the dust out of your mouth and keeps you warm in the winter.

Two: Halloween decorations outside our conex/office

Three: Medals for an awards ceremony that took place here two days ago. A couple of Bronze Stars were awarded.

Four: Me sitting and chatting with the kids at the child-care center

Five: What a great smile!

Six: The Colonel I was with handed out some lollipops. Who doesn’t like lollipops, right?

Seven: I’m treated to an Afghan children’s song.

Packages full of supplies are starting to roll in! We are also working on getting their heating system fixed (estimated at $7,000). But, we are getting help from the chaplain’s office here at Camp Eggers for that. In the mean-time, I’ll be buying two space-heaters for them until that gets up and running.

I hope you all are having a wonderful autumn! I miss you guys. And, don’t fret about the news too much…I’ll keep you all informed.

Love you!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #21
October 27, 2009 — 11:33 pm

Subject: Follow up – Pictures

These pictures were taken right from right outside the door of our office. This was the result of the fire-fight at the U.N. house. . . . Read more!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #20
October 27, 2009 — 10:54 pm

Subject: Status

OK, I’ve received at least two emails so far, so rather than answering everyone separately, here’s what’s going on…

A U.N. house was attacked directly west of us (about 1/2 a mile away). A running gun battle lasted for about an hour and there were several small explosions (possibly hand grenades). About an hour later, several rockets or mortars were fired from the south landing in an unknown locations..but we could hear the resulting explosions.

So far, everyone is safe. We are on lock-down and sitting in our offices.

I’ll keep everyone updated.

I have a few pictures I’ll be sending out in a bit.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #19
October 26, 2009 — 8:03 am

Subject: Update from the Stan…

Hello, friends and family;

I suppose it happens to everyone that deploys but yesterday I just kind of hit an emotional brick wall. I don’t know if it’s the long hours or what’s going on over here, but things just were not “clicking” for me. I miss my daughters. I miss my apartment. I miss Joe’s Crab Shack. I just….miss. Thankfully, a bunch of you rallied and responded to my request for emails from Facebook. That made me feel a lot better. Thank you!

A little about what is going on here: We are headed into a recount of the national election that took place in August. The recount will happen on November 7th. There is already a lot of tension surrounding the subject, but thankfully there hasn’t been a notable rise in violence. As we get closer to the date, we’ll see how everything falls into place.

Today was the second worst day for casualties for coalition forces here in Afghanistan. 14 U.S. soldiers and a number of other coalition members died in three separate helicopter crashes across the country today. The detail still aren’t clear but we know that one helicopter went down supporting a mission in the north and two others collided in the south.

It gets kind of hard to walk past the flagpoles here on base only to see at least one of them at half staff. The two that are usually down are the Afghan and U.S. flags.

There have been pretty big but thankfully rather non-violent protests here in Kabul for the past two days. The protests erupted around rumors that a U.S. soldier burned the Koran on a recent mission. I can assure you that it never happened. Any soldier caught doing such a thing would be out of the Army and possibly in jail in very quick order. Intel suggests that the Taliban started the rumor to create anti-American sentiment before the elections.

Today as I was walking to chow I saw about four or five hundred boxes with tens of soldiers swarming over them in the road way. The boxes were filled to the brim with care packages sent from people stateside…not for the soldiers themselves but for the children in Kabul city. Once a month, volunteers go out and distribute these supplies either directly to the kids or to the schools they belong to. I saw box after box filled with winter clothes, toys, games, etc… Imagine lining up for a convoy brief in order to go out into the city to distribute all this cool stuff. A typical convoy brief includes what you should do if you’re engaged by the enemy. What you should do if your vehicle is hit by an IED. What frequency you should call if you need to request a medivac. These convoys go on for 20 or 30 minutes, filled with this stuff. But still, people volunteer to go out and bring a little joy and warmth to children out in the city. Not to alarm anyone, but I’m volunteering for the next excursion out.

And, that’s why it can be so frustrating at times. You can actually see people risking their lives to distribute clothes and toys. It’s tangible. It’s reality. But, people that should know better (university students) fiercely protest a rumor that is so easily disproven.

Not that I’m against protests…but, you know…

Now, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t one of those “I can’t believe how ungrateful these people are” emails. I have made some wonderful Afghan friends over here and my thoughts immediately go to them whenever something happens in the city. I always hope they and their family are OK. I really do like it over here. The culture is fascinating and the people are some of the most generous and friendly you will ever meet…anywhere.

I just wish all this violence would stop. I’m not being overly naive by saying that. The people here deserve peace and prosperity, at long last.

Anyway, that’s about it from here, for now.

Again…thank you for keeping me in your thoughts!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #18
October 23, 2009 — 8:50 pm

Subject: An Update, of Sorts

Hello, everybody!

Well, I thought it would be nice to send out an update where-in no explosions or earthquakes or elephant stampedes were involved.

I received the first package the other day for the day care center (thanks, Emily!), and I’ve been told many more are on the way. Also, my sister was able to wrangle up about $80 so I’ll be using that to buy rice and cooking oil. We’re still in need of funds for a couple of space heaters and perhaps some blankets.

I really just want to thank everyone for taking this project and collectively making their own. I have a lot of mixed feelings about what we’re doing over here, but projects like these can do nothing but help.

My daughters sent me over a Sock Monkey a couple of weeks ago and asked me to give it to the kids over at the center. I walked it over last week and you can’t imagine how much joy just that little stuffed animal brought everyone.

Also, I thought I might share a couple of things I’ve learned in Afghanistan, so far:

  1. I look absolutely ridiculous with a beard…but, holy cow does it keep my face warm
  2. Your whole world view changes after a nice, long, hot shower
  3. It’s easier to eat junk food here than back at home
  4. It’s unbelievable how fast you get used to 14 hour days/7 days a week
  5. You never stop missing your family

I hope everyone is doing well! I love getting your emails. Even though I’m busy enough to keep my mind off of things, it’s amazing how much an email lifts the spirits.

Have a great weekend!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #17
October 22, 2009 — 8:17 pm

Subject: And Then, The Earthquake Came

So, there I was, sleeping soundly in my bunk…not a care in the world (save the 30 degree temperature, for which I finally donned my pair of uber sweet synthetic long johns…but that’s a different story). Around 1am, my bed started to shake and squeak pretty violently. This is usually due to someone trying to navigate their way up to the top bunk. Since the bed above me has been blissfully empty for the past couple of weeks, I slowly came out of a deep sleep with this dismaying thought in mind. But, as I looked around in the semi-dark, I could not make out any appendages or torsos flailing around.

Then, I noticed that every other bunk (all 24 of them) were making the same squeaking sound. My first thought was an explosion of some type. But, there was not a sound aside from the beds squeaking and an occasional “What the fu%&” made from some of my room mates. Then it hit me. We were having an earthquake, and a rather sustained one at that.

A few of us got up (many slept right through it) and made our way to the hallway where still more people were up, groggily looking around. After we had all confirmed amongst our selves that it was, indeed, an earthquake, we turned around and went back to bed.

Well, physically, anyway. I could not fall back asleep for the next two hours. Luckily I had the Internet at my beck and call. I quickly updated my Facebook page and went looking for information. The USGS website had information up within minutes. We had just experienced a 6.2 earthquake. The center of it was about 200 km off to the northeast. The epicenter was located about 200 miles below ground, so much of the energy had dissipated before it leveled. After checking the news, there appears to be no significant damage done and no fatalities reported. Just another day in Afghanistan.

Oh, apparently we are sitting upon one of the most massive fault lines in the world. I’ve been told that if it were to go, pretty much all of Afghanistan and half of Pakistan would be devastated.

I really, really miss St. Louis right about now.

Hope everyone is well!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #16
October 8, 2009 — 10:56 pm

Subject: Some interesting info…

If anyone is interested, here’s an amazing account of the battle that happened north of here about a week ago.

As an update to yesterday’s email, the car bomb was targeting the Indian Embassy about a mile and a half away from here. In the sense that it was targeting the embassy, it wasn’t successful as no Indian nationals were killed or wounded. The attack did kill and wound nearly a hundred Afghan nationals, however. At the center of our base, we have a row of flag poles with a flag for each country that is represented in Afghanistan. The Afghan flag is at half staff nearly every day, followed by the American and British flags.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #15
October 7, 2009 — 11:02 pm

Subject: Everything’s fine here

You may or may not see this in the news (depending on if you keep up with such things) :P

We had another explosion here this morning. This time I was actually off base walking to my office when it happened. From what I’ve been able to gather, it was about a mile or two away. We turned around and headed back to base, but I got this picture first.

We’re still not sure what the scope of the bombing is yet or the number of casualties. It appears as though it was targeting the Ministry of the Interior. I’ll know more later. Right now we are on lock down.

I hope everyone is well. I don’t want to freak anyone out by sending out these emails but I just wanted to let everyone know that I’m OK.

Love you guys!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #14
October 5, 2009 — 6:16 am

Subject: Semi-Regular Update

Greetings, all!

Today I took a trip up to Bala Hissar, an ancient fort overlooking Kabul. The fort is most famous for the slaughter of British Troops there during the Second Afghan War. It has also been used as a Soviet and Talaban strong-hold.

This was my first trip outside the Green-Zone, so it was a little hairy. We traveled up there to do an inventory of a map depot but we got to get out and walk around a bit afterwards. I’ve included pictures. The place is literally littered with burnt out husks of old Soviet hardware (T-64s, BMPs, BRPMs and artillary pieces). It’s pretty fascinating.

I’ll try to upload as many pictures as I can to my Flickr site as the week goes on.

Also, I wanted to thank everyone again for their response to my request for assistance for the childcare center here. So far people are sending clothes, school supplies, money and personal items. Thank you!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #13
October 2, 2009 — 1:32 am

Subject: Note to self…

I just couldn’t resist. I had to have a piece of Afghan bread. Over here they serve a piece of bread (called Nan) with each meal; the meal consisting of mostly rice, potatoes or stewed vegetables. Let me tell you, that bread was d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s!

And, after eating it, I had no ill effects! Could I have gotten over my gluten/wheat allergy?

So, the next day, I had another yummy piece of Nan. Mmmmmm mmmmm! Again, no ill effects. Awesome!

So, the next day…yet another piece.

Big mistake.

I guess it the effects take a while to accumulate because I’m having the worst stomach cramps I have ever had in my life. Most of other symptoms I had before I went off wheat a year ago are showing up, too. Really bad heart-burn, muscle pain, pain in my side, etc…

Note to self. Nan might be delicious but it is utter and pure poison. :P

I hope everyone else is doing great!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #12
September 30, 2009 — 7:26 am

Subject: Justin’s Awesome Update from Afghanistan, Part 3

Ok, ok…

So, I got the finalized list from the school here. This is what they are requesting: (I’m adding only things that weren’t in the two previous emails)

  • An old computer
  • Dry erase/chalk boards (small ones)
  • Geometric blocks (circles, triangles, rectangles, etc…)
  • Kid’s Magazines
  • Musical Instruments (How much do those cheap, plastic recorders cost back in the states)?

I’ve already heard back from some of you. There has been a donation of 200 boxes of crayons and some backpacks (thank you, Tiffany). Also, I got an IM from my sister about cash donations. Cash can either be sent to me via mail or by paypal. My paypal address is cosmicslop2006@gmail.com Cash will be used to buy electric space heaters, cooking oil, rice, beans, paint and building materials.

As you all know, winter is arriving and the kids will be in need of warm clothing (jackets, scarves, hats, mittens, gloves, boots, etc…). Second hand and hand me down clothing is perfect.

And, please don’t feel as if you need to confine yourself to any of these lists. Anything will help.

Again, thank you so much for your emails asking how to help. This really is a good thing we are doing.

If you haven’t seen the pictures of the childcare center yet, you can find them here: www.flickr.com/cosmicslop

Keep in touch!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #11
September 28, 2009 — 7:18 am

Subject: Justin’s Awesome Update from Afghanistan…Part 2

Heya, everybody!

So, just a quick update on what’s happening. In my previous two emails (I’m writing this for the benefit of a couple of people who were not included in those emails), I mentioned the childcare center located on the campus of where I’m working here in Kabul. (For pictures, see www.flickr.com/cosmicslop).

I got a finalized list from the school mistress of the supplies they are requesting.

For the teachers: Basic hygiene supplies (Shampoo, creams, soap, etc)…

For the students: Basic school supplies. (Pens and pencils are a much needed commodity here). Notebooks, paper, drawing paper, etc…

I also mentioned several things they need for their classrooms: Linen (you can see the beds they have in the pictures I took). Pillows, towels, washcloths, etc…

If anyone feels so inclined to send money (American is fine, I can exchange it here), I can purchase some other things that would be cheaper to buy here. Some of those items are:

  • Fans for the class room
  • Space heaters
  • Paint to paint their walls
  • Cooking Oil
  • Rice and other foods
  • Carpets

And, of course, there are the bigger projects like rebuilding the classroom that was destroyed by mortar fire several years ago.

Since winter is coming up, winter clothes would be much appreciated. Gloves, mittens, boots, warm socks, hats, etc…

I have three months left in country. Anything you can send would be greatly appreciated. From what I can tell, these kids are well loved and taken care of to the best of the teacher’s abilities, but they really are lacking even the most basic supplies.

Here is my address here:

Justin M. Stoddard
CSTC-A CJ2
APO AE 09356

In other news. I was sitting down at our training facility today (about a mile outside of base) when I heard a very loud BOOM. Everyone jumped up and I immediately threw on my body armor, helmet and chambered a round in my side arm. I tried to call back to base but I wasn’t getting any answers. I sat there for about ten minutes before I got my interpreter and we walked out to the guards (Afghan National Army) and asked them what happened. Apparently, someone overfilled a tire on his car and the tire exploded, making the BOOM. So, yeah, everyone was pretty much laughing at me. :)

I hope everyone is well and I always look forward to your emails!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #10
September 26, 2009 — 8:23 am

Subject: Justin’s Awsome Update from Afghanistan

Friends! Romans! Countrymen!

OK, a bit dramatic….

Hello, all! I wanted to give everyone an update about what’s going on over here. As you may remember, I sent out an email about a week ago talking about the childcare center located on the campus where I work. The response has been nearly overwhelming and heartfelt. Thank you!

I had a very nice meeting with the lady who runs the center today. We sat and talked for about a 1/2 an hour over tea and cookies. I told her that I had many friends and family who were eager to help. I’m going to be getting a list of specifics tomorrow, but here is what I can tell you:

Some of the items needed:

  • Basic School Supplies: such as pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, crayons, paint, drawing paper, coloring books, glue, scissors, notebooks and the like
  • Toys: Dolls, building blocks, Lego’s, toy cars, stuffed animals, etc…
  • Clothes: These children are from 4 months to 11 years old. (Most of them are around 4 or 5). Girl’s clothing should be modest in color and design
  • Donations: They are in dire need of at least 4 space heaters for their classrooms. I’d have to buy the heaters on the economy here as the electricity requirements are not the same. Any amount of money would be appreciated.
  • Bigger projects: I was shown one of their classrooms that took a direct hit from a mortar a few years ago. It needs to be completely rebuilt. I have no idea how to go about this, but I imagine if I can collect donations or solicit donations from companies or organizations in the states, we could buy the marterials needed here. There are plenty of people where I’m stationed who would love to help build such a place, so labor would not be a problem either.

I’ve uploaded a few pictures of the child care center here: www.flickr.com/cosmicslop I have more, but it’s taking me forever to get them uploaded. Check back from time to time to see what’s new. You’re able to tell by the pictures what they have and what they are lacking.

Onto other things…I taught the students at our training center (the people we are teaching to make maps, do surveys, etc…) how to play hangman and “rock, paper, scissors” today. They were confused as hell about “rock, paper, scissors” but they had fun playing it. Hangman was a real hit. I ended up giving them a 20 minute lecture on letter frequency in the English Language and that in turn turned into a discussion about just how illogical the English Language is.

All is good here. I’m eating well and am getting plenty of exercise. :)

I hope all is well with everyone out there!

I miss you guys!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #9
September 20, 2009 — 7:36 am

Subject: In Lieu Of…

Hi, all!
A number of you have asked me if I’d like some care packages while I’m over here. I can’t tell you what it means to me to be remembered and in all of your thoughts. I sincerely thank you.

The truth is, there’s not a lot I really need. We have a PX here and there is more than enough food. But, if you’ll stick with me for a moment, I have a proposal for you all.

On the campus where I work is a run down child-care center. At any given time, there are about 20 children there ranging from infants to 6 or 7 year-olds. Though the place is well run with a dedicated and loving staff, they don’t have even the basic necessities needed to run the place.

So, in lieu of any care packages for myself, I would like to solicit donations for this child care center. I have an appointment with the staff on Wednesday to find out what kind of things they need, but I suspect basic school supplies would be a huge part of it (crayons, paper, paint, scissors, markers, etc…). I suspect that clothing may also be needed, but I’ll find that out on Wednesday.

And, if you’d like to throw in a Snickers bar or two for me, well, that would be just swell. :)

A couple of you have also asked what, exactly, I’m doing out here. Well, I am a mentor to the people at the Afghanistan Geodesy and Cartography Head Office, which is the mapping agency for all of Afghanistan. Some of the projects I’m involved in are Geodetic Sciences, Gravitational Metering, Grids and Projections, Map Production, Training on how to use GIS software such as ARC and ERDAS, deciphering Survey Data, etc… I know, it all sounds dull and boring, but it’s an extremely rewarding job and I’m thankful for the opportunity to come out here in order to offer a bit of stability to an otherwise torn country.

Well, that’s about it, for now. Please let me know if you’d like to donate to the child care center here. It would mean a lot to me.

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #8
September 19, 2009 — 3:39 am

Subject: A Few Pictures

So, here are a few pictures. It took me almost 5 hours to upload just 10 pictures! These were all taken with my little point and shoot, so nothing great…

www.flickr.com/cosmicslop

or you can view them this way:

http://flickriver.com/photos/cosmicslop/

Have a great weekend!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #7
September 15, 2009 — 12:54 am

Subject: Oh, I forgot

I have kind of an amusing story.

They have a Green Bean coffee shop here on base. You can go in, 24 hours a day, and grab a coffee, latte, mocha, tea, etc. It’s kind of a poor man’s Starbucks, if you will. But, still, it’s a nice place to have.

Anyway, I was standing in line waiting on a tea when a soldier in front of me ordered a Mocha. The lady behind the counter was (very apologetically) told him that they were out of milk for the Mochas and they weren’t expecting a restock for two days. The soldier in front of me became visibly agitated and asked “why is it so Godda%^ hard to get some $##& milk around here” and stormed out.

This just really, really amused me. We’re in the middle of Afghanistan, for God’s sake, with a deadly insurgency springing up all around us and this guy got pissed because he couldn’t have a Mocha.

I wonder what a WWII vet would have thought if he had seen that. :)

In other news, they just cancelled all 4 day passes for military and DOD Civilians in Afghanistan. I guess things are heating up a little over here.

Be well!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #6
September 15, 2009 — 12:40 am

Subject: Hiya, all!

I just wanted to thank everyone for all the emails and good wishes. I know I’ve been terrible about staying in contact with friends and family in the past, but I’m attempting to do better.

I wanted to let everyone know that I got an Internet connection in my room here, now. And, it only cost me $100 per month! I’m not sure if that’s cheap or expensive in Afghanistan standards. Anyway, you should see me online a bit more, now as I’m generally in my room if I’m not at work or at the gym. After a 15 hour work day, all I want to do is crawl up in my bunk and rest. Since I share a room with 24 other people, you all can imagine how difficult that might be, what with all the bodily noises emanating all night long.

So, anyway, if you’d like to catch me on Skype or Yahoo, please feel free. I’ll leave them on so if I’m not there, you can leave a message.

Yahoo messenger: cosmicslop2008
Skype: justin_stoddard

Not much else has been going on since my last update. I ran 5 miles yesterday. I’m thinking I may want to do a marathon sometime after I get back. I should probably do one of those before I get too old. :P

I’ll try to get some pictures out tonight.

Talk to you all soon!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #5
September 13, 2009 — 8:21 am

Subject: Justin’s Travel Tips

I guess it’s been a bit since I’ve sent out a missive.

Here’s a side note: I was going to use the word “awhile” in that previous sentence but I always get confused as to what form to use; eg. “awhile” vs. “a while”. A search on Google only confuses the matter. If you use “awhile”, it means “for a period of time”; as in, “I’ll wait here awhile”. The “for” is implied. “A while” means “a period of time” and the word “for” must be used in the sentence. For example, “I’ll wait here for a while”.

So, unless anyone can correct me (Eric?), I’m assuming that first sentence would be incorrect using either variation. I wouldn’t say, “I guess it’s been awhile since I’ve sent out a missive”, because the implied “for” makes no sense. Likewise, I wouldn’t say, “I guess it’s been for a while since I’ve sent out a missive”. So, I’ll settle for “a bit”, I suppose, until I can think of something better.

Seriously, I agonize over these little pieces of minutia. It’s my cross to bear. Damn you, OCD.

Anyway, onto the subject of the email:

I’ve had the good fortune in my life to visit a hell of a lot of places. I’ve lived on two continents, have a working knowledge of two languages and am always fascinated by other cultures, whether it’s in the States or abroad. Through out my travels, I have come to rest on a couple, tried and true, simple axioms.

  1. Learn a few words of the local language and use them liberally. “Hello”, “please”, “thank you”, “how are you?”, “I’m fine” and “good bye” are a good start. You will not believe how far these phrases will get you if said in a respectful, genuine manner. I have learned, over and over again, that people generally love Americans, especially when they take the time to learn a bit of their culture and language.
  2. Be deferential when needed. This isn’t America. You’re not likely to get your way by shouting at and abusing those in authority. If you need to get an important point across, find someone who can help you translate and be earnest, firm and very polite. Use honorary terms if needed: “Sir” and “Ma’am”.
  3. If you find yourself in a “situation” with the authorities, play stupid. Here’s an example: When I was traveling China about 10 years ago with a friend of mine, we were walking past the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. This was about 2 weeks after the United States accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy in Serbia. About a week prior to our visit, the Chinese authorities allowed a controlled demonstration at the embassy where students threw rocks and paint at the building. Several windows were broken out and the outside of the building was damaged and discolored. I don’t know why, but I felt I had to get a picture. As soon as I snapped the photo, about 25 People’s Armed Police came out of the wood-work and completely surrounded us. They kept shouting, “That is forbidden!”, and “Give me your camera!”. My friend and I knew perfectly well what they were saying because, well, we speak Chinese. But, in this case, we acted completely dumb. I tucked the camera under my arm and kept saying, “What?” and “I’m an American”, and “I don’t understand” in English. This went on for about 10 minutes until they finally got tired of us and shooed us away.
  4. Pack extra socks.
  5. Be prepared to wash your clothes in the bathtub and either hang-dry them or to use a blow dryer.
  6. Get out of your hotel! I can’t believe how many people travel just to sit at the hotel pool.
  7. Never take the guided tour, if you can help it. Sure, there are cases where you’ll have to, but if you’re able, separate yourself from the group and go explore on your own. This may be the introvert talking in me, but I can’t stand pat tours with a large group of people. I find that they are usually dumbed down and you don’t get to see the really interesting parts. If you find yourself exploring an area where you’re no supposed to be (this rarely happens), again, feign ignorance, apologize and be on your way.
  8. Take pictures! I’m biased. I love to take pictures. But, I often find myself looking at them later and reliving my adventures.
  9. After the trip is over, buy a book about the history of where you just visited. Whenever I find something interesting, I always seek out an expert and ask this one simple question; “If I were to go to the book store right now and could only purchase one book, what should it be?”. I ask that question all the time. I’ve rarely been disappointed.
  10. Carry a small pocket notebook and a pen with you. I have a terrible memory and it helps to write things down that interest me.

That’s about it. 10 simple axioms to live by.

On a side note, everything is going swimmingly here in Afghanistan. I have a young guy down at my other office who sits down with me for about an hour a day to teach me Dari. I’m to the point where the Arabic script doesn’t look like a bunch of scribbling anymore. In fact, I can actually read a few words. I don’t know that I’ll ever be proficient, but I’d like to at least be conversant before I leave.

Today I took my drivers test for Afghanistan so I can drive in country. The roads here are a mess and it feels like you’re off-roading all the time. We have huge, unwieldy “up-armored” vehicles (bullet and small explosion proof). They are hell to drive, but that’s one more experience under my belt.

I’m two weeks into a 16 week deployment. 14 weeks to go!

I hope everyone is doing well. I really enjoy getting every one’s emails and I look forward to seeing you all again when I get home.

Be good to each other!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #4
September 10, 2009 — 8:29 am

Subject: I just had to send this out

Since it’s my birthday today, I asked several people (independent of each other) to guess my age. The range was 28-33 years old. Since I turn 38 today, I guess I’m aging gracefully. Either that, or I don’t act my age. :)

Hope everyone is doing well. It’s a beautiful day in Afghanistan. 80 degrees, sunny and no explosions!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #3
September 8, 2009 — 6:43 am

Subject: I’m OK

I’ve gotten a few emails asking if I’m OK after this morning’s bombing attack. I’m fine. The attack happened about 5 miles from here at the Kabul International Airport (where I flew in about a week ago). The person I replaced missed it by about 15 minutes on his way out.

Anyway, just wanted to let everyone know I’m fine. Hope everyone had a wonderful Labor Day. We had grilled steak and crab legs. :)

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #2
September 7, 2009 — 4:22 am

Subject: Update from Afghanistan

Greetings from Kabul!

I’m not sure if all of you are willing to be spammed by my periodic updates, so let me know if you want off the mailing list. :)

Life is good so far in Afghanistan. I’m one week down in my 16 week deployment. It’s actually been very productive so far. Today I held meetings with the president of the Afghan Geodesy and Cartography Head Office to discuss how we want our partnership to proceed. Everyone is incredibly friendly here. I’m even picking up a fair amount of Persian. I can say Hello, Goodbye, Thank you, How are you? I am fine, excuse me, etc… I hope to be able to be conversational on a rudimentary level before I leave.

It’s actually very peaceful where I’m at. Though a lot of bad things are going down in other parts of the country, I haven’t heard any sign of the war that’s going on around us. When I was in Bosnia in 1996, we went to sleep to machine gun fire almost every night. That’s not to say we’re not being careful around here. We’ve all been issued body armor and weapons.

So far I’ve been working 14-15 hour days with an hour break to go to the gym. I’m hoping to participate in a 10k run when I get back state-side.

Anyway, that’s about it for now. I’d love to hear from everyone, if you have the time.

Talk to you soon!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dispatches From Afghanistan #1
September 4, 2009 — 7:46 pm

Subject: I made it!

Hello, all!
I’ve made it to Kabul. And, it only took 5 days to get here! I’m still learning how everything works and where everything is located. Living conditions are pretty primative here. I live in a huge open-air bay with 24 other people. Everyday I have to put on my body-armor and helmet and walk about1.5 miles to my second office and then walk back a few hours later to my primary office. The food is really good here. Lots of bacon and eggs in the morning and all the fruit you can eat.

I’ve yet to walk down to the Internet cafe, so I haven’t been able to check Facebook. But, it looks like I’ll have daily access to my Gmail account.

I hope everyone is well!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Books for the Journey
July 9, 2009 — 5:44 pm

I think I’ve worked out a list of books I’ll be taking with me to Afghanistan. They are currently piled up on my bed, waiting to be bundled/packed/shipped. I kept the number down to ten, to be somewhat manageable. Out of the ten, there is only one I’ve read before, but it was in my mid-teens. Surprisingly, there are only three works of non-fiction (to include one book of poetry).

Anyway, here they are.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I’ve never been disappointing by a Neil Gaiman novel, and I expect great things from this one.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. This is one of those “I should really get around to reading that” books. It’s been sitting on my shelf for nearly a decade, but something else always seemed to come up first.

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Another book I’ve been meaning to read these past few years.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. How can I resist? It has the title of my absolute favorite book in its title. Plus, I’ve heard good things about it.

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. Everyone who knows their Science Fiction insists this is one of the best books written in the genre. Who am I to argue?

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Not only have I never read this particular book, I’ve never read anything by Ernest Hemingway, save for a few of his short stories. Again, I don’t know why. I just never got around to it.

The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. This is the one I read as a teenager. I’ve been meaning to read it again to see if it stands up to my memory of it.

Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack. This one was recommended by a friend who raved about it. We’ll see…

Desolation Road by Ian McDonald. Another one of those classic Science Fiction books that I hear is highly praised.

The Mentor Book of Major American Poets edited by Oscar Williams. Books of poetry are always appreciated.

And, here is a list of books I hope to have read by the time I leave in late August:

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon. I’m half way through it and am thoroughly enjoying the story. So far, it’s lived up to its hype.

The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater. Daniel Pinkwater writes the smartest kids books I have ever read. Have you ever read The Phantom Tollbooth? He’s on that level of greatness.

The Taliban by Ahmed Rashid.

The Great War for Civilisation by Robert Fisk. At over one thousand pages, this book is quite literally a tome. I’m not sure if I’ll make much headway into it before I leave, but its subject matter is important.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (5)
The Continuing Implosion of the Right
July 7, 2009 — 7:42 pm

Via Radley Balko, who points to Andy McCarthy’s latest piece in the National Review:

The Wall Street Journal (as flagged in the NRO web briefing) reports on rioting in China by Uighur “students” that has left scores dead and hundreds wounded. The “students,” described elsewhere in the story as from a “predominantly Muslim ethnic group[, which has] long chafed at restrictions on their civil liberties and religious practices imposed by a Chinese government fearful of political dissent,” expressed their dissent by torching cars and buses, as well as — according to accounts of some witnesses to state-controlled media — rampaging “with big knives stabbing people” on the street.

No reason for non-Muslims in Bermuda, Palau, or the United States to worry, though. The lovable Uighurs are merely trying to address “economic and social discrimination.” Once they get social justice, I’m sure they’ll stop.

I can’t even call this willful ignorance. This is just base, cynical stupidity. It cravenly plays to the uneducated and the xenophobic. Whether it was done purposely or not matters little. This is a pitiful argument from an un-nuanced and shallow mind. If this is what passes for conservative thought, you can have it.

Here’s are several questions for Mr. McCarthy:

1. Should the United States allow countries like China, with their absolutely horrific history of human rights abuse, to enlist it into its fight against “terrorism”? (Remember, please that Mao made Hitler look like an amateur piker.) If so, should Muslim ethnic minorities in Burma also be classified as such?

2. Do you agree with the Chinese Communist Party’s documented plans of gentrifying entire Chinese provinces, especially when said provinces were taken by force? I am speaking, of course, of Tibet and Xinjiang

3. Is it OK for a government to treat persons of different nationalities or religious beliefs as second class citizens, subject to harassment, arrest, detainment, etc…?

4. Does the Republican party (or conservative thinkers) actually stand for anything anymore? More specifically, Mr. McCarthy, what do you stand for? You know as well as anyone that the story coming out of China is nebulous and slanted. You know, Mr. McCarthy, that you don’t know the whole story. You understand that an entire population of hundreds of thousands of people are not responsible for the actions of a few hundred.

5. Since when did Republicans become apologists for repressive Communist regimes?

Seriously, Mr. McCarthy. Shame on you.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
That Which is Done is That Which Shall be Done
June 28, 2009 — 4:27 pm

I’ve been here before. Here in a metaphorical sense more than a physical reality. I spent nearly 12 months in 1995 and 1996 gearing up for a deployment to Bosnia/Herzegovina. You’ll recall the chaos and near anarchy that ruled the Balkans for the good part of 5 years. Slaughter, mayhem, torture, rape, genocide, all happening right at Europe’s back door.

When I finally did deploy, I went by myself rather than with the 20 person team I trained with. As a newly promoted Sergeant, I was to take charge of a liaison team representing the American forces in a Nordic/Polish battalion in Doboj, Bosnia. We were a four man team with extreme autonomy. We ran the mission the way we saw fit. As long as the higher-ups in Tuzla got their daily reports, we were left alone.

By the time we got there (about 3 months after the Dayton Peace Accords were signed, effectively ending the conflict) things had pretty much died down to a nice dull roar. Though I was never shot at, our team would go to sleep every night to the sound of automatic gunfire off in the distance. Occasionally a large explosion would occur nearby, prompting us to get into a convoy to investigate. I have pictures lying around here somewhere of a blown-up bridge. We arrived on the scene minutes after it happened.

That’s not to say there weren’t moments of sheer terror. When two Serbian MIGS buzzed our camp so close I could see the pilots in their cockpits, I was almost sure it was the end for me as I was caught out in the open, walking from the barracks to my office. Apparently that was a game the Serbian air force liked to play. That particular incident locked half the country down and communiques were sent assuring those in charge that if that were to occur again, said planes would be blown from the sky.

Doom gripped me twice more with its icy fingers during my stay. Once, while convoying from Doboj to Tuzla, we were waved over by a Swedish soldier to provide assistance to a young woman who stepped on a landmine. By the time we walked up to the scene, a very large and angry crowd had gathered, looking upon the two dismembered bodies and one (amazingly) slightly injured woman the landmine had claimed. One tends not to process these horrendous events as they are happening, as you’re too busy just reacting. Reacting to the decapitated body of what looked like a young man in his twenties and his friend/brother/cousin? lying still next to him, peaceful in death, no obvious injuries. The sharp and stunning contrast between the two was what struck at me. They were a literal false dichotomy.

This fantastic juxtaposition was so unnerving to me, so curious, so odd that I failed to notice an ugly turn in the crowd around me. They began to look upon us with accusing eyes. They shrieked and hollered and gestured threateningly. No one took charge, the leadership around me was frozen in uncertainly. Someone attempted to assist the poor woman with her wound but was violently rebuffed. Though we had weapons, we were outnumbered at least ten to one. Finally, a Bosnian linguist from our group spoke up. Whatever he said assuaged the crowd long enough for us to get back into our convoy and drive on.

Youthful swagger got the best of me the next time doom and I met. I volunteered for a foot patrol of the demilitarized zone that served to separate the Serbian and Muslim populations in Bosnia. To this day I have no idea why I did this. I have never experienced that crushing feeling of loneliness at that level since. We were an 8 man squad, roaming about with no immediate support or heavy weapons. You cannot imagine to what extent your senses spike in a situation like that. It’s literally exhausting.

Between the moments of sheer excitement and utter boredom, there was the absurd and bizarre. On New Years Eve 1997, I found myself in the square of our camp watching and listening to the reverie surrounding us. In this case, the celebration consisted of the Bosnians shooting automatic weapons/anti aircraft weapons into the sky. The arch of the tracers was an amazing thing to behold. Literally tens of thousands of rounds curving above us, leaving a trail of bright green and red as the prosperous burned off each one. Accentuate that with the occasional grenade/RPG explosion and you have yourself one hell of a celebration. I’ll never understand, to my dying day, why I was outside watching all of this happen. Though it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, it was, and still remains the most dangerous and asininely stupid things I have ever done.

We had a nice rivalry with our foreign partners, namely the Finns, Poles, Swedes, Nords and Danes. Once, I was able to procure a plastic viking helmet with horns. After a briefing I was able to entertain our counterparts with a complete Swedish Chef imitation. Now, in my humble opinion, I do a pretty good Swedish Chef. But, in this case, the Swedes were more bemused than amused at the attempt. More than anything, they wanted me to know that “Swedes don’t talk like that. We don’t go around saying Bork Bork Bork”. Win one for the Americans, I say.

There’s so much more to mention about my experiences in Bosnia and what I’ve learned afterwords. And, this brings me back to my original point. I’ve been here before. Now that I find myself ramping up for a stint in Afghanistan, Bosnia is more and more on my mind. I’m older, now. Thirteen years have passed. I have two daughters to think of. Demise weighs heavier on the mind at 37 than it did at 23.

I’m also no longer part of the military structure. I’m a civilian, now. I have no idea how that will affect my experiences.

And yet, this time, technology is on my side. I’ll have daily internet connectivity, assuring a steady stream of communication between me and family/friends. I hear Skype is the big thing over there. Also, I have an iPod full of so much music/movies/TV shows, I’ll never get through them in a four month period.

So, yeah, these are the things I’m thinking of. I’ve been here before. I wonder if I’ll be here again somewhere down the road. In a metaphorical sense, of course. . . . Read more!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Unable to Sleep: Travel List
June 28, 2009 — 2:42 am

Because I’m unable to fall asleep (I drank a large Diet Coke a few hours ago), here, in no particular order, are the top five places I’d like to travel to in the future:

1. The Gobi Desert. Specifically the part of the desert that resides in Mongolia. I’m thinking a 10-14 day visit would be required to get everything in that I’d want to do, including a camel trek through a portion of it. Of course, a couple of days in Ulan Bator, the capital city of Mongolia, would be in order.

2. Xinjiang, China. I’ve been to mainland China twice, now, and with the exception of the Three Gorges Damn area, this is the part of China I yearn to visit the most. The area is dominated by the Uyghur nationality, and the Uyghur language (a Turkic language) is predominately spoken there. The capital city, Urumchi, has the distinct honor of being the farthest city from any ocean in the world.

3. Tokyo, Japan. Ever since I first saw the Karate Kid way back in the day, going to Japan has been a dream of mine. Though, my reasons for wanting to go have matured since then, it is just as exciting to think about it now as it was in my early teens.

There are two things that I’d like to do while in Tokyo: Climb Mt. Fuji to witness the rising sun, and participate in a few Aikido lessons at the Aikikai World Aikido Foundation.

4. The Falkland Islands/South Georgia/Antarctica. This is probably the most ambitious and potentially most expensive item on my list. But, you’ve really gone places if you’ve made it to Antarctica.

5. The Baltic States, which includes Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. And, of course, a quick jump up to Finland would also be on the itinerary.

So, yeah, five locations I’d like to visit. I’ll be lucky if I can complete one of them. I’ll be completely blessed if I can get two. Anymore than that and I’ll be completely satisfied with life.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (2)
A Gondry Compendium
June 27, 2009 — 1:43 pm

Someone over at Metafilter.com has composed a rather long list of music videos directed by Michel Gondry.

Some of the music may not be to your liking, but the video work is striking. If I ever do get a nice video camera and start working in that medium, Gondry, as well as the extremely talented Terrence Malick will certainly serve as an inspiration. . . . Read more!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (3)
Afghanistan Bound
June 26, 2009 — 11:22 pm

Well, it’s been confirmed; I’m on my way to Afghanistan for a four month stay. I’ll be leaving early September and coming back early January.

I’ll be writing a great deal about my experiences, but since most of it will be targeted towards the people I work with/for, I will be maintaining a separate blog here. Though, if the subject matter isn’t too technical, I’ll be doing quite a bit of cross-posting right here on good ole’ Shrubbloggers.

So, my first step? Learn the Dari alphabet.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
When Prayer is too Personal
June 25, 2009 — 9:05 pm

By now most of the world knows of both Farrah Fawcett’s and Michael Jackson’s demise. Of course, I didn’t know either of them, though I knew of them in varying degrees. My fascination with both wore off many, many years ago. Somewhere between 6th grade and my Freshman year in high school.

I can clearly predict that there will be unceasing media coverage of both deaths/family reactions/public reaction/interment/memorials, ad infinitum. I can also clearly predict that (other than what I see online) I will not be participating.

It’s what I’ve been seeing online so far that bemuses me. Comment after comment after comment saying: “Michael Jackson and his family are in my prayers”.

Wouldn’t a simple, “Michael Jackson, R.I.P.” suffice? What does it really mean to “be in someone’s prayers”? Don’t get me wrong; if, God forbid, something happened to a family member of mine and a close friend/relative assured me that I was in their prayers, well, I would be thankful, my lack of faith not withstanding.

But, we’re not close friends or family members of either Michael or Farrah. We’re vastly more emotionally detached. We don’t have to fumble for awkward words to say to the bereaved. And, quite frankly, they’re not listening anyway. We can simply say, “Wow, I’ll miss that they’re not around”.

So, really, piling on one after the other, saying “you’re in my prayers”; well, isn’t that just a tad narcissistic and assuming? Isn’t it just a bit too…personal?

I’m just saying….

— Justin M. StoddardComments (3)
Beck, The Velvet Underground and Nico
June 25, 2009 — 8:15 pm

Beck, wunderkind musician/songwriter of the past two decades, is covering one of the most influential albums of the late 20th century: . . . Read more!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Pinyin News: A Great Blog For All Linguistically Inclined People
June 24, 2009 — 8:52 pm

Pinyin News is a blog I follow almost religiously. Though the subject matter is highly specialized (the romanization of Chinese characters in the country of Taiwan), it fascinates me.

If you are at all interested in orthography or the problems of transliteration vs. translation in any language, you should check it out. The fellow that runs the site is knowledgeable and at times pretty witty. I’m not in agreement with some of his linguistic opinions, but he does a good job of backing them all up with rational arguments.

Disclaimer: I speak a bit of Chinese and have been to Taiwan. You should go, too!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Fomenting Unintended Consequences
June 22, 2009 — 6:24 pm

Bob Herbert’s recent op-ed is a study in both willful ignorance and cognitive dissonance.

Titled, A Threat We Can’t Ignore, Mr. Herbert attempts to conflate the recent shooting in D.C. to an imaginary, wide-spread, right-wing hate movement. Not only does he do a fantastically poor job of it, he brings up the specter of Waco to attempt to drive his point home.

There was a wave of right-wing craziness along those lines during the Clinton administration. Four federal agents were killed and 16 others wounded in 1993 during an attempt to serve a search warrant at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Tex., where a stockpile of illegal machine guns had been amassed. The subsequent siege ended disastrously with a raging fire in which scores of people were killed.

That’s one way of looking at it. Another goes like this: Nearly 80 people were immolated when a government tank began smashing walls in while spraying vast amounts of CS gas into the compound which quite probably started the resulting fire. Agents then held back firetrucks a few miles off while women and children burned to death inside. There is speculation that several children died from severe muscle contortions resulting from an overdose of CS gas.

That’s the end result. What Mr. Herbert fails to mention (and what he most certainly knows, as it is one of the most well documented legal cases in recent history), is that the search warrant was obtained on information known to be false. The ATF knew it had no basis to enter the compound so it invented the now infamous “meth lab” and “child abuse” stories. And, to add insult to injury, though they may well have had an arsenal of weapons, only one was deemed illegal.

Mr. Herbert continues:

In the aftermath of Waco, the N.R.A. did its typically hysterical, fear-mongering thing. In a fund-raising letter in the spring of 1995, LaPierre wrote: “Jack-booted government thugs [have] more power to take away our Constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property, and even injure or kill us. …”

I’m not much for hyperbole, but, really, I can’t see anything wrong with the above. For, who else but government (any government) has such a monopoly on that kind of power?

Here’s what people like Mr. Herbert completely fail to understand. The overwhelmingly vast majority of gun owners in this country are peaceful, law-abiding people who just want to be left alone. The evidence is, well, self evident. There are millions upon millions of privately owned handguns/rifles/shotguns, hell even machine guns in this country; and yet, we are not living in some Balkanized hell-hole where snipers are taking a whack at us every time we try to catch the train.

Mr. Herbert continues:

The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported a resurgence of right-wing hate groups in the U.S. since Mr. Obama was elected president. Gun craziness of all kinds, including the passage of local laws making it easier to own and conceal weapons, is on the rise. Hate-filled Web sites are calling attention to the fact that the U.S. has a black president and that his chief of staff is Jewish.

When the state of Missouri passed a concealed carry law several years ago, we heard rhetoric like this all the time. Gun control advocates were certain that the streets would be running with blood. Amazingly, this hasn’t happened. In fact, the Missouri crime rate has kept at a steady pace since, with crime rising in some years and falling in others. Nobody is shooting it out down by the Arch.

And, this allows me to segue into another columnist with some of the same complaints.

On June 11th, Bonnie Erbe of U.S. News and World Report suggests that we Round Up Hate-Promoters Now, Before Any More Holocaust Museum Attacks.

How do we round them up? No answer. Who do we round up? No answer. Who will be in charge of rounding them up? No answer. How does this pass Constitutional muster? No answer. Who watches the watchers? No answer. What is defined as “hate speech”? No answer. Will these people be provided a trial? No answer. What will be the charges levied? No answer.

This is a ridiculously stupid position to take. What happens when the reins of power shift from Democrats to Republicans and they start using this awesome power to detain those they don’t like? No answer. Stupid. Stupid and insipid.

Mr. Herbert and Ms. Erbe epically fail in thinking things through to their logical conclusions. You want more right-wing violence in this country? The sure fire way of getting it is to start rounding them up and taking away their guns. Any half-intelligent person understands the laws of unintended consequences.

Let me make this clear. I stand outside of any structured political party. I’m not a Republican, nor am I a Democrat. I have “liberal leanings” on some issues and “conservative leanings” on others. Saying that, I completely understand the trepidation many gun-owners in this country have towards their government. These are well informed and educated people. When they see things like Waco go down, they tend to take notice. When they see a government cover-up in the aftermath of events like Waco, they start to get prepared.

Take that for what it is. My advice? Leave these people alone. Conflating a couple of maladjusted, unfortunate souls with the entire gun owning/conservative population makes as little sense as blaming all “illegal” immigrants when one breaks the law. These are outliers. Be smart, treat them as such.

Further reading:

Using Waco “Blowback” to Suppress Dissent
More on Bonnie Erbe
The Brown Scare of ’09
The Agitator’s take on all of this

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Viva La Twitterlucion!
June 21, 2009 — 11:28 am

My friend Timo Virkkala has a nice, brief post up about Twitter over at his place.

I’ve avoided the Twitter phenomenon since its inception. I never really bothered to understand its merits. As another friend of mine stated when I asked if he used it, “Isn’t that for teenaged girls?”.

Well, yeah, maybe. But, recent world events have given me pause and another chance to take a look at the Twitter revolution. There is clear evidence that though confused and nebulous, a mass of people using Twitter on the ground, as events unfold serves as a much better information pipeline than slow, bureaucratic television stations or newspapers.

Granted, you’re not going to get anything in depth, but if you pay attention and have the capacity for it, you may be able to filter out the chaos and form an over-arching story.

I’ve also found that Twitter serves as a nice little “RSS feed”. I only have a limited time per day to cull the internet for what interests me. Now, half the work is done for me by friends and contacts.

So, I guess I’m finally on-board. You can follow me here.

Viva la revolucion!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Saturday Links
June 20, 2009 — 5:49 pm
  • The city of Bozeman, Montana backs down from asking city job applicants for their Facebook/Myspace/blog passwords. I’m sure the unwanted national attention the city received had something to do with it. I wonder if anyone will be fired over this? I further wonder who in their right mind thought this was a good idea.

  • Pixar consistently produces some of the best animation ever created. They are also one hell of a class act.

  • Science Fiction author, Charles Platt, goes undercover at Walmart. Not surprisingly (to me, anyway) what he finds is a place completely at odds with the Brave New World-esque nightmare unions and anti-capitalists have been feeding us for the past 20 years.

  • The ACLU is suing the TSA over Steve Bierfeldt’s detention and harassment. His crime? Carrying money and a copy of the U.S. Constitution (and being a Ron Paul supporter). His only saving grace? He recorded the incident.

  • Best Detention Slip…Ever.
— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
In Perpetuity
June 18, 2009 — 7:54 pm

Listen, I realize how easy it is to devolve into a rant when one owns a blog. I’ve spewed forth my fair share of vitriol on these very pages. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with that. A good rant can be cleansing. It serves as a visceral outlet. But, they do tend to get old, especially when one doesn’t have the energy to put their heart into it.

But, a rant does serve one concrete purpose. Once it’s up, it’s up, baby. In today’s digital age, a blog post can almost be assured to live on in perpetuity.

That said, I’d like to introduce the world to Suzanne Lukas, the state of Maine’s School Area District 6 Superintendent.

Go ahead, hit the link…drink it in.

Suzanne Lukas refused to hand student Justin Denney his diploma after he bowed to the crowd and blew a kiss to his mother. I know, I know…there has to be more to the story, right? Nope. Watch the video for yourself.

Pathetic, Suzanne Lukas. Downright pathetic.

The story continues to say that at least one student was escorted out of the auditorium by the police for having a beach ball. He was told he could leave or be arrested. Wow! A beach ball. Good on ya, Barney Fife. I seem to recall shenanigans like this going down at my high school graduation. Amazingly enough, we all lived through it. If there were police present, they didn’t act like pansy assed, power tripping megalomaniacs. And, our Superintendent didn’t completely show his ass in front of thousands of people.

As I stated in a previous post, there’s a cup of pencils somewhere with Suzanne Lukas’s name on it, just waiting to get sold on some street corner.

Lord, save us from principals and superintendents.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Put Down That Hoppe Pipe
June 18, 2009 — 7:23 pm

Via Tom Knapp, Rad Geek completely owns Vin Suprynowicz on the issue of “illegal” immigration. (Scroll down to the comments)

As Tom says on his site:

Yo, libertarians: Put down the Hoppe / Brimelow / Wooldridge crack pipe. Please. You’re embarrassing yourselves, and frankly this business of having to constantly roll your semi-conscious carcasses out of your own ideological vomit is getting a little old.

I paid very close attention to Vin Suprynowitcz before his anti-immigration shtick began a few years ago. I have no idea how a person like that reasons himself into such an untenable position. Like Tom says, he should know better.

***UPDATE***

Rad Geek breaks everything down over at his place.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Pompous Circumstance
June 6, 2009 — 12:06 pm

You know, when I think on it, there hasn’t been a single high-school principal I’ve known whom I’ve respected. And, the more I read about them, the more they disgust me. Whether they are banning touch sports, suspending students for sniffing markers or, the latest, denying students the one day they’ve earned after twelve years in hell:

But when commencement rehearsal time came Thursday morning, her mother, Maria Ramos, developed a painful migraine headache, leaving her unable to drive.

Ramos explained that behind the wheel, “it’s really dangerous for myself, my daughter.”

Not holding her own driver’s license, Lopez took off, walking 2.3 miles to the high school.

She says she arrived at 11 a.m., well past the 10 a.m. mandatory rehearsal time.

A district spokeswoman confirmed that principal Mike Chrietzberg disqualified Lopez, since the rule to be there on time and for the entire rehearsal, is clear and firm.

“I just took it like very badly because it’s something that I’ve been waiting for,” Lopez said.

I’m not even going to assume there’s “more to the story” than we’re hearing, as many apologists for these kinds of actions often claim. It’s easier for me to believe that principal Mike Chrietzberg is a petty little man who accepts no interruptions in his little fiefdom.

Principal Mike Chrietzberg, if teaching students that they must bend to arbitrary, stupid, unbending power, is your goal, you’ve done a bang up job. May I suggest you get a new job? Perhaps selling pencils on a street corner would be more suitable to your abilities?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Misc. Mayhem: The Insect God
June 5, 2009 — 10:11 pm

Being one of the tracks on my Misc Mayhem! mix-tape.

I’m not sure what entity entered my sphere of awareness first, Edward Gorey or Camper Van Beethoven. For the purpose of this post, I’ll assume I came across both at relatively the same time. Stick with me here.

First, Camper Van Beethoven. I don’t want to stick with this band too much…we’ll see them more in a later post. When the band broke up in the early 90′s, two feuding bands emerged: David Lowery’s Cracker and Victor Krummenacher’s Monks of Doom.

I was perfectly happy to pay my allegiances to the Cracker side of the rift. They stumbled with their first release, but I still think their second effort, Kerosene Hat, is a fine, fine piece of work.

I didn’t pay much attention to Monks of Doom until Eric sent me a mix-tape (literally a tape) with The Insect God included. . . . Read more!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Misc. Mayhem!
June 5, 2009 — 7:56 pm

I’ve finished six of my mixed tapes, but I thought I’d start with this one as it’s my favorite so far. I’ll be writing about each song individually as the month goes on. For now, I just wanted to get the tracks listed.

As you know, there are 20 tracks per tape (CD, whatever). Artists don’t repeat unless they are in a different band or working on a different project (you’ll see an example below).

For the most part, the songs below didn’t fit neatly into any of my other categories. After I completed it, I found that 10 of the songs are old to me. The other 10 are brand new discoveries.

I love them all.

A quick word of caution. Some of the Youtube videos above are live versions of the songs listed. In my opinion, they aren’t nearly as good as the studio album versions. For example, you’re not going to hear David Immergluck’s (now of the Counting Crows) amazing, mighty, almost reality defying wail in the middle of The Insect God. And, you’re not going to experience Black Francis’s powerful, yet contained screaming in Monkey Gone to Heaven.

Other than that, though…good stuff all around.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Alles Klar Herr Kommissar?
June 2, 2009 — 10:52 am

Via the New York Times, meet the 31 year old who is now running Government Motors.

As Radley Balko states:

He has no business training. His work experience consists of campaigns, politics, and a stint at a foreign aid organization. Welcome to the planned economy.

Tell me again why I should “buy American”?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Change You Can Believe In
June 1, 2009 — 9:37 pm

From Salon.com:

Obama’s support for the new Graham-Lieberman secrecy law.

The White House is actively supporting a new bill jointly sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman — called The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009 — that literally has no purpose other than to allow the government to suppress any “photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States.” As long as the Defense Secretary certifies — with no review possible — that disclosure would “endanger” American citizens or our troops, then the photographs can be suppressed even if FOIA requires disclosure. The certification lasts 3 years and can be renewed indefinitely. The Senate passed the bill as an amendment last week.

Start explaining yourselves, Democrats. Where’s the outrage?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Off the Shelves
May 31, 2009 — 6:14 pm

A look at what I’m currently reading:

Hollywood by Gore Vidal. The fifth in book in his Narratives of Empire series, in which Vidal explores the personalities of William Randolph Hearst, President Woodrow Wilson and the role of Hollywood in selling America on the First World War. Like other books in his series, this is done through a rich tapestry of fictional (and non-fictional) characters. So far Burr has been the best in the series, but we’re now approaching an era of history that I have always been immensely fascinated with.

Picking up this book reminded me of one of my favorite Simpsons quotes:

Lisa: “These are my only friends: grown-up nerds like Gore Vidal. And even he’s kissed more boys than I ever will.”
Marge: “Girls, Lisa. Boys kiss girls.”

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Micheal Chabon. I don’t know much about this book other than what I’ve heard via word-of-mouth. I do know that it’s a work of alternate fiction, a genre I can’t get enough of. We’ll see if it pans out.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Bill Donohue: Vacuous Dirtbag
May 31, 2009 — 1:25 pm

Posted without comment, other than just…”wow”. . . . Read more!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Troll Bait
May 30, 2009 — 10:02 pm

Because I can’t stand it when someone on the internet is wrong, I get sucked into the school choice debate over at Eric’s place of employment. Though Eric really doesn’t need my help, I’m just kind of backing him up a bit.

He has to be half-way civil.

I don’t.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
WTF
May 29, 2009 — 10:20 pm

When Eric finally gets around to adding the ability to categorize our posts, I’m seriously considering adding a WTF category.

Because, seriously, the following would certainly qualify. . . . Read more!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (2)
Afternoon Links
May 29, 2009 — 1:49 pm

A few links of interest:

  • A new book is about to come out documenting the history of the United States and Great Britain’s involvement in deporting the entire population of Diego Garcia to make way for one of our most strategically important military bases. Not surprisingly, it’s pretty much a tale of woe

  • Tiny Art Director. A delightful interaction between an artist father and his task mistress 4 year old daughter. And, he got a book deal!

  • Speaking of kids, here’s a great contrafactual video by Eric Herman called The Elephant Song. Every parent loves doing these kinds of things to their young children. It’s incredibly charming to watch their absolute black and white philosophy unfold before your eyes.

  • Wikipedia bans editors from the Church of Scientology.
— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Irony, Thy Name is Progress
May 28, 2009 — 5:35 pm

From the New York Times:

The killing in 1967 of an unarmed demonstrator by a police officer in West Berlin set off a left-wing protest movement and put conservative West Germany on course to evolve into the progressive country it has become today.

Now a discovery in the archives of the East German secret police, known as the Stasi, has upended Germany’s perception of its postwar history. The killer, Karl-Heinz Kurras, though working for the West Berlin police, was at the time also acting as a Stasi spy for East Germany.

For the left, Mr. Kurras’s true allegiance strikes at the underpinnings of the 1968 protest movement in Germany. The killing provided the clear-cut rationale for the movement’s opposition to what its members saw as a violent, unjust state, when in fact the supposed fascist villain of leftist lore was himself a committed socialist.

It comes as absolutely no surprise to me that a socialist agent of the state acted in such a brutal, calculating manner; but does it come as a surprise to the left? Leftists already have much to answer for, but this event does much more than strike “at the underpinnings of the 1968 protest movements”. More than one leftist criminal organization rallied around this event to justify their actions.

Seriously, the irony here is delicious, predictable and heart breaking.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Watchenstein
May 27, 2009 — 7:39 pm

I have a love affair with watches. I love them. Not only are they completely sensible, they are about the only piece of jewelery that really looks good on a man.

I allow myself a new watch about once every six months. Always analog. Never digital.

Though I usually don’t spend more than say…$60 on a new watch, I might be able to convince myself to lay down the $219 it would cost to get this beauty.

Listen, I know there are many (if not most) of you out there who think this thing is a hideous piece of crap. But, I gotta be honest. I literally salivated the first time I saw it.

More, please!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
A Confederacy of Imbeciles
May 26, 2009 — 5:53 pm

H.L. Mencken once wrote:

I do not object to being denounced, but I can’t abide being school-mastered, especially by men I regard as imbeciles.

Mencken can always be counted upon to provide pithy, worthwhile quotes but the above is certainly my favorite. Anytime I run across an imbecile who wishes to “school-master” (surprisingly, this happens quite a bit as there seems to be a high rate of co-morbidity between imbeciles and the need to inculcate via means of, well, imbecility), I think upon it and smile.

Such is the case concerning the recent Memorial Day row over the Confederate Memorial located at Arlington. If you have a moment, follow the preceding link and read the letter sent to President Obama asking him to break with the tradition of sending a Memorial Day wreath to said monument.

I actually agree with the overall thrust of this letter, in principle (though not really in action). America would probably be a much better place if it broke every tradition ever set by Woodrow Wilson. Here’s an assignment for all you radical high school students: Do not rest until every institution of learning in this country is eradicated of the name Woodrow Wilson. That these people are not protesting federal monuments made out to the very worst of our presidents is telling. Very educated, cogent and rational arguments can and have been made that Wilson is at least tangentially responsible for tens of millions of deaths. But, I digress. Onto the monumental flap.

I am not here to defend monuments to war. I simply have never been that riled up about them, either way. I like visiting old grave yards. I love looking at and touching old monuments. They are very interesting to me, regardless of political views. I’ve been to Arlington numerous times and have seen/touched the Confederate memorial. It’s a nice looking statue; Gothic and a bit foreboding, but very tangential. But, that’s the point of a monument, isn’t it?

My views on the Civil War have been hashed out before. It was a mistake. The North should have taken the high ground and seceded from the Union decades before that fateful day at Fort Sumter. But, these are all mental exercises in alternate histories. Surely we can all be good winners and allow one or two monuments without all the hullabaloo?

But, I find I’m straying further and further away from my original intent when I started this post an hour or so ago. Like I said, I don’t like being school-mastered, but if you are going to attempt it, please don’t be an idiot about it. The signers of the letter claim that giving credence to the memorial also gives credence to confederacy. We are left to infer that that would be a bad thing. But, shouldn’t every American warmly welcome confederacy? Weren’t the people we count as the greatest of Americans confederates? Benjamen Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, Martin Luther King, ad infinitum…?

And, really, claiming that Cato the Younger would have stood against the CSA during the war is simply astonishing. Cato, though a timeless and powerful voice for freedom, had slaves of his own. Despite this obvious inconsistency (think George Washington or Thomas Jefferson) it’s easy to imagine young Cato coming down on either side of the argument. The Confederacy, for all its blatant, evil faults, had just enough good arguments on their side of things that it’s still easy to this day to get caught in the trap of becoming their apologist.

And yet, that’s what we have done for the North every day since the war ended nearly 150 years ago. It’s time to stop apologizing for both sides. It was what it was and it is what it is.

Take some time, go visit an old grave yard. Find an old Confederate or Union tombstone/monument. Look at it, touch it, walk around it, study it, meditate on it. Just, you know…relax.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Mix Tape Mayhem!
May 25, 2009 — 7:50 pm

Apart from ending the past two blog post titles with an exclamation point, my little brain has been hard at work trying to figure out just what I should be doing with my free time.

I came up with an idea about a week ago and have been fastidiously working to make it a reality. I’ve always liked receiving and sending out mix-tapes. Really, I’ve discovered most of the music I enjoy that way. However, since the tape medium is all but obsolete, it’s been awhile since one has hit my mailbox.

To jump-start the old musical neurons, I’ve decided to begin work on an ambitious mix-tape project of my own. Perhaps ironically, actual audio tape will not be used in this endeavor. I’ve been toying with the idea of sending out this music via USB flash drives…but that is one of many ideas.

More of that later. Perhaps I should explain the project in more detail before I start talking about distribution, no?

The idea is to have 20 categories (20 different “mix-tapes”) that will include 20 songs each for a total of 400 songs/arrangements. The caveats are as follows:

-No repeat bands
-No repeated songs
-Performers can be repeated provided that they are in different bands.

Some of the categories I’ve come up with so far:

-Jazzfest Mayhem
-Jazz Mayhem
-Blues Mayhem
-Bluegrass Mayhem
-Rockabilly Mayhem
-Chick Led Bands of the 90′s Mayhem
-Female Vocalist (Any Era) Mayhem
-Country Mayhem
-Kid Mayhem
-Motown Mayhem
-Hip Hop Mayhem
-Instrumental Mayhem
-Japanese Mayhem
-St. Louis Mayhem (Music from the local St. Louis scene)
-Funk Mayhem
-Misc Mayhem
-Classical Mayhem

That leaves me three categories to fill out. But, I’m still thinking on it.

Progress so far: 168 songs, for a total of 10.6 hours of listening.

Suggestions are always welcome.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (2)
And, We’re Back!
May 25, 2009 — 7:05 pm

OK, I can’t take credit for the new and improved Shrubbloggers site (Shrubbloggers 2.0). Though I can take the credit for prodding and threatening Eric these past two years to get everything updated, he’s done all the physical/mental heavy lifting (though I believe he will admit I saved him a few hours of work with my various suggestions).

So, anyway, we’re back and operational. We now have all the modern whistles and bells you would expect from a functional blog operating in 2009.

So…stick around, and stuff.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
Lost in Translation
November 26, 2008 — 5:30 pm

Is it a generational thing? Conversation I had with my girls while outside enjoying the sunshine:

Jordan: Let’s play “Monkey in the Middle”.

Me: What’s that?

Zoe: It’s where a you throw a ball to another person while the person in the middle trys to catch it.

Jordan: Yeah, and if the person in the middle catches the ball, the person that threw it has to switch places with the person in the middle.

Me: Oh, you mean ‘Keep Away’?

Jordan and Zoe: What’s that?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
It’s Time to Face the Facts
November 25, 2008 — 8:20 pm

There is striking evidence that the economy is in a rapid free-fall. We have almost certainly entered a period of deep recession. Over 7 trillion (Trillion!) dollars have been allocated to “ease frozen credit”. 7 trillion dollars is not chump change. That’s over half the value of everything (Everything!) produced in the United States last year. Our consumption has far outstripped our production, leaving us in severe debt. Other countries are beginning to limit how much they loan us (which is understandable). Some economists are suggesting that the housing bubble was just the beginning. We may soon be seeing a massive run on the dollar as it loses relative value to other currencies. In short, your dollar won’t buy as much in the future as it’s buying now. Top this all off with massive governmental interference in the markets (a possible unwarranted and unwise bailout of U.S. auto companies, for example) and two ongoing foreign wars (with Russia looming large), and well, things aren’t looking so great.

This is how empires fall.

We are in for some unrelenting pain over the next few years; perhaps longer. Whatever the outcome, the length of time we all suffer will almost certainly be extended due to overzealous governmental interference. Because it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to borrow money from our trading partners, money will have to be raised by either raising taxes or increasing the supply of money, both of which will be disastrous and will only serve to severely exacerbate the problem. Higher taxes discourages savings and production (things needed in a recession) and increasing the money supply (printing more money) deflates the value of the dollar, leading to a period of inflation.

I also fear the inevitable civil consequences. We will most likely see a harsher backlash against immigration and foreign made products in the near future. We will be extolled (more than usual) to “buy American” (one of the most UnAmerican things I’ve ever heard muttered). It is likely that we will become more nationalist. Expect to see more calls for “voluntary” civil “service”. There will be more and more nods to Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal. There will most certainly be calls for a new public works system to “put Americans back to work”. Every last one of these scenarios will only extend our pain.

So, I guess that’s why I’m blogging again. Though I’m certainly no expert on economics (I have much to learn and read), I do believe I’m standing on the ideologically correct side of this. This will be a time for more open communication. It will certainly be a time for rational discourse and learning. Hopefully we will all come out on the other side of this with minimal harm.

Here’s what I’m going to do:

-It’s time to hedge against inflation. Use your current dollars to purchase the hard commodities you will use within the next year. Canned goods, dried foods (rice, beans, etc…), toilet paper, toothpaste, laundry detergent, diapers, etc… Stocking up on goods now will ensure you are not paying a higher price for the same items later.

-Make sure you have any necessary maintenance done to appliances or property you own. If you need new tires for your car, this is probably the time to get them. Ditto on home repairs, etc…

-Pay down as much credit as you can. This is generally a good idea at any given time, but you may need disposable money for other things in the future.

-Save money. Start socking away money in your savings account or just put it under your pillow…but save, save, save.

-It may be a good time to start thinking about gold and silver. I just opened up an account where I can purchase gold bit by bit. As the dollar loses value, more and more people will be turning to gold and precious medals as a hedge on their investments. As demand for these commodities go up, so will the price. Watch out for government manipulation in the gold market, however; and remember that FDR outlawed private ownership of gold in the late 30′s.

-Practice frugality in general. Cut coupons, carpool, keep the heat down in the winter, join a local Freecycle group, re-evaluate your monthly purchases. (I cut out book buying and got a library card instead, a move that’s saving me approximately $60 per month).

-Most of all (and I know this may be a cheesy sentiment), be nice to each other. Love your family and friends. Look out for your loved ones. If you have a propensity for it, socialize and talk about what is going on. Pick up a book on economics (I suggest Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt) to understand what is happening. Times are going to get a little rough, but if we keep our collective heads, we’ll make it.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Political Crimes
October 3, 2007 — 7:45 pm

I would strongly encourage anyone who is interested in the idea of freedom to visit Free Paul Jacob as quickly as possible. In fact, do it now, with all haste.

Wirkman Virkkala has written an excellent post describing the whole shameful affair. Paul Jacob’s plight was also recently featured on Reason’s Hit and Run.

Aside from being put in shackles and threatened with a ten year prison sentence for what in reality amounts to a political “crime”, the outcome of this case may well affect the course of political freedom in this country.

We’re not supposed to be living in a country where people can do hard prison time for political purposes. It’s time to take notice.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Hash it Out
August 27, 2007 — 7:15 pm

I’ve been meaning to write a blog entry generalizing my feelings about the hysterics that seem to grip we Americans from time to time, but John Cole beat me to it:

It is absurd. You are safe. I am safe. This nation is safe. Quit being such a damned pussy. All of you.

Cogent, Pithy, Succinct. Perfect.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Tough Love
August 17, 2007 — 10:45 pm

Remember when I said that the only things “tough love” teen camps demand are unquestioned obedience and conformity?

Another sad story:

Authorities charged the director of a Christian boot camp and an employee with dragging a 15-year-old girl behind a van after she fell behind the group during a morning run.

Charles Eugene Flowers and Stephanie Bassitt of San Antonio-based Love Demonstrated Ministries, a 32-day boot camp for at-risk teens, are accused of tying the girl to the van with a rope June 12 and dragging her, according to an arrest affidavit filed Wednesday.

Flowers, the camp’s director, ordered Bassitt to run alongside the girl after she fell behind, according to the affidavit. When the girl stopped running, Bassitt yelled at her and pinned her to the ground while Flowers tied the rope to her, according to the affidavit.

Flowers and Bassitt have been charged with aggravated assault. It seems to me that attempted murder may be a bit more appropriate.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Just…Wow
August 17, 2007 — 8:55 pm

I’ll admit, when it comes to mass-media, I’m a bit jaded. Apart from CSI and a couple of shows on the Cartoon Network, I rarely watch television. I’ve never been caught up the American Idol craze. To tell the truth, I don’t think I’ve actually ever seen an episode. That being said, I came across this clip on YouTube this morning and was stunned. I watched it with my younger daughter earlier this evening and she noticed my eyes were a bit watery. When she asked why, I replied that this was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a long while.

Check it out:

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Angie
April 5, 2007 — 8:15 pm

I have a picture of Angellika Arndt taped to the side of my computer at work, right alongside pictures of my own girls.

I don’t know “Angie”. I’ve never met her. Nor have I talked with her or her parents.

Angie Arndt was murdered by staff members of the Rice Lake Day Treatment Center in Wisconsin. She was seven years old.

In the ensuing investigation, it was found that a day before her death she…:

…arrived at Rice Lake around 11:30 a.m. She was sitting having lunch with the other children when she got the giggles and blew bubbles in her milk. She was reprimanded and told to stop laughing and to stop blowing bubbles. When she laughed again, she was taken to “time out” where she was told to sit still on a hard chair. This is a seven-year old child with attention deficit disorder, so sitting still in a chair was a very difficult thing to do. This was done as a “cool down” period.

During this “cool down”, Angie crossed her legs and rested her head on her knees. Because she did not do exactly what she was told to do she was taken to the “cool down” room, a closet-sized room with nothing but a chair, a mat on the middle of a cement floor, and blank walls. “I don’t want to go,” she cried.

But she was forced to go. She was told once again to sit in a chair and not move. She covered her ears and began to cry. She was tired and curled up on the chair. She fell asleep, was woken up, and told to sit appropriately and complete the cool-down. She was asleep, how much cooler did she need to be?

Head up, feet down, don’t move, and be quiet.

Again she fell asleep and again they woke her up. She became agitated and began to swing her legs. As this continued and staff surrounded her, she became more agitated and was restrained in her chair.

She was told if she struggled it would be considered “unsafe behavior”. She knew that meant she would be taken down and put into a face-down prone restraint. She was told by staff not to cry and to control her emotions. But she was not able to control her emotions and she couldn’t stop crying. During the course of the chair restraint she fell out of her chair. Knowing what would come next, she pleaded with them, saying she would complete the “cool down.” But it was too late.

It appears that in the minds of the staff, and after a staff discussion, this called for an all-out face-down floor restraint. She was taken down by two adults. One grabbed her ankles while the other grabbed her shoulders and held her down for 98 minutes. During this time she struggled, cried, screamed for help. But no one responded to her pleas for help.

It was reported that during some of the prone restraints she vomited, lost control of her bodily functions, complained of headaches, complained of eye pain, and fell asleep – or possibly passed out.

The very next day, Angie “misbehaved” again.

Angie was taken to the “cool down” room and placed in a face-down prone restraint. Again two staff participated in the restraint. One held her ankles while the other held her upper body. Bradley Ridout was summoned to assist another employee in the restraint. At the time, Angie was laying in a prone position, face-down on a thinly-carpeted cement floor. The other employee restrained Angie’s legs while Ridout covered her upper torso with his body, initially supporting his weight with his elbows. But as time went on his body weight of about 250 pounds shifted on her small upper torso, suffocating her.

During the course of this restraint she cried, screamed, thrashed, begged for help, said she couldn’t breathe, complained of a headache, and said her eyes hurt. Rather than stop to listen to her complaints, Ridout grabbed her head and held her down. He continued holding her down for about 30 minutes, putting pressure on her small upper body.

No one seemed to listened to her, no one seemed to believed her. Instead, regardless of the fact that she vomited, urinated and defecated on herself, and was crying out for help, they continued to hold her down. Finally, she became quiet and still. Finally she gave up. When they released her, Ridout rolled her small listless body over and noticed her face was blue.

I keep Angie’s picture taped to my computer to remind me every day why I’m studying psychology. There is an underlying perversion in this country manifesting itself in various “tough love” programs and “treatment” facilities for “troubled kids”. If you study the pattern long enough, it’s not hard to discover that the only thing these programs demand is unquestioned obedience and conformity.

It’s been proven over and over again that if these programs do not get what they want, they will kill you to save you.

I intend to end this.

One only need read Help at Any Cost by Maia Szalavitz to understand the severity of the problem. Programs that throw troubled teens out into the wilderness or kidnap them away from their friends and families only to go through brainwashing sessions that would make the Dear Leader blush are not helping kids. They are abusing them, with sanction. It must stop.

That is why I have a picture of Angie on my desk. It’s time we start trying to understand kids instead of beating them into submission.

For more information, visit The Center Against Institutionalized Child Abuse. They have dozens, if not hundreds of stories just like Angie’s. Each more horrific than the previous.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
1001 Journals
April 3, 2007 — 8:30 pm

I’ve known about the 1000 Journals Project for nearly a year now. Unfortunately, my discovery of the project was too late to get involved. I did, however, received the end result of the project from Amazon.com today.

I love it.

I also discovered that there is a new journal project now taking place. This time, I was NOT too late to get involved.

I just created journal number 1775 and will be sending it along this weekend. Any and all readers are encouraged to head on over and sign up.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
50 Books in One Year
April 1, 2007 — 7:31 pm

That’s my goal. I’ll have a little graphic over there on the side-bar tracking my progress. This should be fun.

I’ve also resurrected My Library Thing. Only 200 books are allowed to be cataloged with a free account. I’ll be upgrading to a paid account here in the near future in order to get the rest of my books online.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Heaven Goes By Favour
March 9, 2007 — 10:20 pm

Sascha was the sweetest creature I have ever known. She traveled the world with me; from Germany to California to Maryland and Missouri. She succumbed to heart failure this morning.

I miss her.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
It’s that time again
March 3, 2007 — 8:36 pm

Two more books have found their way into my ever-expanding library:

Hammock Camping: The Complete Guide to Greater Comfort, Convenience and Freedom

Since I plan on doing several overnight, 30-50 mile hiking trips (with a hammock) this spring, summer, fall, I thought this might be a good book to have.

Aircraft of the Aces: Legends World War 2

One of those “serial interests” I pick up from time to time.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Fed Up
February 26, 2007 — 8:14 pm

I’ve never had the flu. Ever. When I do get sick, it’s often a very severe sinus infection. When it’s not serious, it’s still pretty bad. I’ve been dealing with this for as long as I remember. I know the symptoms. I know how long it will last. And, most importantly, when suffering from sometimes agonizing pain, I know what makes me comfortable.

Hot tea. Sudafed. Sleep. In that order.

I went Walgreens this past Friday to get a box of Sudafed so I could prepare for a ritualistic weekend involving the afore-mentioned items.

Apparently, you can’t just buy Sudafed anymore. On the great wall of therapeutics, where the Sudafed should be, is a card directing you to take it to the pharmacist, where you can purchase your deliverance.

“Hmmm”, thought I, “There must have been a rash of Sudafed thievery lately.”

Walking up to the pharmacy counter, I presented the card symbolizing the particular strength and dosage of Sudafed that I required and waited.

“Drivers licence, please.”

I presented my drivers licence without much thought, holding my wallet up so it could be seen through the transparent plastic most wallets come with these days. I assumed she just wanted to confirm I was over 21.

“You’re gonna have to take your licence out because I have to type some information into the computer.”

“Why?”

“It’s required.”

“By whom?”

“It’s the law.”

“Isn’t Sudafed an over the counter drug?”

“Yes, but we have to enter your name into a database because you are limited to how much Sudafed you can buy in a certain time frame.”

“You have got to be fucking kidding me.”

Yes, I did say “fucking”, which is a word I rarely ever say in public, particularly to a stranger. This gives you some measure of how completely pissed off I was.

And so, I gave her my drivers licence. And now, I’m in some state-run database that notes the date, time, name, drivers licence number, the amount and strength of the over the counter drug I purchased.

If I accidentally damaged my recent purchase of Sudafed in anyway, say by dropping it in the toilet, or accidentally throwing it out in the trash, etc…, I would not be able to return to any store in Missouri to buy more within a 24 hour period. If I were to do so, I would be eyed with great suspicion. In fact, the police might even be called out.

It is nobody’s damned business how much Sudafed I purchase. Not to sound overly dramatic, or hyperbolic, but this has just made me a victim of our amazingly incompetent war on drugs. It makes me so incredibly angry to be treated with suspicion and forced to give up my privacy in order to remedy a common occurrence in my life.

This is one of the reasons I view people like Mrs. du Toit and their notions of free association with complete derision.

Please, kindly go fuck yourselves.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Books a Million
February 23, 2007 — 7:52 pm

Since it’s payday, by default, it is also “book buying day”. Here’s what found its way into my home today.

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

I’ve had my eye on this one for a while – well, it was actually just published this month, but I’ve been hearing about it for some time – but it was Timothy’s elegant post that clenched the deal for me.

The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

I’m embarrassed to say, this was an accidental purchase. I meant to pick up Stories of Anton Chekhov. I think Dostoevsky will do nicely until I make it back to the book store, however.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Love, Hate
February 20, 2007 — 8:17 pm

This is how you deal with bigotry. Very funny.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
It’s an Addiction
February 17, 2007 — 6:17 pm

Here are the books I got in the mail today (via Amazon.com), with a book description following each title:

Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1963, Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. launched the Civil Rights movement and demonstrated to the world the power of nonviolent direct action. Why We Can’t Wait recounts not only the Birmingham campaign, but also examines the history of the civil rights struggle and the tasks that future generations must accomplish to bring about full equality for African Americans. Dr. King’s eloquent analysis of these events propelled the Civil Rights movement from lunch counter sit-ins and prayer marches to the forefront of the American consciousness.

Mortified: Real Words. Real People. Real Pathetic. a project by David Nadelberg.

In the days before blogs, teenagers recorded their lives with a pen in top-secret notebooks, usually emblazoned with an earnest, underlined plea to parents to keep away. Since 2002, David Nadelberg has tapped that vast wellspring of adolescent anguish in the stage show Mortified, in which grown men and women confront their past with firsthand tales of their first kiss, first puff, worst prom, fights with mom, life at bible camp, worst hand job, best mall job, and reasons they deserved to marry Simon LeBon.

I first heard about “Mortified” here:

It wasn’t until I heard Sascha Rothchild read from her diary for a live stage show of Mortified on This American Life, however, that I knew I had to get this book.

I’ve always loved this sort of stuff. I check out Postsecret every week and own nearly every book from that project. I also enjoy Found Magazine and other such endeavors. I guess there is a voyeur in me that needs to be satisfied.

How to Cheat at Everything: A Con Man Reveals the Secrets of the Esoteric Trade of Cheating, Scams and Hustles by Simon Lovell

How to Cheat at Everything is a roller-coaster ride through bar bets, street hustles, carnivals, Internet fraud, big and small cons, card and dice games and more. You’ll even find the exact frauds that the NYPD regard as the most common and dangerous today, and learn top tips on how to avoid each one. This inside information comes from Lovell’s lifetime of experience in the field, along with additional information from both sides of the law.

This was a complete impulse buy. I saw it reviewed on Boing Boing and decided to give it a try. It’s not that I’d ever try to pull any of these scams, I just like to know how things like this work. (Kind of like magic. I don’t really have the energy to learn any “magic” tricks, but I love figuring out how they work).

Remembered Prisoners of a Forgotten War: An Oral History of Korean War POWs by Lewis H. Carlson

Of the 7,140 Americans who were taken prisoner during the Korean War, about 40 percent died in captivity. Oddly, Korean War prisoners were not treated as heroes; instead, the popular press seemed to regard them at the time, and for some years afterward, as brainwashed turncoats or weaklings. Carlson (We Were Each Other’s Prisoners: An Oral History of World War II) here argues that an America affected by the Red Menace and McCarthyism chose to blame the victims. He attempts to correct the misperception by demonstrating that the main causes of POW mortality were starvation, lack of medical treatment, and execution by their captors, using the voices of surviving prisoners as evidence. The narratives of the prisoners themselves are remarkable for their forthrightness and matter-of-fact tone. In many cases, the men’s survival, under conditions of extreme privation, torture, and psychological pressure, is nothing short of amazing.

I got this book (and more like it to come) to research a theory I’ve been working on regarding the highly popular “Teen Help” industry alive and well in America today. For more information, I highly recommend Maia Szalavitz’s Help at Any Cost. I’ll be writing much more about this at a later date.

The Scapegoat Generation: America’s War on Adolescents by Mike A. Males

Violence. Drugs. Pregnancy. Suicide. Are our nation’s teenagers out of control? Mike Males provides a different picture–how politicians, private interests, and the media unfairly scapegoat adolescents for America’s problems. Among the myths he explodes:

Myth: Drugs, guns, gangsta rap, TV violence and “innate” youth savagery are causing crime and mayhem.

Same as above. My studies in psychology have led me to the conclusion that adolescents are probably the most demonized social group in our society. This is nowhere near a benign situation. Children and adolescents are routinely beaten (physically and mentally) into cruel submission by a society that does not care to understand them. What society wants (with psychologists, psychiatrists and “child experts” backing it up) is obedience. If it doesn’t get obedience, it will condone sickening measures to achieve it; hence the quickly growing “Teen Help” industry I referred to earlier. Again, I’ll write more on this later.

What I’m reading right now:

The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Social Contract is simple to understand. It’s even easier to deconstruct; and it’s been done before. But, even if you’re not as radical as Lysander Spooner, you don’t have to put too much thought into what’s wrong with the following argument (from Mrs. du Toit:)

WHY you support something or agree with something is as important as your conclusions, and that is why I am not a libertarian.

For example, I think it is perfectly acceptable for some city (or state) in the U.S. to pass laws which prohibit people living there because of their race/creed/religion. They can also have laws which make sodomy, out of wedlock sex, or adultery a crime, punishable by imprisonment. If they want to pass laws that require you to do a jig on main street once a month, they can do that, too.

Now, do I think that is wise or would I want to live there?

Of course not. But that’s not the point. (I might think the jig thing was a hoot, though.)

People in the U.S., in their individual communities and states can and should pass all the laws and rules they want, because that’s what Freedom of Association really means. It is what representative government means. It is a Constitutional protection, and one I support 100%. I might not agree with how a community chose to exercise that right, but I will support their right to exercise it however they wish. I think most of the problems we have in this country are because people can’t do that anymore, and they used to be able to do that. We have too many people telling them what they must do, but not enough people telling them what they MAY do as groups.

There’s only one asterisk I’d add to that: Anyone can choose to leave that community/state at any time (meaning, you are aren’t anchored there with a ball and chain).

People form factions and groups. That’s what humans do. It is what all pack animals do. Denying that, or attempting to create a philosophy that discounts it or makes it sound evil, is both silly and wrong headed.

This is lazy thinking at its very worst. It’s something I’d expect out of a high school sophomore confronted with social organization for the first time; someone who has put no thought into what freedom really means (she got the gist of democracy down nicely, though).

But, even worse than that, she has absolutely no sense of history. The whole statement begs the question, “What happens when the community/state passes a law that does not allow you to leave?”.

Well?

This is how Mrs. du Toit defines “freedom”. One can almost imagine her reading the following passage from Rousseau in delight:

Hence, in order that the social pact shall not be an empty formula, it is tacitly implied in that commitment – which alone can give force to all others – that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be constrained to do so by the whole body, which means nothing other than that he shall be forced to be free; for this is the necessary condition which, by giving each citizen to the nation, secures him against all personal dependence, it is the condition which shapes both the design and the working of the political machine, and which alone bestows justice on civil contracts – without it, such contracts would be absurd, tyrannical and liable to the grossest abuse.

There is no freedom here…only moral bankruptcy.

The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas Szasz

I just got done reading Szazs’ Cruel Compassion: Psychiatric Control of Society’s Unwanted and really enjoyed it. I find Szasz to be on of the most engaging writers I’ve come across. I found little to disagree about in Cruel Compassion (a completely different situation than with “The Myth of Mental Illness…of which I’ll probably write more later) and I look forward to reading more of his works.

Well, that’s about it, for now. I didn’t expect this to be such a large post, but I guess I had a bit to talk about.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
And The Winner Is…
February 14, 2007 — 10:35 pm

This was just too damn funny to pass up:

Story here.

Hattip to The Agitator.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Lest We Forget
February 1, 2007 — 6:36 pm

I was going to write a huge blog post about the goings on over there in Boston. But I think this picture sums up everything I could ever say about the subject:

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Officer Friendly
January 30, 2007 — 9:39 pm

It’s the all American story. Woman is raped. Woman reports rape. Woman is thrown in jail for a restitution warrant from 2003 (When she was a minor). Woman is denied second dose of emergency contraception from her jailers due to “religious convictions”.

Nice.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Dear Neighbor…
January 29, 2007 — 9:33 pm

A New York apartment dweller receives numerous letters from his anonymous downstairs neighbor. Weirdness ensues.

I actually find this story a bit enduring. Who wouldn’t rather have a nicely written letter from his neighbor rather than a series of loud knocks on the wall imploring you to, “Shut the hell up!”?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Of Thought and Metaphor
January 23, 2007 — 6:25 pm

The Toronto Star asks Stephen Pinker to pass the salt.

His new book, “The Stuff of Thought”, will be coming out in September 2007. I can’t wait.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
We Are Not United in our Atheism
January 21, 2007 — 7:45 pm

Some atheists have idiotic ideas.

Here’s one from Atheist Revolution:

Raising a child is one of the greatest responsibilities humans undertake. A child might grow up to cure diseases, prevent wars, or a host of other great accomplishments. A child might instead grow up to be a psychopath, leaving a trail of pain and misery in his or her path. Of course, it would be naive to claim that what you do as a parent could determine this. However, it seems quite reasonable to me to think that society has a vested interest in making sure that you are at least minimally competent as a parent. This is why I would like to see parental licensure.

If you continue to read this post, you will see the tired old, “We require the operators of automobiles to have licenses” argument. His point being that being a parent is much more important than simply driving a car and yet *GASP* the government is doing nothing to regulate the process of having children!

Here is a guy who speaks out against religion because of its pervasive and unwelcome effects on society. And yet, he is perfectly willing to impose his own irrationality on all of us because “society has a vested interest in making sure that you are at least minimally competent as a parent”.

Ok, Hillary, prove it to me. Prove to me that your scheme will not do monumentally more damage than the good you propose. Tell me what the consequences will be for couples who refuse such licensure laws. Will you take the children away? Imprison the parents? How will you pay for such a program? Prove to me why religious indoctrination should not be included in such “training”.

Until you can come up with a satisfactory answer for all of the above, count me atheistic to your irrational beliefs.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
The Quiet Room
January 21, 2007 — 7:12 pm

If you only read one book about mental illness, make it The Quiet Room by Lori Shiller. It’s an autobiographical portrait of a young woman suffering from severe schizophrenia in the 80′s and early 90′s (until the advent of clozapine).

Now, of all the mental diseases, schizophrenia probably still has the most social stigma attached to it. That’s now, in 2007. In the 80′s the disease was completely misunderstood, probably due in part by horrific, sensational exposés in the media. (Charles Manson comes to mind). Even today, many people still confuse schizophrenia with Dissociative Identity Disorder, formally known as Multiple Personality Disorder.

It’s easy to understand why, as the very word “schizophrenia” means “splitting of the mind”. Schizophrenia, however, has nothing to do with multiple personalities. In reality, schizophrenics suffer from hallucinations, delusions, paranoia and severe social isolation. Schizophrenia also often has a high co morbidity with severe depression.

Along with bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia is thought to be one of the very worst mental illnesses. And yet, it is constantly used as a comedic foil in our culture. People make light of the condition (out of ignorance rather than meanness, I’m sure), without fully understanding just how offensive they are being.

Books like The Quiet Room do a good job of “conscience raising” when it comes to mental illness. I highly recommend it.

The following passage about the practice of “cold wet packing” as a form of restraint stuck with me:

In order to be cold-wet-packed, a doctor’s order had to be signed. As the buzzer was sounding, the staff was paging an M.D. to come to the unit to write the order as quickly as possible. I was so violent that the packing was usually well underway by the time the psychiatrist arrived.

When the big men got there, they restrained me while I was being packed. The shot of sodium amythal hadn’t taken effect yet. The big burly attendants looked to me just like the horrid rapists of my Voices’ hell. My terror flared. My adrenaline shot up. My strength and power intensified. I could fight off a whole Quiet Room-ful of men. They weren’t going to touch me. That I knew fro sure. I kicked. I flailed. I bit. Even against a roomful of big men, for a moment it seemed like I was winning.

And then they were back in control. It was just as the Voices had shown me. It was just like the rapes in hell. Big strong men held me down while unseen hands stripped off my clothing. Off came my high-tops. Off came my favorite blue sweatshirt with the green frog on it. Off came my only pair of jeans that fit. Off came my socks one after another. How was I going to cause any problems by keeping my little socks on my little feet? And then finally came my bra. My undies were all that stood between me and the rape my imagination fabricated. I was truly terrified.

And then came the real horror. They hoisted me onto the elevated bed that had been set up for me in the kitchen, or in a special room off the short hallway, or in the hall itself, or wherever they could get set up fast before I totaled the place or hurt someone or myself. With strong hands holding me flat, others began wrapping me securely in sheets that had been soaking in ice water.

They wrapped me tight as a mummy, arms and hands at my side. All that was left uncovered were my feet and my neck and head. And there thy left me, with a single attendant by my now helpless side.

I was laughing hysterically. But there was nothing funny about it. It was cold, freezing cold. My teeth began chattering frantically as if they were the Voices speaking. I was going to die a shivery Arctic death and the Voices were going to have the last cold icy laugh. My whole body was frozen.

The entire book does a wonderful job of giving us just a tiny peek into madness. But more than that, it is a book of hope. I am simply amazed at the strength it must have taken just to live. At at the end of it all… clozapine. When people ask me why I love science so, this will be my answer: “Clozapine”.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Faith is Not a Virtue
January 20, 2007 — 7:27 pm

I’ve re-read Tim’s post a couple of times and my thoughts continually went to this whole notion of “faith”. So, though I’m not really addressing Tim’s post per-say, I’m going to try to put into words something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

This whole notion that “faith” and “belief” deserve respect for no other reason than they are “faith” and “belief” is ludicrous. If, through some belief system, I had faith that the ritualistic act of cutting off my little toe ensured my place in paradise, people would rightfully think I was suffering from a chemical imbalance. But, if I were to say that my eight day old boy needs to have his foreskin cut from his penis (without anesthesia) so his covenant with God will be fulfilled, those same people would most likely say, “Well, OK. That’s your faith, I respect that”.

Faith is not a special privilege. You cannot expect to be immune from criticism simply for believing something to be true, no matter how sacred that belief may be. I think this is the fundamental problem with society today. We go far too much out of our way not to be offensive when it comes to belief systems. I can’t begin to recount how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “You need to respect my beliefs”. My internal response is always, “Well, no, I don’t”.

Something went askew with our society when people started to mistake respect in the right to believe something for respect in the actual belief. I have no problem with respecting your right to believe in leprechauns from a different energy level, for example. I’ll probably think the actual belief is insane, however.

Gore Vidal addressed religious belief in his essay, Monotheism and its Discontents. Here is a sampling:

Unfortunately, there are two subjects that we are never permitted to discuss with any seriousness: race and religion, and how our attitudes toward the first are rooted in the second. Thanks to this sternly–correctly?–enforced taboo, we are never able to get to the root of our problems. We are like people born in a cage and unable to visualize any world beyond our familiar bars of prejudice and superstition. That Opinion the Few create in order to control the Many has seen to it that we are kept in permanent ignorance of our actual estate.

I think that Mr. Vidal is making the point that by perpetuating the myth that belief is not to be criticized, religious faith has no real self correcting mechanism in place. Sure, there is the occasional Martin Luther or Bishop Spong, but the criticisms are rare, and unnecessarily painful.

This is why I have a problem with moderate Christianity. Like Tim said, fundamentalism is easy to understand, and pillory. Moderate Christianity poses a much more difficult problem. Not only do Moderate Christians not do enough criticizing, they have far too much tolerance in those who are hijacking their faith. And, it’s not just that. We secularists often don’t know what to think about moderate Christianity. If they don’t believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible, what do they believe? And, more importantly, how did they come to their conclusions?

If religious institutions were content with leaving everyone else alone, these questions would probably not be very relevant. But, when so much religiosity is being forced upon society, we have every right to know, and to harshly criticize any belief system that backs it up.

The very idea that faith is a virtue that demands respect is both silly and dangerous. It’s time society as a whole started letting go of such archaic notions. And, it’s also time moderate Christians began cleaning up their own houses before casting aspersions on us nonbelievers.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
What Are You Optimistic About?
January 19, 2007 — 10:07 pm

160 of The Worlds Greatest Thinkers see good news ahead.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
D’Souza Delirium
January 19, 2007 — 9:45 pm

I wonder how fast (or even if) Conservatives will back away from Dinesh D’Souza’s new polemic, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11

D’Souza (a prominent Christian Conservative) has this to offer the world:

Falwell’s point after 9/11 was that God was punishing America of its sins. My point is entirely secular: Why did the guys who did it, do it? Surely five years after 9/11, it’s reasonable to ask this question. And both the Right and the Left have been operating under illusions. The radical Muslims are against modernity and science and democracy. The radical Muslims are upset because of colonialism and the Crusades. It’s all nonsense. That’s not what the leading thinkers of radical Islam say. And Bin Laden’s own views are quite different. In his Letter to America, issued shortly after 9/11, he said that America is the fount of global atheism and it is imposing its morally depraved values on the world. So Muslims must rise up in defensive jihad against America because their religion and their values are under attack. This aspect of Bin Laden’s critique has been totally ignored, and it’s one that resonates with a lot of traditional Muslims and traditional people around the world.

D’Souza’s point here is that secularists in America are “attacking” the religion of Islam by condoning things like atheism, pornography, and homosexuality; hence Liberals are to blame for 9/11. Get it?

Absolutely amazing. I mean, really. Amazing.

I’m waiting for Sweden to explode in a mushroom cloud. After all, all those atheists over there are busily attacking the Islamic faith with their non belief.

Don’t they know the mortal danger they’re putting themselves in?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Some Quick Thoughts
January 18, 2007 — 7:23 pm

Our good friend Tim Virkkala has posted a blog entry about Eric and I over at his site. There is much to think about there and I want to take some time to process it all. I emailed him to let him know I would post some kind of reply this weekend.

For now, I just wanted to post a few quick replies to some comments my friend Brian McCall made in response to one of my earlier posts. I hope you’ll forgive my brevity. I have a bit of studying to do tonight and there are miles to go before the night is through.

Brian posted the following:

I disagree with their view on religion. I don’t think it is useless. After all, religiosity is a trait that evolved in humans, so it must have conferred, and perhaps is still conferring (note the relationship between birthrates of a society and the prevalence of religion in that society) some kind of advantage. So on that point at least I don’t put much value in Dawkins’ et al hostility toward religion. I think a more thoughtful understanding of our world would incorporate this nearly universal human need into the overall picture, rather than treat it as some kind of aberration, a virulent foreign element in need of eradication, as Dawkins does.

The idea that “religiosity is a trait that evolved in humans” is something Steven Pinker does a pretty good job of arguing against. I can’t really add anything to his hypothesis except to reiterate that any evolutionary processes we may have should be scientifically testable. We know, for example, that we have a very real evolutionary fear of snakes. We have this fear because our very ancient ancestors lived in an area rich with snakes. They learned that for the most part, snakes were very deadly. So, those who feared snakes were most likely to survive in such an environment.

Pinker continues:

Perhaps there really is a personal, attentive, invisible, miracle-producing, reward-giving, retributive deity, and we have a God module in order to commune with him. As a scientist, I like to interpret claims as testable hypotheses, and this certainly is one. It predicts, for example, that miracles should be observable, that success in life should be proportional to virtue, and that suffering should be proportional to sin. I don’t know anyone who has done the necessary studies, but I would say there is good reason to believe that these hypotheses have not been confirmed. There’s a Yiddish expression: “If God lived on earth, people would break his windows.”

Sam Harris has postulated that rape and slavery also have evolutionary advantages. However, no civilized society will even remotely tolerate these practices today.

I think the point being made is this; we are more than the sum of our evolutionary parts. Because of an ever changing (evolving) moral zeitgeist, we find it harder to believe the old superstitions, to grasp onto the old injustices. Evolution has brought us to the point where we can face our animalistic behavior right in the face and change it, if we so desire.

More from Brian:

But as far as religion retarding the advance of science, you should consider that nearly all the greatest scientists were devout believers, and saw their scientific inquiry as an homage to God’s creation. Their faith did not hinder them, it actually motivated them.

Since science (as we know it) is such a young institution (450 years old), this is hardly surprising. For at least the first 200 of those years, it could be rather unhealthy for anyone to contradict accepted church doctrine. And remember, Galileo actually had to recant his idea of heliocentrism. That seems like a bit of a hindrance to me.

It’s also interesting to note that 93% of scientists belonging to the National Academy of Scientists are either atheist or agnostic.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Once by the Pacific
January 17, 2007 — 9:44 pm

I was just looking at some photos a very dear friend of mine took of the Pacific shore recently, and I remembered the following poem. This one’s for you, Tina.

The shattered water made a misty din.
Great waves looked over others coming in,
And thought of doing something to the shore
That water never did to land before.

The clouds were low and hairy in the skies,
Like locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes.
You could not tell, and yet it looked as if
The shore was lucky in being backed by cliff,

The cliff in being backed by continent;
It looked as if a night of dark intent
Was coming, and not only night, an age.
Someone had better be prepared for rage.

There would be more than ocean water broken
Before God’s last Put out the Light was spoken.

-Robert Frost

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Graphing Evolution
January 16, 2007 — 2:48 pm

I just found this on Discover.com

The entry for evolution on Wikipedia, the Internet encyclopedia that anyone can edit, was altered 2,081 times by 68 editors between December 2001 and last October. IBM’s Watson Research Center produced this image, which tracks the transformation. Each vertical line is a new version; each color is a different editor.

Read the explanation and the rest of the story here.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
A Question of Abuse?
January 15, 2007 — 2:43 pm

I have great admiration for Richard Dawkins, as many of you may know. Like Carl Sagan, he has done everyone a great service by making science obtainable to the lay person. And, like Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins has spent a great deal of time fighting against irrational beliefs held by many in our society. Though he comes across many magnitudes more harshly than Dr. Sagan when he attacks religion, I find myself quite taken by his rhetoric.

Dr. Dawkins makes absolutely no apologies for the way he brings his arguments to bear. For example, in the recent Beyond Belief seminar, Neil deGrasse Tyson took Dawkins to task for his delivery methods:

You’re professor of the Public Understanding of Science, not professor of Delivering Truth to the Public. And, these are two different exercises. One of them is…you put the truth out there and like you said, they either buy your book or they don’t. Well, that’s not being an educator, that’s just putting it out there. Being an educator is not only getting the truth right, but there’s gotta be an active persuasion in there as well. Persuasion isn’t “here’s the facts, you’re either an idiot, or you’re not.” Persuasion is, “here’s the facts, and here is a sensitivity to your state of mind and it’s the facts and the sensitivity when convolved together creates impact.”

And I worry that your, your methods and your, your, your… how articulately barbed you can be, ends up simply being ineffective, when you have much more power of influence than what is currently reflected in your output.

To which Dawkins replied:

I gratefully accept the rebuke. Just one anecdote to show that I’m not the worst in this thing. A former and highly successful editor of New Science Magazine, who actually built up New Scientist to great new heights, was asked, “What is your philosophy at New Scientist?”

And he said, “Our philosophy at New Scientist is this. Science is interesting; and if you don’t agree, you can fuck off.”

Unlike Neil deGrasse Tyson (whom I also greatly admire), I’m not overly concerned with the way Dawkins conveys his message. I think he, like Sagan, fills a role in the scientific community.

Where Professor Dawkins and I part ways, however, is his notion that the religious indoctrination of youth equates to child abuse.

The following clip was recently put up on Richard Dawkins’s site to lend credence to the whole idea of “religion=child abuse”:

Now, personally, I’m border-line disgusted by this clap trap. I’m not so blinded by my own personal disgust, however, as to believe that every one of these kids is going to grow up believing this tripe. I was taught many of the same things when I was younger, but I grew out of it. In point of fact, I don’t remember taking much of it all that seriously.

I ran across a very telling comment in response to the above video on Dawkins’s site:

A bunch of zombies singing a zombie song to continue to feed their delusional zombie nation. They’re turning our kids into vegetables.

But, they’re not our kids, are they? I mean, if they were turning your kids into zombies, that would be an entirely different matter, wouldn’t it? Though we might find it repugnant, these parents have every right to raise their children according to their world view. When you start evoking the phrase “child abuse”, it means you are wholly prepared to act upon said phrase. After all, if the child is being “abused”, society must take action against the abuser.

Do we take all of these kids away from their parents and put them in nice secular homes? Do we force these children to be secularized by mandating an education in science? Do we force the parents to attend secular counseling? I mean, what are you prepared to do in order to stop this “child abuse”? How far are you willing to go in order to ensure the “greater good”?

Listen, there are real, traumatic examples of child abuse in the name of Christian faith out there. One only has to read Spare the quarter-inch plumbing supply line, spoil the child to understand the lengths that some believers will go to twist scripture to conform to their dementia. These are the people society needs to be looking at, not the church goers in the film above.

So, yeah, there are many of us out there who believe that marketing ideas like these to children is repugnant:

Or…

Or even…

But we also realize that this is a battle of ideas. Nonsense like this cannot be countered with claims of “child abuse”. It is countered in the marketplace of ideas. It is countered by the genius of Carl Sagan or Ann Druyan or Neil Tyson and even Richard Dawkins.

If we continue on with this idea of “child abuse”, the consequences could be dire:

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Children of Men
January 14, 2007 — 7:07 pm

Children of Men is the first movie I’ve seen this year. Indeed, it’s the first movie I’ve seen since I watched The Queen a couple of months back. Movies like this are kind of difficult for me to peg down after the first viewing. Not so much because of the content (being a science fiction fan, the theme of the movie was very interesting, and in my opinion, well played out), but because of the sheer brutality of the film. I don’t remember seeing so much heart wrenching violence since I saw The Pianist some years back.

The post apocalyptic genre has always appealed to me. If you asked me why, I’m not sure I could explain. Maybe I just like the idea of a “fresh start”. Sort of, “if I could form my own social dynamic, this is how I would do it”. Or something.

Though Children of Men isn’t post apocalyptic, it’s right on the verge. It tells a story of humanity right on the very edge of extinction and it tells it pretty well. I have to wonder, however, if man were staring extinction right in the face, would it necessarily be played out this way?

Every science fiction movie or book that deals with this issue (that I’ve read) seem to imagine it the same way. We panic. We become xenophobic, authoritarian, fundamentally religious, etc…. In short, we become monsters hardly deserving of any reprieve.

I wonder why that is. I wonder if the science fiction writers have human nature correct when they trust us into their apocalyptic future.

In any case, I liked the movie. I wouldn’t call it the “movie of the millennium” like some have, but I liked it.

8.5 out of 10 stars.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Reflection
January 13, 2007 — 7:05 pm

One of the great things about having a blog is you get a chance to “flush” out your ideas. I don’t much care for writing in long hand, so my written thoughts are mostly expressed here, for all to see. That being the case, the whole idea of “blogging the Bible” seemed like such a good idea when I started several days ago. I mean, what better way to point out the preposterous idea of biblical literalism than to put it out there for all to see.

From the very first second of putting this venture into practice, I ran into mental roadblocks. I couldn’t seem to find a voice with which to express my ideas. Do I attempt to be witty? Scholarly? How do you manage being witty without being arrogant? How do you manage to be scholarly without having any real biblical education to bring to bear?

Then, of course, there’s the completely correct notion (as Eric pointed out) that it’s all been done before; so what’s the point?

I explained why I was doing what I was doing in earlier posts. After a great deal of refection, I still strongly believe that those reasons are valid. However, the whole idea of “blogging the Bible” doesn’t seem to be a “means to the end” anymore. In fact, after re-reading what I wrote, it seems kind of…silly.

So, I don’t think I will continue “blogging the Bible”. At least, not in the way I was doing. I’m still reading the Bible and a couple of ancillary sources as well. Perhaps I’ll sparingly put down my thoughts as I go along. Or maybe not so sparingly, I don’t know. In any case, what I do write won’t be just a reaction to a quick reading of noted passages. I’d like to take some time to investigate further what is going on behind each story.

I remain convinced that literalism is a very dangerous interpretation of scripture. I am also convinced that one of the best ways to make this clear is to read the Bible with a literal interpretation in mind. Like I said in an earlier post, when you run across someone who identifies him/herself as a fundamentalist Christian, it is good to know exactly what that means; especially if said Christian subscribes to the idea of Dominionism.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
The Church of Szasz
January 12, 2007 — 10:13 pm

There was an interesting blog entry on Reason’s Hit and Run yesterday about a Scientology exhibit in the Missouri capitol building. To quote the piece:

The “Industry of Death” exhibit is sponsored by the Church of Scientology and makes a host of outrageous claims about the field of psychiatry. Twenty-five percent of psychiatrists sexually abuse their patients. Psychiatrists deliberately kill about 10,000 people a year – sounds about right. And for the big surprise, psychiatrists were responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks – guilty by association, at least, since psychiatrists are responsible for the existence of terrorists and suicide bombers.

Though the whole Scientology vs. Psychiatry issue was well aired during Tom Cruise’s apparent national melt-down last year, I still find the whole thing rather disconcerting. The fields of psychiatry and psychology have done a rather nice job of fending this nonsense off, so that’s not what really bothers me. I’m just wondering why the Church of Scientology was allowed to set up the exhibit in the rotunda of the Missouri capitol building. After all, the separation of church and state does not just apply to Christians, right?

It turns out, this wasn’t really all that important to those who replied to the article. Many more people seemed to focus in on one of Radley Balko’s personal statements. He, Radley Balko (the piece’s author), adds an addendum to the post by saying:

I part ways with many of my fellow libertarians on the issue of mental health (that is, I disagree with those who think mental illness isn’t real, and that psychiatry is a crock).

The whole conversation immediately devolves into a libertarian vs. psychiatry issue, with proponents of Thomas Szasz on one side and those who have suffered real mental illness on the other.

Now, I never really heard of Thomas Szasz until two years ago when Eric and I were walking around Powell’s book store in Portland, Oregon. I was looking for some general psychology books and he said something to the effect of, “If you want a libertarian perspective on psychology (or psychiatry), you should pick up something by Thomas Szasz”.

I inquired just who the heck Thomas Szasz was and Eric informed me that he was a libertarian writer who did not believe in the whole concept of “mental illness”, or something to that effect.

I never really gave the issue another thought. I mean, in my experience, mental illness was entirely real and I didn’t care if Mr. Szasz was a libertarian or not…he was simply wrong. I still haven’t picked up anything by him, though currently I’m not opposed to the idea of investigating further.

From what I could glean from the comments, Thomas Szasz has a problem with how psychiatry treats the individual in order to fit them into some societal world view. Cure the individual and society will be better for it…stuff like that. Dr. Szasz also harshly criticizes the psychiatry field for involuntarily medicating and committing individuals for spurious reasons.

OK, I can identify with those beliefs. Maybe this Szasz guy isn’t so bad after all, I don’t know. We’ll see if I have time later on to delve deeper.

What really cracked me up, however, was the appearance of the above picture in the comments section. Those two individuals are Tom Cruise and none other than Thomas Szasz. Now, I have no idea under what context this picture was taken and I draw very few conclusions from it.

It is pretty damn funny when you think about it though.

UPDATE. It appears that Thomas Szasz and the Church of Scientology have a working relationship with each other. Hmmmm. That makes me a bit more reluctant to take him seriously.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Wishing Harm
January 12, 2007 — 4:29 pm

Sometimes you’re placed in this really weird situation as a parent. You find yourself hoping that one particular thing is wrong with your child because it eliminates something else that may be much more serious. Let me explain.

Our younger daughter has been complaining of headaches on and off now for several months. According to her, they are painful but short lived. Recently, her headaches have been accompanied by spells of blurry vision. This is worrisome. Her mother took her to the eye doctor’s office today to get her vision checked. Our theory was perhaps she has somewhat less than perfect vision and this is causing her headaches. To a parent, that theory is much more welcoming than the other way around…i.e., her headaches are causing her to have less than perfect vision.

So, while she was as the doctor’s office, I found myself really hoping that the problem was her vision. Sure, she’d have to start wearing glasses at an early age, but what’s the alternative? Even thinking about it raises serious alarms within that paternalistic section of my brain. I don’t want to think about it. What I want is for her vision to be bad. I’m wishing one defect upon my child to protect her from another. Weird, right?

It turns out, her vision is perfect. In fact, the doctor said it’s rare to see such “nicely formed optical nerves” in a child her age.

Crap.

Now we are stuck with uncertainty and mild anxiety. What, exactly is the root cause of these headaches? A quick jaunt to Google does nothing to quell my fears. In fact, it slightly bolsters them. Next come blood tests and I find myself thinking, “Well, maybe she’s just anemic. Anemia is something we can deal with. Yeah, anemia is good.” Come to find out, anemia doesn’t lend itself to giving 6 year old children headaches with the occasional bout of blurry vision.

Of course, the obvious answer to all of this is it’s probably nothing. Our daughter probably just happens to be one of the 98% of people who just get headaches for no knowable reason. It’s the not knowing that worries me.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
This American Life
January 11, 2007 — 4:31 pm

I’ve been listening to This American Life from WBEZ in Chicago via Public Radio International for several months now.

I’ve listened to NPR off and on for years now. A Prairie Home Companion is one of the most enduring shows on the radio. Though I know nothing about cars (and have really no desire to learn), Car Talk catches my rapt attention every time I hear it. Science Friday also deserves much admiration.

This American Life, however, stands heads and shoulders above all other programing on NPR. I simply can not express how well this show attempts to express the “human condition”.

If you’ve never heard an episode of This American Life, head on over to their website and listen to a few shows via streaming audio. Then, head on over to iTunes and start downloading the weekly podcast. I promise you, it will be well worth your time.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Imbibable Criticism, a Response
January 10, 2007 — 8:16 pm

I completely understand where Eric is coming from. It’s very easy for me to imagine myself in his position. Let me put it in the best analogy I can think of.

For the sake of argument, let’s say there is an ever expanding base of psychologists in this country who believe Sigmund Freud’s works are the literal truth. For example, this sect of psychologists may interpret Freud’s psychosexual or Oedipal complex theories as literal fact. To them, applying and practicing any other form of psychology is heresy, earning both the patient and the psychologist an eternity of mental illness.

Of course, this is a complete bastardization of psychological thought. Though many of today’s psychologists realize the importance of Freud’s work, they also understand that there is so much more. To fundamentally follow Freud ignores 99.9% of everything else. Gone are Adler, Jung, Skinner, Rogers and Erickson. Absent are the fields of Cognitive, Evolutionary, Behavioral, Linguistic, Forensic, Educational and even Positive psychology.

In short, to exclusively follow Freud’s work, at the exclusion of everything else, would be complete madness.

Now, imagine if these “fundamentalist psychologists” were able to effectively force themselves upon society. They use the government to aggressively proselytize their message. They are able to organize and get legislation passed forbidding anything other that Freudian psychology to be practiced on the mentally ill in the third world. The list could go on and on.

Eric, a hypothetical skeptic of psychology (in this case), sees this trend developing for several years. He’s always been a skeptic of psychology, but he simply can’t take it anymore. He begins to speak out. He also has the idea of taking Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams to task by disassembling it page by page on this very blog.

As someone who has steeped himself in psychological literature for the past two years, at best I’d be slightly bemused. At worst, I may be a bit agitated over the whole practice. As Eric himself said:

Trying to give it a such a straight, superficial reading without ancillary reference and pretending to understand it is almost like having a whispered message garbled by a game of telephone into purple monkey dishwasher-esque gibberish.

So, yeah, I get it.

There are two points to be made here.

First…I’m not pretending. From a fundamentalist point of view, I do understand the Bible. Taken literally, it’s absolute madness. Fundamentalists have stripped the Bible of everything beautiful and turned it into one big misogynistic, homophobic, authoritarian nightmare. When someone says proudly that they are a fundamentalist Christian, I want people to know exactly what that means. When society at large is experiencing a fundamentalist groundswell of Christianity, I want everyone to know exactly what that means. If fundamentalists are deluded enough to actually believe that dinosaurs marched two by two onto Noah’s Ark, taking the leap to publicly stoning your wife because she was not a virgin on their marriage night cannot be far behind. After all, that is literally in the bible.

Second…If the field of psychology were being so maliciously abused by “fundamentalists”, I would expect a huge backlash from the mental health community. In fact, I would imagine that such a backlash would be so utterly devastating that “fundamentalist psychologists” would soon be relegated to the status of an obscure cult. And rightly so.

Right now, I don’t see such a movement in the moderate Christian community. You don’t see priests, preachers, nuns or aldermen standing up en-masse to counter the fundamentalist fervor. If such abusive harm were being carried out in the name of psychology, I would be agitating against it every day. Why? Because I love the field of psychology and I wouldn’t allow it to be taken over by zealots without a fight. We absolutely need moderate Christians to stand up and do the same. The fact that they aren’t can lead a person to any number of conclusions.

I am having second thoughts about “blogging the Bible”, however. I’ve been having a long running dialogue with myself on this very issue. Pulling apart certain passages and saying “See! See how insane this is!” is kind of silly. As Eric said, it doesn’t take long to deconstruct the Bible, and it’s been done so many times before. So, I’m still not sure. I have to think on it a bit more.

I admitted to Eric in an email earlier today that I had not read much of the ancillary scholarship surrounding the Bible. Is there any out there among you who could recommend a book or two?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Blogging the Bible, an Explanation…and Other Things
January 9, 2007 — 9:12 pm

I was asked today why I thought it necessary to “blog the Bible”. The person asking seemed to think it was a bit over the top; as if I were mocking the worst part of Christianity, and doing it boorishly.

I think he had a pretty good point, were that my objective.

I said from the outset that it wasn’t my intention to mock anyone’s faith. Granted, I don’t think that any ideas are safe from strong, robust criticism (even strongly held religious beliefs), but I just don’t have very much use for the “in your face” mentality.

So, why am I blogging the Bible?

The obvious answer is that I want to gain a better understanding of it. I haven’t read it in years, and when I did, it was through the lens of either child-hood innocence or religiosity. I thought it might be beneficial to read it again with those lenses removed.

I’m not out to disabuse any Christian of their faith. I’m neither equipped or inclined to do such a thing. I do, however, want to point out just how fantastically preposterous a literal interpretation of the Bible really is. We live in an age where science has proven beyond any reasonable doubt (indeed, beyond any doubt at all) that biblical literalism is false. Modernity in ethics, morality, psychology and philosophy have demonstrated that to take a literalist view of the Bible is nothing less than insanity. And yet, in spite of it all, fundamentalist Christians refuse to go “gently into that good night”.

Which would be OK, if they could only learn to stop pushing their beliefs on the unwilling.

I have no problem with the Bible, per say. So far, it is a fascinating piece of literature. It is certainly on par with the Iliad and the Odyssey. It also contains many lessons that can be taken to heart. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is so completely revolutionary…so perfect in its simplicity…so…”right” that it demands to be woven into our social fabric.

But, to take it any further…to take a literalist view of the Bible, makes no more sense than taking the Iliad or the Odyssey literally. We don’t believe that Ares rained arrows down upon Agamemnon any more than we should believe that God flooded the earth to wipe out wickedness.

So, that is why I’m “blogging the Bible”. Besides, it’s good to be writing again.

Now, to address some of my lingering points from yesterday’s post.

I think the whole “atheists have killed more people than Christians” argument is patently ridiculous. It almost sounds like the excuse Republicans continuously used early in the G.W.B. presidency. “Well, yeah, but Clinton did it too”.

The idea that Hitler was an atheist is the easiest to debunk. It has been so roundly disproved that it hardly seems necessary to go into it here. One only has to think of the slogan “Gott Mitt Uns” to remember the horrors of Nazi Germany.

Stalin and Mao are a bit more difficult. History makes no bones about it; both were ardent atheists when it came to organized religion. But, so what? Stalin and Mao did not kill millions of people in the name of disbelief, they murdered them on the altar of a horribly irrational economic policy (Communism), shrouded in a narcissistic cult of personality. Stalin and Mao didn’t have to believe in religion…they were religion: the Alpha and the Omega, the Christ-heads of their populations.

Lest that sounds a bit hyperbolic:

mao.jpg


stalin.jpg

The term “fundamentalist atheist” is the most clever of the rhetorical tricks used in this whole debate. It’s purpose is two-fold: to imply intolerance and to label atheism as a religion. I addressed the “atheism as a religion” canard in an earlier post, but it bears repeating. Atheism is nothing more than a lack of “theism”. In essence, atheists are defined by the belief system of theists. Frankly, the entire label is counterproductive since it is privative. Besides, we have no such term for disbelievers in ESP or telekinesis, for example. The term non-believer may serve better, but I have my doubts as to whether that will catch on or not.

I was going to try to address the “intolerance” fallacy today, but I find I’m running out of time. I want to write about it in length so I don’t want to do the subject injustice by hurrying through it. So, I’ll take the keyboard up again tomorrow.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Semantic Odds and Ends
January 8, 2007 — 9:01 pm

Before I continue on with my “Blogging the Bible” and other general a-theistic adventures, I just wanted to make a few points regarding my position. I’ve done quite a bit of reading this past month on this whole “new atheist” movement and though I glad the discussion is taking place, I’ve run across far too many false starts and misconceptions surrounding the whole debate. Though plenty of counter points have been made, I thought I’d add my own perspective to the “marketplace of ideas”.

Before I begin, however, I’d want to try to explain why it is I’ve become more vocal on the matter. I touched on it a bit in my earlier post regarding Cal Thomas’s points, but the issue bears more scrutiny.

Like I said before, I am becoming more vocal because I believe there is something intrinsically wrong with religion in America today. Specifically, my concerns lie with fundamentalist Christianity. Though, to be fair, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to give moderate Christianity a pass, as it seems to serve as a foundation for fundamentalists to build upon.

This isn’t a respect issue. People have the right to believe what they want to believe, so long as they don’t force it on me. That’s a general axiom of a free society. Do what you want to do, but don’t involve me against my will. It’s simple enough. Christians should feel free to preach, teach, believe, convert and spread the “good news” to their hearts content, as long as they do not involve me unwillingly. Contrary to the current scare mongering, I know of no atheist who wants to forcefully strip Christianity from society. Would society be better off without organized religion? I happen to believe that it might…though I haven’t been 100% convinced. That doesn’t mean, however, that I want to force your beliefs away from you.

Of course, this is where the “semantics” game is played. There are far, far too many fundamentalist Christians in American today that are playing the “persecution card” with respects to their beliefs. Too many people believe that the idea of religious freedom gives them free license to spread their values in wholly totalitarian ways. For example:

-The Family Foundation of Virginia is pushing to get divorce laws changed in Virginia. They want to make it unlawful for parents to divorce unless both parents agree to the separation. I can’t even begin to explain why this is such a monumentally dangerous idea. Though divorce can be perceived as a societal problem, it is also a very personal problem. The last thing two parents or their children need is the government to step in and force an unwilling partner to stay rooted in an untenable situation. These are problems best left up to the individual, their friends, their therapists and even their church…not the government.

-Though the thoroughly discredited idea of “Intelligent design” has suffered devastating defeats in both Kansas and Pennsylvania, many fundamentalist organizations are still attempting to get it on board in as many states as possible. They are attempting to cloak their faith in pseudo-science and then pass it along to children as an “alternate theory” to evolution. Look, like I said before, people can believe what they want. If you believe the earth is 6000 years old and created in 6 days, I have no truck with you…as long as you don’t try to teach it to my kids without my permission.

-Perhaps most disturbing is the recent evangelical uprising in the United States military. These are people that took an oath to protect the secular Constitution of the United States. And yet, without much prodding, they will easily admit that their loyalty lies with a “higher power”. Again, I have no problems with Christians in the military. However, once they start forcing their views upon a wholly captive audience by way of ostracizing, holding up promotions, and punishment, it becomes a serious problem. I was in the Army for 12 years and I’m here to tell you, you can get into serious problems just trying to sell Amway products to your subordinates. But somehow, Christianity gets a pass.

That’s just one aspect of fundamentalism in the military. We are beginning to see very senior officers make public statements (in uniform, none-the-less) about how their faith in Jesus directs their actions. This is nothing less than treasonous. Our military represents and protects all of the United States, not just Christians. I don’t want generals in the Army thumping their chests and spouting the “My God Vs. their God” argument. These people need to be drummed out of the service…immediately.

-When fundamentalist Christians promote abstinence as the only alternative to sexually transmitted diseases to people who have absolutely no context on the issue, it’s absolutely insane. Africa is awash with the AIDS virus. It is so bad that the word “epidemic” is no longer hyperbolic. The only answer fundamentalists Christians will accept in the face of this horror is abstinence. This is, as Sam Harris put it, genocidally stupid. This is a very clear case where Christian morality is deadly, and nobody in their right mind should stand for it. Every cent of federal money needs to be immediately withdrawn from these people. Let them raise the money for their wacky ideas the old fashioned way.

I’m just touching the tip of the iceberg here. I’m speaking out because it is time for temperance to take hold of religion again. I shudder at the thought of a “Third Awakening”. I would much happier to see another Renaissance.

I wanted to address a couple of errors in logic I’ve been seeing lately before I closed out this post. I don’t think I’m going to get to them tonight, so I’ll set myself up for a post tomorrow.

I wanted to talk about the labels “fundamentalist atheist” or “evangelical atheist”. I also wanted to address this whole notion that atheism has killed far more people than religious dogma. (The person making these assumptions is usually talking about Hitler, Stalin and Mao). They are hugely successful “gotcha” statements to those not in the know. I will do my best to debunk them tomorrow.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Blogging the Bible, Day 6
January 7, 2007 — 6:15 pm

The Birth of Ishmael

Abraham’s wife, Sarah, is having problems conceiving a child. She goes to Abraham and says:

Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.

Why do I sense a soap opera moment looming ahead?

And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.

And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.

sarah.jpg

In typical fashion, Sarah gets more than a little jealous at what’s going on. She goes to Abraham and says:

My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the LORD judge between me and thee.

Abraham doesn’t want to deal with all this drama, and he doesn’t. He tells Sarah “Look, it’s your problem. If your slave is causing you grief, deal with her any way you wish. And, boy oh boy, does Sarah take that to heart. She treats Hagar so badly that she runs away into the desert rather than dealing with her bitchiness any longer.

But, you can’t hide from the Lord, don’t you know. An angel came upon Hagar and commanded her to return to Sarah and submit to her wishes. In return, the angel promised Hagar that her seed would be voluminous.

So, Hagar tramps on back to camp and re-establishes herself. It’s not told how she is treated once she gets back. But, hey, she’s a slave…not only that, she’s a slave that ran away. And, not only that…she’s a slave that slept with Sarah’s husband and is now carrying his child. You’re guess is as good as mine, dear reader.

A short time later, Hagar gives birth to Ishmael, whom the Lord has said will be:

a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.

To date, I’m not overly impressed with Abraham’s character. He willingly allowed his wife to become a sexual servant (in order to avoid bodily harm), he slept with his wife’s slave and after he knew that she conceived, allowed his wife to treat her any way she wished.

I’m not really seeing the “family values” connection here.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Beyond Belief
January 7, 2007 — 5:50 pm

In early November of 2006, The Science Network put on a three day symposium entitled Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival.

You can watch the whole thing here. It’s quite wonderful stuff.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Blogging the Bible, Day 5
January 6, 2007 — 8:56 pm

Yahweh’s Promise

Abraham was getting a little worried. He was getting on in age and had no son to carry on his bloodline. He asked the Lord:

LORD God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?

And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

The Lord God had a solution. He told Abraham that his prodigy would be as numerous as the stars above him. He also reminded Abraham that He was giving him the very land he resided on for himself and all his posterity.

“But, Lord”, Abraham inquired, “How will I know that you are telling the truth”?

As cranky as God was in the Old Testament, you would think that the very act of questioning the Lord would have earned a smiting or two. Instead, the Lord instructed Abraham to:

Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.

And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.

After the slaughter, Abraham fell into a deep sleep and the Lord came unto him in a dream. He told Abraham that for four hundred years, his descendants would find themselves slaves in an unfamiliar land. But, not to worry, the Lord God would judge this land harshly and they would be set free in the fourth generation.

After the Lord had said this (in Abraham’s dream), a smoking furnace and a burning lamp magically made its way between the cleaved carcasses late of Abraham’s handy work. Thus, a covenant between Abraham and the Lord was sealed.

Though this particular chapter of Genesis is important since it sets up the “Set my people free” moment later on in the Bible, it is not really all that convincing. Abraham sacrifices some animals, falls asleep and dreams of God; where, of course, God tells him is future.

If I didn’t know any better, I would think I was reading the Iliad.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Cal Thomas’s Assumptions
January 6, 2007 — 6:55 pm

Cal Thomas has a question:

I wonder about the question. Why is it “in vogue” to disbelieve in a Creator of the universe, who loves us and wants to have a relationship with us and not “in vogue” to believe?

It does seem that people with atheistic views are much more vocal these days. I very seriously doubt that they are speaking out because it is “in vogue”. In fact, I have been rather quiet about my non-belief for over 15 years. I rarely spoke about it (unless asked) and, in truth, it hardly ever crossed my mind. I didn’t think it was “in vogue” to be a disbeliever then, and I don’t believe it’s “in vogue” to be a disbeliever now. I am what I am.

My reasons for beginning to speak out now are legion, and I may address them in a later post. Suffice it to say, there is something deeply wrong with religion in America today. It (religion) is imposing itself on society in a wholly unwelcome manner. If I were to shorten it down to one simple sentence, it would be this:

Leave me alone.

It’s time for the more rational thinkers in our society to hem in fundamentalism.

Mr. Thomas again:

In conversing with an atheist, it is important to understand that such a person will never be brought to faith by information alone, because the same information is available to everyone. If information were sufficient to make a believer out of an atheist, then all would believe.

I’m flummoxed at how absurd this statement is. Mr. Thomas is arguing against his own beliefs without even realizing it. It means the exact same thing as this: “In conversing with a fundamentalist, it is important to understand that such a person will never be brought to reason by information alone, because the same information is available to everyone. If information were sufficient to make a rationalist out of a fundamentalist, then all would be rationalists”.

Pretty neat trick, huh? Well, not really. Like I said before, if the information were out there that proved God’s existence, I would probably know that he exists. On the opposite side, there is plenty of information out there arguing for rationalism; and yet, there are still plenty of fundamentalist Christians in this country.

It takes more faith not to believe in God than to believe in Him. It is also intellectually lazy. You have to believe the vastness of the universe “happened” without a Designer and that unique things like fingerprints and snowflakes occurred by pure chance.

Well, no. I don’t have to believe any such thing. In any case, I think Mr. Thomas has muddied the water a bit. I think what he meant to say is that fingerprints and snowflakes are uniquely different from each other rather than just being unique.

Fingerprints are uniquely different from each other for the same reason individual people (even monozygotic twins) are physically unique from each other. It’s as simple (well, the explanation is simple, not the process) as genetic code swapping and later in-vitro environmental modification. God simply doesn’t enter into it.

It also turns out that the individual uniqueness of snowflakes has a perfectly rational scientific explanation.

Before I move on, I’d like to address a few more points in Mr. Thomas’s above statement.

It doesn’t take any faith what-so-ever not to believe in God. Faith doesn’t even begin to enter into it. For me, empirical, scientific evidence is the absolute best way to interpret this world. So far, science has not even come close to proving God’s existence. In fact, God himself hasn’t deemed it necessary to even prove his own existence. Listen, I’m not close-minded on the subject. If Jesus came down to earth tomorrow, resurrecting the dead, re-growing amputee’s limbs or performing any other miracles, I would probably be inclined to believe in him. Although, even the word “believe” in not correct in this context. I would know of his existence. But, for now, there is just no definitive evidence that God does exist, hence the question really doesn’t bother me. Just as the nonexistence of Jedi Knights does not bother me.

For me to have “faith” that He does not exist implies that I think He exists. It’s a meaningless circular argument.

Mr. Thomas also points out that it is “intellectually lazy” not to believe in God, and gives the reasons I refuted above. Of course, I think he has this exactly backwards. Though I don’t think it’s “intellectually lazy” to have a belief in God, I do believe it’s extremely lazy to attribute every seemingly unknown causation to Him. It’s this sort of attitude that retards scientific progress. It’s also juvenile. It’s the kind of thing an frustrated parent would tell his child after hearing “why is the sky blue?” one hundred times a day. Instead of pulling out a science book and patiently walking the child through the reasons, some people may be tempted to just say, “Because, God made it that way”. Now, you tell me, which of the two is more “intellectually lazy”?

Mr. Thomas then goes on to say:

An atheist wagers his or her present and eternal future that he or she is right. If the atheist is right and there is no God, there are no consequences. But if the atheist is wrong and there is a God and a Heaven for those who come to Him on His terms, and a Hell for those who reject Him, then that has the most important consequences.

Wait, weren’t we just talking about being “intellectually lazy”?

This argument, of course, is yet another version of Pascal’s Wager. It has been so thoroughly discredited it’s almost embarrassing to still find it masquerading as intellectual debate. It assumes that God is so stupid that he would be fooled by a non-believer just kind of going through the motions to get into heaven. And, really, can’t I just as easily reverse the argument on Mr. Thomas?

Mr. Thomas wagers his present and eternal future that he is right. If he is right and there is no Allah, there are no consequences. But, if he is wrong and Allah and a Heaven exists for those who come to Him on His terms, and a Hell for those who reject Him, then that has the most important consequences.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Blogging the Bible, Day 4
January 5, 2007 — 8:10 pm

The Calling of Abraham

After the Tower of Babel incident, we wade through another long lineage and are finally introduced to Abraham (or Abram).

The Lord called upon Abraham and said:

Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee:

And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.

canaan.jpg

With the Lord’s blessing, Abraham settled in the land of Canaan where he “built an altar unto the Lord”.

Apparently something happened to between God and Abraham because not soon after there was a “grievous famine” in all the land and Abraham was forced to sojourn to Egypt for relief.

While approaching Egypt, Abraham turns to his wife and says:

Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon:

Therefore it shall come to poss, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.

Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.

Apparently, Abraham knew beauty when he saw it, for when they entered Egypt, Sarai (Abraham’s wife) turned quite a few heads. Word even got around to Pharaoh and he took her into his house. (Read, she was taken into his harem). For payment, Pharaoh gave Abraham “sheep, and oxen, and asses and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses and camels”.

Wow, quite the bargain!

It was around this time that the Lord God saw all of this going on and got a little perturbed. He sent a “great plague” upon Pharaoh and his house.

Pharaoh, obviously a bit confused, calls Abraham and asks him a fairly logical question. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me she was your wife, you jackass.” (I’m paraphrasing). And yet, in spite of all his suffering, Pharaoh was actually quite forgiving. He sent Abraham away with his wife and all he owned.

I’m assuming Sarai forgave Abraham’s transgression, but then again, I haven’t read that far, yet. The whole affair certainly brings Abraham’s “manhood” into question. A man willing to sell his wife into sexual servitude for fear of his well-being is what I like to call a “moral coward”. I wonder if there are many who agree with me.

Abraham in Egypt according to The Brick Testament

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Commenting
January 5, 2007 — 6:26 pm

I’ve turned commenting on my side of the blog back on. It looks as if Haloscan has done a good job updating their product and I thought I might give it another shot.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Suffer the Little Children
January 4, 2007 — 8:00 pm

12-Year-Old Special Education Student Charged With Disorderly Conduct for Wetting Pants

I’m going to keep my comments to a minimum here; because with a story like this, it’s easy to go off on an emotional rant. Rants are a dime a dozen these days.

I just wanted to wonder aloud for a minute or two.

I wonder how we became a society that condones calling the cops on a special education student that just wet her pants, regardless of the reason.

I wonder how certain people worked their way into the position of “teaching” children.

I wonder why the police would even bother answering this call.

I wonder at the sheer stupidity of actually charging this poor girl.

I wonder how the police get away with stunts like this…

Police told the girl’s parents they could probably avoid a fine if they agree to have the girl do community service.

…without either being laughed or run out of town.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Blogging the Bible, Day 3
January 4, 2007 — 7:15 pm

The Tower of Babel

As a child, this was my favorite bible story. I’m not sure why. I guess I just always liked the idea of this huge ziggurat reaching to the heavens. Come to think of it, this story may well have prepared me for Ayn Rand’s Fountain Head.

babel.jpg

The story goes like this:

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.

And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

This story is interesting for so many reasons. Mankind was so unified in purpose, they began to become God-like. The Lord sees this, assumably feels threatened by it and effectively retards mans technological abilities by confounding their language and scattering them to the four corners of the earth.

Taken as a story, it’s strangely compelling. Not only does it serve to explain the origin of the earth’s myriad of languages, it attempts to teach a lesson at the same time. “Know your place”.

Taken literally, it’s nonsense.

-It’s difficult to believe that an ancient civilization had the technical savvy, or manpower to construct a tower so high that its “top may reach unto heaven”. I’m certainly open to the idea, after all, the Pyramid of Giza is a testament to what a civilization can do with enough money, time and slave labor. The thing is, the Pyramid of Giza is still standing. The Tower of Babel is not. In fact, there’s no hard evidence that outside of your everyday ziggurats, it ever existed at all.

-There is no definitive linguistic or evolutionary evidence that a single language was the origin of all other languages. Or, as this story suggests, a single, all encompassing, unified language existed before God fractured it.

We, as mankind, have surely made structures much larger than the original Tower of Babel. If the Lord feels threatened by this development, he hasn’t made a mention of it. That’s not to mention our adventures with nuclear fission and space exploration.

It’s also interesting to note that the notion of “one language” is quickly being accepted as standard operating procedure for all mankind.

OK, I’ll sign off now, I’ve found that I’ve been babbling a bit.

As always, please feel free to contact me at: bibleblog2007-at-gmail.com

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Revenge is Sour
January 3, 2007 — 8:55 pm

George Orwell argues that there is no such thing as revenge.

I’m rather taken with his point of view.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Blogging the Bible, Day 2
January 3, 2007 — 8:48 pm

Genesis 8

I see plenty of inconsistencies in chapter 8 of Genesis. Most of them have to do with exactly how long the flood was. And when, exactly did the ark make landfall? The text doesn’t really give any clear explanation. We are told that:

And the waters returned from off the earth continually; after one hundred and fifty days the waters were abated.

And the ark rested in the seventh month, upon the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.

And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month: in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, were the tops of the mountains seen.

So far, so good. Up until now, everything fits in a nice, chronological order. Then we have this:

And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made:

And he set forth a raven, which went to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.

Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground

This seems a little odd to me. Noah surely knows the waters were “abated from off the face of the ground” as not only had the Ark found a resting spot on Mount Ararat, the tops of the mountains were seen from his vantage point, or so we are lead to believe.

But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth…

Either the bible is messed up chronologically, or this passage is in direct contradiction of with what was stated above.

And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark

And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.

Taken literally, this makes absolutely no sense. We are to believe that an olive tree either survived the flood or germinated and sprouted leaves within a seven day period. Everything we know about horticulture flies in the face of such claims. It’s about as believable as a 500 year old man having three children in the span of a year. That is to say, it is wholly unbelievable.

Another mystery has to do with the animals on the ark. After landfall, Noah:

builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

Did God, in his wisdom, order Noah to carry two of every animal just so the “clean” ones could be sacrificed to him after the whole ordeal was over with? What exactly does that mean? Are we left with the prodigy of the “unclean” beasts and fowl? Or is it that all the clean beasts and fowl had offspring while on the ark, hence providing the sacrifice unto the Lord. And yet, if that is the case, how did all those offspring fit on the already surely cramped ark?

Genesis 9

And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.

And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations

I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth

I remember having this lesson in Sunday school years ago. I thought aloud that it was wonderful that God would not destroy the earth again. It seemed to me that we were all safe from God’s wrath. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to my psyche that I didn’t have to look over my shoulder, waiting in dread anticipation for God to strike us all down dead for our wickedness.

Of course, it was quickly pointed out that God had only promised not to kill us all by way of drowning. All other options were fair game. My child-hood imagination quickly spun into overdrive once again. How would it come next time? Luckily for us, that is all foretold in another book of the bible…something I’ll discuss much later on this year.

In fact, a rainbow is “an optical and meteorological phenomenon that causes a nearly continuous spectrum of light to appear in the sky when the Sun shines onto droplets of moisture in the Earth’s atmosphere. It takes the form of a multicolored arc, with red on the outside and violet on the inside.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but a rainbow is a purely scientific phenomenon. Where rays of light from the sun and atmospheric moisture mix in the, a rainbow is the likely result. Of course, there is little evidence to suggest that ancient civilizations understood the concept of light refraction, so the explanation of God worked rather nicely in its stead.

Right around Geniuses 9-20, things get downright bizarre. Noah planted a vineyard, you see and drank a little too much wine one night. And. well:

he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.

And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.

And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s naked-ness

noah5.jpg

Well, OK. Noah had a bit much to drink and passed out in a less than flattering pose. I’m sure that the majority of us at least know of this happening to someone with whom they are acquainted. Noah, with a slight hangover, I suppose, wakes up the next morning and:

knew what his younger son had done unto him

And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren

And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

God shall enlarge Japeth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

OK, everything else up to this point is just a little silly to me. However, this is where the bible starts running into some serious ethical problems. Noah gets drunk and passes out, naked. His son, Ham, comes upon him and sees him. Instead of covering him up (hence, honoring his father), he goes and tells his other brothers about their father’s condition.

As far as what’s written, this is all that happened. And, for the moment, I’ll take it at face value.

For the crime of not honoring his father, Ham’s son (an innocent) and his whole line of descendents are subjected to a life of slavery. Slavery is a condition that has nearly been eradicated from the face of the earth. It is a ruthless economic system that all enlightened societies find morally repugnant, to the nth degree. And yet, if we are to believe some fundamentalist Christians, the bible is the only source of morality for man to live by.

Of course, much more can be read into the story of Noah and Ham.

Genesis 10

This is the part in Genesis where Homer Simpson goes to sleep while listening to the Bible on tape. Begat, begat, begat, begat, begat.

Please email any questions, concerns, comments or rants to bibleblog2007-at-gmail.com

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Let There Be Light
January 2, 2007 — 9:11 pm

So, this is the year I read the Bible cover to cover. I’ve read it piecemeal in the past, mostly in my church going days. I’ll be following the online reading guide listed here.

I got to thinking; if I’m going to actually read the bible, I might as well blog about it as well. Please note, my interpretation of the Bible will be entirely skeptical. I stopped being a believer nearly 15 years ago. Since then I’ve been calling myself an agnostic. It wasn’t until recently I’ve been labeling myself as an atheist.

It’s not my intention to mock or deride. I’m simply reading this from my own particular point of view and writing about it. Honestly, I don’t even know where this is going to take me.

The first post is going to be rather skimpy. I read through the first seven chapters of Genesis quickly and didn’t have much time to reflect. Hence, I’m only writing about the phrases that stuck out

Genesis 1 through Genesis 7

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.

Ah, the seven days of creation. Light, firmament, dry land, light-bearers, fish and birds, animals and humans, rest, all in order. A place for everything and everything in its place. OK, so far so good. In fact, Yahweh seems to be loosely following a script set down by a myriad of cultures.

Genesis 2-6: And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

I find it slightly humorous that some Christians get really worked up about the concept of evolution; particularly the part where man AND ape are descended from a common ancestor (not directly from apes as many creationists suggest), while the bible suggests our origins are no more divine than common dust. True, true, we have the breath of the divine in us (or so the bible says), but dust none-the-less.

Genesis 2-21,22,23: And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

No wonder so many feminists are pissed.

Genesis 5-32: And Noah was five hundred years old: and Noah begat Shem, Ham and Japheth.

OK, aside from the impossibility of living to be 500 years old, he had all three children in one year? I mean, the in-vitro gestation time for homo sapiens is roughly 9 months, right?

Genesis 6-15: And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.

I’ll admit my ignorance when it comes to Old Testament measuring systems, so I had to look this one up. According to Dictionary.com, a cubit is “an ancient linear unit based on the length of the forearm, from elbow to the tip of the middle finger, usually from 17 to 21 in. (43 to 53 cm).”

So, according to my calculations, Noah’s Ark was somewhere between 425 to 525 feet long. If we’re fair and split the difference, we end up with a ship of 475 feet in length, 80 feet in width and 48 feet high.

No doubt these are impressive figures. In fact, imagine a structure about as long as one and half football fields and you have it’s length. It’s width would be almost exactly half the width of a football field. And as for its height, well, just imagine a 5 story building. At those dimensions, the Ark was a bit smaller than the typical World War II aircraft carrier.

Without even going into how something that size could be structurally sound constructed out of nothing but gopher wood and pitch, the mind absolutely forbids the notion that two of every living thing on the face of the earth could fit within. And don’t forget, to many creationists, this means dinosaurs were most definitely included in the bargain.

That’s it for now. I have no idea if anyone will be reading this as I go along or not. If there is some interest in it, I may create a separate email account to discuss what I’ve written.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
I’m working on it
December 30, 2006 — 10:21 pm

OK, so I’m working on a pretty big post right now. It will be kind of a “what I did in 2006″ post. I have huge plans. HUGE, I tell you.

In the meantime, I’d like to pass along an old speech by JFK (that’s John F. Kennedy to you not in the know). I’ve been taking a pretty long and hard look at the Religious Right in America lately; and I have my fair amount of issues with JFK, but this particular speech strikes a chord. Plus, it’s refreshing to remember that the office of the President of the United States was held by articulate men, from time to time.

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute — where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote — where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference — and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish — where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source — where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials — and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For, while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew — or a Quaker — or a Unitarian — or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim — but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end — where all men and all churches are treated as equal — where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice — where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind — and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, both the lay and the pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

Whole speech here

Download the audio of this speech here

It’s also interesting to note that this speech was given to a group of Southern Baptist leaders.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
I’ve Got Nothing
August 29, 2006 — 10:05 pm

I had a genuine WTF moment the first time I saw this commercial (well before Radley Balko called it the worst commercial ever).

It’s just so…how do I say it…bad. Seriously.

Now, if Ford wanted to make a “bold move”, they would have left the mother standing on the curb waving goodbye to her children. Holy crap, this commercial sucks.

Hattip to The Agitator

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
He’s Coming
August 26, 2006 — 3:53 pm

Yeah, I know. My last post was a link to Youtube too. This is sheer laziness, you may say to yourself. This Justin guy doesn’t bother to write anything for months and then pops up with some recycled Youtube links, you may also think…or something. But, damn is this funny, and addictive.

He’ll kick you apart!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
A Prince Among Men
July 29, 2006 — 9:20 pm

You know, the more I see of this guy, the more I like him.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Teach Your Children Well
July 28, 2006 — 8:48 pm

Yesterday, Eric wrote a stirring blog entry about our mutual good friend, Dylan. It’s quite a coincidence as I was set to heap my own praises upon Dylan’s shaggy head myself. But, I got tired and went to bed, blog entry unwritten. That’s how it usually goes with me. My best thoughts often follow me into slumber and then just kind of disappear into the chambers of my subconscious.

Eric sums up our first encounter with Dylan quite nicely:

Justin and I were holding a Writers’ Bloc meeting by ourselves one day when a guy walked in with an odd sort of mullet and a kinda high-pitched, almost lispy voice, offering to read us some of his poetry. We said sure, but we didn’t take to Dylan right away. The first poems he read, as I recall, were all concrete medidations on beauty – cherry blossoms, the Japanese Garden (I still remember the phrase “clever bamboo contraptions” for some reason), stuff like that. At the time, even when I was writing about something in particular, it was all abstract and oblique imagery – hinting at the topic and its implications, never coming right out and writing about it. Dylan’s stuff didn’t fit in with my current stylistic hobby horse, and while I at first regarded his writing with as much skepticism as I held for his personal sense of no-flannel-or-funny-hat style, I admired it all the same. He was doing stuff I didn’t want to do, but it was coming out so well – the very model of the particular aesthetic choices he had made.

I actually think Eric is being a bit too nice in his reminiscence. I certainly recall us teasing him (in absentia) from time to time when he was not in earshot. I would do my best to imitate his nasally voice and Eric would try to come up with some off the cuff “Dylan stanzas”. Believe me, when you’re 16 years old, that stuff is comedy gold.

Of course, Dylan was quickly folded into our little literary clique, as were nearly all our friends at the time. Come to think of it, nearly every friend I’ve held onto from high school traveled in that same circle. I first met Jacob while working on the literary magazine. Though I knew Andrea Grant (a transplant from Benson High, I believe) from our shared English class, it was the Writer’s Bloc that cemented our friendship. And even though Tina was not on the literary magazine staff, I met her in the journalism room shortly after I graduated.

At times, separate circles of friends collided and meshed. Julie Nieman, for example, was a friend I made during my three years in Band class (I played the Tuba, thank you very much). Sometimes I wonder if Dylan and Julie would be married today if I had not been the apex of those two swirling circles of acquaintances. Ah, the head swells at the prospect of it all.

OK, I’m rambling a bit here.

I’ll say it plainly. Of all my friends, it is Dylan I envy. Not because he’s married to one of the most beautiful women I know (though it is part of the sum). Not because he has talent that demands to be admired. Not because he is, without a doubt, one of the most decent people I know. I envy Dylan because he has aspired to, and achieved greatness.

Let me explain. I’ve always had this feeling deep down inside of me that I was destined to do something great, something wonderful. Though I’ve done a great many things in my short time on earth, my feelings of achievement have always been fleeting. I think to myself, “OK, good job, what’s next?”. I have designs on how this sense of greatness will finally be realized, but it will take several more years to get there.

Dylan, on the other hand, is there. He, in his capacity as an English teacher, has the ability to touch minds, to create love out of nothing, to create passion out of disinterest. Many people are afforded this opportunity; few take advantage of it.

The only two teachers I had in high school that amounted to anything were Ms. Damien and Mr. Winn. In the end, I ended up loving those two. No, no, not Eros, but love none-the-less. I can say, with all honesty, that I would not be who I am today if our paths had never crossed. More than likely, a great deal of me would have been unrealized (I’m not ashamed to say it).

Dylan is the Ms. Damien and Mr. Winn for his students and his students love him for it. That is greatness. That is what I envy. No, that is what I admire about my good friend, Dylan.

Oh, and if anyone wants to know about the shrimp for ice cream scam we had going on back in the day, let me know.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Best Interview . . . Ever
July 10, 2006 — 5:53 pm

Adam Corolla takes on Ann Coulter.

I thought this to be an appropriate re-beginning to my blog posting.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
These Are the Times that Try Men’s Souls
February 25, 2006 — 9:00 pm

Ahhhh…Corporate America.

Let me just make this clear to one and all. Being laid off sucks. It blows. It bites the big one, as it were. I’m still in the state of mind where I’m on the outside looking in…sort of an out of body experience where I’ve disconnected nearly all feelings regarding my situation. What’s the first stage of dealing with grief? Denial?

I’ve never been one for pouring out my personal life to those who are not in the know. But, in this case, I suppose it’s necessary…that is if the reader wants to get a full picture of the shear enormity (yes, I said enormity, not immensity) of what’s going on in my life.

Depression, Separation, Death, Divorce, Unemployment. Five unique occurrences all bunched up in a 12 month period.

Occurrence the first – Depression. Nearly a year ago I was diagnosed with chronic low level depression (Disthymia). The mighty wonder drug, Prozac; and a years worth of therapy has served well in abating that particular problem.

Occurrence the second (and fourth) – Separation (and divorce). Not much to say here. Suffice it to say, it’s messy.

Occurrence the third – Death. My father passed away in August. We had issues, he and I. The only way I can explain our relationship in a succinct manner is thus…I talk to him more now then when he was alive.

Occurrence the fifth – Unemployment. I went from having a job that paid 60k one day to being nearly destitute the next. This wasn’t because of anything I did. It’s just that the company wasn’t making enough money, you see. So, bye bye, Justin. Oh, and we are going to escort you from the building. No, you can’t say goodbye to anyone. No, you can’t go back to your desk, we’ll pack that up for you and have you pick them up at a later date. Good luck!

Am I being tested? If I believed in a higher power, I’d have to say yes. I’ve come to understand that circumstances such as these really measure the worth of a man. I mean, come on, it’s easy to be a stand up guy when all is in order. But, what happens when the foundation starts to shake and your very world begins to rip itself apart? What then? Do you go home and kick the dog, or do you step right into the middle of that motherfucking storm and dare it to bring its worst?

When I told Eric I had been laid off, he had some very astute, if not pithy advise for me. “You’d better get on that…like yesterday.”

He’s right, of course. There is no time to wallow. I’m stepping into the storm.

Bring it on, motherfucker.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Ben Shapiro: Poltroon
February 15, 2006 — 1:00 pm

Young Mr. Shapiro, the rock star of college conservatives through-out America, is at it again. In an attempt to rally the Brown-shirts (Ok, maybe that’s not completely fair; but, it sure does sound good), he makes the following statement in an article on Townhall.com:

At some point, opposition must be considered disloyal. At some point, the American people must say “enough.” At some point, Republicans in Congress must stop delicately tiptoeing with regard to sedition and must pass legislation to prosecute such sedition.

He is referring to recent statements made by Al Gore, Rep. Jim McDermott and Sen. John Kerry.

He then assures us that the ACLU will of course remind us of “FREEDOM OF SPEECH”, as if only liberal organizations with communist leanings will be the only people concerned with the erosion of our civil liberties.

Little did we know, however, that Mr. Shapiro is also a scholar of American history:

Before we buy into the slogan, we must remember our history. President Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus and allowed governmental officials to arrest Rep. Clement Vallandigham after Vallandigham called the Civil War “cruel” and “wicked,” shut down hundreds of opposition newspapers, and had members of the Maryland legislature placed in prison to prevent Maryland’s secession. The Union won the Civil War.

Under the Espionage Act of 1917, opponents of World War I were routinely prosecuted, and the Supreme Court routinely upheld their convictions. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes rightly wrote, “When a nation is at war, many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.” The Allies won World War I.

During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the internment of hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans, as well as allowing the prosecution and/or deportation of those who opposed the war. The Allies won World War II.

During the Vietnam War, the Supreme Court repeatedly upheld the free speech rights of war opponents, whether those opponents distributed leaflets depicting the rape of the Statue of Liberty or wore jackets emblazoned with the slogan “F— the Draft.” America lost the Vietnam War.

One wonders if Ben Shapiro has ever read anything by H.L. Mencken. If he had, he might have taken this quote to heart:

Demagogue: One who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.

I believe that Mr. Shapiro is having a bit of a problem with the concept of correlation. It seems to me (as it should to every freedom loving individual) that the Union won the Civil War in spite of Abraham Lincoln’s actions; not because of them. Likewise, the Allies won World War I and World War II in spite of the tyranny occurring right here on our very shores; not because of them.

And, to even suggest that the United States lost the Vietnam war because of “jackets emblazoned with the slogan ‘F— the Draft’”, proves that Mr. Shapiro believes us all to be idiots.

Mr. Shapiro, you are a coward, sir. Your kind will never cease to remind us that countless people died so that people have the “right” to criticize this government’s actions. Then, within the same breath, you would take away those very rights, rendering your very argument (if not all those lives lost) null and void. How many lives, Mr. Shapiro, will be lost recovering those rights?

But, just between you and me…come-on, you really don’t believe what you are saying, do you?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Is Ignorance Bliss?
February 6, 2006 — 8:00 pm

Sometimes my own ignorance astounds me.

I’ve probably read To Kill a Mockingbird five or six times since I first picked it up all those many years ago. I treasure that book. It sits (nearly invisible) in the back of my mind at all times. I view its onscreen adaptation as something beautiful. If ever there was a perfect performance, it was Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. And, who could forget Robert Duvall’s very first appearance in the movies as “Boo” Radley?

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but until just yesterday, I was under the impression that Harper Lee was a man; and I have no earthly idea why. On top of that, I was under the equally false impression that “he” was dead.

Finding out that Harper Lee is in fact a woman and very much alive was one of those “well, I’ll be damned” moments. Kind of the mental equivalent of slamming into a glass door, unawares.

Since I’m admitting my blatant ignorance here, I might as well give another example. When, pray tell, did people start referring to Portland (my hometown) as P-town? When did this start? I’ve been reconnecting with quite a few old friends lately and they all make the same reference. Have I been asleep all these years or is this a new phenomenon? Just curious.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Myth Busters
February 5, 2006 — 4:00 pm

The very first book that I remember actually stirring my curiosity was Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. I remember reading this book in class while I should have been doing other thing (typing, for example, where I ultimately received an F as a reward for my diverted attention).

Since then, I have fallen in love with Greek and Roman mythology. Though I’m no expert on the matter, I read what I can: Bullfinch, Campbell, Aeschylus, Sophocles, etc….

Movies and television shows with mythological themes catch my attention as well. The new Battlestar Galactica, for example. The Iliad (or Troy as it was named for the “big screen”) was a lot of fun too, though (as Tim Virkkala once stated better than I), I missed the Gods.

So, with all that being said, I do have to admit a bit of irritation when these shows get the simplest things, well…just wrong. For example, I caught Jason and the Argonauts on the Sci Fi channel last night (the recent remake). I was irked when they kept referring to Heracles as Hercules. I suppose this wouldn’t be so bad, if the story were told by a Roman point of view. However, every other entity in the movie was referred to by their Greek name. Zeus and Hera, for example.

And, while we are on the subject of Heracles, why do these shows always make him much weaker than is warranted? This was a man who, for his 11th great task, held the world upon his shoulders while the Titan, Atlas gathered apples for him. So, I find it hard to fathom that he would be grunting and straining with all his might to pull out a small sized tree from its roots to use as a weapon against an oncoming enemy.

Ok, perhaps I’m being snobbish, I don’t know. I just don’t think television or the movies would have anything to lose in staying true to the myths. I mean, they’ve lasted this long, right?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Youth
February 2, 2006 — 8:00 pm

Now that I’m getting on into the early reaches of middle age-dom, I find it incredibly easy to dismiss the aspirations and musing of youth…meaning my own daughters. When I don’t want my peace treaded upon, I find it tempting to exile them to the living room and the television therein. Spongebob Squarepants has given me blessed solitude a number of times.

But, the nature of children is a wonderful thing. They have that fantastic ability to shake your very foundations. As I was idly wasting time today (trying to decide if I should read Tom Jones or Prometheus Bound), my 7 year old daughter came in and began a full blown lecture on the life and times of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Seriously, she knew more about the man than I did. She wrapped up her presentation with the request that I find and play “Eine Kline Nachtmusik” (her very words).

What could I do? For the next hour we sat side by side and searched the Internet for Mozart trivia. I downloaded several pieces of music and we listened to them, together.

I love being a father.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
More on Beauty
February 1, 2006 — 7:00 pm

A couple of days ago, I brought up the issue of beauty. I thought I might give an example of what passes for beauty in my eye.

I find this beautiful, and painfully so:

The above is Edward Hopper’s “Gas”. Though I don’t think this is his absolute best piece of art, I do find it strongly compelling. It speaks to me. I relate to it (and other Hopper paintings) in a way I don’t or can’t relate to other artists.

Now, this I merely find interesting, rather than beautiful:

This, of course, is Jackson Pollock’s “Number 1″. Now, to me this is more a disorganized construct (a contradiction?). Something to puzzle over; something to disassemble and reassemble. It’s almost as it’s a problem to be solved. I’m not saying there’s no beauty here; it’s just that I don’t recognize it.

Now, I’m wondering why this is. Why does Hopper outstrip Pollock in the recesses of my mind? Is it a lack of formal artistic education? Do environmental aspects come into play? Am I just being “ignorant”? What, pray tell, is it?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
House Cleaning
January 31, 2006 — 6:00 pm

Two posts in as many days! Eric is going to have a fit!

I’ve managed to clean up my gutter area a bit. It now reflects what I’ve read thus far this year, as well as what I’m currently perusing. Though, some of the entries under “Books read in 2006″ aren’t really books, but rather essays. But, oh well.

My mind had been lingering on the thoughts of aesthetics lately. Beauty, in all its forms, has always held my rapt attention. I don’t know where I’m going with this quite yet. I thought I’d just throw it out there. Perhaps someone could send me an email with their specific thoughts on beauty. What is it? How do we recognize it? Is it hard wired into us or is it something we grow to appreciate as we gain life experience? Is it both?

I’ll think on it a bit more and write my thoughts down when they become a little more coherent.

Anyway, it’s good to be back.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
An Open Book
January 30, 2006 — 5:00 pm

I’m back!

Other matters have been at the forefront of my oft’ wayward attention these past few months. I’m not promising that I’ll be updating with any real frequency now, but it’s a start anyway.

I’ve been trying to catch up on some reading these past few months. Though the gutter area on my side is not updated to show it, I’ve made some real progress these past few months. For example, I finally read Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul. I was really quite surprised by how simply Caesar wrote. Though mainly a propaganda piece, his exploits have resonance even today.

To tie into Caesar’s conquest, I re-read Patton’s War as I knew it as well. One is amazed at how the two’s writing corresponded so. But, perhaps that was the point. Of course, Patton never fails to remind the reader how and when he mirrored Caesar’s actions nearly two millennia ago. Frightfully good stuff.

This year I’ve resolved to read The Harvard Classics. Of course, some of that list is old hat. The Odyssey, for example. Though I read this many years ago, I had a wonderful time reading it all over again. It’s funny how your frame of context allows you to interpret the core meaning of a book. When I first read of Brave Ulysses (Odysseus for you Graecio-philes out there), it was no more than a rousing tale of adventure and…well, quite frankly, gore. Presently I understand the book to be more about the kind of hero worship you might find in an Ayn Rand novel. What, exactly is Homer trying to convey to us? I don’t think this is about Penelope pining away for her long, lost husband. I think, rather that she cannot bear to give herself to a “lesser person” as it were. There is a whole well-spring of psychology here that I’m sure has been addressed elsewhere. I find it all rather fascinating.

Additionally, I have been reading Chronicles of Narnia to my daughters. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a father. By reading these stories aloud to a captive audience, I am, in a sense, reliving my own childhood. It is interesting to me how certain phrases trigger emotion. For example, while reading this passage, I choked up. I had to pause and recompose myself:

“We have come – Aslan.”
“Welcome, Peter, Son of Adam,” said Aslan. “Welcome, Susan and Lucy, Daughters of Eve. Welcome, He-Beaver and She-Beaver.”
His voice was deep and rich and somehow took the fidgets out of them. They now felt glad and quiet and it didn’t seem awkward to them to stand and say nothing.

Why the emotion? I don’t know. Something was triggered, however. And I love it. I love every minute of it.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Kafka, meet Hawaii. Hawaii, Kafka.
October 12, 2005 — 6:00 pm

From the life and times of Josef K?:

Under a new policy, Hawaii officials are forcing used car buyers to assume responsibility for parking tickets left unpaid by a previous owner. The state last month began enforcing an obscure law passed more than a decade ago that states no motor vehicle may be registered if records show that there are outstanding fines against the vehicle — not against the owner. To register the car, buyers must either pay all fines owed by the previous owner or contest the ticket in court. To contest the ticket, the buyer must pay a “bond” which is exactly the amount of the fine.

Worse, many unpaid parking tickets may not even have be issued for legitimate violations. In 2003, motorist Dwain Marlowe used a video camera to document how parking meters near the Honolulu airport were shortchanging drivers by between 5 and 15 minutes. Parking tickets generate more than $20 million a year in revenue for Hawaii.

Seriously…the mind boggles.

Hattip to No Quarters

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
WTF?
October 7, 2005 — 8:00 pm

Peggy Noonan and I actually agree about something:

This in itself is quite something, as I usually have little to nothing to do with Conservative mouthpieces.

“And they did things like this: The day before hurricane Rita hit Texas, last Friday, I saw on TV something that disturbed me. It was not the usual scene of crashing waves and hardy reporters being blown sideways by wind gusts. It was a fat Texas guy swimming in the waves off Galveston. He’d apparently decided the high surf was a good thing to jump into, so he went for a prehurricane swim. Two cops saw him, waded into the surf and arrested him. When I saw it the guy was standing there in orange trunks being astonished as the cops put handcuffs on him and hauled him away.

I thought: Oh no, this is isn’t good. This is authority, not responsibility.

You’d have to be crazy, in my judgment, to decide you were going to go swim in the ocean as a hurricane comes. But in the America where I grew up, you were allowed to be crazy. You had the right. Sometimes you were crazy and survived whatever you did. Sometimes you didn’t, and afterwards everyone said, ‘He was crazy.’”

I remember the America Peggy speaks of. This is a rather new phenomenon where you’re likely to get arrested for “your own safety” rather than do something (as Peggy says) crazy. In today’s America, you’re only as free as the cops say you are.

Of course there will be the wholly expected and regular chorus of “Hey, you always obey a cop or you deserve what you get”. These people just aren’t made of true grit. They would have never survived in a truly free and crazy America. I have no use for them.

Rotters, every one of them.

Crossposted at my Myspace blog.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Truth is Stranger Than Fiction
October 1, 2005 — 1:00 pm

While re-reading The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, I came across this passage:

Let’s say a little one, too young to read, is caught with a stack of subversive literature-which happened more than once. Here’s how it would go, after Hazel indoctrinated a kid:

ADULT: “Baby, where did you get this?”
BAKER STREET IRREGULAR: “I’m not a baby, I’m a big boy!”
ADULT: “Okay, big boy, where did you get this?”
B.S.I.: “Jackie give it to me.”
ADULT: “Who is Jackie?”
B.S.I. “Jackie.”
ADULT: “But what’s his last name?”
B.S.I.: “Who?”
ADULT: “Jackie.”
B.S.I.: (scornfully) “Jackie’s a girl!”
ADULT: “All right, where does she live?”
B.S.I.: “Who?”

And so on around – To all questions key answer was of pattern: “Jackie give it to me.” Since Jackie didn’t exist, he (she) didn’t have a last name, a home address, nor fixed sex. Those children enjoyed making fools of adults, once they learned how easy it was.

At worst, literature was confiscated. Even a squad of Peace Dragoons thought twice before trying to “arrest” a small child.

I wonder how Mr. Heinlein would have written that passage were he alive today.

Student’s refusal to adjust cap leads to arrest, controversy

It is against school policy to wear hats sideways because it can be a sign of disrespect for authority, the police report said, but Marlon, who is Black, said that the rule is enforced selectively. According to a police report, he pointed to several White students whose hats were on sideways…

Morgan was taken to police headquarters, where he was fingerprinted, photographed and kept in a jail cell for several hours. He was held on suspicion of disorderly conduct, failure to obey a police officer, trespassing and interfering or disrupting an educational institution.

Third-grader arrested for disorderly conduct

The boy’s mother, Angelica Esquibel, said he was sent to the school office Thursday when he raised his voice to a teacher after hitting another child with the basketball. …

The counselor told him officers would handcuff him and put him in a cell “until he changes his attitude,” Esquibel said.

Two officers tried to tell Jerry to go back to class and told him he had a choice – class or jail, Esquibel said. When the boy got upset and loud, they handcuffed him, she said.

The police report says Jerry was arrested, taken to jail, booked and released to his parents.

First-Grader Arrested, Handcuffed After Fight

Eight year-old Isaac Sutton got into a fight with a ten-year-old neighbor. The other boy’s mother called the cops and they arrested Isaac and took him to Juvie in handcuffs. Police held him until midnight before releasing him to his mother.

Boys arrested for stick figure drawings

Two Florida students, one 9 years old and the other 10 years old, were arrested and taken out of school in handcuffs. They are being charged with “making a written threat to kill or harm another person”, a felony.

One drawing showed the two boys standing on either side of the other boy and “holding knives pointed through” his body, according to a police report. The figures were identified by written names or initials.

St. Petersburg 5-year-old cuffed after school outburst

A 5 year-old student at Fairmount Park Elementary School in the Pinellas County School System acted up in class. Her teacher took away her jelly beans as punishment and the little girl had a tantrum. The police were called.

The students were counting jelly beans as part of a math exercise at Fairmount Park Elementary School when the little girl began acting silly. That’s when her teacher took away her jelly beans, outraging the child.

Minutes later, the 40-pound girl was in the back of a police cruiser, under arrest for battery. Her hands were bound with plastic ties, her ankles in handcuffs.

Handcuffing nine year-olds is okay according to Tuscaloosa officials

Another teacher overheard the argument from across the gymnasium and ordered the student to come speak with her, according to the complaint.

While the girl was walking to the teacher, Bostic intervened and ordered her to come speak with him, insisting that he handle the situation when the other teacher said she could take care of it.

According to the complaint, Bostic stood the girl in a doorway, placed handcuffs on her and told her: “This is what happens to people when they break the law,” and “This is how it feels to be in jail.”

Ohio police handcuff 5-year-old after bus fight

The suit accuses the bus driver of grabbing Finch around the neck, wrapping her legs around him and detaining him until Cincinnati police arrived.

Minutes later when officers [Douglas] Snider and [Kaneshia ] Howell arrived, the suit added, the child – who was hiding under one of the bus seats – was placed in and kept in handcuffs “for an unreasonable amount of time.” Video from a camera mounted inside the bus – a video the bus company has refused to share with Finch’s family and lawyer – could verify the allegations, the suit said.

The child was charged with no offense.

How, pray tell, does the “tough on crime” crowd justify these actions? Of course, those denizens of Heinlein’s “Luna” had their own solution:

One guard back-handed a small boy, cost him some teeth. Result: two guards dead, one Loonie dead.”

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Bwahaha!
September 26, 2005 — 7:15 pm

Explanation here and here.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
A Note About Comments
September 25, 2005 — 8:30 pm

I’m going to be discontinuing comments on my side of the blog, for now. Not because I don’t like getting comments (I love it), but because the whole system seems to be seriously flawed. I’m continuously losing comments and things keep getting rearranged. I have no idea how to fix it. I’m hoping Eric will come up with some kind of permanent system sometime in the future.

Until then, (and I know this is a pain) if you have any comments at all, please feel free to email me at jmstodd at gmail dot com.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
You Might be a Fanboy if…
September 25, 2005 — 9:30 am

I’m really getting hooked on Battlestar Galactica. It’s a rare occasion that a television show grasps my attention so. There was The Sopranos. There was (and is) Deadwood and now there’s the fabulous BSG (Battlestar Galactica for all you non-geeks out there).

Anyway, half the fun of being so immersed in a series is scrounging around the web, finding out what other people think. So far, the best site I’ve come across is Jim Henley’s Unqualified Offerings. Without fail, he puts up a BSG post after every episode. The comments section is pretty lively as well.

Lord help me, I’m even considering buying some action figures.

On a (I guess related) side note, the upcoming movie, Serenity, will be available for a free screening for bloggers. I’m guessing I’ll be sucked into Firefly next.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Ladies and Gentlemen…Fuck the Police
September 10, 2005 — 6:02 pm

I’m not comfortable writing profanity, never have been. Oh, I can talk like a drunken sailor with the best of them, when the occasion presents itself. However, I’ve always been leery of expressing myself thusly with the written word. I’ve given this quite a bit of thought and I’ve simply come to the conclusion that the following must be expressed, profanity intact. Seriously. Fuck the Police.

Take a gander.

And then there’s this:

I still can’t make myself believe it…but I’m beginning to entertain the question. Is liberty, at long last, dead?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Another Amendment Bites the Dust
September 9, 2005 — 7:02 pm

This makes me sick:

Armed police have begun to handcuff hurricane survivors who refuse to leave their homes in New Orleans.

As many as 10,000 people have stayed put in the devastated city despite orders to evacuate.

Many are now said to be going voluntarily, but others are being detained and taken to evacuation centres.

Not that it matters:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Books-A-Million
September 1, 2005 — 6:02 pm

I’ve finally got around to updating the books I’ve been reading this year. So far, I’m pretty happy with my selections. As you can probably tell, I started out the year immersed in archetypical/Jungian psychology. Though the theories of archetypes and how they affect us are rather simple, I find it fascinating. Upon my recent trip to Portland (and hence an obligatory visit to Powells Book Store), Eric suggested that I should look into Thomas Szasz and his treatises on mental illness/psychology. I have no doubt that I will at some point. For now, I’m content on just exploring.

I’ll be writing more about psychology in the upcoming weeks. And I’ll continue to read what I can get my hands on. As a matter of fact, I’ve just added a few books by Abraham Maslow and B.F. Skinner to my Amazon Wish List.

This is the first year where I just allow myself to read at leisure, without worrying myself about what I’m going to read in advance (a common Obsessive Compulsive trait of mine). I’ve found the experience most liberating. I delved a bit into Paramedic medicine (which, truthfully, would be my all time dream job; if money were no object). I also got around to reading Dante’s Inferno and Purgatory. Someday soon I’ll get around to Paradise.

Camille Paglia’s “Break, Blow, Burn” was a pleasant diversion for me. I’ve always enjoyed her writing and it’s fun to see some of my favorite poetry put into a new light. She did a fine job with William Carlos Williams, for example.

I was also very happy with the hilariously sublime “The King” by Donald Barthelme (my second Barthelme book). King Arthur in World War Two…fantastic.

Nicholson Baker’s “The Fermata” was also a real treat. Though taken aback by the sexual content (not in a prudish way, I just wasn’t expecting it), I had a great time reading it.

I think the best discovery made thus far has to be Philip Jose Farmer’s “To Your Scattered Bodies Go”. I can’t believe it took me so long to find this book, or for it to find me, as it were. What a find! The second book in the Riverworld series, “The Fabulous Riverboat” was not as good, though it did hold my attention.

I have a huge stack of books sitting by my side right now just waiting to be read. Who knows what discoveries I’ll make in the coming months. I’m beginning to discover that reading a good book is much like drinking a long sought after glass of cool water on a hot Summer day. Oh, what a feeling.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Not-So-Dangerous Liaisons
August 19, 2005 — 7:02 pm

Recently, I had occasion to meet Tim Virkkala, one of Eric’s old friends and someone I’ve known only through the distance formulated by bits and bytes. I remember commenting to Eric (when he asked me if I’d like to meet Tim), that he was the most intimidating person I have never met.

I’m always somewhat intimidated by obviously intelligent people. I’ve come to think that most of those feelings come from my extreme introversion. I just never know how to act or what to say around “new” people. This feeling can be multiplied greatly if the other person in question is himself an introvert. I find in these situations we just kind of stand around, awkwardly looking at each other.

Tim, however, was a rather genial fellow with, I suspect, a very extroverted streak about him. When I pointed this out to Eric, he helpfully said “Well, that’s the good thing about extroverts; they do all the work for you.”

And so they do. I’m always satisfied when new meetings come off well. It seems as though my social circle may have just increased by one.

Look out world. . . .

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Couldn’t Resist
May 5, 2005 — 9:00 pm

I was looking at this photo the other day and Monty Python popped in my head:

If life seems jolly rotten
There’s something you’ve forgotten
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing.
When you’re feeling in the dumps
Don’t be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle – that’s the thing.

And…always look on the bright side of life…
Always look on the light side of life…

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
I Just Don’t Get It
May 4, 2005 — 9:00 pm

This particular advertisement has been floating around some right leaning blogs as of late.

I don’t get it.

I mean…it makes my head hurt.

Really…I mean…hmmmm…it’s just that…

Enemy of the State?

I can’t figure out if this is irony or just a sad truth to which I must be resigned.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Contemptible
April 23, 2005 — 9:00 pm

Big, Bad Judy-Boys at work.

An attorney says he plans legal action against St. Petersburg police officers who handcuffed an unruly 5-year-old girl after she acted up in her kindergarten class.

A video camera, which was rolling March 14 as part of a classroom self-improvement exercise, captured images of the girl tearing papers off a bulletin board, climbing on a table and punching an assistant principal before police were called to Fairmount Park Elementary.

Then it shows the child appearing to calm down before three officers approach, pin her arms behind her back and put on handcuffs as she screamed, “No!”

Seriously, there’s nothing I can add to this. Just…what a bunch of contemptible punks.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Unrealized Moscow
April 22, 2005 — 11:00 pm

Fascinating for the History as well as Architectural enthusiast.

The General plan envisaged the development of the city as a unified system of highways, squares and embankments with unique buildings, embodying the ideas and achievements of socialism. This plan contained a number of major flaws, especially in connection with the preservation of the historical heritage of the city. The specific nature of the architectural process of this period was determined wholly by ambitious government schemes.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
The Last of Your Springs
April 21, 2005 — 7:00 pm

“Your days are short here; this is the last of your springs. And now in the serenity and quiet of this lovely place, touch the depths of truth, feel the hem of Heaven. You will go away with old, good friends. And don’t forget when you leave why you came.”
-Adlai E. Stevenson

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Wrestling With God
April 19, 2005 — 8:30 pm

During a recent session with my therapist (where Jungian free association reigns supreme), I meandered into the topic of spirituality. Specifically, I was attempting to unravel a couple of things that have lain dormant and cloistered somewhere deep within the recesses of my subconscious self.

Religion and spirituality have never been a duality in my mind. They have always been merged together, doomed to share each others negative connotations. The reasons for this are legion and would be difficult to get into here. (Suffice it to say there are childhood issues at play, perhaps something I’ll delve deeper into at a later date).

Because of my innate fears and deep suspicion of religion, it has been nearly impossible for me to develop a spiritual persona. As I was saying, I was chatting about this with my therapist when, and I hope you’ll pardon the expression, I had a revelation of sorts. The gist of this popped into my head:

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.
When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.
Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, [a] because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

Genesis 32:24-30

Wrestling with God…what a perfect metaphor.

JacobAngel

— Justin M. StoddardComments (1)
I Shall Return
December 28, 2004 — 7:30 pm

The rumors of my…absence have been greatly exaggerated. I’m alive. I’m well. I’ll be posting much more very soon. In the meantime, here is a picture of a bowl of Pho.

Pho

See you soon.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Missing Blogger
December 18, 2004 — 11:59 pm

Have you seen me?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Trying to Make a Buck
October 26, 2004 — 10:00 pm

I’ve been scouring the Internet this past year trying to come up with ways to make money on my off time. Some things have worked, some haven’t. I think I’ve stumbled upon a program that has at least a little potential.

2 Dollar Empire works on a pretty simple basis. The program offers what looks like several hundred e-books on how to make money on the Internet. Some I’ve seen before, some I haven’t. When you buy into the program, you get all the e-books plus the right to resell them. To join, you simply pay me (via Paypal) $2 and then pay the company another $1.87. For that, you get your own webpage and all the e-books you can handle. You’re then on your way to creating your own $2 empire, as it were.

I’m not getting all glassy eyed about this. I know I won’t be making scads of money or anything. But, it only takes two people to sign up to make a profit. I guess I’m willing to try it out to see what comes of it.

If you’re interested, here’s how you get started.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Everything is Nothing
October 2, 2004 — 11:15 pm

My younger daughter had a philosophical epiphany the other day as we drove to the local Cracker Barrel. She muttered this bit of existentialism from the backseat:

Everything is nothing.
Except, food is not nothing,
Unless it’s grass,
Cause, grass and flowers die and aren’t there anymore.

What medium is speaking through my 3 year old?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Gondry Does it Again
September 25, 2004 — 4:15 pm

What do you get when you cross the brilliant Michel Gondry with a cross country road trip? Another fantastic music video; this time by French group, Lacquer.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
‘Cause You Gotta Have Faith
September 22, 2004 — 4:50 pm

This is funny:

This is funnier:

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
A Couple of Invites
September 22, 2004 — 4:40 pm

I have 4 GMail invitations to those who want them…just click on the links.

Invite 1
Invite 2
Invite 3
Invite 4

Enjoy!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Teamwork
September 21, 2004 — 10:30 pm

I’m sure by now nearly all of you have seen those cheesy, ubiquitous motivational posters/framed pictures during some span of your day to day life. More than likely, they are hanging up in your office or school, whatever the case may be.

Why managers pay good money on these things, I’ll never know. Regardless, one of these posters caught my eye today at work. Luckily, I was able to find a picture of it on the net.

Just in case you can’t make it out, the pithy, inspired saying that accompanies this particular photograph (the Great Wall of China for those of you who are not geographically inclined) states:

Many Minds, Many Hands, One Goal

Perhaps our collective managers have a sly sense of humor when assailing us with this, dare I say it, propaganda. I say this because, well, the Great Wall of China pretty much represents the complete opposite of teamwork; unless you count slave labor, privation, starvation, mutilation, asphyxiation and just about any other ‘-iation’ as a definition of “team work”.

During the Qin Dynasty, Emperor Qinshihuang (Cheen sure ha-wang) used 300,000 military conscripts and nearly 800,000 slave laborers to consolidate construction on what is now known as the Great Wall of China. It is not known how many died while building the wall, but estimates run into the hundreds of thousands. Many were “walled in” alive as punishment for minor infractions. Not that the death toll was shocking to those in charge. In fact, the “managers” of this colossal project made sure to bury the remains of the deceased in the ground under the wall. Hey, all those bones made the structure stronger, don’t you know.

Teamwork, indeed.

I, for one, would much rather our managers be a tad bit more honest with us.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Sock Monkey
September 19, 2004 — 7:15 pm

The Adventures of Sock Monkey and his friend, Crow; from Dark Horse Comics.

Flash or Quicktime required.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Counting The Beefs On The N.J. Turnpike
September 14, 2004 — 9:30 pm

I love the smoking gun. Here is an archive of some actual complaints made by patrons of the N.J. Turnpike. After a friend of mine read these today, he commented “It’s a good thing they don’t let me carry a gun around”.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Stages of Grief
September 14, 2004 — 9:15 pm

Lewis Black’s five stages of grief:

Denial
Anger
Depression
Acceptance
And Finally, Exploitation!

By the way, when did “Patriot Day” happen? Is that why I didn’t get mail this past September 11th? How very heroic.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Ivan the Terrible?
September 13, 2004 — 3:20 pm

Hardly. Check out the historically most destructive hurricane in American history, circa 1900.

More than 6,000 souls perished during this surprise, still unnamed hurricane. Of course, these days, we are warned weeks in advance of any danger a hurricane may pose (think the three, count them three, hurricanes that have hit the Caribbean and Florida this past month).

Remember to remind you Luddite friends; Science is good.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Arrested for Inadequate Tip
September 13, 2004 — 3:15 pm

Read the whole thing here:

A New York City man accused of leaving an inadequate tip at a restaurant was arrested, fingerprinted and photographed for a mug shot.

Humberto A. Taveras, 41, faces a misdemeanor charge of theft of services after he and his fellow diners argued with Soprano’s Italian and American Grill managers over the legality of requiring an 18 percent tip for large parties.

“They chased us down like a bunch of criminals,” Taveras said. “It killed our weekend.”

This reminds me of part of Mr. White’s dialogue in the movie Reservoir Dogs:

MR. BLONDE
Do you have any idea what these ladies make? They make shit.

MR. WHITE
Don’t give me that. She don’t make enough money, she can quit.

NICE GUY EDDIE
I don’t even know a Jew who’d have the balls to say that. So let’s get this straight. You never ever tip?

MR. WHITE
I don’t tip because society says I gotta. I tip when somebody deserves a tip. When somebody really puts forth an effort, they deserve a little something extra. But this tipping automatically, that shit’s for the birds. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just doin their job.

I always thought that was one of the best scenes in the movie.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
A Great Day in Harlem
September 13, 2004 — 3:00 pm

Check it out.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Neiwert on Malkin
September 11, 2004 — 9:00 pm

David Neiwert explains why Malkin’s book really doesn’t deserve equal time in the company of serious scholarship.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
A Philly Outrage
September 11, 2004 — 8:45 pm

How, pray tell, is this justified?:

“One uniformed Secret Service agent complained to a colleague that ‘the press is having a field day’ with the disruption — and the agents quickly clamped down. Journalists were told that if they sought to approach the demonstrators, they would not be allowed to return to the event site — even though their colleagues were free to come and go.”

“An agent, who did not give his name, told one journalist who was blocked from returning to the speech that this was punishment for approaching the demonstrators and that there was a ‘different set of rules’ for reporters who did not seek out the activists.”

What is the Secret Service (or more accurately, the Bush Administration) afraid of?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Robot Water Walker
September 11, 2004 — 8:30 pm

From the folks at MIT and Carnegie Mellon:

It’s only a prototype, but some researchers imagine the water-skimming robot could have many uses. With a chemical sensor, it could monitor water supplies for toxins; with a camera it could be a spy or an explorer; with a net or a boom, it could skim contaminants off the top of water.

Producing it was “the final challenge of microrobotics,” said Sitti, who runs Carnegie Mellon’s NanoRobotics Lab. “It needs to be so light and so compact.”

Sitti’s robot is little more than a half-inch boxy body made from carbon fibers and eight, 2-inch steel-wire legs coated with a water-repelling plastic (technically making it a water spider).

It is clearly evident that the field of robots is advancing at a spectacular rate. With the innovation of smaller and smaller robotic units, is it possible that von Neumann probes will soon be a reality?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
The Fermata Fold
September 10, 2004 — 9:00 pm

Fans of the Twilight Zone may remember the September 27, 1985 episode entitled “A Little Peace and Quiet“. (Incidentally, this was my all time favorite episode, more here).

The premise of the show was really quite simple. A stressed out woman finds an amulet while digging in her garden one morning. She soon discovers that when she exclaims the words “Shut up!”, time comes to a halt, affecting everyone and everything except her. She uses this new found power for various reasons; to avoid door to door petitioners, to escape the long lines at the grocery store, to find a bit of tranquility from her devil spawn children, and finally to stop nuclear Armageddon. The M. Night Shyamalanesque twist at the end (obligatory for nearly every Twilight Zone episode), is that she cannot start time up again, lest she be instantly incinerated.

I suppose if one could stop time forever (is forever a concept when time is stopped?) one could conceivably get rid of all those nuclear warheads raining down upon the world. Admittedly, I haven’t figured out how one would do this, even though I’ve thought about it from time to time since 1985.

But, I digress. Having such a power would probably be wonderful indeed. I honestly cannot think of very many drawbacks. Of course, my conception of how I might use this power has changed a bit since my adolescent mind first thought on it. Ah, what a 14 year old could learn with such an ability!

But, honestly, wouldn’t such an ability be the ultimate super power? Something even the fictitious Superman would envy? Think about it. If one were inclined to do good, one could conceivably put a huge monkey wrench in every large scale injustice in the world. Genocide in Darfur? How would the government troops fair if they suddenly found themselves disarmed and naked in the middle of say, a herd of Elephants or a Pride of Lions? DEA agents are raiding a medical marijuana farm? Not if the agents were suddenly relocated to the Arctic Circle. Cop about to give you a ticket for not wearing your seatbelt? Not if his police car vanished into thin air. Well, you get my drift.

Needless to say, the subject has always fascinated me a bit. (By the way, what would happen if you died while you were in one of those periods of suspended time? Say you fell off a cliff or crashed your car. Would time be stopped forever? Would it start back up by default?). That’s why I was absolutely delighted when I picked up Nicholson Baker’s book The Fermata last month. The book deals with this very issue. Baker even has a name for it; the fold.

I’m only 25 pages into it so far, but the parallels are astounding. Did Baker receive inspiration from said Twilight Zone episode, or has this idea been floating around for some time?

Incidentally, John Walkenbach (of j-walkblog fame) has reported on his Nicholson Baker fan page that The Fermata is being adapted into a screenplay by Neil Gaiman, author of the incredibly fantastic “American Gods“.

Holy Cow, but do I love the hell out of America!

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Libertarians for Internment?
September 10, 2004 — 4:40 pm

David T. Beito claims that some of his libertarian friends have been swayed by Malkin’s argument for internment.

I can report that every libertarian I’ve read or spoken to have harshly criticized Malkin’s thesis. Though libertarians are fairly diverse in their belief systems, I find it hard to believe that anyone who has even an iota of grounding in the basics of liberty and freedom, not to mention a rudimentary, working knowledge of the Constitution, would give any credence, what-so-ever, to the “case” for internment.

It boggles the mind.

Beito also points to an excellent article entitled “Bad History; Great Press Relations” over at the Cliopatria group blog.

My favorite passage:

Malkin’s appearance at Berkeley was a rousing success, according to her, though she also admits that College Republican groups are apparently getting pressure from both university administrations and the Bush campaign to stop inviting her around. Malkin apparently “said she should not be classified as a ‘right-wing pundit,’ adding she is critical of the Bush administration’s profiling measures.” Which measures? The ones they are not taking. In other words, she’s not “right wing” because she thinks the government should be doing more profiling. Tim Fong was there, and he was much more frightened than impressed.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Fried Oreo Cookies
September 10, 2004 — 2:40 pm

I heard about this about a month ago on the Dave Glover Show. Because I have quite a penchant for Oreo Cookies, the idea sounded pretty dang good to me.

Here are step by step instructions to follow at your leisure. Maybe I’ll whip me up a mess of fried Oreos tonight.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Sunday Bloody Sunday
September 10, 2004 — 2:30 pm

George Bush sings my favorite U2 song.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
More Malkin Madness: Part 2
September 9, 2004 — 8:00 pm

Apparently, this question was put to Mrs. Malkin last night. “If the United States went to war with the Philippines would you support internment?”

To which she replied:

“If 19 short Filipino women crashed planes into buildings screaming the Hail Mary, then yes, I would.”

Not only did that statement garner some raucous applause from the audience, it also belied her previous statements on the matter. From her own mouth:

“Make no mistake: I am not advocating rounding up all Arabs or Muslims and tossing them into camps. But when we are under attack, ‘racial profiling’-or more precisely, threat profiling-is wholly justified.

Well, which is it? If Mrs. Malkin supports the internment of all Arabs and Arab-Americans, as her statement from last night certainly implies, why doesn’t she have the intestinal fortitude to come out and say so. Why all the pussy-footing around?

Shameless.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
More Malkin Madness
September 9, 2004 — 7:30 pm

A blogger talks about his experiences while attending a Malkin “speech” at U.C. Berkeley last night.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
The Mini Bosses
September 9, 2004 — 7:00 pm

Remember that cheesy music your Nintendo would emit when you were wasting your teen years away playing such games as Super Mario Brothers and Castlevania?

Meet the Minibosses. They take those old Nintendo standards and add just a bit of pep to them. They even have an album coming out. Super Sweet.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Like Mike?
September 8, 2004 — 9:40 pm

Two weeks ago, Eric kind of implied that he would try to blog more in the future, if he had time…

Eric?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Kaku on E.T.
September 8, 2004 — 9:30 pm

The Physics of Extraterrestrial Civilizations

I love this article. If you have a chance, pick up Kaku’s book Visions: How Science will Revolutionize the 21st Century. It’s a bit dated, but oh-so-much fun to read.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
In Germany…
September 8, 2004 — 8:30 pm

children still belong to the State:

German Family Flees Country to Stop Government from Taking Custody

A few weeks ago, a German homeschool family escaped to Central America, just ahead of a judge who wanted to take custody of their school-aged child. A social worker helped the family escape by warning the family of the judge’s intent and delaying the paperwork.

German Homeschoolers Escape to Austria

Another German homeschool family had to flee to Austria. The judge, after being informed that the family had already left (even though he possessed documents including the registration of the child in question at the local school in Austria), went ahead anyway and gave custody of the child to the state. The father of the family told the court appointed official who appeared at their door in Austria that the child was no longer registered in Germany but rather in Austria. The judge then wrote to the family saying that it would immediately take custody of the child if the family were to return to Germany.

German Homeschool Family Told by Judge They Do Not Have Rights

Another German homeschool family lost a recent court case when the judge ruled that the parents have no rights whatsoever concerning the manner and method of education in government schools. In this case, hard-core pornography was being used to teach the children in their German language course! The judge ruled that the school has the authority to determine what is against the conscience of the parents. The judge also ruled that fundamentalist Christians, who do not want their children to attend the government schools, are not protected by the constitution!

More and more families are beginning to flee Germany. Many are in hiding and some fathers work in one state while the family lives in another. We have a German homeschool family in our local church here in Virginia who left Germany because of the hostility to homeschooling.

Hattip to VoxDay

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Day on Malkin
September 2, 2004 — 7:30 pm

Vox Day debunks Malkin’s military necessity argument (referring to internment).

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
A Sticky Situation
September 2, 2004 — 5:00 pm

Off with his head!:

Derek Kjar is not the president’s biggest fan.

But the 19-year-old Salt Lake County man says he does not intend to harm President Bush with anything more than a vote for John Kerry come November.

Just to be sure, though, agents from the Secret Service recently paid Kjar a visit, telling him that his neighbors had alerted them to a potentially threatening bumper sticker on his car.

The sticker, which can be found on a number of Web sites, features a black-and-white likeness of Bush, a crown tilted slightly on his head. Under the image are the words “KING GEORGE – OFF WITH HIS HEAD.”

With neighbors like that…

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Geography Olympics
September 1, 2004 — 8:25 pm

The United States has an overall score of 51.73%. Can you fair any better?

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Around the World
September 1, 2004 — 8:20 pm

My younger daughter will absolutely not go to sleep each night until she watches the video “Around the World” by Daft Punk. Incidentally, the video is directed by Michel Gondry who also directed my favorite movie of 2004, thus far:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
The Case Against Michelle Malkin
September 1, 2004 — 7:00 pm

At one point, Michelle Malkin was considered to be a person with strong Libertarian leanings. She has taken a principled stand on the drug war as well as an opposition to gun control. Unfortunately, any resemblance to a moral, decent human being ends there.

The following are a few cornerstones of her ideology.

On the ACLU and the use of torture:

The organization maintains dangerously absolutist positions against the use of torture to gather intelligence from al-Qaida terrorists, against the designation of enemy combatants apprehended on either foreign or American soil, and against common-sense profiling in wartime.

Malkin does not explain where the Constitution of the United States allows for the use of torture or the designation of enemy combatants by the President. I’m not against common-sense profiling myself but, with a book entitled “In Defense of Internment” under her belt, I’m not sure I trust her definition of “common-sense”.

She has never met a Patriot Act she didn’t love:

To civil-liberties alarmists, Viet Dinh is a traitor. To me, he is an American hero.

Dinh, 35, is widely known, and reviled, as the primary architect of the Patriot Act. Until May, he was an assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Policy in John Ashcroft’s Justice Department. (He stepped down to return to his law school post at Georgetown University.) Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Dinh told the Christian Science Monitor, “our nation’s ability to defend itself against terror has been not only my vocation but my obsession.”

This Fourth of July holiday, I will give thanks for those like Dinh who have worked tirelessly to ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and secure the blessings of liberty that no other country in the world can match.

Never mind that nearly no Congressman or Senator actually read the Patriot Act before turning it into law.

Anyone who disagrees with the Patriot Act or the policies of the Bush Administration are “spitting on the graves” of those who died on 9/11. Here’s my favorite quote:

Your indignant local librarian will promote fear-mongering and misinformation about the Patriot Act.

Nothing she has written thus far has the ability to induce nausea like her current work of desperation “In Defense of Internment” I’ve already touched on this a bit here.

I have no idea what Malkin’s motives are in writing this vitriol. Is it important?

Today, for the first time, I really began to wonder. Eric Muller recounts a radio interview he was supposed to do with Malkin the other day. While waiting on the phone for his chance to talk, the radio host asked this of Malkin, on the air:

Smerconish: The bottom line here, Michelle, is don’t let your kids be taught that we did despicable things to the Japanese Americans during World War II, ’cause it ain’t true.

Malkin: That’s right, Michael.

According to Malkin and Smerconish, rounding up 120,000 human beings (2/3 of them American Citizens including infants and the elderly), evicting them from their property, freezing their bank accounts, stealing their possessions, denying them their rights to due process, forcing some to move out of the region (without compensation), interning the rest in concentration camps (all on the preponderance of secret evidence) located in the desert, not allowing them to speak Japanese or gather in large meetings, denying them the freedom to worship as they choose (unless they converted to Christianity), making them sign loyalty oaths and then having the gall to draft the males of military age to fight for freedoms they did not enjoy were not despicable things.

Is this how Republicans think?

Her position is further impoverished by this blog post:

The history curriculum in Bainbridge Island’s middle school dealing with the so-called Japanese-American internment has come under fire, according to this article in the Bremerton Sun.

Now the Japanese-American internment is “so-called”; as if either all conventional knowledge about it is wrong or it never happened. Nice.

The Bremerton Sun Article ends this way:

Mary Dombrowski, an island resident, shared letters she exchanged with Superintendent Ken Crawford and Sakai Principal Jo Vander Stoep. She argued the curriculum didn’t provide the historical context surrounding President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which resulted in a war zone with a boundary line running through the middle of Washington and Oregon, along California’s eastern boundary and into the southern part of Arizona….

Dombrowski took issue with the curriculum’s attempt to link Japanese internment with today’s Patriot Act, saying it “rises to the level of propaganda.”

To which Malkin replied:

Good for Dombrowski.

Uh huh. Malkin’s sentiments might ring true if:

1. The provisions for internment were ever overturned by the Supreme Court.

2. Republican pundits didn’t make a ton of money writing books defending said internment and then insisting that her thesis makes a case for “common sense” racial profiling today.

3. John Ashcroft didn’t go around spouting his support for Internment Camps that would house “enemy combatants”. (see Camps for Citizens: Ashcroft’s Hellish Vision).

4. The President didn’t illegaly imprison American Citizens in violation of their Constitutional rights (Habeas Corpus, due process, etc…). What Malkin can’t seem to grasp here is the wilfull violation of one citizen’s rights is a violation of all citizen’s rights.

5. Republicans didn’t unquestionably eat this crap up.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Where did the Computer Go?
August 31, 2004 — 9:00 pm

Meet the new IMac.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
The Art of the Essay
August 31, 2004 — 5:30 pm

Julian Sanchez has been reading books of essays lately on the theory that “the best way to improve one’s writing is to read the best stuff in the genre you’re working in.”

I’ve also been working towards the same result. I have always known that I’m a fairly lazy writer. Perhaps some time with the masters of the essay will help rectify this situation. I’ve been reading so much lately that it almost seems as if I’m in, what Ignatius J. Reilly would call, my “Miltonian period”.

I read everything I can by Gore Vidal, Martin Gardner and H.L. Mencken. Now, I feel as if I need to expand a bit. Perhaps some C.S. Lewis as Tim Virkkala recommended? Maybe some Edmund Wilson? But, who else?

Any ideas?

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
The Passion…
August 30, 2004 — 9:00 pm

…of the Clerks!!

Now, personally, I thought Clerks was a bit overrated. Granted, I didn’t see it until earlier this year. Had I seen it when it came out, I might have appreciated it more. (Imagine seeing Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs for the first time in 2004). However, I’ve always thought Kevin Smith is a cinematic genius. No doubt The Passion of the Clerks will be well worth watching.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Semi-Final Thoughts on Michelle Malkin
August 29, 2004 — 10:20 pm

Though I’ve not read it, it’s not hard to deduce that Defense of Internment is a putrid, hateful book. Michelle has stated numerous times that she is not advocating internment for Arab Americans. Here’s a hint, Michelle. Your book is called IN DEFENSE OF INTERNMENT with the subtitle of THE CASE FOR RACIAL PROFILING IN WORLD WAR II AND THE WAR ON TERROR.

Here’s another hint, Michelle. Rounding up tens of thousands of human beings (2/3 of them American Citizens), not to mention all Japanese infants adopted by Caucasians and evicting them from their property, freezing their bank accounts and generally stripping them of human dignity; all on the preponderance of secret evidence, is not racial profiling. It’s a crime against the Constitution.

Michelle never fails to remind us that Civil Rights are not sacrosanct. Perhaps Michelle needs a refresher course on the supreme law of the land. In respect to the Executive Branch as outlined in Article. II. of the Constitution, civil rights are sacrosanct. The President of the United states is given absolutely not one whit of power to intern a single person, let alone tens of thousands.

If the Writ of Habius Corpus is to be suspended, it is to be done by the Legislative Branch as outlined in Article. I. Section. 9. Clause 2: The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

The reason this power lies with the Legislative Branch is easy to ascertain. Congress is comprised of hundreds of Representatives from various backgrounds and political beliefs. Whereas, the President is but one, single, entity. Get it? Suspending the Writ of Habius Corpus was meant to be damn near impossible.. If our Founding Fathers wanted that kind of power to lie with the President of the United States, they would have put that little clause up in Article. I.

This is knowledge any schoolboy/girl should know.

Contrary to popular beliefs, Michelle is no conservative or libertarian. No self-respecting conservative would carry water for FDR like her and her ilk. No libertarian would presume to defend the actions of the government in 1942 in respect to Japanese-Americans. Her polemic about the Internment is not heroic; in point of fact, it is a poltroonish parlor trick.

One more point. Michelle’s most recent comment on her blog warns us all about “another sign of soft America”. What’s making America soft you may ask?

Cuddling Parties.

Now, cuddling parties are probably not my cup o’ tea. However, I can recognize a victory for the free market when I see one. Voluntary association? Check. The exchange of money for a lawful service? Check. Mutual satisfaction? Check. Now, that’s America in a nutshell.

At the end of her little rant, Michelle asks rhetorically “Have you heard of anything so self-indulgently 9/10? What will it take for these people to grow up?”.

This coming from the “woman” who finds it so easy to advocate trading her (and our) Liberty for the security and protection of the state.

Michelle, when are YOU going to grow up?

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Paul De Angelis on Harold Bloom on Stephen King
August 29, 2004 — 11:00 am

Paul De Angelis lays the smack down on Harold Bloom for being a Stephen King hater.

Basically, Harold Bloom’s thesis is that anyone who reads writers like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling will be forever conditioned to read books by authors like…well, Stephen King and J.K. Rowling.

Nonsense.

I loved Stephen King when I was younger, though my High School English teacher berated me for it. I imagine if J.K. Rowling were writing back then, I would have loved her books even more than today. And yet, I’ve managed to read (and love) books by Pynchon, Crane, Nicholson Baker, Vidal, Heller and Vonnegut, to name a few.

Still, it is nice to crack open some King or Rowling from time to time.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Mercer on Malkin
August 27, 2004 — 8:30 pm

Ilana Mercer takes Michelle Malkin to task on her Internment nonesense.

The Hardball segment Ms. Mercer refers to can be found here.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
An Afternoon at the Park
August 27, 2004 — 8:00 pm

We took the girls to the park the other day for a nice day of leisure. I took my digital camera along since I’ve been feeling the urge to take some more pictures.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Intern This!
August 5, 2004 — 7:00 pm

Michelle Malkin, darling columnist of the American Right (read Neocon), cheerleader of the Patriot act, and overall Republican apologist has written another book. After her mildly successful book entitled “Invasion, How America Still Welcomes Terrorists Criminals & Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores, Michelle Malkin follows up with this beauty, “In Defense of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror

I originally caught wind of this from the Libertarian Jackass. He follows up on that post here.

Since then, several other bloggers have picked up on the subject.

Eric Muller, author of Free to Die for Their Country: The Story of the Japanese American Draft Resisters in World War II and a Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper entitled Inference or Impact? Racial Profiling and the Internment’s True Legacy has posted several rebuttals to Mrs. Malkin’s arguments.

IN DEFENSE OF INTERNMENT, Part 1
IN DEFENSE OF INTERNMENT, Part 2
IN DEFENSE OF INTERNMENT, Part 3
IN DEFENSE OF INTERNMENT, Part 4
IN DEFENSE OF INTERNMENT, Part 4 (The Robinson Rebuttal)
IN DEFENSE OF INTERNMENT, Part 5
IN DEFENSE OF INTERNMENT, Part 6
IN DEFENSE OF INTERNMENT, Part 7
IN DEFENSE OF INTERNMENT, Part 8
IN DEFENSE OF INTERNMENT, Part 9

Orcinus puts his two cents in here and here.

Ok, so here’s my point of view, take it or leave it. I have not read the book. I have no intention of doing so. That being said, you can judge for yourself if my opinion is valid. However, I have read the publisher’s statement about the book and will comment on it below. As always, you are free to judge for yourself if my criticisms are valid

Publisher’s statement in gray, mine follow:

Everything you’ve been taught about the World War II “internment camps” in America is wrong: – They were not created primarily because of racism or wartime hysteria.

Well, that’s a bit presumptuous don’t you think? Everything I’ve been taught about the World War II (notice the quotation marks) “internment camps” is wrong? Is it not true that tens of thousands of Japanese as well as American citizens of Japanese decent were evicted (not evacuated as Michelle Malkin asserts as the word evacuate insinuates the action was done for the safety of those leaving the area) from the West coast only to be relocated to various concentration camps (President Roosevelt himself called them concentration camps. If that phrase is good enough for him, it should be good enough for Malkin as well) scattered around the interior of the United States?

I could go on and on and I could probably give you a 98% guarantee that everything I learned about the World War II “internment camps” is indeed NOT wrong.

As for the thesis of the action not being predicated upon racism or wartime hysteria…well, Eric Muller and Orcinus pretty much destroy that argument (see above links).

- They did not target only those of Japanese descent

This is indeed true. However, it is misleading as well. The vast majority of those “interned” were of Japanese decent. Regardless, there was no other forced migration of an individual nationality to the camps compared to that of actions taken on the West Coast.

- They were not Nazi-style death camps

No one that has ever been taken seriously has suggested they were. This is a neat little trick however. First, it employs the “we are not as bad as them” line of argument. Honest people have seen this card played numerous times the past several years. Remember Abu ghraib?

Secondly, it constructs a revisionist history point of view. People of Japanese decent were not evicted from the west coast, they were “evacuated” or “relocated”. After giving up nearly all their worldly possessions and forced (at the point of a gun) to several camps in the middle of America, they were placed in “internment camps” where their all their wants and needs were cared for. Seriously, sugar coating history to conform to your point of view is just as bad as putting the worst possible spin on it.

In her latest investigative tour-de-force, New York Times best-selling author Michelle Malkin sets the historical record straight-and debunks radical ethnic alarmists who distort history to undermine common-sense, national security profiling. The need for this myth-shattering book is vital. President Bush’s opponents have attacked every homeland defense policy as tantamount to the “racist” and “unjustified” World War II internment. Bush’s own transportation secretary, Norm Mineta, continues to milk his childhood experience at a relocation camp as an excuse to ban profiling at airports.

Michelle Malkin sets the historical record straight? Please. Delusions of grandeur anyone? Historians have been working on this question since 1942 and there is still plenty of room for debate. Michelle Malkin spent approximately 16 months working on this book. I’m not against anyone putting their opinion out there but, when people with an obvious political bias, an advocate of torture, the Patriot Act’s biggest cheerleader and all around Neoimp apologist claims to be setting the record straight…well, forgive me if I check to see if my wallet is still right were I left it.

Misguided guilt about the past continues to hamper our ability to prevent future terrorist attacks. In Defense of Internment shows that the detention of enemy aliens, and the mass evacuation and relocation of ethnic Japanese from the West Coast were not the result of irrational hatred or conspiratorial bigotry. This document-packed book highlights the vast amount of intelligence, including top-secret “MAGIC” messages, which revealed the Japanese espionage threat on the West Coast.

Tim Virkkala once said (and I hope he doesn’t mind me evoking his name) of History;

History,
That which those who forget
Are condemned to repeat,
And which those who remember
Repeat ad nauseam.

This is an excellent point. Those who care about history and unfortunately, those who misunderstand it are often citing numerous events as a warning, example, lesson, ad nauseam…

I personally think this is a pretty harmless, if not sometimes irritating phenomenon. If nothing else, it sends people to the Internet, Library, Bookstore to gather more facts.

With that in mind, it is not misguided guilt about the past (I hold no guilt about the past as I obviously had nothing to do with it) that hampers our ability to prevent future terrorist attacks. In reality, it is our obvious bout of collective amnesia about anything historical that leads us from one blunder to the next. But Alas! We are but human.

Malkin also tells the truth about: - who resided in enemy alien internment camps (nearly half were of European ancestry

See above links from Eric Muller and Orcinus for a rebuttal of this statement

– what the West Coast relocation centers were really like (tens of thousands of ethnic Japanese were allowed to leave; hundreds voluntarily chose to move in)

Just because they were EVENTUALLY allowed to leave, doesn’t mean they actually DID leave. I’d be curious to know just where Mrs. Malkin thinks these tens of thousands of ethnic Japanese went. For more on this point, see Part 7 from Eric Muller’s posts.

- why the $1.65 billion federal reparations law for Japanese internees and evacuees was a bipartisan disaster

Mrs. Malkin is actually onto something here. I am no fan of reparations. I had nothing to do with the actions of the Government of the United States in 1942. Hell, I wasn’t even alive. It’s only too bad Roosevelt couldn’t be dug up, reanimated and put on trail.

With trademark fearlessness, Malkin adds desperately needed perspective to the ongoing debate about the balance between civil liberties and national security. In Defense of Internment will outrage, enlighten, and radically change the way you view the past-and the present.

Not likely.

I’m just going to end this entry with some unrelated quotes from Michelle Malkin. Cheap shot? Maybe. Judge for yourself.

On reason number two why we should fear the Democrats:

The American Civil Liberties Union. The organization maintains dangerously absolutist positions against the use of torture to gather intelligence from al Qaeda terrorists, against the designation of enemy combatants apprehended on either foreign or American soil, and against common-sense profiling in wartime.

Italics mine. How many Al Qaeda terrorists do we have in our prisons? Don’t they have the bad taste of blowing themselves up when they strike?

Number 19 of her Media Diversity Test (a list of 20 items that, if followed, make an upstanding, patriotic American):

19. I cry when I hear “Proud To Be an American” by Lee Greenwood.

I think the appropriate response would be laughter. As in, I laugh my ass off when I hear “Proud to Be and American” and then promptly change the channel.

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The Bear Necessities
July 28, 2004 — 7:00 pm

Man who killed bear rejects plea bargain:

An eastern Kentucky man charged with illegally killing a bear in his backyard has refused to plead guilty in order to avoid the possibility of jail time, opting instead to have his case heard in front of a jury.

Terry Brock, 36, of Mayking, said the bear was a renegade and that he killed it to protect his family.

The Letcher County man faces from 30 days to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 if convicted. He said the county prosecutor offered a plea bargain that would have required no jail time but he would have had to pay a $250 penalty, give up his hunting privileges and the heirloom 30-30 caliber rifle he used to shoot the bear.

“I didn’t want to do that,” Brock said. “I don’t feel like I did anything wrong.”

District Judge Jim Wood set Brock’s trial for Sept. 20.

Brock, who has three children, said he walked out his door on June 2 to see what had his dogs and horse so disturbed and came face to face with the bear. He said he jumped back inside, asked his wife to call the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife for help, and began banging on the wall of his mobile home, hoping the noise would frighten the wild animal away.

When that didn’t work, Brock said he grabbed an heirloom rifle and fired.

Sounds like self defense to me. I mean, knowing what I know about bears (I spent my childhood in rural Montana), I sure as hell would have done the same thing. The officials at the Kentucky office of Fish and Wildlife think differently

Letcher County Attorney Harold Bolling couldn’t be reached to comment Wednesday. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, which filed the charge against Brock, doesn’t want the case dropped.

“This is our first case,” Frank Campbell, a conservation officer assigned to Letcher County, told WYMT-TV in Hazard. “I feel it’s a very important case for us.”

Meanwhile (for a juxtaposition), in Denver, Colorado:

Wanted man’s uncle slain after cop mistakes soda can for weapon:

Denver Police Chief Gerry Whitman said Monday that an officer likely mistook a soda can for a weapon before shooting and killing a 63-year-old man in his bed.

Frank Lobato was shot once in the chest Sunday night during a police search for a domestic violence suspect. Lobato, a career criminal and formerly homeless man who neighbors said was disabled, was not involved in the domestic dispute.

Instead, officers were searching the home, 1234 W. 10th Ave., for Lobato’s nephew, Vincent Martinez, who was wanted on suspicion of domestic violence, assault and false imprisonment. Martinez, 42, was captured Monday evening.

Some neighbors and community members called the shooting questionable – and worse.

“I think it is disgraceful,” said neighbor Rose Salaz. “I don’t see how they can just go into people’s houses shooting people. … They are supposed to protect us.”

Who here wants to bet that the shooter of the bear gets a worse punishment than the Denver police officer responsible for the above stated carnage?

But wait, there’s a twist to the story.

Fliers Offer $5,000 Bounty For Police Officers

An unknown group has been planting fliers offering a bounty of at least $5,000 to anyone who kills police officers, an apparent reaction to a recent fatal shooting by police.

The fliers from a group identified only as “N.E.F.F.” were found Monday on car windshields in a section of the city where officer Ranjan Ford Jr. shot and killed Frank Lobato, a 63-year-old invalid, on July 11. Ford was responding to a report of domestic violence when he mistook a soda can in Lobato’s hand for a gun.

The fliers feature photographs of Lobato and Paul Childs, a 15-year-old developmentally disabled teen shot by another officer last summer. They offer $5,000 for a “crooked cop’s life” and “$10,000 a badge”.

The department’s intelligence unit is investigating the threat but safety manager Al LaCabe said he it’s not clear whether it is legitimate.

“I don’t know if it’s something just designed to spark a reaction or get a message across, or if it’s genuine,” he said. “It’s certainly something that’s serious. The danger of that kind of message is that it’s divisive and does nothing to attempt to deal with the issue we have.”

Curiouser and curiouser.

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Specialist Roche is Mad as Hell
July 26, 2004 — 7:00 pm

Army Specialist Joe Roche is mad as hell…at Michael Moore…and, he’s not taking it any more!

I don’t know…I’m kinda bored today and well, it’s been awhile since I posted anything. I guess I’ll take on Specialist Roche.

From his article:

Michael Moore’s film, Fahrenheit 9/11, is making the rounds here at U.S. bases in Kuwait. Some soldiers have received it already and are passing is around. The impact is devastating.

Here we are, soldiers of the 1st Armored Division, just days from finally returning home after over a year serving in Iraq, and Moore’s film is shocking and crushing soldiers, making them feel ashamed. Moore has abused the First Amendment and is hurting us worse than the enemy has.

I saw the movie. It had some serious problems but, for the most part, it was alright. I gotta say, not once during the movie did I think to myself “Man, Michael Moore is really abusing the First Amendment here”. I don’t even know what that half-assed, lame statement is supposed to mean. The thing that scares me is this; Specialist Roche swore an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America, against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Perhaps he would like to think about that for just a bit. Abused the first amendment? Hardly.

As for Michael Moore “hurting us worse than the enemy has”; I don’t recall Mr. Moore gunning down nearly 1,000 American service members. I know the press has a liberal bias but Jesus Christ on a stick, I’m sure not even Ted Turner could suppress that story.

There are the young and impressionable soldiers, like those who joined the Army right out of high school. They aren’t familiar w/ the college-type political debate environment, and they haven’t been schooled in the full range of issues involved. They are vulnerable to being hurt by a vicious film like Moore’s.

There are others who joined for reasons of money and other benefits, and never gave full thought to the issues. For them, seeing this film has jolted them grievously because they never even knew where some of these countries were that we have been serving in. Imagine the impact this film has on them.

And there are those who are hurting from being away from family and loved ones. They are burnt out, already hurting inside from 15 months of duty out here, and now to be hit w/ this film.. it is devastating.

What a sanctimonious bastard! Let’s just strip some of this language away and get right down to it.

“These soldiers are young and stupid, they can’t grasp semi-complex arguments. Furthermore, they are ignorant. Well heck, some soldiers are just in it for the money. It is for these reasons that they should be shielded from this film”.

I can empathize with the last statement. I was a soldier for 12 years and know the feeling of being burnt out but, come on! If they were able to handle combat, a little old movie isn’t going to hurt em much.

Lastly, there are those like me, who want to explode in anger and rage at this abuse of the First Amendment and the way Moore has twisted reality so harshly.

Oh for Christ’s sake, grow up already.

……..

We know this is all based on Moore’s lies and deceptions. But we, I’m afraid, are a minority. Right now, just days away from what should be a proud and happy return from 15 months of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom, your U.S. soldiers are coming back ashamed and hurt because of Moore’s work.

Who the hell is we? Listen, I’m not sticking up for Michael Moore here but, if you are going to throw out a statement like that, shouldn’t you at least try to back it up?

But, if we are going to throw around cool sounding platitudes, how about this one: “We know this is all based on Bush’s lies and deceptions. But we, I’m afraid, are a minority”.

What these good yet impressionable soldiers don’t realize is that twisting reality and manipulating the truth is something lawyers do every day in court for their clients. OJ Simpson, so clearly guilty in the ghastly murders, was able to get off because his lawyer team completely confused the issue. Now today, in typical fashion, Moore is doing the very same thing in this film. This is, frankly, the nature of political debate in a democracy — especially when extremism is allowed to go unchecked.

Huh? Lawyers? OJ Simpson? Democracy? Extremism? WTF?

……..

I sometimes want to be mad at my fellow soldiers for being susceptible to Moore’s distortions, but I can’t really blame them. These are good Americans, who have volunteered to serve our country. Nothing says they all have to be experts in Middle Eastern issues and history and politics to serve. That would be silly. …But this is, of course, the vulnerability that Moore has exploited.

One could almost hear Specialist Roche’s inner thoughts: “I am an expert in Middle Eastern issues and history and politics and well, gosh darn it, if Michael Moore would simply refrain from distorting reality and making these ‘good Americans’ question their actions, well, everything would be just peachy keen.”

Jackass

……..

I think it is sad and unfortunate that at this last hour of a long and difficult deployment, so many soldiers are being made to feel ashamed and “shitty” for having ever served in this whole mission.

Not only does Specialist Roche insist that soldiers who lend an ear to Mr. Moore’s ideas are ignorant, ill-informed, semi-literate in world affairs and impressionable, they also suffer from chronically low self esteem. Why else would they be “made to feel ashamed and ‘shitty’ for having served in this whole mission”?

What Specialist Roche cannot, will not fathom is that perhaps some soldiers felt “ashamed and ‘shitty’” about this whole state of affairs well before Mr. Moore’s polemic was ever even conceived. Perhaps those soldiers who paid attention to the Oath of Service instead of daydreaming of conquest and booty really DO feel honest deep regret that they were the tools of an unConstitutional war perpetrated upon a populous that posed no threat to the American people.

Moore has abused the First Amendment. This is his right, and we soldiers have defended that right, but we who know better should NOT just sit back and let such enemies w/in our own country get by w/ such assaults unanswered.

Delude yourself much? You have defended the First Amendment? Tell that to the penned up protesters in Boston or the future protesters during the Republican Primaries. Tell that to those who champion “free speech zones”. No, Specialist Roche. You have not defended the First Amendment. In fact, by writing this execrable pile of crap, you have proven that you haven’t the faintest idea what the First Amendment is about.

I feel so much better with people like you “serving our country”. Jackass.

— Justin M. Stoddard served in the United States Army from 1991-2003 when he handed in his Staff Sergeant Stripes for a shirt, tie and an honest living.

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Stuff
June 26, 2004 — 11:13 pm

I read the book The White Mountains today. I also ate a Quizno’s sandwich. Chicken carbonara. It was yummy.

I’m gonna go watch a movie tomorrow. I duno which one, but it’ll be good.

That’s it.

This post has been dictated.

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Hubris
June 14, 2004 — 8:15 pm

I just couldn’t let this hilarity pass.

The White House is rejecting calls by former President Reagan’s family to change its policy on stem cell research.

Press Secretary Scott McClellan says flatly, “The policy remains the same.” He adds, “We are looking at other ways to combat disease.”

“We are looking at other ways to combat disease”? Who? Is the President spending his days toiling away in a genetic lab somewhere we don’t know about? Does Scott McClellan have a degree in Molecular Biology?

What Mr. McClellan means is that the Executive branch has no problems using Federal funds to facilitate the research needed to combat diseases such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons, just so long as it’s not Stem Cell research.

Hypocrisy and Hubris.

The correct answer would have been something along the lines of “You need to talk to the scientists in the private sector working on these problems. The Federal Government does not fund science as that would be a clear conflict of interest.”

The Federal Government has no business “looking at other ways to combat disease”. The only thing they need to do to ensure these much sought after cures is to simply get the hell out of the way.

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Shark Cam
June 7, 2004 — 9:10 pm

From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, you can check out a live shark cam from the Monterey Aquarium.

Also available are the Kelp Cam, Otter Cam, Penguin Cam, Outer Bay Cam, and Monterey Bay Cam.

I lived in Monterey for about a year and a half. Sometimes I really miss that place.

Via Blogcritics.org

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Links
June 7, 2004 — 9:00 pm

Today has been a lazy day. Not much going on. There are, however, a number of links I want to share:

Pills vs. Talking
“Chad Taylor is a concerned father and when he noticed that his 12-year old son Daniel was suffering side effects he took the boy off of Ritalin. The side effects faded but Daniel’s disruptive behavior returned. The school reported him to child services and now Taylor is facing charges of abuse and neglect because he refuses to medicate his son.”

They hate us because we are free!

Still searching for the next guitar hero
I guess these guys never heard of Adrian Belew or even Buckethead for that matter.

Beating Specialist Baker
“The prison abuse scandal refuses to die because soothing White House explanations keep colliding with revelations about dead prisoners and further connivance by senior military officers—and newly discovered victims, like Sean Baker.”

US ‘not bound by torture laws’
Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. -George Washington

Muzzling a Marine
” There’s a moment a half-hour into “Control Room,” Jehane Noujaim’s widely acclaimed new documentary about the Arab news channel Al Jazeera and media coverage of the war with Iraq, when U.S. press officer Lt. Josh Rushing discusses his reaction to the brutal images of captured and killed American soldiers that Al Jazeera chose to broadcast in March 2003 — to the condemnation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.”

Popular culture clashes with homeland security mission, panel chief says
“The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee asserted Friday that popular culture is undermining homeland security efforts by creating the impression that threats are not real.”

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RIAA wants your fingerprints
June 6, 2004 — 5:05 pm

Will anyone actually buy this once it comes out?

Not content with asking for an arm and a leg from consumers and artists, the music industry now wants your fingerprints, too. The RIAA is hoping that a new breed of music player which requires biometric authentication will put an end to file sharing.

Established biometric vendor Veritouch has teamed up with Swedish design company to produce iVue: a wireless media player that allows content producers to lock down media files with biometric security. This week Veritouch announced that it had demonstrated the device to the RIAA and MPAA.

Yippie!

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Sunday Roundup
June 6, 2004 — 5:00 pm

Badnarik Blog

The Badnarik crew has a blog up. It looks pretty personable and you can listen to his Constitution Class for free. (Regular price of $50).

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Bridge Project

These are some absolutely stunning black and white pictures of bridges. I’ve been thinking of getting back into photography. Perhaps it’s time to break out the digital camera once again.

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Dangerous Photography

Subway shooters to set their sights on underground camera ban

Mike Epstein is not a terrorist, but if a proposed ban on photography on New York trains and buses goes into effect, he might very well find himself treated like one.

“How can they ban photographing unusual sights aboard trains and in stations?” wonders Epstein, who operates Satan’s Laundromat, a website dedicated to “urban decay, strange signage, and general weirdness.” “What about when someone boards the 1 train with bags full of fully inflated orange and red balloons that almost exactly match the colors of the seats: Do they really expect me to keep my camera in my pocket?”

You bet. The MTA’s move to stop the shooting of unauthorized pictures or video has pissed-off everyone from photobloggers to subway advocates and free-speech activists. To show their opposition to the ban, a group of photographers plan to gather at the main information kiosk in Grand Central station this Sunday, June 6, at 1 p.m. They’ll fan out across several train lines, shooting photos throughout the system in a peaceful demonstration.

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Children Beware!

If you have a Playstation, don’t piss off your parents.

Parents please let your children read this auction.

It was a glory day when my son received his Play Station 2. This beloved machine was his prize possession. He played, if not for hours at a time. When he would not take care of anything else, but he took care of this little treasure of his. Ground him, take away phone privileges…..anything but this PS2.

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Keep Your Candy
June 4, 2004 — 11:15 pm

Comic Tim Slagle teaches taxation (Real video)

Via No Force, No Fraud

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Conventional Wisdom
June 3, 2004 — 9:15 pm

Reason’s Brian Doherty has a new column up about the recent Libertarian Convention.

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The Main Issue
June 3, 2004 — 6:30 pm

Now, in my humble opinion, the main issue facing any opponent in the upcoming presidential election is the War in Iraq. Most people already know where George Bush and John Kerry stand on the issue. That is, their stances are basically the same; continue the status quo.

But, what of the Libertarian candidate? In fact, what of all three of the Libertarian candidates before the recent Libertarian Convention? Did the delegates choose the right person for the job with the war in Iraq in mind?

This is an important question. Chiefly because a number of very strong anti-war libertarians showed utter destain at the candidate chosen. Here are each of the three candidates positions as stated during the Libertarian Presidential Debates. You decide who holds the strongest moral position on the issue.

Moderator:

There are a lot of things about the Patriot Act and the War on Terror that you may choose to criticize and that your party has been critical of. But, let’s turn the clock back to the morning of September 11th, 2001. From that crucial point, could you lay out briefly how you would have coped with the treat facing the nation? And, what would you have hoped to accomplish by now?

Gary Nolan:

What I would have done is get the evidence into the hands of Congress and let them decide whether or not the indications were that we should be declaring war anywhere. It’s not a job to be advocated by the American President.

If the evidence indicated in fact that we should be going to war then the job, the primary job, would have been in this case to go after the Taliban who were protecting Al Queda. Weakness in the face of aggression invites aggression. If we have the evidence and it proves that they are responsible, we need to respond.

That said, we had no reason to invade Iraq.

Thank you.

Michael Badnarik:

Libertarians are very strong on defense, but we also want the evidence. We need to know exactly who did what and why. Congress has the power to declare war. They also have the power to issue letters of Marque and Reprisal. Instead of sending 100,000 troops overseas, we could probably send a smaller group of, uh, U.S. Navy Seals or Army Rangers and get the people who actually did this. But, we need to have the evidence.

Congress does not have the authority to grant the President Carte Blanch to go off and do whatever he chooses to do. (Unintelligible) concerned about the fact that Osama Bin Laden was originally labeled as the culprit who perpetrated this atrocity. How have we gone from Osama Bin Laden to Saddam Hussien? Where is the logic that allowed us to switch from Afghanistan to Iraq?

Aaron Russo:

Well, we finally have a division in our thoughts. If I were president on 9-11, I would have gotten the evidence of who did it, showed it to the people; I would not have gone to congress to declare war. I would have gone, no matter where they were, whoever did it, I would have gone into any border with a police action, and not declared war and gotten the S.O.B.s that did that, no matter where they were in the world. Ok?

I don’t think that a war against some force, that we don’t know who it is a war. It’s a Police Action. And, the President doesn’t have to go to congress for a Police Action. And, I certainly would not have removed the Taliban from Afghanistan, or invaded Afghanistan with our troops. The Taliban had nothing to do with what happened. And, as a matter of fact, the Taliban said to George Bush, give us the evidence of what happened, and we’ll give you Osama Bin Laden. And what George Bush did was said “I don’t have to give it to you, I’ve already given it to Tony Blair”! As if that matters.

Alright? So, I would not have invaded Afghanistan but, I would have gotten the people who did it no matter where they were by a Police Action. And I would not have declared war.

Thank you.

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Libertarian Blog Watch
June 2, 2004 — 5:00 pm

This past Sunday I had the occasion to sit down a bit and watch some T.V. While flipping through the channels, I stumbled upon the Libertarian Presidential Convention. I’ll admit right up front that I haven’t paid the slightest amount of attention to any goings on in the Libertarian party for quite some time. In fact, I had no idea who the candidates where.

Well, there are worse things to do on a Sunday afternoon, so I sat down and relaxed to C-Span. In the end, Michael Badnarik was the winner (after three very close votes). Apparently, this was somewhat of a surprise to everyone involved, including Badnarik. I was pretty impressed with his acceptance speech. So much so that I decided to download and watch the actual Libertarian Presidential Debate (available on C-Span) which took place the day prior.

I’m rather impressed with Mr. Badnarik. In fact, I may even be persuaded to actually vote this year. That remains to be seen though. I spent part of today culling various Libertarian blogs for opinions about the Badnarik nomination. Here’s what other well known Libertarians had to say:

Bob Smith from No Force NO Fraud:

Michael Badnarik may be the epitome of an American citizen candidate, drafted and endorsed to run for the highest office we have. It is no accident that his campaign opponents had nothing but good things to say about him. I met Michael when he attended and spoke at our Minnesota LP convention. He is hardly a typical politician. He listens more than he speaks, but when he does speak, it is from his heart with sincere, bold, and well-considered words…

I know that a great many of you reading this are incensed about the loss of 800+ of our best and brightest in a war that should never have been started. Badnarik, when elected, would bring our troops home from Iraq immediately. That position alone should be enough to get you to help him and vote for him. He would put an end to the disastrous War on Drugs, and much more that you are likely to find refreshing and positive. He is obviously a man to whom honor and honesty are much more than slogans.

As a Libertarian, I’m proud to have Michael Badnarik representing our party. I strongly urge you to get to know him, and to seriously consider just how wonderful it would be to have an honest man sitting in the White House.

Justin Raimondo from Antiwar.com:

I note, with sadness, that the Libertarian Party has chosen to commit suicide rather than grow up and become relevant. As a former member, I watched their recent national convention on CSPAN with growing horror as it became plain as day that they were going to reject a strong antiwar presidential candidate, Aaron Russo (who also used to be Bette Midler’s manager, and made it big as a Hollywood director/producer), in favor of somebody I never heard of — and, given what I saw at the convention, hope to never hear of again. Nor do I expect to be disappointed in that hope. The media is going to totally ignore the LP, Nader is going to suck up all the third party attention, and this CBS story will have turned out to be the journalistic equivalent of vaporware. If I were Karl Rove, I’d be celebrating about now.

Karen DeCoster:

I mean, come on, Badnarik in 2004? Justin Raimondo is right: if this is the best the Libertarian Party can do, RIP indeed. This is nothing against Mr. Badnarik personally, but philosophically, he offers nothing that isn’t tediously conventional and entirely placating. This interview here was so sleep-inducing, I started speed-reading it, and still couldn’t finish it. He’s talking about the same old things that are becoming backseat issues, like the UN-world government stuff. Like Justin, I had never heard of him either.

I’m not a “fan” of any of these LP politicos, what with their redundant sales tax pitches and all, but Aaron Russo probably offered a more exciting candidacy than the unknown Badnarik. He was legitimately interesting, if not for his background alone. Is the LP bucking for one-tenth of 1% in this year’s election?

Thomas Knapp from Rational Review:

Now, I don’t regard Michael Badnarik as a Kept Woman Libertarian or as a Cargo Cult Libertarian. The fact is that the machinations at the convention weren’t about Michael Badnarik, they were about Aaron Russo. The Kept Woman Libertarians couldn’t stand the thought of the party moving in a direction uncontrolled by them, led by someone who has an actual record of political accomplishment beside which their thirty years of failure pales. The Nolan Republicans couldn’t stand the thought of the LP being effective this November. Working together, they cut the best deal they could: Torpedo Russo and hope that Badnarik can be manipulated or will crash and burn. As I’ve said, Badnarik may very well surprise them … but the intent is discernible.

Frankly, I think that Badnarik will surprise everyone. The Kept Woman Libertarians are trying desperately to take over Badnarik’s campaign. If he’s smart and independent — and he is — he’ll notice that these are the same people he just beat, and rely on a combination of the Young Turks who got him this far and such real professionals (as opposed to the former used car dealers who usually masquerade as professionals in the LP) as may come over from the Russo campaign instead of letting the failed LP establishment impose the usual failed campaign approach on him.

L. Neil Smith from The Libertarian Enterprise:

It gives me more pleasure than I can possibly express to be able to announce (to the three or four cave-dwellers who haven’t heard the news yet) that the Libertarian Party’s nomination for President was won on the third ballot this past Sunday, May 30, 2004 by Michael Badnarik.

So thoroughly out of step have I become, not only with the culture I grew up in, but with the political party of my own choosing, that it’s a rare luxury for me to see an individual I was among the first to recognize as worthy and endorse, actually win. So I am happy for myself, as well as for Mike (who richly deserves the honor) and for an LP, that, at this desperate and crucial moment in its own history, as well as that of America and the world, sorely needs a nominee of this quality.

Claire Wolfe:

Badnarik. Wow, that was a surprise. For once the guy with the purest heart and the most radical libertarian view triumphed in an LP convention. This is a guy who — Bruthah! — ditched his SSN and declared himself free.

If I’d have been at the convention casting a vote (which thank heaven I wasn’t) I’d have had a hard time deciding between him and Aaron Russo. Going in, I’d have leaned Russo, just because he’s a man who knows how to make noise — and noise is needed in this year when the LP can give anti-war, anti-big-spending folks their only real choice. Wouldn’t it be cool if the Libertarian decided the race between the two opportunistic (as in “opportunistic infection”) warmongers, rights-haters, and welfare staters the Rs and Ds are going to try to sell us? But whether or not that happens, it’s great that Badnarik came from behind like that. What a story! What an American. Everyone who meets him is very impressed.

Karen Kwiatkowski from LewRockwell.com:

I attended the LP convention (even gave a talk) and while not a delegate, nor much of a Party person, here are my observations.

1) Right before the convention, my father (lifelong Republican) bent my ear on taxation, spending, American socialism and war. All critical of the Bush Republican agenda and performance, and against Kerry as well.

2) Afterwards, my dad had watched the debates and said the LP had no chance — they turned him off even though he agrees with the basic premises of constitutional government, republicanism, entangling alliances, and fiscal restraint.

3) Badnarik communicates the LP position on these areas as well as or better than any candidate.

4) All three of my teenagers attended. All chose Badnarik as their favorite because they liked his death row voting analogy. Me, too.

We are going to capture people’s imagination not because we are radical in speech or style. We are going to win because we are radically right, and because over 50% of Americans at heart, already agree with our positions. Gentleness can also be revolutionary!

Emiliano Antunez from The Price of Liberty:

The selection of a Presidential candidate is not equivalent to selecting the parish priest (bad analogy) or canonizing the next saint. Conventions and the parties which hold them should be concerned with two things One; does the candidate espouse the views of the party and Two; which candidate can be the most convincing while having the means (or the ability to garner them) to be able of spreading the word as far and as wide as possible. In this way (realistically) the Libertarian Party delegate’s failure is of biblical proportions.

Personally Badnarick is more than likely a very nice person (and no one doubts his knowledge and commitment to the constitution). But that’s not what’s at issue here, what is, is whether those who voted in the Libertarian National Convention did so with the best interest of the party in mind? Or where they out to give the nation the equivalent of an electoral “macho flash?” Unfortunately this November, like many that have preceded it will be a disappointing time for Libertarians and in turn for the cause of liberty and individual freedom thanks in most part to the very people charged with their defense and preservation.

Roderick T. Long:

While none of the three contenders has the glibness or the gravitas of Harry Browne, I had grown increasingly disenchanted with Russo, and Badnarik seems fine (a bit weak on abortion — perhaps he needs to read today’s post from Charles Johnson — but acceptable), so I am reasonably content with the outcome.

Badnarik for President!

Keith Halderman:

I could imagine Aaron Russo getting himself on the Tonight Show, Oprah Winfrey, or at least the Daily Show. I do not think Michael Badnarik will ever get within a hundred miles of those programs. Mind you it is not his fault. He has done an outstanding job to get this far, he will make good use of whatever opportunities he garners in the future, and he would make an infinitely better President than the one we are going to get. However, the mainstream media in the past has treated Libertarian candidates as though they were invisible and this practice will not change unless the candidate goes around it and forces the media to cover him with his own fame. Now, I am not saying that Russo has the requisite fame to compete in a meaningful way with Bush and Kerry but I do say he had a lot more potential to acquire that necessary fame than Badnarik does. I like Michael Badnarik a lot and will be very proud to vote for him; yet, I cannot help but think the Libertarian Party made a big mistake today.

I sincerely hope Badnarik proves me wrong because we really need someone to turn this country around. If anyone still does not believe that we are moving step-by-step along a path that ends with us living in a totalitarian hellhole they should read this article by Beverly Eakman (thanks to Jeff Schaler) on the growing practice of declaring mentally ill those who hold “wrong” opinions.

So, there they are. And there we are, lucky we.

Ok, ok, I stole that line from a Gore Vidal essay (scroll all the way to the bottom).

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Gossip’s bad, Umkay?
June 1, 2004 — 6:00 pm

In a move reminiscent of the Great Cultural Revolution of the Proletariat, a High School in Florida has adopted a No Gossip campaign. No word yet on when the Anti-Rightest or Anti-Black Element campaigns will kick off.

As they grouted around the yellow and blue tiles that spelled “No Gossip,” a group of seventh-graders started to gossip.

Teacher Barbara Tkac was not happy. Tkac and her middle school students have been discussing the perils of spreading tales for the past few weeks. But she was not completely surprised.

“Talking about other people is so ingrained in all of us,” Tkac said. “We have to relearn patterns of speaking.”

What a classmate said or wore or did is rich fodder for chatter in any school, but during the past few months the teenage grapevine at St. Joseph’s Episcopal School had become particularly venal. In a questionnaire that surveyed St. Joseph’s strengths and weaknesses, students said the unchecked culture of gossip was one of the school’s major flaws. To combat the malicious talk, seventh-graders spent the past month on a “No Gossip Campaign,” sharing the message, through posters and plays, that students should think before they speak and speak up when they hear others blab.

Sixth-grader Elisabeth Hykle said she was one of the school’s gossipers. She used to easily call her fellow students “snobs” or “mean” or “annoying.” But she said she has reformed.

“I hadn’t thought about it much before,” she said. “I didn’t think it was bad.”

Well, a little agitprop never hurt nobody is my philosophy.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
About 30 Dollars
June 1, 2004 — 5:30 pm

The other day, our oldest daughter discovered that one of her teeth was a little loose. I was a tad skeptical when she informed me of this as I was under the impression that children do not start losing their baby teeth until they are about 7 years of age. Jordan is not 7 years of age, she is only 5.

However, upon investigation, I confirmed that yes, indeed, her tooth was loose. After some searching on the good old Internet (Thanks Mr. Gore), I found that it is rather common for children to start loosing their baby teeth at the tender age of 5.

Now, of course, this is a major event in a child’s life. Even a perceived unsentimental male, such as myself and a little under half the human race, gets ever so slightly choked up when it is reflected upon. There before me stands a 5 year old girl with a loose tooth but, all I see is a young woman marching down the wedding isle.

Anyway, Jordan is quite excited about the whole prospect of having a visit from the Tooth Fairy and the monetary rewards that await her. We were having an earnest discussion the other night about said Tooth Fairy and all the physics involved in Her/its nocturnal visits. (Step one, collect teeth, Step three…Profit!). After that was all out of the way, I asked my little angel just how much money she expected the Tooth Fairy to leave behind.

She gave me a very serious look and thought about it for just a couple of seconds. She then said (And I swear to G-d this is true) “I think I should get about 30 dollars”.

Why, that little monster! 30 dollars! Does she think that I’m…I mean the Tooth Fairy is made of money? I mean, Come on! Now, when I was a child, the going rate for a tooth was .25 cents. I freely admit that was in 1976 so it may be unfair to make that comparison. However, even when you take inflation into account, .25 cents in 1976 still only comes to .83 cents in 2004 money.

I may be willing to go up to $1 but, that’s my absolute limit.

I just got done talking to a friend of mine who kindly informed me that the going rate for a tooth in his neighborhood is $20.

Ok, maybe I’ll go to $10. But, by G-d no further! And 90% of that is going towards her college education. Maybe then she can explain to me how the Tooth Fairy got so freaking rich. Step three indeed.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Why They Hate Us
May 31, 2004 — 6:30 pm

I spent much of my Memorial Day holiday cleaning up around the house and tending to the lawn. I was, however, able to listen to this poignant and increasingly relevant speech by Tom Palmer.

I’ve spent so much of my time this past year railing against the neo-imperialists and their apologists, I’ve nearly forgotten those on the far left who would just as soon sell us all into destitute slavery.

Just as every action has an opposite and equal reaction, extremist views in this country will foster opposite, yet equal extremist views. Clinton’s apologists have given birth to Bush apologists. Who, or what, will emerge from the womb next?

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
From the Mouths of Babes…
May 31, 2004 — 1:30 am

Barbra Simpson, World Net Daily’s self proclaimed “Babe in the Bunker” let’s us all know just who is and who isn’t a proud, patriotic American:

It’s a wide range of hate and it’s reflected in the smoke emanating from my e-mail anytime I write anything patriotic. I never cease to be amazed that people who claim to be Americans are filled with such antipathy to everything about this country.

Those people are not true Americans. They should ease their hate-filled souls by finding another place to live that won’t cause them such grief. But there is no other place on this planet like this country. In fact, there is no other place in the world that would tolerate such public vitriol against government officials, the system and the country as a whole.

These screamers are everywhere from nameless talk-show callers, to easily named talk-show hosts; from the writers of letters to the editor, to the writers of newspaper editorials; from academics feeding their egos by speaking out as the experts they are not, to members of the media who believe the camera or the microphone gives them sagacity; from entertainers who use fame as a podium to lecture the public, to elected politicians who confuse partisanship with patriotism.

With some exceptions, these people are not stupid. They rail because they know they can get away with it. Anywhere else and they’d be targeted. At the least, most likely jailed and, in many places, separated from body parts or simply killed – or both, in any order.

They’re not proud of being American. For them, every little gripe and peeve is reason to denounce. They are a bother at the least, seditious on average, and traitors at most. There are laws to deal with two of those, but unfortunately no one is doing anything about them. Yet.

As a veteran Barbara Simpson venerates so much; as someone who has “protected her freedoms” for 12 consecutive years (including one year in the Balkans), let me just say this; Barbara Simpson, I name thee Jackass.

But, there are people far more eloquent than I when it comes to making their point.

The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.
-H.L. Mencken

Oh, that Mencken were alive today.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Designated Semiotician
May 31, 2004 — 12:30 am

I’ve been enjoying Tim Virkkala’s relatively new webpage Designated Semiotician the past few days. Tim probably doesn’t know it, since we’ve never communicated directly, but he is the main reason I discovered (and fell in love with) Gore Vidal and H.L. Mencken. The prior author being mentioned by Eric as a writer Mr. Virkkala admires and the latter mentioned on one of his many lists populating the Internet.

One of his (Mr. Virkkala’s) missives I particularly enjoy:

Even bad poetry is wonderful
When personal, and a gift.
But the higher reaches of mediocrity
Becomes unbearable when
Published by strangers.
And bought?
Perish the thought!

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
I Made the Switch
May 30, 2004 — 11:30 pm

After spending approximately 3 consecutive hours trying to cleanse my computer of malicious malware (browser hijack), I finally just decided to get rid of Internet Explorer altogether. I’ve deleted it from my desktop and now rely completely upon Mozilla Firefox.

Since the switch, I’ve encountered none of the myriad of problems I once experienced. No random redirections, no homepage resets, no additions to my Favorites folder and no more blocking of pages dedicated to rectifying the problem. And, it may well be my imagination but, I have the feeling that Firefox renders colors a bit better than I.E. Perhaps the scales have literally fallen from my eyes?

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Those Cwrazy Cops
May 29, 2004 — 6:00 pm

I was checking out Reason.com’s blog the other day and came across the following amusing comment (in reference to the current “Clickit or Ticket” paranoia/shakedown canvassing our country):

The seatbelt law should exempt geezers on medicare and others who are hopelessly on the public dole. Seriously, I love those “click it or ticket” billboards that have group photos of glaring police officers. They always make sure a variety of races and the sexes are represented (I don’t know why they don’t include an officer in a wheelchair, though).. but they make sure they include at least two white guys.. heads shaved and look like they’re straight out of the Marines. The looks on their faces is crystal clear: “Put your fucking seatbelt on or we’re gonna kick your fucking teeth in.” I feel so safe.


Speaking of police officers, Pennsylvania’s finest have a new gig:

Camo cops catch speeders

Now meet the “Camo Cops,” dressed to catch speeders and make roadways safer.

This week, state troopers from the Indiana barracks began donning camouflage gear to nab fast-moving motorists in Indiana County.

And they plan to do more of the same.

“We love it. The motorists may not like it because they think it’s sneaky, but you have to look at the possibilities” and purpose, said Shawn Houck, safety press officer for PennDOT District 10, which includes Indiana County.

I suspect motorists aren’t so simplistic with their skepticism. Perhaps they don’t like it since it is somewhat unseemly for traffic cops to be hanging out in the woods donned for combat for the express reason of handing out speeding tickets. No word yet when they will be issued their M-16s.

And finally, this little gem from my current State of residence, Missouri:

Imagine cops throwing you out of your own child’s graduation just for expressing your joy.

It happened Monday night to several families at a local ceremony, and it was all caught on tape.

KCTV5′s Liana Joyce reported live on “KCTV5 News at 6 p.m.” that there was a dress code and a behavior code that was strictly followed at the Grandview High School graduation.

One family who got kicked out for cheering their son’s accomplishments said it was being taken too far.

It all began when 18-year-old Brandon Sample’s family clapped and whistled as the Grandview grad walked across the stage.

It may have seemed harmless, but it was enough to get them tossed out of the ceremony.

On home video, a police officer said, “You’ve got to leave.”

A woman said, “This is a celebration, sir.”

The police officer said: “I know. The school didn’t want you, them doing that. You don’t leave, you go to jail. You understand that?”

Watch the video and judge for yourself just how disruptive this family was. I counted about two consecutive seconds of cheering. In Missouri, that just about enough to get you thrown in the Icehouse.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Hiatus
May 19, 2004 — 9:00 am

Due to family obligations and work, I’ll be taking a brief hiatus from the computer. That’s right, I’m packing this baby up. How long? Hmmmm… 30 days.

I’ll still check my email from work if anyone needs to get ahold of me. But, for now, this is how it’s gotta be.

See you all in 30…Peace.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
A Little Levity
May 16, 2004 — 5:30 pm

From the cool (and when I say cool, I mean totally sweet) webpage RealUltimatePower, I bring you the ten steps to committing Seppuku:

Step 1 Get a frisbee from the store or friend.
Step 2 Clean the Frisbee.
Step 3 Make sure your parents aren’t around
Step 4 Put something slippery on it, like butter or cream.
Step 5 Get really super pissed.
Step 6 Fold the Frisbee hard (this is crucial)
Step 7 Keep folded and insert Frisbee into mouth hard.
Step 8 Push hard until you can’t see it.
Step 9 Wait.
Step 10 Die.

If you succeed, everybody will be like “Holy Crap!”

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Ignorance is Strength
May 10, 2004 — 9:00 pm

As the days march on, conservative (read neo-conservative) rhetoric is getting worse.

I’m going to attempt to keep a running log of some of the most asinine statements I read about the Iraq situation.

The following are some letters 60 Minutes II received after the airing of the now infamous prisoner abuse pictures:

Was I supposed to be horrified by the report of Iraqi prisoners being positioned in “pornographic” positions and humiliated by American soldiers? I was not. During your report, all I could think of was the murder, torture, maiming, burning and beheading of innocent civilians, women and children included, carried out by terrorists and supporters of Saddam Hussein. At least these men were men of war.

They had to pose for pornographic pictures? So what. We cannot imagine sitting at home on our couches the horrors our soldiers must face every day. Why not focus your attention on the unfair practices of our enemy?
–Sally Ainsley

This execrable apologia is wearing thin rather quickly.

Let me break it down for you Sally. American soldiers do not base the treatment of POWs on how our soldiers are treated in combat or confinement. American soldiers are bound by the rules of war outlined in the Geneva Convention, of which we are a signatory. Every last soldier in the United States Army knows what these rules are and why we have them in place. It’s a rather simple concept. We treat our POWs with humanity and dignity afforded to any human being. If said POW is accused of a crime (like planning a terrorist attack or mutilating the bodies of the dead), they are to be tried by a court of law.

We treat our POWs in this fashion not only because it’s the moral course of action, but also because we wish for any POWs held by the enemy to be treated in the same manner.

So, to answer your rhetorical question “They had to pose for pornographic pictures? So what.”; imagine your own brother, father, son being led along by a leash or being forced to masturbate for the camera. Can you visualize it? Can you understand it now?

Here’s another

At one time I would have condemned the way they were treated, but after recently seeing them burning Americans there, I say they should give those troops medals. An eye for an eye.
–J Guzzi

Again, as every well educated American should know, the philological adage “an eye for an eye” does not have any place in the way POWs under American care are treated.

These soldiers (including their leadership) deserve no better than a dishonorable discharge and some prison time to reflect upon their wrong doings.

And another:

Our country has 150,000 military personal in a desperate fight to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Do you think, by airing the reprehensible acts of a small percentage of these soldiers, you have helped in this cause? What, other than ratings and increased revenue, did you expect to achieve with this program which verges on treason in a time of war?
–Sondra Cutcliffe

Ah, the old ‘treason’ argument.

Sondra, 60 Minutes II did the exact right thing in airing this story (although inexcusably late at the insistence of the military). A free press should not concern itself with the “desperate fight to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people”. A free press should report the news, whatever the news is. The fact that you are disturbed to the point of crying ‘treason’ over a story every American should know about speaks volumes about you and your mental capacity.

Ignorance used to be something to be pitied. Charles Dickens wrote about it in “A Christmas Carol”:

‘Oh, Man. look here. Look, look, down here.’ exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

‘Spirit. are they yours.’ Scrooge could say no more.

‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it.’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.’

I myself do not pity the ignorance that is currently pervading America. People who advocate torture, sadistic humiliation or the outright murder of American held POWs are certainly ignorant. People who advocate the censorship of news or resort to the label of ‘treason’ of those who transmit the news are also ignorant, and dangerously so. Ignorance of this type is the direct result of lazy thinking.

And that, my fellow Americans, is just unrefined stupidity.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Tools
May 8, 2004 — 9:00 pm

I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that most people are tools.

By definition a tool is “someone who is useless and idiotic in all aspects at any given time”, and they are “a person who is impressionable, easily used by others. A loser; a wanna-be”.

Everyone has seen them. Everyone has had dealings with one. They talk on the phone during a movie. They are the people who park in the handicap parking space because 1) They are too lazy to walk an extra FIFTEEN feet to their destination or 2) They don’t want anyone parking next to their “machine”. Hey, I’ve got news for you buddy. No one gives an ass that you drive a souped up Honda Civic. And for the love of God, take the framed picture of your ‘ride’ off your desk. It’s embarrassing, you tool.

I knew plenty of tools while I was in the Army. Usually they were 2nd Lieutenants and more often than not, they were academy graduates. There were others of course. Those that abused their rank for pleasure or profit were certainly tools. Thankfully, these cases were far and few between. The real tools were those that fell for the copious amounts of propaganda we were subjugated to. These were the guys who actually believed we were protecting America’s freedoms. They loved to say things like “freedom isn’t free” or “those protesters only have their rights ’cause of people like me”. These ass clowns were to be avoided at all costs lest their hyper-patriotism induced heavy fits of raucous laughter.

Historically there have been many tools. Apologists for Communism are what I like to call “fucking tools”. Even though over 200 MILLION men women and children were/are currently being liquidated under Communist rule, apologists quibble over the numbers. Consider this passage from a recent article on Reason.com:

Miami University’s Robert W. Thurston, in his 1996 book Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, rejects the overwhelming evidence that Stalin’s purges took the lives of millions. He concedes only 681,692 executions in the years 1937 and 1938, and a mere 2.5 million arrests. Even using those low-ball figures, that means that nearly one of every 20 adult Soviet males went to prison and that more than 900 of them were executed per day. Nonetheless, Thurston says Stalin has gotten a bad rap: There was no “mass terror…extensive fear did not exist…[and] Stalin was not guilty of mass first-degree murder.”

Now, Glenn Garvin, the author of the above article refers to Comrade Thurston and his ilk as “fucking fools”. That is certainly an excellent label. However, I feel Mr. Garvin was being a bit too kind. As I said before, the term “fucking tools” seems to be a better fit.

One more thing. You’re not being an intellectual when you name your cat “Chairman Mao”. Seriously, you’re a tool, and a substandard one at that.

Most people who call themselves ‘Conservatives’ are tools as well. The Abu Ghraib ‘incident’ in Iraq has made this point increasingly clear to me as the days pass. As General Patton used to say, this situation has grabbed the Republicans “by the nose and kicked them in the ass”. Let me give you the break down.

First, the litany of people out there who are compelled to bless us with their opinions. I can’t offer any source material here. There are some summarized statements I (Justin M. Stoddard) had the misfortune of hearing while driving home from work yesterday.

Lady: “I just don’t get it. We are at WAR! These people want to destroy us! I can’t believe the Liberal Media stabbed us in the back by releasing those pictures.”
Host: “Don’t you think the American people have the right to know what our soldiers are up to over there?”
Lady: “Not when it gives aid and comfort to the enemy.”

Interjection: Lady, you’re a skanky tool.

Guy: “America is weak. I mean, come on! Soldiers used to machine gun prisoners in WWII when they got news of Japanese or German atrocities. These terrorists are getting off easy!”

Interjection: Tool-o-roni

Let’s see what Rush Limbaugh has to say about the whole affair:

“This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation, and we’re going to ruin people’s lives over it, and we’re going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I’m talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You [ever] heard of need to blow some steam off?”

Now, maybe it’s just me. I seem to think that if Heir Toolmeister had, you know, actually served in the Army instead of getting a deferment for a boil on his ass (true), he would know that it’s just not right for a United States Soldier to abuse Prisoners of War by putting leashes on them and making them bark like dogs.

Here’s how some of our brave soldiers released some steam:

“There are other photos that depict incidents of physical violence towards prisoners, acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhumane,” he (Rumsfeld) said. … It’s going to get a good deal more terrible, I’m afraid.

Rumsfeld did not describe the photos, but U.S. military officials told NBC News that the unreleased images showed U.S. soldiers severely beating an Iraqi prisoner nearly to death, having sex with a female Iraqi female prisoner and “acting inappropriately with a dead body.” The officials said there was also a videotape, apparently shot by U.S. personnel, showing Iraqi guards raping young boys.

“After a hard day’s fightin’, I like to kick back and blow off some steam by rapin’. And after that, I think I’ll desecrate some dead bodies cause I’m pretty much a fucking tool.”

A couple of days ago, I referenced an article written by World Net Daily’s Joseph Farah. After several contractors were brutally killed and their bodies disgustingly ravaged, Mr. Farah advocated that we:

“need to flatten Fallujah. We may need to destroy it. We may need to grind it, pulverize it and salt the soil, as the Romans did with troublesome enemies.”

Mr. Farah remains mysteriously silent on the current prison scandal. I guess he just doesn’t have to balls to advocate the total and utter destruction of any town these subhuman M.P.’s hail from. However, several of his readers have chimed in.

Wayne writes:

Wake up, America! You can stop wringing your hands and losing sleep over our terrible abuse of enemy prisoners. Until we start slitting their throats, hanging their mutilated bodies from bridges and dragging them through the streets, you all can relax and go back to sleep.

How disgusted I am for President Bush apologizing to a people whose main goal in life is the destruction of our way of life. We have no real leaders in this country today. For that reason, America’s future is in serious doubt. However, if you want to keep crying over the treatment of a people that would cut your throat in a heartbeat, be my guest. Excuse me while I go throw up!

Wayne, I suspect that if American POW’s were treated in the same fashion, you would be advocating a nuclear holocaust. But hey, it’s just a couple of “Ragheads” that would sooner cut your throat than look at you right? Nice try Hitler. That racist propaganda has already been hashed out by men far more capable than yourself.

We’re done. The recent chronicle of abuse in Iraq has shown that. Republicans will try to divert the nations attention. First they’ll try the old “liberal media” line of attack. When that fails, and really, who are we kidding, it already has, they will begin to question the testicular fortitude of American’s in general. “Stay the course!” they’ll yell. “Freedom isn’t free” they’ll bleat. But, to no avail. We are done. We’ve lost for no other reason than we are a nation of tools.

A female blogger from Baghdad writes:

I sometimes get emails asking me to propose solutions or make suggestions. Fine. Today’s lesson: don’t rape, don’t torture, don’t kill and get out while you can- while it still looks like you have a choice… Chaos? Civil war? Bloodshed? We’ll take our chances- just take your Puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go.

Preach on sister!

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
The Enlightened Right
April 29, 2004 — 9:00 pm

My good friend Brian has a few humorous entries over on his blog entitled “The Enlightened Left”.

Today I was thinking it would be a good idea to add to his theme. Except, I’ll focus on the Right.

I realize that the column I’m about to reference is relatively old when dealing with blogs. However, it is probably the absolute starkest example I could find of Conservative idiocy within the past couple of weeks.

Joseph Farah from WND is one mad Mother Fu#*er. I’ve addressed a couple of his columns right here on this blog. Remember how he condoned the murder of an adulterer? How about when he advocated the return of a Hollywood blacklist for those who criticized President Bush? Especially for that “scum bucket” Johnny Depp who had the nerve to say America was like a “dangerous puppy”. Ohhh…Booga Booga…the treasonous bastards are everywhere…we must silence them!

Well, believe it or not, old Joe has outdone himself. Yes, Mr. William Randolph Hearst reincarnate, is once again waiving the bloody shirt and by God, there’s the Devil to pay.

In his column entitled “Pound Fallujah”, Mr. Farah breathlessly exclaims:

Not all of the Iraqi city’s population, or even most of them, bear responsibility for the despicable, cowardly attacks on four U.S. civilians murdered, mutilated, incinerated and hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River.

But the longer that religious leaders and residents protect and shield those who carried out the attacks – and those who are against U.S. troops and Iraqis eager to build a free society – the more responsible the residents of Fallujah collectively become.

The day of reckoning is coming. It will be precise, according to U.S. military officials. And it will be overwhelming.

Fallujah is going to pay a price for the blood it has spilled.

Wow, that sounds pretty ominous. This statement, of course, was in response to the heinous and brutal murder of four private security guards (two were ex Navy Seals) in Iraq. It was reported that even the majority of onlookers were disgusted with the carnage as it is a mortal sin to desecrate the dead.

Farah continues:

We should not try to gain an international consensus for this action. We should not apologize for it. We should not restrain our Air Force and our artillery batteries from wreaking devastation. We should not expose our ground troops to unnecessary risks.

In other words, we may need to flatten Fallujah. We may need to destroy it. We may need to grind it, pulverize it and salt the soil, as the Romans did with troublesome enemies.

Quite frankly, we need to make an example out of Fallujah.

By Mr. Farah’s own admission, he realizes that more than 250,000 people live in the city of Fallujah. Let me just repeat that. TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY THOUSAND MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN.

The brave and heroic Mr. Farah suggests that WE need to destroy it. We need to grind it, pulverize it and salt the soil. (Does anyone else find it a tad bit ironic that he would chose the Romans for an example)? Of course, if Mr. Farah were truthful, he would have said “Hey, YOU guys need to destroy it. I’ll just, you know, give you some moral support from my house”.

And, isn’t that what it’s all about? Mr. Farah and his ilk will never pick up a rifle in the perceived defense of this country. His weapon of choice is a keyboard and all the vitriol he can spew.

You know, unlike Mr. Farah, I’m not a religious person. I guess you could call me an Agnostic. Sure, I freely admit that the day may come when I meet my maker. When Christ asks me why I was not a believer I’m gonna have to be honest with him.

“Because Lord, your representatives did a rather poor job spreading Your word”.

I don’t know if that’s gonna earn me a pass or not. Maybe it will make Him think twice about Mr. Farah and his war pigs.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Keeping the Peace Beijing er, I mean Portland Style
April 26, 2004 — 5:00 pm

I’ve read quite a bit of Chinese history in my time. I’m quite aware of how the People’s Armed Police treat those that step out of line. Beatings, kicks, tasers, pepper spray…every form of restraint is used regardless of the subject’s age or size. After reading this story from my hometown of Portland Oregon today, one wonders if Portland’s finest aren’t getting some private lessons from their overseas counterparts.

Let me break it on down for you.

71-year-old Eunice Crowder is a blind, elderly woman residing in the city of Portland Oregon. Apparently, she ran afoul of the law last year when she was served an “administrative search warrant to remove an accumulation of trash and debris”.

When Eunice explained that she was legally blind and requested to have the warrant read aloud to her, the ever so kind city official refused and shoved the warrant in her hands so he could get going with his urgent official business.

What follows could probably be retold by any countless number of victims…uh, I mean people, who have had dealings with their local law enforcement.

The woman followed the city employee outside. She was concerned that he and his co-workers had removed a family heirloom, a 90-year-old red toy wagon with rhododendrons in it. She asked to enter a trailer, where items from her yard were being placed, to feel around for the wagon.

Marihart told her she couldn’t enter the trailer and said the wagon was not inside. He then called police.

When Portland Officers Robert Miller and Eric Zajac arrived at the house, Crowder acknowledged she had one foot on the curb and one foot on the bumper of the trailer. She felt someone step on her foot and asked, “Who are you?”

Moments later, she felt someone strike her in the head, which dislodged her prosthetic right eye from its socket, and was knocked to the ground, she claimed in her lawsuit.

Officers said Crowder ignored their commands not to climb into the trailer and tried to bite Miller’s hand.

Now, the two member team of “Portland’s finest” did what any rational human being would have done when some elderly blind woman tried to bite their hand.

They threw her to the ground. And then:

While on the ground, Crowder asked the officer what he thought he was doing and kicked Miller. She said the officer kicked her back, then pepper-sprayed her in her eyes.

“While she’s still on the ground, on her stomach, they tased her in the back and in the breast,” her lawyer said.

Police said they pepper-sprayed Crowder after she refused to stop kicking them. They admit that Crowder’s prosthetic eye fell out at some point, and that Zajac stunned Crowder with a Taser, an electric stun gun, twice in the lower back and once in the upper back after ordering her to stop fighting and resisting.

Hey! You gotta show those elderly blind women who’s boss right? Ah, the fine members of the People’s Armed Police would be proud. Job well done.

Thankfully, however, elderly blind women can seek some level of recourse in this country (unlike China). The city of Portland recently agreed to pay Eunice a sum of $145,000. The settlement was:

based on a review by the city’s risk management division that indicated “there is risk the City may be found liable.”

And out of it all, the lady’s lawyer had the best statement. He simply said:

“To kick the crap out of old folks seems a little bit much to me in the name of law enforcement.”

Hear! Hear! Counselor!

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Zaogao! China, Korea; the Whole Ball of Wax (New Blog)
April 23, 2004 — 8:15 pm

I’m becoming quite the Sino-phile. This probably has to do with my new job (well, not quite so new anymore). However, I’m starting to relate to all things Chinese. Language, culture, politics, etc… Heck, I’m even becoming enamored with Korea. I’ve actually been thinking of some Korean self-study on the side. Who knows.

Anyway, I’ve recently created a new blog over at Shrubtography (can’t afford to buy a new domain name yet). I’m not quite sure what direction it’s going to take yet. I do know that it will include Chinese language lessons, talk about Chinese and Korean current events, politics, and anything else that strikes my fancy.

Go check it out.

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Apology
April 14, 2004 — 8:00 pm

I owe Grumpy Greg a big apology. I spent 2 and a half days out in D.C. and did not get in touch with him. I’m an ass, it’s true. Hey Greg, you wanna come to China with me?

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A Long Overdue Update
April 10, 2004 — 5:00 pm

Quite a bit has happened since my last entry. Perhaps I should save myself the trouble of creating these HUGE entries by, you know, updating this thing daily. That was the original intention after all.

When I last left you, I was headed for Washington D.C. on a business trip. Well, the trip was a success. All went well. I was able to hook up with Eric for the three days I was there.

He says he doesn’t notice it but, he’s actually looking more svelte everyday thanks to Dr. Atkins.

Speaking of Atkins…on my first night there, we all headed over to Ruth’s Chris steakhouse where I had the most delicious filet known to, well, me.

Hey, it was on the company’s dime so, what the heck right?

I also got to catch a few movies out there.

First up: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:

Ok, I guess I’ll use my “10 star system” to rate this one (as opposed to my 5 star system). This is easily a 10 star movie. Perfect in every way.

Eric likes to relate a story about Jim Carrey that I think is relevant. In one particular Simpsons episode (I believe it takes place in the future), there is a scene showing a movie house with the following Marque “10 Classic Jim Carrey Movies”…or something. The point is, back in the day, everyone thought Jim Carrey was a one trick pony. And, who could blame them? However, as soon as I saw The Truman Show, I knew differently. Mark my words, Jim Carrey is going to be a dramatic actor to contend with.

Next, The Ladykillers:

This isn’t my favorite Coen Brothers movie but it is amazing none-the-less. After seeing this, I’m convinced there is nothing Tom Hanks cannot do. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to memorize his lines. Overall I’d say 9 out of 10 stars.

And finally, Hellboy:

This was really as fine a “superhero” movie as I’ve ever seen. 9 out of 10 stars. I just keep waiting for some kind of collaboration between superhero movies. I mean, how bad ass would it be for a Spider-Man and Wolverine movie? Or The Hulk teaming up with the X-Men? Something along those lines.

Well, that’s it for now. Happy Easter everyone!

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Pants Nirvana
March 30, 2004 — 8:30 pm

A couple of things…

This is what I came home to today:

(Well, you should be seeing a picture of a flat tire right now but the actual picture I took was somehow destroyed somewhere between the digital camera and the computer).

Since I’m leaving for a business trip to D.C. tomorrow, I’ll have no time to fix it today. So, I cleaned out the cab of my truck and put Zoe’s car seat in the front (remembering to switch off the air bag). There is a small seat in the back made just for Jordan (or so it seems). Now, Tiffany will have something to drive while I’m away.

This, however, is not really what I wanted to talk about today. What I wanted to share with you all today is a brand new invention in clothing that I like to call “pants nirvana”. My Mother in Law recently purchased two pairs of Dockers pants for me. Now, I usually don’t go for Dockers simply because they don’t fit me very well. To put it bluntly, I have rather large legs and finding a pair of pants that will accommodate my features can sometimes be an arduous task. That and Dockers are for Nancy boys that have the kind of money to spend on…well, Dockers.

Well, I had no other pants to wear this morning so, with a little trepidation, I donned a pair of stain resistant, relaxed fit Dockers.

Man oh Man! I just…I…well, I just don’t know what to say. These are by far the most comfortable pair of pants I have ever worn. I had to look down several times today to make sure I wasn’t wearing pajama bottoms. These things are incredible! In fact, they are so wonderful, I shared my feelings with many of my co-workers. They like the pants too, but, they really don’t care for me talking about them that much. Mmmmm…..Pants Nirvana. That’s what it is…Pants Nirvana.

I’m seriously thinking of writing Dockers a nice little letter. These things have changed the way I think about pants…seriously.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
More Tomorrow
March 27, 2004 — 8:30 pm

Ugh, I’m just not feeling well today. Nothing in particular, just feeling a little under the weather. The only reason I’m writing this is to placate Eric and his Doppelganger makin’ compulsion.

So, I’ll write more tomorrow…scout’s honor.

In the mean time, here’s a great link I found on Brian’s (my good friend) webpage.

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Atkins; Part Two, Day One
March 16, 2004 — 7:00 pm

Induction.

My body does not much care for the first few days of the induction phase. Although I ate plenty of sausage and hard boiled eggs, by noon my body was calling me a royal S.O.B.

Where is my Snickers Bar? Where is my Dr. Pepper.

Shut up brain or I’ll poke you with a Q-tip!

The battle rages on. Luckily, I am able to fool myself with a great invention.

No caffeine, no sodium, no sugar and no carbs. But, Holy Cow! This stuff tastes great! Go get ya some.

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Justin’s Version of the Incompetent Fitness Blog. Part One, Where Justin gets his Oreos
March 15, 2004 — 8:00 pm

While Eric is making astounding progress on his weight loss, I am actually backtracking. After losing nearly 18 pounds a few months ago following the Atkins Diet, I have put back roughly half of that back on again. This was no easy task. It involved eating numerous cookies of various shapes and sizes. In addition, several bowls of ice cream were consumed (with chocolate syrup and sprinkles on top). I also had to endure drinking up to one sugar laced carbonated beverage AT LEAST three times a week. Round that out by several trips to White Castle and a general lack of interest in exercise and VIOLA! Nearly 10 pounds have been re-added to my mid section.

I sensed trouble the other day when I kept insisting to Tiffany that my pants were shrinking. After the laughter abated a bit, I came to the realization that I have a problem.

Is it time for Atkins part Deux?

Oh, by the way, what’s up Nathan (Hall)? How the hell are you? What have you been up to? Dude, send me an email!

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Same Old Bull-(BEEP)
March 13, 2004 — 8:00 pm

Well, I knew it would come to this sooner or later. From WNCX, Clevlands Classic Rock Station:

We wanted to play “Darkside of the Moon” in it’s entirety since it is the #1 album voted by YOU!! But we are unable to since the album contains the song “Money”, which is deemed indecent by the U.S. Government since it contains the “S” word. Current pending legislation calls for a fine of $275,000 if we play that song. If you don’t agree with this, let your voice be heard…..

The FCC is out of control. It’s time to put the airwaves up for public auction.

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Calvin Peeing Part Deux!
March 6, 2004 — 11:00 pm

I wrote about the Calvin Peeing thing awhile back. Now, you can customize it!: Custom peeing boy decals. Looks great on any pickup truck. Also available as a t-shirt.

(via The J-Walk Blog)
(via Danelope)

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White House To Seek Ban On Gay Sex On The Moon
February 28, 2004 — 8:30 pm

According to The Poor Man:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Worried by flagging poll numbers, a deteriorating situation in Iraq, and a sluggish economy, President Bush called on Congress today to approve a constitutional amendment that would ban gay sex on the Moon. Republican leaders hailed the move as a bold step to unite the country in a bold and forward-looking strategy to spread family values across the solar system, and protect the legacy of the Apollo missions.

“This is an excellent idea, simply excellent,” said house Majority Leader Tom DeLay. “I remember the Apollo missions, and the incredible spirit of national pride and the interest in science and our amazing universe that it created. All the kids in the neighborhood wanted to be astronauts. It was like a Tom Hanks movie. And, looking for the first time at a man in an air-tight bunny suit walking around the antiseptic, cratered, lifeless surface of that blasted orb, I knew I wanted to grow up to be an exterminator. But all these beautiful dreams would be destroyed forever if some gay people got up there and had sex. I think we’d just have to blow up the Moon or something.”

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven!
February 20, 2004 — 11:30 pm

Well, it’s official:

After months of rumors and over a decade since disbanding The Pixies have officially confirmed an 11-city U.S. reunion tour, culminating at Coachella Festival on May 1st. The touring band will include all four original members singer/guitarist Black Francis (now known as Frank Black, real name Charles Thompson), bassist/singer Kim Deal, guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering playing live together for the first time since U2′s 1992 “Zoo TV” tour, where the band was the opening act for the initial U.S. leg. The Pixies officially broke up the following year.

How sweet is that?

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Perverted Justice
February 19, 2004 — 10:30 pm

[Note: The link to Perverted Justice has been fixed].

Ok, so I have a new forum up and running. On it, you can discuss the posts that Eric and I write here. (This is a good thing since it finally provides for a permanent home for any comments made on Eric’s side of the blog. This has been a long standing requirement of his [hence his non participation in my halo-scan comments], which are hosted on a site not controlled by us).

Anyway, I also have a thread over there concerning the web site Perverted Justice. I invite everyone of you to head on over to Perverted Justice to see what it’s all about. Then, I’d like you to head on over to our forum to discuss it.

I’ll save my opinion until a few people post theirs. Thanks!

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Vigilante Justice
February 14, 2004 — 9:30 pm

Over the next couple of days I’m going to be exploring the issue of Internet Vigilantes. I’m sure you’ve heard of them. They are posing as 13 year old girls, snagging older men who are interested in sexual relations They are taking extreme measure to stop the torrent of spam we all experience on a day to day basis. They are even using the Internet to go after people they deem bad drivers. The concept of Internet vigilantism is rapidly growing. Throngs of people are lining up to either join or create websites devoted to carrying out their own form of justice.

So, where do libertarians stand on the issue? How is this affecting how we deal with people in general? Are they performing a service the government cannot? Or, is it just plain harassment?

These are questions I’ll be dealing with over the next couple of weeks. If anyone has any ideas or thoughts of their own, please either email me or post them in the comments section.

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Quiznos Pretty Much Rules
February 7, 2004 — 7:30 pm

I gotta tell you, I love those new freaky Quiznos commercials.

Who’s ever in charge of marketing over there deserves a big fat raise.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Class Action Stupidity
February 6, 2004 — 10:45 pm

It was only a matter of time I guess:

A Tennessee woman has sued Janet Jackson and others involved in her breast-baring Super Bowl halftime show, saying millions of people are owed monetary damages for exposure to lewd conduct, court records showed on Friday. The suit, filed earlier this week in federal court in Knoxville, Tennessee, also names pop star Justin Timberlake, who performed with Jackson, CBS Broadcasting Inc., show producer MTV Networks Enterprises Inc., and the parent of those two companies, Viacom Inc.

The action seeks a court order to prevent anything like last Sunday’s stunt from being repeated on U.S. network television prior to 10 p.m. local time when children might be watching.

It also asks the court to declare the matter a class action for purposes of damages. No dollar figure is mentioned in the suit, but it estimates that over 80 million U.S. viewers might be due compensation. CBS has said the game drew an average viewership of just under 89.6 million people. Advertising during the game sold for more than $2 million a spot.

Here’s another angle to the same story:

A Knoxville woman filed a proposed class action lawsuit Wednesday against Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, MTV, CBS and Viacom, contending she and other viewers were injured by their lewd actions during the Super Bowl halftime show.

Terri Carlin filed her lawsuit “on behalf of all Americans who watched the halftime show” in federal court in Knoxville.

The lawsuit stems from Sunday’s now infamous exposure of one of Jackson’s breasts when Timberlake ripped off part of her costume during their performance on the CBS network.

Viacom International Inc. owns both CBS and MTV. MTV produced the show.

Carlin, who works at a Knoxville bank, said the exposure and “sexually explicit conduct” by other performers during the show injured viewers.

“As a direct and proximate result of the broadcast of the acts, (Carlin) and millions of others saw the acts and were caused to suffer outrage, anger, embarrassment and serious injury,” the lawsuit filed by Knoxville attorney Wayne A. Ritchie II states.

Did you get that America? Because Janet Jackson exposed herself on TV, you are entitled to some cold hard cash. Hey! If you can prove (or I just claim) that you were injured, offended or damaged by seeing an exposed breast, you can fleece anyone you damn well please!

This is beyond pathetic.

And oh yeah… Just how in the hell is this woman able to file a lawsuit “on behalf of all Americans who watched the halftime show”? I don’t recall making her my personal spokesperson. I wonder if I can file suit for false representation.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
The Free Market Works!
February 4, 2004 — 8:30 pm

Michael Powell, the chairman of the FCC, is mighty pissed off these days. He is calling for a full investigation not only into Janet Jackson’s “stunt” but the whole raucous half time show to boot. While many “smaller government is good” Republicans are praising Powell’s actions, those of us who actually do want less government interference see this as nothing more than a power grab.

Someone needs to explain to Mr. Powell that the free market has pretty much already taken care of this problem. It has already been made clear (before any threat of force) that MTV would never be invited back to produce a half time show. Janet Jackson has been banned from this years Grammies. ABC has voluntarily put a time delay on both this years Grammies and Oscars. In fact, several major Super Bowl advertisers are thinking of taking the network to court to ask for at least a partial refund.

After all is said and done, do we really need Michael Powell and his FCC goons telling everyone in America what is and what is not offensive? Can’t we figure that out ourselves?

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Happy Blogiversary!
February 2, 2004 — 7:40 pm

One year ago today I started my side of this blog with these words:

Ok, so, here it is. Our Blog. Wonderful stuff, blogs. Now all the world is a stage and you are invited to our play of words, if indeed we turn out to be that clever. I do have some trepidation however. It is a well known fact that I am a notoriously bad speller. I could blame this condition on any number of factors. Mom and Dad didn’t look after my education properly. Learning disorder. Maybe even monomania. Whatever it is (subliminal message: laziness), I will endeavor to use my spell checker with enthusiasm, thus my fears will most likely subside.

Now, what will we (I) put in this blog? Hmmm, I’m not yet sure. Just everyday impressions of life I guess. Books, movies, music, news…these are the things I love and will probably write about. But, if I had to think on it, I would guess that I write mostly about what grabs my attention at the moment, especially if it pisses me off.

Well, after all is said and done, I think Eric and I have done a pretty good job so far. Let’s see if we can keep it going for yet another year.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Yet Another Reason…
February 1, 2004 — 4:00 pm

Here’s another reason my daughters will never see the inside of a public school:

Fla. Teen Suspended For Anti-Confederate Flag Petition

A Tarpon Springs High School student has been suspended for 10 days for circulating an unauthorized petition to ban Confederate flag symbols at the Pinellas County school.

About 100 of her fellow students signed the petition before 16-year-old junior Krista Abram was suspended Tuesday. A letter from the school blamed her for distributing “unauthorized material.”

“I definitely anticipated some kind of consequences for not getting the petition approved,” said Abram, who is biracial and sees the flag as a racist symbol. “But I think 10 days is harsh.”

Now, I’m not one to jump on the anti-confederate flag bandwagon. Honestly, I think both sides of the debate have some valid points. That’s beside the point. The point here is, any discussion of the issue was immediately and harshly squashed by the school system.

How are kids supposed to learn about the issues important to them if they are not allowed to talk about them? Wouldn’t these children have been better served if the petition were allowed to continue instead of being thrown out on the street for 10 days? Really, what message is this sending? Don’t talk about anything controversial. If you do, you will be punished. That’s one hell of a great life lesson there.

When I was in High School, we had a teacher who would challenge us daily on the issues. He would rail against seat belt laws and the intrusive nature of the state in general. Being the quasi socialist that I was, I thought he was crazy. But, I loved him. He gave us the opportunity to actually talk about these things. I didn’t change my political philosophy until much later but, the skills I learned in that class have stayed with me ever since.

I fear we are raising a generation of unthinking, fearful children. Can anyone really think of a worse combination?

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
I Thought I had More Time
February 1, 2004 — 11:00 am

See what you get when you neglect your blog? Some evil Doppelganger turns up and does your job for you.

I’m watching you Eric…always watching you…gonna take you down to China Town…

— Justin M. Stoddard

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I Protected Your Freedoms…Not
February 1, 2004 — 11:00 am

I’ve got a message for all you leftist anti-war protesters out there. I served in the Army for over 11 years. I alone stood between you and those who would take away your freedoms. So, the next time you feel like burning an American flag, remember that it’s only because of me that you can do so. And, oh yeah, if you engage in any of the freedoms I single handedly preserved, I will kick your commie loving ass.

Whoa! Where did that come from? Could it be that, just for a moment, I started to believe all the propaganda out there about rights and civil liberties? It is true, I was a soldier in the United States Army for more than 11 years. I recently exited the service for a job in the private sector.

I spent more than 9 months in Bosnia. I was put on alert several times to go to Korea in the early 90′s. (Remember when we thought war was inevitable with them?). I spent some time planning extractions for United States citizens in countries like Liberia. I even volunteered to go to Somalia.

I completed Air Assault school, crawled around in the mud, rain and snow. The first half of my marriage was literally spent separated from my wife because of Army deployments and exercises. We never had a lot of money. For more than a year we had to put backpacks on to go shopping at the PX. (We couldn’t afford a car).

Through all of that, and more, I never once uttered the statement, or even thought that I was protecting your freedoms. What utter hogwash. My deployment in Bosnia had nothing to do with civil liberties in the United States. The time I spent in Germany did nothing to protect America from attack. Me jumping out of a helicopter did absolutely nothing to ensure the freedom of speech was protected.

That’s why it completely amazes me when I constantly hear that I protected and preserved your rights when I was in uniform. Conservative talk radio hosts utter this fallacy all the time. According to some, any protest against the war in Iraq deserves condemnation because the very U.S. soldiers who are protecting your right to protest are being maimed and killed in that very war.

Even if the statement were true, which it’s not, it makes absolutely no sense. Brave American soldiers are fighting for nothing more than to preserve your God given rights. However, if you dare practice those rights, you are a at best an ingrate, at worst, a traitor to your country. In effect, these people are saying that U.S. soldiers are dying for absolutely nothing since you have no right to practice the very rights they are dying for. This is lazy thinking at its worst.

The fact of the matter is, soldiers stationed in Iraq are doing absolutely nothing to protect your freedoms here at home. Nothing, Zilch, the big Zero. Ask yourself honestly, are you freer now than you were a year ago?

The fact of the matter is this. Men and Women join the military for their own selfish reasons. It may be to escape the clutches of their home town. It may be to get money for college. It may be to improve themselves in some manner. And yes, it very well may be out of a desire to serve their country. These reasons, in and of themselves, are neither noble or ignoble. They are simply decisions acted upon out of the desire to do what was right for ourselves. I never met one person in all my time in (and I came across thousands) that ever felt what they were doing was protecting the rights of citizens back home.

America, you owe me nothing because, well, I did little or nothing for you. For what I did do, I was justly compensated. If you want to thank someone for protecting your rights, thank organizations like the Institute for Justice or Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership or any number of civil rights advocacy groups out there. Every day they are on the front lines fighting for your rights. They deserve your support.

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Mutato Juztinka
January 31, 2004 — 11:59 am

Greetings. This is Devo Justin speaking to you on behalf of the Devolutionary Army. I request your attention towards some serious thoughts. Bloggers and and online “columnists” are usually good looking guys and girls who couldn’t hold a real job. Seeing the world through twisted eyes leads them to “create.” Through blogs and the like they gain public attention. This does nothing to increase the general welfare of society, but instead it lines the pockets of spiritless sub-humans who should know better but don’t. Blogging is a cancer that we must eradicate. “Distributed journalism” and “autobiograpical commentary” are sometimes the excuses by which these people perpetrate their cruel and selfish hoax. I ask you to join the Devolutionary Army’s efforts to correct this situation from the inside out. All of you must realize that a few are shepherds but the rest are sheep. It is every citizen’s duty to be constantly alert.

Duty now for the future,

— Devo Justin M. Stoddard

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Debate is no Longer Any Fun
January 23, 2004 — 11:45 pm

I’ve come across a strange phenomenon these past 7 months. Ever since I exited the Army, I have noticed that the general public (at least the people I come into contact with on a day to day basis) really has no tolerance for debate.

Case in point. The other day I brought up a story that, for whatever reason, has had quite a bit of air time in the state of California. Basically, the story goes like this. A dog escapes from a couple’s back yard. The couple searches for the dog every day until it is found at the local Humane Society. The Humane Society adopted out the dog to another person that very morning. The original dog’s owners contact the adoptive “parent” to let them know, hey, that’s our dog. Adoptive “parent” refuses to return dog to original owners citing a technicality in a California state law. You can read about the story in depth here.

Now, really, there are plenty of things to talk about regarding this case and each side has their valid points. My point, if anyone is really interested, was that regardless of the original dog’s owner’s carelessness, or any technicality in the law, it was pretty damn heartless for the adoptive “parent” to keep the dog even after proof of ownership had been provided. It was, and is, my contention that the better angels of our nature manifest themselves in the form of empathy, a trait I find sorely lacking in human transactions.

I cannot believe how fast the conversation degraded from that point onward. Within two minutes I witnessed enough ad hominem attacks to make Ann Coulter blush. My simple thesis regarding empathy prompted the opinion that not only was I some kind of bleeding heart Liberal (for listening to anything to do with California, I presume) but I was also a peculiar view on personal responsibility. (After all, if the dog’s owners hadn’t been so careless as to let the dog escape, none of this would have happened).

I defended myself as best I could, which only led to more attacks against my character. Although my argument ignored any argumentive fallacies, I feel that there were hard feelings at the end of it all.

I don’t know where, exactly, I’m going with this but, I found the whole experience rather odd. While in the Army, I had hours upon hours of discussions with friends and co-workers on subjects much more dangerous than a lost dog. Indeed, our topics of conversation were usually abortion, free trade, immigration, religion, politics, drug policy, gun control, what constitutes art, literature and popular culture.

Even after countless hours of these debates, I never walked away with any hard feelings. I never got the sense that others left the conversation with anything other than amicable feelings towards each other. Sure, the conversation got heated from time to time. The line “you just don’t get it” was even thrown in occasionally for effect. However, ad hominem attacks were rarely, if ever, used. In fact, if we felt the debate was headed in that direction, we would politely remind the person talking that the line of argument being used was not effective. In short, everything was pretty much always civil.

Now that I’ve been released into the general public, I find a weird kind of mental malaise has settled upon many of the people I come across. People use platitudes to get their point across, or worse yet, parrot what they heard on the news the previous night. I also find that some people are pretty quick to put a political label on those they disagree with. I have been called a leftist more times than I care to recall, which is interesting since, as a libertarian, my ideas are much more conservative than your run-of-the-mill democrat.

I’m not trying to be an elitist here, I’m really not. I’m just trying to reconcile my differing experiences talking to people.

Brian, if you’re reading this, give me your opinions. (I served with Brian in the Army and, even though I got mad at him from time to time, it had nothing to do with our conversations). Greg, you too. Have you run into this? Does anyone out there have any idea what I’m talking about or am I making much ado about nothing?

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Lottery Blues
January 21, 2004 — 4:30 pm

This story just cracks me up:

Rebecca Jemison, who emerged as the true winner of last month’s $162 million lottery drawing, is suddenly even richer. This Cleveland suburb is suddenly much poorer.

South Euclid city officials were stunned to learn that they can’t collect $1.4 million in income taxes from the winning Mega Millions (search) ticket since the city charter wasn’t updated to include lottery winnings as taxable income.

“It’s not a good day for the city,” Mayor Georgine Welo said Monday. “We were all excited until we went to go for the money and learned that we are not entitled to it. We are very saddened by the news.”

Isn’t it funny how it’s absolutely inconceivable to the mayor that the government is not entitled to this lady’s money? Once can almost see the Mayor’s crestfallen face the minute he found out about this. But, really, that’s about the same feeling I get after seeing my pay stub every two weeks; and I work for a living.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Immigration
January 18, 2004 — 11:45 pm

Soon after September 11th, 2001, I attended a Libertarian dinner/speech with my good friend Eric. This particular dinner was a real treat for me simply for the reason that the keynote speaker was Nathanial Brandon. I’ve always admired Nathanial Brandon since I read his fantastic book “Judgment Day” back in the early 90′s.

Sitting at our table was the host of the event Jacob “Bumper” Hornberger. I have known about Jacob Hornberger for a number of years now. He was a Libertarian candidate for president in the 2000 elections and ran for a Virginian Senate seat in 2002. I had also seen a few of his talks on C-Span and have read numerous articles of his on fff.org. But, what really drew me to Mr. Hornberger was/is his stand on immigration. Mr. Hornberger is a tireless advocate of open immigration for the United States. He advocates an open border policy and a dismantling of the Border Patrol. These are issues on which we certainly agree.

While at the dinner I posed this question to him:

In light of September 11th, what can we do to ensure we do not become a completely closed society, in effect criminalizing all immigration?

His answer was simple:

Be vigilant, fight harder.

Let me make myself clear before I go any further. I am for open immigration. I am for abolishing the INS and the Border Patrol. Conservatives and Libertarians who argue against open immigration because of the cost to our social welfare system are completely missing the point. Abolish the welfare system. Conservatives and Libertarians who argue against immigration because it takes jobs away from Americans miss the point. Jobs belong to the people who offer them, not to the people seeking them.

These two arguments should pretty much be self-evident to most Libertarians. Apparently not all however. Consider this blog entry from Lew Rockwell’s Blog today:

Four Illegals Aliens Gang Rape NY Woman
Posted by Marcus Epstein at January 17, 2004 03:51 PM

Diversity is strength! Immigrants do the jobs Americans don’t want! We’re a nation of immigrants!

The link Mr. Epstein provides is to an article written by the folks over at World Net Daily. It’s not really the article that bothers me, it’s the way Mr. Epstein chooses to describe his feelings towards the article.

Now, we all know that the folks over at Lew Rockwell are staunchly anti-immigration. It’s never really been explained to me, however, just why the people who claim to host the “anti-state, anti-war, pro-market news site” feel completely justified using the state to impose restrictions on the market. Numerous other people have called them on this so, I’ll save that for another day.

Now, I assume Mr. Epstein is taking a jab at Liberals in general since most libertarians I know give a wit about diversity. I can think of some libertarians who might make the argument that immigrants do the jobs Americans don’t want but, most are too intelligent to over simplify the problem in this manner.

While I don’t mind taking the occasional swipe at Liberals myself, I would probably be a bit more careful not to make a total ass monkey out of myself doing so. What Mr. Epstein is implying with this simple statement (whether he realizes it or not) is that all illegal immigrants are gang rapists and those who promote an open immigration policy are nothing more than shills for the bleeding heart Liberals out there.

Just so I’m not accused of missing Lew Rockwell’s point, I do understand the thrust of their arguments. It is their contention that open immigration will allow those not educated in the finer aspects of liberty and freedom to saturate our population. Once these people get the right to vote, they will systematically turn our country into their place of origin. Eventually, America will undoubtedly become Balkanized along with the inevitable result.

Essentially what the people over at Lew Rockwell are arguing for is the right to maintain their Anglo-Saxon culture. It’s going to take someone a great deal of time and effort to ever convince me that I have a God given right to a certain culture.

But, then again, I believe in freedom.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Um…Stuff
January 15, 2004 — 8:30 pm

I got a e-mail from my good friend Greg the other day. He said he was worried about me because one, I don’t update this blog with near the frequency of the past and two, I don’t write him any e-mails.

Well, he’s right, of course. So, for tonight anyway, I’ll try to rectify that problem. (I still have to write him an e-mail but, it just doesn’t seem right unless I stick it to the Man and do it from work. So, Greg, you will have your e-mail tomorrow).

You guys have to check out this web page: NewRomeSucks.com. Now, get this. New Rome is one of those “corporation townships” in Ohio. It has a population of less than 50 people and is no more than 2 acres large (or the equivalent of 5 city blocks). Although New Rome only has 50 or so residents, it boasts a police force of nearly 20. Let me repeat that. Over one third of their population are police officers.

How does New Rome afford this elite police force? Why, by writing tickets of course. In fact, New Rome collects anywhere between $400,000 to $600,000 a year writing tickets for such offences as: License plate light too dim, partial obstruction of county sticker, cracked windshield, low tire pressure, cracked tail light, windows not properly defrosted, snow on license plate, etc, etc, etc.

Well, one day the local yokels messed with the wrong person. After receiving a ticket and hearing about hundreds upon hundreds of police abuses cases, he started up the above mentioned web page. It was soon receiving national attention as people like John Stossel and Car and Driver did in depth pieces on both this little haven in Ohio.

In fact, it got so much attention that the state’s Attorney General has just filed paperwork to have the Corporation of New Rome dissolved.

I love it! Finally, you year a story about one man fighting the good fight and in the end, he sticks it to “Man” big time. Please, take some time and read through this web page. I looked over it for more than 4 hours today and only got halfway through the countless horror stories of police abuse and bullying. This is great stuff.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Two More Movies…No Review (Too Lazy Right Now)
January 11, 2004 — 8:00 pm

Shane 1/2








Vanilla Sky








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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
8 1/2
January 4, 2004 — 11:30 am

8 1/2

***** / ***** (5 out of 5)

When I finished watching this movie, I felt as if I just completed a William Faulkner novel while Mulholland Drive was playing in the background.

The movie is about nothing more than directing a film. In this case, it is some sort of science fiction odyssey. The type of film is unimportant. What this film is really about are the thoughts of the film’s director. I am absolutely positive that Federico Fellini is taking this opportunity to project all of his feelings and experiences on his protagonist.

The film is a swirling maze of reality and fantasy, always intermingling with each other. Sometimes the fantasy is quite evident, as when the director fanaticizes about a harem consisting of all the women in his life, his wife, his mistress, women he would like to sleep with, etc…

At other times I’m not sure. Consider a beautifully shot scene where the director is remembering an event in his childhood. He and some friends run away from their Catholic school in order to pay a prostitute to dance the Rumba. Evidently, the prostitute lives in an abandoned pill box on the beach. Even though this is a rather large, imposing woman, who lacks any conventional beauty, I got the feeling of sensuality in this scene. It was as if though the mysteries of sexuality where beginning to be unlocked, revealing a bridge between innocence and what was to come.

Throughout the film, the director is constantly harassed by those around him. One man wants to know his views on Catholicism and Socialism. One woman, a columnist for a woman’s magazine in America, wants to know about his love life. A particularly needy actress corners him at every chance to question him about her role in the movie. The producer berates him about his intellectual naivety. The financiers of the film want immediate results. His mistress wants him to find her husband some work. His wife confronts him about his infidelity.

The ultimate payoff is satisfying and is one you’ll have to discover for yourself.

This film is more about images than ideas I think. And what wonderful images they are. The camera work is stunning. The cinematography is groundbreaking. It is for these reasons 8 1/2 is such a great movie. I’m not really sure if the average film watcher would appreciate this movie. However, those who love art will certainly love 8 1/2.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Most Anticipated
January 3, 2004 — 9:00 am

In 2003, Kill Bill was the most anticipated movie of the year (for me anyway). This year, that honor just may go to M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Richard III
January 3, 2004 — 1:30 am

Richard III

**** / ***** (4 out of 5)

Classic Shakespeare put to modern times. Well, not modern times exactly. From the looks of it, I would guess this film is supposed to take place circa 1940 in a very Fascist England.

I’ve seen this film once before, shortly after it came out. At that time, I had no idea who Ian Mckellen was, or his history of playing the very best Shakespearean characters. Of course, now millions upon millions of people worldwide know Ian McKellen as both Magneto in the now famous X-Men and, more recently, as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

As the title suggests, in Richard III, Ian McKellen plays the most diabolical, yet intriguing (in my opinion) monarch in English history. I’ve read Richard III a couple of times. I’ve even actually been to the tower of London where we were all regaled with stories of the ill fated two princes Richard III may have had murdered. I believe Mr. McKellen nailed this performance. Even those of you not interested in the sordid past of British Monarchy will have to admire what he does with this character.

Unfortunately, the movie is sidetracked somewhat by two other actors. Robert Downey Jr. and Annette Bening, two brilliant actors, are probably miscast is this film. Of course, this all may be a matter of taste. It just seemed to me that Downey’s character was both superfluous and obnoxious. Bening’s character, the murdered king’s wife, should have made me care more about the fate of her family. Instead, her performance was somewhat flat. However, the cast was nicely rounded out by Maggie Smith, playing the role of the murdered king’s mother.

All and all, a pretty darned good film. It’s even better if you enjoy Shakespeare.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
You Might be a Terrorist if…
December 30, 2003 — 4:30 pm

According to an article in today’s Newsday:

The FBI is warning police nationwide to be alert for people carrying almanacs, cautioning that the popular annual reference books covering everything from abbreviations to weather trends could be used for terrorist planning.

In a bulletin sent Christmas Eve to about 18,000 police organizations, the FBI said terrorists may use almanacs “to assist with target selection and pre-operational planning.” It urged officers to watch during searches, traffic stops and other investigations for anyone carrying almanacs, especially if the books are annotated in suspicious ways.

Guess what book now sits prominently on my passenger seat each and every day. Perhaps it would be a bit more convincing if I highlighted some local attractions. Hmmmm

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Hail to the King, Baby…
December 23, 2003 — 8:30 pm

An e-mail exchange between Eric and I a few days ago:

(Me) >Also, have you seen ROTK yet? What did you think?

(Eric) Man, that was stunning. Best of the trilogy, definitely. And I think I’ll probably designate it as best film of the year. And that’s saying a lot — there have been some unbelievably, outstandingly amazing films this year.

Though I’ve seen nearly 150 films this year, probably only half of them were actually released in 2003. That being said, I don’t have the kind of authority Eric has on the subject. However, out of the movies I have seen released in 2003, Return of the King was by far the best.

There is so much I want to say about this movie. I just don’t think I could do it justice until it is viewed a second time.

On an off note, I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately on what movies mean to me. It’s no secret that I at least like nearly every movie I see. It’s very difficult for me to say a movie is actually bad. Even when a movie utterly fails at expressing any kind of believability or has plot holes big enough to drive an Earth Mover through, I can still find many things to enjoy about it.

Take, for example, the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

On its face, this movie was predictable, illogical, wholly unbelievable, full of gaping plot holes, and went to great lengths to insult our intelligence. (A car racing through the streets of Venice?).

But, you know what? In spite of all that, I actually thought it was a pretty good film. The characters, while flat, were entirely likable. The whole scene in Venice, while completely contrived and foolish, was rather exciting (once you suspended your disbelief). The actual cinematography of the film was also pleasing to the eye. I particularly enjoyed the Dr. Jeckle/Mr. Hyde transformation sequences. But, more than any of this, I liked the film because it simply reminded me of being a kid again; pouring over old Boys Life magazines or reading about old Captain Nemo or watching the Rocket Suit serials that used to play before the Saturday Matinee. Ah, good times.

Sure, it would be so easy to hate this film, and that’s fine for some.

However, as Captain Nemo said “I walk a different path”.

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— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
Yeah, Me Too…
December 20, 2003 — 12:00 pm

Yeah, I guess I better post something too. I was doing really good for awhile there. I mean, I posted something every freaking day. Now, with the impending holidays, it is difficult to post something once a week!

I’m going to see Return of the King later on today with my good friend Sean. Eric claims it is possibly the “best movie of the year”. Well, we shall see.

A couple of albums that are currently in heavy rotation in my CD player:

  • Elephant by The White Stripes
  • Tenacious D by Tenacious D
  • Rock N’ Roll Animal by Lou Reed

    I’m hoping to take on a rather large project while Tiffany and the kids are away for two weeks, frolicking in the sun at Disneyland. I want to write a one or two sentence review for every movie I’ve seen this year. Maybe I’ll start on that tomorrow.

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  • — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Another Correspondence from Eric D. Dixon to Justin M. Stoddard
    December 11, 2003 — 9:15 pm

    There was no date on this letter. As far as I can figure, it was probably written sometime in early 1990.

    THIS IS A LETTER—–> Q
    So is this:
    Name:
    Date
    (Try reading straight down in columns.)

    Deeeeer Reba:

    Hahaha! Boy, that was sure funny, huh? Well – today’s the big day, huh? Huh? Well – today’s the big day, huh? Huh? Well – today is the big day, depending on just what day today is. ‘Tis a strange thing, the U.S. Postal Service time continuum. I could say “today” (not used here as part of a direct quote.), and I would be talking about today. Whereas, when you read this, you would be reading it today. But it wouldn’t be today, because only today is today. When you think of today, you’re thinking of today, whereas I’m thinking of today, which is a totally different today than today than today is. That is, if today were really today and not today, then today wouldn’t be today at all, but today. Got it? I felt very tempted to start a new paragraph back there, right after “Got it?”, but overcame the urge. I think I’ll start one now.

    Hahaha! boy, that was sure funny huh? Well – today is the big day, huh? Huh? Well – just kidding! I started an old paragraph, not a new one! but I did start a new pencil. It is darker than the other one. I just wanted you to know that. If my assumptions about the U.S. Postal Service are correct, then today is Friday! The big day! Have you figured out Allison yet? I hope so. but, if not, I have part of a handy step by step solution here that I found in the recent best-selleing book, “How to Figure out Allison.”
    Give it a try.

    1: After orienting the middle cubes, and the bottom cubes are misaligned, look at the top right hand corner cube and the posterior side, and turn it so the side with the blue-faced cube has resumed breathing and is now facing 11 degrees Southwest of North. Then use this handy formula:

    1 1/2: F+B-R-D2C3POQX3+R2D2-XYZ.
    (not used here
    as a direct
    quote.
    Use Caution.)

    2: Eat a lot of mayonnaise.

    3: Throw up and go to bed.

    You should have her figured out in no time. You know? I think that last step is really the key to understanding women. I mean – I used to throw up a lot and I usually go to bed early, and look how great I understand women

    Any word how the Mayor’s Ball went? I hope it was a real ball. Well – I guess it was a ball, but was the ball a real ball? Any word? No, not any word. I mean, some kind of specific type of word. You’ll figure it out.

    GUESS WHAT!!!
    GUESS WHATT!!!! know there’s two ‘T’s there. Besides. It’s not used as a direct quote. Use caution.
    GUESS WHAT!!!!!!!!

    I got hit by a car on Friday before I left! No, really! I was crossing Sandy, with my sister (Shannon), bringing her home from the babysitter’s house. We stopped, looked both ways, no cars were coming, so we started to run. This other car was turning on Sandy, and he hit us close to the middle of the street. It was not good. I went to a church dance that night, of course with the idea that I wouldn’t dance or smile or show any sign of visible activity. I found an unlocked room that had a piano in it, and stayed there for awhile, until I got kicked out. Then I walked around, looking very stoic, like I was above all this. Then I walked around outside for about half an hour, then my foot really started hurting, so I called my dad to come get me early and take me to the emergency room because I thought I had a broken foot. I didn’t. but I’ve had to use crutches for the last three days.

    I am having an absolutely wonderful time out here. Right now I’m in Salt Lake at my uncle Darrell’s house, for the last three days I’ve been in Boise, Idaho at my grandparent’s house. We’re leaving for BYU tomorrow. (Today is Tuesday. Well, it’s not Tuesday for you, unless the mail persons [note: non-sexist terminology that will not offend Andrea Grant. Not used here as a direct quote. Use caution.] have wiped out the differing time continuum.)

    Say hi to Travers, and Aliksandr and Alex and Heather and Leslie and Kirsten and Andrea and Greg and Matt and Ethan and Ted and John and Joe and Bob and Johnny Joe Jim Bob and Mr. Barbur. (Just kidding!! I wouldn’t dream of making you say hi to Mr. Barbur.) Signing off,

    Eric D. Dixon
    “Faster than Cash”
    “Charge it in seconds!”

    How. Having heap good time.

    Sincerely,
    Jose

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    The Correspondence of Eric D. Dixon & Justin M. Stoddard
    December 9, 2003 — 8:00 pm

    Eric and I talked about this when he was out here. Having nothing else to write about, I thought I’d give it a whirl…

    Eric and I used to write many, many letters to each other. These weren’t your typical Shelby Foote, Percy Walker types of correspondence. No, these were most often insanely long ramblings with juxtaposed notes and doodles in the margins. Comments like “Time shift two weeks” often showed up right in the middle of many paragraphs. (Time shift two weeks literally meant two weeks had passed since the punctuation of the last sentence was jotted down and the “T” of “Time” was written).

    The jumps only added to the overall quirkiness of our letters. These letters were truly great. I loved getting and sending them. Eric had an art of writing in the most disjointedly obtuse, yet prolific way possible. That’s why when Eric professes that he is indeed not a prolific writer, I know he is full of crap. If only he would write some blog entries using the same style.

    Ok, so, I picked out a totally random letter from my files to post here. I tried to get ahold of Eric this evening to see if he would mind. However, after reading said letter, I can see no reason why he would object. Maybe I’ll make a habit of this…

    November 12, 1993 (Guess who’s B-Day it is? Neil Young’s…)

    Hey Man,
    I know something about opening windows and doors. I know how to move quietly…creep across creaky wood floors. I know where to find precious things in all your cupboards and drawers. Slipping the clippers…slipping the clippers through the telephone wires. A sense of isolation…a sense of isolation inspires me. I like to feel the suspense – I’m certain you know I am there. I like you lying awake…your panting breath charging the air. I like the touch and the smell of all the pretty dresses you wear. Intruder’s happy in the dark. Intruder come…intruder come in here and leave it’s mark. I am intruder. (“Intruder” by Peter Gabriel)

    Man, I wish I had written that. I just listened to Primus singing it (on the Misc. Debris EP). Anyway, some other great lyrics written by !!us!! are included. don’t lose ‘em this time, man. They’re valuable. Are you still living with that jerk, who had the computer, who ripped off the last copies? I hope he didn’t rip them off that’d suck if he tried to use them.

    Well, I’ve included $15 to cover postage of the CDs and tapes to Travers. I’ve also included a list of everything of mine that you have in that regard, so ship those & if you want to get rid of any other cumbersome tapes or CDs, feel free to include them. I won’t mind a bit.

    Man, I got some more music done for “Shrubwalkers!” It doesn’t sound too shabby. Feel free to add lines in the 2 places indicated. Those are really the only 2 places you could break in with something else. Man, I can just imagine our vocalist forgetting all the lyrics to “Frogs Without Tongues.” We’d have to have she/he holding lyrics sheets in concert. Which actually wouldn’t be too bad of a thing. You’re going to love my currently untitled song. I’ve got some great piano stuff done & some decent lyrics to go along with it so far. I’m just having trouble finishing it.

    So, what’s Julie’s address? If I’m going to write her about the concert & hear back from her before I get home, I need to get it as soon as possible. It’ll be great to see Primus in concert again. Such a wonderful band. Have you ever heard of Stu Hamm? One of the few gods of bass guitar.

    Did you see Letterman the week Captain Stubing (Gavin McCloud) was in the audience every night? They’d have a Love Boat-related TOP 10 entry, & he’d go crazy laughing at it. It was great.

    Man, start playing that electric geetar & get good at it. You’ve gotta at least play good rhythm (bar chords too). I have a vision of how the band can be – you can do it, man. I’m telling you, it’s going to be incredible.

    Well, I’ve gotta go. It’s getting late.

    Take care & have a day ——–

    Love,
    Eric D. Dixon
    “Your Thanksgiving Turkey”

    Good old Eric.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Just a Big Bunch of Rambling Crap
    December 8, 2003 — 8:00 pm

    Eric sent me a very humorous link the other day about a guy dealing with various customers while working at Barnes and Noble. Though the ongoing journal is pretty long, it grows increasingly hilarious as you read along. More so for me because I used to work in an industry that dealt exclusively with the fickle public. Not just any job, but the most thankless, greasy, low paying job any teenager could hope to have.

    I’m sorry. It’s really hard to concentrate on what I’m writing right now cause I have Tenacious D playing in the background and I’m pretty much laughing my ass off. Well, on the inside anyway.

    Back in the late ’80s, Eric and I worked at the local Skippers in Portland, Oregon.

    Another reason I’m having a hard time concentrating is because some lame ass spy ware is on my computer right now that freaking underlines and links random text in my browser for seemingly no reason at all. A full scan of my computer using adware reveals nothing. Neither does a cursory search of my Add/Remove programs folder. Undoubtedly, I accidently clicked the ‘yes’ button on one of those ubiquitous pop up windows that asks you “Would you like to install the latest version of our lame ass scumware on your computer?”.

    Back to Skippers. One day, Eric and I were working the evening shift, which meant dinner rush. A man I assume to be in his late 30′s approaches the register, orders, and proceeds to pay with a check. Now, in those days, we didn’t have those nifty machines that spins your check around like a loop-d-loop giving it instant verification. Instead, we had to call these things in.

    Me on the phone: Yes, I need to verify a check…pause…Routing number blah blah blah blah blah….pause….Account number blah blah blah blah blah

    Man in front of me: Heavy sigh…evil look

    Me on the phone: Sure, I can repeat that…pause…Routing number blah blah blah blah blah….pause….Account number blah blah blah blah blah

    Man in front of me: Oh for the love of God.

    Me on the phone: Really?…pause…Um, OK, thanks. Looking up at man in front of me I’m sorry sir, we can’t accept this check.

    Man in front of me: What the F%#K do you mean you can’t take my G*D D@#N check?

    Me: Um, I can’t take it. I called…

    Man: I don’t give a F&#K about that. I’m standing here and you are calling me a F*#KING thief!

    Me: Sir, I can’t take your check

    Man: F*$K that!

    Now, keep in mind, this jerk off is swearing at an elevated level in a family restaurant. Not only that, the customers standing behind him are visibly shocked that the behavior.

    Me: I’m sorry sir. I’ll be happy to call and let you talk to…

    Man: What the F&#K? Do you think I’m a thief or something?

    Eric: Sir, if you don’t leave right now, I’m gonna call the police.

    Man: F*&K this.

    Exit Man.

    There is something vaguely satisfying about secretly rocking out to the Ramones and The Sex Pistols while sitting at your desk working for the Man 8 to 10 hours a day.

    One night at Skippers, Eric turned half of the ceiling tiles upside down. The end result was our ceiling looking like some demented blue and white checker board. Our manager didn’t catch this for nearly 2 weeks. When she finally noticed, she proceeded to blame me for the infraction. It took nearly two years and a forced confession from Eric to changer her mind.

    I simply don’t understand people who have the constant need to deconstruct movies. Can’t I just enjoy a movie without someone telling me how much it sucked? I mean, where does all this hatred come from? I love movies. I love the art form. I love its beauty. I love being absorbed. Sure, there have been some movies that weren’t too terribly good. Battlefield Earth comes to mind. But, even that movie had elements that I liked.

    I’ve recently found a wonderful band in The White Stripes. If you like artists like Beck and The Strokes, I think you’ll really appreciate The White Stripes.

    One Friday afternoon, I happened to suggest to a friend of mine that if he wanted some free food to stop on by Skippers after we closed and Eric and I would hook him up. Ten minutes before closing, nearly 75-80 people from our High school showed up to collect the promised goods. Eric and I panicked. All was eventually worked out when we promised everyone some French Fries if they would just leave the premises as quickly as possible.

    I’ve been falling in love with the work of director Michel Gondry. Not only does his work include some wonderful Bjork videos, he literally put The Chemical Brothers on the map with some of the most amazing music videos I’ve ever seen.

    One night after closing up the store, Eric and I had a few friends in for some free food. We had a helium tank in the back. I thought it would be pretty funny to fill up a 55 gallon trash bag with helium and put it over my head to see what happened. I don’t remember hitting the floor or the resulting 5 minutes of lost time. I’ve never experimented with helium again.

    I have a secret. I dig chick bands. Bands like Letters to Cleo, The Breeders, Throwing Muses, Veruca Salt, Belly, and even Hole really appeal to me. Not only do they rock the house, their voices are mesmerizing to me. I always thought that if I were in a band, I would want a female to sing for us.

    For some reason, I was once talked into putting on the Skippers mascot costume (a giant ass parrot) while riding around the deserted streets of Portland at 1am in the back of a pickup truck. Though word of our escapades got back to our manager, we denied any involvement to the end.

    I’m really digging this White Stripes album.

    One of the coolest things I’ve ever heard anyone say came from the lips of my friend Travers. When Eric asked him how he stayed warm walking around barely clothed in the dead of winter, he said “I just walk, and I walk fast”.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Matrix 451
    December 7, 2003 — 5:40 pm

    Anyone wondering what the Matrix meets Fahrenheit 451 might look like is encouraged to check out the movie Equilibrium.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Going Back to My Roots (I wish I had)
    December 7, 2003 — 5:10 pm

    Sure, I’ve had some wonderful musical experiences. I cut my teeth on some of the greatest groups out there. Camper Van Beethoven, The Beatles, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, They Might Be Giants, Pink Floyd, The Who, 10,000 Maniacs, The Sundays, R.E.M. etc, etc, etc…

    I’ve always felt that there is a hole somewhere in my collection. Somehow, my musical background is just not complete. In short, I’ve missed something.

    I’ve spent the past few days concentrating on some groups I wish I had paid attention to when I was in my teens. The Ramones, Pixies, Sugarcubes, The Sex Pistols, The Velvet Underground.

    Seriously, I’m having a blast!

    If you feel I’m missing something, let me know…I’m willing to entertain any suggestions.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    A Wonderful Discovery
    December 2, 2003 — 8:35 pm

    Folks, I’ve watched a ton of movies over the past week. Some wonderful, funny, dramatic movies. But, that’s not what I want to talk about today. Tomorrow maybe, but today I want to tell ya’ll about the most resplendent sounding album I’ve come across in many years.

    Bjork’s Vespertine took me back nearly 15 years when I would sit in front of my parents turntable and methodically go through their old LPs; discovering one magical experience after another. Much like my first exposure to The Beatles or Pink Floyd, Bjork filled me with the kind of awe people my age rarely experience. Trust me, it is a gift.

    From the very beginning of this album, Bjork entrances you with her hauntingly beautiful voice that at times barely strains beyond a whisper. Who knew a whisper could contain such emotion? When she softly repeats “I Love Him, I Love Him, I Love Him…” on track five, by God, the listener believes it.

    Bjork’s flawless lyrics are backed up by intricate samples, reminding me at times of Portishead , and accompanied by simple yet memorable beats. Though I own no other Bjork albums (a problem I plan to remedy soon), I’m sure this is her best.

    Do yourself a favor. Make haste to your local music store and purchase this album.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Falling Behind
    November 28, 2003 — 11:30 am

    I’ve been falling behind on this blog as of late. But, it is not without good reason. Eric is visiting from D.C. and we are all pretty busy doing, you know, stuff. Lots of movies to watch and lots of White Castle cheeseburgers to eat.

    So, for now, happy belated Thanksgiving and I’ll get back with you all in a few days.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    NPR is Great…
    November 24, 2003 — 8:00 pm

    …for me to POOP on!

    Click on the Triumph the Insult Comic Dog link.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Dark Side of the Minutia
    November 19, 2003 — 10:45 pm

    Well, I thought I’d just write a blog entry about what’s going on in my life now. You know, the minutia.

    Today was Jordan’s 5th birthday. Has it already been five years? I mean, I look at her and I’m already getting the sense that she is growing up much too fast. I understand that this not to uncommon parental feeling usually comes when their child hits their teens. However, I caught myself looking at Jordan today and feeling a slight pang of sadness. Every time she learns or experiences something new it takes her childhood just that much further away from both Tiffany and I. Ok, ok…I realize that this is the “glass half empty” point of view but, I’m still pretty new at this.

    Tomorrow is Zoe’s 3rd birthday. Has it already been three years? Well, Zoe is still a baby in our eyes so, the same feelings don’t really apply. But, my goodness, they are growing up fast.

    I think it’s about time I started reading more complex stories to Jordan now. Though the Stinky Cheese Man is oodles of fun, I’ll bet she’ll get just as much of a kick out of the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle stories. Right now Zoe is pretty much content with books that deal with numbers. She’s a great counter but she doesn’t seem to be much interested in her alphabet.

    I’ve also been teaching them some Spanish every night. Not much, mind you. Just a few vocabulary words here and there. It’s gotten so Jordan will kind of mix up the her English and Spanish sometimes when she talks. For example, yesterday when I came home from work, she said “Daddy, guess what I learned at escuela today”?

    Escuala being the Spanish word for school.

    Now, this is fine with me as long as she can equate the Spanish to the English and visa versa. So, when she spouts off some Spanish words, I always have her explain what the meaning is in English. Not just the English word, but it’s meaning as well. And, I make her put it in context.

    Aside from the girls, I’ve found myself infatuated with an album I’ve had in my collection for a couple of years now. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon has been in my CD player for a solid week now. I’ll bet I’ve listened to it about 40 times in that time frame. I’m not sure why I never paid much attention to this album before. I am now, and I’m loving it more every time I listen to it.

    Also, I listened to Let It Be today for the first time in several years. Now, some may take exception to this but, I sincerely believe that Let It Be is the Beatles best album. This is the album where the Beatles finally get back to their roots and I love every minute of it.

    A little side note. An entry about Dark Side of the Moon would not be complete with out the mention of the Dark Side of the Rainbow. If you ever get the chance to see this, do it. This is perhaps one of the coolest things in recent pop culture history.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Double-Barreled Cannon
    November 18, 2003 — 8:45 pm

    I’ve always found this little Civil War anecdote pretty amusing:

    On April 22, 1862, the cannon was fired for the first time. It was a rather spectacular failure.

    Screaming spectators ducked and covered as the twinned, spinning projectiles plowed through a nearby wood and destroyed a cornfield before the chain connecting the balls broke. One of the cannonballs then collided into and killed a cow; the other demolished the chimney of a nearby home.

    The article delves into the entire history of the now slightly famous double-barreled cannon. This is a good story for all you Civil War enthusiasts out there.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    I’m Not a Critic
    November 15, 2003 — 10:30 pm

    I’m not a movie critic, nor am I any kind of prolific writer. But, suffice it to say, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is one of the better movies to come out this year.

    Well, like I said, I’m not a prolific writer…so, go out and see it. I’m sure you’ll be glad you did.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    A Challenge
    November 12, 2003 — 7:10 pm

    Well, I’ve been setting my sights lately on how to bump up my income. After much wrangling, I finally came to the conclusion that I will ultimately have to improve myself in some way. You know, make myself a bit more marketable. So, starting in January, I will begin classes to achieve a CCNP (cisco) certification. This, in itself, should do the trick in boosting my disposable income.

    That decision gave me some peace. But then I thought, why should I be satisfied with just a Cisco certification? What I really want, what I need, is a challenge. The last monumental challenge to which I was subjected was the 64 week Chinese Mandarin course at the Defense Language Institute. But, that was over 4 years ago. So, while perusing the catalogue for the local community college I asked myself one question.

    What would be the most challenging degree program I could ever hope to pursue?

    The answer came quickly enough. Mathematics. I’ve always performed poorly in Mathematics. But, does it have to be that way? Am I destined to never understand what Math is all about? Is it, as Barbie says, hard? I guess I’m about to find out.

    While I’m taking classes for the Cisco certification, I will be taking math courses on alternating days. I will start with the lowest of the low, Developmental Math I, and then simply progress through the ranks until I receive my degree. One good thing, I have all my General Ed out of the way so, I can concentrate solely on Math. I figure it will take about a year and a half.

    At least I won’t have to hire a Math tutor for our home schooled daughters now.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    My Main Man Vidal
    November 12, 2003 — 6:20 pm

    Gore Vidal is at it again! And, he has just published a new book.

    Vidal just recently turned 77. Personalty, I hope he lives to be a Hundred.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Law and Order
    November 11, 2003 — 7:05 pm

    I would think that this would make even the most strident “tough on crime” person cringe just a little.

    6-year-old could face charges as adult for shooting

    Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce today said a 6-year-old Cole County boy suspected of killing his grandfather could be charged as an adult.

    Although the state’s minimum age for adult certification is 12, there are exceptions to the law in cases of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and first-degree assault.

    The 6-year-old allegedly shot and killed James Zbinden, 59, on Friday. The shooting happened at Zbinden’s residence, 2215 Ridge Rd.

    Honestly, why do we even have distinctions between children and adults anymore? The whole damn system has been turned on its head. People of voting age are not deemed responsible enough enjoy their “adulthood” until they are 21. And now, children as young as SIX may be deemed responsible enough to be tried in a court of law as an adult. SIX YEARS OLD!

    Any sane person in this country knows that a six year old is barely responsible for his/her own actions, especially if they suffer from mental illness (as is the case here). So tell me, even if they are only “considering” this ploy, just what are the prosecutors getting out of this?

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Atkins: Day 13
    November 11, 2003 — 7:00 pm

    All is well. I’v lost a total of 15 pounds so far. Now, I fit into every pair of pants I own, some comfortably! Tomorrow will be my last day of phase one and then I will gradually be upping my carb intake to a comfortable level.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Your America
    November 7, 2003 — 10:15 pm

    Why did these cops in South Carolina swarm a local high school with their guns drawn?

    Why, drugs, of course.

    A drug sweep Wednesday morning at a South Carolina school has some parents and students questioning police tactics.

    Surveillance video from Stratford High School in Goose Creek shows 14 officers, some with guns drawn, ordering students to lie the ground as police searched for marijuana. Students who didn’t comply with the orders quickly enough were reportedly handcuffed.

    Police didn’t find any criminals in the armed sweep, but they say search dogs smelled drugs on a dozen backpacks.

    The school’s principal defended the dramatic sweep.

    Of course he did. Still feel comfortable sending your kids to the local detention center…oops, I mean public school?

    Oh, make sure you watch the video.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Maybe this is the problem…
    November 5, 2003 — 9:00 pm

    A recent national poll of 800 adults revealed that 58% of the American public could name not one single department in the President’s cabinet.

    To be fair, I was only able to name 12 out of the 19 before looking them up.

    Yet another good reason to home school, in my humble opinion.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    FTC Cites Concern Over Pop-Up Ads in Windows
    November 5, 2003 — 7:30 pm

    Just how far will they go?

    The U.S. Federal Trade Commission said it had scheduled a press conference on Thursday “to address consumer concerns” about a little-used feature of Windows called “Messenger Service.”

    The FTC cited problems with “widespread exploitation” of Messenger Service. The Windows feature is unrelated to popular instant messaging software. It’s designed instead to allow computer network administrators to send messages to others on their network.

    The agency declined to elaborate, but Messenger Service has been the subject of security concerns of late because purveyors of unsolicited e-mail, or “spam,” discovered they could use it to send messages to personal computers that are connected to the Internet.

    I see another boondoggle in the making.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Judge Dismisses Headlight Flashing Citation
    November 4, 2003 — 8:35 pm

    It’s a free speach issue.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Shalom
    November 4, 2003 — 7:25 pm


    I’ve been noticing quite a bit of traffic from Israel on this page. So, let me take this opportunity to say Shalom! You know, it’s funny. I’ve been thinking of trying to find a “pen pal” from Israel for some time now. I would actually love to talk to several people in the Middle East to get their perspective on what is going on over there.

    So, if anyone from Israel or any other country is interested in starting a private dialogue with me, let me know.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Atkins: Day 6
    November 4, 2003 — 5:45 pm

    Well, I’m just about to finish up day number 6 of the Atkins diet. I gotta say, I’m doing pretty good. I’ve already shed about 8 pounds (imagine the weight of one gallon of milk) from my body. My dress pants are starting to fit again, though still a little tight around the waist. My diet has consisted of any number of meat products (pork loin, bratwurst, hamburger patties, sausage, chicken, bacon) and other foods including eggs and cheese.

    The first couple of days were pretty rough. I didn’t really realize how much carbohydrates and pure sugar I consumed every day. My body kind of revolted for a few days when it figured out what I was doing. Since then, my blood sugar has leveled out and I don’t feel groggy or tired any more. In fact, I feel like I actually have more energy.

    I’ve also combined the exercise regimen from Body for Life . I’ve been kind of sore the past few days but, that too will pass.

    My good friend Greg, who is also on the diet, turned me onto some great sugarless candy. For example, Hershey’s has some great sugar free candy like Hershey bars and Reese’s Peanut butter cups. I’m telling you, you can’t tell the difference. So, when I have a sweet tooth, I just pop a couple of those and am feeling pretty much guilt free.

    So far, Atkins is working out pretty well for me. I’ve read some of the criticisms but am not overly concerned at this point. These reports seem to be aimed at very long term exposure to the diet. I actually plan on switching over to the Body for Life plan after a month of Atkins. I do feel better about myself not eating a ton of candy drinking numerous cans of soda every day. I believe, in the end, everything will even itself out.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Bovard on C-Span
    November 2, 2003 — 5:15 pm

    For those of you with access to C-Span, I would encourage you to check out James Bovard tonight at 8:00pm EST. James Bovard is the author of the much acclaimed Lost Rights as well as Feeling Your Pain and the current best seller Terrorism and Tyranny.

    I’m pretty excited about this myself as I’ve never actually been able to listen to him speak before.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Magna Treason
    October 30, 2003 — 6:15 pm

    Here are two documents I’ve read over the past couple of weeks

    The Magna Carta, said to be the cornerstone of liberty and the one main document our founding fathers relied on while writing our Constitution.

    No Treason, the Constitution of No Authority by Lysander Spooner. Lysander Spooner is quite possibly one of the most interesting characters in American history; and is little known outside anarcho-capitalist circles. One of his most interesting feats was his establishment of a very successful private mail company that engaged in direct competition with the U.S. Postal Service. That is, until the U.S. Government shut him down.

    I know this is a long essay but, anyone interested in the history of individualism and freedom in this country should endeavor to read it at least once.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    9-Year-Old Arrested for Waving Toy Gun
    October 29, 2003 — 6:15 pm

    From the Morning Journal:

    His mother, Tamyka Saunders of Sheffield Lake, said her son, Thomas Clark Jr., told Lorain police when they approached him outside a Broadway business that the gun was a toy. An officer aimed his weapon at the boy’s head, ordered him to the ground, handcuffed him and arrested him for juvenile delinquency by reason of inducing panic, according to the police report.

    Saunders, 28, was also charged with obstruction of justice and resisting arrest when she pleaded with police not to arrest her son and to give him a warning, according to a police report.

    When I read crap like this I’m instantly reminded of how Robert A. Heinlein’s protagonists treated over zealous “police officers” in his masterpiece The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Essentially, they were shown the nearest air lock, after one or two instances of instant street justice.

    Not that I advocate such a thing mind you. It’s just, you know, a pleasant thought that crosses my conscious mind from time to time.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    The Poor Man’s Space Program
    October 29, 2003 — 6:00 pm

    Now, this is what I’m talking about!

    About 100 amateurs in a dozen groups across the United States are designing and launching “near spacecraft”. These groups do not let the high cost of spacecraft construction and launch deter them. Instead, by using off-the-shelf components and simple machining techniques, these amateurs operate their own space program. Altitudes in excess of 30 kilometers are possible on these amateur near-space flights. While the costs of materials and launch are kept low, the results returned are priceless. Where else can one return images of the inky blackness of space and the curvature of the Earth’s horizon at a thousandth the cost of launching a comparable satellite into Earth orbit?

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Mstiffa.com
    October 29, 2003 — 5:45 pm

    Well, my lovely wife Tiffany has bravely stepped out into the business world. As a stay at home mom who soon plans on home-schooling our children, she has discovered that money runs short from time to time. So, she has become a distributor for Discovery Toys. Over the years we have purchased several products from Discovery Toys and have always been very pleased. The girls not only love them, but we are able to engage in their education while they playing with them. If you have children of your own, or Nieces and Nephews (cough..cough..Eric), then you might want to consider Tiffany’s distribution page.

    Also, she has been working on a wonderful homepage of her own. She hopes to keep this updated with current pictures, day to day activities and a list of stuff we are selling on Ebay. Go on by and check it out.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Doctor Atkins I Presume
    October 29, 2003 — 5:40 pm

    After the combined testimonies of my friends Sean and Greg, who attest to losing nearly 50 pounds between them, I have decided to immediately start the Atkins diet.

    I’ve heard nothing but good things about this diet (about the results anyway). I would be happy to hear from anyone out there who has tried it, successfully or not.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    If Toy Guns are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Toy Guns
    October 28, 2003 — 6:20 pm


    Ever wondered what the face of evil looks like?

    I can’t tell you how glad I am to be no longer living in the People’s Republic of Maryland. Some may think I jest when I use that title. Believe me, no hyperbole is intended.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    IEEE bans residents of Cuba, Iran, Libya and Sudan from Publishing
    October 28, 2003 — 6:00 pm

    I was just freaking making a point about this very issue over at my friend Brian’s blog.

    This is just another stupid, stupid move to regulate the flow of ideas by making some sort of hackneyed political statement.

    The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) recently imposed a ban on the residents of Cuba, Iran, Libya and Sudan from publishing and contributing to any IEEE publication or standard. The IEEE defends their position by claiming that people from these countries don’t have any rights to publish anything based on the OFAC regulations that have been set out while other International Academic and Scientific Organizations such as the American Geophysical Union, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Science Magazine do not echo such views or impose such regulations.

    It’s bad enough that our government is acting in a foolish manner by trying to economically and scientifically isolate these countries, it is worse when “objective” scientists and engineers engage in the same practice.

    Courtesy of Metafilter.com

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Grumpy Greg
    October 28, 2003 — 5:45 pm

    Well, my good friend Greg finally took the plunge and is now up and running with his very own blog. Everyone give a big and hearty welcome to grumpygreg.com.

    Now, let me tell you a little bit about Greg. I had the fortune of knowing and working with Greg off and on for the past eight years or so. First in Hawaii, then in Maryland. He is an analyst and a programmer at heart. Once, while we were all sitting around the office quite bored (I suppose we should have been doing work), I commented that I’d like to play a game of chess. Greg thought that that was a good idea. However, he tactfully pointed out that we had no chess board at hand. Did this deter Greg? Hell no. He turned to his SUN OS computer and began hand jamming in a chess program with some form of visual PERL I had never heard of before. Not only did that game work, but it worked over the freaking network. I’m telling you, the guy is a programming genius.

    So, it comes as no surprise to me that although there are simpler ways of building a blog (I.E. Movable Type), Greg invented a completely new way. Who knows, perhaps it will be tomorrow’s standard.

    And so, without further ado, I give you Grumpy Greg.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Why I Love the Internet
    October 27, 2003 — 9:30 pm

    First time I’ve ever seen the combination of the Beatbox and the Harmonica…Awesome!

    This may take some time to load.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    A Quote
    October 27, 2003 — 8:40 pm

    Thinking of space and colonization (as well as enjoying a second reading of L. Neil Smith’s Pallas) made me remember a particular quote I saw etched on an arch in the Library of Congress a couple of years ago.

    Too low they build, who build beneath the stars

    None of the quotes inscribed on the walls and ceilings of the Library of Congress are attributed. The original intent was for the patron to investigate any given missive, further enriching his knowledge in the process. I was so impressed by this particular quote that I wrote it down to research later. After a quick search of the Web, I found the saying belonged to a Mr. Edward Young (1683-1765).

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Goodnight Ladies…
    October 27, 2003 — 7:00 pm

    For months now, my wife has had a fairly difficult time putting our youngest daughter to sleep. I have it easy. I just get Jordan a glass of milk, tuck her into bed and go to my computer while Tiffany struggles with Zoe downstairs. And I mean struggle. Zoe wants no part of this “night night” time crap. She wiggles, cries, screams, runs around, yaps, talks, laughs, giggles…in sort, she does everything but sleep. So, out of frustration, Tiffany informed me that putting Zoe, as well as Jordan, to bed would now be my responsibility.

    So, after tucking Jordan in, Zoe and I head into my office where she falls asleep mere minutes later. Tiffany is amazed. Harmony is returned to the household. But, how do I do it? Simple:

    I sit Zoe down on my lap, turn off the lights and minutes later the sweet, sweet sounds of Bela’s Banjo are lulling her into a deep sleep.

    …savage breast and all that…

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    More Pictures
    October 26, 2003 — 6:10 pm

    Today we all hopped in the trusty mini-van and took a little trip to the local pumpkin patch. Let me tell ya, we had a rip-roarin’ good time.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    The End Times
    October 24, 2003 — 6:45 pm

    I pretty much hate it when people say things like “Here is another sign that the end of the world is coming” while pointing our attention to some bizarre story on the Internet; like Tammy Faye taking up residence with Ron Jeremy I mean, is that all you got? Tammy Faye and Ron Jeremy cohabiting is the earth shattering news that is going to break the 7th Seal? Come on! Amateurs!

    Ladies and Gentlemen, THIS is the one and true sign of the apocalypse. I’d be careful driving if I were you guys, with the Rapture coming any day, there are bound to be quite a few accidents on our nation’s roadways. Let’s be careful out there.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Blog Spam
    October 24, 2003 — 6:00 pm

    Though I haven’t experienced any blog spam yet, I have seen several pieced of spam hitting our guest page. Anyway, this article may be of interest to those of you who are thinking of starting a blog. Especially if you plan on using Movable Type.

    Across the Web, spambots were churning through bloggers’ comment threads, leaving behind dozens of links embedded in key phrases like “buy viagra” or “diet pills.” Others, more deviously, posted innocuous blurbs like, “Nice site you have here!” and embedded the spammer’s URL in the comment signature, under fake names like “underage,” “cheap shoes” or “phentermine.”

    Bloggers agreed that, unlike garden-variety e-mail spam, the comment spam they were receiving was not designed to attract click-throughs. Its primary audience wasn’t human; it was the all-seeing search-engine robot.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Miller’s Yojimbo
    October 24, 2003 — 5:00 pm

    I don’t know for sure, mainly because I haven’t done any in-depth research, but does anyone else think the Coen Brother’s inspiration for the movie Miller’s Crossing just may have been Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo?

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    The X Prize
    October 23, 2003 — 7:00 pm

    Well, I was going to write about the awesome news from Amazon.com today but, Eric beat me to the punch.

    So, in continuation of what I was talking about yesterday, I’d like to draw your attention to the X Prize.

    The X PRIZE is a $10,000,000 prize to jumpstart the space tourism industry through competition between the most talented entrepreneurs and rocket experts in the world. The $10 Million cash prize will be awarded to the first team that:

    -Privately finances, builds & launches a spaceship, able to carry three people to 100 kilometers (62.5 miles)
    -Returns safely to Earth
    -Repeats the launch with the same ship within 2 weeks

    I heard an NPR segment about 6 months ago (audio transcript here) on this very subject. Pretty much everyone involved in the project agreed that the main obstacle standing in their way is government regulation.

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    — Justin M. StoddardComments (0)
    Space Art, Space Rangers and Little Green Men
    October 22, 2003 — 7:15 pm

    I’ve always been in love with all things Space. Astronomy, Cosmology, SETI, Colonization, Physics, Space Novellas, Movies, T.V. shows…it all just fascinates me. So, in honor of Space, here are a few topics I’ve been following on the subject for the past couple of weeks.

    Space Art

    A recent panel discussion at the American Museum of Natural History tried to solve the issue of whether or not pictures from various deep space probes constituted “art”.

    The impetus behind the event was the publication of an unprecedented collection of photographs from such machines as the Voyagers, Vikings and Magellan, called Beyond: Visions of Interplanetary Probes, by filmmaker Michael Benson, who was also a panelist. The book hits bookstores in November, just months ahead of robotic missions to Mars and Saturn, and after the deaths of probes Pioneer 10 and Galileo.

    Hey, in my book, not only is it art, it’s a clear expression of the infinite spirit of Mankind.

    Space Rangers

    However, as much as I am in love with the idea of future space exploration or colonization, I’ve given up on the idea that any significant gains will happen in my lifetime. NASA has proven itself to be an incompetent boondoggle that will probably never really go away. I’m convinced that our government will never willingly allow the average “Joe” the opportunity to make overtures towards colonization, much less travel in any unsanctioned way into Space. Remember NASA’s illogical rants over letting a wealthy American Citizen travel on a Russian rocket into Space?

    Now, let me just get in a side note here. I love the literary work of L. Neil Smith. Though he is rough around the edges, I’ve always thought that the worlds that he imagines (along with Robert A. Heinlein) are pretty much Libertarian utopias. Taking a look at works such as Pallas and The Probability Broach makes me yearn for such a society. But hey, that’s just me.

    Anyway, Mr. Smith recently wrote a great article pretty much putting into words what I think about the current space program.

    In all that time (and earlier, in fact) I always expected that, sooner or later, I’d end up space myself, maybe even die there (after living a couple hundred years, like Lazarus