Monday, January 31, 2005

Gettin' Into Kolchak Territory Here...

By now, I'm sure most folks have seen this. For those that haven't, it's roughly a chronology of deaths of a number of scientists who were, at some point or another, heavily involved in a variety of potentially nasty shit. There's folks involved in genetic manipulation, anthrax study and bioweapons, as well as people working in fields related to treating diseases and fighting epidemics. And they're all dead, a great number by rather violent means. It's pretty interesting.

Course, it could be all bullshit, too, but one wonders. I'm a skeptic by nature, so my first impulse is to lump it into the pile with the "Clinton body count" or the "mysteries" surrounded deaths "connected" to the opening of King Tut's tomb. On the other hand, I know how much our government has flat-out lied to us over the years, from the Gulf Of Tonkin to the complete and total lack of Weapons of Mass Destruction that apparently weren't in Iraq. So...meaningless if disturbing tricks of fate or insidious multi-national conspiracy by the New World Order? Who knows, but it's nevertheless interesting. It may just turn out to be an urban legend or it may be a genuine conspiracy. It never hurts to remember the words of the wise possum, beloved.

Personally, I'm withholding judgment until I get some more info. Anyone who has it and can back it up, feel free to send it in. We'll see which dog'll hunt and which one won't.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Nice To Know Georgia Ain't The Only Place Where Politicians Have Too Much Time On Their Hands

Ye gods, this is re-goddamn-diculous. For those who haven't heard, Margaret Spellings, who recently took over the spot as U.S. Secretary Of Education from Rod "Teachers Equal Terrorists" - has upbraided PBS over a kids' show. Seems Ms. Spelling's all a twitter over "Postcards From Buster", which features a cartoon bunny who travels across the country and visits different places to highlight diversity. Now, remember that, because it's important. In his travels, Buster has interviewed cloggers, rodeo barrel racers and American Indian dancers. He's also visited a number of families where religion played a strong role, including Mormons, Orthodox Jews and Pentecostal Christians, and it seems the show is fairly non-judgmental. Just curious about other people and how they think and live. You know, kinda like what we tells kids is the right way to act.

Now, the thing that's twisting Spellings' britches was a show that had Buster - a cartoon rabbit with asthma, mind - going to Vermont to see how maple syrup and cheese are made. Of course, Buster interviews all the children of the two families involved in said production. Turns out one of 'em has two mommies, and we all know what that means. Twenty-four-seven hot girl-girl lovin', apparently with syrup, right? I mean, we all know that all gay people do is have sex, right? I mean, none of 'em go to work, pay taxes or watching "American Idol" like every other dingaling in this country, come now. Anyhow, Spellings feels that "many parents would not want their young children exposed to the life-styles portrayed in this episode", though she somehow fails to cite a source for such info.

Frankly, I agree with her. God knows we don't need anymore of our innocent children falling prey to the allure that is the production and consumption of maple syrup. All that decadent sweetness and stickiness, why, it'd warp their little minds. God alone knows how much Spellings has dolloped on her flapjacks if this is her first big salvo as Education Secretary. As Earl Hadley points out, she's got a whole lot more to worry about.

I honestly cannot figure out why wingnuts have such a horrid fear of their kids seeing homosexuals doing normal, average, everyday things. Well, that's not true, really; I know why. Kids are smart, especially the younger ones, and if you show 'em off the bat that gay folks are just plain folks rather than rampant lascivious lust monkeys constantly on the make for new, innocent prey to recruit for the All-Powerful Gay Agenda...well, maybe the kids might not hate the gay folks like, apparently, mommy and daddy do. Wouldn't that be a helluva note...

Guess Genital Piercing's No Longer Hip With Legislators

Well, it's official. The Georgia State Legislature has absolutel nothing better to do with its time. The crux of the story centers on a certain Republican representative from the fine hamlet of Cleveland, Georgia, one Ben Bridges. Yesterday, Rep. Bridges introduced legislation designed to prevent the theory of evolution from being taught in the state's classrooms, instead insisting that only "scientific fact" be taught. He doesn't quite explain what a "scientific fact" is, mind you, but he pretty much says evolution is out. A word from the Honorable Gentleman from Cleveland:

"It's in the book that it's a theory, but these teachers teach it like it's a fact. Let's teach them the truth or don't teach them anything."

Rep. Bridges also says he was taught evolution as a boy at school and the birth of Jesus on Sundays and, I quote, "it confused [him]". Okay, first things first. Rep. Bridges is 64, so there's no way he was taught evolution in high school, okay? Not in Georgia, anyway, and he shouldn't punish Georgia students because he can't separate his faith from science.

Now, before we get down to the real nitty gritty, I must make a confession: I am not a biologist. In fact, while I'm a great fan of science, truth be told, a great deal of the nuts and bolts in the various fields eludes me. I’m fascinated with string theory, for example, but I have absolutely no idea how it works. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoy reading about physics and evolution and geology and astronomy, then getting extremely stoned and thinking about it. It’s a marvelous way to relax, and I highly recommend it to anyone.

However, I apparently got one up on Rep. Bridges. Yes, evolution is "just a theory" and not a "fact", but then again, so's gravity. The word theory does have many definitions, one being - according to my Funk & Wagnalls - "a speculative or conjectural view of something", which sorta-kinda follows along with what Rep. Bridges is claiming. However, that's not the same thing as a "scientific theory", a model or framework for understanding. In other words, scientists see something happen, measure it and try to explain why. It's a paradigm established to explain the data scientists collect and offers predictions for testing. If those predications fail the tests, then the theory is adjusted or eventually abandoned. To help Rep. Bridges out a bit, a "fact" in science is an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed. It's considered "true" because it keeps happening according to what we've already observed, but even then, scientists know that nothing in science is final, not even the "truth".

Scientists don't screw around. Anyone tampering with Nature's domain worth his or her lab coat wouldn't just throw a theory out for general consumption without testing the bejeezus out of it. And, though it's been adjusted, refined and vigorously debated a great deal since Darwin published Origin Of The Species in 1859, evolution has held up pretty well where others haven't. For example, Lamarckism - which says that traits acquired during the lifetime of an organism can be passed on to the offspring has been cast aside, but the overall the theory of evolution has held up pretty well. In short, scientists have noticed change in life on this planet over the centuries and something's causing that change. Biologists apparently don't agree on much, and there's plenty of very specific arguments concerning how evolution works, but they all agree that the very core concept is very, very solid. Natural selection, it seems, works just fine. It doesn't mean that mankind is the pinnacle of evolution - which used to give Stephen J. Gould the shiverin' fits - nor, really, does it say we come from monkeys.

What's more, it doesn't - necessarily - mean there's no sort of creator force. Put simply, evolution has absolutely nothing to do with God. Nothing at all. End of story. Evolution doesn't even address it. If anything, all it does is say the planet’s much older than us and the whole “created in six days” was probably just a really nice story.

What it does do, however, is let us know that we human beings ain't exactly the most important thing in the universe. We're not by a long shot. As the late Prof. Gould was fond of stating, this is still a bacterial world and we just live in it. This, I think, is the problem for the creationist crowd. They simply can't handle the idea that they ain't what it's all about.

And the funny thing to me, this really isn't a problem with Christianity or even the majority of socially conservative Christians. Hell, even the Pope has stated that evolution is groovy with the Catholic Church and he’s definitely no secular humanist. Perhaps they were still stinging from the whole thing with Galileo, who knows. Regardless, science and spirituality are two different things, and while both can be used to augment and support the other, they are two different things.

Nevertheless, there's a certain segment of people - including a large number of Americans, sadly - who seem like they're threatened by the idea of evolution because, as I said, it knocks humans off the pedestal we put ourselves upon. Just as both "sanctity of life" or "sanctity of marriage" are complete figments of the human imagination, we think we're the most important creatures on the planet because we're the ones deciding we are. We're writing the story of history, in other words, so naturally it's all about us.

In short, it ain't. One of the neat things about the reading I've done into quantum physics, evolutionary biology and, yes, the metaphysical world is I've basically come to the realization that humans are just one small part of a greater whole. When it comes to the development of life on Earth, it's a great, sprawling tree, and mankind is merely a little twig recently grown of one rather minor branch. For cryin' out loud, sharks and alligators and catfish have been around longer than us. Musically speaking, we're just the latest squeak of a very short note in a very, very long symphony.

The thing that's always stuck in my craw concerning creationism or the new-and-improve brand of "intelligent design" is that the proponents thereof really don't follow scientific method with their claims. In other words, they really don't try to present evidence and calculations that can verifiably tested in a scientific setting. One of the main problems is that a theory must be based on a naturally occurring phenomenon that can be explained and predicted. Oddly enough, none of the creationist people seem to keen on trying to prove God's existence scientifically or explain it beyond "Cause God said so". That, dear hearts, won't cut it in the laboratory.

And that's where Rep. Bridges comes in. Now that I've thought on it some, I come to the realization that the Honorable Gentleman is just confused, that's all. There's other, more important stuff for a legislator to be worrying about - especially when it comes to the state of education in Georgia, believe you me - but this whole difference between the common usage of "theory" and how scientists define "theory" is just hanging him up. So, why don't we, being good Americans, help the poor boy out. His email address is I'm sure he'll appreciate it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Well, Glad We Got That Straightened Out...

In an amazing display of leadership and steely-eyed fortitude, The Little King told his cabinet secretaries to quit paying media commentators to advance his legislative agenda. Truly, this man is a man amongst men. Bold, decisive, take charge...these words don't even begin to describe George W. Bush, not by a longshot.

I know what you're thinking. "Matt," you say, "how can such dastardly deeds occur under the steely-eyed gaze of such a determined, hands-on and, yes, manly leader of such honor and dignity?" Well, there's a good reason for that, and only the words of the man himself could adequately express how such devilment occurred:

"We didn't know about this in the White House."

Now how can you argue with such biting logic, such overwhelming concern for the ship of state? Glad to know St. Ronald's legacy indeed lives within George W. Bush.

And the Thot Plickens...

Okay, so there's this big hubbub in the blogging world about fourth-string conservative columnist Armstrong Williams taking bread from the Bush Administration, specifically the Department Of Education, for promoting The Little King's "No Child Left Behind". Now, apparently, it's not illegal for someone who calls himself a "journalist" to take money from the government to do PR work - which, for some reason, gives me the screaming heebie jeebies - it's just illegal to fail to disclose it. Which is what Williams did, to the tune of $240,000. Of course, the right-wing side of the blogosphere says that Daily Kos's consultant work with the Dean campaign is the exact same thing, but it isn't. Not really, and I'm not wading into it, personally. Frankly, if you can't see how a blogger disclosing money from a private group is different from a self-described journalist hiding tax-payer dollars he got to push a government's plan, well, then you're the type who honestly believes Iraq is going great and Social Security will implode any day now. In other words, we can discuss it, but we're not gonna get anywhere.

It also seems Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and conservative dingaling Charles Krauthammer wrote long, glowing love poems about Bush's second inaugural address, but somehow managed to forget to tell folks that they had a big hand in writing said speech. That's interesting, isn't it.

And it gets even better. Suburban bore Maggie Gallagher was paid $21,500, it seems, to promote Bush's $300 million initiative to strengthen families - though I never really figured how you could spend money to strengthen what's basically an ideal - but failed to tell anybody. Like Williams, Maggie was defiant at first, boldly proclaiming "Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing it? I don't know. You tell me." She would have happily told someone about the governmental booty, she claims, but no one ever asked her and said it never occurred to her. I know how she feels. No one asks me much and there's a whole lot of stuff that never occurs to me. Usually stuff like “Hey, maybe you ought to make your car payment rather than buying that Faces boxet,” but I usually ignore those little voices. Apparently, Maggie May does, too.

Alas, our brave girl was broken by the insidious liberal media and posted a column with United Press Syndicate (maybe you should tell them what you think of this situation) with a bit more humility, lamenting:

"I should have disclosed a government contract when I later wrote about the Bush marriage initiative. I would have, if I had remembered it. My apologies to my readers."

It's okay, Maggie, I'm sure all four of them will forgive you. Story goes Gallagher received the bread after writing a report titled "Can Government Save Marriage" for a private organization called - and I'm not making this up - the National Fatherhood Initiative. The report was funded by a Justice Department grant, and Gallagher was "aware vaguely" that her work was federally funded. Way to put those crack journalists skills to work, sister.

Anyhow, Gallagher's spent the last two years - and before hand, as she's written three books on marriage - going on and on about how wonderful marriage was, except for gay marriage, natch, and how much everyone should be forced to pretend like it was the '50s all over again. Apparently, she's really big on people getting hooked up and doesn't even want to think about people who don't see marriage or commitment the same way. Gives her the vapors, I reckon. Insulted has a pretty good listing of nonsense by Ms. Gallagher, so go check out their stuff.

Me, I find her boring. She’s just another dull-ass white person who wants everyone to be as dull as them so nothing challenges them, and this whole “we all gotta have traditional marriages” hoohah is incredibly tedious. One day I’ll go into my views on the institution of marriage, but this ain’t the time. I find this slow trickle of conservative pundits being outed as on the take or in the pockets of the government as... interesting. And, frankly, a bit worrisome. The media is supposed to an adversary to the government and journalists are supposed to go after politicians, not be their friends and agents. It's unsettling to me, and especially unsettling that so many people who support the part of "getting government off our backs" are taking so much graft from said government.

And besides...Maggie, darlin', listen to your friend, here. You get paid to express your opinion and newspapers all over the country carry it. You don't even have to be overly factual, frankly, just willing to stir up some shit. And you are, talking about "the conservative tsunami" and rail about how, even though you've got said tsunami, conservatives are still held under the oppressive thumb of the Liberal Agenda, oooo scary! Shit, don't even have to make sense. And you got a niche! Defending marriage! Because, you know, people aren't getting married anymore. You're like Bill O'Reilly and his glorious crusade to remind folks of this holiday that used to be a big deal or something. I forget the name, it's so underground and oppressed, but I remember it was in December and featured some dude with a beard and long hair. Maybe it was Willie Nelson day, I dunno. My point is, you didn't need to take the government's money or compromise your ethics, you silly woman.

Anyhow, another conservative "pundit" has been caught on the government dole. Insulted has more. Me, I just wonder when someone big is gonna be busted. It's bound to happen, ya know. My money's on O'Reilly. That bastard's about to blow a series of gaskets, he's wound so tight these days. "Defender of Christmas" indeed...

Just A Modicum Of Nastiness On A Lovely January Day...

Man, is it nice today. It's just under 70 or so, the sun is shining and the wind's still. After years of living in various hothouse climates - Northeast Mississippi and Central Florida, two swamps, basically - I gotta say, I love weather like this. I can wear one of my flannel shirts or just a t-shirt, and either way, I'm gravy. Even better, I got the next two days off from work, not a thing in the world to do and the house to myself, as my brother's currently driving to Martha's Vineyard with his employer, the most excellent David Barbe, to pick up a console for Dave's studio, Chase Park Transduction. And best of all, the dope fairy visited me last night, so I'm all set.

If I were an active sort, I'd be out enjoying this beautiful day. At the very least, I should be working on my bass guitar licks or doing some serious non-blogging-type writing. Instead, I give you this: The Buffalo Beast's 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2004. I gotta say, it's pretty much on the money. If it isn't reprehensible windbags like Michael Savage or Ann Coulter, the Beast - an alt-weekly out of New York that calls itself "Buffalo's best friend" and seems to be pretty damn nasty all the way around - goes after corrupt politicians like Condi Rice or John Negroponte. Both presidential candidates get their due, whether it's Kerry's timidity or Bush's complete lack of ability or decency. And humorously enough - to me, anyway - "liberal Hollywood" gets its fair share of licks, including Ellen Degeneres, Tom Cruise and Jerry Bruckheimer. Plus, there's a fair share of people who are celebrities for no other reason than they insist on embarrassing themselves in public, like that Nicole chick that's basically famous for being Paris Hilton's wingman.

My personal favorite is Number Three:

3. You

Crimes: You gaze idly at the carnage around you, sigh, and go calmly back to your coffee and your People magazine. You can’t stop buying useless crap, though you’re drowning in a deepening pool of debt. You think you’re an activist because you bitch all day on the internet, but you reelect the same gangsters at a 99% rate. You consider yourself informed because you waste a significant portion of your life watching the same three news stories cycle over and over again on your gargantuan, aerodynamic television set while you eat processed food. You really thought everything would be okay if Kerry won. Not only do you believe in an invisible man who magically farted out the universe, you also excoriate and marginalize those who disagree. You have a poorer understanding of your country’s foreign policy history than a third world peasant, but you can’t wait to see what Julia Roberts will be wearing at the Oscars. You cheer as Ukrainians challenge an election based on exit poll data, but keep waiting around for someone else to fix your problems. You can’t think, you can’t organize and you won’t act. This is all your fault.

Smoking Gun: You’re fat.

Punishment: You’re soaking in it.

If I have any quibble with said entry, though, it's that "you" really should be changed to "we". Problem with pointing fingers, of course, is that no one looks at the person who's doing the pointing and we, as a nation, definitely deserve a sound talking to concerning the lovely state of the union. Anyhow, check it out. Very amusing. However, I must admit I think compiling such a list and including Michael Jackson is something akin to shooting tranquilized fish in a coffee cup.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Well, You Can't Say You Didn't See This Coming

I have to admit, the fact that The Little King has seemingly pulled back from the intensely conservative stance on social issues that - let's face it, the only other fact was Fear Of The Moslem - got him elected comes as something of a relief. He hasn't said he's changed his mind on, say, gay marriage or abortion, of course, but he also isn't thumping the table over them.

This, of course, is making some people unhappy. Long story short, a coalition of major conservative "Christian" groups called the Arlington Group is letting the malAdministration know they're not happy by threatening to pull support for Bush's Social Security keno game unless he does something about them dratted gay folks getting all married and suchlike. The group sent a confidential letter to "Super Genius" Karl Rove expressing their disapproval with how Bush isn't putting social issues to the forefront of his new term in office. The president, they say, should remember who brung him to the dance. You money quote:

"We couldn't help but notice the contrast between how the president is approaching the difficult issue of Social Security privatization where the public is deeply divided and the marriage issue where public opinion is overwhelmingly on his side," the letter said. "Is he prepared to spend significant political capital on privatization but reluctant to devote the same energy to preserving traditional marriage? If so it would create outrage with countless voters who stood with him just a few weeks ago, including an unprecedented number of African-Americans, Latinos and Catholics who broke with tradition and supported the president solely because of this issue."

The letter continued, "When the administration adopts a defeatist attitude on an issue that is at the top of our agenda, it becomes impossible for us to unite our movement on an issue such as Social Security privatization where there are already deep misgivings."

So, here we have two scorned parties. One is a politician who stirred up a bunch of hate-filled whackjobs just to score a few votes, and the other is a bunch of whackjobs who really thought a politician as slippery and two-faced as Bush would do what he said he'd do. I mean, seriously, are people this naive? Apparently so, as Bush told the pro-"life" crowd to keep hope alive, even though he’s said he isn’t gonna monkey much with Roe vs. Wade. It's almost charming.

Lookahere, brothers and sisters, cause I'm about to lay the gris-gris on you. Gay marriage is happening. Maybe not soon, but it'll happen and when it does, we'll look at ourselves like as the same fools who got bent out of shape over blacks and whites having equal seating on the city bus (which means, of course, we'll pretend it was just a small, close-minded minority and the rest of us were always really behind it, oh, yes we were!). Abortion is here to stay, in some form or another, as well. Just making it illegal won't make it go away. All it'll mean is that girls who can't afford to "go spend the summer with her sister/maiden aunt" as they used to say will run the risk of serious injury when they do what they feel they have to do. No matter where you stand on the issue, if anyone really gave a damn about kids they'd do more to improve education and access to quality affordable (free, if possible, and I don't see why not) health care for all children, regardless of socio-economic status.

While we’re all a bit crazy for a second, maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to work on real, concrete things to improve the quality of life for all Americans rather than bullshit, reactionary, fear-fueled balderdash about "moral values" from people who barely blink when the president asks for even more money to waste on a war that's going nowhere fast. Ah, I know. That’s just silly talk. Oh well.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Mommaw And Johnny

My Johnny Carson story, if y'all will indulge...

I grew up around my mother's people, and my mother's people lived in a very rural part of Itawamba County, a very rural county in Northeast Mississippi, colloquially called Peaceful Valley. My grandparents - Mommaw and Poppaw Bean - were farmers, and even after the farm couldn't support their family and they had to get manufacturing jobs in Smithville, they kept farmers' hours. Up at dawn, in bed by 8 p.m., that sort of thing.

They did that, I guess, ever since they were married, fifty years or so. My grandfather had Alzheimer's disease, and for the last three or so years of his life, Poppaw was basically reduced to an infantile state. Being poor and, honestly, proud, Mommaw couldn't hire a full-time caretaker, and there was no way in hell we were putting them into a facility. They weren't leaving Peaceful Valley, and that's that. So Mommaw took care of Poppaw until he died in 1991 from three strokes in two days. Poppaw was, to the end, a tough old bastard.

So now, Mommaw basically had her life to herself, more or less. My Uncle Charles, who just turned 60, still lives with her, though, because he had polio as a child. The attack caused a high fever, leaving him not only a deformed hand, but the mentality of a 10-year-old boy as well. This was in the '40s in rural, pre-Tennessee Valley Authority Mississippi, remember, so simply put, there just wasn't the medical knowledge to prevent what would be a simple procedure these days. That's life, I suppose.

There's my Mommaw. She's in her late '70s - I'm horrible with ages, mind - and her husband's gone. This may sound cruel to some, but Poppaw's death, I think, was a relief for all of us and especially Mommaw. Not only did she have to give him constant care, but watching the patriarch - a man of incredible personal strength when he was younger and before the demon in the bottle got him - waste away just drags at your soul. But Mommaw's tough and, frankly, she adjusted. Her life's been a hard one, but because she knows life is hard for everyone, she goes through it with a smile. She knows what makes her happy - her family - and she gets what she needs out of that.

Anyhow, it's the early '90s and the family's re-adjusting to life without having to take care of Poppaw. We'd already adjusted to life without Poppaw, mind you, as best we could, anyway. About that time, I'd started to get fairly busy with the newspaper thing and there was many a night I'd come home from covering a basketball game or school board meeting in the wee hours. Well, it was usually close to midnight, anyway, and on Stump Jumper Standard Time, that's pretty damn late.

Just about every night, I'd drive by Mommaw's house and the light would be on in her living room. I guess I should explain one thing right quick: all of my mother's people live within a two-mile square radius of my grandmother's house. Seriously. My grandparents had five children. Uncle Charles, of course, couldn't have kids, but the rest sure did. And all of us were living with the ghosts of Beans and Sandlins and Sloans past.

In fact, no one ever really left. My mother went off to Delta State University and moved around with my father for a couple years - the Old Man grew up in Jackson and married Momma when she was a teacher in that area, by the by - but they came back. In fact, my parents live less than 200 yards from the houseplace where Momma was born. My Aunt Diane studied at Ole Miss, but she came back to and married a local boy. Uncle Joel, the oldest and first to pass on, wandered around Texas and Wisconsin for a few years, but he came back, too. Uncle David, the baby of the family and probably the one I take after most, finished high school and went straight to work in nearby Amory. Most of my cousins that are grown - Debbie, Josh, Jamie and Andy - still live there, raising their kids. There's a few of us that don't. Lacey - the baby of my group - works in Jackson, and her older sister Amy has three kids and lives in Jackson. And, of course, my brother and I are bohemian wastrels plying what we laughably call our trades here in good ol' Athens, Georgia.

I realize I'm drifting a bit here, but that's my family. The Beans. We've been in that part of Itawamba County since the 1840s. We're of primarily Scottish descent. We have our faults and failure just like everyone else, but we're basically decent people. We're not rednecks or white trash. We're country people, and if you're country, you'll always be country. It's not a limitation unless you let it be, mind you, but it's the very bedrock of your personality. It's not a white or black thing, either, or a male or female thing. Hell, it's not even a gay or straight thing. And frankly, we're no different from folks born in urban or suburban areas. It's just our particular flavoring, but I'll talk more on that at some future date.'s early '90s, Poppaw's gone and Mommaw's staying up watching television. Came to find out that because of Poppaw's needs, she'd gotten used to keeping odd hours and, as it turns out, quite liked being up later hours. I imagine I get my night-owlish ways from her. She also thoroughly enjoyed "The Tonight Show" but had one minor problem. To this best of my recollection, here's her problem with the show:

I like that show a lot, but I like the older gentleman better than I like that boy. I just don't understand why he isn't on the show all the time

The "older gentleman" was Johnny Carson and "the boy" is Jay Leno. A year later, Carson retired and my grandmother quit watching "The Tonight Show". Mommaw's still kickin' around, by the way. Her mind's starting to drift a little bit, just like her mother's did before she passed away, and her health is increasingly shaky these days. As you can probably imagine, Uncle Charles has always been something of a handful, and he’s getting worse, as well, both health-wise and just shear irritant-wise. Still, she gets up every morning, deals with Uncle Charles, drives to Fulton once a week to sharp, baby sits her great-grandchildren when she's up to it, talks to Momma and Aunt Diane, and does just whatever she damn well pleases in the same calm, easy-going manner that's comforted and supported a family full of extremely forceful personalities for three generations, now. Mommaw's probably gonna pass away soon. She's old, let's face it, and country people just don't live long. The life wears you down and makes you old.

But when she dies, I don't exactly how I’ll grieve, if indeed I even will. She's lived a life and earned the rest, and I don't think she'd say she has any regrets. I think she'd like to see a book out of me, but that's about it. I'll miss her, though. I'll miss Johnny Carson, too, but that's part of what makes life worth living. You'll forevermore be meeting people that you might have to miss some day. And that, beloved, is a wonderful stroke.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Lord, Don't Let Gary P. Nunn See This...

Dig the boots, y'all.

Now. I'll grant you, I've never given much thought to fashion, and my current wardrobe consists of one pair of tennis shoes, four pairs of blue jeans, two dozen concert t-shirts and 10 or so flannel shirts. I am a simple man, but then again, I'm not the leader of the free world, either. I gotta admit, I find it disturbing we have a president with such a predilection for playing dress-up.

And for what it's worth, I admit to being unnecessarily snarky about this, but really... the guy's too much. In the last couple of days, Bush (or his malAdministration) has announced they're giving up trying to find WMD's in Iraq and that the war is rapidly spinning out of what little control they had over affairs. Plus, Bush himself has admitted his tough-guy "bring it on" twaddle was probably a bad idea, and Republicans are jumping ship left and right concerning his Social Security hoodoo. It's just getting really, really hard for me to take George W. Bush seriously as a thinking adult, much less leader of the free world. Then there's the $40 million inaugural shindig that's "for the troops", but apparently that's compassionate conservative speak for "lip service".

"Manly footwear", indeed.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Frankly, I'm A Bit Surprised...Though I Shouldn't Be...

I know it's hard keeping up with the various comings and goings of the Bush malAdministration, what with the Michael Jackson case firing up and Brad splitting with Jennifer. Therefore, Salon has provided us with this handy-dandy scandal sheet documenting 34 - count 'em, thirty-four - scandals from the first four years of George W. Bush's presidency. Most of 'em are in various stages of investigation and/or being swept under the rug - with a few odd fines and finger waving at Smilin' Tom DeLay scattered hither and you - and every single one of 'em is, arguably, worse than Whitewater (which turned out to be much ado about nothing, anyway).

What kills me is how far under the radar most of this stuff has gone. I mean, I never liked the guy that much, but we're still hearing about Clinton shenanigans. Some of the info concerning money diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq before the war started, or how Halliburton may've been doing business with Iran while Vice-President Dick Cheney was CEO ought to be on people's minds, seems to me. And apparently, Tom DeLay is so crooked he needs three aids to help him screw into his pants each morning. Therefore, what’s a slime ball like him doing being B.M.O.C. on Capitol Hill?

Of course, this is a Salon piece, so you have to either be a subscriber or suffer through the site's tedious "day pass" deal. Heads up came from Will Pitt's excellent FYI blog.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Living In The Promise Land?

Today is the national observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's birthday. I don't have to go into detail on who King was or what he's remembered for, but what's always amused me is what King did that we don't remember or we're simply not told. And I'm not talking about his questionable personal life or the very real possibility he plagiarized some of his doctoral thesis and some of the material for his species.

Now, I don't think King was "a fraud and a hypocrite" exactly, but I do agree he was a complex man of enormous emotional power, charisma and oratory skill. By his words alone, King is quite possibly the last Real American Hero we've had. He did more than just talk, unlike our current "leaders". King marched with the people, spoke to them, listened to them and, above all, was down there in the trenches with them.

But, like I said, what's always gotten me about the current view of King is how it completely ignores his efforts outside the realm of race relations. The Civil Rights Act that stemmed from King's work in Selma, Albany and Birmingham happened in 1964. King was assassinated in 1968, and you basically hear about little in between. Sure, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, but none of the articles or television shows will mention his speaking out against U.S. involvement in Vietnam. There might be something on how he kept Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek because he saw the "Uhura" character as a positive role model, but not the "Poor People's Campaign," which sought to address economic justice across racial lines. Lots of "I Have A Dream" but nothing from "Beyond Vietnam", which King delivered a year to the day before he was shot. Read John Sugg's excellent article linked above for more info on what we're not getting, but then again, American history seems to enjoy never giving people the full story.

I'd like to think things are, across the board, at least a little better than they were when Dr. King stomped the terra, and I guess they are. Course, being a straight white guy, I can say that and not blink. There's still a whole lot of problems that almost have less to do with the color of one's skin and more to do with fundamental flaws in society. I think that’s what Dr. King was working for and recognized racism isn’t the sole problem in and of itself, but a glaring example of the much larger problem. What's the "much larger problem"? Simple.


You get a man good and worked up over how he's gonna feed and protect his kids, you can point him in just about any direction you want. Demagogues throughout history have used fear as a most effective tool. Dr. King saw through that. He saw a world where justice was given more due than mere lip service. He saw a world where it was the weight of a person's character that mattered, not skin color or economic standing. He saw a world where war was simply not necessary because problems were addressed before they escalated.

And, of course, we killed him. Then, we gave him a holiday and closed the banks, and we named streets after him in every town in the country. So there's no racism, obviously, and probably none of the other stuff King raised a ruckus about. Or so I've been told, anyway.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Hey, Great...People In Georgia Can Evolve!

To spare the feelings of a fellow Itawambian currently fighting for truth, final wisdom and free lunch in Wisconsin, I'm gonna pick on my current state of residence for a bit. In a stunning display of truly cast-iron balls, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper ordered that the anti-evolution stickers fundie dingbats got slapped on Cobb County school books a few years back were unconstitutional and ordered them removed immediately. Here's what Judge Cooper said about said decals:

Adopted by the school board, funded by the money of taxpayers, and inserted by school personnel, the sticker conveys an impermissible message of endorsement and tells some citizens that they are political outsiders while telling others they are political insiders. [The stickers send] a message that the school board agrees with the beliefs of Christian fundamentalists and creationists. The school board has effectively improperly entangled itself with religion by appearing to take a position. Therefore, the sticker must be removed from all of the textbooks into which it has been placed.

Wow. Like I said, the man has balls. Not only is he cutting through the rhetoric to get at the heart of what the fundie dingbats really want, he's got the cajones to say it in the middle of Red-State Georgia. Now, granted, he might've phrased it better. The whole "separation of church and state" thing says the government is supposed to be neutral, and I'm not real sure how "neutral" that is. It's the truth, but the devil is definitely in the details.

Now, a little background on all this. This whole deal started back in 2002 when some creationist lady named Marjorie Rogers collected 2,300 signatures from supporters to ban the teaching of evolution. The school board decided to slap the stickers on the covers of 13 science books used in high school, with a disclaimer that read "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

Consider, if you will, Cobb County, Georgia. Very rich, I mean Orange County rich, exurb of Atlanta and accordingly conservative. The Atlanta Centennial Olympic Committee excluded it for the anti-gay policies fostered by the Board of Commissioners. It's also a part of Newt Gingrich's old district, and ironically enough, received the most federal pork in the country when he took the reigns with the whole "Contract On America" thing. The latter prompted a hilarious bit on Michael Moore's old show "TV Nation" when he went there to get folks to give all that money back to "get government off their backs". Hilarious.

It was also heavily backed by Secretary of Education Kathy Cox, though one can't be surprised, given how little Sonny Perdue's administration seems to care about education. Not to digress, but that ole boy's pissed off everyone who got him into office - including the Klan Flaggers - and I'm figuring he'll be making a butt-first exit from the governor's mansion come 2005.

But anyhow... so, yeah, the judge called bullshit on the fundies and told 'em to drop the stickers. Six parents, believing the stickers violated the whole separation of church and state thing, brought up the lawsuit in question last November. The parents' attorney brought up several scientists - actual scientists, not creationists - to shoot wholes in one of the creationists' main misconceptions. Allow, if you will, a quote from Brown University biologist and textbook author - so he should know if anyone does - Kenneth Miller:

"In science, you don't use the word 'theory' about a stupid hunch. Theories explain facts. They tie it together."

Boom, end of story. Facts are what we see happening. Theories try to explain why things happen. Theories are tested and studied and observed until either they are proved valid and become laws or they fall apart under scrutiny. Hell, even laws can be overthrown when new information comes down the pike. A great example is how the science of physics changed from Isaac Newton's laws of the universe to Einstein's relativistic view to quantum mechanics to superstring theory. Neat stuff all of it, and when a scientific theory or law is proved no longer valid, it gets sent to the same dustbin where theories that were never proved valid went.

So, no, evolution isn't a fact. It's a theory. National Geographic had great cover story back in November on just how well evolutionary theory is holding up. In short, it's holding up pretty damn well. Granted, bits and pieces of it have fallen by the wayside and generally replaced with ideas that better explain what we observe. Maybe someday evolution will be proven completely and totally false because a whole new and much better theory comes along.

It won't be proven, however, by a bunch of people who don't know the difference between how scientists use "theory" and how the general public uses it - though I'm inclined the believe they do know and conveniently ignore said discrepancy - nor will it be disproved by people who base their entire concept on one rather inconsistent book.

My challenge to intelligent design fans is simple. Prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt and within scientifically approved boundaries, that an active, involved Creator exists. Then, maybe, we'll get on with some of the rest of the goofy shit you people come up with.

To be fair, this sort of goofiness isn't solely the domain of The South. There's screaming wingdings all over this country, as this story from The Guardian shows. Long story short - because I'm making fun of Georgians, remember - biology teachers at a Pennsylvania high school refused to read a statement that was very similar to the Georgia stickers, highlighting "gaps in the theory". Those rascally scrapple lovers on the school board went one further and offered up "intelligent design" - the fresh coat of paint creationists slapped on their foolishness - as an alternative explanation. The argument goes that, yeah, maybe there was some sort of evolution at work, but life on Earth is far too complex to be completely random. To me, this sounds like that very human trait of thinking that just because the hole is exactly the right size for the puddle, the puddle thinks the hole was made solely for it, all the while rapidly ignoring its own evaporation. Douglas Adams came up with that one, by the way.

Well, if the idea of life on Earth being completely random gives the fundie dingbats the willies, the outside but very possible chance of finding life on Saturn's moon Titan must give them the screamin' fits. Reckon what book of The Bible they'll work that one into.

Random and final thought (no applause, please): isn't it odd that the greatest number of stories concerning alien abduction happen in places like rural Alabama or Pennsylvania where people believe life was created a mere 6,000 years ago? Or am the only one that thinks such things?

Gotta Admit, It'd Answer A Whooole Lotta Questions...

I guess by now most folks are aware that the White House has more or less admitted that - after two-years and Elvis alone knows how much money - they came up snake eyes when it comes to Weapons Of Mass Destruction in Iraq. Nothing. Not, as our British friends say, a sausage. And so goes the final justification for the war in Iraq. People say Saddam supported terrorists? Well, so do we. Hell, we supported Saddam when he was just a sprout. He wasn't a threat to us, and as for ties to al Qaeda, frankly, we've got as about as much as he ever did. Hell, we pretty much helped lay the groundwork when we supplied the group against the Russians back in the early '80s. And as for those who say Saddam killed and tortured his own people, well, sadly, so are we. By the boatloads. "Well, Saddam would've killed them anyway," is usually what you hear to this little fact. They're still dead, asshole, doesn't matter who killed 'em.

And before I get to my main thought, there are them that say the war is justified because Hussein broke so many U.N. resolutions. Humorously enough - to me, anyway - these are generally the same people who think the U.N. is a worthless organization and should be abolished or at least ignored. I bet this has gotta be drivin' 'em up the wall, too.

Anyhow, my main thought. So we didn't find any WMD's in Iraq after two years of looking. I find this troublesome for one reason and one reason alone: why didn't the people, whoever they are, who had so much to lose if no WMD's show up not plant some? I'm serious. Why didn't the Bush administration plant some fake stockpiles of Kil-O-Deth Nuclear Brand Day Ray Machines or something to at least pretend like there was some justification. I mean, the whole time we're gearing up for this, we've got everyone from Hans Blix to the CIA telling us either there's nothing there or at least give 'em time to look some more.

So why didn't quite possibly the most mendacious and venal administration in my lifetime not try to cover their asses? I'm serious. Karl Rove's supposed to be a fuckin' political genius, right? Dick Cheney's always struck me as a pretty swift cat, if also a complete bastard. These aren't stupid people. This will be bad for them. Maybe not to the True Faithful who're convinced that the Little King was chosen by GAWD to lead the world, under his heel if need be, but the rest of us... yeah, there's a bit of egg on the administration's face, I believe.

Now. How much play is this story getting. I heard it mentioned on NPR this morning, and it got front-page-below-the-fold play in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution with what looks like maybe a 28 or 32 point headline that says "U.S. gives up futile search for banned arms in Iraq". Personally, I think such a story deserves big 124-point letters screaming "FUCK!!!" because that should be what everyone on both sides of the argument should be thinking. Us because - to quote Judith "Fucking" Miller - were proved fucking right on everything and them because the war supporters got took for a serious ride.

Now as to why this bothers me. I don't hate George W. Bush. Don't get to excited because I don't really hate anybody. I don't know if I have it in me. It's not some sort of hippie-dippy "love the world" nonsense; I just can't generate the energy to waste that much emotion on someone. If you're messing with my stroke, sure, I'll work until you're removed from the equation, but that's not the same thing as hate. I think Bush has been a horrible president without one, single redeeming accomplishment in four years on the job - that includes policies that I disagree with, failed policies and flat-out lies like No Child Left Behind - but that's not the same thing as hate.

Frankly, I see Bush as a spoiled rich kid. Not a bright guy, mind you, and not a guy you'd want to spend too much time in close quarters with, but basically an okay cat. Just a dude, ya know? He strikes me as the guy at the party you basically avoid beyond a simple "hello" and maybe some meaningless small talk - because he's kind of a jerk, frankly - but not someone who'd make you leave immediately. Arrogant and lazy, sure, but he strikes me as a guy who wants to have fun and have people like him but doesn't recognize when he's being an asshole.

Furthermore, I see him as an empty suit. I see him as a cipher for the rubes what are the type to want a president "they can drink a beer with", with a little "rugged cowboy" bullshit mixed with false piety thrown in for good measure. He's almost a caricature of a politician controlled by the evil puppet masterminds Hollywood seems to like so much. The White House - or so I thought - was controlled by mendacious con-men like Cheney or Rove, yes-men like Rice or Card, or various shades of ideologues like Ashcroft or Rummsfeld or Wolfowitz.

But now I wonder. Maybe, just maybe, Bush really isn't the good-natured-if-arrogant doofus I originally took him to be. Maybe he does control the White House. Maybe when he says "Jump!" they say already know how high. Maybe Bush really is trying to be a no-bullshit-taking, ass-kicking cowboy of God. And he is, apparently, out of his fucking mind and doesn't listen to a single thing anyone says that he doesn't want to hear.

And that, my fellow celestials, gives me pause.

Just Making Sure The Bar's Still Stocked...

Because some were concerned - more than one, which sorta surprised me, to be quite honest - this is just a little note to let whoever cares know that I'm still above ground. Unfortunately, it appears the muse is taking the first of the year off. So it goes.

And so I bring you this, the coolest website that isn't Wikipedia. It's Joe Kissell's Interesting Thing Of The Day and it's very cool. There's topics ranging from linguistics to geographic oddities to historical anomalies to unusual pastimes. This is the place where I discovered one of my current obsessions, holomodel theory. Mr. Kissell's is an author, consultant and software developer who lives out in San Francisco. Here is his blog. Sunday was his birthday. I don't know the man from Adam's house cat, but his website has given me a number of things that have made pleasantly dizzy for an afternoon - and one topic that keeps me awake at night pondering it's implications (the holomodel thing) - so, in the grand tradition of Kornfield County, I say "sal-ute!"