Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

"Secular holiday," and other curious beliefs

Secular holiday. I love it. A secular holy day--how does that work?

Yet, there it is, all over the Google. 61,000 hits, about. What's next? "Religious atheism"?

For a while, there was the U.S. holiday tradition of complaining about people not saying "Christmas." Now we also have the tradition of telling the complainers to stop complaining, that there's nothing happening. As a letter writer to our big city newspaper pointed out today, not mentioning Christmas is the only way to be inclusive.

Of course, that goes on my favorite received-ideas list, which I file next to my favorite-phrases list. Want to be inclusive? Simple--exclude! Works like a charm, at least during the secular holy day season.

Now, what does this all really mean, besides the fact that people are annually becoming less familiar with words and their meanings? Well, for one, it means that some folks are confusing "secular" with popular. Popular festivals like Christmas are for everyone, by definition, which means that nobody but NOBODY has the right to dictate how those days are kept, observed, and/or experienced. Noooooo-body. The same day that, for me, celebrates Christ's birth can be something else entirely for someone else. The pumpkin pie's the limit. Welcome to our democracy, where secular and sacred coexist.

Ah, but should the "state" celebrate Christmas, thus promoting religion? Wow. Where to start? First, the state doesn't celebrate anything--the people do. The state is merely acknowledging (or representing) the fact that Christmas in my country is a hugely popular celebration. It's good when our democracy fulfills its representative, go-with-the-popular-flow function, not bad. Now, can the state represent all the people all of the time with complete accuracy? Of course not. So the state goes with what's of the people. As a body. If you're not in with the dominant trend, if you're one of those who wish Christmas would stop occurring, no sweat--you're still in the group.

Second, as noted earlier, Christmas is neither/nor as a religious holiday, at least as it is collectively celebrated. And promoting a neither/nor celebration is neither promoting religion nor not promoting it. (I've always wanted to type "nor not.")

Remember--when a day is popular (i.e., belongs to the people), its ownership is collective. No single group or person can lay claim to it. No one can decide what that day means, except for him or herself.

Does that stop everyone? Nope. We have, for ex., those among the faithful who demand that Christ be "put back" in Christmas (hey, he's in the word itself--isn't that enough?) and secularists who demand that he be taken out. Both groups are equally convinced that they are reading our democracy correctly, and both have equally nonexistent ground on which to make that claim. Is our (U.S.) democracy Bible-based (whatever that really means)? Not in any literal sense. Is our democracy secular? No, it's neither/nor. Conceding that reality, however, leaves the control-freak types without a lame--er, leg--to stand on, and so they proceed in blithe denial, not taking the precious 20 or so minutes necessary to "Google" the topic and find out, for instance, where the SCOTUS stands on this issue.

If you want me to ruin the ending, I will: the SCOTUS doesn't side with either group. Neither the all-religion nor the no-religion folks. But try to tell them that. Good luck. It was nice knowing you.

There are dumber and more harmful ideas that have existed in our pop culture than the current joke that "Christmas" can't be mentioned lest someone be insulted--I mean, the notion is annoying, but it doesn't stop Christmas from 1) happening or 2) being referred to as Christmas.

Sorry about that, controversy creators. Oh, and, PFFFFFFTHHHHH!

Tradition has a way of enduring, despite the best efforts of revisionists. Celebrate the day any way you want, or even not at all. It's your day. Ours. Be highly skeptical of all special claims to the contrary.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Historian of Pop: Bowling Green professor found value in studying cultural trends of society (Columbus Dispatch editorial, October 28, 2009)

Before Ray Browne came along, studying Western culture entailed analyzing the masterpieces of literature, music and art that emerged infrequently over the centuries, their importance growing over time and confirmed by generations of scholars.

The idea that Browne nurtured, as he founded the academic study of popular culture, is that, in an age of mass media, humbler transient works of "art" can influence life and society in ways important enough to merit serious study.

At Bowling Green State University in 1973, Browne established the first college-level academic department devoted to studying pop culture; he is credited with coining that term. He died last week at 87.

Browne remained a foremost expert on what Americans are excited about at any given moment. He was widely quoted by journalists trying to explain the latest trend.

Most likely, scholars always will debate whether studying ideas and trends that are popular for a nanosecond and then fade from the mainstream memory -- think J.R. Ewing beer cans -- is worth anyone's time.

Few would suggest that much of the everyday, vast volume of advertisements and plastic toys and imitations of some other recent fad that characterize pop culture has lasting artistic value.

But in the American democracy, public opinion translates into votes and political policy, and public opinion and attitudes are formed as much by reality TV and YouTube as by serious political discourse. What is loved or hated by the public in a particular season can tell the pop-culture scholar something about the public mood that might not be revealed in a standard opinion poll.

Historians trying to understand the 1970s might gain as much from a review of TV Guide magazines and Sears catalogs from that era as from the complete archive of a scholarly journal.

These days, the field Browne founded has grown infinitely more complex, as the Internet has sped up both the dissemination of ideas and how fast they lose popularity. This should keep his successors at Bowling Green, as well as others around the country who followed his lead, busy for the foreseeable future.

--Columbus Dispatch editorial, Oct. 28, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Obama testing the left's faith

The moment that Obama topped Bush in the God-mentioning sweepstakes, cyber-liberals have been attacking the Christian Right like never before. Or, at least, like before. Actually, it's kind of hard to top before, when it comes to faith-bashing.

Why are they doing this? Substitution. They can't bear coming down too hard on Obama, so they go back to their traditional target. Which is stupid, because we Dems hold the power now, and what's going to be the effect of our demonizing any portion of the not-in-power right? Isn't this one of those measures destined to backfire? The kind of measures preferred by my side, it sometimes seems.

Every day, we Dems strive to live up to our "How do we screw things up today?" image.

Anyway, there isn't much to say about this trend, being that it's nothing more than a faith-bad/democracy-good game that rivals the men-bad/women-good movement of the Nineties for sheer brainlessness. Too many on the left seem incapable of facing up to any of our own faults, especially any on Obama's part. Maybe, during our eight years in exile, we got to thinking too much like victims. And a victim, in the language of pop culture, is someone who can do no wrong, by definition.

So, when faced with evidence that we can do, and do do, plenty of wrong, we're forced to scapegoat the usual suspects. Anymore, we have a single usual suspect called the Religious Right. The more we dump on our foes, the angrier they'll get. Something to ponder, I think.

Anyway, Obama's religious. Live with it. He'd be so even if he didn't feel compelled to dispel the not-born-in-America, is-a-Muslim rumors. (In fact, one of Google's standard search lines is "Obama is a Muslim terrorist"! Far out.)

Lee says, let's face up to our faults and get on with the business of worshiping celebrities and snoring loudly while the health insurance lobby owns Congress (step aside, NRA). My personal favorite form of liberal disconnect consists of praising the very same "liberal" media that worked so hard against Gore and Kerry and which now bitches loudly about the aftermath of eight years of Bush. Choose your own form of denial. Personalized denial is the best kind.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Care and feeding of 78s, Part Three, by Peter Grendysa (1984)

THE CARE AND FEEDING OF 78'S, PART THREE
IT FOLLOWED ME HOME, CAN I KEEP IT?

Peter Grendysa (Goldmine 96, 3/30/1984)

Whether you have one 78 or 10,000, whether you've been collecting other speeds for six months or sixteen years, you can never forget that a 78rpm is different. Just getting your new find home or receiving an unbroken mail order purchase is a major accomplishment. You deserve a short time to relax and enjoy the sight of this fine shiny black example of American engineering. Before you slap it on your turntable and crank it out, take a moment to get it ready.

The first thing to do is put away all those fancy-schmancy fluids you've been buying to goop up your LP's and 45's. You don't know what is in them, anyway, and if your vinyl plastic records dissolve into freeform objets d'art in twenty years all you can do is write a nasty letter to the manufacturer, if they're still around.

78rpm records are allergic to alcohol in any form or concentration. For them, the Volstead Act was never repealed. Disc-washing fluids contain alcohol to help in cleaning and to dry the surface rapidly. They also contain surfactants which is an expensive word for detergents. Detergents go after everything not nailed down, surround it in a bubble, and let you rinse it all away. This is a good thing to combat dust and gump in the grooves, and surfactants make water "wetter" to get it down into the grooves. You don't need a lot of surfactant to do the job, and the bubbles or foam you see are no measure of how well it is cleaning. Some of the best surfactants don't get a "head" on them at all. And, you definitely do not need or want the alcohol. (Well, at least not on the records).

Alcohol will attack your 78’s and dissolve them. On the other hand, dust particles in the grooves can be extra destructive on a 78 because of the brittleness of the material. How do you clean a 78? Simply stated, you wash it just as you would a dinner plate. Start with a clean sink, fill it with lukewarm water and add a few drops, no more, of a non-lotion dishwashing detergent. Get yourself one of those very soft complexion brushes sold in cosmetic departments, roll up your sleeves and get ready to do some sud-bustin'.

Dunk the entire record in your detergent solution for a few seconds, making certain the entire surface on both sides gets wet. Wipe the surface in the direction of the grooves with your complexion brush or your hand to loosen the dirt in the grooves, and then rinse immediately in lukewarm running water until all traces of detergent are gone. Don't worry about label color fade or lifting. The record won't be in the water long enough to do any damage. The majority of 78's have heavily-varnished labels quite impervious to water. If you leave the record soak too long, you might get some puckering of the label, but even this will disappear when it dries.

To dry the record, wipe it with a soft, lint-free cloth. Most dish towels that have been through the washing machine a few times are lint-free. Old diapers are good, too, as they are quite soft and lintless. Let the record air-dry 15 minutes or so, then put it in a paper sleeve. Chances are the sleeve that came with the record has as much junk on the inside as the record had on the surface, so a new jacket is recommended. If the original sleeve is one of those art-deco beauties or printed with the label name and lists of other records, save it. They're not making those anymore, either. If it's plain brown or green, you might as well throw it away because you can't clean it.

You should, at this point, give some thought to the jackets or sleeves you are going to use to house your 78's. That means you should think about plasticizers. If it wasn't for these crazy chemicals, plastic would be as rigid as a board. When you add plasticizers to plastic, you make it flexible. The bad thing about plasticizers is that they don't stay put, they migrate. The good thing about plasticizers in your 45's and LP's is this migration. Consider this: everytime you use a cleaning fluid or alcohol on those records, you remove some of the plasticizers from the surface. Within 45 minutes, more plasticizers from inside the plastic have migrated to the surface to replace those lost. That's why it's a good idea not to play a record just after you've cleaned it.

Most 78rpm records made of shellac and beeswax, etc. do not contain plasticizers. But many plastic sleeves do. (There are exceptions, such as mylar.) Putting a plastic sleeve on a 78rpm record is an invitation for plasticizers to migrate to the surface of the record, where they will soften the shellac over a period of time. Furthermore, everytime you slide the record out of the plastic sleeve, you generate a static charge, which is exactly what you don't want, as every mote of dust in the house will make a beeline for your record. Some plastics are made "anti-static" to avoid this well-known propensity. But the common method of rendering plastic "anti-static" is to add surfactants to the compound. You don't need this against your record, either. In the medical and aerospace industries, "anti-static" plastic bags are just one small part of a complete handling system that includes ionized air flow, grounded work surfaces, and grounded people. If you have all this in your record room, congratulations, static is not a problem for you.

If you don't worry about static-attracted dust in your environment for your 45's and LP's, chances are it won't be a problem for your 78's. You still want to keep plastic away from the surface of the record. Use a paper sleeve for your 78rpm records. The heavy green "stock" sleeves favored by record shops in the past were chosen not for any magical protective properties. They simply lasted longer under heavy handling and re-use. When you bought a record, it was taken out of the stock jacket and put into a plain paper one for you. The stock jacket was used again and again.

Collectors should consider the higher cost of the green stock
jacket and the extra space it requires on your shelves. The plain paper sleeves will do very nicely for most of us. Neither one is going to protect your 78 from breakage.

Sometimes, on a clear, silent evening you can sit in your record room and listen to the 78's cracking on your shelves. Or, so it seems. A record that has been given reasonable care and stored properly over the years will sometimes, for no apparent reason, develop a hairline crack all by itself. Second to receiving a most-wanted mint 78 in pieces through the mail, this is the most depressing occurrence. Some of this is caused by stresses built into the record during the manufacturing process those long years ago. Often you will find several copies of the same record with hairline cracks in the same place. One thing you can do to avoid this is to keep the 78's in a place that does not have extremes of temperature - whether too hot or too cold. For most of us, that means keeping them where we live - not in the garage or attic, but living room or bedroom. If your spouse or friend has already resigned her- or himself to you spending large sums of money on noisy old low-fi and fragile records, they won't mind sleeping in the same room with them.

The second thing you can do is shelve the records with strong dividers spaced every ten records or so to keep them from leaning on each other. Never store them flat, always upright.

(Originally appeared in Goldmine #96, 3/30/84. Posted here by kind permission of the author.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Atheists are not only okay, we love them

For one thing, I'm not about to stop loving my sister. Or any of the other nonbelievers I know. Well, not unless I didn't love them in the first place, but only if.

My beef with faith-bashing lies with the current fad of characterizing all believers as ultra-conservative hypocrites with no concept of what's currently cool. Yes, I fit that last part perfectly--I wouldn't know current fashion if it ran me over with a team of horses. I'm not, however, a conservative. Nor, hopefully, a hypocrite. Except when I say one thing and do another.

Yes, a high percentage of believers (who make for quite a large and diverse group) are okay with terror-suspect torture to one extent or another, but so is the entire population. Given that believers are a majority, those two observations are pretty much the same thing. Believers, as a demographic, are no more or less conservative or liberal than the body politic. There's money to be made in suggesting otherwise (ask Pew or Huff-Po), but the faithful aren't some alien segment of our population, no matter how often that meme (I've always wanted to type "that meme") is presented by Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, Family Guy, or NPR.

That is, my beef isn't with people who don't believe--please, by all means, don't-believe with all your heart (just make sure it's what you really and truly don't believe). In my book (The Book of Lee), we're all children of the universe, we all have equal worth, and whatever's coming to us is coming to everyone--fate plays no favorites. Or so the Book of Lee maintains. For what it's worth, I don't believe in a prayer-granting, controller-of-the-elements God who gets back at everyone who fails to follow this or that version of the Truth--I imagine God has little use for our various portrayals of his will, plan, etc. It's fitting that we try to understand (and choose to accept or reject) God in terms of ourselves--i.e., as if God were an extension of humanity. But only so long as we realize we're projecting ourselves onto God/no-God. And only so long as we realize that humanity is one more detail in the cosmic mix, no more or less important than any other. Well, okay. More important than rap music, Ellen's awful TV show, or Elvis-invented-rock-and-roll mythology.

I comment on the faith-bashing trend because it's become huge, and because it's been part of the entertainment blogosphere since I arrived here in 2005, and probably before. I figure that, if it's acceptable for believers to be portrayed as comical throwbacks in evolution, then I can be allowed to offer a word or two in rebuttal. I didn't raise the issue, after all. Of course, a number of on-line atheists have me almost convinced that I'm at fault for existing.

On-line atheists, please note--not all atheists. I'm not equating the two. In fact, probably most of those involved in the neo-atheist fad (as I call it) are believers upset with "organized" religion (read: traditional church services). It continues to weird me out, but many of the idea-carriers for Richard Dawkins and the rest are people who, in fact, believe in God. Ah, but it's their God, not the evil organized-religion God. Whatever. As a group phenomenon, that branch of bashing takes the cake--church-going, before the Gen-X revival, was like Borg society, only worse. According to them. Unlike old-church types like me (organ preludes/interludes, sermon, collection plate, announcements, etc.), the new-church types have figured out that God is within them. What a novel thought. They've discovered a personal God. Far out. I can't wait for them to discover the wheel, indoor plumbing, and the fact that men and women view sex differently. Stay tuned.

No, I'm not referring to all Gen-X'ers. I'm too close to one myself, after all. Depending on where you consult, I'm either a Boomer or a Gen Jones. I'm probably the latter, given that I was never a hippie, didn't protest the war (too young), and only vaguely remember the social and political issues of the (echo chamber) SIXTIES. My version of the Sixties was Batman, The Outer Limits, and Famous Monsters. I was a kid.

In conclusion, atheists are fine. The only folks in that demographic who irk me are the on-line sorts who, on one hand, condemn anyone who believes the Bible literally and in full and, on the other, condemns anyone who doesn't. They belong to the James Randi school of treating the Bible like a Sears catalog--one that you'd pitch out for being out of date and, therefore, invalid. And Sears catalogs, like the Bible, make lousy science texts.

As for the younger people of faith who refuse to become a mindless faith robot like me, well--good for them. Maybe they can introduce me to their personal God, who's probably way better than my version, who loves everyone and simply wants us all to participate in the celebration of being.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

110 percent of Christians approve of waterboarding

Okay, it's only 90 percent--according to writer, actor, comic, musician and radio DJ Paul Day, who is so furious, he can barely type. In a piece categorized under "Blatant Assholes," "Christians," and "Vomiting in My Mouth," he writes:

"I guess if you base your religion on the torture and death of an innocent man then you probably shouldn’t have a problem with torture and death. Still, when 90% of your followers believe that waterboarding is ethical, then Jesus need to come down and kick some serious ass.

I’m so furious I can barely type."

Wow--learn something new every day. Not only didn't I know that my religion was based on the torture and death of an innocent man, it stuns me learn to 90 percent of my kind think waterboarding is ethical. Paul's proof? A poll at OneNewsNow, where (when I checked, at least) nearly 85 percent of respondents disagreed with a "high profile Baptist leader" named Richard Land, who feels waterboarding is wrong. According to onenewsnow.com, Land is one of "a growing chorus of religious leaders" who do. But 85 percent of OneNewsNow respondents aren't with Richard. (I voted with the mere 9.16 percent who are.)

Is that 85 percent rate very surprising? Well, consider the Pew poll which revealed that 71 percent of the public is okay with torture to some extent. Kind of puts things into perspective a little, no? And consider the fact that OneNewsNow.com "is part of the American Family News Network, an offshoot of the American Family Association founded by arch-religious right conservative Donald Wildmon," according to Salon.com. Would we expect a low rate of support for waterboarding at such a site?

And why would someone assume that such views are those of the Christian community at large, blatant assholes though we may be? Thanks, Paul, for presuming that my views are in alignment with people whose social and religious views differ from mine in any number of vital respects. But I guess Jesus is going to kick my ass along with the others'.

At any rate, I don't support waterboarding at all, ever. Not even for people who misrepresent my most cherished beliefs.

The blatant stereotyping of whole groups of human beings seems to be a trend, anymore, on the cyber-left, though I wish it weren't so. I wrote earlier about the Social-Darwinistic mentality of the neo-atheist crowd, in which their brand of "logic" and "reason" constitutes, in their humble view, the only path of hope for the species. Well, those folks seem to have taken over the cyber-wing of the Democratic Party. When it's not someone assuming I'm a fanatical apologist for Bush because I suggest that church/state separation still stands firm in spite of anything the guy did, then it's someone concluding I support public-school prayer because I point out that "no law respecting" means "no law in regard to."

Never mind that I gave neither person any reason to think I'm a Bush apologist or supporter of public-school prayer (and every reason to conclude otherwise)--apparently, anything short of a loud, lock-step party-line declaration isn't good enough.

Progressivism will cease to have a future the moment it turns into a series of pledges. Sameness of thinking shouldn't be the goal--uniting people around a common cause or series thereof, yes--but recited values are simply words. I'm beginning to think that the Internet is accelerating the devolution of our language into mere word units. Maybe it's the say-it-quick nature of cyber-writing, though I suspect it's context that loses its power on the Net, given the medium's unprecedented ability to slice and dice whatever tries to pass through it (text, picture, sound, etc.). Context is the glue that holds ideas together, that forms the basis for meaningful comparison and contrast.

Just as numbers, when divorced from Math, become magical symbols, don't words follow suit when divorced from the higher language of context? This may be what we're witnessing.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Lying, Part 2

In my Sunday rant, I forgot to mention that the big Huff-Po piece on the Peee-ew torture survey is titled Church Going Americans More Likely to Support Torture, which has nothing to do with the headline used by their source, CNN: Support for terror suspect torture differs among the faithful.

In other words, the study found a difference in support for torture among certain types of churchgoers--it's an internal comparison, not an indictment of believers vs. the body politic. But no matter--Huff-Po went ahead and announced that "church going Americans" are more likely to support torture, knowing that most readers would take that to mean "are more likely than the public at large to support torture."

For that to be true, support for torture among church going Americans would have to be greater then seventy-one percent. Was it? Nothing I've read so far tells me.

I always try to give the media the benefit of the doubt when it comes to misleading headlines--bad headline-writing is always a possible culprit. But it looks for all the world as if Pew wanted to find greater support for torture among the faithful and, when it didn't, went ahead and tweaked the data in that direction anyway. O, Lee of little faith? In this case, yep.

Integrity dictated reporting the data as is, not as Pew was hoping it would materialize. But integrity can't dictate anything unless it's there to do so.

Anyway, in this Internet-based era of misinformation as a matter of course, the only way to confront such lies is to do it aggressively. Which, of course, makes the confronter sound disingenuous or possessed of an agenda. The easier it becomes to state and spread a falsehood, the more the burden of proof shifts to those trying to convey the truth. So, the Internet isn't all good, by any means.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday rant: How to falsely sell poll data, or, Peee-ew Research

Not content to distort the findings of this poll just once, both Peee-ew "Research" and the media decided to twice falsely sell it. Next poll, they'll go for a trinity.

Now, be sure to check the link above, which goes to a pie chart that shows the poll results in question. Note the heading: "Total U.S. population." Note the breakdown of responses, wherein a whopping twenty-five percent of respondents said no to torture. Note that four percent didn't know or care, or else hung up the phone. Notice that this leaves a large and (in my view) scary percentage of folks who think torture is justified to some extent or another: seventy-one percent. That's 71 out of every 100 folks, people. I mean people, folks.

So, of course, all around the Net you'll find discussions of that seventy-one percent figure. Yes? Well, not exactly. Rather, you'll encounter people discussing one of two press articles--the one which has the population pretty evenly split on the issue (!!) and the other, more famous one, which links rate of churchgoing to willingness to condone torture! At Huff-Po, well over 4,000 comments have appeared at the site's main religion-responsible-for-torture post, and most of these are variations on or exact repeats of the same ol' Why Don't Religionists Go Back to Religion Land Where They Came From? corn. People of faith can't think, we have no morality, we live in the Dark Ages, we don't even try to crack wind quietly, etcetera. (What do you mean, all true??)

How did the fact that 71 out of 100 citizens support torture become a population evenly split and/or a matter of church attendance? Because Peee-ew and the press have the combined integrity of a bubblegum molecule left on the surface of Mercury for 500 years and then stomped on repeatedly by an angry bull. On a good day, that is. On a bad day, considerably less.

The pretty-much-evenly-split lie was easily accomplished: Pee-ew and/or the press combined the "never" and "rarely" responses. Sweet, no? Never mind that those who think torture is justified "rarely" are advocates of torture. Never mind the fact that, in a pro/con poll, "never" means no but "rarely" still means yes. Too nuanced for Pee-ew, I guess.

The swipe against religion was also easily managed: Pee-ew and/or our alleged press simply broke down the data according to religious groupings. And what's wrong with that, you ask?

Plenty. Namely, there was no reason whatsoever to introduce the poll findings to the public in a manner that indicts religion when the main poll (from which the religious study was derived) indicts 71 out of 100 citizens. When seventy-one percent of the darn population is pro-torture, it isn't a matter of religion. Or car ownership. Or where you live. Or what bus you take. Nearly 3/4 of the public IS the public. The body politic is the culprit, not people of faith.

Of course, both Pee-ew and the our alleged press wanted to soft-pedal the bad news, and so why not in a way that caters to the prejudices of the primary consumers of data? I refer, of course, to the secular left, as it's called (which, technically, I'm a part of). To be sure, the main deifiers of data are liberals who simply "know," owing to their superior intellect and education, that data is never wrong, that whatever is computed from a poll is the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the (Peee-ew) stinking truth. Funny how those who worship at the altar of Data have the nerve to ridicule those who worship a human-style God. Anyway....

Please note that I didn't say all liberals are this stupid when it comes to data, though I am convinced it's most of us. Everybody's dumb about something, and the left's main area of brain-shutdown is data. Statistics. Study results. Ooooo-woooo! Study results!!! Data! Figures!!

Ahhhh.... Cigarette time.

Did I mention that most of the data worshipers at Huff-Po apparently failed to follow the links to the pie chart--the one which clearly lays out the figures? The reason they didn't is because, unlike me, they smelled nothing fishy about the poll reports, such as the fact that the two main reports didn't gel. You see, that's always a clue that things haven't been reported correctly--when two big stories turn out to be at odds with one another. Just call me gifted, that I'm able to pick up on such subtle and obscure clues.

Even after I pointed people to the link, no one could fathom what I was complaining about. Too abstract, I guess. I mean, here we have a main poll that indicts 71 out of 100 respondents, yet the results are being touted as a virtual tie between pro and con, and/or another example of why religion is evil and smelly and just so un-HBO. It's almost as if... as if... dare I say? Almost as if the peddlers of the data intended to cater to what their data consumers most want to hear. Which, of course, isn't the truth (something no one wants to hear, anyway).

I guess it's an aberration of the Information Age that data has become a church--I can't see people in the days before computers investing all of their trust in figures on a piece of paper, though there must have been some people so inclined. Anyway, we have three reasons to not feel at ease here: 1) A bunch of people are reading an awful lot into results from a for/against poll; 2) no one notices or at least cares when it's demonstrated that the data has been misrepresented; and 3) pollsters and the press seem to have no moral reservations about shaping data to the expectations of their core audience. Which raises the obvious question: why don't they simply make the stuff up in the first place? Why even go to the trouble of collecting it?

Fabricating it from the get-go would be a lot easier, but, hey--maybe they like the challenge.

What would Jesus conclude? That the credulity of data consumers stems from wishful thinking and vanity. Like so many human evils. That's my guess. Actually, I don't know what he'd say. "Dimwits," perhaps.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Internet "debate" and its effect on the economy

None, far as I can tell. But I'll keep you posted.

I've been engaging in fun Internet "debate" of a "religious" nature. Here's how it works: Followers of Richard Dawkins and Imagine play skeptic to various "claims" of theism, treating all such "claims" as assertions about the physical world and the workings thereof. In doing so, they're stepping outside of the lines of conventional debate by 1) allowing themselves to state their opponents' positions--and in advance, no less, and 2) confusing faith statements with scientific claims. Writing the other guy's lines and mischaracterizing his positions are, the last time I checked, debate no-no's. I mean, really big ones.

Otherwise, the people in question are masterful arguers.

Actually, there's a third thing they do. Namely, if I take issue with any of the words they've penned for me--for instance, if I protest, "Um, that's not my position"--they get annoyed and cite poll results that apparently prove that such and such a position is, in fact, mine. In other words, they're sorry, but that's what I think. They probably think I'm crazy for not even knowing my own positions. Meanwhile, I'm not allowed to script their lines for them. (How fair is that??)

So, anyway, I've spent the last couple of years being told what I believe and how irrational I am for believing it (whether I believe it or not), and I've almost forgotten what I do believe. Maybe that's the plan. Clever rascals, those one-sided debaters.

Anyway, I asked Bev why I keep on "debating" these people, and she responded, "Because you have fun doing it." As usual, she's right.

Things got a little hairy tonight, with an especially aggressive opponent insisting that I'm against gays and in favor of stoning and enslaving people. I responded that I think nothing of the kind, and that I'm a liberal Democrat--something he obviously isn't, given his habit of demonizing me for not sharing his views. I'm sure he'll appreciate that observation. (So far, he hasn't signed on to thank me.)

I've determined that the whole faith-bashing trend began in the mass entertainment sphere--rock bands, comedians, filmmakers, etc. Now, of course, we all know that nobody gets his or her values from the entertainment blasted into our ears 24/7, but you can't deny the influence of same. (Actually, people can, and do. Still, they shouldn't.) Anyway, what's cool for rock and movies and stand-up routines is cool for intellectuals. How that works, I have no idea, but it does.

As faith-bashing became the new thing to do on the media-hip left, folks like James Randi and Sam Harris took note of this trend and decided to turn up the volume on scapegoating religion for our culture's lack of scientific literacy. They joined the ritual, and best-selling volumes ensued, and suddenly modern comics were given an instant-laugh alternative to swearing profusely--mocking faith. And all they had to do was recycle George Carlin recycling Lenny Bruce. Work, like originality, being for losers.

My favorite characteristics of the bashing-for-cred crowd? The way they insist they're not characterizing all people of faith as fundies while characterizing all people of faith as fundies. How they insist that they're not claiming we all think alike while claiming that we all think alike. How they denounce the Christian Bible as an insane, totally irrational document while citing it as an authority (something they have to do, for reasons that have never been clear to me). How they ridicule the idea of God as a super being suitable for photographing and framing while restricting themselves to that very comic-book concept of God, thus making fun of their own view of God (while refusing to deal with more advanced claims for the Big Guy).

Ah, to be a best-selling skeptic of theism. I'd get to script my opponents' "claims" and, simultaneously, shoot them down in whatever form I choose to present them, making sure to insult my opponents every other sentence for the benefit of all the intellectually insecure readers who wish they were me. Then I'd refuse to debate my critics, insisting that I've heard it all and that there's no requirement to deal with nonsense, anyway, beyond labeling it as such.

The perfect scam. Disgusting isn't the word. However, the fallout is fun! But I'm not sure if it's helping the economy or not. Probably isn't.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009