Archives January 2010


If anyone hasn’t gotten their fill of Prop 8 trial coverage, here’s a bundle of links:

First of all,’s day-by-day coverage of the trial. Mercury being, like, an actual news outlet with presuambly journalistic standards, I figured it’d be best to lead off with them. (Free registration required. Or bugmenot. Or, as it turns out, just leaving JavaScript disabled bypasses their compulsory registration system. Huh.)

The Alliance Defense Fund, who support marriage by refusing it to people who want to get married, have their own roundup.

It’s pretty dry, and generally makes a game attempt at hiding the WTF, mostly by being short on details. But the façade isn’t perfect, e.g.:

Professor Chauncey also had a frustrating habit of falsely linking the motivations of those who supported Proposition 8 to those who supported racial segregation a half century ago. He reluctantly agreed that there is nothing wrong with voters considering their individual moral values to decide how to vote on an issue, but then added that people supported racial segregation because of their moral beliefs. People also use their personal moral values to support environmental legislation or health care legislation. Does that mean those voters are just like those who supported racial segregation?

If you’re one of those weirdos who like facts (ugh! Ptooey!) in their arguments, you might be interested in the American Foundation for Equal Rights’s official trial transcripts.

But my favorite is Autostraddle’s Judgment Daze series. Yes, Rachel and Riese are as biased as the ADF (though in the other direction), but Rachel writes like a gay Wonkette, which counts for a lot, and includes links and videos and tasteful pictures of hot women kissing.

Naturally, both sides think they’ve won, and we won’t know which side really really won until the judge rules in, I think, late February. But I’m feeling cautiously optimistic. As in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the defense witnesses don’t seem to be all that familiar with the value of consistency or critical thinking, things that, I gather, count for a lot in a courtroom, especially when there’s no jury to be swayed by emotional appeals.

I also understand that the prosecution wants to show that Prop 8 was motivated primarily by anti-gay animus, and that a bigoted majority can’t just take away the rights of a minority. Sounds like they did a fine job with the examination of Hak-Shing Tam, who basically regurgitated every homophobic stereotype and urban legend you’ve ever heard, and whom the defense side nudged under the bus a bit.

Other arguments, like “marriage is all about raising children” were countered by, say, the observation that the Netherlands have had gay marriage since 2001 or so, and still does not resemble a Mad Maxian apocalyptic hellscape.

But just in case the judge decides that keeping definitions constant is more important than allowing people to pursue happiness, I think I have the perfect solution:

In the last day of testimony, David Blankenhorn said:

Even in instances of a man engaging in polygamous marriage, each marriage is separate. He — one man marries one woman. That’s the way it works.

The scholars then have pointed out that in certain societies, many societies, men of wealth and power then go on to marry additional women. They do not marry as a group. It is not a group marriage. It permits certain men that have access to power to marry more than one woman. Each marriage is a separate marriage of one man and one woman.

So let’s say a guy marries a woman. He then marries another woman, thus forming a family of three. They then divorce the guy, leaving two women married to each other, all fairly within the confines of the traditional definition of marriage.

It could even lead to a cottage industry of professional brides and grooms, who’ll marry any two people for a reasonable fee.

Way to Undermine Your Case

Today’s WSJ has an article about the Proposition 8 suit in California:

Defenders of California’s ban on same-sex marriage began making their case Monday, countering the plaintiffs’ argument that gays and lesbians are subject to discrimination.

Which is all well and good until you see the photo that ran next to the article:

Prop 8 Discrimination

So this guy is holding up a sign saying “No gay rights”. Right in front of the courthouse in which the lawyers for his side are trying to argue that gays aren’t discriminated against.

I believe that counts as an own goal.

I Loves Me Some Smart Politicians

The Post ran a piece about senator-elect Scott Brown:

His prior visits to Washington, he explained, were mostly to watch his daughter Ayla, a college basketball player, play against American University, or to visit the monuments “as a tourist.”

I’m a history buff,” he said. “I love the Museum of Natural History.


They should have asked him if he thinks a liberal arts college is where students are indoctrinated into the vast left-wing conspiracy.

Or whether he goes shopping on the Mall.

I Fail to See BillDo’s Problem

In a characteristically spittle-flecked post, BillDo rails against the people suing to repeal Proposition 8. For those who’ve forgotten, that’s when a group of Californians turned to another group of Californians and said, “The right to get married is so precious and fundamental that we’re going to take it away from you.”

BillDo writes:

Their goal is not to contest the First Amendment rights of Catholics and others—their goal is to put religion on trial. What they are saying is that religious-based reasons for rejecting gay marriage are irrational, and thus do not meet the test of promoting a legitimate state interest.

So what are the rational reasons for taking away gays’ right to get married?

Society cannot exist without families;

This isn’t obvious to me, but I won’t argue the point.

families cannot exist without reproduction;


reproduction cannot exist without a sexual union between a man and a woman;

Well, duh.

and every society in the history of the world has created an institution called marriage to provide for this end.

Again, this might not be 100% true, but it’s close enough for jazz.

In short, it is nothing but irrational to challenge such a timeless verity.

Who’s challenging any of this? How will allowing gays to marry affect straight couples who want to get married and/or have children?

Unless he’s arguing that the institution of marriage will become so polluted by Teh Gay that people like him won’t want anything to do with it. Kind of like saying “I won’t go into that store; they allow homos to shop there.”

In short, BillDo’s problem seems to be with his head. Fortunately, it’s nothing a good laxative can’t fix.

PS: I just realized that I managed to write an entire post about BillDo without using the words “fucknugget” or “twatwaffle”. I take this as a sign that I’ve grown as a writer.

Analogy O’ the Week

Daniel Dennett, about why God allows innocents to suffer:

The Problem of Evil, capital letters and all, is the central enigma confronting theists. There is no solution. Isn’t that obvious? All the holy texts and interpretations that contrive ways of getting around the problem read like the fine print in a fraudulent contract–and for the same reason: they are desperate attempts to conceal the implications of the double standard they have invented.

(emphasis added.)

As usual, Dennett manages to clear away the rhetorical brush that hides the central problem, and gets to the point. I’ll have to remember this analogy.

Margaret Downey Can Go to Hell

About a year ago, a group of us was* at happy hour downtown. There was a Secular Coalition for America meeting nearby, so I got to meet a few famous atheists (or at least famous in certain atheist circles), including Dan Barker and Brother Richard.

The bit that sticks in my mind, though, is when Margaret Downey told some of us that as atheists, we should purge our speech of religious expressions.

“Oh, lord”, I thought. I made a herculean effort to remain jovial, but the reaction she got was close to pandemonium.

Even setting aside the fact that policing the language for morally inappropriate words and phrases strikes me as being too close to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four for comfort, there’s also the fact that human language is a product of its culture.

Whether we like it or not, religion and other mythological ideas have left their mark on the language. They’re common tropes that we can all refer to in speech. In December, I might joke that such-and-such annoying customer will be getting coal in his stocking. And after Christmas I sometimes ask my friends whether Santa was good to them. Not because any of us believe in Santa Claus, but just as a roundabout way of asking whether they got everything they wanted. If we remove religious references from speech, shouldn’t we do the same with Santa Claus?

What about Internet trolls? Or gremlins in malfunctioning machinery? Should we stop referring to Wall Street prognosticators as oracles who read tea leaves? And where would games and online fora be without avatars?

For that matter, should we stop using atlases, named after the titan holding up the world, depicted on the frontispiece of early books of maps? While we’re at it, we’d have to rename most of the planets, moons, constellations, and the continent of Europe. We’d also have to eliminate Thursday and Friday.

It’s not just ancient myths, either: discussions about the limits of knowledge invariable eventually include the phrase “living in the Matrix“. And a delusional kook who refuses to see reason can be described as having taken the blue pill. Heck, even Non Sequitur recently referenced the Kobayashi Maru.

The Bible gives us a plethora of myths and expressions to draw upon: David and Goliath, the good Samaritan, the kiss of death, 30 pieces of silver, “am I my brother’s keeper?”, the word “antediluvian”, and much more. The Greeks gave us Achilles heels, Procrustean beds, Pandora’s box, odysseys, and mentoring.

Obviously, the difference between Christian myths and ancient Greek ones is that the Christian ones are still widely believed. Ideally, we should be moving to where we can put the Bible next to the Kalevala and the Iliad on our bookshelves, something that influenced society in the past, but that no one takes seriously anymore.

But there’s a difference between post-theism and anti-theism. If you stay away from a thing, you’re being influenced, perhaps controlled by that thing. I used to avoid Top 40 music until I realized that I was cutting myself off from some music that was quite good despite being popular. I don’t want to be controlled by religion, and so I plan to continue using whatever terms come naturally, whether they’re religious or not. When I have to catch a dawn flight, I’ll complain about having to get up at an ungodly hour. I’ll complain about the unholy mess of cables in the machine room. I won’t stop using expressions like “Christ on a cracker” and “Jesus titty-fucking Christ”. Hell, no.

I’m sure Ms. Downey’s heart is in the right place, and hope she doesn’t feel crucified or martyred if she runs across this rant. I just don’t want to be limited by someone else’s superstition.


Update, 22:21: Alert reader Fez took issue with the phrase “a group of us was”, saying it should be “a group of us were”. As of this writing, we’ve failed to reach consensus on which one it should be. They both sound right to me. My go-to reference in matters grammatical, Grammar Girl (or, in this case, her guest writer), says that there aren’t any hard and fast rules, but that “was” is more common American usage. Feel free to discuss in the comments.

Answering Silly Questions

One thing I’ve always liked about science is that it allows you to answer a lot of silly questions, as well as lofty ones.

I don’t remember where, but I recently ran across the question of what would happen if you put a kitten in the Large Hadron Collider and accelerated it to some fraction of the speed of light. While that’s a very silly question, it’s easily answerable: the LHC uses magnets to accelerate charged particles; but since you can’t ionize a kitten, there’s no way to accelerate it using magnets. (Also, I haven’t checked, but I think the inner ring where the particles actually spin and do their thing is too small for a kitten to fit.) If you came up with some other way of accelerating a kitten to .5c, you could also pick up any textbook on relativity to find out how it would be flattened, how time would slow down for it, and all that other fun stuff.

(For other answerable questions, see this list of Questions you hope students don’t ask. In fact, I remember asking my High School chemistry teacher how they get teflon to stick to the pan in the first place. It led to an interesting discussion.)

(Update, Jan. 25: For a perfect example of what I’m talking about, see this video of the Mythbusters exploring whether it’s true that you can’t polish a turd. I’m guessing that the measuring device seen at the end is used to tell shit from Shinola.)

Compare that to how religion deals with similar questions. Everyone’s heard stories of the “troublemakers” who ask questions in Sunday school, like “If I get eaten by a cannibal who then converts to Christianity, and the second coming comes and the dead get their bodies back, will the various atoms become part of my body, or the cannibal’s?” Or “Assuming everyone in my family goes to heaven, which is perfect, will my grandmother be the baby girl that her parents first loved, the young woman who my grandfather fell in love with, the middle-aged mother that my father remembers, or the old woman whom I loved?”

Too often, kids are told not to ask such questions, or are given entirely unsatisfactory answers (“It just is, okay?”). But if a belief is so weak that it can’t withstand honest questioning by children, is it worth holding on to?

Hovind’s Appeal Denied

Kent Hovind’s site gives word that

The Supreme Court has recently denied our petition for a rehearing of Dr. Hovind’s case. They gave no reason.

Personally, I like to think that a clerk got the brief about someone who didn’t bother defending himself at the original trial, yet wants to appeal to the Supreme Court, and assumed it was a joke by one of the interns.

Tones on Tail – Rain


Tones on Tail was a side project started by Daniel Ash of Bauhaus. Their discography is short enough to fit on a double-CD album, but it’s one of my favorites.

I love the way that Rain takes it sweet time building up. It’s a song that refuses to be rushed. It take over four minutes of this 8-minute song before the first word is sung. The Cure only lasted 3:52 in The Kiss, but there, it felt like an extended solo at the beginning of the song, whereas here, it’s more as if the band is setting the mood for the song proper that is yet to come.

I’ve never been one for pictures painted with music, but in the opening part of Rain, I can see the clouds moving in, the first drops starting to fall at 0:58, a lull, and then the keyboard line starts raining in earnest around 3:37. And so, by the time the song actually gets going, you’re ready to settle in for a rainy afternoon indoors.

And when the song ends on a 20-second sustained chord, well, that’s all right, because by then you’re not expecting anything to happen quickly. Note, too, that as each note is released in turn, it dies out with a glissando down that mirrors the glissando up at 0:28. Perhaps that’s the clouds parting and the sun coming out.

All in all, I have no idea what the song is about, but it’s a nice bit of mood music. And I have no earthly idea what Slender Fungus is about either, so I guess that’s okay.

Sunday Playlist: Countdown
  1. Never Comes the Day, The Moody Blues
  2. Forever and a Day, The Offspring
  3. One Hundred Years, The Cure
  4. Sixteen Years, Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3
  5. Eleven Years, New Model Army
  6. A Thousand Days, The Offspring
  7. A Thousand Hours, The Cure
  8. One Week, Barenaked Ladies
  9. 7 Days, Assemblage 23
  10. In Only Seven Days, Queen
  11. Six Days, The Dead Milkmen
  12. One of These Days, Pink Floyd
  13. The Day Before, Conflict
  14. Another Day, The Cure
  15. One Small Day, Ultravox
  16. Twenty Four Hours, Joy Division
  17. This Is the Day, The The
  18. Twenty Four Minutes from Tulse Hill, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine
  19. Fifteen Minutes, Gravity Kills
  20. Five Minutes, Opposition
  21. Four Minutes, Roger Waters
  22. Two Minute Warning, Depeche Mode
  23. A Minute or Two, Mike Tabacco
  24. 88 Seconds in Greensboro, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
  25. One More Minute, “Weird Al” Yankovic
  26. Seventeen Seconds, The Cure
  27. Sixteen Seconds to Choose, ABC
  28. Seconds, U2
  29. Any Second Now, Depeche Mode
  30. This Is the Day… This Is the Hour… This Is This!, Pop Will Eat Itself