Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Let the misery begin!

Well folks, it's that time of year again. Time for the usual Misery Journey. Some of you may remember the lessons learned during last year's, as well as previous years' misery journeys. If you don't remember them... well... there's no easy way to sum up the sort of treatment that usually accompanies one of these jaunts, but I've provided enough links for you to refresh your memories.

Regardless, what this means is that I'm going to be out of town for a few days and, in all likelihood, unable to post. Hell, I'm even bringing my Sainted Girlfriend this time around so, with the exception of my three-legged dog, the entire Drek household will be unavailable for the duration. I'm sure that some of you are saddened by this, but most of you probably have a more normal reaction. Whatever your feelings about my departure, however, you may be wondering, "What shall I read while Drek is away?"

Well, have no fear dear readers, for I have a solution. Some of you may remember the intrepid blogger Brayden, formerly of Pub Sociology, who gave up the blogging world for more rewarding pursuits. Well, it seems that those days are over, and the blogging bug has once more bitten Brayden. He, and his associate Teppo Felin have opened a new blog, creatively titled: orgtheory.net. I can only assume that it is, in fact, about Organizational Theory. In any case, this new blog is in the blogroll, and I'm sure that many of you will get hours of enjoyment out of it.

Wait, what is that you say? You don't like org theory? Well, while I don't really understand how some people can fail to appreciate the fast-paced excitement of org theory,* have no fear, because I have you covered too. If you're quite certain that org theory isn't your "thing" then, by all means, go check out Shirley Setterbo's new blog. For those of you who remember Ms. Setterbo, she's an atheist attempting to "come out" in Texas. For obvious reasons, her adventures are of interest to me and many people like me. So, if you're curious, go check out her new adventures.

And if all that isn't enough... well... do your damn work for once amd stop screwing around on the internet.

* Just as a side issue, I originally did an image search for dull and ended up with a variety of bizarre and largely inexplicable images. Ah, google images, will you ever grow boring?

Friday, April 21, 2006

You win some, you lose some, and some you break even.

My advisor is a man of few words (because I can never goddamn find him) but he uses them well. His most recent comments on an important piece of work I have in process are good examples of this.

On the one hand, I still need to improve some things:

"You do suck at first-sentences."


But, on the other hand:

"The hypotheses are a lot cooler."


And, on the gripping hand:

"Really good writers do this hardly at all, and really poor writers do it all the time, but you do it a whole let less than they do."


Woo-hoo! Onward to mediocrity!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

"...and let he who has obsessively studied an arbitrarily delimited set of my, and others', teachings cast as many stones as he wants."

Of course, the title of this post isn't the actual biblical quotation that is used so frequently it makes your brain want to sever its relationship with your ears. That quotation is most often paraphrased as, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." I made the little addition above, though, because I think it perhaps more accurately reflects where a certain segment of the christian population is taking the religion.

In saying that, you might think I'm referring to our old friend Connie Morris, the wacky intolerant member of the Kansas State Board of Education (Although, now that I think of it, "Bored of Education" might be a better spelling for Morris' Kansas) who has fought so hard to remove things like evolution, sexual education, and minorities from her state. I'll admit, Morris has been in the news lately, for her rather vehement reaction to a picture of our carbohydratious lord, the Flying Spagetti Monster, but that's not such a huge deal. In any case, it's nothing new.

No, I'm referring not to Connie Morris' typical idiocy, but to a whole new brand of idiocy I've become aware of. Allow me to introduce Ruth Malhotra who is making quite a stir with her lawsuit against Georgia Tech. What is this lawsuit about, you ask? Well, I'll tell you, but first I want you to sit down. Seriously. Sit down, lean back, and make sure that you're good and comfy. Ready? Okay- she's suing because, as a Christian, she believes she has a right to be intolerant. Or, as the article states it:

Malhotra says her Christian faith compels her to speak out against homosexuality. But the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she's a senior, bans speech that puts down others because of their sexual orientation.

Malhotra sees that as an unacceptable infringement on her right to religious expression. So she's demanding that Georgia Tech revoke its tolerance policy.


So, yes, apparently she's suing because, as a christian, she has a right and a religious duty to be mean to homosexuals. I find this logic to be a little troubling, to put it mildly, even if I'm not really all that surprised. I've been half expecting this move for years now- particularly given the antics of the folks at Westboro Baptist and their ilk. Still, this move seems pretty bold to me because we actually have a christian coming out and saying, "Hey, look, my god isn't a god of love and tolerance. He's a god of sticking this jackboot right up your ass." I'd like to say that's she's a lone crank, but sadly that doesn't seem to be the case:

The Rev. Rick Scarborough, a leading evangelical, frames the movement as the civil rights struggle of the 21st century. "Christians," he said, "are going to have to take a stand for the right to be Christian."

In that spirit, the Christian Legal Society, an association of judges and lawyers, has formed a national group to challenge tolerance policies in federal court. Several nonprofit law firms — backed by major ministries such as Focus on the Family and Campus Crusade for Christ — already take on such cases for free.

The legal argument is straightforward: Policies intended to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination end up discriminating against conservative Christians. Evangelicals have been suspended for wearing anti-gay T-shirts to high school, fired for denouncing Gay Pride Month at work, reprimanded for refusing to attend diversity training. When they protest tolerance codes, they're labeled intolerant.


In other words, Ms. Malhotra isn't a lone crank, but is instead one of a number of people trying to combat the obvious persecution of christians in this country. I have to admit, I'm more than just slightly skeptical that christians are in fact persecuted- if only because I think other groups have a stronger claim, but of more interest to me is some of the logic underlying this case:

Others fear the banner of religious liberty could be used to justify all manner of harassment.

"What if a person felt their religious view was that African Americans shouldn't mingle with Caucasians, or that women shouldn't work?" asked Jon Davidson, legal director of the gay rights group Lambda Legal.

Christian activist Gregory S. Baylor responds to such criticism angrily. He says he supports policies that protect people from discrimination based on race and gender. But he draws a distinction that infuriates gay rights activists when he argues that sexual orientation is different — a lifestyle choice, not an inborn trait.

By equating homosexuality with race, Baylor said, tolerance policies put conservative evangelicals in the same category as racists.


See the problem? It's simply this: being black or white, male or female, is an inborn trait, but living with people of other races- that's a lifestyle choice. I think there are far weaker arguments that interracial marriage is genetic than there are for homosexuality. Likewise, whether or not a woman is permitted to wear pants is surely not genetic. So, what happens if some fragment of christianity decides these "lifestyle choices" are evil? Are we going to have to endure the same sort of hate mongering that homosexuals are being subjected to? Are law abiding, loving couples going to have to simply deal with religiously-motivated diatribes against miscegenation? That possibility isn't exactly far fetched.

Well, sadly, my answer is more or less "yes." I'll be honest: this article provides what I think is the most compelling reason yet for making school children wear uniforms (this kind rather than this kind) that I've ever encountered, but it doesn't convince me that Malhotra is wrong... exactly. As y'all know, I am fairly rabid about free speech, and this is no exception. If the campus community at Georgia Tech is going to accept pro-tolerance messages, then I think they also have to accept anti-tolerance messages. Either ban both, or ban neither, and I think banning neither is the way to go. However hateful Malhorta's speech may be, I tend to think that it is protected, and she is an adult who is legally entitled to exercise her rights. So, loathe as I am to admit it, I have to side with Malhotra to at least some extent.*

However, that said, I still have my own right to speak, and I'd like to say this:

Ms. Malhotra,

Your actions, however well-intentioned, are simply evil. While I do not share your faith, and frankly find many aspects of it quite repugnant, I have met numerous christians who attempt to live up to the promise of the new testament. It is my honor that one such christian of nobility, my good friend Slag, is a co-blogger on this site. You, Ms. Malhorta, twist their faith into a parody of generosity- a parody that teaches that in order to help, you must hate. Sadly, you are not alone in that. As a representative of christianity, you fail to even be as convincing as others who you would doubtless find distasteful. For all their failings, they still represent their religion far better than you. I am utterly disgusted with your behavior.

Still, please continue to hate and spew vitriol at those you find sinful. I think you could do nothing better to reveal the true nature of your faith. Hate may be easy to find, but your spitefulness will earn you fewer converts, and far less glory, than I think you imagine.

Sincerely,

Drek the Uninteresting


What can I say, folks? Sometimes free speech sucks.

As for the christians in the crowd who disagree with Ms. Malhotra: it's time to stand up and be counted. If this isn't the sort of person you want representing your faith, you need to say so. Otherwise, by remaining silent, you're tacitly approving of her interpretation of your religion. Sometimes doing nothing is still making a choice.

* Don't get me wrong, if she wants to actually deprive homosexuals of rights she's gonna have to come through me to do it, but speech itself doesn't bug me too much. Well, it does, but there's a principle involved.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A fine American tradition

As part of my induction in the world of American tradition, I am, apart from reading my presidential information cards, trying to come to grips with the wonderful all-American custom that is cheerleading. Many's the time when my lovely Slag has attempted to explain why a perfectly good and interesting sport (as he claims it to be) like American football needs near-naked women to perform stunts before, during and after in order to render it more...interesting.

Take proper football, sorry, soccer. Yesterday, as a minor miracle, I watched the really rather splendid match between AC Milan and FC Barcelona. Barcelona is of course "my" team in so far as I can be bothered to have one. Either way, the game was exciting, with a majestic goal from Giuly. And you know what? Not a halfnaked woman in sight. A whole stadium full of excited fans cheering and not a single woman in almost non-existent spandex*.

What does the above tell me about cheerleaders and, more importantly, about American football**? From my point of view it is all very easy. American football bores me to tears, and, as a consquence, I need all the halfnaked women I can get to make it more compelling. But what with the self-avowed fans of the sport? Here's my hypothesis - at some point during the 20's some smart people realised that they had lots of sports on campus, and not very many women, and figured that they would even things out a little, and claim it as good wholesome entertainment. For that purpose they picked the most boring sport on campus, one which conveniently already had a tradition in "cheering". Then they gradually introduced more and more women until, at last, there were no men and hardly any American football in between the cheerleading. My prediction is that in twenty years there will be no American football left, only adverts and near-naked women, with the odd token male in shoulder pads carrying a ball.

*not counting me, watching at home
**yes, I know my beloved hockey also occasionally has cheerleaders; but that is only because once the NFL guys had them, the NHL folks understandably protested that they wanted almost naked women too, so they could have an exciting sport and those football women, and save money of tickets for NFL games.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Disappointment

Though you might not realize it from my blog (Then again, you just might) I greatly enjoy teaching undergraduates. Don't get me wrong- it isnt why I came to grad school, and it is a truly heinous expenditure of time in grading, but I still really like it. I know I'm not alone in feeling that way but, all the same, it sometimes feels like it. My love of teaching, and my honest affection for my students, often leads me to do things that my research-oriented department head might prefer I not. (Let's just not tell him, eh?) One example of this is my out-of-class study sessions. Since my tests are charitably described by my students as "hard," and often as, "ball-busting," I feel like this is a reasonable thing for me to do. So, before each test, I offer a time to meet with the class and answer questions. I also do this for as long as they can keep asking- and so have had these sessions run as long as 2.5 or 3 hours. What can I say? A cumulative final exam does tend to get people's attention. So, I guess you could say that while I expect a great deal of my students, I generally try to give back as much as they put in.

Overall my policies have worked well but, recently, I've found myself facing the inverse of the situation described by Kim Kim.* I've had a student in my class who has not been doing well, but who has been good about coming to class, doing the homework, and generally seems to be putting in the effort. I've even been pretty impressed with his drive, as he managed to do something like ten percentage points better on my second test than the first... which is impressive since it was universally declared by my students to be harder than the first. Like many instructors, I don't really expect every student to perform brilliantly, but I respect the hell out of the ones who work hard for their grades.

Recently I offered an extra credit paper for my students and, as you might expect, this student turned in an assignment. I was pleased about this, as he needs the credit, but didn't expect too much as his writing typically is not very good. So, I was pleased when I noticed that this paper was better written than his earlier works. Then I was a little concerned about how much better written it was. Then I googled several of the sentences in his paper. And then I found the paper itself, posted as an example of an "A" paper for an English class at a community college.

Now I feel annoyed for a number of reasons. I'm annoyed that a student I liked decided to try to cheat. I'm annoyed that I have to go through the paperwork nightmare that an incident of cheating entails. To be honest, I'm even a little annoyed at how half-assed this effort was. I mean, shit, can't he at least put some effort into the cheating? It took me all of two tries to hit his paper with google- that's a pretty shitty job. Mostly, though, I'm annoyed at the waste. Do the work, don't do the work, either one is fine. This, however, just wastes time and distracts us both from the actual task of learning. That's a problem for me. Doubly so if this makes it harder for me to continue liking my students.

I'm going to have a meeting with him tomorrow about it- and then submit the case as an academic violation. I just haven't decided how hard to pound on him. Suggestions, of course, are welcome.

Comes with the territory, I guess. I like my job, and I like my students, but part of the respect that is supposed to exist in a classroom is expecting a certain level of performance. They expect a lot from me, and that's as it should be, but I also have to expect a lot from them. If I don't care enough to be hard sometimes, it's gonna be tough for me to care enough to be good.

For those who are interested, no, I doubt that picture much resembles Kim. While I think I know who Kim is, I have never (to my knowledge) met her. Still, since we have a tradition on this blog of giving people faces, I thought it appropriate.

Monday, April 17, 2006

All you need is faith

As I have been irreligious for a very long time, I have often been told that what I need is faith.

"Drek, you just don't know the joy of having faith," the religious folks have told me, "As soon as you have a child, then you'll really get in touch with faith."

Seeing as how I haven't had a child yet, I suppose it remains an open question as to whether or not I'll obtain faith after becoming a father. Still, I am rather skeptical. Many people do seem rather fond of faith, though. Not just the religious, either. I mean, George Michael famously told us that he's, "...gotta have faith." The sentiment was less famously (and less melodiously) echoed by Limp Bizkit. I suppose you could say that Depeche Mode agrees, seeing as how they tell us to "Reach out and touch faith." As it turns out, Johnny Cash seems to agree and even Marilyn Manson thinks that we should reach out and touch faith.

Well, my curiosity finally got the better of me, and I decided to find out more about this "faith" that I'm supposed to have... that I'm supposed to reach out and touch. According to Google images this is faith:



And suddenly I understand.

Seem like a stupid post? Well, that's because it is. Sorry, folks, I'm mighty busy right now, so blogging quality may be more spotty than usual. Which is, you know, really saying something.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Children maybe shouldn't talk so much.

If you are like me (and most of the time I like to assume you're not) you have a number of memories of saying or doing things as a child that you perhaps now regret. This isn't necessarily because you were a stupid child, although in some cases that probably was the problem, but because as a child you didn't stop to think before you said or did something.

Come to think of it: that still basically describes me now.

In any case, these memories may be embarrassing to us, but they can be terribly amusing to others. In line with this, the boys over at Something Awful have assembled a charming list of some of the things that children have said over the years. Some of these are a little embarrassing:

When I was about 3 or so, we were on a long trip, and we'd gone into a Dairy Queen. There happened to be a Vietnamese woman there, with about 3 kids. She was talking to them in Vietnamese, which, to my three year old ears, sounded like "QUING WAN ZHONG GWAN WRAH UR ZHAI GWRANG..."

So when my parents' backs were turned, I confidently strolled up to the Vietnamese family, and said "WING GRANG QUAN ZHI UR WAI GWONG - " at which point my parents rushed over and grabbed me away. The entire Vietnamese family was laughing about it, although my own family was mortified. When I heard about it a few years later, my response was, "Wow, I wonder what I said to them."


Some are a little macabre:

When I was about five, we were at an aunt and uncle's house. They had a kitten that was a few months old, I guess. Well, they didn't want it to get out of the house because my uncle was mowing the lawn. But, one of my cousins let it out and in the chase to try and catch it it got scared and, you guessed it, tried to hide under the lawn mower and I witnessed the whole tragic event. My mom, thinking that I would be scarred by this experience calmly sat me down and explained to me that the kitten got hurt and that it died. I replied, "Yeah, it went 'thunk, thunk, thunk!'" She was mortified.


And some are just... hard to explain:

Only thing I can think of to contribute occurred when I was 3 years old, and my mom was having a dinner party. She was talking me up to the guests— "Rollersnake is so intelligent, so advanced for his age," etc. So I come running into the room all excited and shouting "Come see! Come see!" My mom and all her guests follow me out of the dining room, down the hallway, and into the bathroom, where I proudly point in the toilet and announce:

"My poop looks like circus animals!"


It's worth a look, and good for a laugh. Enjoy!

If any of you have poop that resembles any sort of wildlife, I'd just as soon you keep that knowledge to yourselves.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Joy and Sorrow

This is a week for both. Yesterday one of my good friends defended his Master's Thesis, and one of my officemates (who also happens to be a good friend) defended his Dissertation. Both were successful. In anticipation of their triumph we have had an excursion to a local sports bar planned for some time. That excursion is to be tonight. Yet, at the same time, our excitement is tempered by loss. A member of our department has died. He was diagnosed with a serious illness some time ago, and he faced an uncertain future with pride and dignity. Recently, he died from complications of this disorder and its treatment. This afternoon my department gathers to mourn his loss, and celebrate his life. I can think of no better way to exemplify the bittersweet joy of living than to see triumph and heartbreak mixed together so seamlessly.

As an Atheist, I sometimes think I deal with grief differently than many other people. For those who believe in an afterlife, death is only a hiatus in the relationship. These people believe that someday, somehow, they will be reunited with the person who has gone, and can then say whatever was left unsaid. For me, there is no such belief. A person who has died has gone, and will forever be gone. There will be no reunion, no second chances. I believe that there is little sense in mourning the loss of someone who has died- instead, you must simply be grateful to have known them, and rejoice that they once lived. If the universe is an uncaring place, then it is made warmer by our caring for each other. Meaning is not to be found in a mysterious and distant being who may or may not exist, the purpose of life is not that it will continue eternally in some mythic hereafter (As though purpose is related to quantity). Instead, meaning and purpose come from those around us- the flesh and blood and bone people who make up our world as surely as silicon and oxygen and iron are the body of the Earth. In those people, in that world, we never truly die because there we leave ourselves. Our lives shape those around us, and when we look at our friends we see not only them, but the marks we have made upon them. Today I will be with my department, with my community, and there I will see the soul of he who has gone- and I will rejoice, for I was fortunate enough to know him.

As I said, I do not believe in mourning yet, for this moment, I will permit myself that small indulgence. As I sit here at my keyboard, the weight of grief heavy behind my eyes, I will allow myself to feel the sadness of loss, and the heartbreak of the knowledge that I never told my friend how much his life meant. I never realized myself, until now. Orson Scott Card once wrote of the "Speakers for the Dead," men and women who would tell the tale of the deceased, the good and the bad, so that all might know them. I will not presume to such a task, for I could not perform it. Neither will I pretend to be a speaker for the living, as I cannot possibly represent us all. Instead, I will speak for myself:

You were a man of deep compassion, a lover of decency and justice. Yet, you wore your passion with grace and humility, never permitting your convictions to degenerate into self-righteousness. You cared about people, and sought to make those around you feel better about themselves. You liked to laugh, you liked to work, you liked to play. You were a man of courage and dignity, who showed us all how to face life with our heads up and our eyes open. You were not appreciated enough until you were gone. You will not be forgotten, and your gifts to us will touch everything we do. Through us, you will continue to move in the world. You enriched my life, and you enriched my world.

Thank you for your life.

Goodbye.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Refresher on Nuclear Politics

It has come to my attention that Iran, a country known for its carefree humor, is pushing forward with plans to develop the capacity to produce nuclear weaponry. Or, for the Republicans in the crowd, "Nucular Bombs n' stuff." Now, as you might guess, this concerns me- not solely because I regard the Iranian government as less than trustworthy when it comes to this kind of responsibility, but also because my own government's foreign policy could safely be classed as "staggeringly inept." Hell, the protestations that the U.S. is not preparing to invade Iran frankly just make me nervous. The last few years, we have a habit of doing the absolute dumbest things we could possibly do so, like it or not, I'm just waiting to hear about Operation "Imperialist Spasm," or whatever the fuck we call it. Probably something inspirational like "Freedom Eagle Talon Strike Liberty Shield Force Group," or "FETSLSFG" for short. You know how the government likes acronyms.

In any case, given that my undergrads apparently do not recall the Cold War and, as a result, have only the vaguest idea what it means to live with the risk of perpetual nuclear holocaust, I thought a refresher was in order. So, in that spirit, please enjoy this simple, instructional flash animation. I think it sums things up well enough.

Enjoy, then write your congressman.

Thanks to Bookmobile for getting this, circuitously, to me.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Detour

Some of you may have dropped by today in expectation of a post. And, as it happens, a post you shall have!

Just not here.

Today I'm guest blogging for blog-buddy Tom Bozzo on his blog, Marginal Utility. He asked me a while back if I'd like to contribute during his current quasi-hiatus from blogging and, when he mentioned that his guest bloggers would be referred to as the "Whole Sick Crew," how could I refuse? In any case, he's given me a nicer introduction than I deserve, and I'm happy to help.

Go check out the post. Or not. I mean, hell, if you came this far in search of procrestination, you may as well click one more link.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Total Drek News Briefs.

Today in the (admittedly somewhat delayed) headlines:

Hack sued by cranks. Hack wins.

A high court judge today rejected claims that Dan Brown's bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code breached the copyright of an earlier book.

Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh had sued publishers Random House claiming that Mr Brown's book "appropriated the architecture" of their book, The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail, which was published in 1982 by the same publishing house.


We here at Total Drek have long been fans of Mr. Brown's work, and so are very pleased.

Scooter Libby, when asked who told him to leak classified information to the press, responded with a defiant, "Those two men over there with the Secret Service agents."

Federal prosecutors disclose that Vice President Dick Cheney's former aide, 'Scooter' Libby, allegedly told prosecutors that Cheney told him “that…President [Bush] specifically had authorized [Libby] to disclose certain [intelligence] information” about the war in Iraq.


In an unrelated story...

George W. Bush to be considered for list of top five most corrupt presidents ever.

He joins a distinguished list including Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Richard Nixon. Bush's inclusion appears to be certain owing to the scope of his actions. While Grant failed to prevent rampant profiteering on the part of his subordinates, and Nixon violated the civil rights of an opposition party for purely political gains, Bush has managed to one-up them both. Not only has he helped begin and prolong a war that has proven immensely profitable to certain parties who have ties to his administration, he has also allegedly (See the Scooter Libby story above) breached national security in order to exact political retribution. Given Bush's comments about the inappropriateness of revealing the NSA's domestic spying program, the Plame affair earns Bush hypocrisy points as well as corruption points. Some individuals have protested this decision, arguing that President Bill Clinton should also be included. The selection committee has responded by commenting that Clinton's wrong-doing primarily fell under the heading of poor taste.


Amidst significant protesting Congress considers the construction of a huge fence along the U.S./Mexico border.

One of the most controversial proposals in the debate about immigration would create a high-tech fence along one-third of the U.S. border with Mexico. Approved by the House in December, the barrier is modeled on an existing 14-mile fence between San Diego, Calif., and Tijuana, Mexico. Supporters say the fencing would bolster homeland security and curb illegal immigration. Opponents decry it as a new "Berlin Wall," antithetical to the American ideal of an open society, and the plan has sparked protests by Hispanic immigrants across the country.


This new policy follows in the footsteps of other highly-successful fencing projects including:



The Great Wall of China, which prevented the Mongols from entering China.



Hadrian's Wall, which is responsible for the total lack of Scottish folks in Britain.

And, of course:



The Maginot Line, which was exceeded only by the cunning plan of "offering them tea and croissants" in thwarting German invasion.

And that's the way it is.

I'm getting older....

This dawned on me after carefully examining the song list on my iPod. Of the 927 songs that I have, the most recent is from 2000*. Which was SIX YEARS AGO.

What's been going on in popular music since 2000? Someone please fill me in...

*The Machina album by the Smashing Pumpkins.

Friday, April 07, 2006

We interrupt your reguarly scheduled nonsense...

...to bring you exciting news from the world of Biblical Archeology.

The long-lost Gospel of Judas has been announced to the world!

Seriously, I am not kidding. The source is the National Geographic Society, who today announced that they have a manuscript of a text called The Gospel of Judas. Judas, of course, is one of the biggest bad guys in the history of Christianity, reviled as a traitor for handing Jesus over to the Romans. Dante ranks him as the #1 sinner in Hell, at the bottom of the ninth circle with Satan gnawing at his head. But maybe he wasn't so bad after all - the Gospel of Judas shows him in a completely different light.

The new Gospel comes from a papyrus codex (a type of book common in the early first millenium) found by looters in the Egyptian desert in the early 1970s. It passed back and forth between various shady businessmen and was shown in 1983 to a Yale graduate student at an arranged meeting in Geneva. It was shopped around to different academics, but no one could afford the $3 million asking price until a few years ago, when it was bought by the Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art in Basel, Switzerland. Since then, the Maecenas Foundation and the National Geographic Society have been working with scholars to preserve and translate the codex. A more cynical person than I might wonder why they chose this particular moment to announce it to the general public, but announce it they did. On the other hand, this might be the best time to announce it because the movie brings attention to the whole field of Biblical archeology, so they should educate people about the real thing as much as they can. Quick, someone write a best-selling novel about sociology.

Most of the codex consisted of copies of known texts, but 13 sheets of papyrus were something completely new. The text was written in Coptic, a form of ancient Egyptian (many other early Christian theological texts are also written in Coptic). Radiocarbon dating shows that the codex probably dates from some time in the 300s, but the content is almost certainly a copy (entirely by hand!) of an older text. But, we know that the content has to come from before the year 180, because St. Irenaeus writes in his Adversus Haereses:

They believe that Judas the Betrayer was fully informed of these things and that only he (sic) understanding the truth like no one else fulfilled the secret of betrayal that confused all things, both in heaven and on earth. They invented their own history called the Gospel of Judas. (A.H. I.31.1)*

and we know reliably that that's when A.H. was written.

So here it is, the translated text of the Gospel of Judas, that sat under the Egyptian desert for more than 1,700 years**:

The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover...
[Jesus says:] Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it, but you will grieve a great deal...
you will be cursed by the other generations - and you will come to rule over them...
For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me***...
Look, you have been told everything. Lift up your eyes and look at the cloud within it and the stars surrounding it. The star that leads the way is your star. Judas lifted his eyes and saw the luminous cloud, and he entered it...

The passage you just read says that Jesus and Judas talked in secret the week before Jesus's crucifixion, and Jesus asked Judas to hand him over to the Romans. Jesus's crucifixion allowed him to shed his human body and return to his divine form. By doing this, Judas would be hated by future generations, but would receive God's reward in heaven, and that more secrets could be revealed through meditation.

As you may have guessed by reading all this, Biblical archeology, and theology in general, are hobbies of mine. So, in my hobbyist's opinion, what does this discovery mean for Christian theology? Not much. The philosophy is pretty much straight Gnosticism, which believes that salvation comes from secret knowledge given by Jesus after long meditation. The new Gospel's portrayal of Judas is a new twist on the subject, but we already knew those ideas were out there from other writings like Adversus Haereses. The Gospel will get a lot of study, but it isn't a major find like the Nag Hammadi Library find in 1945.

The effect on the ordinary religious person will be approximately zero. There really isn't anything new in the text, and besides, Gnosticism was declared a heresy many, many, many centuries ago.

I do expect to see some insaneist right-wingers to claim that the codex was put there by Satan to lead us astray, and/or by God to tell us the end times are coming (and indeed, it's already started in the blogosphere: scroll down to the March 3rd entry, and... oh wow, he says "preversion," just like in Dr. Strangelove!).

To my encouragement, however, there's been quite a bit of intelligent discussion about the meaning of these manuscripts, and in general about the role of faith in modern times. For example, take a look at USA Today's On Deadline blog. Set your spam filters to ignore anything that says "one true Bible" or "evolution is just a theory" or "Darwin awards," and you'll see lots of interesting discussion from theists and atheists about the text and faith. Here is one that resonated with me so much that I wanted to print it in its entirety:

Michael speaks correctly:

You have faith or you don't. Those who have faith don't need it to be proved or confirmed thats why it's called faith.

Posted by: Michael A IN Ga | Apr 6, 2006 3:01:38 PM

BUT faith should not be relied upon in the face of proof to the contrary. One may challange the validity of proof, but not with faith.

Posted by: Stewart Shane | Apr 6, 2006 4:07:31 PM


*Thanks for that quote, Wikipedia
**Brought to you by Total Drek courtesy of National Geographic's Gospel of Judas site. Their site only works in Internet Explorer, but ours works in Firefox. Nyah nyah.
***That is, Judas will help Jesus shed his mortal body by handing him over to the Romans.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Score one for the good guys...

I found this while working on my post that will be appearing soon. Next time a creationist tells you, "fish can't walk on land, so evolution can't be true," show them this new discovery.

I especially like the diagram in the middle right, labeled "Transition Between Fish and Land Vertebrates."

Booyah.

A Real American Hero.

The Scene: Drek and his Sainted Girlfriend are listening to the news on NPR.

Steve Inskeep: Today is the birthday of novelist Vince Flynn, who writes about stopping terrorism by torturing and killing with impunity...

Drek: Wow.

D'sSGF: What?

Drek: It's just... I didn't know that Bush was an action hero in novels.

D'sSGF: Eh. He probably just tells the hero what to do, and then cuts education funding.

Drek: Good point.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The majesty of the human form...

...will not be the topic of today's post. Instead, I've been thinking lately about the use of the human body as a political tool. Specifically, I've been thinking about depictions of nudity as a way of enacting political change.

This strategy has been around for a while, let's just be honest about that. I'm not even sure I could pick the first time that nudity has been used for politics. Perhaps it began with Lady Godiva, although I find that somewhat unlikely. Regardless, it has since blossomed into an active, if somewhat unconventional, mode of political expression.

It is also a mode of expression that has, typically, been dominated by the left wing of the political spectrum. At least in the United States, anyway. I imagine the flower children had their experiences with nude politics, although that's a smidge before my time. My own earliest recollections are of those infamous PETA advertisements that depict a variety of "celebrities" saying that they'd rather go nude than wear fur. For the rest of us, I suspect the cheap stimulation was worth more than the message. More recently, nudity has certainly been used as a political weapon. I refer primarily to the folks at Breasts not Bombs who describe themselves (on their blog) as:

Breasts Not Bombs is a grassroots movement originating from Mendocino County, CA. We are dedicated to empowering women to speak out for a world that remembers what is sacred and honors the mother. Using political street theater and the act of baring our breasts in public serves as an excellant forum to speak about the vulnerability of humanity and the earth.


Right. Okay. Well, I do agree with their objectives, even if in many cases (though certainly not all) I'd rather have the bombs.* This group has also apparently inspired a companion group that, for reasons I will leave unsaid, has been receiving less media attention. So, nudity is definitely retaining it's role as a part of the American political scene.

But wait, there's more! It appears that the right wing, our Republican brothers and sisters, are finally starting to experiment with the power of nudity. It's been halting, however, but I think the signs are definitely there. Take, for example, the regular attendance of porn star Mary Carey at Republican fundraisers. Granted I've mentioned this before but I think it bears repeating. In any case, this isn't nudity per se, but it does seem to be a way for the Republics to cozy up to the idea in a relatively gentle fashion. Hell, even utter Republican freakazoid Katherine Harris has been experimenting with the use of sexuality as a part of her senatorial campaign. So, the Republicans are clearly flirting coyly with the power of sex in politics.

Which is why it comes as such a shock to see them dive right into the deep end with the recent pro-life statue featuring shrill harpy snake handler heroin addict pop star Britney Spears. This statue is a masterpiece of political art, elegantly depicting the plight of the unborn. I mean, just look at it:





Okay, seriously, I'm bullshitting you. This is a statue of a naked pregnant woman on a bearskin rug. I'm not really sure what the hell this has to do with the pro-life position. Some sources do indicate that from the proper position the statue does appear to be giving birth but, last time I checked, "doggy style" is not one of those positions approved by the AMA for the birthing of offspring. I can only assume that bearskin rugs have not, similarly, entered common obstetrical practice. Frankly I can only agree with Jane Hamsher, who remarks:

I think it [the statue] signals a crisis point in American sex education, the inevitable result of teaching "abstinence only" in our schools. The sculptor does not seem to realize this is the position you assume to give a blow job, not birth.

Someone had to say it.


Either that, or to engage in other activities that have been receiving an unusual amount of attention on this blog lately. So, this latest effort at sexing up the Republican position seems to be a mixed-bag but, don't worry, I'm sure in time they'll get the hang of it.

I just hope it takes them a loooong time, because you can't buy this kind of entertainment.

* Yes, I'm aware that this makes me sound like a bit of a male pig. I'm comfortable with that. For the record: I like women, I think breasts are purdy. I am aware that this is cultural conditioning, and had I been born in the nineteenth century I would totally think that elbows are hot, but I was born in the twentieth century and, as a consequence, I think breasts are purdy. This does not, however, mean that I think all people or, indeed, breasts are equally purdy. I expect you feel the same way. So, in closing: Bite me.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The worst tragedies are those we bring upon ourselves.

Many of us have condemned the war in Iraq for a variety of reasons, but most of those center on its wastefulness. It has been wasteful of lives, of national honor, of goodwill from around the world, and of international resources. It is a particularly shameful waste in that, while dealing with the disaster of hurricane Katrina may be quite costly, the war in Iraq is a disaster that we deliberately purchased.

Yet, as wasteful as the war in Iraq is, it is difficult for any of us to truly grasp the scope of this debacle. The war in Iraq, in addition to wasting thousands of lives on all sides, and quite likely destabilizing the country for years to come, has been staggeringly costly in monetary terms. As of this moment, the war has cost over two-hundred and fifty billion dollars. That is a helluva lot of money. But how much is it really? I mean, my salary could charitably be described as low five-figures, and here I'm trying to grapple with the idea of a low twelve-figure price tag. How do I do that? How do I make that real?

Fortunately, I don't have to answer that question, because Zack "Geist Editor" Parsons over on Something Awful has done it for me. In his recent post, titled The Awesome Deferred, he indulges in a peculiar exercise: what might we have used that $250 billion for, had we not wasted it in Iraq? Many of his answers are, in a word, striking:

...Full ride 4-year college scholarships for 7,260,000 students

Alright, so it might be hard to actually find 7,260,000 people in America without degrees who are worthy of a 4-year scholarship, but that's no problem. We could just look outside the United States. We used to be really good at sucking all of the brains out of other crappy countries like some sort of doctor zombie. Their smart kids get knocked over the head by a recruiter and wake up as Americans attending a university in Boston.

If you're like me you haven't had a native born doctor since your pediatrician, but with the way things have been going Johns Hopkins is going to be opening franchises in Beijing and Calcutta. You're going to have Indian dudes cracking jokes about their crazy-talking American doctor, Paul Smith. There will be a class full of Chinese kids scratching their heads as Jennifer Johnson tries to teach them quantum physics. Why can't she just learn to speak Chinese?


That's right- instead of a pointless and bloody war in Iraq, we could have sent seven million students to college. How's that for "No Child Left Behind?" Put in those terms, can anyone doubt the magnitude of our failure? If we are the stewards of the future, we have served our inheritors very poorly.

Go read what he has to say and, if you feel like it, submit some ideas of your own for him to consider. What good could we have done with so much money? What bounty could we have made for humanity with that wealth?

Sadly, we may never really know. All we know for certain, is that whatever opportunity we had has been squandered.

Monday, April 03, 2006

You know you're a computer geek when...

You enter "192.168.0.1" as your social security number while doing your taxes, and then spend ten minutes trying to figure out why it doesn't look right.

I am completely serious.

Words do not suffice.



If you don't understand what's so funny about this... consider yourself lucky. I have witnessed the true horror. If you want to witness the horror, go to Google Images and enter "hello.jpg" as the search term. Don't say I didn't warn you, though.

As always, I'll remove this image at the request of the folks selling this excellent project. However, I personally think that everyone who owns an iPod should immediately buy one of these skins. Seriously.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Antwerp

Last Friday:
So I am on the train to my dad’s house after the medical. Like all of my recent medical experiences, it can easily be described as unusual.

There are three embassy approved doctors in Belgium and Luxemburg. One of them is in Antwerp*, and for practical reasons I had chosen to go to this one. I asked the doctor for directions and he said „it’s near the Falconplein ”.

Earlier today then, I walked out of the beautiful Central Station in Antwerp, map in hand. I found the doctor’s practice without any trouble after about 15 minutes’ walk. Het Falconplein. Yes, I should explain. You see, although I only know the main streets in Antwerp, and had never been to this particular square, I knew it. It is (perhaps was) legendary as a landmark in the Eastern European/Russian crimescene. Like Hastings and Main in Vancouver.

The square is an uninteresting affair, neither beautiful nor extraordinarily ugly, remarkable only for the small green shack topped by a gigantic red star, which even in my tolerant home country is a little strange. It is also a somewhat eccentric location for a doctor’s practice specifically vouched for by the US embassy. No matter – I ring the doorbell, and enter. The place is, and smells, very musty, with peeling paint in the toilets and carpets that haven’t been moved since the sixties. I wonder why, of all the neat and respectable practices in this country, the US has seen fit to do business with this one.

Back in the waiting room, people start filing in. An African lady, obviously not very long in Belgium; A chassidic jewish couple**; a bearded, slightly smelly and possibly drunk Flemish man. That last begs, elaborately, to be allowed to hand in a paper – „one minute. I swear – one minute”. He then, without any prompting at all, explains that he has come from, pfff, far. „I never come here, you see. Now I will have to go to the whores.” The jewish girl looks at him with a look of sheer bafflement. Misinterpeting her, the man adds „Whores. You know, prostitutes.”

After some time I am ushered into the doctor’s office. Contrary to my expectations, there is, apparently, not to be anything elaborate; a bloodtest (now), a chest x-ray (next week, at another practice) and a single vaccination (following the x-ray). I assume the bloodtest is an HIV test, since that is what the papers suggest, but in Belgium you can never be sure that it does what it says on the box. We chat about Hungary, paperwork. He tells me that the lady at the embassy is anti-Bush. As I walk out the door he asks, as an afterthought, „you don”t have any serious diseases, do you?”

Walking back I come across an Indian boy in golden sneakers. For just a moment I consider running away with him because
a) he is wearing golden sneakers
b) he looks great in them
but decide against it, because the Fiancé knows all European capitals, understands general relativity and understands about armadilloes***. Even golden sneakers can’t beat that. Even with the occasional misguided beard.

Maybe I should get golden sneakers of my own.

*The other two are in Brussels and in Luxemburg. This is not at all a practical arrangement.
**Antwerp is traditionally home to a large community of chassidic jews, who run the diamond trade
***Forget kittens. Armadilloes are the cutest animals.

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