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, June 23, 2009

Choose your own Total Drek!

No, I'm not back yet. Stop asking. I am, however, curious about something. And I need a show of hands, here, so use the comments feature as it is meant to be used. I have recently come into posession of a used copy of Left Behind, the first in a serious of novels fictionalizing the (arguably itself fictional) biblical account of the Earth's final years. Given this, I want to know the following:

Would anyone be interested in one or more posts detailing my reactions to said book? Perhaps a chapter-by-chapter blog-reaction in my usual style?

Operators are standing by...

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Monday, June 22, 2009

No, I'm not back yet...

But I thought you might be missing me. Here's a little something to keep you company in my absence:

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sorry, but...

I really need to get some work done on my dissertation and need a break from blogging. I'll be back in a few weeks. Until then, please be patient! I'll be back! Really!

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Monday, June 15, 2009

You were advised. Don't say you weren't!

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Just watch and you'll see what I mean.

I have no deeper point to posting this other than, "This is wicked cool!"

Enjoy!

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Even I think this is a bad idea.

Neither my wife nor I particularly care for shopping. I mean, we get that we're supposed to be good little consumers right now and buy stuff to stimulate the economy but, by and large, there's just not that much we're interested in buying. That said, my wife does have a peculiar love of Target and, as a consequence, a simple trip in for one or two things can expand into a more elaborate affair. Note that I am not suggesting that she spends money frivolously, I just think there's something about what Target sells and how they market it that appeals to her on a primal level. It's a lot like what happens to me when we walk into BestBuy, with the exception that we can actually afford to buy things from Target.

In any case, because she sometimes gets lost in a Target coma I wander a bit when we're in the store. I can only, after all, offer an opinion on so many different subtle variations of the same kicky sandals before I go totally buggo. In the process of my wandering I sometimes find myself in unexpected parts of the store* and, hence, discover things I never knew, or cared, existed. Recently, I found myself wandering the toy section and I ran across something so bewildering that I actually demanded to return to Target later with a digital camera so that I could share it with all of you.

What I found, specifically, were religious toys. This, in and of itself, is only slightly weird since Target doesn't really carry a lot of that kind of merchandise. And at least some of them were relatively normal, such as this Noah's Ark Playset:



I have always, as a side note, thought that Noah's ark toys were more than a little perverse. I mean, think about it: god has just obliterated the entire f-ing planet. Everyone and everything that Noah, his family, and his animals have ever known has been buried under miles of water. Virtually the entirety of life on Earth has been destroyed, the survival of mankind will depend upon a really disagreeable amount of incest, and at the end of the whole thing god basically says, "Yeah. My bad. Sorry about that." Does this really seem like a great context for a playset? Click on the image above and take a look at their faces: not only have all of their worlds been completely destroyed, their species damn near annihilated, they're actually grinning like morons about it! What. The. Hell. What's next? "The Jolly Titanic Lifeboat Playset"?

That, however, is not the religious toy I found so mind-boggling. No, the toys that knocked my socks off were these rather large dolls. Dolls of who, you ask? Well, the first doll is of none other than Mary, the mother of Jesus:



And the second doll is of Jesus, god's son:



Now, a couple of things jump out at me here. First, holy shit is Jesus ripped! I mean, look at him! That dude has been hitting the weights big-time. It frankly looks like nothing so much as a slight modification of a toy from the G.I. Joe line. It's like they just gave Duke a mullet, dressed him in a bathrobe, and put him in a different box. Maybe one in every one hundred Jesus dolls comes with an accidentally-complimentary assault rifle attachment? Who can tell? Second, Mary looks like she's exactly the same age- if not younger- than the adult Jesus. Now, sure, that's presumably because all the "action" of the Mary character in the bible comes early-on. Hell, the box admits it: her importance is just that she gave birth to some other dude. Still, when you put them next to each other on the shelf it's a little... weird. What's suggested isn't a mother-son relationship, if you know what I mean. That said, though, if Lot has taught us anything, it's that parent/child relationships back then were a lot more complicated.

But wait, there's actually more! Not only do we have dolls of Jesus and Mary, not only are they physically ideal, but they both actually talk! I used the video feature on my camera to capture their monologues for your benefit. Mary, in addition to quoting bible verses- which is weird given that the bible wasn't written until long after her death- gives this truly creepy speech about how joyous she was at learning that god was going to impregnate her, whether she liked it or not:

video

The Jesus doll also quotes bible verses, meaning he quotes other guys who are quoting him. This is a bit strange. His main speech, though, is a rousing telling of his multiplication of loaves and fishes. Here, take a listen:

video

Now, having seen all of this my mind first went to the notion of ripped superhero Jesus. Then I wondered, what would happen if we had dolls for other major religious figures? Superhero Muhammad? Superhero Buddha? Maybe a doll of a really powerful Ganesh or Shiva? Hell, as long as we're at it, we could get Confucious in on it. And, of course, if there's a toy line then we have to create a cartoon to push it. I'm envisioning something like "Superfriends," a team of buddies who stop criminals. There are even neat super powers: Jesus can walk on water and transmute crackers into flesh, Muhammad can move mountains without moving himself, Buddha can see past the veil of tears, Confucious can use his powers of logic to defeat criminal masterminds and Shiva can just destroy everything- or sustain it! Shiva is multi-functional! Alas, I then realized that such a superhero team is simply not to be because, if history has taught us anything, it's that these guys couldn't coexist peacefully long enough to decorate the headquarters, much less deal with bad guys. It'd basically turn into "Real World: Hawaii" or something.

My second line of thought, however, is the one that gives me the most pause. Think about it for a second: what are kids actually going to do with these dolls? I posed that question to my wife, who immediately snickered and responded: "Undress them!" Indeed, yes, they will, and I imagine they will show as much flexibility in their use of the Jesus and Mary dolls as most of us did with our toys as children. Jesus WILL become an action hero, Mary WILL become a female love interest or side-kick or something. They'll have tea parties. They'll have babies. They'll have pets deriving from other injection-molded play sets. How long do you think it will be before the son of god is riding on one of those articulated barbie horses with his girlfriend, Skipper? Moreover, what happens when older brothers get involved? You think there won't be a re-enactment of the crucification using popsicle sticks and food coloring? And eventually these dolls will break, at which point inventive little kids are going to build new toys. We'll end up with an Optimus Prime who tells the story of loaves and fishes** or a truck with Mary's head pasted onto the cab.

I'm not saying that kids shouldn't be kids, but I think I see a lot of conflict coming down the pike between parents who buy these toys because they want their kids to revere Jesus, and kids who frankly play the hell out of their toys, whatever they may be. I mean, seriously, kids simply aren't reverential in the manner of adults and if you give them something that looks like a toy, feels like a toy, and acts like a toy they're going to treat it as a toy, with everything that entails. I suppose I ought to feel gleeful about this, since getting yelled at for playing with toys your parents gave you is likely to turn a lot of kids off of Jesus in the first place, but overall I just think it seems like a bad idea. Somehow I just don't think the solemnity people want to instill in their kids is quite compatible with action-hero Jesus with super leper-healing action.


* The exception to this being the lingerie section. I make it a policy to avoid wandering the lingerie section unless I'm in the company of my wife. It's a way of signaling, "Nope, not a random pervert! Got my wife right here!"

** I once had a conversation with a guy at a cell phone store who explained that when he was a kid he'd take the speech chips out of one toy and build them into other toys. Since he didn't have a soldering iron, he'd get a spool of solder and then heat a broken wire hanger with a cigarette lighter. I both admire the ingenuity and wonder about the lack of adult supervision that permitted that ingenuity to manifest.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Never bring a gun to a nuke fight.

I should start by noting that this post will, eventually, become somewhat funny. I should also point out that those who are puzzled by the title to today's post are obviously unfamiliar with the aphorism from which it is derived: never bring a knife to a gun fight. In either form, however, the basic point is the same: come equipped for the situation you're going to face. And in any kind of armed conflict, that essentially means that you need to at least match your opponent's level of armaments or things will be well and truly unpleasant.* Then again, when referring to nuclear weaponry the saying takes on a morbid note as a nuke fight is likely to prove essentially pyrrhic for the victor. As the man said, "I do not know with what weapons World War Three will be fought, but World War Four will be fought with sticks and stones."

I think about these issues sometimes when the question of gun control arises. See, I think the Constitution likely includes provisions securing the right to keep and bear arms** as a way to counter-balance governmental authority. The logic is pretty simple at the heart of it: a government will have a difficult time becoming truly despotic if its people have the weaponry necessary to defend their liberty. It made a lot of sense at the time but, really, times have changed, and I just don't think most people can afford the surface-to-air missile capabilities and tanks necessary to represent a serious threat to the U.S. armed forces. Moreover, even if they could, it's probably not a wonderful idea to have that kind of firepower in private hands since people have been known to do stupid things. In the immortal words of Robin Williams, "I built this cruise missile to keep those damn kids from playing ZZ Top, you know what I'm sayin'?" Nevertheless, I think there is benefit in a moderately well-armed populace.*** In spite of, or perhaps because of, these views, I often find myself rather vexed with the NRA. On the one hand, I do think that our right to own firearms needs protecting. On the other hand, I don't think we really need access to machine guns and armor piercing bullets. So, you know, I really wish they'd stop taking stupid positions. Alas, the NRA can no more shed the stoopid than the leopard can shed his spots.

This sadness, however, pales in comparison to my excitement at discovering that the NRA, in fact, has what amounts to a dimwitted younger brother.

You see, recently I was perusing the madness over on Conservapedia and ran across this rather fascinating little headline:



Or, more plainly:

U.S. Customs has proposed revoking earlier rulings that assisted opening knives are not switchblades. The proposal would not only outlaw assisted opening knives, its overly broad new definition of a switchblade would also include all one-handed opening knives and most other pocket knives.


Leaving aside my amazement that someone thinks that customs can dictate the law to the states, I followed the link and ended up in a place so ungodly stupid that it makes my heart sing with glee. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the website of Knife Rights:



It's difficult to know where to start with something that is so inadvertently funny. Take, for example, their slogan, which is in the upper left hand corner of the page: "A sharper future." See, they want to protect knife rights, and knives are sharp, so the future would be sharper, get it? As slogans go, that one seems to win big in the "blindingly obvious" and "subtly threatening" categories. And don't forget the masthead quote from Thomas Jefferson, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." We'll come back to that later.

Now, for those curious about the story Conservapedia was referring to, Knife Rights claims that the U.S. Government is trying to take away your pocket knives. No, seriously, that's what they claim:



More specifically, the customs bureau is changing a previous ruling that labeled assisted-opening knives as not being the same as switchblades. Now, for those who aren't knife fans**** a switchblade is a type of folding knife that opens (i.e. extends the blade) at the press of a button. Essentially, a coiled spring drives the blade into a functional position. An assisted opening knife also has a spring, but requires that you manually open the knife to some degree before the spring takes over and opens it the rest of the way. Both are in contrast to standard folding knives- like a typical pocket knife- that require you to manually open the blade all the way and a fixed-blade knife, which doesn't fold and is carried in a sheath. Why would you want a switchblade as opposed to a normal folding knife? Well, pretty much why you'd think: it makes it a more effective weapon. See, a fixed blade knife is quick to get access to, but it's hard to conceal. A standard pocket knife is easier to conceal and carry, but more difficult to access and slower to open. A switchblade, though, combines the best of both worlds: it's both concealable and comparatively dangerous as a weapon. And really that's its only advantage over a folding knife- its utility as a weapon- because otherwise the simplicity of a standard folding knife mechanism affords superior durability. So, at heart, the issue is being provoked by a customs bureau effort to curtail the import of knives that are not just usable as weapons,***** but that are actually designed or intended to be used as weapons.

Okay, so why do I find the Knife Rights hysteria so funny? Well, first off, because it's just so damned loony. Yes, obviously, the f-ing customs bureau is somehow, in contravention to all checks and balances in the U.S. government, going to outlaw pocket knives. Clearly this will be followed up by judging the Boy Scouts to be a terrorist organization. Right. Sure. That's gonna happen. I do find it plausible that the customs bureau is trying to close a loophole in import laws that allowed bladed weapons suitable for bar fights into the country, but that's a whole 'nother story.

The second reason I find this funny is because Knife Rights is framing this in terms of liberty and government tyranny. Really? You think that in the dark days of the U.N. takeover when black helicopters are disgorging armed French troops into your town square a bloody three inch switchblade is going to make the difference? Really? I've seen that movie and, I gotta tell ya, it doesn't end well for you:



If the government becomes tyrannical, we're going to have problems because our military is so damned well-equipped, meaning they have tanks, planes, missiles, grenade launchers, and so on. Knives are so low on the list of things that will protect our liberty that it's absurd. We may as well oppose governmental efforts to regulate the private ownership of crossbows and javelins. Moreover, knives that are optimized for fighting are, by and large, not going to be used for fighting or, if they are, will not be used in legally or morally acceptable ways. This reminds me of the guys who think that our right to keep and bear arms extends to silenced pistols. Really? The founding fathers wanted us to have concealable assassination weapons? You really think so? Honestly, the paranoia has gotten so thick that I half expect to see them claim that the U.S. government is also planning on banning ropes, wrenches, lead pipes and candlesticks, which, I have it on good authority, have all been used by Colonel Mustard in the library. Indeed, the entire Clue arsenal is under threat.

I take civil liberties very seriously but, honestly, these guys are just comedy gold.


* Doubtless some of you will observe instances, such as the Vietnam war, where one side had a clear superiority in weaponry and yet still lost. This is not, however, in contradiction to my basic point since the NVA and Viet Cong didn't win by force of arms but, rather, through attrition. And while I don't happen to know any NVA or Viet Cong veterans, I suspect that they would tell you that the experience of fighting a much better equipped opponent was less than enjoyable.

** Note that I am not taking a position on the "well-regulated militia" language, although I suspect that the Founding Fathers did not envision every random asshole who wanted one packing an Uzi.

*** I think I would define the present day U.S. as more than moderately well-armed, but that's not the point.

**** I should probably note that I have carried a decent quality pocket knife for a lot of years, finding that it's a handy way to get out of a lot of trouble. And I don't mean fights, I mean that it's a versatile tool that can be made to serve in a lot of different situations.

***** Virtually any knife can be used as a weapon but that's true of a lot of machines and, indeed, household objects. Nonetheless, there's a difference between a steak knife and a throwing knife even though they are both, at heart, knives.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Yeah, so, sorry about this, but...

Today's post is over at Scatterplot. You'll understand why if/when you read it. Just keep in mind that doing that sort of thing takes longer than you might expect.

Toodles until tomorrow!

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Monday, June 08, 2009

A work of pure, unadulterated genius.

A grateful hat tip to my wife, who ran into this helpful little movie on Facebook.* I often joke with her that I tend to be very literal both in what I mean when I speak and in how I interpret what others mean. Needless to say, this likely explains my crippling inability to appreciate poetry.** So, you can imagine my excitement at this music video, which seems perfect for people like me.

Enjoy!




* "Facebook! Stalking old high school crushes has never been so easy!"

** Well, that and the fact that I have absolutely no rhythm whatsoever.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

OMG! New Star Trek movie pirated on YouTube!!1!



Okay, so this isn't the new Star Trek movie.* Still, as someone who watched every episode of the original series multiple times, it makes me laugh a whole lot. I recall in particular an episode in which a yeoman- in the go-go dancer outfits approved for female crew in Star Trek- breaks down crying. Why is she crying, you ask? Because she and several other crew are dying from a disease that causes unsightly skin lesions and now Captain Kirk** will never notice her legs. Seriously. The episode actually ends with Kirk making a show out of leering at her gams while on the bridge. Ah, an "enlightened" future where men are men, women are women, and sexual harassment isn't just accepted, it's expected!

Anyway, this past week has been a downer blog-wise, so I thought we all deserved a break. Also, there are boobs.


* As an unrelated side note, I appear to be one of the unfortunate handful of people who think the new Star Trek movie is incomprehensible crap. Sorry, Slag and TDEC! The acting is fun and the visual effects are neat. The re-imagining is even pretty cool. I just can't handle the gigantic plot holes.

** You know. William Shatner.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Offensive? Maybe. Data? Hell yes.

In the wake of the murder of Dr. George Tiller I recently learned that Amanda Marcotte has gained access to a copy of a training manual* intended for activists who may be confronting, and arguing with, folks from the pro-choice side. The manual is the product of the organization "Justice For All," which many of you may be familiar with from their policy of displaying graphic photos on college campuses, including my own. And in a bitterly amusing note, while they routinely display pictures of bloody fetuses on placards that are bigger than my car,** they seem a bit more cagey about condemning violence against doctors and clinic personnel. From their front page... at the bottom:



But I digress...***

The training manual has earned all kinds of commentary from Marcotte, not to mention feministe, who sees it as proof of how deceptive the pro-life movement is and how little regard they have for women. I'm not going to comment on that, although I have my own personal opinions. What I think is really interesting about the manual- leaving aside my opinions of the quality of argumentation- are the narratives that it constructs. For example, the manual spends a great deal of time trying to explain why someone who is anti-choice might also be anti-contraception, given that contraception helps prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place:

We all want to curb teen pregnancy, but shouldn' t we work to solve the underlying problem, not just the surface symptoms? In order to prevent unwanted pregnancies, it is important to educate not about methods of avoiding pregnancy, but methods of avoiding sex and understanding sexual behavior in its intended context.

Promoting condoms and birth control, apart from self-control, promotes the view that people must have sex in order to be happy and content. And it promotes the idea that it's fine to have sex even if you are not ready to make the marriage commitment that gives everyone involved the assurance that the intimacy won't be squandered or treated in a cavalier way.

Isn't the real problem that we lack the self-control to be sexually intimate only within the marriage God designed to be the proper context for caring for children? So-called "unwanted pregnancy" is merely a symptom of this deeper underlying problem of self-control. Condoms and birth control may help us avoid that symptom, but they don't help us live fulfilled lives where the joy of sex is experienced in the safety of lifelong commitment.


And this framing is fascinating to me, because it attempts to locate the issues of contraception and abortion entirely within the context of pre-marital sex in general, and teen pre-marital sex in particular. Thing is, this is clearly not the only context within which contraception may be used- my wife and I, for example, aren't quite ready to start a family yet, so contraception remains a part of our lives. Since, you know, we choose not to be celibate within the context of our own marriage. So does that mean that we don't have adequate "self control"? Even more pressing, however, is the question of what married couples are to do when they already have enough children- or perhaps a few too many. Are they lacking in self control if they use contraception to avoid a pregnancy? Or to terminate an unintended pregnancy that they just can't afford? I suspect that last point could be argued either way, but treating the answer as obvious does a grave disservice to couples that have to face down such a heartbreaking decision.

In effect, the narrative constructed in this manual avoids some of the really difficult wrinkles in the abortion debate and tries to win by focusing on comparatively trivial ones. And this is hardly a shock because the manual is, after all, not meant to be a serious discussion of issues, but rather a sort of rhetorical playbook. It isn't trying to provide a serious consideration of the issues, pro and con, but rather to help its users win an argument with the assumption that they've already made up their minds. If you want to win an argument and you can get your opposition to let you frame the terms of the debate then you're one step closer to winning.

I wonder how much we could learn about social movements and framing if we had more of these manuals?


* I should note that the full 113 pages of the handbook have not been made available online. This .pdf is only an excerpt.

** They're also rather annoying for their habit of posting "warnings" about their graphic photos that are positioned in such a way as to make it impossible to avoid seeing those photos, even if the average college student were to be so inclined.

*** As yet another digression, the "Justice For All" folks are only slightly less fun when they come calling than the "Dikes on Bikes" protestors.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The whining, it annoys me.

Many of you probably haven't noticed, seeing as how you have better things to do with your time, but Mike Adams, a columnist for Townhall, has just posted a missive that you might find interesting. I say this for two reasons: (1) You're reading this blog and thus, presumably, find the same things interesting that I do,* and (2) it's about teaching at the University level. Specifically, it's about the proper place of one's own religious faith in university level teaching and- here's a hint- what Adams advocates differs somewhat from conventional wisdom:

Recently, I received a rare student complaint over an e-mail I had sent to all my classes. In the e-mail, which welcomed all of my students back for a new semester, I characterized myself as an “outspoken Christian professor.” I admitted that I had been critical of some aspects of Darwinism and that I saw my students as more than mere “random mutations.” Finally, I said my Christian views would cause me to treat them differently – namely, by holding them all to a high standard that would help them find their purpose in life: a Divine purpose given to them by their Creator.

The remarks in this e-mail were all couched within the context of the story of a former student of mine. He had often come to class late and talked throughout my lectures – at least until he received a poor grade on his first exam. Afterwards, I castigated him for his conduct and told him he would never become anything until he learned to act like an adult and to fulfill his God-given potential.

In his letter to the department chair, the student claimed that it was inappropriate and offensive for a professor to reveal his religious affiliation in class. He said he was also offended by what he perceived as an inappropriate put-down of Darwinism. Finally, he expressed his concern that he would become a victim of religious discrimination because he did not share my religious views.


Right, so, to recap: Adams went out of his way to tell his students what his religion is, explained to them that his religion would impact how he taught the class, and took a swipe at a well-validated scientific theory based entirely on ideological grounds. Then, amazingly, one of his students actually had the stones to call him on it and, as a result, Adams feels oppressed enough to whine about it online. Poor Professor Adams! Students can be so mean.

If you hadn't guessed already, I have exactly zero sympathy for Adams in this case as I work very, very hard to not allow my personal religious convictions- which as some of you may have noticed are quite strong- from influencing my teaching. My job is to teach sociology,** not atheism, and that's what my university pays me for.*** Moreover, I strongly suspect that Adams would probably object (rightly) if I sent the following e-mail to all of my students at the beginning of each semester:

Hello!

My name is Drek the Uninteresting and I will be your instructor this semester in Sociology 101. I have a lot of interesting readings lined up and think that we will all have a good time exploring social life together. My syllabus can be found on the course website and I will be available to answer questions by e-mail.

To give you a better sense of what you can expect, I am an outspoken atheist instructor. I am somewhat critical of creation "science" generally and intelligent design particularly. Thanks to my atheism, I consider my students to be quite a bit more than pathetic wretches laboring under the burden of original sin. I want you to know that my views as an atheist will cause me to treat you differently- specifically by holding you all to the sort of high standard that will prepare you for real life: there are no safety nets in this world, and no second chances, so I expect my students to give me their best each and every time.

See you soon!

Drek the Uninteresting


Offensive? Yes. Appropriate? Hell no.**** Comparable to Adams' little e-mail? Absolutely. Alas, Adams doesn't see this, preferring instead to descend into a bizarre tale from his childhood:

If he’d bothered to approach me directly, I could have told this student a little of what I know about inappropriate and offensive religious expression in the classroom. In fifth grade I had a teacher named Barbara O’Gara. Mrs. O’Gara was my favorite teacher despite the fact that I was then a Baptist and she was an atheist. Mrs. O’Gara made no secret of this fact. She mentioned it on the first day of class, and she mentioned it throughout the year.

During the course of the year, though, it never occurred to me to report Mrs. O’Gara for simply stating her religious affiliation. If it offended me, I simply dealt with it. Even as a fifth-grader, I sensed that this was how mature people handled things. She had a right to her feelings, and I had a right to mine.


Indeed, I often find that such a degree of introspection is common in fifth grade students. They are, after all, completely willing to challenge their adult teachers at the very drop of a hat! No doubt when Adams was a fifth grade student, he was already keenly interesting in potential violations of the establishment clause. As opposed to myself, who was mostly interested in Star Trek and playground time.

And then we come to the real crux of the issue:

That basic courtesy eluded this student, though. (It eluded my department chairwoman, too – she notified the Dean’s Office) Whether out of his fear that I wouldn’t tolerate his views (though nowhere in my e-mail did I say I would single anyone out for disparate treatment), or out of his zeal to suppress mine, he entirely missed the point that I was making – a point not unlike the one made in the Declaration of Independence. I simply added the concept of “purpose” to the list of gifts (like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) bestowed upon us by our Creator … and said that everyone in my class would be held to a high standard – the same high standard – to encourage their progress toward that purpose. [emphasis added]


Adams is angry because he thinks the student is suppressing his religious faith. Leaving aside the nonsensical babbling about the declaration of independence,***** the problem with a professor indicating his or her religious views in the manner that Adams does has little to do with free speech and everything to do with authority. A professor has the power to grade students up or down when scores are borderline. We have the power to prosecute or overlook potential disciplinary infractions. We can be sticklers about attendance or flexible. And these decisions can sometimes have dramatic consequences on students who are struggling to get into med school or to keep that scholarship. In short, we have power over students and they are right to fear our ability to punish them. As such, while I routinely exercise my right to free speech on the internet, I restrict myself in the classroom because my authority gives me an unfair advantage over those students who are to some extent at my mercy. It is to Adams' discredit that he apparently is blind to that reality.

Academia is certainly a place where people should be exposed to new and uncomfortable ideas. Moreover, the very commitment to ideas that many academics show makes it inevitable that, from time to time, we will disagree strenuously. Sometimes we may even view each other as bigots. Yet, intense as that conflict may get, we need to remember that our students are our students. We are here to teach them, to educate them, but not to convert them and especially not to preach to them, regardless of our faith.******

Sometimes it's about free speech but sometimes it's just about being responsible.


* The horror of that realization will strike you sometime today, have no doubt.

** I should probably note that Adams is neither a professor of theology nor biology, thus eliminating possible justifications for his actions.

*** I should also note- all jokes about grad student pay aside- that the whole research thing is an important part of the job description as well.

**** I'd like to observe at this juncture, as well, that my view has nothing to do with the fact that Adams was pushing a religious viewpoint. I expressed similar sentiments about a previous case that may have involved a professor unfairly ragging on religion in the classroom.

***** Fun fact! The Declaration of Independence, while an important document, has absolutely no legal standing in the operation of the United States. It is, in short, a diplomatic communique from a provisional government that preceded, but was distinct from, the U.S. Federal Government. One may as well base legal arguments on the Declaration of Independence as on a Denny's menu.

****** In case Brad Wright still reads this crap, I should note that I don't think that evangelicals should be suppressed or eradicated on college campuses. I think we're both aware, however, that we disagree as to the specifics beyond that vague assertions.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Just so we don't delude ourselves...

Yesterday I remarked upon the recent murder of Dr. George Tiller. More specifically, I briefly discussed how Conservapedia, among others, reacted to his death. I admit that I am likely more sensitive to outrages performed by my political foes than to the same outrages performed by my political allies,* so when I heard about yet another unfortunate incident on the radio this morning, I felt compelled to also remark upon it. Yesterday a man was arrested in Arkansas for shooting and killing two members of the U.S. Army in a recruiting station. While the motive for his crime has not been referred to specifically as yet, early reports are hinting at it fairly strongly:

Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad -- a 24-year-old Little Rock resident formerly known as Carlos Bledsoe -- faces a first-degree murder charge and 15 counts of engaging in a terrorist act, Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas said. The terrorist counts stem from the shots fired at an occupied building.

While authorities continued to investigate a motive, Thomas said Muhammad is a Muslim convert and, based on preliminary interviews with him, investigators believe there were "political and religious motives" in the shooting.

Military officials initially believed the shooting was a random act, but Thomas said police believe the shooter acted alone "with the specific purpose of targeting military personnel."


I will freely admit that I opposed the war in Iraq and, further, that I have not looked favorably upon the previous administration's casual use of force. That said, I have never, do not now, and will never advocate attacks upon U.S. soldiers as a valid way to show opposition. And that doesn't just mean that I don't think that they should be randomly shot in recruiting stations. That also means that, whether I or anyone else personally agrees with the war, serving members of the military deserve at least the respect and decency that we would accord to any other citizen. Regardless of his motives, I find Mr. Muhammad's actions to be reprehensible. In some abstract way he and I may agree that the war should not have happened, but that's about the extent of our agreement.

And how has Conservapedia reacted to these events? Eh. About how you'd expect:



Or, in plain human speech:

An attack at a U.S. Army/Navy recruiting center leaves one soldier dead and another wounded. Both victims were volunteers at the center. Liberals show little concern about this murder, even though the murderer "likely had 'political and religious motives.'"


No doubt I could wax self-righteous that Conservapedia didn't seem terribly concerned with the "political and religious motives" of Dr. Tiller's murderer yesterday. Instead, however, I think we should all just take this opportunity to recall that there are extremists on both sides, and the good intentions of a majority should not be tarred by the extremism of a comparative few.**


* Truth be known, however, I find rather a lot of left wing causes to be distasteful as well so, hey, I just don't like anybody.

** I don't want to weigh in on the ongoing debate about whether or not right wing organizations are partly culpable for Tiller's murder. I won't say that they don't bear some responsibility- perhaps even a lot- but I think we need to recognize that if we expect the other side to use decent political rhetoric, it is incumbent upon us to do so as well. Or, even more bluntly, being convinced you're right isn't sufficient reason to use any means necessary to achieve your objectives since, realistically, everyone else thinks they're right. Somebody has to be wrong and it may be you- so be a little humble, eh?

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Missed it by that much.

Many of you have probably already heard about the shooting death of Dr. George Tiller. For those who don't know, Tiller is a physician who has earned a degree of repute as one of the few who perform late term abortions. He was shot and killed while serving as an usher at the Reformation Lutheran Church of Wichita. This is not the first time, unfortunately, that violence has been directed at Tiller:

Protesters blockaded Tiller's clinic during Operation Rescue's "Summer of Mercy" protests during the summer of 1991, and Tiller was shot by Rachelle Shannon at his clinic in 1993. Tiller was wounded in both arms. Shannon remains in prison.

The clinic was bombed in June 1986 and was severely vandalized last month. His lawyer said wires to security cameras and outdoor lights were cut and that the vandals also cut through the roof and plugged the buildings' downspouts. Rain poured through the roof and caused thousands of dollars of damage in the clinic. Tiller reportedly asked the FBI to investigate the incident.


It's unclear at present whether or not the shooting was related to his willingness to perform late term abortions but everyone more or less appears to strongly suspect that it was.

I have nothing in particular to say about Tiller and whether or not I approve of his actions. As I've mentioned before, I am pro-choice, but know next to nothing about Tiller or the circumstances of his practice. As such, it wouldn't really be appropriate for me to comment. If nothing else, he sounds like he was an interesting man:

Dr. George R. Tiller specializes in terminating late-term pregnancies after the fetus has been diagnosed with a birth defect: a deformed heart, missing kidneys, Down's syndrome, anencephaly.

He calls his work a "reproductive ministry," and he offers his patients many of the same services as the hospice. Tiller encourages parents to hold, dress and photograph their aborted children, whom he delivers stillborn but intact. His staff takes ink-prints of tiny feet and hands; he brings in a chaplain for baptisms. Letters from grateful patients line the clinic's walls.


No, what I do want to remark on is the response to the news about Tiller's death. By and large both pro-choice and pro-life groups seem to be condemning the killing, although Operation Rescue still uses the occasion to refer to him as a mass murderer:

George Tiller was a mass-murderer. We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God. I am more concerned that the Obama Administration will use Tiller's killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions. Abortion is still murder. And we still must call abortion by its proper name; murder. [emphasis added]


And, given my interest in the response, I decided to see what my favorite band of whackos, Conservapedia, thought about events. To my pleasant surprise, their headline was actually pretty decent:



Or, in plain human speech:

BREAKING NEWS: Dr. George Tiller, a late-term abortionist in Wichita, Kansas, was apparently shot and killed while in his church today. Conservapedia condemns his murder, and expects his killer to be brought to justice.


It clearly indicates what happened, clearly condemns it, and seems generally concerned for the rule of law. Granted, I'm sure Conservapedia generally hated Tiller's little guts, but they nevertheless responded to this pretty decently. For a brief, shining moment I actually felt proud of Conservapedia and felt compelled to write a blog post to make it known that, on at least this one occasion, I genuinely respected how they approached a controverial issue.

And then I took a look at their article on Tiller:



And, to make the boxed item more clear:

Tiller was shot to death in Wichita, Kansas, at the Reformation Lutheran Church, an ELCA church, on Sunday, May 31, 2009. The Kansas pro-life community immediately denounced this act of retaliatory violence. [emphasis added]


So, on the plus side, they're not just plainly yelling, "Good! Serves 'im right!" But, on the other hand, they're labeling the attack "retaliatory violence" as though Tiller were besieging a city with a barbarian army. I gotta be honest, it really weakens the condemnation when you implicitly justify it at the same time.

Well, I guess it's better than nothing.

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