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.

Friday, October 29, 2004

With apologies to Joseph Heller.

Almost overnight the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was in full flower, and President Bush was enraptured to discover himself spearheading it. He had really hit on something. All the working men and women on minimum wage had to sign a loyalty oath to get pay checks from their employers, a second loyalty oath to receive their benefits from welfare, a third loyalty oath for Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, to be allowed to attend a political speech. Every time they turned around there was another loyalty oath to be signed. They signed a loyalty oath to get their tax refunds from the IRS, to obtain their military pensions, even to be able to check out library books.

To President Bush, every politician who supported his Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was a competitor, and he planned and plotted twenty-four hours a day to keep one step ahead. He would stand second to none in his devotion to country. When others had followed his urging and introduced loyalty oaths of their own, he went them one better by making every son of a bitch who came to his rallies sign two loyalty oaths, then three, then four; then he introduced the pledge of allegiance, and after that "The Star-Spangled Banner," one chorus, two choruses, three choruses, four choruses. Each time President Bush forged ahead of his competitors, he swung upon them scornfully for their failure to follow his example. Each time they followed his example, he retreated with concern and racked his brain for some new strategem that would enable him to turn upon them scornfully again.

Without realizing how it had come about, the citizens of the United States discovered themselves dominated by the administrators elected to serve them. They were bullied, insulted, harassed and shoved about all day long by one after the other. When they voiced objection, President Bush replied that people who were loyal would not mind signing all the loyalty oaths they had to. To anyone who questioned the effectiveness of the loyalty oaths, he replied that people who really did owe allegiance to their country would be proud to pledge it as often as he forced them to. And to anyone who questioned the morality, he replied that "The Star-Spangled Banner" was the greatest piece of music ever composed. The more loyalty oaths a person signed, the more loyal he was; to President Bush it was as simple as that, and he had Laura Bush sign hundreds with his name each day so that he could always prove he was more loyal than anyone else.

"The important thing is to keep them pledging," he explained to his cabinet. "It doesn't matter whether they mean it or not. That's why we make little kids pledge allegiance even before they know what 'pledge' and 'allegiance' mean."

For anyone who is curious, you can see the original version here.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Since you asked...

In answer to your question, I rave about a defense of evolution because evolution is under attack right now.

Organizations dedicated to pushing the "theory" of Intelligent Design have been making a number of efforts to include their own shoddy, creationist pseudo-science in school curricula. Given the utter failure of intelligent design to win acceptance among the majority of scientists and educators, advocates of this perspective (or should I say opponents of evolution?) have resorted to legal action and political muscle to accomplish what their poor scholarship could not. Spirited defense of evolution is clearly necessary if we are to thwart these ongoing fundamentalist shenanigans.

And let's not forget that John Scopes was found guilty, and fined, in the famous Scopes Monkey Trial. The law banning the teaching of evolution wasn't struck down by the Supreme Court until forty-three years after the Scopes trial. Despite its overwhelming scientific support, Evolution is nowhere near secure from political attack.

And, so, I once more say "Bravo" to National Geographic for taking a public stand in favor of a theory that is scientifically-secure, but politically embattled.

If you're still undecided...

This difference between Kerry and Bush, by itself, would almost be enough to make me vote Kerry. If I weren't already voting Kerry, that is. What do I mean in a nutshell? This:

The Kerry campaign says it does not limit attendance based on political views, a point Kerry has made frequently when confronted by hecklers on the campaign trail. "We don't base entry to our events on political affiliation," said Kerry spokesman Phil Singer.

Given a choice between a chief executive who values free speech enough to tolerate dissenters at his own rallies, and one that compels attendees to sign loyalty oaths, I'll take the free speech candidate.

John Kerry for President of the United States of America.

Taking a Stand.

I'm an irregular reader of the National Geographic magazine. It's a great publication, don't get me wrong, but frankly the paper makes my skin crawl. I'm funny about tactile sensations.

Regardless, you can imagine my surprise when I saw the cover of the most recent issue of National Geographic and read the headline: "Was Darwin Wrong?" Was Charles Darwin wrong? This was a serious article in a serious magazine devoted to science? I was, to say the least, shocked and appalled. Has this pseudo-scientific doubt of evolution grown so powerful that it has spread even to the bastions of rational science? I quickly snatched up my copy of the magazine and flipped to the relevant page with frenzied speed. "Was Darwin wrong?" the headline asked- the sub-title provided my answer:

No. The evidence for Evolution is overwhelming.

What follows is, quite possibly, one of the most beautiful descriptions of the scientific process that I have ever seen. Let me quote:

Evolution by natural selection, the central concept of the life's work of Charles Darwin, is a theory. It's a theory about the origin of adaptation, complexity, and diversity among Earth's living creatures. If you are skeptical by nature, unfamiliar with the terminology of science, and unaware of the overwhelming evidence, you might even be tempted to say that it's "just" a theory. The notion that Earth orbits around the sun rather than vice versa, offered by Copernicus in 1543, is a theory. Continental drift is a theory. The existence, structure, and dynamics of atoms? Atomic theory. Even electricity is a theoretical construct, involving electrons, which are tiny units of charged mass that no one has ever seen. Each of these theories is an explanation that has been confirmed to such a degree, by observation and experiment, that knowledgeable experts accept is as fact. That's what scientists mean when they talk about a theory: not a dreamy and unreliable speculation, but an explanatory statement that fits the evidence. They embrace such an explanation confidently but provisionally- taking it as their best available view of reality, at least until some severely conflicting data or some better explanation might come along.

The rest of us generally agree. We plug our televisions into little wall sockets, measure a year by the length of Earth's orbit, and in many other ways live our lives based on the trusted reality of those theories.

With that, David Quammen, the article's author, proceeds to fire what can only be called a devastating broadside in defense of evolution. Mr. Quammen, I salute you. Such a firm position in favor of what has become scientifically unavoidable fact has become distressingly uncommon. Sometimes, it's necessary to take a stand, and you have done so in a stunningly effective way.


Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Fuck you, Blogger.

Okay, I took the time to write an actual post today and what happens? Goddamn blogger eats the thing. I do not have the time to go back and re-write the whole damned post, so I'm afraid the only Drek you're getting is my incoherent frustration. If that ain't enough... well...

Go checkout this series of comics over at Piled Higher and Deeper. I find myself agreeing with Tajel about Bush and Cheney, but still agreeing with Professor Guevara about the wisdom of not pushing a political issue on our students. I know some will disagree with me on that one, but using our positions of authority to ram political dogma down our students' throats is morally repugnant to me. This is not to say that we can't present facts and empirically-supported theories that can be used to support a perspective, but that isn't the same thing. If it were, teaching that the Earth isn't the center of the Universe would be an anti-Christian act.

Wait... come to think of it... contradicting geocentrism used to be regarded as anti-Christian. Hunh. I guess presenting facts without dressing them up in the clothes of partisanship can be a pretty revolutionary act after all!

Monday, October 25, 2004

And so he plays his part...

Those who are in sociology are already familiar with the concepts of roles and scripts. For those who aren't, and we can pretend for a moment that non-sociologists read this blog, a role is a set of behaviors and understandings that people assume in certain circumstances to facilitate interaction. For instance, when you enter a retail outlet you probably assume the role of consumer. Similarly, most store employees will assume compatible roles as salespeople.

These roles, which often come in mutually-reinforcing groups (i.e. husband/wife, salesperson/consumer, teacher/student, etc.), come equipped with sets of scripts. Scripts act as pre-set routinzed sets of behaviors used for accomplishing interactions. Do you need to think about how to go about buying something? Not really- and that's the beauty of a script. They give us a framework of expectations for how an interaction will play out, as well as a set of signs and counter-signs used to accomplish various parts. When you go to a counter to buy a pack of gum, you need not wonder how the process will go- you know the script, and thus can accomplish your purchase with little or no active thought. Amusingly, (And this is a duality that the sociologist Georg Simmel would have enjoyed) scripts can act both to facilitate interaction and to insulate us from it. On the one hand, they make it easier for us to engage in some sort of exchange with other people. On the other hand, they make those exchanges more impersonal because they may require no active thought or participation from us, just adherence to a set of behaviors. Anyone who has ever responded to the greeting, "Hey!" with, "Oh, I'm okay," understands what I mean here. "Oh, I'm okay," would be the appropriate counter-sign to "Hey, how are you?" but the obvious disjoint between question and answer in the former case serves to illustrate just how impersonal this exchange of pleasantries is.

Why do I bring all this up? Well, simply because we have some great examples of roles and scripts in popular media right now. On the subject of roles and scripts, we have a series of comics on Sinfest that are nicely sociological.

It begins with the strip's fundamentalist-Christian character, Seymour, declaring "I have a hat" to the strip's main protaganist, Slick. Slick, being the deep guy that he is decides that he, too, wants a hat.

On the next day we find that Slick has not obtained a hat to match Seymour's, but has instead one-upped him with a cape. He uses a small electric fan to strike a dramatic pose with his cape, leaving Seymour feeling dejected.

When next we join our intrepid characters, they are madly shifting to ever more ridiculous garb, shouting out the roles that they are assuming. At last, the humanoid-pig Squigley asks them, rather pointedly, what the hell they think they're doing. Now things are about to get interesting...

Squigley goes and describes what Seymour and Slick were doing to Criminy, an intellectual character, in the next installment. Criminy, however, observes that perhaps the game of dress-up was an attempt to counterbalance restrictive social roles, in the process allowing each participant to expand their sense of identity. Squigley remains skeptical.

Yet, Criminy perseveres and makes the point that sociology makes: we are all of us playing characters, painting ourselves into roles that define us to ourselves as much as to other people. The oddity in Slick and Seymour's behavior was not the assuming of roles or costumes, but that they were searching actively for new ones, rather than simply accepting the ones assigned by society.

So, it is reasonable to ask, how do we know that these roles and scripts really exist? Couldn't this just be some sort of elaborate, but ultimately fallacious, explanation? Sure! This is always a concern in science. Yet, we have some additional proof in the form of the breaching experiments pioneered by Harold Garfinkle. Garfinkle was curious what would happen if people deliberately violated scripts and roles, essentially throwing our carefully routinized social machine into disarray. What he found was, to say the least, interesting. People tend to respond by either ignoring the breach to whatever extent possible, clinging to the ruined script as though to a life preserver, or with hostility and anger. And there can be no better example of breaching experiments than this video clip.

What's so great about this clip? Well, first off, it's funny as hell. It's "Triumph the Insult Comic Dog" going to after the third presidential debate. Yet, why is it funny? Well, at least in part, because we have political figures giving an interview to a dog puppet. On the one hand, the roles for interviewer/interviewee are being fulfilled, but in another sense, they aren't. Puppets are not a part of any political script, and their use would normally seem to disqualify someone from taking on one of those roles. So, how do the pundits respond?

Well, see for yourself, but what is remarkable is the frequency with which these spin-doctors try to push forward with an interaction in the way demanded by the script, despite the fact that their partner is regularly violating their complementary script. Why should they adhere to any set of rules when their partner is in such drastic violation of them? Simple: we are all so dependent on scripts, we often don't know what else to do.

William Shakespeare once said:

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts...

He might as well have been writing just for Garfinkle and the sociologists. We are, all of us, players in the show of life. We trade social clothing as actors change costuming, and our own performances depend on the skills of our fellow thespians. Yet, the amusing thing to me is not the changing of costumes, or the memorizing of lines. What amuses me is that even knowing about roles and scripts, even understanding their dual purpose in life, and even when those scripts are violated, one thing remains as true in "real life" as it does in dramatic theater:

The show must go on.

Friday, October 22, 2004

The Physics of Family...

Family is a funny thing. I was reminded of this by a few incidents in my life over the last week or so.

Last weekend I babysat for a friend of mine. It was his wife's birthday and he wanted to take her out for a night on the town. Of course, as he's a grad student, a "night on the town" is a grand affair that might possibly involve a dinner at the swank Red Lobster... or, failing that, Fazoli's. I say this not to mock, but more to express my simultaneous admiration and sympathy. In any case, I was responsible for his children during this evening.

Now I should mention that this isn't the first time I've babysat for him. During my first year as a grad student my hypothetical-roommate and I would babysit as a team, during which we became known as Uncle Drek and Aunt Maya. And yes, my roomie has always been male. I just don't think the kids had any better ideas how to refer to us. In times past my friend's youngest child has alternated between being fascinated with me, and terrified of me. This most recent time was a "fascinated" day, which made the babysitting experience easier.

So, I spent four hours playing with two young kids, as well as watching them play with each other, and was constantly struck by how well-behaved they are. Now, my friend when he reads this will doubtless snort at the idea of his children being described as "well-behaved," but in actuality they are. I spent time as a camp counselor watching over boys only a year or two older than my friend's son and they were far worse behaved. I am referring particularly to the boy who attempted to beat a cabin-mate's head in with a steel flashlight. Certainly my friend's kids have their moments, as we all do, but the quality of their behavior speaks well of the efforts of their parents. These are children who are clearly getting the love and guidance that children require and are the better for it.

Not that this will save my friend and his wife from the inevitable parental hell of "Teenage Children," but at least they can feel confident about their performance up until that dreaded day.

A few days after this, I had the chance to sit down for dinner with the parents of my good friend Jordan. I've mentioned Jordan before, most prominently regarding the VP debates. In any case, I hadn't seen his parents for some years so it was nice to visit for a while. Over the course of this dinner the talk obviously turned to Jordan himself. You know how it goes, they tell me embarrassing stories, show me his baby pictures... all the things you want to have in order to annoy your guy friends. In short- we chatted about all things Jordan.

And yes, Jordan, they DID tell me what you did when you were nine. Although how you managed to get that into such a small space, I'll never understand.

Now, it's important to know that Jordan is one of the most genuinely nice people I know. He's someone who always seems to see the best in people, and persists in that, even though it sometimes gets him in trouble. Personally I think it's part of why we've been friends for so long- I'm quite a bit more cynical, so we balance each other out. On meeting Jordan's parents, it seems quite clear why he is this way as they are both generous, open people. I made this observation to Jordan's father, but his response was interesting. He told me that, as Jordan was growing up, he (the father) often felt like he had to be a better person in order to live up to the standards set by his son, and not the other way 'round. He didn't mean that he had to set a good example for his son, he literally meant that his son was such a kind, generous person, that he felt compelled to try to live up to that example. It was quite possibly one of the most touching moments I've witnessed- I actually almost felt my cold, black, cobweb-draped heart try to thaw for a moment or two before lapsing back into its usual sullen silence.

It strikes me as interesting the way that parents shape their children, but it seems often unrecognized that the opposite also happens: children shape their parents. It is as though there is a sort of Newtonian physics at work in family- for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every time that parents shape their children, those same children sculpt their parents in return. Perhaps this is why parenthood is such a transformative experience- it is the construction of set of social bonds more intimate, and more frequently used, than virtually any other. How could any participant in such a thing not be dramatically altered by it? This is not to blame children equally for poor family life of course, parents are capable of exerting quite a bit of force under most circumstances, but the family is a social system in which parents and children mutually shape each other.

This idea makes me a little sad at the moment. As I've said before, I was raised fairly conservatively. My sister and I have both grown considerably more liberal, her more so than I, but our parents seem to have grown more conservative at the same time. I had assumed that I only perceived them as getting more conservative as I grew more liberal, but perhaps that isn't the whole truth. Perhaps they HAVE grown more conservative as a response to the movement of my sister and I. As I said: for every action, perhaps there is an equal and opposite reaction. Perhaps in some families this odd physics binds them together, but in others it drives them apart.

In a few months I will return home to my parents for the first time in over a year. I will be returning for the holidays, and to see my sister married. By then either George W. Bush, or John Kerry, will have been elected President (Or we'll have decended into civil war. I'm hoping one of the first two options, personally) and so my father will either be gloating, or will be sullen and petulant. Love him though I do, I can honestly admit that whatever ragged shred of interpersonal maturity I possess does not come from him. Regardless of what happens, however, and how annoying he gets, I must labor to remember this: my family is a system. My reactions will exert a force. I must direct that force in a way that makes things better for us all.

Or at least in a way that gets me some peace and quiet.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Right in the Mean Bean Machine!

My preload completed last night and, yes, as it happens, the boys over at Penny Arcade have nicely summed up that experience.

Don't know what I'm talking about? The upcoming game Half-Life 2, obviously the sequel to Half-Life, is one of the most anticipated games of the last 5 years. It has been delayed several times from its initial release date of September 30, 2003. It's makers, and publisher, have now agreed that it is ready for release, so most of us are salivating like mad.

However, in a break from the ordinary, Valve, the makers of Half-Life, are using a proprietary system called "Steam" to distribute the product via the internet. That's right: you can purchase the game and then just download it. The problem is that Vivendi Universal, the publisher of physical copies of the game, doesn't want Valve to unencrypt the game until the in-stores release. So, I am now in the bizarre position of having a copy of the game on my hard-disk, but am unable to do more than stare at the little screen that tells me the pre-load is done, and that I'll be able to play "soon."

That just isn't very satisfying.

Not sure where the title of today's post comes from? Try here.

Oh for fuck's sake!

Baseball. He hasn't been part of the blog for two weeks, and he's already posting about fucking baseball. As though we can't find anything more important to talk about than a goddamn baseball game. I mean, bloody hell Slag, we all know that only crappy blogs post about baseball.

Wait, shit, did I say "crappy blogs?" Christ, never mind- I'm shocked we haven't seen baseball on this blog before now. Carry on.

The Red Sox win the pennant!

The Red Sox win the pennant!
The Red Sox win the pennant!
The Red Sox win the pennant!

OK, so I don't even particularly like baseball that much, but after spending several years in New England, I developed a liking for the Red Sox. I have many friends who are ecstatic right now, and will be all day tomorrow.

And besides, here at Total Drek, we always cheer for the underdog.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Thank you, CBS!

It seems like just the other day when I was criticizing CBS for their asinine coverage of the return of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, in the United States.

Well, tonight they aired a very well-balanced and honest investigation of the growing tendency of Americans to refuse to immunize their children in the mistaken belief that vaccines are dangerous. Among other things, this story forces us all to confront the fact that Americans are losing faith in science, and falling prey to foolish beliefs that are placing us all at risk:

"I don’t trust these doctors. I don’t trust a lot of the medical field," says Debra Alvo, one of a group of mothers who don't like the idea of vaccinations. Her 2-year-old son has never gotten any shots.

"I don’t mind if he gets measles. I don’t think it’s a killer disease as they’re touting it to be. No, I feel like my son Julian has a really strong constitution, and if he got something, you know, I would deal with it then."

During the country’s last big measles outbreak, in 1989, 55,000 got the disease and 123 died. That’s one out of every 500 cases.

Arlen Boltax is expecting her third child any week now. She fears any vaccines could permanently disable her baby.

"I usually don’t say much [when scientists tell her that vaccines are safe and effective] because it’s, you know, they have their perspective and that’s the training that they receive from their medical school," says Boltax. "I’m not a scientist. I’m not a doctor. I just feel that I’m doing what’s best for my children."

Thank you, CBS, for finally balancing out your previous lousy coverage with something on the necessity of vaccines. Check out the transcript and see for yourself.

Now, if only we could make sure more people see it... anyone willing to help with that?

Of Canvas and Crayons...

I've been thinking a lot lately about faith and god. Partially this is because of my recent response to Ms. Star Jones over her prejudiced and ignorant statements about people of my faith. Partially this is because of the prominent place religion has in the current administration, as admirably described by Ron Suskind. Partially this is just because religion has been a big part of my life.

Okay, seriously, stop laughing. I know, I know, you're sitting there saying, "What?! Drek, you're an atheist, how can religion have been a big part of your life?!" Well, the answer is simple: I grew up in a deeply religious country (indeed, religion scholars will tell you that American religiosity is substantially higher than that found in most other developed nations). Moreover, I was raised by Christian parents in the Southeastern U.S., a region often known as the "Bible Belt."

Despite my current atheism, I must confess that this upbringing has affected me in a number of ways. In terms of the trivial, I rank dress codes in terms of being more or less casual than "church dress." See, for Southerners there is a very specific dress code for church attendance. A young male is expected to wear slacks, an undershirt, a button-up shirt, a tie, and a jacket. Shoes are permitted to be loafers. Upon marrying, however, or just aging to a certain point, a male is expected to upgrade to an entire suit- preferrably of the grey or black variety, and start wearing stiff leather shoes. I'm not as versed on the female side of the code, not being female, but it seems to predominantly call for frills on the dresses of young girls, ribbons in the hair of older girls, and relatively formal long and primary-colored dresses for adult women. Hats are strongly encouraged. More liberal congregations may permit their women to wear pants, but that's fairly hit-or-miss, and often scandalous.

In a less trivial sense elements of my Christian upbringing are responsible for my current rejection of religious faith. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I attribute my atheism entirely to the stupidity I encountered in my youth, I do after all have a positive belief in atheism rather than simply negative beliefs about god and religion, but it didn't hurt. Still, it is one of those atheism-encouraging experiences from my youth that provides an illustration for the point of today's post.

When I was but a wee Drek I went to Sunday School as all good protestant boys do. My sunday school was located in the local Methodist church (my family is Presbyterian, but when you live in fucking-nowhere, Florida, you have to make-do) and was intended both as religious education and as a place for parents to dump their kids for a half-day or so. I suspect that the "dump" aspect of the service was a significant part of my parents' motivation- I have pretty much been a stubborn little bastard from birth. Hell, I was a stubborn little bastard before birth, too. My mother had to be induced in order to get me the hell out, but I digress...

Anyway, I spent a substantial amount of time at sunday school and found it to be a rather curious experience. I seemed to always be getting into trouble for something or other, but I remember never understanding why. Mostly I seemed to be disliked for asking too many questions about what we were being taught. What can I say? I made the cardinal mistake of assuming that a doctrine claiming access to an all-powerful superbeing would make logical sense. But, again, I digress...

Many of my questions, however, were not about faith but were, instead, about fairly practical issues. It was one such issue that became a defining moment for my relationship not with god, in whom I still believed for years after this, but with those who claim to serve god. One day we young tykes were given small sheets of coarse canvas. The canvas was looped at the top, so that a dowel rod could be inserted turning the canvas into a wall-hanging. On the canvas had been stiched the outline of the word "Jesus" in block letters. Our task was to color in the word to show our devotion to the supposed savior of mankind. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there's no test of faith like coloring a swatch of fabric. During the Roman persecution of Christians, "canvas coloring" was even more dreaded than a date with the lions. But that isn't the point. This sounds like a good little activity for kids, right? Well, there was a catch. There's always a catch...

The catch was that there weren't enough crayons, not by a longshot. So, instead of coloring with crayons, or even with markers, some of us were given... wait for it... colored pencils. Have you ever tried to use pencils on canvas? It doesn't work very well. In retrospect, it was about as easy as that earthworm dissection we had to do in middle school with plastic knives (apparently it was deemed too dangeorus to give us scalpels). As you might guess, dissecting anything with a plastic knife is an exercise in both futility, and the mashing of internal organs through blunt force trauma.

Now, I've always been a problem-solver and a fan of practicality, so this situation struck me as being fairly absurd, but not insoluble. I raised my hand and attempted to gain the attention of one of the sunday school teachers. Attract her attention I did- she asked me in annoyance why I wasn't coloring. I tried to explain that the pencils weren't working, but she interrupted me with terse instructions to color. I asked if I could share crayons with a neighbor and was told that we weren't allowed to talk. I suggested that it might be possible for us to share crayons without speaking, and was told "no." Then I went with the idea that I could wait for someone to finish and then borrow their crayons. I was again told, "no." Then she finished by telling me that, "I don't want to see you doing anything but coloring until there's color inside every one of those letters."

It's a shame that my parents weren't there to see that, because they would doubtless have emitted simultaneous groans of anticipation. I was angry. Very angry. But, I didn't throw a fit, I just calmly complied with my teacher's demand. I carefully, painfully, managed to put a different colored line through the dead center of each letter. Then I stopped and put my head down. Just to clarify, I drew each letter inside the block outlines, leaving the majority of the space blank. When my teacher returned to ask why I was disobeying, I calmly informed her that each letter indeed had color inside it, and so I had complied with her request. (Obviously I didn't put it in such high-fallutin language) She basically threw up her hands, said "whatever" and stormed off.

Now, all of this happened before I was in fourth grade. Some of you may doubt that it happened this way, but I remember quite clearly- probably because my parents had this particular canvas monstrosity on display in our laundry room for a number of years. (I can't really explain why they would display what seemed like a completely half-assed effort. My best two explanations are that they thought it would remind me of the need to be humble, which didn't work exactly the way they intended, or they thought I was vaguely retarded and needed encouragement.) Seeing it daily kept the memory fresh.

So, why do I bring this up now? Simply because I think it illustrates the two types of religious faith that seem to pervade the United States. The first type of faith is illustrated by the above incident and takes one thing as its primary motivation: fear.

Many, many people seem to access their faith, and god, through fear of doing something wrong. These are the people that constantly search for wisdom in the bible, who obsessively pursue scripture, who seek to erradicate those who believe differently from them, and who determinedly avoid perspectives other than their own. These people see their salvation as stemming from an unthinking, unwavering devotion to the authoritative structure of the church and their religion. Questioning and divergence are unacceptable because they are afraid that by questioning, or doing something not explicitly condoned by religion, that they will offend god and damn themselves. These poor people are like the child who has been beaten repeatedly: their every action, their every thought, is bent to avoid the wrath of a powerful other. They live to assauge their own fear of making a mistake. They are locked into a prison of their faith, and feel constantly insecure because their own moral worth is dependent on adhering to a set of boundaries that are marked in invisible ink. It is, then, no surprise that my questions about coloring on canvas were slapped down- I was doing the thing that is not permitted above all others. I was suggesting we do something a different way. Yes, I was asking about crayons and canvas, but habits are habits, and for some questions are always bad.

The second type of faith is quite different because it is motivated not by fear, but by somthing else: trust.

It does seem possible to approach god, and faith, without fear, but instead with trust. Trust that the hypothetical almighty is a loving being who did not make the world as some sort of wretched trap for the unwary. Trust that we are meant to explore, and discover, and learn about our world as babies explore and discover their own. Trust that god is like a loving parent who watches our successes with joy, our failures with tolerance, and is proud of us for growing into our potential. For people who reach their faith, and their god, through trust it is not necessary to reject others or eliminate other ways of thinking. The world is made richer for its variety. Tolerance, acceptance, and understanding are the ways of the world. It is not necessary to fear god when one can trust that being to know us and to understand us. It seems to me that these are the people who understand that god, if he exists, means for us to come to know him through learning and growing as people. These are the people who do not think that god demands we reject the majority of his creation in order to know him.

Fear and trust are the twin poles of modern American religion. Those who follow god (whom I tend to label "godists" because I think the term "god-fearing" just emphasizes what is worst in religion) are faced with a choice: they may worship through fear, forever seeking to reject that which might tempt them into damnation, or they may worship through trust, accepting and embracing the challenge of life, secure in the knowledge that a truly infinite, truly compassionate being will judge them fairly and honestly.

I am an atheist, and so cannot tell the godists where to go. We all must find our own way of knowing the world. For me, godist faiths are destructive and wrong, but that is only for me. For others, they may be empowering in a way that atheism could never be. Such is the way of the world, and I am comfortable with that. Yet, despite my atheism, I think I can ask you this: what do you prefer? A life of fear and uncertainty, or a life of trust and confidence?

Even an atheist knows the answer to that.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


I had the opportunity yesterday to speak with my sister. Mixed in with the ranting about the Sociology-Lite one of her instructors has been spouting (she's pursuing a master's degree in geography) and chit-chat about her new house, she let me know what my fate is to be at her marriage. See, she's getting married to a former British sailor (You may as well let out your breath, I'm serious. There's no punchline coming) in January and there has recently been some discussion that I might be tapped as best man.

This has, fortunately, proven to not be the case. My future brother-in-law has managed to secure the assistance of an old and dear friend from the U.K. for this task. So, while I will be expected to stand in the wedding as a Groom's Man, and I am honored by this, I won't have to be THE Groom's Man.

I am, frankly, grateful. Partly, this is because even though I like the groom I don't really know him well. As such, I'd feel kinda sorry for the poor bastard. It isn't enough that he has to spend the rest of his life living with my sister (The first 14 or so years of mine were plenty, thanks) he has to have some complete doofus stranger there for moral support when he ties the knot? Wow. That would suck. Partly I'm glad I'm out of it because people pay way more attention to the best man than the other groom's men, and I think we can all agree that to whatever extent it's possible for me to be discrete, I should probably do it. Mostly, though, I'm glad I'm not the best man because doing the best man toast would have been a bit difficult.

Normally all a best man has to do is get teary and confess his deep admiration and love for the bride and groom, and he's covered. What people remember is a deep outpouring of genuine emotion, and they forget the painfully incoherent speech that preceded it. Unfortunately, as you can probably guess, nobody who knew me even for a few minutes would buy it. Deep outpourings of emotion really aren't my thing. Not that I don't feel them, mind you, but I just don't really see the point in spreading my emotions around like a flu virus. Yes, I am a sad, lonely man. Bite me.

So, since emotional amd moving were out, my only option would be to go for witty and amusing. Yes, folks, I'd have to try and deliver the dreaded "comedic best man speech." Loved because when it's good, it's really good, and feared because when it isnt, it's a punishment from god. The challenge would be daunting enough under normal circumstances, but as I've mentioned, my sister is marrying a British man. So, the room would be half-full of his family, who are obviously also British, and thus derive from a culture whose humor runs the gamut from Oscar Wilde to Benny Hill. And I have to try to be funny? Good fucking luck. So, I am thrilled to not be picked as the best man. I'm just breathing a sigh of relief and wishing the best for the poor sap who actually has to do it.

Besides, if it had been my responsibility to give the best man's toast, I might not have been able to resist the terrible urge to begin with, "It will come as no surprise to many that my sister loves British seamen..."

Thank you, thank you, I'll be here for the rest of the week.

Monday, October 18, 2004


After a week's vacation, I am back to the regular pleasure of posting for Total Drek.

I was in Washington, DC on Friday, visiting the Smithsonian museums, and I had the misfortune of stumbling across the Mayday for Marriage rally. Lots of angry-looking White and Asian couples descended on the National Mall to hear angry pastors giving angry speeches intended "to bring this country together and preserve the definition of marriage as the union between a man and a woman." Judging by the rally's logo (at the top of their site's main page), their definition of marriage includes fellating starfish. Apparently the rally was the idea of several Seattle-area pastors opposed to mayor Greg Nickels's proposal to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. After a small rally in Seattle, pastor Ken Hutcherson wanted to have a larger rally in Washington whose purpose, according to the site, was "to show what happens when you mess with God's people." If that statement doesn't terrify you, go back and read it again.

As a liberal Christian, I get greatly offended when Christians play Bible scavenger hunt to promote their own hateful agendas. I'd love to post a rebuttal to the claims made in the site, but actually it doesn't seem to make any claims. The closest it gets are some vague statements about how American culture will fall if marriage is not protected.

While searching for content on the site, though, I was struck by a single statement from Rabbi Dainel Lapin: "Among humans in every place and at every time, the safety and welfare of women and children depends upon sculpting the raw rock of masculine aggressiveness and sexuality into the work of art we call marriage." I think that's the heart of what's going on here - men feel that their "raw rock of agressiveness and sexuality" is being challenged by modern ideas of marriage and family. And just like Drek pointed out when he wrote about the masculinists, these people are confused and scared. They don't know what to do.

So what do we do? Define marriage for what it is: social recognition of the love between two people. If you'd like to help, visit and donate to The Lambda Legal Fund.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

So bourgeoisie it hurts...

I feel like such a grad student right now. I'm sitting in a coffee house near campus, sipping on a capuccino (Note to self: Christ does this taste awful. Did they use espresso in this thing, or robitussin? Next time we have the chance, please explain to me, meaning you, why the fuck we started drinking coffee.) (As a side note: I often write notes to myself as though I'm addressing someone else. The way I see it, whenever I circle back to read a note, I'll have had some additional set of experiences that alter my persona on some level relative to when I wrote the note. So, really, when I address my future self I am addressing someone other than me. I find this to be a strikingly useful way to go about it, even if it does make my prelim exam notes rather amusing in spots. But I digress...) listening to Veruca Salt and trying to write a lecture. It's like I deliberately set out to reinforce stereotypes or something. On the positive side: I'm sitting around in an old t-shirt I got for signing up for a credit card (well, more accurately, for signing Karl Marx up for a credit card) and a pair of pants that I've fixed with a needle-and-thread more than once. This is a definite step up from the black turtleneck/berret I suppose I ought to be wearing.

Well whoopdee-fuckin-doo.

Just so long as nobody comes up and tries to talk about Plato or fucking Nietzsche, I ought to be able to restrain my self-revulsion.

Friday, October 15, 2004

It's good to be loved.

And, of course, you know I say that with considerable irony. The Raving Atheist was nice enough to bring the remarks of one Star Jones to my attention earlier this week.

It seems that Ms. Jones was nice enough, after the September 11th attacks, to assert that she would never vote for an atheist candidate for President of the United States. Specifically, she commented, among other things, that, "I think it is absolutely important for you to be led by a higher power so you feel as if you have some responsibility..." She went on to observe that:

Given a choice between someone who knows the power of a spiritual presence bigger than they, that moves them to have values, to have morals, to have made a mistake and to know forgiveness versus someone who has never understood the gift of a personal relationship with God ... the choice is clear for me.

She finally commented that she prefers a non-atheist as president because: "I want you [the candidate] to feel like there are long term, everlasting ramifications."

So, if I'm understanding this correctly then in Ms. Jones' view atheists are, as a group, irresponsible, amoral, valueless individuals who have no concept of long-term ramifications. Did I put all that together properly? Yes? Okay, thanks for confirming that for me.

Now, you know that I'm an atheist... and very proud of it. You've probably also realized that I am as "devout" about my atheism as any religious person is about their faith. However, that said, I have also asserted previously that there are limitations to the role of science, and that fundamentally atheism is a position of faith just as many religions are. I may be a devout atheist, but I am not an evangelical one, and I believe in the ability of people of all varieties of faith (atheist, agnostic, and godist) to live together side by side. All that being said, there are a few things that need to be said in response to Ms. Jones' statements.

Some might be wondering why I bother to address something that was said years ago. Well, first off, I didn't learn of it until now, and I'm somewhat annoyed. Secondly, evidence suggests that such basic concepts as the separation of church and state, on which atheists rely for fair treatment in this country, remain hotly contested. The remarks may be in the past, but socially accepted hostility towards atheists remains. Thirdly, I'm just struck by the bizarre qualities of the situation. A group of Muslim terrorists conducts the worst attack in U.S. history and an "entertainer" suddenly declares that Atheists aren't fit to be president. To quote Sarge from Red vs. Blue, "Private, why did you administer CPR for a headwound? It's just all so damned inconsistent. What would you have done if I stubbed my toe? Rubbed my neck with aloe vera?" Finally, in an election year, when both candidates are struggling to one-up each other's love of god, I just need to stand up for those of us who don't believe in god at all. So, all that said, let's get on with responding to Jones.

In regards to the responsibility issue, let's define the term "responsible." The first definition of the term, "Liable to be required to give account, as of one's actions or of the discharge of a duty or trust," seems tailor-made for religion. For those of faith who believe that a god will call them to answer for their actions, responsibility seems par for the course. Yet, the second definition, "Involving personal accountability or ability to act without guidance or superior authority," seems rather to be attuned to the atheist. So, definitionally, the concept of responsibility seems capable of applying to both the god-fearing, and atheists, equally. That said, how often do we hear people argue that we should give up our lives to god? Or that our lives are in god's hands? I may be being too literal, but this sounds to me as though believing in god is a way of relieving people of responsibility for their own lives and their own actions, not inculcating a sense of solemnity about it. There is, of course, still the issue of whether or not atheists are, in fact, responsible, even if the concept is compatible with their beliefs. However, in my judgement, Jones is making an argument that a sense of responsibility is desirable because it will lead an individual to make moral and appropriate choices. Fair enough, but this means that the issue of responsibility is really one of morality. So, are atheists less moral than the god-fearing?

To address that, (which is the second point of Jones' that I quoted after all) I would like to ask the god-fearing in the crowd a simple question: who is more moral, the person who behaves because they believe that failure to do so will earn eternal torment, or the person who does so without expecting an eternal reward? Well, put another way, is an altruistic act less altruistic because the one who performs it does so in order to earn a reward? Well, considering that the dictionary defines altruism as "Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness," I would say the argument could be made that it is. So, that being the case, any moral action taken by an atheist arguably represents more pure altruism than any similar action performed by a god-fearing person. (This is, as you've noticed, a simplistic argument. As it happens, I don't think that selfish motives necessarily reduce the value of an act, nor do I think that all religious people are self-interested rational-maximizers. I'm comfortable with the above argument, however, as Ms. Jones' assertions are so utterly foolish that I really feel no need to bring out my "A" material.) Now, we're still left with the question of whether or not atheists, as a whole, are more likely to commit improper acts. Well, since the September 11th terrorists were religious zealots, since abortion bombings are often the result of religious zealots, and since we have seen such global events as crusades in the name of "god," I rather doubt our record could be any worse. Contrary to her implication, a belief in a divine power does not seem to have been noticeably successful in preventing crime, war, or genocide in the past. I see no reason to accept a blanket assurance that it will suddenly begin to do so in the future. Further, since morals for Ms. Jones seem to derive from, "...a spiritual presence bigger than they [the individual]..." one is forced to wonder if Buddhists, who seek to dissolve themself into the universe itself, qualify as amoral people in her mind. Are atheists the only ones Jones is prepared to condemn?

Then there's the issue of Jones' purported, "everlasting ramifications." Let me say this, Ms. Jones: for atheists, who believe there is no afterlife, ramifications are pretty goddamn eternal. A life sentence to prison for murder cannot be negated by repentance, and some sort of ethereal forgiveness that will lift the murderer into a blissful afterlife. For atheists, who believe in a finite existence in this universe, all ramifications are considerably more "eternal" than for the believer. Moreover, as suicide bombers so amply demonstrate, a belief in "eternal ramifications," can quite effectively motivate destructive, amoral behavior, rather than restrain it.

Obviously, Ms. Jones' remarks were ill-considered, but it is also apparent that they were not motivated by any more sophisticated a philosophy than sheer bigotry. Indeed, in response to a question about whether or not she would vote for a Muslim, Jones responded: "If that person was a good person." When one of Jones' companions commented that:

You could be a very good person and not believe in God, but the question -- it doesn't necessarily apply if you believe or don't believe.

Jones replied that: wouldn't get my vote. I mean you could be a nice person -- you could baby-sit my kids -- possibly -- but that doesn't mean you would get my vote...

So, the issue isn't whether or not atheists are moral, or responsible, or valueless, but simply that they are atheists. All of her posturing about morality is just that- posturing. Ms. Jones is concerned with nothing more than the individual's belief, or lack thereof, in god, just as racists are concerned with nothing more than the color of an individual's skin. There is nothing here but sheer, unalloyed bigotry. I don't know what disgusts me more: the fact that a black woman feels so confident in categorically denying the worth of an entire group of people, or the manner in which she convinces herself of her own inherent superiority. I might be willing to concede that honor, morality, and self-sacrifice are legitimiate critera on which to judge people, but belief in god is not related to any of those things. If anything, too many people seem content to use their faith to justify their immoral deeds, rather than as a motivation to avoid them. What is it about a simplistic, unexamined belief in god that provides individuals with a sense of infallibile goodness? Is there something about the god concept that teaches people to believe only in their own moral worth, and to thoughtlessly denigrate that of others? I like to think not, and I know too many good, thoughtful religious people to believe it must be so, but all too often religion seems better suited to teaching hate, than to teaching tolerance. Religion is a Janus-faced creature, bringing at once peace about the world, and loathing for humans with dissimilar beliefs.

Now, I don't bring this up to slam Ms. Jones, although she deserves nothing but scorn for her ill advised and prejudiced remarks. I don't bring this up because I wish to be disrespectful to people of faith. I have a number of good friends who are devout believers in one of a number of different gods. I have nothing but admiration for those who take the good and inspirational from faith and use it to guide their lives. I bring this up because I am sick and tired of atheist bashing. Can we really deny that atheists are one of the few groups that it is still acceptable to discriminate against? Ms. Jones couldn't possibly get away with making such remarks about Jews, or Muslims, or Christians, or African-Americans, or any other group. She couldn't get away with such blatant absurdity with any of the "larger" minorities, just tiny minorities like atheists. Yet, the fact is that we may not be as small a minority as some think. How can you identify an atheist, after all, in a nation where religious observance is not mandatory? As the Irregular Times states quite eloquently:

The reason so many people are unaware of this [that atheists are a large minority] is that atheists are a largely invisible minority. Atheists look like everyone else and act mostly like everyone else except for what they don't do, which is participate in religious activities. The fact is that the majority of people who say that they are religious don't participate in religious activities either, so atheists blend in very well. Most people just assume that the atheists in their lives are religious. Many atheists go along with this charade out of fear of persecution. Comments of public figures like Star Jones demonstrate that this fear is well-founded.

If we're getting pushed around, fellow atheists, it's because we find it easier to hide than to stand up and say "no." Well, not me, not anymore. I'm Drek, I run a blog, I pay my taxes, I donate platelets, I'm a registered organ donor, I teach your children, and I'm an atheist. Don't like it? Tough. I have nothing against you because you believe in god, but I won't take any shit because I don't.

We may be invisible, but we're not amoral. We may be unnoticeable, but we're not irresponsible. We're here. We always will be here. And I have only one thing to say to those who believe that we atheists are evil, selfish people:

I forgive you for being so stupid. It isn't your fault- that's just the way god made you.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Well, how about that!

John Edwards, hopefully our future vice-president, graces the pages of The Onion with a brilliantly honest editorial. He also unveils what should be the new Kerry-Edwards campaign slogan: "Hey, where's that warm, golden glow coming from? Why, it's coming from the U.S. of A., where cocks are thick, tits are perky, and sunbeams shine out of everyone's asses!"

Oh, and I'm sure the Onion didn't just make it the hell up. I mean, it's on the internet so it has to be true, right? Right?!

Not to be missed.

Presidential Debate Live Reactions- Volume Three

Once again, we have commentary on the debate from myself and my buddy Jose. To introduce the participants more thoroughly:

Jose: A Panamanian-immigrant and former U.S. Marine who plans to vote Republican. He opposes gun control and favors strict interpretation of the constitution. Jose is currently pursuing a degree in computer science. He also has an unnatural fondness for sugary beverages.

Drek: Your lovable host, who already voted Democrat, and considers himself a left-leaning moderate. He enjoys computers, sarcasm, and women who are afraid to cry.

As in our previous installments I'll add remarks in brackets to explain what's going on.

This begins shortly after the debate starts.

Drek: You're late.

Jose: Sue me...

Jose: I'm cooking.

Drek: What's for dinner?

Jose: burgers

Drek: Shit, send me some.

Jose: Sorry, doctors orders. [I would say that sounds like the coolest doctor ever, but since that unpleasant time when a doctor ordered me to subsist on popcorn, potato chips, and Gatorade I’ve learned there really is too much of a good thing.]

Drek: A flu question? [Referring to a question to Bush about the current shortage of flu vaccine.]

Drek: What the fuck?

Jose: bioterrorism dude

Jose: and it's a public health issue

Drek: Riiiiiight.

Jose: if we can't even keep up with the flu, what about an actual attack?

Drek: Of the flu? Well, it could be rough. I know what you're saying, but Bush isn't even straying near that logical an answer.

Drek: This is starting out really ugly, man. [i.e. the debate was inelegant from the first question.]

Jose: He's [Bush] answering the simple side...not enough shots, don't get one!

Drek: "Don't like anthrax? Don't get it!"

Drek: Kerry's doing well on healthcare, though.

Jose: pay for???!?!? [Jose is mocking Bush here, suggesting that he hasn’t considered the problem of paying for things yet.]

Drek: Bush: "A plan is not a littany of complaints." Yeah, but Kerry has an actual plan.

Drek: Kerry: "We're not giving this away for nothing." He's needed to say that.

Drek: Let's get back on topic here, John.

Jose: No, the more he drifts the more he can confuse W

Drek: I don't think he needs to try hard to confuse W.

Drek: I'm glad Kerry hit that crucial ceiling fan issue. [Referring to Kerry’s statements about outsourcing jobs, specifically including a Chinese ceiling fan factory.]

Jose: does that count as "stuff"? [Referring to an incident in our high school debate team where a teammate used the phrase “I want my stuff” in a speech.]

Drek: Not quite yet.

Drek: "Pago?" [I’m mocking Bush’s pronunciation of Pay-go, as in, “Pay-as-you-go” or Kerry’s plan for balancing the budget.]

Jose: pay-go

Drek: Man, what the hell was that answer all about?

Jose: you know, 11/10 is a fraction... [Jose is winning the prize for non sequitur of the night here.]

Drek: Your point is...?

Jose: I have this thing with people that a fraction must be smaller [i.e. the numerator must be less than the denominator.]

Drek: Ah.

Jose: For those of us with a "21st century skill" and a degree in such, it doesn't help to know everything if the job doesn't exist. [Referring to Bush’s education=jobs argument.]

Drek: Precisely the issue, my friend. Education does not, by itself, help.

Drek: That's an honest comment about Presidents having limited economic control.

Jose: and then there are the ones that are educated beyond their intelligence

Drek: Kerry's giving a solid answer so far, though.

Jose: how do you close that? [The flood of jobs moving overseas.]

Drek: Good question.

Drek: Although I would argue that tax breaks for companies that stay here would be preferrable to Bush's tax breaks.

Drek: I'm amazed- Bush is answering something WELL.

Jose: The problem is you get around it by making it a separate do you expect to track that?

Drek: Nothing to get around with tax breaks. If we can't find you, we can't give 'em to you.

Jose: But you can't find in someone's accounting book if you actually cut a job or shipped it overseas...

Drek: Ahhhh... that. Little thornier, but no worse than a lot of what we do already. [In terms of regulation.]

Drek: Bush is doing much better here than he has in previous debates.

Jose: He was expecting it today

Drek: What, and the debates were a surprise the last two times?

Drek: So... courts=bad? [Referring to a Bush argument.]

Jose: specifically the gay's not really a foreign policy issue. [What Bush was expecting.]

Jose: remember strict construction=good, liberal construction=bad. [Explaining why courts=bad.]

Drek: I'm a fan of strict construction BUT strict construction does not necessarily mean conservative.

Jose: true

Drek: Nice stand on Catholic doctrine. It'd be more impressive if most of the country weren't protestant.

Jose: I just noticed that...Kerry would be the 2nd catholic president if elected

Drek: Yep.

Drek: And Kerry turns the religion card on Bush quite nicely.

Jose: The right wingers will hit him for believing one thing and doing another...back to the flip-flop thing again

Jose: I happen to agree with what Kerry said there, by the way

Drek: Kerry ain't getting votes from folks that far on the right anyway. The battle is for undecided moderates right now.

Drek: You've gotta be fucking me!!! [This sequence of incredulous remarks was inspired by Bush’s assertion that the problem with healthcare in the U.S. is a result of consumers.]

Jose: The right wing spin doctors...who better or worse will change the undecided's opinion

Drek: Is Bush talking about the U.S. in Bizarro World?!

Jose: Hey, it's Wednesday...opposite day!

Drek: What the fuck is Bush thinking?!

Jose: Was it the house or the prez? [Who blocked Canadian drugs from entering the U.S.]

Drek: Hey, Bush loves the free market. Isn't blocking Canadian drugs restricting free trade?

Drek: House led by the Pres?

Jose: I could buy that

Drek: God, blaming the consumer for healthcare prices is like blaming the victim for her rape.

Jose: He also blocked Mexican trucks from coming in....what about NAFTA now that I think about it.

Drek: Flip-flop?

Jose: not obvious enough. [For most viewers.]

Drek: True.

Drek: This debate is getting exciting, though.

Jose: Low probability of wrong war wrong place wrong time [Jose’s least favorite soundbite]...yesss!

Drek: Heh.

Drek: Bush's healthcare plan is simple: Don't get sick. It's the grad student plan, too.

Jose: amen

Drek: You're mighty pro-Kerry tonight.

Jose: Like I said, I like what he says I just don't believe he's gonna do it

Drek: Do you really feel like you can trust Bush, though?

Jose: No

Jose: It's the people that come along with him that I want

Drek: Bush: "I'm not sure it's credible to quote leading news organizations that... never mind." WHAT?!

Drek: The people? Like who?

Jose: not liberals

Drek: BTW: link.

Drek: We were discussing economists the other day. [Part of a conversation during the second presidential debate. Not posted anywhere.]

Drek: What's your beef with liberals? Considering you're liking what Kerry is saying.

Jose: The way they [the liberals] do it means the government is involved in everything intimately...having been in the government [An enlisted man in the U.S. Marine Corps.], I've decided that's a bad thing

Drek: There's some truth there, but do you prefer Enron?

Jose: Neither extreme is good, you know that. I want balance and I know I'm not gonna get it. So I'll settle for a little left on some issues and a little right on others

Drek: I know, man, I know. But after four years of very-conservative Bush, I think we need four years of a liberal to end up with something moderate. If we elect Bush and give him a mandate...

Drek: Kerry is nailing Bush on social security here.

Jose: Two wrongs don't make a right either...wait a minute, I'm not trusted with my money?...anyway, I just can't bring myself to put Kerry in, not for him which is bad enough. If he does what is most popular even if he doesn't agree with it, isn't that the way it's supposed to be? [I’m not even sure how to disentangle the preceding.]

Drek: When all you have are two wrongs, you gotta play the averages. And yeah, that's the question innit? [i.e. Shouldn’t presidents do what is most popular because they’re servants of the people] That's why we have elections.

Jose: You know, blaming bush for most of the economy's problems is like blaming Hoover for the depression

Drek: Yes and no. A lot of economists are terrified of the tax cuts.

Jose: The same economist that are for a free market?

Drek: Most economists are free market folks.

Jose: Don't taxes muss that up?

Drek: Muss what up?

Jose: Taxes are not a market driven distribution of wealth

Drek: But they are necessary to provide infrastructure that industry requires, as well as to provide the minimal regulation markets need.

Jose: The argument is what level is adequate

Drek: This is true, but economists are not opposed to taxes per se.

Jose: As long as we get what we're paying for that's fine but we rapidly reach the dimishing returns point

Drek: I am not a fan of this "guest worker" business. [i.e. programs allowing people to enter the U.S. as “Guest Workers.”]

Jose: See, I'm with W on this one...illegal [immigration] is illegal and I'm gonna kick you out. Fill out the damn paperwork you louse! [I should mention that Jose immigrated from Panama when he was a child.]

Drek: I'm not saying I love illegal immigration, I just don't like "guest worker" programs.

Jose: Here's the problem...I have a bunch of Mexican roofers in my neighborhood fixing the hurricane damage. They're all probably illegal, but how many "Americans" are willing to do that kind of work for minimum wage?

Drek: Maybe if the minimum wage was a livable wage...

Drek: Kerry: "I'm tired of politicians talking about family values who don't value families." Nice.

Jose: Ok, he's way out there now. [Referring to Bush’s education plan.]

Drek: No joke.

Drek: Theresa, [A friend of ours from high school] the teacher in Atlanta, just beat her television to death.

Drek: I guarantee it.

Jose: *laugh*

Jose: Never mind the 2nd [Amendment] though

Drek: Heh. He [Kerry] ain't getting NRA votes, anyway.

Jose: Yeah but I can't let that wannabe strict construction line of his go

Drek: What is this litmus test bullshit?

Jose: abortion

Drek: I hate to say it, but I think Bush is playing to the audience better.

Jose: After the fiasco the first time...

Drek: Yeah, I know, he was due. Karma or something.

Jose: You know, that line I hate is coming...I can feel it [i.e. “Wrong war, wrong place, wrong time.”]

Drek: Yep.

Drek: You gotta love a Democrat arguing to expand the military, though.

Jose: Yeah, it's raining frogs here too

Drek: Bush blinks like a motherfucker.

Jose: maybe he needs eyedrops too...part of that healthcare program of his

Drek: He already broke the first rule: don't get sick.

Jose: Hey, if I can buy into the same program as congress, can I go to Bethesda too?

Drek: Heh.

Jose: He's [Kerry] got the thumb going again

Jose: uh oh

Drek: That was an unexpectedly good retort from Bush.

Jose: bagdam checks?

Jose: somebody kill me

Drek: Really? Kerry is a gun owner?

Jose: Actually yeah, some questions about how legal that is though

Drek: What, that Kerry owns guns?

Jose: One of them is a "Chinese assault rifle" he brought back from vietnam...originally it was an AK47 machine gun, now it's a copy of a russian mosin-nagant bolt one can affirm seeing either.

Drek: Ah.

Jose: Shall I give you my assault weapon tirade or is it over now? [Jose is a rather vocal opponent of the assault weapons ban, on the basis that (a) assault weapons aren’t used much in crimes, (b) the ban itself was an extremely leaky law and, (c) he really likes guns. I am in agreement with him on the first two points, though I’m not so obsessed with firearms as he.]

Drek: Anything new in the tirade? I took notes last time.

Jose: Well, the police thing...most police CHIEFS like the ban, most police OFFICERS don't care. If it's an AK or a bolt gun they both get you just as dead

Drek: Well, I've never said the ban was more than symbolic.

Jose: I'm going to go hunting someday with an AK47 just to piss someone off.

Drek: Yeah, Bush doesn't want to force his religion on others, suuuuure. I'm feeling that.

Jose: Yeah neither does Jeb. [Jeb Bush, governor of Florida.]

Drek: Riiiiiiight.

Drek: C'mon, John, pull it together buddy.

Jose: Not so well

Drek: Although I believe it when Kerry says he doesn't hate Atheists.

Drek: I nominate Bob Schiefer as worst moderator. Ever.

Jose: But he [Bush] wants to "love" his neighbor

Jose: Ever?

Drek: Well.... okay, not ever. I was channeling the Simpsons.

Jose: ay caramba

Jose: How bad on the badger scale?

Drek: The moderator? Considering he picked the questions? 12.

Jose: ouch

Drek: Bush: "My opponent has a plan of retreat and defeat in Iraq." Wow, Bush's handlers really musta drilled that one.

Jose: Maybe he's got the earpeice working again

Drek: I'm going to vomit. [Referring to Kerry’s closing remarks]

Jose: Nice try by kerry there

Drek: Kerry imploded tonight.

Jose: I said at the outset that the last one would decide what do you think?

Drek: I sense a great disturbance in the force. As though a thousand voices cried out at once... and were suddenly silenced.

Jose: Wonderful there Ben, now give that to me in percentages

Drek: Even split, maybe a slight advantage to Bush, which is all he needed.

Jose: Given the expectations, I'm gonna have to go with a more than slight advantage for bush

Jose: 49/46 or so

Jose: Did he [Bush] memorize that last one? [Closing remarks]

Drek: Lets see if CBS does a poll.

Jose: ABC promises poll results after the break

Drek: Still waiting on CBS...

Jose: ABC fact checkers say Kerry lied more this time

Drek: On what? Because Bush didn't say much.

Jose: job losses 1.6 million versus about 600 thousand, Bush meeting civil rights leaders, did three times we know...Bush counted repeated votes as for raising taxes so 43 not 98.

Drek: Interesting.

Jose: ABC 566 called 42% Kerry, 41% Bush, 14% Tie... 38% Republican 30% Democrat 28% Independent

Drek: Called? Phone or internet?

Jose: ABC call them...or whoever does their research.

Drek: Here comes CBS...

Drek: 39% Kerry 25% Bush 26% Tie

Jose: And I'm still waiting for [Dan] Rather to quit

Drek: We all are...

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

I don't even know where to start...

Regular readers of this site know that I make quite a bit of hay out of loony websites. I have an entire series called "The Insanity Parade" that relies on this premise, after all. Yet, every so often, I encounter a website so utterly batshit insane that I don't even know how to approach it. This is one such time.

Seriously. I'm not just saying this as a cheap excuse since I'm still too busy to write much. It's definitely not that. *cough*

I refer, of course, to the website FixedEarth which advances the premise that the Earth is not revolving on its axis, or orbiting the sun. Specifically, the site can be summed up in its own words as follows:

"The world also is stablished that it cannot be moved." Psalm 93:1

"He...hangeth the Earth upon nothing." Job 26:7

The Bible and all real evidence confirms that this is precisely what He did, and indeed:

The Earth is not rotating...nor is it going around the sun. The universe is not one ten trillionth the size we are told. Today’s cosmology fulfills an anti-Bible religious plan disguised as "science". The whole scheme from Copernicanism to Big Bangism is a factless lie. Those lies have planted the Truth-killing virus of evolutionism in every aspect of man’s "knowledge" about the Universe, the Earth, and Himself.

So it would appear that the individual running this site knows that the Earth does not revolve or orbit because God told him so in the bible. Wow. Okay, seriously, despite the post I'm going to write later in the week, I have way too much respect for Christians to think that this reflects on the faith as a whole. But wait, there's more!


This is supported on the website by a quote from Fred Hoyle to the effect that:

"We know that the difference between a heliocentric theory and a geocentric theory is one of relative motion only, and that such a difference has no physical significance."

Of course this is largely correct... for astronomy. Whether the Earth moves or not, one still has the same problem of locating heavenly objects. That said, having a space program at ALL is proof for a moving Earth. Besides, dispensing with geocentrism eliminates the need for epicycles, which is not only a mathematical and scientific improvement, but flies in the face of the author's claim that, "MATHEMATICS HAS BEEN INVENTED SPECIFICALLY TO UPHOLD COPERNICANISM." Bad news: the math we invented to uphold geocentrism makes a lot less sense.

So, in a word: Wow.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Surprise, surprise...

I bet you were expecting a post today. No doubt some sort of rant on one topic or another. Well, you may still get one, but not right now. I'm busy. Really busy. So go read someone else's blog today. I enjoy our "interaction" or "dialog" or whatever the hell it was that Slag said but right now I just have too many other things to do.

This oughta hold you for the time being.

Monday, October 11, 2004


A lot of people have suggested that playing video games can lead to violent behavior. Hell, some folks have even suggested that being exposed to violent stories can corrupt youth, including horror writer Stephen King. If you don't know what I'm talking about, read the short story Summer of Corruption in his Different Seasons collection.

Now, I dunno if video games lead to violent behavior or not. The studies are contradictory, which usually makes me suspect that the answer is "no," but it's possible. I suppose it's possible that all those fights I haven't gotten into and people I haven't murdered are a consequence of my video game playing. Anything is possible, right? So, even though I do think video games constitute speech, and that they are at best an indicator of violent behavior rather than a cause, and despite the fact that I support our constitutional right to possess arms (and, in fact, exercise that right), I do want to make an observation about video games and violence. Don't worry, this won't take long.

Price of a copy of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City at Wal-Mart: $19.82.

Price of a Playstation 2 (with which to play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City) at Wal-Mart: $149.82.

Price of an actual 12-gauge "youth model" shotgun at Wal-Mart: $94.82.

Have a nice day, motherfuckers.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Slag's First Post, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog

Greetings Total Drek fans!

Mark Twain once said that there are only three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics. Drek is an expert at all three, so naturally his description of me was completely inaccurate. Except for the part about "Slag" spelled backwards. That's totally true.

I suppose I should introduce myself, so that you will learn of whose vague ramblings you read. I am a science writer at a Major East Coast University (Go MECU!), which means that I, um, write about science. I am a voracious reader and occaisonal writer of science fiction , a meaningful and important genre to which I will devote a blog entry sometime (Drek and I have had long discussions comparing some of our favorites). My political leanings are somewhere between liberal and very liberal. I am not as bitter or sarcastic as Drek, in much the same way that I am not as tall as Yao Ming.

So it's nice to be a part of the action here at Total Drek, and I look forward to blogging regularly and interacting with the wonderful community here. Starting to blog is quite a step for me. I've been hearing about the Blog phenomeon (blonominon?) for most of the decade, and I've always had mixed feelings about it. Blogs are democracy in action - individuals communicate with each other directly, sharing their thoughts and opinions directly. I've been shocked at how quickly blogs have become part of the mainstream media, and how powerfully blogs have influenced so many people's understanding of the world.

But at the same time, blogging has always seemed very self-important. The Internet is full of random whiny LiveJournal users, writing about themselves, for themselves, and expecting the rest of the Internet to read with fascination. Blogs seem to be full of unnecessary seriousness and mock importance.

So why did I join Total Drek? By this point, you should know that Total Drek is one of the least self-important blogs on the Internet. And since I don't have to worry about seeming pretentious, I think that I can say things that other people will be interested in. But ultimately, I blog to keep myself interested in the world. Total Drek gives me space to engage with the world, to try out ideas, and to get feedback on what I have to say. I'm looking forward to a long, productive collaboration between readers and writers here at Total Drek.

Friday, October 08, 2004

I like to think the end of the world will be better acted.

I had the opportunity recently to watch the 1998 sci-fi "epic" Armageddon. For those who aren't familiar, this is a movie starring Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, and the freakishly large-lipped Liv Tyler. It tells the story of a team of roughneck oil drillers who are launched into space aboard two experimental titanium spaceshuttles to stop a Texas-sized nickel-iron asteroid from striking the Earth and wiping out all life.

I know, I know, it's funny. No problem. Seriously, take your time laughing. I'll wait.

Ready? Okay. Seriously, that's the plot. So is this a good movie? No. Oh, merciful christ, no. It's bad. I mean, really, really bad. To give you a concept of how bad, let me tell you about the first time I saw this flick.

Back when Armageddon came out I was working a summer job as a camp counselor. Now, we lived 24/7 in cabins with no air conditioning in the middle of rural Florida. Add in 8-10 young children for every 1.5 "adults" and you can imagine how much fun things were for the counselors. Now, half-way through the camping season one group of campers would leave and we'd have a night off before the next group came the following morning. So, on our night off, we all drove to the nearest town (about an hour away) to see a movie. That movie was Armageddon. We would have done something more fun but, hey, we had to be back on-grounds by midnight.

So, for the first time in weeks I got to sit for a prolonged period in air conditioning and watch entertainment that wasn't either Baywatch or the local gospel show. By the time this movie was over I was, honestly, not sure if it wouldn't have been better to stay at camp, sweating my ass off, and maybe praising me some Jesus. Yeah. That bad.

What makes this movie so goddawful? Well, first off, the totally inappropriate humor. Now, when I say this, I want you to imagine the gruesome practice of putting a body on display so people can pay their respects before a funeral. You know- people come by and cry, pat the corpse, remark on how life-like it looks, etc. Now imagine that your cousin Lenny comes up to the casket, say your father's casket, and proceeds to try to lighten the mood by pretending to give aforementioned dead body a blowjob. Just picture that: Lenny's head pumping up and down over your father's dead crotch. Well, all of him is dead, not just the crotch, but you see my point. THAT is what I mean about inappropriate humor. It means to be funny, but it's just so out of place that the entire scene is painful and vaguely offensive to watch.

The second thing that makes this movie so awful is that it lacks even a passing familiarity with science. Let me say that again in a way that cannot be misunderstood: if this movie and science were two guys on different ships at sea, they wouldn't even be in the same damned ocean. They're about as far apart as two things can be. I don't actually know what's worst: the confusion of acceleration with speed, the lack of understanding of the difference between relative speed and absolute speed, or the fact that our intrepid astronaut/drillers bring along not one, but two mini-guns. Why do we need mini-guns to stop a huge asteroid? Don't ask me- I'm just a sociologist.

What hammers the last stake into this particular vampire is the way that it goes over the top. I mean way over the top. Colossally over the top. We're talking about praying crowds outside the Taj Mahal, we're talking 12 year old boys in overalls racing through Kansas corn fields. We're even talking about a speech from the president of the united states (lower case here because I'm referring to a make-believe president- you know, like George W. Bush) that rivals Bill Pullman's from Independence Day in terms of sheer schmultz. About the only way this movie could be more over the top would be if it included a paraplegic little boy with cancer whose stripper-mother could only afford to get him the chemotherapy that would save his life if the evil rays of the death-asteroid were stopped. Oh, and maybe there'd be a dog too. There's always a dog.

Holy shit, I hope I didn't just write a screenplay there.

Now, while I enjoy awful movies to a certain extent, that isn't the entire reason why I'm bringing this up right now. I bring it up because the flagship post over on Public Sociology made me think of it. The post I'm referring to is titled "Tragicomic Sociology." (I'd link to it, but there seem to be some bugs still in the Berkeley Blog.) Okay, fine, technically if we're going to talk about the flagship post, it would be the earlier one titled "Welcome to our new home." (Again, sorry, no link, same reason.) If we're going to be that technical, though, then we should really talk about the last incarnation of that blog, in which case the flagship post would, perhaps, be this one. Confused? Yeah- me too. Hopefully Public Sociology will enjoy a long and fruitful life at its current home, because I just don't want to have to grapple with issues like these any more than necessary.

In any case, bmoodie tackles the question of why leaders of major parties in the United States seem to come from rich families, whereas in Great Britain they come from lower social stations. S/He cites structural causes as the responsible forces, arguing that our electoral system is the culprit. I have no particular quarrel with this interpretation. In fact, I think S/he has a pretty damned good point about our governmental structure and I think S/He is probably largely right. There is just something I'd like to add, and it relates to the horrid movie I started this post with.

In Armageddon our main character is an oil driller named Harry Stamper, played by Bruce Willis, whose daughter, whom I will refer to as "Filler" (because god knows her only purpose is to stand around, cry, and look pretty), played by Liv Tyler, is preparing to marry another driller I'll call "Stud" (Similar reason) played by Ben Affleck. Now, Harry isn't too pleased about the impending marriage of Filler to Stud and resists it with all his ham-fisted might. At one point, however, he observes to his drilling crew that he didn't work all his life so he daughter could marry a roughneck. He follows that up by saying, "She's better than us. She's better than all of us."

Indeed. We all know, or should know, that the doctrine of Social Darwinism has been taken too far, particularly in arguing that those in the upper classes are somehow "better" than others. Yet, despite this discrediting, I wonder if some aroma of it doesn't persist in modern American culture. In our supposed meritocracy, those who have money, who have prestige, who have homes and pretty cars, are thought to deserve them. Since anyone can have these things if they work hard, it must therefore be the case that anyone who works hard will have them and anyone who does not have such things doesn't work hard. Ridiculous? Yes. Illogicial? Of course. Popular? You betcha. Perhaps Americans, who live in a supposed meritocracy, prefer the rich because, unlike the British, we think that wealth equals merit. I've said this before, so some of you may be bored, but I think it's worth repeating. In a society that equated worth with birth perhaps it's easier to resist the notion that one's material circumstances determine value. Ironically, perhaps the American determination to reward effort may be backfiring by justifying a classist understanding of the world.

So why do American voters prefer wealthy candidates? Well, because of the structural causes bmoodie so ably identifies, but also for a simple belief: the wealthy must be harder working and better than the poor. Wealth equals merit. Call it a myth, call in the Protestant Ethic, call it the iron cage, but on a certain level, voters prefer rich candidates because they believe that their wealth proves their qualifications. So, America demands a Bush or a Kerry, for the same reason that Harry objects to the marriage of Filler and Stud. A powerful, great nation demands an excellent leader, and how better to select that leader than from the ranks of those who have already proven their worth with their wealth? Of course, the question that follows immediately is this: does it have to be that way? Must the human need to draw distinctions among ourselves always take its toll? To that, I can only offer some good news and some bad news drawn from Armageddon.

The good news? Filler and Stud were married in the end, perhaps suggesting that people are willing to accept the idea that worth and class are not the same.

And the bad news? Filler's dad, Harry, had to get blown up by a nuclear warhead first.

Well, nobody said it would be easy.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The End of an Era

For those who have noticed, it's been quite a wild ride here at Total Drek. In the scant few months this blog has been around I've managed to annoy the masculists, get yelled at (partially) by the king of Astrosociology, wrote the first act of what will no-doubt be a really shitty play, and managed to waste an entire post talking about my dog. Not too shabby!

Yet, still, all good things must come to an end. I have enjoyed my time here on the internet, blogging away with wild abandon. I have enjoyed getting to know so many of you- learning about your lives, your ideas, your dreams, and then mocking them. It's warmed my heart to bring out just a bit of that little asshole inside all of us. It's kind of like your inner child, but a whole lot more fun at parties.

Yes, I have enjoyed my time as a blogger but, alas, time commitments are what they are. It is difficult to maintain the grueling posting schedule here at Total Drek when I have classes to teach, classes to take, and research of my own to conduct. Not to mention the faint, forlorn hope that I might someday have a social life. Right now, considering that my social life largely consists of mocking political candidates, I'm not particularly hopeful. In any case, the important parts of my life (not that I would ever suggest that blogging isn't important) are clamoring for my attention to such an extent that I just can't keep up with the workload here. It's becoming just too burdensome to write the well-crafted, hard-hitting posts that really characterize this site. Wait, shit, I meant, "...that characterize The Raving Atheist." I'm full of shit over here, I just can't stop talking about it.

So, I'm sorry, but you're just going to have to learn to get along without my particular brand of "wisdom!" I just-


What did you say?


Oh, crap, no, I'm not quitting! This blog isn't closing down and I'm not done writing. Relax, I'm just fucking with you. C'mon, you know I do that! Sheesh! No, I will be continuing my term here at Total Drek. There is going to be a change, but it won't be me leaving.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen: we all thought it was impossible. Or, if not impossible then, at the very least, not a very good idea. Yet, still, it has happened. To what am I referring? Apocalypse? Religious conversion? My use of a spell-checker? Nay, dear readers, I refer to none of those things. No, what I mean is this: Someone is joining the staff.

Yes, Drek-fans, this will no longer be a solo-blog. Fun as solo-blogging is, I think it time for a forray into the world of group blogging. This is a risky attempt for us, as it may eliminate the edgy (i.e. insulting and stupid) quality that makes this blog what it is, but I think it worth the risk.

So, in the next few days, I ask you to welcome my new blog co-host: Slag. Who is Slag? What is Slag? Why is Slag? How is Slag? These are all questions that can only be answered by Slag himself... which is a neat way of saying that I'm too lazy to do it for him. Still, I will introduce you to a few facts about Slag. Maybe I made them up, maybe not, but won't you feel a little more like you know him after I do this? Who cares? I'm tired, I've been grading for two days straight, and the longer I can drag this out, the longer it is til I have to return to evaluating my merry band of retards. Bonus points if you can separate fact from fiction. What will these points get you? Well, let me ask you this: do you like woodchucks? How about dead woodchucks? What if they're ripe? Think about it.

So, Slag in a nutshell:

(1) Slag was born in 1981 in the Sudan. His face was ritualistically scarred by Sally Struthers so as to mark him for later consumption during one of her many forays into Africa under the cover of "humanitarian" causes.

(2) Slag migrated to France as a young boy, earning his way by shining shoes as well as dabbling in other occupations. I shan't go into more detail as to what those occupations were, save to say that the term "Organ Grinder" covers an amazing variety of work.

(3) Slag is not really named Slag. He assumed that nick-name after he moved to the United States, where he worked briefly in a mining concern. He became known for his utter incompetence with the complex, and often tempermental, smelting machinery, and thus came to be known as "skill-slag" or just "Slag" for short. As a side note: this just goes to show the wisdom of not hiring 13 year-old boys to operate heavy industrial equipment.

(4) Hoping to better himself, Slag applied to a well-known ivy league college. He was accepted by an IBM mainframe with a faulty ROM chip and a sense of humor that worked in the admissions department. The Dean of Admissions was too stoned for four years to break it to Slag. It's just as well, since Slag managed to earn advanced degrees in Geophysics, English, and Taxidermy. The latter degree was, obviously, to provide the bulk of his financial well-being.

(5) For those of you who are keeping score: YES that means Slag is NOT a Sociologist. Try to keep your head from imploding at the very notion.

(6) Following college, Slag founded a home for abused accordions. He was forced to close it when it became apparent that most people rather enjoy abusing accordions and that, frankly, most of the time the accordions were asking for it anyway. Lousy accordions.

(7) Slag began a lengthy series of romantic liasons, including among his conquests a born-again Christian, a scientist, an activist, a "ho," a New York lawyer, and your mom, to name a few. This reign of terror upon all woman-kind has not yet ended and, thanks to the timely development of Viagra, may never end.

(8) Ironically, if you spell "Slag" backwards it reads, "Gals," of which Slag is very fond.

(9) Slag knows why the caged bird sings... although every time I ask him to explain it to me, he just laughs and crams chicklets up his nose. I am not wise enough to understand, but hope someday to reach chicklet-nostril-enlightenment. Then again: it does look rather uncomfortable.

(10) Slag is at least as smart as I am, though not nearly as charmingly bitter and revoltingly annoying. Needless to say, this makes him a much better person overall.

So, please give Slag a warm welcome whenever the fuck he gets off his lazy punk ass and posts something. I mean, Jesus! I can't do it all by myself, all right? Fucker.

Seriously, look for him to start posting on Saturday.

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