Thursday, July 5, 2012

America's Finest at Work

Last month the Border Patrol stopped a car when it set off radiation detectors at a checkpoint. They detained the University of Arizona professor who was driving the car and her passenger, a 96-year-old Hispanic man. The man showed the agents ID and explained that he was probably the source of the radiation as he had recently had some medical treatments (unspecified in any of the articles on this incident). Agents took the man to a tent for secondary inspection, where they ran a radiation detector up and down his body. Then they told him he would have to wait in the tent. The temperature was nearly 100. His companion asked if they could wait in the car, which was air-conditioned. The agents said no. The man had to stay in the tent for a half hour.

To recap: border patrol agents stop a car because it sets off a radiation detector. In the car is an employee of that hotbed of terrorism, the University of Arizona, and a man old enough to remember the presidency of Herbert Hoover. Source of said radiation is explained. Nevertheless, the senior citizen is detained in a tent in summer in the desert for half an hour.

Icing on the cake: the senior citizen in question is a former governor of Arizona. His name is politically unfortunate (Raul Castro), but did they really think Fidel's brother was taking a road trip out West?

After the Border Patrol told the two they were free to go, they asked to see his ID again.

You can never be too careful.

Incidentally, Anne Doan, the University of Arizona professor driving the car, was never asked to show ID.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fourth of July Thoughts

The Continental Congress actually voted to declare independence on July 2, 1776, leading John Adams to write to his wife:

"The 2nd day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. ... It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore."

However, it wasn't until two days later that the Continental Congress formally adopted the  Declaration of Independence (and only after some editing that severely wounded the young author's ego).  Then someone rang the bell of the State House of the Province of Pennsylvania (that's the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall to you). You know the rest.

The members of the Continental Congress didn't even sign the Declaration until August 2, 1776.

Too busy, I guess.

One of the more interesting aspects of the events of 1776 is their effects on other countries. Years later,  the United States' example inspired Spain's American possessions to revolt.  And two Canadian revolts against British rule in 1837 led to Canada gaining a degree of self-government. The revolts had been successfully defeated by British forces, but instead of cracking down on the colonists as George III would have done, the British government—remembering how well the George III approach worked—sent a member of parliament named John Lambton (nickname: "Radical Jack") on a fact-finding mission to Canada. He found a politically viable way to release the captured leaders of the revolt instead of hanging them, and in his Report on the Affairs of British North America, Lambton recommended that the Canadian provinces be given some degree of control over their own affairs. Parliament approved his recommendations. By 1848 Canada was more or less self-governing, and in 1867 had all but full independence (London still had final say on Canadian foreign policy; that didn't change until 1930).


In spite of having been but a small horrible child at the time, I well remember the bicentennial celebrations of 1976. One of the more curious observations was the series called Bicentennial Minutes. Every day throughout the year, CBS ran a painfully earnest one-minute spot featuring a B-list celebrity (think Mark Shera or Valerie Harper) standing in a book-lined study recounting what happened on that day in 1776. Unfortunately for CBS employees, not every day  in 1776 was a day of principled stands and heroic deeds. The researchers for that series had to really dig to find enough material. I remember one somewhat vividly (I'm pretty sure I don't have the names right, however):

"This is Vic Tayback. On this day in 1776, Thomas Putnam set out from Philadelphia with a company of rangers to fight British forces in upstate New York. They soon got lost in the Allegheny Forest when they were abandoned by their  Indian guides. They marched on through the forest, hoping against hope to reach American settlements. They ran out of provisions. They ate their horses and dogs. Their bones were found in the spring. I'm Vic Tayback, and this has been a Bicentennial Minute."

Searching on YouTube I discovered a nice send-up of Bicentennial Minutes from the Carol Burnett Show, and here's an actual Bicentennial Minute that recounts the valiant last stand of a patriotic tree:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The World Just Keeps Getting Weirder

"The poor world is almost six thousand years old..."—As You Like It.

Thanks to those Trojan Horses of stupidity (a.k.a. school vouchers), during the coming academic year some Louisiana school children will be taught at taxpayer expense that the Loch Ness Monster is an argument against evolution. Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, Lousiana uses textbooks provided by Accelerated Christian Education Ministries, which raises the bar on toxic nuttiness to staggering heights. Students at schools following the ACE curriculum will be taught that South African apartheid was good for everyone because it enabled "each group to maintain and pass on their culture and heritage to their children," that the Ku Klux Klan fought "declines in morality," and that evolution clearly never happened because there are no "transitional fossils" (you can read what's wrong-headed about this belief here).

And then there's this gem:

 Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie,’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.

Why is this important to these nut jobs? If the Loch Ness Monster exists and it's a plesiosaur, then it's a surviving dinosaur. And (the reasoning* goes) the survival of a dinosaur is much more plausible if the world is only 6,000 years as old as opposed to millions of years old.  One of the strategies employed by creationists is to contrive arguments that the world is much younger than it actually is.

It's bad enough that these "schools" exist. Unfortunately they're not confined to the U.S. In the U.K. approximately 2,000 young people are being subjected to this insanity. What's more, the National Recognition Information Centre, the UK office that evaluates educational degrees for universities and employers, has declared an ACE diploma comparable to an A-Levels diploma, the prerequisite for entering a British university.

A kid that's been through the ACE curriculum is in for a shock when he gets to a secular college (or most religious ones, for that mattter).

*If you can call it that.

Addendum: If you want to read  a superb takedown of the ACE from a medieval perspective, go here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Onward, Christian Kickboxers

By now most of you have probably read about the trend among some Evangelical Christians to use mixed martial arts as a way to lure young men into the fold. The practice is the subject of a documentary in the works: Fight Church—not the most imaginative title, I'll admit, but it works. I won't even get into how theologically and ethically problematic it is to encourage young men to "Beat the Shit out of Each Other for Jesus" (as The Gawker put it), but it seems to be part of a trend for men who want a Christianity in their image (i.e., one with outlets for testosterone), whether it's founding a religion that allows men to have multiple wives, or something as comparatively harmless as artwork depicting a ripped, macho Jesus

That Jesus of "turn the other cheek" or "blessed are the meek?" Forget that loser.

On the off-chance you haven't seen it, here's the trailer for Fight Church. While there are a lot of unintentionally funny lines, my favorite occurs in the scene in which a pastor is praying over a battered guy hold an bag of ice to his crotch: "Dear God, thank you for the win. Thank you that he's okay. And thank you that he's walkin' and I pray that there's no damage and that nothin' swells up bad later, in Jesus' name, Amen."

The juxtaposition of words and the visual is priceless.

 But I also like it when a small boy gets a godly pep talk before going into a boxing ring, and he says to himself, "I'm gonna rip that kid's head off."

"And a child shall lead them." Isaiah 11:6

Sunday, June 17, 2012

I'll have a lobster and cod pizza with caviar on the side, please.

A town that actually wants a Taco Bell is in pretty bad shape.

Eat like it's the Neolithic.

If  you want to support restaurants that treat their employees right, don't eat at these establishments.

Don't be alarmed: your calamari is just mating in your mouth.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

File Under "Loaded Language"

A headline from

"Mass. House Approves Bailout for Troubled T"

Bailout? Bailout? The T is not an ineptly managed investment bank. It's not run by a gang of greedy Wall Street vermin who gave themselves bonuses as a reward for crashing the global economy. This "bailout" is merely the state legislature forking over money to temporarily address a problem they created.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Week in Food

If you're in Maine and want donuts, don't buy five. Buy six. They're cheaper by the half-dozen.

British food: the Diamond Jubliee edition. bars....

Sweet, veal-like, fishy? What do we taste like?

This would kill me.

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