Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Derb on Religion

With thanks to Andrew Sullivan for pointing it out, I really enjoyed John Derbyshire's column about his religious feelings. I think most people in America today tend to conflate conservatism and religion -- if you're conservative, you're religious, and you can't have one without the other. I think that's pretty clearly false. Derbyshire's a staunch (to put it mildly) political conservative, working for one of the most conservative magazines in the country. And yet, he admits to not being a Christian or even religious in a traditional sense. PZ Meyers, on the other hand, is a militant atheist and about as left-wing a guy as you'll find. I've known many very religious Christians who were rabidly left, and others who were rabidly right.

Anyway, here are a few excerpts from the column that struck a chord (all emphasis is mine).

Again, it made me realize how perfectly natural religion is. We have a religious module in our brains, and with little kids you can actually watch it waking up and developing, like their speech or social habits. The paradox is, that to the degree that you see religion as natural, to the same degree it becomes harder to see it (and by extension its claims) as supernatural.
I can report that the Creationists are absolutely correct to hate and fear modern biology. Learning this stuff works against your faith. To take a single point at random: The idea that we are made in God’s image implies we are a finished product. We are not, though. It is now indisputable that natural selection has been going on not just through human prehistory, but through recorded history too, and is still going on today, and will go on into the future, presumably to speciation, either natural or artificial. So which human being was made in God’s image: the one of 100,000 years ago? 10,000 years ago? 1,000 years ago? The one of today? The species that will descend from us? All of those future post-human species, or just some of them? And so on. The genomes are all different. They are not the same creature. And if they are all made in God’s image somehow, then presumably so are all the other species, and there’s nothing special about us at all.

But doesn’t the I, the Me, that I mentioned earlier — the self-awareness that we humans uniquely have — doesn’t that make us special? Do tigers, toads, and ticks have an I? Do they have a connection to the Creator? I don’t know. Perhaps they have a fuzzier one — perhaps higher animals, at any rate, see through a glass as we do, but more darkly. In any case, that only makes us special in the way that an elephant is special by virtue of having that long trunk — more exactly, the way the first creatures who were able to register visible light as images were special. We are part of nature — an exceptionally advanced and interesting part, but… not special.


I have now come to think that it really makes no difference, net-net. You can point to people who were improved by faith, but you can also see people made worse by it. Anyone want to argue that, say, Mohammed Atta was made a better person by his faith? All right, when Americans say “religion” they mean Christianity 99 percent of the time. So: Can Christianity make you a worse person? I’m sure it can. If you’re a person with, for example, a self-righteous conviction of your own moral superiority, well, getting religion is just going to inflame that conviction. Again, I know cases, and I’m sure you do too. The exhortations to humility that you find in all religions seem to be the most difficult teaching for people to take on board. Mostly, I think it makes no difference.
The trick, if you want a reasonably happy and stable society, is to corral human nature into useful, non-socially-destructive styles of expression: sexuality into marriage, or at least some kind of formal and constrained bonding; aggression into sport or military training; the power urge into consensual politics; cheating into conjuring, drama, and games like poker. (I don’t mean you should cheat at poker, only that you need some powers of deception to play poker well.) Any aspect of human nature can get out of hand, as we see with these Muslim fanatics that are making such nuisances of themselves nowadays. That doesn’t mean the aspect is bad, just that some society has done a bad job of corraling [sic] it.
Please remember, too, what Roman Catholicism was like when I was growing up, as seen from England. It was the religion of Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, chaotic and communist-trending Italy, recently-keenly-pro-Nazi Austria (don’t let The Sound of Music fool you — the Anschluss was more a wedding than a rape), Latin America as then personified by the buffoonish Juan Perón and his sinister wife, and, yes, Éamon de Valera’s nasty, corrupt, willfully under-developed, people-exporting Ireland. That’s not even to mention France. As I looked out on it from the England of the 1950s and 1960s, Catholicism was the religion of poverty, fascism, obscurantism, and bad government; and I don’t think you can say that this was a wildly distorted picture.
I’d go a bit further than that. Conservatism, including (including especially, I think) religious conservatism, has at its core an acceptance of, a respect for, human nature. We conservatives are the people who see humanity plain, or strive to, and who wish to keep our society in harmony with what we see. Paul Johnson has noted how leftists always used to talk about building socialism. Capitalism doesn’t require building. It’s just what happens if you leave people alone. It arises, in short, from human nature, and only needs harmonizing under some mild, reasonable, laws and customary restraints. You don’t have to build it by forging a New Capitalist Man, or anything like that.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Some good quotes

I was reading through some quotes on BuzzFlash, and this one from Gandhi really caught my eye:

"Seven blunders of the world that lead to violence: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, politics without principle."
- Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Someone asked a few months ago on this forum how I could consider Jesus a great moral teacher if I don't also believe he was the Son of God. My first reaction to this question is always to point to Gandhi. I am not a Hindu, and I do not believe in Gandhi's theology at all. And yet, I find him to be one of the most persuasive and moving moralists in history. We all have a lot to learn from him, regardless of what god we happen to worship (or not worship as the case may be). Morality and theology overlap, but one does not wholly contain the other. There is great wisdom to be found in the world from those who do not look like us, or think like us, or believe as we do, if we only will open our hearts to them.

Here are some other great quotes from that link, none perhaps as moving as the one above, but that spoke to me nonetheless; hope you enjoy them:

"You do not examine legislation in the light of the benefits it will convey if properly administered, but in the light of the wrongs it would do and the harms it would cause if improperly administered."
-- Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th US president (1908-1973)

"Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."
-- Flannery O'Connor, writer (1925-1964)

"Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little."
-- Edmund Burke, statesman and writer (1729-1797)

"Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough."
-- Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd US President (1882-1945)

"People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them."
-- Dave Barry, author and columnist (1947-)

"We must not be frightened nor cajoled into accepting evil as deliverance from evil. We must go on struggling to be human, though monsters of abstractions police and threaten us."
-- Robert Hayden, poet and educator (1913-1980)

"As I stood before the gates I realized that I never want to be as certain about anything as were the people who built this place."
- Rabbi Sheila Peltz, on her visit to Auschwitz

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity."
- George Orwell, writer (1903-1950)

"Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it."
- Mark Twain, author and humorist (1835-1910)

"The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within."
- Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

"It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell."
- William Tecumseh Sherman, Union General in the American Civil War (1820-1891)

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge."
- Charles Darwin, naturalist and author (1809-1882)

"All political parties die at last of swallowing their own lies."
- John Arbuthnot, writer and physician (1667-1735)

"Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing the ground."
-- Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, editor and orator (1817-1895)

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter, and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."
-- Abraham Lincoln, 16th U.S. President (1809-1865)

"The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients, and by parts."
-- Edmund Burke, statesman and writer (1729-1797)

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
--Theodore Roosevelt


Motivational Posters

I found a really cool web page that lets you build motivational posters -- you know, the kind of thing you see hanging on the walls at work that are supposed to inspire you to forget that you work in a dead-end hellhole contributing nothing to society. Here's what I came up with for animal rescue, using the incredibly cute photo Annie took last weekend of Blackie:

(click for a larger view)

Over the weekend, two of the dogs we're fostering found new homes.
One I didn't mention before, Lefty (hence the names Pancho and Lefty, from the Willie Nelson song), who I thought would be the hardest to place. But a really nice family from Austin just lost their long-term pet terrier to cancer, and Lefty struck a chord with them.

The other was Whitey, one of the three puppies I posted about on Friday. Two young women who attend college around here were looking for a pet, and wanted to rescue one rather than go to a breeder or whatnot. They met Annie at the kennel housing the puppies and dithered about which one to take, as they are all so cute. Finally one of them said "You know, I bet Whitey will the hardest to adopt out, since she's so energetic. So we'll take her." I thought that was the nicest thing; those women had great hearts and a compassionate spirit, and they're truly angels for little Whitey.

We've still got four fosters at the house: Brownie and Blackie (the two other pups in that litter); Jackson (a big ol' black German shepherd who's super sweet); and of course Pancho, the little brown terrier. Hopefully they'll all find great homes soon, but all in all it was still a great weekend for animal rescue.


Friday, October 27, 2006

META: Read More now works!

With many bountiful thanks to the good folks over at "Beautiful Beta", the collapsible "Read More" link is back! Just click on the "read more" link below and you'll see how it works.

Before clicking on the link, you wouldn't see this text. Hopefully now it'll be easier to browse through articles to find only the one(s) you're interested in reading. You still are downloading all the text and pictures (sorry Aunt Sharon!), but at least visually the page will look less cluttered. Sorry for the delay on getting this implemented, but I was at the mercy of people smarter than me, waiting on them to figure it out :-)


Louisiana Crooks -- er, Politicians

I grew up in Louisiana, and its politics have always driven me nuts. I was in high school during the Edwin Edwards (Governor) years, and I remember hearing constantly that "Yes, he's a crook, but he's our crook." That never made sense to me. In my four-color, comic-book world, if a guy was dirty he was dirty. You didn't shrug and put your arm around him, you wrapped him in spider webs and dragged his sorry butt to jail.

Since then Louisiana's come a long way. There have been a number of sober, honest, hard-working realists in the governor's office and things have gotten better. My family's been involved on the local level there as well, running for judgeships in Alexandria and helping out on the school board in Zachary, for example. I'm a Texan now, but I'm proud of the work they and others in Louisiana have done helping to clean up politics in that state.

Unfortunately, you still get jokers like Representative William Jefferson (D-LA). This is the guy accused in an FBI affidavit of (allegedly) accepting $100,000 in bribes from an FBI informant. All but $10,000 of it was recovered a few days later. He denies all wrongdoing, of course, but if he expects us to believe that he probably spent the other ten g's on crack, because that dog won't hunt.

He was stripped of his House positions by the Democratic leadership, but that didn't make him resign.

He was not endorsed by the Louisiana Democratic Party, but that didn't keep him from running.

And he's being fingered by the FBI, but that's not keeping people from voting for him:

"All of them are doing basically the same thing - but he just got caught," Herman Hill, 53, said about Jefferson. Wearing a "Don't Mess With Jeff" campaign pin, Hill grinned when asked to explain his views on politicians: "They're stealing. They say they want to help people, but they're helping themselves."

I read stuff like that, and I want to smack Herman Hill, 53, in the head with a side of beef. Hey Herman, if you know the guy's a crook, don't vote for him!

I don't know what's worse, people like Jefferson who steal and then lie about it, or people like Herman Hill who get stolen from, then grin and hold their wallet out again, saying "Hey you missed the fifty in the side pocket!" Corruption isn't something you root out and then are done with, unfortunately. You have to be constantly vigilant. Shrugging your shoulders and saying "But they all do it!" isn't an excuse, and it's not an option. Louisiana deserves better than this dirtbag and the idiots who vote for him.


Frederick Douglass

I followed a link from some other story, and it brought me to a complete standstill. I hope you don't mind, but I was so moved I really wanted to share it here. It's from Frederick Douglass' book "My Bondage, My Freedom", the story of his journey from slave to freeman in 1800's America. In this part, he is on his way to the local "slave breaker", a man renowned for his ability to take even the most willful slaves and turn them into docile, broken workers. All emphasis is mine.

"I am," thought I, "but the sport of a power which makes no account, either of my welfare or of my happiness. By a law which I can clearly comprehend, but cannot evade nor resist, I am ruthlessly snatched from the hearth of a fond grandmother, and hurried away to the home of a mysterious 'old master;' again I am removed from there, to a master in Baltimore; thence am I snatched away to the Eastern Shore, to be valued with the beasts of the field, and, with them, divided and set apart for a possessor; then I am sent back to Baltimore; and by the time I have formed new attachments, and have begun to hope that no more rude shocks shall touch me, a difference arises between brothers, and I am again broken up, and sent to St. Michael's; and now, from the latter place, I am footing my way to the home of a new master, where, I am given to understand, that, like a wild young working animal, I am to be broken to the yoke of a bitter and life-long bondage."

What must it be like, to have the lyrical and soaring soul of a poet like Douglass, and to know that your entire existence is nothing in the eyes of the law, that other men regard you literally as property, worthy of as little regard as a table or an oxen?

I hate that our country bore the stain of slavery for so much longer than the rest of the Western world. I hate that we had to fight a war to convince one bunch of men that they could not own another batch of men. But I am proud that the concept of liberty is enshrined in our Constitution, and that our history -- however slowly it may have crept at times -- has been one of relentless expansion of liberty to more and more people. The idea of women or non-Whites being allowed to vote, that they were covered under the rubric of "all men are created equal", may have been anathema to many of the Founding Fathers, but once the seeds of freedom are planted they grow wild, eventually strangling the narrow prejudices and greedy hands that try to hack them down.


Rescue Puppies

I don't think I've written about this before, which is surprising given how much of our time is spent on it, but Annie is a big-time dog rescuer. She takes dogs from local shelters who face death, cleans them up, then finds them a new home. Sometimes we "foster" them at our place, while other times we place them in other temporary shelters, but the goal is to get them out of harm's way and into a permanent home as quickly as possible.

For the most part Annie focuses on dogs that the shelter has deemed "unlikely to be adopted" for one reason or another, because those are the animals most at risk of being killed. And the toll is high -- the Austin animal shelter puts down more than 12,000 animals a year. Every dog we bring into foster care and eventually place would almost certainly have been killed otherwise.

Animal rescue sometimes feels like trying to hold back the tide. There are so very many dogs in need, and you can only ever hope to save a small portion of them. It's easy to think you're not making enough of a difference, but I'm pretty sure it makes a huge difference to the actual dogs you save.

We don't take puppies out very often, because puppies are inherently more adoptable than adult dogs -- they're built to be cute, and a random person walking through a shelter is naturally drawn to them. But in the last week we've taken in four pups, which is definitely a record for us. I've posted pictures of them to the right. Three came in one litter, all from the same mom, but as different as can be. With staggering originality we named them Blackie, Whitey, and Brownie. I sense a Pulitzer for "Temporary Animal Naming" in our very near future.

Whitey looks just like the dog in "Little Rascals", right down to the black spot over one eye. She was the only girl of the three, and full of energy and spitfire. Brownie looks for all the world like a Dachshund, with short stumpy legs and the same short brown fur, but you can definitely see his terrier mom's influence in his face. And finally, Blackie is a ball of long fur, shy and reserved, much happier to snuggle up with a human than running around with the dogs.

The other newcomer to the ranch is Pancho, the longer-haired terrier. He's got light brown eyes, which is pretty unusual, and is very small and snuggly. His expressions remind me of a mini poem in a doggerel book we have around here:

I'm as small as the cat.
What's up with that?!
Annie has gotten so good at finding new homes for our foster dogs that we end up not having them around for very long; I'll be surprised if Pancho lasts the day, in fact, he's so cute. You fall in love with them so fast, but you have to keep a little back because you know you're only a temporary waystation in their journey. We've almost lost count of the dogs we've rescued over the years, but -- sadly -- there are all too many still out there waiting for their own angel to come and pull them out of their misery.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Why the Hell Would Anyone Watch Televised Poker?

I watch a lot of poker on TV. Yes, I am fully aware that this makes me a complete tool, but in my defense, my mother also watches a lot of poker on TV.

Hmmm, somehow that doesn't make me feel any less lame now that I see it written out and all ...

I hear you now, snickering behind your computer screen, mocking me. Who in their right mind would want to watch a card game on TV? Why that's almost as ridiculous as broadcasting dominoes or Scrabble on ESPN!

And yet, here we are, with televised poker bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars a year and spawning a surge of popularity that recently resulted in the largest monetary prize pool of any event in history. Depending on your age and philosophical bent, this is either:

  1. A sign of the coming apocalypse.
  2. A sign of the death and decline of Western civilization.
  3. A sign that you need to put down that lottery ticket and get your fat rump to a casino stat!
  4. A sign that finally other people are understanding how cool poker is.

So why do I like poker on TV? Poker, while not a sport, nonetheless shares many of the same attributes that make watching sports on TV fun. It's quick, there's a clear winner (and perhaps even more importantly, a clear loser), it's easy to learn but hard to master, and the results are unpredictable. Chaos can rule, but always within boundaries. And the home viewer gets to feel superior because they have access to information not available to the players "in the field".

What makes poker particularly compelling to watch on TV is the same thing that makes "Oedipus" a great play -- you know what's happening even though the actors on stage do not. Because you can see the cards that are hidden from all of the other players, you know that Barry Greenstein does not, in fact, have the best hand with his pocket aces, even though it's completely rational for Barry to think that he does.

It's like watching a horror movie, screaming at the screen "DO NOT GO INTO THAT SHOWER!", knowing all the while that she's damnsure going to walk into the shower.

It's like the sick fascination you have watching a good friend hooking up with a total psycho, knowing full well that she's nuts and he's going to regret it, but he can't see it at all. You want to look away, but you can't.

It's like a great detective show, watching people furiously thinking through multiple possibilities, appreciating how intelligent and canny they are for settling on the right answer. We already know whodunnit, but they do not, and therein lies the fascination. Watching these guys work a table really lets you appreciate how good they are, it lets you taste, at least for a moment, what it is like to be in their shoes, running the odds, asking your gut if you really think you have the best hand or not.

Watching poker on TV gives you the chance to feel like you've won or lost thousands of dollars without having to actually risk it, much like watching football gives you the chance to feel like you just pounded the living crap out of another guy without having to actually risk getting hurt.

It's the knowing of what everyone at the table has, while simultaneously they do not, that makes televised poker fun to watch. I've tried to sit through some ESPN World Poker Tour broadcasts from before the days when they had the "hole cam" that let viewers see what each player had. It was awful, exactly what you first think of when you hear "televised poker" -- a bunch of out of shape schlubs sitting around a table staring at each other. It's the hole cam that makes the WSoP and other TV poker events so much fun, that transforms it from "just a card game" to gripping human melodrama rife with Greek tragedy.

Well, that and watching Phil Hellmuth and Mike "The Mouth" Matusow getting taken for their entire bankrolls -- multiple times -- by the real cash game pros on "High Stakes Poker". Seeing those guys get rolled is almost as much fun as watching Oklahoma lose a football game.



Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

I've often heard Christians make the claim that America was founded as a "Christian nation" and that the Founding Fathers were good Christians who wanted to build their religion into the bedrock of the country. At the same time, I hear the opposite argument from secularists, that the Founding Fathers were deists at best, who explicitly rejected Christianity and deliberately kept it out of the government.

Not surprisingly, both conceptions of the Founding Fathers' belief systems (at least, the ones most responsible for actually drafting the Constitution -- Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Wilson, G. Morris, and a few others) are incomplete at best. George Will has a good high-level overview of what the major founding fathers believed in his New York Times column today (free registration required). Here's a brief excerpt:

The founders created a distinctly modern regime, one respectful of pre-existing rights — natural rights, not creations of the regime. And in 1786, the year before the Constitutional Convention constructed the regime, Jefferson, in the preamble to the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, proclaimed that “our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.”

Ed Brayton and Jon Rowe have talked quite a bit about this over the last couple of years. They point out that deism isn't really the right way to describe most of the Founders in question, since most of them fully embraced the notion of a benevolent god who would intervene in the world from time to time, which is not compatible with true deism. On the other hand, they explicitly rejected the divinity of Christ, which certainly puts them outside the "orthodox Christianity" box as well.

Brayton, Rowe, and others prefer the term "theistic rationalism" to describe the beliefs of the key Founding Fathers. The term was coined by Gregg Frazer, a literal six-day creationist and evangelical Christian, in his doctoral thesis, and he explains it a bit here:

While there may have been a few strict Deists (meaning those who believed in a non-interventionist God, categorically rejected all revelation in favor reason, etc.) and more than a few orthodox Christians among the Founders, the key Founders -- those most responsible for the ideas upon which we declared independence and constructed the Constitution (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Wilson, G. Morris, and a few others) -- were neither, but rather somewhere in between. And while they may not have believed in the exact same things on religion, these key Founders were by in large agreed on certain basic tenets, which tenets put them outside both the "strict Deist" and "orthodox Christian" boxes.

Neither the "Left" nor the "Right", the secular nor the religious, can lay exclusive claim to the mantle of the Founding Fathers. Trying to coopt them is misleading at best, and downright dishonest at worst.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Bad Days

A friend of mine had his two year wedding anniversary today. He had been a confirmed bachelor until the age of 36 when he abruptly found himself held in the bonds of holy matrimony.

"What's the hardest thing about being married versus when you were single?" I asked him.

He thought for a moment, and finally said, "The hardest thing about being married versus being single is never knowing when you wake up in the morning if you're going to have a bad day or not."

Because even if you're slated to have a very good day, if she is slated to have a very bad day, then guess what? That's right, you're going to have a very bad day, too!

Of course, I had to guess at that meaning since Annie never has a bad day, but I know what he meant. Ahem. Anyway, thanks for the words of wisdom, Matt!


Monday, October 23, 2006

Anti-Catholic Christians

I was raised Catholic, and although I am no longer a believer I do have a great deal of respect for the Church's long history of deep thought and careful consideration of their faith. I've always liked the adage that "Quantity has a Quality all its own," and you have to admire the amount of scholarship the Church has put out over its 2,000+ year history.

At least, I have to have respect for it. For others, not so much. Here's what the church of one Congressional candidate in Minnesota believes, for instance:

Therefore on the basis of a renewed study of the pertinent Scriptures we reaffirm the statement of the Lutheran Confessions, that "the Pope is the very Antichrist" (cf. Section II)

That's from the charter of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), where candidate Michelle Bachmann worships.

I understand that sometimes the most intense hatred arises among siblings, and inter-faith disagreements can be the worst of all (see modern Baghdad for a more current example, or the streets of Ireland during the 80's). I find that incredibly sad.

What I find completely unacceptable, however, is the substitution of righteous indignation for rational thought. I continue to run into people who have the most absurd ideas about what Catholics believe, and it has apparently never occurred to any of them to actually, you know, ask a Catholic or (blasphemy!) perhaps read a book to find out what the Church actually teaches, rather than what some stereotype or passed-down prejudice might say.

The King of all Catholic Misconceptions, of course, regards the "infallibility of the Pope". Non-Catholics seem to think this is some kind of ecumenical Super Happy Fun Time Magic Power Word, whereby any utterance (no matter how banal) that drips from the Pontiff's lips is imbued with the glory of the Almighty and suddenly made so. They actually think that Catholics believe were the Pope to say "The sky is a lovely shade of mint green today", the sky would all of a sudden change color.

Even a cursory look through Google would turn up articles by the Catholic Church that would quickly give the lie to such a construction, but apparently that's too much of a bother. It's so much easier to just demonize someone who disagrees with you rahter than bothering with all that research claptrap.

The spectre of mob rule, inflamed by passion and ignorance (particularly that sort engendered by religious disputes), is as grave a threat to a true democracy as can exist, something well understood by the Founding Fathers. The only way to combat it is through education and training in the use of research, logic, and rationality. It frightens me that people who can believe such arrant nonsense as that quoted above are regularly elected to public office. Imagine a country in which the government was not barred from officially endorsing a given religion -- the candidate who's a member of the synod quoted above, who believes that the Pope is literally the anti-Christ, could use her position in Congress to pass legislation outlawing Catholics, or making their persecution the law of the land. And all based on ignorance and a lack of understanding!

We have a secular Constitution not because religion is of no importance to people. It's the exact contrary, in fact -- religion is simply too important to let the government decide which one is right. If we don't have the freedom to decide for ourselves what the Ultimate Truths are, if we have a government that can officially subscribe to one sect over another, then eventually we will revert back to the religious wars that make up the sad history of much of our cultural ancestry.

Combining ignorance with political power is a dangerous combination. I hope the voters of Minnesota -- especially the Catholic ones -- take a good long look at who they're pulling their lever for in November.


Saturday, October 21, 2006

On 'Burgurs and 'Horns

Here are a few thoughts after watching that nail-biting University of Texas Longhorns vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers game.

  1. Texas isn't deserving of a Number 2 ranking. Of course there's zero chance of that happening anyway, if they keep playing like this.

  2. In addition to having the most fitting name of any quarterback at any school in the country, Colt McCoy is very, very good.

  3. Brent Musburgur's awfulness as a broadcaster has now reached such a nadir that he has achieved a black-hole-like level, actually sucking the life and talent from those around him. Twice during this game, Brent's director got sucked into the "eBrent Horizon" (defined as the level at which Musburgur's lack of talent completely overwhelms anyone's ability to resist it and nothing -- not even light -- can escape) and chose to cut away from a play that was in progress to focus on some inane crowd reaction shot! TWICE! I don't give a flying crap about how some running back's brother in the stands is reacting, I want to see the effing play being run. That would be why we have cameras pointed at the effing field! This crew seems intent on ignoring the fact that they are there to cover a sporting event. If they feel such lowbrow cultural phenomena as sports are beneath their lofty talent, I wish they'd quit already and go into the documentary business or wherever it is their hearts lie.

  4. From the mouth of Mr. Musburgur I also gleaned two Impressive Bits of Football Arcana. First, getting lots of yards on first down is better than getting just a few. And second, the opposing team would prefer their adversary to face third and long every play. Thanks Brent, I don't know how I could have watched football all these years and not picked up on that. Luckily, you were there to plug the gaps.

  5. Multiple layers of heavy winter clothing can make even a Nebraska coed look attractive. Thank goodness for snow.

The glow of joy over the win was blemished by two unfortunate things. First, Texas deserved to lose. Their pass defense and special teams were atrocious. Second, Brent Musburgur and his crack team of ABC Sports technicians are slated to broadcast the Big 12 Championship Game, which hopefully will include Texas. My best hope is that Brent's hideously ugly bright-pink-shirt-and-baby-yak-vomit-tie combination actually comes to life and chokes the voice out of him some time before then.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Dog Star

One of my favorite science bloggers is Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer. He had a great post the other day about the feelings of wonder and awe upon visiting Crater Lake in Oregon, site of an enormous volcanic explosion thousands of years ago. Here's a brief excerpt from that post that really hit home:

Remember earlier, when I said that even after viewing the lake, incredibly, things got better? It was when I went into the room in the overlook, the one that had the small museum about the volcano. Inside was a large screen television that cycled through the geology of the region over and over again, reliving the millions of years of history, the massive and apocalyptic eruption that must have killed every living thing for hundreds of square kilometers, all those millennia ago. I watched it too, but then stood back and watched the watchers, seeing their eyes light up, their jaws drop, their stunned silence.

They got it. They saw it. They knew. Knowing is always better. You can be overwhelmed by nature, frightened of it. There are forces of appalling devastation, capable of smashing everything humanity has ever made into dust.

The lake in the crater is beauty on a scale that is difficult to convey. But staring out over the lake, seeing the history literally carved into the walls… it brought a lump to my throat. I am continually and perpetually struck by nature’s hand, which uses unimaginable violence and forces almost beyond reckoning to sculpt delicate and subtle beauty.

Knowing that made the lake more profound, more beautiful, and gave it more depth than merely seeing it could possibly have done. Knowing is always better.

That sums up so many of the feelings I've had over the years when studying science, even as recently as three nights ago when I stood, stunned, at our gate staring agape at the Milky Way spreading its ghostly clouds across the sky again. That's something I've only seen a handful of times in my life, and I was humbled to get to see it again right in my own back yard.

When I looked at Phil's post again, though, the thing that caught my eye was one of the photos he posted. Here it is in its smaller format:

all rights reserved to Phil Plait

First of all, it's a great photo, it really captures the beauty of this place. I couldn't help but notice, however, the figures in the foreground. Sure enough, there's the wife, the daughter, and the dog, all staring with Phil's same rapt wonder at ... hang on. The dog is apparently swept away not by the amazing vista, or the awesome weight of history, or the glow of scientific discovery.

No, the dog is fascinated by the sandwich:

That's what I love about animals. When we're most in our heads, they help remind us that sometimes, you just can't beat ham on rye.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fiscal Conservative Graph

Because I consider myself a fiscal conservative (I believe government should pay its bills, should not enact programs it has no way of subsidizing, should not operate at a deficit, and should pay off its debt), this chart from the conservative Heritage Foundation pretty much sums up one of the major disappointments I've had with the Bush Administration. When he won the first time, I thought that at least half of my political conscience would be salved and we'd continue the economic and fiscal restraint of the 90's (note how the graph actually declines during that decade). Sadly, that did not come to pass.

(click for a larger version)

You can see the original at the Heritage Foundation's web site. As their site says, the past four years have seen the sharpest growth in spending per household since the Johnson Administration, when the Great Society programs were enacted. Our federal debt has almost doubled to over $8 trillion. That's trillion with a "t". We went from running a budget surplus of several hundred million dollars in 2000 to an annual deficit of several hundred billion dollars each year today. And that figure does not include military spending on Afghanistan or Iraq, as those are accounted for under special spending provisions.

A commenter objected earlier to the term "neo-conservative", but this is why I use that term for the Bush Administration and its policies. Nothing about spending and entitlement programs over the last six years has been classically conservative; some distinction must be made.

I understand the reflexive charge of "tax and spend liberals" but looking at that chart I honestly can't imagine how a liberal/left-wing/baby-eating government could be any worse. I don't have kids of my own, but I feel bad for my nephews and nieces who are going to have to literally pay for our profligate spending -- that's a hell of a legacy to pass on.


Monday, October 16, 2006

The Hangman

As promised in an earlier post, here's the image of The Hangman. In case you couldn't tell, he's a bad guy :-)

And just for fun's sake, here's the "artist's description" I got from the client. I thought it was a pretty great description, it definitely made the job easier. He even included a couple of reference artworks to give me some ideas, which was nice.

As per his description, he wears the upper part of the bodysuit under any normal clothing (and would wear long sleeve shirts to accomplish that).
I am thinking maybe the smarmy overconfidence that Edward Norton displayed toward the end of Primal Fear for how he would look in the face (I would include a picture of what I am talking about, but as of yet cannot find any).
I also think that it might be a good idea to have a "plainclothes" version of him in the foreground, with the elongated, masked version in the background/behind him rising up (to give an idea of how he gets away with his "dual existence" to some extent). If that is not possible, perhaps an "action shot" of him sloughing off his regular clothes and elongating out might be cool. As for his clothing - I am thinking some sort of body-suit that can stretch with him (to a degree). His hands would remain ungloved (so that he can feel what he is doing, both in terms of being more capable and also the thrill he gets from it).
As for the mask, I think that a more elongated version of the one I have attached would be damn near perfect - and would give a chance to see the side that he doesn't display when he is hunting to really come through (since you can still see his eyes and mouth).


A Tale of Two Countries

This aerial nighttime satellite photo of the Korean penninsula sobered me. To my way of thinking it starkly illustrates the need for personal liberty, free markets, and the unshackling of the human spirit from the constraints of dictatorship. Two countries made up of the same people, with the same resources, divided by nothing more than the political system they use, one with the blessings of technology and civilization, with ample electricity to light their homes and the other doomed to darkness except for the city of its overlord.

Although I disagree with the methods of the neoconservatives in virtually every way, I share their fundamental idealism that it is through liberty and freedom that the very best in humanity can come (literally) to light. They've gone about spreading that philosophy in almost the worst imaginable way, but I still maintain the basic position is correct, and like Rumsfeld I think this photo illustrates it with astounding clarity.

(Original photo and article from The Daily Mail.)


The Perception of Beauty

I like those Dove Beauty ads putting normal-sized women in front of the camera. So much of what we're shown as "beauty" features heroin-addicted pre-adolescents, it's refreshing to see real people every now and then on the screen.

I think most of us underestimate how much manipulation goes into the models shown in ads, as seen in this 60-second commercial about what goes into making a billboard, starting with an actual human model. So much of what we see in media images is more a painting of reality than reality itself.

What I do with super-heroes and science fiction action scenes, advertising companies do with real women and products. Each has about the same relation to reality, but because the latter is set in our familiar world, it is much more convincing. When you see a painting of a big ol' barbarian wielding a sword, surrounded by dragons and goblins, you know it's not real because it's in a fantastic setting. When you see a fashion model parading through the streets of New York in a magazine, you assume it's real because you're looking at a photograph. But as the video shows, in many ways that model is just as much of a fantasy as Conan ever was.

(Hat-tip to Matt Yglesias)


Sunday, October 15, 2006

Character Illustrations

Last month I got the chance to do three character illustrations for a Role Playing Game publisher. Two of them were for people who entered an online contest; they submitted their character ideas, and all visitors to the site got to vote on the ones they liked best. I was planning on posting three images here, but our home internet connection has once again decided that it would rather not upload things. Life in the country. Sigh. I'll try to upload the other two tomorrow as it's entirely possible that the Hick Gods of the Country Internet will relent and once again allow me to send more than 5k at a time. Grrr.

You can purchase the book these appear in here.



Saturday, October 14, 2006

Another Plane Yankee

Another in the continuing series titled "Making fun of tragic Yankee events.

New York Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez' plane overshot the runway yesterday, forcing the commuter jet to skid into a bed of arresting material. Luckily, no one was harmed, unlike the sad victims of Rodriguez' other hitless streak -- 1 for 14 in the National League Division Series. Given that historic performance, his failure to hit a runway should come as no surprise.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Keen To Love Pins Infinitely

While cleaning up my office I came across a brochure from a Chinese vendor selling various little metal knicknacks. Their English translator apparently was having an off day because the plain black cover with large silver writing says:

"We're keen to love pins infinitely, you'll join us, won't you?"

Hey, if loving pins is wrong, I don't wanna be right. Although frankly this sounds like some sort of slimy vendor-sponsored invitation to an illicit nighttime knicknack orgy, which doesn't really bear thinking about.

Other highlights of the brochure include:
  • Further down on the cover they list items they make, labeled as "Workaholic Range".
  • Upon opening the brochure I am invited to "Prepare your artworks".
  • Finally they tell me "We'll scrutinize upon receipt of your artworks, then go for sampling after everything is clear." I'm not sure what that might entail, but it sounds vaguely distateful.

But far be it from me to condemn someone for loving pins infinitely, so you go, you crazy Chinese pin-loving kids, you!


Thursday, October 12, 2006

In my secret identity as a web designer & product manager, I'm very proud to announce the launch of the new version of our flagship content website, Expert Village. We're all incredibly excited with the relaunch, and our new focus on internet-driven, expert-supported how-to videos. Most of the video produced since video began was created for entertainment purposes; very little of what you find on a YouTube, for instance, is educational or informative, it's mostly fun music videos, people getting hit in the crotch, or similarly entertaining stuff. We're trying to become the best source for reliable, proven how-to video anywhere on the 'Net, and this is our big introduction to the world.

I designed the look and feel of the entire site, although of course the "breath of life" (aka the back end) is due entirely to our great development team, two of the smartest guys around. We're still in the middle of the deployment process, so bear with us for the next 24 hours as we get all the kinks worked out. I just couldn't resist blabbing the news! This is what's been occupying most of my working time for the last two months or so, and I am very pleased with how it's turned out. That $1.65 billion YouTube got paid didn't hurt morale around here either, I can tell you that much.

Anyway, as a sample of the kind of thing we're all about, I thought the Nerd Country audience would enjoy this particular clip, hosted by a Hollywood fight-coreographer, and featuring a band of bloodthirsty pirates.


Yankee Clipper

I realize this is horribly inappropriate, but I can't help myself.

Professional baseball pitcher Cory Lidle crashed his single-engine plane into an apartment building in New York City yesterday, tragically killing both himself and his flight instructor. This sad event did, however, finally put to rest the contention of disgruntled Yankees fans across the nation that Lidle couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.

Yes, I know, I'm a bad, bad man.


Digital Painting

I had the opportunity recently to work on a cover for a role playing game to be released soon by a friend of mine. I took the chance to try and create something more "painterly" than I usually do. Most of my color work has a very four-color, comic-book feel to it, with solid black ink lines and at best some color gradients for the fill. Which is fine, I like that look mostly, but I've been itching to do something a little more advanced, that looks like I might've actually painted it. Here is the result.

Overall I think it's up there with the best stuff I've done, but I still have a lot to learn. I think it'd be fun to do some book covers at some point, although I have no clue how you'd get started with something like that.

Anyway, hope you like it.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Downey As Ironman

I kept thinking about Robert Downey in the role of Iron Man, so I put together this composite image of what that might look like, as interpreted by a watercolorist.


Monday, October 09, 2006

Comics As Culture

It's official -- comic books is art! I was contacted recently by a museum in the Detroit area, the Janice Charach Epstein Gallery, because they're putting on an exhibit about comic books and wanted to know if they could have HeroMachine involved somehow. Being the patron of the arts that I am (ahem) I of course agreed immediately, and sent them a box of CDs they could pass out to the attendees at the opening.

Comic books and super-heroes have come a long way from being derided as cultural rot eating away at the moral fiber of our young people at worst, or as empty-headed nonsense at best. One of the turning points, at least in my own perception of their worth as art and not just as entertainment, was a great book titled "Understanding Comics" by Scott McCloud. The key concept is to think of comic strips as "sequential art", a method of stringing together words and images that come together to create something truly unique, a way of interacting with the viewer that is fundamentally different from animated art (a series of images shown one on top of the other in such rapid sequence that they appear to move) or traditional painting (a single static image).

Plus, come on, when was the last time you saw aliens or super-villains getting their butt kicked in a Van Gogh painting? Not gonna happen.

Anyway, I am always happy to support efforts to garner the kind of cultural and critical acclaim for comics that I've always had for them. If you're in the West Bloomfeld, Michigan area on or after October 19, head on over to the JCEG and take a look at the exhibit. And be sure to ask them for a HeroMachine CD!


Letter from Iraq

A great letter from a Marine in Iraq has been making its rounds of the Internet. I'd encourage you to read the whole thing, not just excerpts from whatever organization is pushing them (with their own unspoken agendas for which bits they publish versus which they don't). The one that made me laugh out loud was this:

Best Chuck Norris Moment - 13 May. Bad Guys arrived at the government center in the small town of Kubaysah to kidnap the town mayor, since they have a problem with any form of government that does not include regular beheadings and women wearing burqahs. There were seven of them. As they brought the mayor out to put him in a pick-up truck to take him off to be beheaded (on video, as usual), one of the bad Guys put down his machinegun so that he could tie the mayor's hands. The mayor took the opportunity to pick up the machinegun and drill five of the Bad Guys. The other two ran away. One of the dead Bad Guys was on our top twenty wanted list. Like they say, you can't fight City Hall.

The complete text of the letter is here. Once again, hats off to all of the men and women in our exceptional armed forces for the great job they're doing in the face of incredible adversity, and for the unbelievable sacrifices they make for all of us civilians back home. Thank you, one and all.


Friday, October 06, 2006

Divided Government

Reader Allen made a funny comment on the previous article, so I followed the link to his blog (http://blog.thompsonian.net/) just to check it out. One post of his in particular jumped out at me and made me want to share it here (by the way, good blog, Allen!):

The only thing I would add to Mona’s comment is that many of us (small-l) libertarians are in favor of a partial Democrat victory not because we have suddenly discovered the rightness of their leftness but rather because we hope to moderate the balance of power in Washington. I figure a government that is distracted with political combat is less able to do any additional harm (via legislation) to its citizenry.

I think that's dead-on. In my lifetime, the most effective government was when one party (the Democrats in this case) held the Presidency and the other (Republicans) held at least one chamber of Congress. If we're going to be stuck with a two-party system (which we are), then I'd much rather see the two sides at each other's throats, keeping each other honest, rather than one party holding all the reins. That's not a guarantor of good stewardship, of course -- when Reagan (R) was President, the long-standing hold the Democrats had on Congress led to some really bad abuses of power and corrosive corruption there. But at least there was someone on both sides of the aisle helping to control the other party's worst excesses*.

My new rallying cry (with apologies to Mr. Franklin): "A house divided against itself cannot screw us!"

*Does this mean that if the Democrats somehow win control of both houses of Congress in 2006 (as is seeming increasingly possible) that I'd support a Republican for President in 2008? To be honest, I'd rather see a Democrat hold the Presidency and a Congress controlled by Republicans (at least one chamber). I'd rather have the party that at least claims fiscal responsibility as their mantle be in charge of the purse strings, although given the tripling of the deficit to record levels under this Republican Congress I might have to rethink that. And as they proved with Clinton, Republicans in Congress are very willing to control the expansion of Presidential power (as long as it's a Democrat who's President, with a Republican, meh, not so much), which I think is going to be exceptionally necessary in the next 8 years thanks to the lunacy of the Unitary Executive paradigm. It's hard to get someone to give back power once they've got it, we're going to need an opposition party willing to remove it by force of law.


Signing Statements

I hate how much I've been writing about politics lately. I'd rather be writing about the dogs, or my friends, or a review of more of the super-hero themed tv shows that are out. Whenever I write about what's going on in Washington I dread checking my e-mail for days, filled with trepidation about what will be waiting for me in comments. I don't like conflict, and if I had my druthers I'd be able to just ignore what's going on out there.

But I can't.

I don't fool myself that this little out-of-the-way humor blog, read by maybe 20 people a day, is going to have any kind of impact on anything. But I can't let what I see as a fundamental danger to the Constitution pass without comment and still look myself in the mirror every day (which would let me join the ranks of the millions of people, mostly women, who ALSO can't stand to look at me, though perhaps not for the same existential reasons).

Today I want to write about another tool John Yoo, Dick Cheney, and Alberto Gonzales have hijacked to further their view of the "Unitary Executive" -- Presidential signing statements.

In a nutshell, a signing statement is a declaration by the President about how he interprets the law he's about to sign. Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton all used signing statements much more aggressively than any President before, but Bush II has blown them all out of the water, doubling in four years the total Clinton signed in eight.

What's alarming about Bush II's signing statements is that he has often declared that he simply is not going to follow the law he's signing. It's as if he's saying "Yes, this is the law, but I'm going to ignore it. Nyah!" This has happened yet again today (emphasis mine):

President Bush, again defying Congress, says he has the power to edit the Homeland Security Department’s reports about whether it obeys privacy rules while handling background checks, ID cards and watchlists.

In the law Bush signed Wednesday, Congress stated no one but the privacy officer could alter, delay or prohibit the mandatory annual report on Homeland Security department activities that affect privacy, including complaints.

But Bush, in a signing statement attached to the agency’s 2007 spending bill, said he will interpret that section “in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch.”
Bush, for example, said he’d disregard a requirement that the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency must have at least five years experience and “demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management and homeland security.”

Since when was obeying the law optional, even for the President? I thought that the rule of law meant that no one, not even a King, was above the law, that it applied to all of us equally. Apparently the threat from the terrorists is so very great that even this quaint notion must be chucked out the window.

The Constitution (Article I, Section 7 -- the Presentment Clause) empowers the president to veto a law in its entirety, or to sign it. Article II, Section 3 requires that the executive "take care that the laws be faithfully executed". I'd say that issuing a statement declaring your intent to ignore a law would fail the "faithfully execute" portion of that document.

What frightens me about this Administration is not their basic positions on the issues (though I disagree with 90% of them). It's not that they're Republicans and I am a Democrat. It's not even that they're social conservatives and I am a social liberal. It's that they repeatedly exhibit a profound and deeply held contempt for the very document that defines what America is. Their goal -- plainly stated and beyond controversy -- is to make the executive branch the most powerful of the three, free from historical checks and balances. These signing statements are a crystal-clear example of this effort. They seek to shape legislation (the legislative branch's job) and to decide what is and is not constitutional (the judiciary's job).

What's even more alarming is that no one seems to care. The President says "I am above the rule of law, I refuse to obey this statute even though the Constitution says I am supposed to see that it is enforced," and it's barely worthy of a mention in the news.

Again, for my Republican readers, I would urge you to think about how you would react if Bill or Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Michael Moore, or whatever other evil baby-eating liberal you can think of were to do such a thing as President. You'd freak the hell out, is what you'd do, and I'd be right behind you. This level of contempt for the rule of law is, again, absolute poison to liberty.

For more on this subject, I found this FindLaw article to be very persuasive.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Iron Man Movie?

Enough with the political and religious crap, let's get to something important -- there's gonna be an "Iron Man" movie! Check out the IMDB entry. And the big breaking news apparently is that Robert Downy Junior is going to play Tony Stark (aka Iron Man). I have to say, I'm curious to see how this turns out. I always liked the character and the computer graphics nowadays seem likely to be able to do the special effects justice. And goodness knows, RDJ has the background to play an alcoholic.

My boss asked me once why I don't rush out to see any super-hero movie that comes down the pike, given that I love super-heroes so much. For instance, I refused to see "Fantastic Four". Basically, I avoid bad super-hero movies exactly because I like super-heroes so much. I hate seeing them done poorly, I just want to tear out what little hair I have left. Hopefully "Iron Man" will be more in the "Spider-Man"/"X-Men" mold and less in the "Fantastic Four"/"Punisher" one, but only time will tell.


More on Military Commissions

A few comments on the recently-passed "Military Commissions Act" (MCA) passed by Congress and on its way to the White House. There are a number of concerns about this bill, not least among them the fact that very few of those in the Senate who voted on it actually read the final version sent to the White House. Three Republican Senators (McCain, Graham, and Warner) objected to the bill as originally written. They worked out a compromise with the White House, and reached agreement on a number of issues that had concerned them. The bill then went into committee to have the differences between the House and Senate versions finalized, and wrote up the actual law that got voted on, then sent to the President for signing.

This was all done in a huge rush (so that the prisoners currently detained could be dealt with in a timely fashion if you believe the White House, or so that it could be used as an election-year club to beat on Democrats with if you believe the President's opponents). The final version of the 200-page bill thus passed without the Senators having time to see what changed in committee.

Shockingly, it turns out that there were some very significant differences between this final version and the "compromise" version these Senatators thought they'd agreed on. Here's Molly Ivins (raving liberal, granted), on what changed:

The version of the detainee bill now in the Senate not only undoes much of the McCain-Warner-Graham work, but it is actually much worse than the administration’s first proposal. In one change, the original compromise language said a suspect had the right to “examine and respond to” all evidence used against him. The three senators said the clause was necessary to avoid secret trials. The bill has now dropped the word “examine” and left only “respond to.”

In another change, a clause said that evidence obtained outside the United States could be admitted in court even if it had been gathered without a search warrant. But the bill now drops the words “outside the United States,” which means prosecutors can ignore American legal standards on warrants.

The bill also expands the definition of an unlawful enemy combatant to cover anyone who has “has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.” Quick, define “purposefully and materially.” One person has already been charged with aiding terrorists because he sold a satellite TV package that includes the Hezbollah network.

The bill simply removes a suspect’s right to challenge his detention in court. This is a rule of law that goes back to the Magna Carta in 1215. That pretty much leaves the barn door open.

After the bill passed, and the changes were brought to light (conveniently too late, the vote had already happened), McCain has been quoted as saying that he believes the bill is probably unconstitutional.

Another area of concern is whether or not the more egregious portions of the bill apply to US citizens. The language of the bill is, unfortunately, quite ambiguous on this question, as outlined here. I find it reprehensible that the Senate could pass a bill that is unclear on this point. Their obligation -- to you, to me, to the citizens of the United States they are sworn to protect -- is to ensure that they know what they're passing, especially with a bill like this that touches on core issues of our liberty.

Does the MCA apply to US Citizens? Can the President now legally capture US Citizens on the street soley on his say-so that they are unlawful enemy combatants? Nobody really knows for sure, and that is why it is an abomination that this bill passed without even being read. McCain, Warner, and Graham got suckered into thinking they'd won a compromise, only to have the guts of that agreement ripped out in committee, and the resultant law passed without them even knowing what it said.

I don't trust people, and I damn sure don't trust politicians. Giving the Office of the President such broad, ambiguous authority is a huge mistake, regardless of whether it's George Bush or Hillary Clinton who will be in office to wield it. Our laws exist to protect us from abuse by those who wield power -- that is the entire point of the Constitution. Power corrupts, and sidestepping our protections from those in power (whether by accident or on purpose) is about the most foolish thing I can think of. Shame on those Senators who voted for this horrible bill without doing even the minimum necessary to know what they were enacting.