Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Department of Too Many Departments Department

Via Radley Balko, I've just learned that the state of Texas has spent 18 months to publish a 668-page report finding that the state of Texas ... issues too many reports.

The article doesn't mention if the report came from the Department of Redundancy Department, but it wouldn't surprise me.

The best part? Despite the report's finding, its issuers assure their paymasters that continuing to report on the excess of reports is vital:

As for the commission's massive report on reports, Heskett predicts it won't go away.

"For the report to be effective, it must be ongoing," he said.

I'm pretty sure that the part of state records administrator Michael Heskett is actually being played by the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland, but I'll certainly issue a report once I'm positive.


Monday, October 29, 2007

My Alma Mater and 15 Laterals!

My alma mater, Trinity University in San Antonio, made ESPN with a "Top Play" highlight featuring their 61-yard, 15-lateral play at the end of regulation that scored a touchdown and won the game against Millsaps. Pretty amazing stuff, and to think that when I went there we almost never won a game!


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Professional Sports Designer Does Good

My friend John Hartwell had the rare and incredibly cool privilege yesterday of seeing his designs literally take the field for a real live professional baseball team, as his new logo debuted in Birmingham for the Double-A Barons. Their home page features his new design boldly, which is definitely wise because it kicks ass. Here's the press conference where the new design was introduced, with a poster showing the various elements:

And here are the actual uniforms on actual players.

It's one thing to draw something out on paper, but it's a whole new level of awesome to see what you've created take life for real. My friends and I are all sports fans, and to see something one of us designed take the actual field is just cool beyond words.

Congratulations to John and the Birmingham Barons, I hope this is just the first of many sports-related projects to come!


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Calvin and Hobbes Halloween

Since I post so many Calvin and Hobbes strips here, I though I should show you this photo of a real-life Halloween version of Calvin's "Snowmen of Horror" displays.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Another Failure

Great, here's yet another way in which my World of Warcraft character is superior to me:

If that's not clear, it says "Tip: Your character can eat and drink at the same time." At the same time! I know I can't handle a crossbow like he can, but now this? How many more ways can I be inferior to that stupid digital guy?!


Catholics Against Torture

As Andrew says, we've heard plenty from the left about why torture is a bad idea, but very little from the right. This post from "Catholic and Enjoying It" is therefore a welcome change, and really made me think about the issue in a new way. Here's a brief excerpt:

What lies at the heart of all consequentialist appeals to do grave evil for the greater good is, ultimately, a refusal to trust that God knows what he is talking about. It is the conviction that the Christian revelation is not an insight into the heart of reality, but a sort of idealistic dream that is fun to contemplate in quiet moments and maybe even an "inspiration" in a vague way, but is nonetheless something that hard thinkers and tough-minded men must sweep away when crunch time comes in favor of "realistic" solutions that require us to frankly embrace sin and evil if we hope to live or remain free. In this analysis, the functional belief of the Machiavellian realist is "You shall embrace evil, and evil shall make you free and keep you safe."

The argument of the Christian revelation is that this is, not to put too fine a point on it, a lie from the pit of hell.

I remain confused as to why American Christianity and the Republican party have become synonymous on issues like torture, war, poverty, health care, and race relations. There is ample support for what Americans would consider liberal positions on these problems, and yet it is as if such a thing is unthinkable in the public discourse.

If I haven't made it clear on this blog before, I think torture is evil. I think it is wrong. I think it is useless, misguided, dangerous, and corrupting to the torturer. It is to be avoided at nearly all costs, and I am deeply appalled that our nation has joined the despicable ranks of those regimes that routinely employ it. I know there are those among the religious who feel the same way, and I am delighted that finally, at long last, their voices are getting heard.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Jesus on the River (and I Don't Mean Chris Ferguson)

I may not be a Christian, but I just saw a stomach-turning spectacle of blasphemy and hypocrisy on ESPN's first night of coverage of the 2007 World Series of Poker that really offended me.

The hand featured seasoned professional Lee Watkinson's A-7 off-suit against poker neophyte and chipleader Jerry Yang's A-9 off-suit. Lee went all in and was called, putting his tournament (and a shot at more than eight million dollars) on the line.

Whereupon both parties proceeded to spit on the teachings of Jesus.

Watkinson, to his credit, handled it like a pro and was silent throughout the hand, but you can't say the same thing for his fiancée, Timmi deRosa, who jumped up and shouted "No weapon formed against him shall prosper!" If that sounds like a Bible verse, you're right -- it's Isaiah 54:17, which is all about God telling Israel how great they're going to have it from there on out. She then followed that up with "Come on, Father! In Jesus' name, No weapon formed against thee shall prosper!" With arms raised above her head, this woman was shouting for God, in Jesus' name, to let her husband win a gambling confrontation so he could bring home millions of dollars.

In Jesus' name. Yes, that Jesus, the one who said "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven." The one who said, "And it came to pass that the beggar died and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. And the rich man also died: and he was buried in Hell." Sounds like a guy anxious to get all his money in pre-flop with the best hand, right?

I thought that was fairly appalling, but then Jerry Yang got his turn. "Come on Lord," he said, "you know your purpose for me. Have a purpose for me."

Apparently God's purpose for Jerry was to have his opponent dominated with a better kicker for his ace. I didn't know the Almighty went in for bad all-in raises with a Ace-rags, but apparently He does.

Not to be outdone, the fiancée again cried out. "Make him a believer! Make Lee a believer, Father!" So apparently Lee's not "of the faith" and this woman thinks that giving him a cash reward will get him to become a Christian. Sort of like a "Bonus Miles" program, I suppose.

The irony of having the soul of a non-believer hanging in the balance over a poker game for eight million dollars was lost on all concerned. Apparently poverty is only for those loser Christians who actually, you know, bother reading what Jesus said. Why do I have the feeling this lady is a follower of one or another of the "Prosperity Gospel" cults?

Jerry got the last word, though. "Father, in the name of Jesus," he said quietly, voice almost vibrating with intensity, "LET ME WIN!"

I'm sure both Jerry and Ms. deRosa are wonderfully nice people. I'm sure they feel quite devoted to their faith, and do what they can to follow the teachings of Christ. But they're both exhibiting the most crass kind of hypocrisy and -- yes, I'll say it -- blasphemy I can imagine.

This was the perfect example of that uniquely American abomination that weds greedy materialism with the teachings of Christ. I've seldom seen a case where Las Vegas' nickname of "Sin City" was more appropriate.

Look, I don't believe Christ is the Son of God, but I do think he had some incredibly wise teachings. To hear someone, much less two someones, completely distort those teachings to mean their exact opposite really made me angry. It would be like someone invoking Martin Luther King's speeches to justify the shooting of Black people, or Thomas Jefferson's letters to explain why we need to form a theocracy. It's just wrong, and it made me sick.

That was a disgraceful display, and both Jerry Yang and Timmi deRosa should be ashamed.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Things I Hate About Chris Berman

Here is a partial list of the things I hate about ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman. And I'm skipping the obvious things, like his incessant usage of inane nicknames for not only every single player on the planet, but some species of African bush weasels as well.

  1. The overly broad gestures that punctuate every single syllable he utters. I fully expect him to knock a colleague unconscious some day with an exaggerated arm swing. Particularly egregious: the "Pseud-OK", the aborted love-child of "I missed it by that much" and Gumby's "O-TAY!".

  2. The sport jacket with a short-sleeve shirt underneath. What is he, twelve? With every overly broad gesture you see his hairy arms all the way up to his elbows. It is my dream that he will accidentally crush his own larynx during a broadcast while gesticulating, and die for lack of a shirt sleeve with which to stanch the bleeding.

  3. "BACK BACK BACK BACK BACK BACK BACK ... ((twenty minutes later)) ... BACK BACK BACK BACK ..."

  4. "WHOOP!", particularly when used at completely inappropriate times. I have visions of this abominable noise issuing forth from a bathroom stall in Bristol about an hour after lunch every day.

  5. The combover. Let it go, man, because trust me -- it's gone.

  6. The stupefied look on his face during every NFL Sunday Shoutathon And Screaming Death Match show, when one of his idiotic on-screen comrades finishes speaking and tosses it back to him to move along to the next topic. Pick up the ball, Berman, it's your turn to do something!

  7. He's still on ESPN, and Keith Olbermann is not. There is no justice in the world.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

Near Death Experience

I almost died Thursday night.

I pulled out of the narrow street in the hills overlooking Lake Buchanon at about 11:00. The road was under construction, with two lanes torn down to chunky base rock, though you certainly couldn't see it with the almost-new moon throwing more darkness than light.

I was frustrated at having lost at yet another poker session and ready to be home. But there was still a forty minute drive ahead of me and I wanted it over. I spun some gravel as I drove onto the road, punching my little Ranger as fast as it would go. I had it up to sixty within moments, listening to the sound of loose rocks pinging on the undercarriage.

As more seconds went by and my sight started adjusting to the darkness surrounding my headlights, the truck started to shake violently.

And I realized I was on the wrong half of the road, on the two lanes closed down for construction.

The truck skewed violently to the right and I released the gas pedal, trying to pull it back to the left without overcompensating. My mind snapped out of its anger instantly, replacing frustration with one crystal-clear thought:

I could die here.

I remember it so clearly, that thought. The road wound in and out of the Texas hill country limestone, crossing over ravines and surrounded by cedar trees. At that time of night I could have plunged over the side and it would have been hours, at least, before anyone would notice, and that only with a careful search.

The truck skewed back to the left and fishtailed, the rear end going one way and the front end the other. In the headlights I could see the small warning placards in front of one of the bridges, just before a major curve.

I need to stop this before I hit that bridge, or I'm dead.

Again the thought stood there alone in my mind, outlined in silver and almost throbbing in its insistence. Press the brakes, but not too violently, pull the steering wheel back in line with the direction of the rear end, don't panic whatever you do. You could die, you could die you could die ...

An image of Annie crying hysterically flashed through my mind, me dead along the jumbled rocks of the hill, or plunging into the waters of the lake and drowning, bleeding out into the creek.

My entire life did not flash before my eyes. I did not beg for mercy, or in my best Carrie Underwood voice plead for Jesus to take the wheel. I had room for only three things: My death, my wife, and how to stop my truck.

I finally shuddered to a halt short of the bridge, breath pounding in and out of my lungs. "Holy shit." I said it aloud. Again. "Holy shit."

I put the car in park and just sat there for a moment, until I felt composed enough to pull back onto the road. The finished road, this time.

As I drove I thought about what had almost happened to me, how many years I still want to live, how precious existence is, how much I love my wife and my life and how I do not want it to be over.

And yet, I thought, not once did I cry out for a higher power. Not once did it even occur to me that a deity might be watching over me, guiding my path, to whom I should beg for mercy.

Believers will tell me that regardless, God was watching out for me, and that is why I am here, today, right now, typing this and enjoying the feeling of being alive. For all I know, they're right.

What struck me, though, is that I don't even have the instinct for God. I like to think I'm rational and thoughtful and have arrived at my belief system after careful consideration and relentless logic. And I have, in a sense, but I think all of that is a superstructure over what was already there, or already not there, in this case.

Whatever belief is, however it's supposed to exist as a part of one's innermost being, I just don't have it. I never have. Exhortations to "just believe" are as wasted on me as "Just see!" is to the blind. I used to think, "I don't believe in God," but the truth is that this isn't a choice. I didn't just decide one day that I don't believe -- it's just not present in me. At all. I couldn't change it any more than I could make myself hear if I were deaf, no matter how great the effort.

I say this not as any sort of argument either for or against religion, or faith, or God, or much of anything beyond this:

In that moment, when I was sure I could really, truly die, the part of me that exists before rationality reached not for the divine, but for the brake pedal.

That's just the way I am built, and if there truly is a merciful God as so many would have me believe, then He is the one who made me this way.

I'm glad I am alive, glad I am here to write this, glad that I know, finally, that what I believe is not a bit of sophistry or an angry response or willful defiance, but simply the way I'm put together.

I don't have any god-belief present in me, and that's ok. I've got a good life, and more importantly, a good set of brakes. For now, that's enough, and I am content.


Monday, October 01, 2007


Imagine if every article in "Science" or "Discover" had a blurb on it saying something like "Everything you're reading here is false. Go to this site to see how Scientologists have it right and we're all really alien slaves."

Actually I doubt you'd care because, let's face it, like most people you probably don't subscribe to either "Science" or "Discover". But I bet you do read CNN.com or MSNBC.com or FOXNews.com, and that's basically what's happening on those sites, only with Biblical Creationism instead of Scientology.

Here's how it works.

A big, credible site like CNN.com puts code on their web page articles to serve up ads brokered by Google. Google scans each article as it's delivered to your web browser, does some GoogleMagic, and figures out what the page is about. In this CNN science article about finding good DNA in mammoth hairs, for instance, it finds great words like DNA, scientists, and biochemistry. "Aha!" thinks Google, "this page is about science and evolution!"

Meanwhile, creationists sites out there are also using Google, only they want to buy ads. Their audience is the layperson somewhat interested in science, who they hope to sway to their way of thinking (e.g. the universe is only 6,000 years old, Noah's Flood happened just as described in Genesis, etc.), so they go out and tell Google, "put our ads on any page that has these words in it -- DNA, science, scientists, archaeology, and that sort of thing."

GoogleMagic isn't, of course, actually magic; it's just a computer program that tries to match up an article like the one on CNN with an advertiser. The beauty of GoogleAds is that you can be very targeted and only have your ad shown on a page that's probably going to be of interest to your likely customer. If you sell used drill bits, for instance, you probably don't want your ad shown on a page that is about baking cookies.

Thus Google sees a CNN article about DNA, and puts up the creationist ads on it. CNN is "The Most Trusted Name in News", so Joe or Jane Average gives credence to what they publish. They're reading an article written by the AP, another trusted source, which contains excellent, scientifically valid information. They get to the bottom of the page, and see ads for sites that seem to also be about evolution and science, and so they click on it:

And voila, the credibility and reliability of CNN and the Associated Press and all those scientists in the original story get carried through to the creationist site.

There's nothing immoral or illegal about what the creationists are doing here. They have every right to purchase ad words from Google and to try and reach their target audience.

The problem is that they're gaining legitimacy from sources that would otherwise completely undermine everything they say.

I'd love to see groups like the National Center for Science Education put a small part of their budget to countering this tactic. Bid up those same Google AdWords at a slightly higher price so the creationist ads don't get served. Be aggressive and target other words like "creationism", "bible science", "genesis facts", and more to try and get some well-intentioned but misinformed browsers good, accurate, reliable information about science and history.

This isn't about atheism or faith, it's about good science education. You can have a good understanding of real science and still be a Christian, as millions around the world show every day. Having a majority of people in America misunderstand basic scientific concepts is bad for a democratic nation. We can't make good policy or execute sound judgment when our knowledge is built on a foundation of lies.