Wednesday, August 31, 2005

And...We're Back

Here's a picture of me in the backyard of the house where I grew up in suburban Portland, Oregon. That's my step-grandmother behind me, a dear sweet woman whose age is somewhere between 92 and 96. (That was a subject of debate during the reunion.) For the record, that is not the grandmother referenced in the post below. Posted by Picasa

So yeah, I'm back in New York. I was actually back Monday morning. For the most part, I had a great time. Though the afternoon with "grandmother" was singularly traumatizing, it was a shared trauma that I think really helped my dad and me build a stronger relationship. As I mentioned in the post below, he's a southern baptist and as I'm not only gay but episcopalian, well...there's some tension there sometimes.

To recap, I flew out on Friday after work, spent Saturday with my father and his parents, and then spent Sunday with my mother and stepfather's families to celebrate the occasion of his 70th birthday. I don't think we've ever had that many people at our house at one time, but it was just great to see everyone, especially since I so rarely get the chance to go home. It is amazing to watch my little nieces and nephews turn into adults. We passed around photo albums showing our last big reunion, which was my stepfather's 60th birthday: in 10 years, many of us have lost some hair. Alas.

After the party I took a midnight flight back to JFK, landing at 8 a.m. I managed to get to my office on Wall Street by 9:30...and that was taking the A train! I wasn't actually all that tired on Monday, just sort of dazed. I slept okay on the plane, even though it was quite full. I sat next to a dreamy straight guy (he made a salacious comment about our flight attendant) who works at Goldman Sachs up the street from me; he slept on my shoulder most of the way, to which I did not object at all. It was kind of nice.

Naturally I fell asleep on the subway ride home from work on Monday night and slouched up against some young ghetto-ho, who elbowed me in the ribs with an abrupt, "Scuse me!"

Yes, I was home.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Grandmother Dearest

A few years ago I made the mistake of calling her "grandma." She corrected me gently, and asked me to call her grandmother because she was entitled to that level of respect. And yes, she used those exact words.

She's always been something of a challenge. One of the many, many legends tells of the time my teenage uncle brought a girlfriend home to meet the family and he asked his mother to be nice. "I mean your nice nice, not your mean nice," he specified. Another time, when they lived in San Francisco, she suggested going for a pleasant cable car ride at midnight. When the guests and family demurred, she thundered, "We're going to go, and we're going to have a good time, goddamnit."

Anyway, my grandfather has been in the hospital this week for knee-replacement surgery, and my poor father has been stuck babysitting his mother because as her senility progresses she really cannot be left alone. Granddad got released today, so we went to go pick him up and help get him home.

We realized it would take some time to get the prescriptions filled, so we decided we would drop it off at the pharmacy, take granddad home and get him comfortable, and then come back to pick up the pills later. The hospital gave him two for the road anyway, he was fine.

Now, my grandmother is 85 or so and is essentially blind, so we decided the easiest thing to do was to send me to run in with the prescription. Grandmother insisted that she do it. We started to say, "Well, no Andy can move a little faster, then we can get Pop home--" "No, let me do it, goddamnit."

Well, as she's blind shall I say...not all there? was decided that I should accompany her into the drugstore at least. Dad had to park the car and granddad sure isn't going anywhere.

So we get in, she hands the prescription form over, and the nice lady says, "This will be ready in 20-30 minutes."

Then, in her calm but firm voice I have come to recognize as her "mean nice," she says, "Well, no, this is for someone who just got out of the hospital and is in pain, we need this right away."

The nice lady said, "Well, I understand, but we just have a procedure to go through, this has to be verified and so forth, and there are other orders ahead of you."


Then I said, "It's okay grandmother, the plan was to drop this off, take granddad home and get him comfortable and then come back."

"But he's in pain, and he needs this now."

"Well, no, actually they gave him two vicodin at the hospital, and this was his idea anyway."

Then she turned and looked at me with her two small, nearly blind pale blue eyes, which narrowed as the corners of her mouth turned up like a snarling dog, and she spat, "Shut your goddamn mouth and go home."

I have to say this took me aback. Our relationship hasn't been exactly warm and I'd heard all the stories and seen her be plenty mean before, but to hear this from my own grandmother...well, I felt like I'd been punched in the chest.

The kind pharmacy lady tried to help and say, "Actually you know, I think he has a good idea--"

"This is not your business," grandmother snarled. "I told you to go home."

Eeep. So I called my dad on the cellphone and said, "Uh...I have a little situation" So he came in and I gave him the lowdown and he said, "Fine, we'll just leave her here."

"You can't!" I protested.

"Hell, I'd leave her in traffic right now."

"No, you can't leave her here for these people to deal with."

Fortunately, this being Oregon, the pharmacy staff recognized that perhaps just this once it would be in everybody's best interests to put a rush on this order. We got the pills and made it out to the car. Long story short (too late, I know) we managed to get home and get grandfather inside, and then she threw us out. In fact, she slammed the front door in my face so hard that if I hadn't honestly leapt out of the way, she'd have broken my nose.

Then, my father -- who is a teetotaling Southern Baptist -- said, "Let's go get a drink." I had a Grey Goose and tonic, he had a brandy manhattan.

Oregon Greetings

So I'm in Oregon right now. I flew out last night after work for a family reunion in Portland.

It was my first trip on jetBlue. The flight was nice and uneventful, and I appreciated that they have DirecTV in every seat so I didn't have to miss Battlestar Galactica.

One of the flight attendants looked so familiar. My brain wrestled with that all the way to Michigan before it hit me. He'd taken me for a different kind of ride back in 1997. Sigh.

Anyway, I arrived in Portland a little bit dazed, as I worked a full day at my office on Wall Street, then took the subway to JFK, took off around 8 p.m. and landed in Portland at 11 p.m. PDT, which was 2 a.m. back home.

My father and grandmother met me at the airport. Here is a transcription of the conversation.

Me: Hi, Dad!

Dad: You're losing your hair.

Me: Hello, Grandmother.

G: Andrew, your grandfather has decided that he does not want to die in Oregon.

Me: [???] So good to see you.

G: When do you have to go back?

Me: Sunday night.

G: Oh, not till Sunday, great. What day is today?

Me: Friday.

G: Oh. And when do you have to go back?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Proud of My Heritage

Just ran across possibly the most hilarious Pat Robertson quote ever:

"In Scotland, you can't believe how strong the homosexuals are. It's just simply unbelievable."

An Impossible Challenge?

I spent this past weekend dog-sitting, stretched out on the couch at my friends' apartment with the pooches, enjoying the air conditioning, drinking beer and taking advantage of cable to watch documentaries on Animal Planet.

Over and over again, I was struck by certain language in the narration, and I noticed it again in a special Op-Ed in The New York Times this morning: "In a broad physiological sense, we are practically identical not only with other mammals but also with birds - muscle for muscle, eye for eye, nerve for nerve, lung for lung, brain for brain, hormone for hormone - except for differences in detail of particular design specifications."


I tried an experiment. Google "cheetah" and "design." You'll get the following phrases from various websites:

"Not only is the cheetah's physical shape designed for speed, but it has other special features as well. For instance, the spine of the cheetah is flexible enough to act as a spring when the cheetah runs. It also is the only cat without retractable claws. This allows the claws to always be exposed, acting like cleats when the cheetah is running. The tail is also designed to help maintain balance at high speeds and during quick turns."

"The bones of a cheetah are designed to take punishment."

"Everything about the cheetah is designed to enhance its running speed."

"Other cats retract their claws to keep them sharp, like carving knives kept in a sheath --the cheetah's claws are designed not for cutting but for traction. This is an animal biologically designed to run."

Or, perhaps:

"Some sharks have teeth that are very sharp, wide, wedge-shaped, and serrated (having a jagged edge), designed for catching and tearing apart prey."

"The eagle's whole head is designed for its fishing and scavenging lifestyle."

"During winter, beavers must feed on the bark of trees they have cut and stored in the autumn, using their specially designed, self-sharpening front incisors."

"Some of the more hardy species such as S. Flava produce a series of 'mutated' stems which don't grow to full height. These stems are designed to protect the plant against frost."

Now, these phrases that I've selected quite randomly doing the most basic search are not from wacky creationist websites. I've linked each and every one of the references.

What's going on here?

Is it merely the limitations of language? Is it just easier to say "many bats have evolved specialized facial structures and bizarre looking ears designed for sound production and hearing"? Is science unable to describe evolution and natural selection without using the word design?

Or is it that scientists, perhaps unconsciously, have already embraced and accepted that our intricate, interconnected universe is best explained as the product of an omnipotent guiding force?

This is not to say that just because I located some random statements about plants and animals that contained the word "design" that everyone should drop what they're doing and support the current nonsense called "Intelligent Design" masquerading as science, which is being pushed by a specific group of people with a clear religious agenda.

Instead, the rabid secularists, such as Nobel laureate Herbert A. Hauptman, who said recently that belief in God "is damaging to the well-being of the human race," need to acknowledge that science regularly describes unique natural features as having been "designed," thereby implying a "designer."

Secular fundamentalists regularly demand that any and all references to God or religion, no matter how objective, be kept out of public discourse.

Fine. As pharaoh challenged the Israelites to make bricks without straw, so I charge secularists to describe the natural world without using the word "design."

Thursday, August 25, 2005


I had a second meeting with a vendor today who would like for us to switch over to his company for all our office-supply needs. He created a handy spreadsheet for us demonstrating that if we'd used him for the last several months, we'd have saved X%.

On the spreadsheet heading, he spelled our company name wrong.

Pat Robertson

I was working on a post about Robertson's latest appalling act of overt craziness, but Slacktivist's two cents are worth a lot more than mine, so I direct your attention here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

An Explanation for Everything

There's a blog I check in with occasionally just to see what the right-wingers are talking about these days. It reminds me of those old Star Trek episodes where they ended up in the alternate universe.

One of the recurring complaints of the right is that the goll-darn lib'rul media simply refuses to report the good news, especially concerning events in Iraq. For example, did you know that enlistment in the military is up?

No, I didn't either. In fact, I remembered reading a few weeks back how the army kept reducing its recruiting goals in order to be able to stop saying they were falling short...and kept falling short. So imagine my surprise when I read this:

If you followed only the MSM, you might believe that recruitment is down, based on a few months were [sic] the Army did not meet its goals. But, according to a report in today’s New York Post, “Every one of the Army’s 10 divisions — its key combat organizations — has exceeded its re-enlistment goal for the year to date.” First-time enlistments are up as well. (If you don’t believe me, read whole thing.)

Well, I didn't believe it.

So I clicked on the link, whereupon I discovered this:

Correction: My article above contained a substantial error: The new-enlistment rates I cited were wrong. The Army is still falling short on new enlistments. I deeply regret the mistake.

Well, of course this little unpleasant injection of reality sort of undermined the entire post. I clicked on the comments section, but as no one had mentioned it yet either they were ignoring this inconvenient truth or they hadn't read it. So I took it upon myself to post the correction to see what the response would be. And here it is:

There is a reason enlistments are down. It’s because the strong economy is competing with the military. Recruiting is always a challenge during a period of strong economic growth.

Naturally, the Bush-hating left don’t want to talk about the strength of the economy.

Oh yes, of course. How silly of me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

This Thought Never Occurred to Me

A friend of mine visiting from out of town went to see Avenue Q on Broadway. He hated it.

"You could totally see their mouths moving!"

Monday, August 22, 2005

Lazy Thoughts on a Monday Afternoon

If we went on a date, where would you take me and what would we do?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A Little Apocalyptic Humor

666 Number of the Beast
0.666 Number of the Millibeast
0.00150150 Reciprocal of the Beast
25.8069758 Square Root of the Beast
443556 Square of the Beast
1010011010 Binary Number of the Beast
1232 Octal of the Beast
29A Hexidecimal of the Beast
$666/hr Billing Rate of the Beast's Lawyer
$665.95 Retail Price of the Beast
$699.25 Price of the Beast plus 5% State Sales Tax
$769.95 Price of the Beast with accessories and replacement soul
$656.66 Wal-Mart Price of the Beast
$646.66 Next week's Wal-Mart Price of the Beast
$55.50 Monthly Payments for Beast, in 12 easy installments

Gleefully stolen from the comments section of a recent "Left Behind" post on Slacktivist.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Demon Hound

A New Thriller, from the Author of The Adventures of Fluffy and Mitzi
(sample chapter)

At last he reached the great door.

Gazing up at it, he marveled at the ancient symbols. The legend, thus far, was accurate.

He produced the oddly-shaped key from his pack. This better work, he thought to himself. I've come a long way for this. He took a deep breath, and slid the key into the lock.

It turned.

With a click, the door was free. He pushed it back. Darkness.

The first thing he noticed was the cool air of the chamber, many degrees colder than the sweltering humidity outside. His second awareness was not so pleasant.

An overwhelming stench, simultaneously acrid and strangely sweet, assaulted him with the force of a shockwave, and he gasped for breath as if he had been plunged into icy water, struggling against the urge to retch.

No, he thought. I've got a job to do. It's probably just a dead animal rotting somewhere.

He stepped inside, but almost immediately his left food began to slide out from under him on the slick floor. Something's wrong. Very, very wrong.

And then he saw it.

Gazing at him from the shadows was the beast. She stood, calmly, her head hung low, gazing at him with dead, emotionless eyes.

"What the..."

The beast began to move.


But it was too late.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What if God Were One of Us?

an·thro·po·mor·phism n. Attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena.

Christian fundamentalists hold that the Bible is consistently and literally true, an assumption easily dismissed upon comparing the first two chapters of Genesis, contradictory accounts of how Saul met David, and irreconcilable timelines of Christ's life in the Gospels, among other passages. For them, the suggestion that Genesis is not literally true carries with it the implication that the message of the Gospel is also not true; secular fundamentalists often perceive the same implication.

I confess that while I think I understand Christian fundamentalist thinking, I don't empathize. For me, scientific discovery proclaims God's surpassing genius and majesty. Evolution appears to me miraculous, not heretical. To me, Christianity is a values system, a way of life that holds patience, compassion and forgiveness as ultimate virtues, all of which have little if anything to do with the timeline in which the world was created or whether I share some genetic relationship to chimpanzees.

When I think of "Intelligent Design," I think of the staggering beauty of something like a rose in bloom, or the atmospheric conditions that make spectacular sunsets possible. When I think of "Intelligent Design," I think of the way our bodies produce sweat to cool us when we are hot (also a system for expelling toxins) and the way our circulatory system kicks in to overdrive to warm us when we are cold. I think of the way wounds heal or the symbiosis between plants and animals -- they breathe what we exhale, and vice versa.

Unfortunately, "Intelligent Design" does not mean the same thing to everyone. Many Christians do not feel the easy compatibility of science and religion that I do. Skeptical of the theory of natural selection, they seek to undermine science with selective research and shoddy theology by using Scripture to explain away existing gaps in the theory of evolution.

To me, Christianity is a values system, a way of life that holds patience, compassion and forgiveness as ultimate virtues, all of which have little if anything to do with the timeline in which the world was created or whether I share some genetic relationship to chimpanzees.

As biology professor Kenneth Miller of Brown University so eloquently wrote in his essay Finding Darwin's God, "the creationists have sought God in darkness. What we have not found and do not yet understand becomes their best - indeed their only - evidence for the divine. The trouble is that science, given enough time, generally explains even the most baffling things. As a matter of strategy, creationists would be well-advised to avoid telling scientists what they will never be able to figure out. History is against them. If God is real, we should be able to find him somewhere else - in the bright light of human knowledge, spiritual and scientific."

Or, as Jerry Coyne, a professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, echoed in a recent article in The New Republic, "If the history of science shows us anything, it is that we get nowhere by labeling our ignorance 'God.'"

Intelligent Design ought to be the search for God using scientific evidence, not the search for scientific evidence using the Bible.

Sadly, secularists attempt to refute Intelligent Design with shoddy theology of their own, namely by pointing out supposed flaws in the blueprints. It boils down to the assumption that God thinks like we do, resulting in Coyne's conclusion that if Intelligent Design reflects "the exertions of an intelligent designer, he was apparently dissatisfied with nearly all his creations, repeatedly destroying them and creating a new set of species that just happened to resemble descendants of those that he had destroyed."

Critics especially like to point to the human appendix, which they consider a vestigial organ left over from our ancestors who required it for their particular diet. Coyne calls it "an injurious organ." It's true that appendicitis is a killer; but so are heart disease, cirrhosis, and strokes caused by blood clots, and no one is suggesting that perhaps we'd be better off without livers. Moreover, this argument is predicated on the presumption that mortality is a flaw in God's design.

It also assumes that the appendix is on its way out. What if God left it there because He knows our descendants will need it again?

The Gospel ought to be sufficient evidence that God's logic is not human logic. We're told Jesus had a humble birth -- even if a multitude of angels appeared to shepherds in their fields and three Magi showed up to present Him with gifts, it was nearly three decades before his ministry began in earnest. Then He traveled the length of the Holy Land, homeless, harrassed by religious authorities, was betrayed, beaten and executed in a brutal fashion.

Is that how you would have chosen to reveal yourself to mankind?

Yet skeptics persist in trying to deny the role of God in creation by insisting they could have done it better. Coyne complains that the human eye "is like a car in which all the wires to the dashboard hang inside the driver's compartment instead of being tucked safely out of sight."

Admittedly there is cause for concern with regard to Christians who push Intelligent Design on public school curricula. "This country wasn't founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution. This country was founded on Christianity and our students should be taught as such," proclaimed William Buckingham, chair of the curriculum board of the Dover, Pennsylvania school district.

Intelligent Design ought to be the search for God using scientific evidence, not the search for scientific evidence using the Bible.

But if secularists intend to hold people of faith to high standards for keeping ideology out of science classes, they have to be careful to maintain the same standards for themselves. Evolution disproves a literal interpretation of Genesis, but it does not remotely disprove the existence of God. As Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna wisely wrote in a recent New York Times Op-Ed, "Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science."

Many secularists assume, as Coyne does, that the ultimate goal of all Christians "is to replace naturalist science with spiritualist thinking." As evidence of this sinister plot, Coyne quotes Jon Buell, President of the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (which holds the copyright on the prominent I.D. textbook Of Pandas and People): "We have to inundate [young Americans] with a rational, defensible, well argued Judeo-Christian world view."

The Christian worldview, as I read it in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, includes beliefs like this:

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

What the heck is wrong with that?

Credit, or blame, for this post goes to him, who sent me the TNR article today, and him, who helped me organize my thoughts.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Justice Sunday II: This Time It's Personal

jus·tice n. The upholding of what is just, especially fair treatment and due reward in accordance with honor, standards, or law; to treat adequately, fairly, or with full appreciation.

What was originally planned as a rally of support for Bush's Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts in the face of anticipated Democratic hostility ended up being an all-out assault on the judicial branch of our government.

Two things went wrong with the organizers' original vision: one, despite a lot of cautious concern on the part of Democrats regarding the nominee, aside from the idiots at NARAL, major organizations and individuals have largely refrained from rushing to judgment. Two, it turns out that the nominee once volunteered to advance the homosexual agenda by doing pro-bono work on the 1996 Romer v. Evans.

You see, Justice Sunday is not about partisanship, it's not about fairness, it's not about an out-of-control judiciary, and it's not really about religious freedom. It's about homophobia. And try as they might, they can't spin away the fact that Judge Roberts' personal ideology -- whatever that might be -- at least one time did not get in the way of his commitment to fair treatment of Americans under the law.

In their warped view of America and how its government should function, "justice" means gays have no rights and no public voice.

The reaction to the disclosure about Roberts' pro bono work was so toxic that at least one organization formally requested that Bush withdraw the nomination, and instead of rallying to support the nominee, they prayed for him. Specifically, "We pray for Judge Roberts that he would, in fact, be a justice who would honor the Constitution," intoned Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council. Read that carefully. That's not an endorsement. That translates into, "Dear God, please let him be a narrow-minded tool like the rest of us."

You see, there's not a lot of room for dissent with these folks. There's no "agree to disagree." CNN reports that Senator Bill Frist, who got top billing for Justice Sunday I, "wasn't invited to address Justice Sunday II because he angered the events' organizers by voicing his support for expanded human embryonic stem cell research. "

"The goal of the rally was to educate evangelical Christians about the U.S. Supreme Court and get them talking to friends and elected officials about what they want from the justices," said Perkins.

If education was the goal, they fell a little ways short. "Activist justices -- we're trying to find out what we can do to stop that activity," said rally attendee Mike Miller. "Our laws are based on the Ten Commandments." Uhhh...? As I've written in the past, at best there are four commandments which can be said to be in common with American law. Someone get Mr. Miller a dictionary and help him understand the difference between democracy and theocracy. A history textbook might be useful, too.

"These activist, unelected judges believe they know better than the American people about the direction the country should go. The framers of our great nation did not intend for the courts to have absolute and final power over us," complained James Dobson. I guess it takes an unelected, unaccountable activist to know one.

We should be very worried: a group of Americans claiming to be defenders of "the framers of our great nation," who pray for judges who will "honor the Constitution," have set out to attack and paralyze one entire branch of the government those framers created.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Thoughts on Bush's Mom Problem

Go here for an interesting analysis of the Cindy Sheehan situation.

Also, this comment on the significance of the Valerie Plame scandal: "I think it's something that people will forget about when the next blonde girl runs away and gets eaten by a shark."

And now back to our regularly scheduled hiding in the dark from the miserable humidity outside.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Deep Thought Fridays

Okay, after the last couple days I decided it was time to lighten up.

Two of Bremerhaven Zoo's gay humboldt penguins /Europics

A penguin walks into a department store and sees a beautiful display of bright, shiny cylindrical objects. He waddles over to the salesman and squawks, "Hey, what's that?"

The salesman says, "Why, it's a thermos."

The penguin says, "What's it do?"

The salesman says, "It keeps hot things hot and cold things cold."

"Wow!" exclaims the penguin in delight.

When he comes home to the zoo from his day of shopping, his same-sex domestic partner says, "Whatcha got there?"

"This? Why, it's a thermos."

"Oh. What does it do?"

"It keeps hot things hot and cold things cold."

"Neat. Got anything in it?"

"Yes. Coffee, and a popsicle."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Evolutionary Biology is Key to Understanding God

Well, after my last post on this topic I had hoped to leave it aside for a while until the wounds healed over a little bit, but here we go again.

A friend emailed me this morning to be sure I saw Jacob Weisberg's piece on intelligent design in Slate today. (Dear, I read Slate every day.) He saw it as a good argument as to why discussion of God's role in evolution "has absolutely no place in a science classroom."

I have never suggested otherwise. In fact, a week ago I wrote, "I think it would do Christianity more good to have biology taught in Sunday school than to have religion taught in science class."

Furthermore, the Weisberg article is crap. It is the pure, unmitigated theophobic drivel of kneejerk secular fundamentalists who know and understand even less about intelligent design and religion than George W. Bush knows about evolution.

My friend accused me of talking out of my ass, even saying "only an incredibly misguided person" would argue "that evolution is essentially directionless and random.'" Then he sends me an article, hoping to rebut my points, that talks about "the prevailing scientific view of evolution as an unguided, random process."

I acknowledge that one of the major problems is that a vast number of self-described Christians also do not understand the issue. Intelligent Design is not a "rival" theory. It cannot, as many have pointed out, even accurately be called a "theory." It does not seek to supplant evolution, so therefore George Bush is wrong when he suggests "both sides ought to be properly taught."*

Intelligent Design is unscientific. It picks up where science leaves off, and can never follow: that is, the quite reasonable assumption that God is responsible for the scientific phenomena which we can observe in a laboratory. It is frankly a much more plausible explanation for the world in which we live than ascribing everything to a series of genetic accidents resulting from a causeless Big Bang that coincidentally happened to create the perfect conditions for life on Earth.

The flaw in Weisberg's understanding that unravels his entire argument is the misconception that a) Intelligent Design is Creationism dressed up in a lab coat and b) all people of faith regard Scripture as literally true and therefore Intelligent Design is a desperate, last-gasp attempt to get science to resemble Genesis. Weisberg writes, "Evolutionary theory may not be incompatible with all forms of religious belief, but it surely does undercut the basic teachings and doctrines of the world's great religions."

What Weisberg doesn't know about religion could fill a Bible.

American Evangelicalism is a fragment of the Christian world that has a disproportionate media presence and political influence. They proceed from the instantly disprovable assertion that the Bible is literally true in all instances. (I say instantly disprovable because the Bible contradicts itself in several ways in several places.) Any attempt to invalidate the veracity of a particular Biblical passage -- Genesis 1, for starters -- threatens to undermine the entire Evangelical framework. If Genesis 1 isn't true, then perhaps neither is Matthew nor Romans nor the Book of Revelation. Fundamentalists of both stripes use this idiotic "logic": Christians feel their faith is threatened by the implications, and secularists stick out their tongues to say, "See, it's all nonsense." But if Genesis 1 is not literally true, it does not logically follow that Matthew 5 is false.

For many Christians, belief in the literal 7-day creation is the furthest thing from a "basic teaching" or "doctrine." There is no record in the Gospels of Christ going around testing people on their fidelity to the Genesis creation story or any other Old Testament story. Jesus Christ came to teach us how to behave. My acceptance that the earth is billions of years old, which contradicts Genesis, does not threaten the message of the Gospel: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself."

If you doubt my assertion that belief in a seven day creation is not a central doctrine of Christianity, I might refer you to the Nicene Creed. This was a statement drafted by various bishops under the auspices of Emperor Constantine during the fourth century. To this day it is recited in Christian churches, spelling out for us what are the non-debatable articles of faith. The Creed says, "We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen." That's all it says about creation. Belief in literal Creationism is not central to Christianity. End of discussion. I just blew Weisberg's entire premise.

It is a fair question to ask, however, how it is that I maintain my faith in a religion centered around a book that has been scientifically proven to be inaccurate.

This may sound like a Clintonian evasion, but it depends on what you mean by "accurate." I believe that Genesis contains truths, even as it is not literally true. As I frequently point out, Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God exclusively in the form of parables, which I believe is a warning to look past the storytelling surface of most of the Bible to seek deeper meaning within. Fundamentalists reject this thinking, insisting that even Revelation is literally true, which is a frightening prospect.

Here's why my faith is not threatened by evolution. Weisberg himself cites an explanation of the relationship between science and Christianity by Kenneth Miller, a biology professor at Brown University. (JWC, this is required reading.) Miller writes, "to a believer, even in the most traditional sense, evolutionary biology is not at all the obstacle we often believe it to be. In many respects, evolution is the key to understanding our relationship with God."

This is what is meant by Intelligent Design: Miller explains, "As more than one scientist has said, the truly remarkable thing about the world is that it actually does make sense. The parts fit, the molecules interact, the darn thing works. To people of faith, what evolution says is that nature is complete."

* When I earlier described Bush's statement on the teaching of Intelligent Design as "admirable," I was commenting on the irony that a narrow-minded, arrogant ideologue for whom dissent equals treason was extolling the virtues of being exposed to new ideas.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Which Came First, the Chicken or the Opera?

Recently a friend of mine posted a blog about a rather virulent response he received to some earlier offhanded remarks on the difference between opera and musical theater.

To wit, my friend had written "operas emerge from the tradition of classical music, while musicals emerge from the tradition of drama" and "Operas are pieces of vocal classical music to which a story is loosely set." The reader commented, "Everything you wrong" and "Story is always first in opera with the music following from the situation and the characters."

As ill-informed as my blogger friend's stance might seem, he's more right than she is.

The question of whether story or music is more important has been a centuries-long debate, and the composer Richard Strauss actually wrote a full-length opera, Capriccio, on the subject, in which the Countess has to decide between two suitors, a poet and a composer. She goes to bed without telling us her choice. But what is the difference between, say, Götterdämmerung and Chicago? (Chicago will get you home before The Golden Girls is on.)

Mankind has probably been using music to aid dramatic storytelling since we lived in caves, so the actual "origin" of opera is lost to the mists of ancient history. But what we call "opera," which is the Italian word for the Latin "opus," meaning "work," had its formal beginnings in Florence at the end of the 16th century. As with other artforms during the renaissance, there was a fascination with idealized visions of classical Greek and Roman culture.

There was a desire to present ancient Greek dramas in an "authentic" manner. Since research indicates that the great dramas of Euripides and Sophocles were at least partly sung or chanted, a group of scholars known as the Florentine Camerata set about devising a way to provide music for them, and what they came up with resembles the recitativo accompagnato of later composers like Händel. There were no long, beautiful arias, tuneful duets our rousing ensembles; it was just the text of the drama "set" in a rhythmic approximation of actual speech patterns, accompanied by a very small orchestra (harpsichord and a couple of string instruments).

So, no, in fact it is exactly wrong to say that opera developed from a musical rather than dramatic tradition.

It is also exactly wrong to say that the story is always first. As European music grew more complex and opera grew in popularity, the demand for performances roughly mirrored today's audience for Hollywood blockbuster movies; the biggest stars could be counted on to show up and do what they do, and whether the story made sense or not was hardly a primary concern.

Most composers placed a high value on drama, but the demands of the market sometimes made high standards impossible. In-demand composers working on commission often had to churn out several operas a year: Donizetti wrote 70 operas between 1818 and 1843; Rossini wrote 40 before he retired at the age of 36 in 1828 and became a chef. To save time, composers often recycled good pieces from unsuccessful shows. Perhaps most famously, Rossini took his overture from Elisabetta, Regina d'Inghilterra and stuck it on the front of Il barbiere di Siviglia. If music "always" follows from the situation and the characters, I have a hard time seeing a relationship between Figaro's capers and Queen Elizabeth I.

And then there's Richard Wagner, who went from straightforward storytelling in Der Fliegende Holländer and Lohengrin to Parsifal, where what "story" exists is merely a skeletal framework upon which to hang a deep philosophical treatise. Of course, Wagner didn't call Parsifal an opera. It's a "Bühnenweihfestspiel."* (Gesundheit.)

But you know, if you're going to compare opera and musical theater, convincing, compelling drama isn't the standard to go by. Dance of the Vampires, anyone?

So what is the difference?

Mike's whole thing got started because our favorite intellectuals down at the New York Post called Caroline, Or Change an "opera" because it is through-sung. But that's hardly the criterion; by that standard, Les Miserables is an opera while Carmen, Fidelio, Die Fledermaus and Die Zauberflöte are not because they have spoken dialogue. And then there's Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, which has no music.**

One might be tempted to argue that operatic music is more "sophisticated" or "complex," but having sung them I can tell you that Bernstein and Sondheim can be every bit as harmonically and rhythmically complex as Puccini. You could almost say that musical theater grew out of "popular" music as opposed to opera, except that, especially in the 19th century, opera was popular music. In the days before Linda Ronstadt and Eminem, young ladies would entertain themselves at parties attempting to sing "Di tanti palpiti" and "Caro nome." (Actually, in New York City, you can still find parties like that...and it's not just the ladies singing "Caro nome.") Nineteenth-century opera tended to be nationalistic, and you'll find folk-music influences from Weber to Mascagni to Massenet.

It's not a fully satisfying answer, but I think the principle difference is the demand placed upon the singers. I say "not fully satisfying" because Purcell's Aeneas is a far easier sing than Elphaba, and the tenor tessitura in Jesus Christ Superstar is right up there with I Puritani. If you can sing "Glitter and be Gay," you can sing "Je veux vivre." But the fact is that high school girls across America can sing Maria or Eliza Doolittle just fine, but you don't see community theater productions of Tristan und Isolde. (Thank God. The Vienna Opera meant to give the world premiere back in the 1860s, but gave up after seventy rehearsals and deemed it "unperformable.") Evita might seem like a marathon, but it's no Brünnhilde.

Futhermore, the critical standard to which classical performers are held far outpaces that of Broadway stars. Leaving aside the deplorable state of acoustics on Broadway that rely totally on deafeningly amplified music, in terms of intonation, musical accuracy, diction, vocal health and idiomatic performance across a wide range of styles, being a professional opera singer requires abilities that make musical theater singers look like church choir ladies.

But that's comparing Aidas to Oklahomas.

*Stage Dedication Festival Play
** That's a joke. I just don't like Stravinsky.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

I Smell Something, But Not a Pulitzer

Move over Seymour Hersh. I know you think you're all big and everything with your repeated exposés on the Iraq war, but as an investigative reporter you've got nothing on the venerable New York Post.

Yes, the paper that brought you the exclusive, full-color front page scoop that John Kerry had picked Richard Gephardt as his running mate and continues to cover the Monica Lewinsky scandal as it develops has scored another journalistic triumph, revealing information that will shake America to its very foundations.

There are gays on Broadway.

The world of Broadway theater is so gay, in fact, that the headline reads, THE GAY WHITE WAY.

Just how gay is it? Well, come September, both leads in the current revival of Fiddler on the Roof will be played by homosexuals. I mean, wow, that's even gayer than the second cast of the La Cage aux Folles!

Rosie O'Donnell will take over the role of Golde, starring opposite the Tevye of fellow queer Harvey Fierstein. (No word on whether any supporting cast members, chorus, orchestra or crew might possibly also be homosexuals.)

In addition to being a lesbian, the Post dramatically reveals that O'Donnell is Irish-American, and will be playing a "devout Orthodox Jewish wife and mother living in a tiny Russian village." The longstanding and questionable practice of so-called "color-blind" or "open" casting in the theater world is finally getting the media attention it deserves. What's next? A Macbeth who's not Scottish?

Reaction to this "un-orthodox" move has not been unanimously enthusiastic. Bill Hoffman, the intrepid reporter responsible for bringing us this crucial information, managed to obtain the following statement from the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America: "No comment."

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Best Spam Ever

I found this in my in-box tonight and had to open it because the subject heading read:

Awkwardly the colossal ocean between a broken closet look behind the farm

Well, I just had to know what that was about. So I opened it up and was disappointed to read,

"Refinance Today Get A Free Quote Save Thousands"

That wasn't very interesting. But...the words were all spaced out at random intervals, and as I looked closely, I could just barely make out more text in the faintest of grey fonts. Hmmm. So I clicked and dragged the cursor over the email and highlighted everything, just like those coloring books where you used to have to scribble that funny white no-ink pen over the page in order to make the picture appear. And then, voila. Some truly outstanding prose.

The dirty sports between the restaurant listen the bumpy and cuddly bedroom. drowsy Refinance eel Today facilitates Save foundry Thousands nucleic The broken and miniature library change. workman Get larval a aberration Free grocer Quote begs Now affront The curly veterinarian about the cuddly and damp doctor equally bring the little and giant sports. Fatally the frontyard beneath a great castle ask the cuddly farm behind the dusty bedroom doubtfully. The chilly sports about a damp mall count the museums. Briefly a little mall at the creepy grocery annually cut the fat mall before the bumpy closet. tortuous

I mean, aside from slight overkill on the word "cuddly," this is brilliant. I'm going to start reading all my spam!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

New Favorite Blog

Now, I really don't pay attention to pop culture and honestly I'm not into celebrities or fashion or any of that stuff.

But please, go here immediately.

The archives are must-reads (especially the Britney section).

"Haven't y'all ever seen a pregnant lady wear a tablecloth to the video store? Jeez."

Friday, August 05, 2005

Nobody Who Speaks Christian Could Be an Evil Man

In Episode 9F22 of The Simpsons, Sideshow Bob is being cross-examined at a parole hearing following his conviction for the attempted murder of Marge's sister Selma. The prosecutor is attempting to determine if Bob would pose a threat to Bart if released.

Lawyer: "But what about that tattoo on your chest, doesn't it say, 'Die Bart, Die'?"

Sideshow Bob: "No, that's German for 'The Bart, The.'"*

A female parole board member then rules, "No one who speaks German could be an evil man!"

I was reminded of this hilarious, classic episode today while reading a CNN piece about Bush's continued slide in the polls.

Not good news for the man who claimed a "mandate" in November and declared his intention to spend his political capital. Alas, like the Clinton budget surplus, it done got spent already.

Overall job approval rating is at 42%, the lowest of his presidency. 38% approve of his handling of Iraq, and 48% say he is honest, compared to 50% who say he is not. (The remaining 2% are presumably waiting until the Senate can question John Roberts before they decide.)

Some folks stand by their man, however.

"He's a man of character," said Cheryl Cheyney, a school bus driver from Cumming, Georgia, and a Republican. "He's very honest in the things he says. I agree with his belief system, the way he believes in God and is not afraid to show it. That's very important to me."

*As I speak German, I feel compelled to point out that this is grammatically incorrect. Bart is a boy, so therefore it would have to be "Der Bart, Der."

Thursday, August 04, 2005

He's No Scalia

Well, the jury's still out on Supreme Court Nominee John G. Roberts, if you'll pardon the pun.

We've got a very enigmatic person on our hands.

The Christian right has been celebrating his nomination, describing him as "in the mold of Supreme Court justices...such as Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas."

There have been some odd things. I'm unhappy with his recent decision agreeing with the White House that Guantanamo Bay detainees are not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention. I'm disturbed by the french fry ruling, but then again in that case he was simply enforcing the law, even if I think the zero-tolerance policy resulting in the arrest of a 12 year old girl for eating a single french fry in the DC subway is, comment est-ce qu'on dit...fou?

I can accept that as White House counsel it was his job to advocate positions and policies that I would not agree with. I assume, also, that anyone with any integrity would not work for an administration if they opposed its policies; but still, this little technicality has allowed President Bush to cast his nominee as a centrist, even as extreme right wing ideologues such as James Dobson describe him as "unquestionably qualified."

These endorsements had me mildly worried. I wondered if the right wing knew something we didn't? Was he a stealth nominee? Or was he really a centrist? Bush has been known to misjudge nominees in the past. Remember Bernie Kerik?

There were some other things; he "forgot" he was a member of the conservative Federalist Society, and he previously acknowledged that Roe v. Wade was the "settled law of the land" and added, "there's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent." What is one to make of that?

And then came today's bombshell.

It turns out that Bush's darling nominee did pro-bono work on the 1996 landmark Romer v. Evans, which overturned Colorado's anti-gay legislation. Suzanne Goldberg, who was at the time on the staff of Lambda Legal, described the victory as "the single most important positive ruling in the history of the gay rights movement."

Yup, Roberts volunteered his time to assist the gay rights movement. In fact, when he was first approached about working on the case, his reported response was, "Let's do it."

I'm trying to picture Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas taking personal time to advance the homosexual agenda.

Mr. Dobson...any comment?

UPDATE: The New York Times reports, "James C. Dobson, chairman of the evangelical group Focus on the Family, said Judge Roberts's work in the case was "not welcome news to those of us who advocate for traditional values," though he said it did not necessarily mean that Judge Roberts shared the plaintiffs' views."

UPDATE 2: Conservative "pro-family" organization calls on President Bush to withdraw the nomination.


In other news, I received an email today from the American Family Association asking me to vote in a poll on whether I supported the teaching of intelligent design in public schools.

For the record, I voted no. (Currently the result is 95% in favor.) I still believe God is the driving force behind evolution, but frankly I think it would do Christianity more good to have biology taught in Sunday school than to have religion taught in science class.

Additionally, you may click here to sign the AFA's petition to support John Roberts.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Backpedaling Furiously

Remember when I told my mother to fuck off?


Okay, I see now that I went overboard in my rhetoric yesterday. I stand by my consistent statements that intelligent design does not belong in a science curriculum. I will also continue to press skeptics to consider that intelligent design is not crackpot mythology, or at least concede that their skepticism is no more scientifically valid than my faith. Or, at the very least, convince them that I.D. is not Creationism.

Whether you believe God is the driving force behind evolution or not does not change the facts that need to be taught.

It's not easy being in my position. By advocating intelligent design, I know that I'm throwing my hat in the same ring with a lot of crazies.

I am also well aware that the ideologues currently hijacking our government, aided by a credulous media eager for outrageous talking heads to increase ratings, have created a negative image of Christianity in the minds of many Americans. From televangelist sex-scandals and "God is going to call me home" pledge drives, to an evangelical President whose priorities include slashing programs that aid the poor to pay for tax cuts for the ultra rich while lying his way into a bloody conflict, to the Terri Schiavo morass...well, the list sadly goes on.

Nowhere is mistrust of people of faith more prevalent, or more understandable, than in the gay community. From severe mental distress inflicted during adolescence by well-meaning but misguided and misinformed parents, to conversion therapy, right on down the line to violence and murder, gay people have suffered tremendously.

Most of the blame lies with conservative evangelicals who have chosen to make their version of sexual morality the cornerstone of their faith and the top of their legislative agenda. But liberals and secular types have succombed to a double standard: though the liberal mantra is inclusive and respectful of the individual, somehow it's okay to lump "Christians" all together and say things about them they'd never say about other groups. Again, conservative Christians have done more than their fair share of damaging the reputation of the faith, but I'm not sure secularists are aware of their own hypocrisy.

For example, here are some charming comments left on the Washington Monthly blog on this very issue:

I have an idea. Let's teach kids both theories about Christmas. They can learn the Christ child/manger theory, and then they can learn the Santa Claus theory, and we can let them decide which theory they like better and want to believe in. I don't see why competing ideas should be kept out of the classroom.

To Christian Nuts everywhere:Why don't you wait for a divine miracle to make all public schools teach Christianity and leave science teaching to teachers?

If anything has been responsible for a lot of evil in the world, it is Christianity. How many people have been killed supposedly in the name of Christ? And I am not even talking about the Crusades, the pogroms, the Inquisition, the colonization of the Americas or similar incidents. Just think about the Reformation. There is plenty of evil to go around right there.

It's difficult for me to read things like this and I don't appreciate being lumped in with folks like James Dobson or Jerry Falwell or George Bush. Or the Inquisition. One of my goals is to get mistrustful secular types to see that Christian thought is diverse, and that Christianity can be a beautiful, empowering, comforting faith -- and to recognize that they already agree with much of Christ's message.

So yesterday I decided to be clever and lay a little trap in my blog. I thought, "Oh, won't it be delightful to set the secularists up for a dig at their intelligence based on their belief systems and let them see how it feels!"

Oh yes, Jesus would have been proud. Oops.

Instead of the anticipated bigoted, hypocritcal response I had envisioned, I ended up insulting a good friend who has only ever responded to my beliefs and opinions with objectivity and respect.

For that, I am deeply sorry.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

In the News Again: Intelligent Design

Oh dear, here we go again, the battle of the fundamentalists.

The President said yesterday he supported the teaching of intelligent design in schools.

"I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," Bush said. "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes."

This from a guy who surrounds himself with asskissers, which is how you say "sycophants" in Texan. His idea of being exposed to "different ideas" is to ask Laura.

Irony aside, this statement is not only admirable, it's downright liberal.

Now, do I think intelligent design should be taught in schools? No. If it seems more logical to you that this vast, complex, interconnected universe in which we live is the result of a series of random, causeless, purposeless, directionless coincidences, then I don't see how an education is going to be of much help to you anyway.

But I digress.

Let's get some things clear from the start. Intelligent Design and Creationism are NOT the same thing. Creationism is anti-science, it rejects hard facts in the name of scriptural inerrancy, even though the Bible contradicts its own account of the creation timeline by the second chapter of Genesis.

Creation-theory is Judeo-Christian; Intelligent Design accommodates all belief systems, atheism notably excepted.

Intelligent Design is not a "rival theory" to evolution. Intelligent Design accepts evolution.

Intelligent Design rejects the unscientific premise that evolution is unguided. Those who adhere to the theory of natural selection believe -- and I use that word intentionally -- that evolution is essentially directionless and random. Intelligent Design would accept, for example, that a certain change in genetics might give one population an advantage over another, to the extent that the newer version becomes dominant.

Where it diverges is at the pure conjecture that our universe is not developing according to divine plan. Secularists like to charge that there is no scientific proof for intelligent design, but as you likewise cannot ever prove that evolution is unguided, then they are both belief systems. As such, it would be wrong to teach one belief system to the exclusion of the other.

This doesn't require a massive reworking of biology curricula. Teach the research on evolution and then say, "Some people think God's doing it, and some don't." Ta-da. That's really all that needs to be said.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Bush Appoints Bolton to UN Post in Recess


Be Fruitful and Multiply

I was reading an article in National Geographic last night about stem cell therapy when I had a new insight into Genesis.

Chapter 2 tells us that God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, and then taking one of Adam's ribs, he formed Eve.

From one creature, suddenly there were two.