I See Sedona’s Still Silly

For a brief and all-too-memorable two years of my life, we lived in Sedona, Arizona.  It’s a beautiful place, red rock country that will dye your white socks a nice shade of rust whilst hiking.  It’s also a total magnet for oddballs.

When we first moved there, back in the late 80s, an alarming number of the populace was convinced a space ship was going to emerge from Bell Rock, which to those who don’t think it’s shaped like a bell believe it’s shaped like a UFO.  This, of course, meant there was a UFO in it, and if you had the right crystal, you could summon the space ship that was to emerge on an auspicious day, and the aliens who had (for reasons I never learned) parked their ship under that mass of old sandstone would pick you up and give you a lift to some sort of very spiritual destination somewhere out in the universe.

Vendors set up roadside markets where quartz crystals lay on tables, sparkling in the sun.  I found myself browsing at one on a fine day, because I love crystals and was hoping to find a bargain.  Alas, all I found were overpriced rocks and one woman waving a fistful, exclaiming to her friend, “This one was cold, and this one was kind of warm, but this one’s hot!”  The fact that relative warmth may have been due to the fact there was a sun shade over part of the table didn’t seem to occur to her.  No, she was after something that would vibrate at just the right frequency for thumbing a ride with extraterrestrials. 

I gave it up as a bad job and left.  Perhaps that day in my tweens was a harbinger of my future skepticism.  Or maybe I’d just been exposed to too much New Age schlock.

The Great Day came, but the spaceship didn’t, and all those who had paid far too much for some decent quartz, sold their earthly belongings, and camped out in the desert waiting for Bell Rock to open would have had to slink despondently home if they hadn’t sold said home.

But even that rather spectacular fail didn’t shake their faith.  They still babbled on about wise aliens from other worlds and crystal magic and vortexes like the one by the Post Office that caused all the horrible car crashes.  No, cars didn’t crash because it was a badly designed, extremely busy t-shaped intersection with the worst visibility in town.  No, silly skeptics!  It’s obviously the malign influence of a bad vortex, not at all like the good vortexes out in the hills, where one could – well, do whatever it is New Agey folk do when communing with good vortexes.

Psychics and so forth continued selling their New Age kitsch downtown.  I should have got round to telling them to aim a sun lamp at the trays of crystals so they could sell more “hot” ones.

Years later, after I’d moved away, a pagan friend came to visit from parts east.  His friends had told him he had to see Sedona.  “It’s so spiritual,” said they.  They babbled on and on about its mystical powers and so forth, and sent him out on a mission: he just had to go, and report back.

He’s skeptical enough he took my warnings to heart, and tried to steel himself against disappointment, but his jaw still dropped when he saw what the spiritual mecca really was: no more than commercial kitsch slathered thick along the main drag, a tourist trap laid for the sensitive soul.  Nothing I’d said could quite capture the shock of the reality.  It’s really that bad.

Sometimes, I wonder if it’s still that bad.  And to my vast amusement, I discovered that it most definitely is (h/t):

On December 21, 2012 Mr. Peter Gersten plans to hurl himself off of Bell Rock in Sedona, AZ. It is his belief that a cosmic portal will open at this time and in this place, and that he will be delivered into a new, unfathomable opportunity. He is fully willing to die if he is wrong about the portal.

Ah, yes, I can say with some certainty that “he will be delivered into a new, unfathomable opportunity.”  It’s not every day the local coyote population has a smorgasbord plop down from the top of Bell Rock.

Let’s just hope all of the negative vibes from all the skeptical people laughing at him cause him to change his mind.  I mean, you know what negativity does to portals.  I mean, look what happened when a few locals poked fun at the idea a spaceship would emerge – no spaceship.  You can’t tell me that’s a coinkydink. 

We’ve already broken your portal, Mr. Gersten.  I’m sorry.  It won’t open due to all those bad vibrations.  You might as well stay home.

Luskin Does Lucy

It’s too bad I didn’t visit Lucy’s Legacy on the same day Casey Luskin did. Watching an IDiot ponder transitional fossils is almost as entertaining as watching Cons try to employ clever rhetoric. It’s even more enjoyable when people who know what the fuck they’re talking about get their hands on his burble and take him apart with gleeful precision:

I don’t know why I do it to myself. Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment and frustration. Every so often, I’ll feel the need to go to one of those Intelligent Design/Creationism blogs and get myself all angry and riled up. This morning I went over to Evolution News and Views and saw that Casey Luskin has been to the Pacific Science Center’s Lucy exhibit, and he’s soooooo not impressed. That’s okay though, because I’m not impressed with his critique.

Luskin says,

The first thing my friends and I noticed when seeing Lucy’s bones was the incompleteness of her skeleton. Only 40% was found, and a significant percentage of the known bones are rib fragments. Very little useful material from Lucy’s skull was recovered. (This seems to be common: many of the replica skulls of early hominids at the exhibit were clearly based upon extremely fragmentary pieces.) And yet, Lucy still represents the most complete known hominid skeleton to date.

I’m not sure if this is just a confusion of terms or just glaring ignorance, but Lucy is not the most complete fossil hominid known to date. Meet Nariokotome Boy. If you’re looking for complete skulls, let me introduce you to the Taung Child, Little Foot, Mrs. Ples, or KNM-ER 406. Or, open a book and introduce yourself to any number of the other skeletons that are comparatively or more complete than Lucy.

A Primate of Modern Aspect goes on to utterly demolish him, but the fun doesn’t end there. Afarensis gets his smackdown on:

In the second section Casey tries to cast doubt on the bipedality of Lucy by quoting from a News and Views article by Collard and Aiello. The Collard and Aiello article reports on a “letter” to Nature by Richmond and Strait called Evidence that humans evolved from a knuckle-walking ancestor. In that paper Richmond and Strait claim to do two things. First they provide evidence that Australopithecus anamensis and A. afarensis both share wrist morphology indicative of knuckle-walking. They then argue that knuckle-walking is a synapomorphy that links the African apes and humans. Once upon a time, and not all that long ago, the relationships between chimps, gorillas, and humans was considered an unresolved trichotomy. Quite a few people argued that chimps and gorillas were more closely related to each other than either was to humans. Others argued, based on morphological and genetic evidence, that chimps and humans were more closely related. Richmond and Strait’s results took away a crucial piece of evidence for the gorilla-chimp clade. Casey, having “…studied about Lucy and other fossils…” doesn’t mention any of this. Of course, if Lucy really is the commingled remains of who-knows-what as Casey argued above, then none of this matters and one has to wonder why Luskin goes futher. But he does. Says Casey:

Lucy did have a small, chimp-like head, but as Mark Collard and Leslie Aiello observe in Nature, much of the rest of the body of Lucy’s species, Australopithecus afarensis, was also “quite ape-like” with respect to its “relatively long and curved fingers, relatively long arms, and funnel-shaped chest.”

Given that Luskin is dedicated to exposing the misreporting on evolution, I’m sure you will be shocked as I am to find that this is only kind-of sort-of what Collard and Aiello said:

The basic facts are not in dispute. A. afarensis has a combination of traits that is not seen among living primates. In some respects, A. afarensis is quite human-like (for instance in the foot structure, nonopposable big toe, and pelvis shape). In others, it is quite ape-like (relatively long and curved fingers, relatively long arms, and funnel-shaped chest).

My goodness. An IDiot twisting the scientific literature to suit his own purposes? Say it ain’t so!

One day, for shits and giggles, I’m going to take a field trip to the Discovery Institute with a sack full of science journals and ask them for their peer-reviewed contributions to science. I’ll ask for their original fieldwork, their dramatic finds, and Nobel Prize-winning research. They’ll try to hand me Luskin’s lunacy and Egnor’s ignorance, because it’s all they’ve got. And that’s their only contribution: in being such ignorant fuckwits, they allow actual scientists to shine in the rebuttal.

I’m discovering that you can indeed learn a lot from a dummy, because the smart people have such fun taking them apart.

(George points us to Afarensis’ follow-up, which is an excellent chaser.)

No Room To Whine (But O’Beirne Whines Anyway)

Somehow, it seems some loyal Bushies got the idea that they were immortal. Jim O’Beirne, special assistant to the secretary of defense for White House liaisons, is off in a snit because – gasp! shock! – Obama has decided that fuckwitted Bush political hires in the DoD should be shown the exits:

On Tuesday, O’Beirne emailed the Bush loyalists who had learned of their looming dismissals from Scott Gration, a senior official on Obama’s transition team. In his seething missive, O’Beirne, the outgoing special assistant to the secretary of defense for White House liaisons, accused Team Obama of playing politics. As The Hill reported:

In the email, O’Beirne tried to assure the soon-to-be displaced employees that the decisions were based on “policy change in the Obama administration” and not based on performance.

However, he said, if employees “harbor residual doubts” then they can “content yourself with the likelihood that it was your outstanding performance as a Bush appointee that drew the opposition’s attention to you.”

“In that regard, you may take justifiable satisfaction that you were among the first to be chosen,” O’Beirne wrote.

Of course, when it comes to evaluating the qualifications of Bush appointees, Jim O’Beirne knows best.

As Rajiv Chandrasekaran detailed in his shocking 2006 account of the bungled American occupation of Iraq (Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone), O’Beirne was the gatekeeper on personnel assigned to Baghdad. And to be sure, the GOP loyalist and husband of crypto-conservative columnist Kate O’Beirne used the crudest of political litmus tests.

As the Washington Post reported in an excerpt from Chandrasekaran’s book:

To pass muster with O’Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn’t need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration.

O’Beirne’s staff posed blunt questions to some candidates about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade.

Unsurprisingly, the staff of Paul Bremer’s CPA in the Green Zone in Baghdad quickly resembled an after-hours cocktail party at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC):

Many of those chosen by O’Beirne’s office to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq’s government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who had never worked in finance — but had applied for a White House job — was sent to reopen Baghdad’s stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq’s $13 billion budget, even though they didn’t have a background in accounting.

As more and more of O’Beirne’s hires arrived in the Green Zone, the CPA’s headquarters in Hussein’s marble-walled former Republican Palace felt like a campaign war room. Bumper stickers and mouse pads praising President Bush were standard desk decorations. In addition to military uniforms and “Operation Iraqi Freedom” garb, “Bush-Cheney 2004” T-shirts were among the most common pieces of clothing.

“I’m not here for the Iraqis,” one staffer noted to a reporter over lunch. “I’m here for George Bush.”

And O’Beirne wants the fucking morons he hired to believe that their getting kicked to the curb has nothing to do with performance. Riiiggghhhtt.

I have a suspicion their dismissal had everything to do with performance. As in, shitty, inept, politicized, ridiculous performance. After all, Obama’s only giving the boot to ninety of these people so far. One assumes the 160 other DoD political appointees got no such boot because they’re not stark raving incompetents.

And, as Steve Benen pointed out, “when talking to officials at the Pentagon, it’s best not to refer to Barack Obama and his administration as ‘the opposition.’ He’s the next Commander in Chief.”

I’m sure that’s something O’Beirne and his gang of merry fuckwits will have plenty of opportunity to ponder as they nurse their smarting buttcheeks.

Airport Security: Ur Doin it Rong

If you want to get contraband past TSA, you’re better off with a with a pocket knife than Peter Pan:

When Jessica Fletcher was flying home to New York from Las Vegas, she went through the usual security rigamarol just like everyone else. She knew all the usual rules and regulations, but still found herself surprised when they confiscated something she thought of as being fairly innocuous: a jar of peanut butter.

“I’m a poor, young New Yorker, and it’s cheaper in Vegas,” she explains. “But seriously, what am I going to do with peanut butter? Sneak up behind the pilot and shove it in his face, causing him to veer off course and send us hurtling toward earth?”

But what Fletcher finds most confusing about the scenario is what she mistakenly got away with on several flights to Dallas, Texas and Brussels, Belgium — carrying a combination wine opener/pocket knife through security in her carry-on bag. It wasn’t until her third trip between her home and Dallas that security finally confiscated it.

Strangely enough, I can see a modicum of sense: after all, with reinforced cockpit doors and nervous passengers ready to tackle terrorists, a knife could do a lot less damage than a jar of C4 disguised as food. But you’d think TSA could’ve, y’know, brought one of the bomb dogs over, or stuck a fork in the jar to determine that, yes, this is stuff that will only explode if Mythbusters gets their hands on it.

The two goobers this article interviews for suggestions on improving security don’t help the situation. One swears by profiling, which may be kosher in Israel but is a civil liberties nightmare here. The other is a babbling freak who thinks terrorists will somehow employ 90 year-old wheelchair-bound grandmothers if we stop searching them.

I hope President-Elect Obama puts a sane person in charge of developing new ways to keep us safe. This Keystone Kops routine is getting ridiculous.

Profaning the Sacred

You’d think nobody had ever abused a Communion wafer before:

Here’s a story that will destroy your hopes for a reasonable humanity.

Webster Cook says he smuggled a Eucharist, a small bread wafer that to Catholics symbolic of the Body of Christ after a priest blesses it, out of mass, didn’t eat it as he was supposed to do, but instead walked with it.

This isn’t the stupid part yet. He walked off with a cracker that was put in his mouth, and people in the church fought with him to get it back. It is just a cracker!

Catholics worldwide became furious.

Would you believe this isn’t hyperbole? People around the world are actually extremely angry about this — Webster Cook has been sent death threats over his cracker.

Death threats. Police protection for Communion wafers. Calls for this poor schmo to be expelled. I know it’s an important symbol, and I know some people think religion’s the most important thing humanity has. But for fuck’s sake – if it really is the body of Christ now, don’t you silly shits think God can take care of his own smiting?

That’s what really terrifies them, actually: the fact that it’s all just fiction. That’s why it’s taken so damned seriously. They know if they let one person get away with it (not like many people haven’t, and without much more than a brief snort of outrage), then their symbol, powerless in itself, will lose its power.

I’d just like to ask: what the fuck has a Communion wafer done for humanity that warrants police protection? And why can’t the Constitution get the same respect these days?

Our Congress is about to take another step along the road to making the basis of our government so much empty rhetoric. Pretty words on old paper. They’d be up in arms if someone walked out with the original document and burned it, but as for the real protections it enshrines, those are okay to destroy.

Symbols are important, but ultimately, they’re just symbols. It’s the actions, the philosophies, and the laws they stand for that are of true importance.

John Pieret responded to PZ’s call for blasphemy by pointing out how we’d feel if Ken Hovind got his hands on Darwin’s original notebooks, defaced and destroyed them. Fair enough. We’d be upset. But what would he have destroyed? Is Darwin’s great contribution those notebooks, or the ideas within them? The notebooks would be gone, and no doubt they’d be a loss. But the ideas within them can’t be destroyed so easily.

I’d argue the same for Communion wafers. One college kid walking out with one wafer isn’t going to destroy the entirety of the Catholic faith. So it was consecrated. So it was the body of Christ. How many millions of those are passed out every Mass? Is Catholicism really so weak that the loss of a single holy wafer can deal it a death blow?

I’d like to say this to all of the folks who’ve totally gone off the rails on this: think about what’s more important, the symbol or the faith? Haven’t you rather mistaken one for the other? Isn’t there something in the Bible about not taking the symbols to be more valuable than the thing itself?

And this is why the whole farce made me think of the vote that’s going to rip a giant hole right through the Fourth Amendment. This will be done by people who would not dream of harming the physical document. Ask them to take a pair of scissors in hand and cut out the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution from the original document, and they wouldn’t. Ask them to vote to destroy the protections it enshrines, and they shall do so with nary a twinge.

A few people in the House and Senate understand. They know that you could put the Constitution itself through a papershredder and then light the fragments on fire, and nothing would change. They know that what is really going to harm that document is voting its protections away.

They know better than to mistake the symbol, no matter how sacred, for the thing itself. It’s too bad so many others get it backwards.

John Dean Loses His Fucking Mind

John Dean is one of my favorite columnists ever. There’s just a certain something wonderful about a disillusioned conservative with brains like a Ginsu knife that delights the mind. He’s provided me much insight into the neoconservative mind over these last several years. He’s annihilated their illusion of compassionate conservatism and revealed their authoritarian fuckery for what it really is. He possesses one of the finest analytical minds I’ve ever come across in politics.

Which is why his recent FindLaw column on Obama’s FISA flop left me sputtering.

He’s taken the breathing space opened up by Senators Dodd and Feingold and studied the FISA atrocity in some detail. His conclusions appear to be those of a man who desperately needs to believe that Obama has some cunning plan shoved up a nether orifice, and shall whip it out like a lightsaber upon being elected.

Because this legislation addresses only civil liability, Senator Obama has a unique opportunity to show that his leadership as President would, in fact, bring a change to Washington. Indeed, he can both support the amendments now pending (for the reasons he stated), and make clear that as President he will request that his attorney general determine if criminal actions should be taken for the blatant violations of the criminal law. Actually, he has already said this, but in a larger context.

What the fuck?

First off, shorter Senator Obama on why he flopped on FISA: “I’m shit-scared the Republicons will call me a sissy, so I’m going to roll over, show my belly, spew their party-line on national security, and hope they don’t hit me in the face.”

Secondly, this is not a “unique opportunity to show that his leadership as President would…bring change to Washington.” It’s a unique opportunity to show the right they’ve still got Democrats by the balls and are twisting hard. This “he’ll have his AG look into it” meme is complete and utter bullshit. What it really means is, he’ll put on a dog and pony show for the party faithful, but he won’t do jack fucking shit as far as taking these fuckers down, because that would just cause too much drama on the right. Trust me in this. A politician who doesn’t have the cajones to stand up now isn’t suddenly going to find them once he’s in office.

And thirdly, who’s to say that even if this is Obama’s master plan, Monkey Boy Bush won’t throw a gigantic wrench in it?

If Senator Obama is going to honor the statement he made to Will Bunch, then he should place the Bush Administration and telecommunications companies on notice of his intentions. This will provide President Bush an opportunity to immunize those who broke the law at his request from criminal prosecutions, which he can do as long as he is President with his power to grant pardons. For Bush to issue a blanket pardon in this situation would be unprecedented, and it would offer Bush a chance at historical ignominy far exceeding what he already faces, and thus potentially become a powerful issue for the Democrats to campaign on during this 2008 election year.

Are you fucking kidding me, John? This is George Fucking W. Fucking Bush we’re talking about. He doesn’t give two tugs on a dead dog’s dick about precident. This is the batshit insane little megalomaniac who authorized torture. This is Bubble Boy. This is Mr. “I can do whatever I want – ExecutivePriveledgeNationalSecurity neener neener neener!” man. You want to tell me again he wouldn’t issue a blanket pardon and fully believe history will judge him a hero for it?

If it were issued by Bush, however, a blanket pardon to his “national security” miscreants would require acceptance by them of the fact that they had broken the law, and thus an admission of guilt. Were Bush to issue such a remarkable pardon, it would, of course, cement his historical stature as several notches below even that of Richard Nixon, who refused to pardon those who (many “for national security reasons”) engaged in the so-called Watergate abuses of presidential power on his behalf. Not many presidents want to be viewed by history as worse than Nixon. And a blanket pardon would be an admission by Bush that his war on terror has been a lawless undertaking, operating beyond the bounds of the Constitution and statutes that check the powers of the president and the executive branch. It would be an admission by Bush, too, of his own criminal culpability (which is why Nixon refused to grant
his aides a pardon.)

Bush is very politically savvy.

*massive spit-take*


All righty then.

Hey, John. Wanna buy a beachfront condo in Yuma? Because if you can sit there with a straight face and tell me that any of what you just said would stop Bush from issuing blanket pardons if he got the idea stuck in his constricted cranium, if you believe for an instant this man has any sense of shame, decency, or for that matter reality, and you furthermore think he’s very politically savvy, you’re a prime target for my nefarious real estate deals.

And just how rosy are the glasses through which you’re viewing Obama these days?

In short, Senator Obama has much to gain by restating his position, unless his beliefs on the subject have changed. Conversely, Bush and
McCain have much to lose if a blanket pardon becomes an issue. However, if Obama now has no stomach to enforce the criminal law, as he once proclaimed he would, he may pay a significant cost for balking. In particular, he is likely going to lose more than a few among his base of supporters who are upset with his flip-flop on the FISA amendments, for many of these unhappy supporters may currently take comfort in knowing (as few others know) that he could hold violators responsible for their criminal actions – and will retain that power even if the current legislation becomes law.

Holy fucking shit. Which supporters have you been talking to? The airy-fairy ones who think Obama walks on water, eh? Let me ‘splain a little something: his realistic supporters (Dana waves madly) take not one jot or tittle of comfort in knowing that he could hold these lawbreaking assbandits responsible for sodomizing the law, because we’re pretty damned sure such a thing isn’t going to happen.

Look, the man’s a pol, and he’s acting like a typical spineless Dem in the face of Republicon attack dogs. If he caves now, nothing’s going to keep him from caving later. Even if he locates his balls, the Bush regime will have sabotaged any possible chance he has of prosecuting lawless telecoms and the government crooks that paid them to rip up the Constitution and use it to wipe themselves off after their orgy. And the government will still have these sweeping surveillance powers that make a mockery of the Fourth Amendment.

Nothing can change that if this law passes.

If Obama wants to show us what a sensational, unique leader he is, he’ll do it by going back to his original position and putting his foot down. He’ll show it by voting down this bill. He won’t do it by winking and nudging and hinting that he might just have this amazing idea for bringing the telecoms to justice.

It’s not even about them, John. That’s the hook. It’s the prestige. It’s the smoke and mirrors that we’re having to use to protect what’s really at stake: the fucking Fourth Amendment.

And if Obama can’t do that, he deserves to get his ass kicked. He’s not a fetish or an object of worship: he’s a servant of the people. He’s sworn to uphold the Constitution.

It’s time you both remembered that.