Alan K. Henderson's Weblog


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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Envelope, Please III

Andrew Sullivan is starting to roll out his annual awards, starting with the Malkin and Moore prizes for right- and left-wing hyperbole, respectively.

Extreme Makeover, Civilization IV Edition

Catherine II of Russia never looked this good.

Image is a 313K animated gif, created from screen captures taken from the game.

Civ4's rendition of the Czarina seems to have been inspired by this portrait. That's a scarf and not a ponytail, though.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Reasons For The Season

(Original posted on December 23, 2002)

While Christmas is officially a celebration of the birth of Jesus, for much of the Western world December 25 has come to be a celebration of family and community. No other time of the year is so thoroughly saturated with images pointing to our highest hopes for such relationships - and no other time of the year so effectively highlights the difference between our ideals and the world as it really is. Jesus came to Earth to bridge not only the chasm between humanity and God, but also that rift that separates people from each other. Christmas reminds us that we live in a broken world, and it seeks to encourage us by showing us through religious and even many secular trappings how that brokenness can be fixed.

Best of holiday wishes to all my readers.

The Envelope, Please II

It's time for Media Research Center's Best of Notable Quotables 2005. Quote of the Year goes to Mary Mapes:

Reporter Brian Ross: "Mary Mapes was the woman behind the scenes, the producer who researched, wrote and put together Dan Rather’s 60 Minutes report on President Bush’s National Guard service, a report which Rather and CBS would later apologize for airing...."
Ross to Mapes: "Do you still think that story was true?"
Ex-CBS producer Mary Mapes: "The story? Absolutely."
Ross: "This seems remarkable to me that you would sit here now and say you still find that story to be up to your standards."
Mapes: "I’m perfectly willing to believe those documents are forgeries if there’s proof that I haven’t seen."
Ross: "But isn’t it the other way around? Don’t you have to prove they’re authentic?"
Mapes: "Well, I think that’s what critics of the story would say. I know more now than I did then and I think, I think they have not been proved to be false, yet."
Ross: "Have they proved to be authentic though? Isn’t that really what journalists do?"
Mapes: "No, I don’t think that’s the standard."
— ABC’s Good Morning America, November 9.

The runner-up is Ted Turner, for his emulation of Walter Duranty:

Ted Turner: "I am absolutely convinced that the North Koreans are absolutely sincere. There’s really no reason for them to cheat [on nukes]....I looked them right in the eyes. And they looked like they meant the truth. You know, just because somebody’s done something wrong in the past doesn’t mean they can’t do right in the future or the present. That happens all the, all the time."
Wolf Blitzer: "But this is one of the most despotic regimes and Kim Jong-Il is one of the worst men on Earth. Isn’t that a fair assessment?"
Turner: "Well, I didn’t get to meet him, but he didn’t look — in the pictures that I’ve seen of him on CNN, he didn’t look too much different than most other people."
Blitzer: "But, look at the way, look at the way he’s, look at the way he’s treating his own people."
Turner: "Well, hey, listen. I saw a lot of people over there. They were thin and they were riding bicycles instead of driving in cars, but–"
Blitzer: "A lot of those people are starving."
Turner: "I didn’t see any, I didn’t see any brutality...."
— Exchange on CNN’s The Situation Room, Sept. 19.

Turner does Walter Duranty proud.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I'm Dreaming Of A Tacky Christmas

Via Jay Manifold, I give you the Cavalcade of Bad Nativities. I especially like the angry Mary and the alien visitation.

Update: I personally know someone who had photos of a nativity in which the entire cast is portrayed by pink flamingos.

Back In The USSR

The Russian town of Digora is erecting a statue of its most famous resident, Josef Stalin.

Brokeback Mountain

Amy Welborn links to two worthwhile reviews. Steven Greydanus says that the movie is somewhere between two noted leftist-friendly films, one that "insist[ed] on hearing the case for the opposite point of view," and one "work of uncomplicated agitprop":

Brokeback Mountain isn’t as exquisitely even-handed as Dead Man Walking, but it keeps the cards sufficiently mixed to feel far more honest than The Magdalene Sisters.

He is particularly disturbed, however, by the demonization of men and masculinity:

In the end, in its easygoing, nonpolemical way, Brokeback Mountain is nothing less than a critique not just of heterosexism but of masculinity itself. It’s a jaundiced portrait of maleness in crisis — a crisis extending not only to the sexual identities of the two central characters, but also to the validity of manhood as exemplified by every other male character in the film. It may be the most profoundly anti-western western ever made, not only post-modern and post-heroic, but post-Christian and post-human.

One wonders if author Annie Proulx is one of those stereotypical embittered man-hating radical feminists - assuming this element is present in the original short story.

Victor Morton notices something in the film that a lot of other people missed: the homosexual relationship portrayed in Brokeback "was portrayed as a destructive force of nature."

Now ... I'm not going to oversell BROKEBACK on these grounds. It's definitely not a Christian work, and one should approach it with caution. But if this story were about an illegitimate lisison between a married man and a married woman, maybe it would be far easier to see how comfortably BROKEBACK fits into the traditions and templates of romantic tragedy, and so (and this is what I care about here) not leap to conclusions about what the film is supposedly "endorsing." It'd be easier, in some quarters, to see that its low-key elegiac tone and its bittersweet ambivalence about an impossible love come straight out of BRIEF ENCOUNTER or THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. But the essence of tragedy is that every option be costly.

A film about a destructive adulterous affair is uplifting if one can regard the wives and children as acceptable collateral damage. Unfortunately, many viewers are so callous.

Monday, December 19, 2005

He Could Have Won A Grammy, Blogging In His Jammies

Michael J. Totten reports his meeting with Cairo blogger Big Pharaoh. Learn a little bit about Cairo bars, Egyptian history, and feline living standards.

(song reference)

Islamic Gender Apartheid

That is the title of Phyllis Chesler's FrontPage Magazine column, which describes the antihumanitarian treatment of women common to much of the Islamic world. Read the whole thing.

(Link via Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi email)

Just In Time For Christmas III

Used spy drone for sale.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Unclear Of The Concept

Andrew Sullivan doesn't know the meaning of dignity:

Two fascinating and largely positive reviews from the Catholic News Service and Christianity Today. My favorite line from CNS:

While the actions taken by Ennis and Jack cannot be endorsed, the universal themes of love and loss ring true.

Hard to summarize better the contradiction at the heart of the Church's teaching on homosexual dignity.

For those of you who brought your Bibles, turn to John 8:1-11:

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

"No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

There's more to this passage than the trap (an attempt to get Jesus to openly side with Mosaic law, which stipulated capital punishment for adultery, or Roman law, which barred the Jews from employing capital punishment), the mystery of what Jesus wrote in the dirt, the divine pardon, and the myth that this passage teaches against the "throwing of stones" (the myth is most popular among non-Christians who want to be free to criticize Christianity without reaping what they sow). Jesus behaves as if he were awfully concerned with the woman's dignity. He doesn't yell "Repent, whore!" He gets rid of the bloodthirsty riffraff and sends her on her way with a gentle reprimand.

(Note that Jesus was not always a respecter of dignity.)

A relationship can be wrong on one level and right on another. The adulterous woman could have loved her liaison in the true sense of the word - love is valuing one's welfare - but acting on her sexual attraction for him, and/or giving in to his sexual attraction for her, violates a marital bond (or two - it is unclear which, if not both, of the parties was married).

The contradiction is nonexistent because love and same-sex attraction are not the same thing, and the latter does not preclude the existence of the former (to a degree). None of us loves fully; every relationship that has a degree of rightness has some level of brokenness. One can respect dignity without expecting perfection. All of us have friends who do undignified things.

Of course, Sully doesn't believe that homosexuality constitutes brokenness. But the Church (and most of modern psychiatric research since it began) disagree. He needs to start his argument there.

Tell Me Something I Don't Know

How evil are you?

The Truth Is Out There

The secret plans of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy have been revealed:

It has been determined that our plans have reached such an advanced stage of realization that resistance is futile. Democrats, trial lawyers and the ACLU--read this and weep. The secret prison camps in an unidentified "-stan" country are ready. Join us or be assimilated.

Read the whole thing.

(Link via Instapundit)

I Think He's Got A Point

Morgan Freeman comes down on Black History Month (emphasis added):

Morgan Freeman says the concept of a month dedicated to black history is "ridiculous." "You're going to relegate my history to a month?" the 68-year-old actor says in an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes" to air Sunday (7 p.m. EST). "I don't want a black history month. Black history is American history."

An important part of American history is the migrations that led black Africans*, Southeast Asians, Ashkenazi Jews, Irish, Italians, Mexicans, etc. to these shores. History should teach how each of these significant migrations shaped the nation. We don't need set-aside months for any of them - or we wouldn't, if history were taught more thoroughly than it usually is.

(* Yes, "migration" isn't quite the most accurate description for most of these cases.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

What Is Torture?

For some time Andrew Sullivan has been railing against the Bush administration for sanctioning alleged acts of torture. In this post he strives to prove that one particular act of coercion - waterboarding - constitutes torture. This is the CIA definition of waterboarding, as excerpted in Sully's post:

The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

For those of you who brought your copy of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, turn to Part 1, Article 1 (emphasis added):

For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

What is wrong with this document: First is the use of the word severe. No legal definition is provided for this generally subjective term; therefore, its inclusion in the document clouds rather than clarifies the meaning of "torture."

The final clause is particularly troubling. The convention recognizes "severe" punishment as "torture," unless that punishment constitutes "lawful sanctions." The 1889 Japanese Constitution used such weasel words in those articles which enumerate that subjects have certain rights "within the limits of law." Thus in Meiji Japan, the lawmakers were above the Constitution, and whoever enforces the Convention gets to arbitrate what is and isn't "severe" and what is and isn't a "lawful sanction."

The legal definition of torture must be more specific. One critical issue unaddressed by the Convention is long-term effects. What sort of trauma arises from waterboarding? Does it even rise even to the level of that associated with such "lawful sanctions" as the Soviet gulag or Saddam Hussein's dungeons? I'd like to know.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Envelope, Please

Right Wing News has two lists: The 10 Biggest Stories Of 2005, and The 40 Most Obnoxious Quotes For 2005. On the latter, I especially like #20:

"Until your daddy learns that it's not 'fun' to kill, keep your doggies and kitties away from him. He's so hooked on killing defenseless animals that they could be next!" -- From a PETA booklet called "Your Daddy Kills Animals," which was designed to be handed out to children

Better keep Dad away from the blender, just to be safe.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Richard Pryor (1940-2005)

"When I was in Africa, this voice came to me and said, 'Richard, what do you see?' I said, 'I see all types of people.' The voice said, 'But do you see any niggers?' I said, 'No.' It said, 'Do you know why? 'Cause there aren't any.'"

- From Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip (source)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

No More Turns

Are you hopelessly addicted to the Civilzation? Do you spend most of your time plotting virtual world conquest? Is the phrase "My words are backed with NUCLEAR WEAPONS" always at the tip of your tongue? Do you measure time in turns instead of days, months, and years? Before it's too late, visit Civilization Anonymous for help.

In the main section, the following twelve steps to recovery scroll across the bottom of the page:

  1. We admit we are powerless over Civilization - that our lives have become unmanageable.
  2. We believe that a power greater than Sid Meier could restore us to sanity.
  3. We turn our will and our lives over to this greater power.
  4. We make a searching and fearless moral inventory of our turn-based gaming philosophy.
  5. We admit to one and all the exact nature of our Civilization addiction.
  6. We ask mercy upon Sid Meier to release us from our addictive tether and defects of character.
  7. We humbly submit to eliminating our shortcomings.
  8. We make a list of all persons we have harmed (not including in-game societies such as the Greeks, Romans, or Mongol hoards [sic] and make amends.
  9. We make direct amends to such people, exzcept when to do so would cause further harm.
  10. We continue to take personal inventory, and when we feel the urge to take a few Civ Aturns, we promptly admit it.
  11. We seen to improve our conscious selves, and to reject Sid Meier's siren song.
  12. We practice these steps in our daily lives and bring our message of hope and redemption to other Civilization IV addicts.

Hope is just a mouse-click away.

The "Wizards Of Winter" House

CBS News has a version of the popular video with far better resolution than the other known versions. For full screen display, right click the screen and go to Zoom > Full Screen.

Update: Wow! There's also a "Jingle Bells" version!

Update: Some background on the Christmas light display.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Christopher Robin Gets A Sex Change

Political Correctness in the Hundred Acre Wood:

POOR Christopher Robin. For 80 years there has been an enchanted place on the top of the forest where a little boy and his bear would always be playing.

But though Winnie the Pooh became a hugely successful brand, Christopher Robin just wouldn't sell.

"There's only one thing to be done," said the executives at Disney, and replaced him with a six-year-old girl.

Among the frantic merchandising activities laid on to mark the 80th anniversary of Hundred Acre Wood, Disney has commissioned an animated series My Friends Tigger and Pooh.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

More Global Warming

This time, in Texas.

Sixty-Four Years Ago

What I said then.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Where Have All The Good Times Gone?

Valerie Bertinelli and Eddie Van Halen are divorcing.

Christmas Cheer

Lord Spatula found this really cool video. Turn the volume up to 11.

Blogroll Tweakage

Always Low Prices--Always is retiring. Bloghost Kevin Brancato's other blog Truck and Barter will be joining the roster. It focuses on economics issues such as the Washington DC housing market and oil refineries.

Since bloghost Ellen is now back in the states and attending college, Stranger in a Strange Land now gets a US flag icon.

Ambrosia Ephemeris (Greece) and Sofia Sideshow (Bulgaria) have vanished from the Internet.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Just In Time For Christmas II

The store has gift suggestions.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Something For Firefly Fans

The Serenity movie, done with hand puppets.

(via Geekpress)

Today's Health Tip

Research shows that you can get a short-term memory boost from coffee.

Impeach Him Now!

President Bush is skipping out on jury duty!

Made Up My Mind To Make A New Start...

...going to from California with an aching in my heart...

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