Tag Archives: politics

Free as in Speech

I hold Westboro Baptist Church in the greatest contempt. They are hateful, graceless, and they shame the name of Christ. That said, I applaud today’s Supreme Court ruling that upheld their right to speech, even hateful speech.

The debate over the 1st amendment often gets mired in detours over sexual content and entertainment, over content distributors editing TV and films to increase market share to cries of “censorship” from the content creators.

It’s easy to forget that the original intent of the 1st Amendment was to protect political speech, and especially political speech that is unpopular and confrontational, even hateful. It is a shield that protects not only the speaker, but that protects society from a barren marketplace of ideas, where the monopoly of populism silences all other voices. Whatever else it is, the actions of Westboro are political, ideological expression. They are exactly the kind of speech that the 1st Amendment was written to protect.

You may not like the kind of speech that Westboro engages in – I don’t know anyone who does. Even so, we should be proud of a legal and political system that protects their right to freely speak.

And, once we have patted ourselves on the back, we should use every other means possible to shout them down. We should not use the law to silence public speech, but we should absolutely use public speech to shout down horrible ideas.

Notes From an Undecided Voter #1 – Health Care

Yes, it’s true.  I am an honest-to-goodness undecided.  I don’t want to get into the reasons that I am undecided as much as get my thoughts on screen as to what it would take to make me stop being an undecided voter.  This first one is directed at the Senator from Illinois.  

Hey there Barackster.  

So, listen:  Health care in this country is messed up, and everyone knows it.  However, when I hear your compatriots talk about how they’re gonna fix it for us, my eyes start to glaze over a bit.  To my formerly Republican ears, it sounds a lot like you guys want to fix the blame for our national health care problems squarely on “Someone Else.”  Big Insurance.  Bit Pharmaceuticals.  Big Fast Food.  

I can’t remember how many times I heard something that sounded like, “I met Jack and Jane Americana recently in Clicheville, Indiana.  Jack is a (Insert Stereotypical Midwestern Job Here), and Jane is raising (insert national average of offspring here).  Jack and Jane work hard, play fair, pay their taxes, and yet they can’t afford health care because Large American Company X is evil and shafting them.”

Here’s what you’re not mentioning:  Jack and Jane Americana are fat.  The health care problem will never, ever be solved until we start giving the people of this nation a little wake up call.  We are the enemy.  We are the problem.  No nationalized health care is gonna fix that.  No corporation is going to fix that.  I realize that calling perspective voters fat-tubs-of-crap is not a great way to win votes, but it will win mine. 

Yes, Health Care is a mess.  Yes, some corporations are just downright evil (this means you, Blue Cross).  However, step one of fixing our national health care system is not shifting blame, it’s a little tough love.  

So c’mon, Barack,  Tell it like it is.  Go sink a few more 3-pointers, tell Jack and Jane that you love and accept them, and acknowledge that there are problems that are bigger than they can solve by themselves and that we all need to come together for a change,  but that they also need to get the eff up off the couch.  You mocked John McCain for his “Nation of Whiners” comment, but you need to tell the truth if I’m gonna vote for you.   

Oh, and also I’m coming for you next, Senator McBadass.

Funkabee

So,

Addison Road has long been absent of straight ahead punditry, and believe me when I tell you that I have little interest in changing that fact. However, I am on a political quest this year, so from time to time I may start conversations about candidates. Let’s not forget that Addison Road is a virtual summer BBQ, so if politics come up, just make sure that you can have a beer around the fire pit when it’s over.

I am a truly undecided voter. There is a strong possibility that I will vote for a Democrat next year for the first time in my adult life. I won’t be Hillary, but only for the reason that she seems like Nixon, willing to do or say anything to get elected. I really like Bill Richardson, and I am intrigued by Obama. Ron Paul’s grassroots movement is appealing, but I’m not convinced about the man himself. I respect Rudy, and believe that he did an amazing turnaround on NYC, but I do not believe Islamic Terrorism in and of itself is the single greatest threat facing our nation. I cannot stand Mitt Romney, because of his stupid face, and because the fact that he’s a bionic used car salesman. John McCain is pretty cool, but his teeth are unelectable. Fred Thompson (Air Traffic Control Dude from Die Hard 2 for President!) looks like a really tall, bored muppet.

Last week, during the CNN /YouTube debacle, –err– debate last week, there was Huckabee, who came off as poised, funny, competent, and endearing. Compare the three responses to this question. Guliani sounds like a Mafia henchman going to his annual confession. Romney sounds like he is still trying to sell you that ’78 Pinto, and then there’s Huckabee. He takes a totally loaded, hot potato question, and in my opinion hits the nail square on the head.

I don’t know much else about this man, so I started poking around the tubes and I found this. I don’t care about the man’s politics anymore. Any distance-running, bass-playing presidential candidate gets my vote.

Funkabee in ’08

I want the Huckabee camp to know that, upon his election, we the people expect August 10th, Leo Fender’s birthday, to be declared a national holiday.

No, It’s BECAUSE I’m a capitalist

A portion of a conversation I had with a socialist friend, early in the morning, when they probably weren’t thinking clearly:

Socialist Friend: … which is why I think the writer’s strike is returning power to the people, which is great. Although I’m sure you probably hate the union and think this is totally evil.

Pigheaded Capitalist Me: No, actually, I think this is a good strike.

SF: what? wait, you’re a conservative, free market fanboy. How can you be in favor of the strike?

PCM: It’s because I’m a raging free market fanboy. There is no right more basic to the freedom of the market than the right to withhold goods and services. Refusing to work for less than a certain wage is a capitalist move, not a socialist one.

Seize Him, And Make Him King

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Seize Him series

  1. Seize Him and Make Him King
  2. Inappropriate Zeal
  3. Seize Him, And Make Him King

The service went pretty well this morning. I had a few people come up afterward and take issue with the message, but I think they were, for the most part, reacting to what they thought I was implying, not what I actually said.

Thank you for your help, as always. For those interested, here’s the audio:

Sermon Audio: October 21, 2007

And, if you’d like to follow along, here’s the manuscript. Tons of spelling errors, I know. Oh well.

Sermon Manuscript: Seize Him and Make Him King

Previous in series: Inappropriate Zeal

Rate My Professor

Well, awards season is here again, and yet again, The Michael Lee Experience has failed to win. My lowly little profile on ratemyprofessor.com failed to place in the Top 50 Highest Rated Profs, and didn’t even get nominated for Top 50 Hottest Profs. I guess I’ll have to be content with critical acclaim and a small but dedicated local fan-base.

I’m the “Of Montreal” of uni profs.

By the way, can someone tell me why Facebook hasn’t developed a professor-rating app yet? Seems like a pretty natural fit …

Music and Ethics: With Strings Attached

Posts in the Music and Ethics: Blog Dilemmas series

  1. Why Be Virtuous?
  2. Ayana and the Sacred Song
  3. Music and Ethics: With Strings Attached

This is another in the series of ethical questions I’m having my class work through. I had just finished writing this up when i heard on NPR that Altria is shutting down it’s philanthropic work over the next two years. Good timing! Bonus points on this one if you can tell me what book I was reading when I came up with the names.

Gordon Struan is on the board of directors for Green Valley Orchestra (GVO), a professional regional orchestra known for its innovative programming and willingness to perform new works by modern composers. Struan’s role is to maintain and develop financial donors.

GVO, like many such ensembles, is having a difficult time meeting its financial obligations. Although their concerts are well-attended, the income from concert ticket sales alone is not enough to pay the salaries of the orchestra members. Without significant donations from outside foundations and wealthy patrons, the orchestra simply could not continue to perform.

Struan is faced with a dilemma. His three largest donors all lost large sums of money in the collapse of the real estate market, and have informed him that they are no longer able to donate to the orchestra. Struan must raise $6 million, or the orchestra will have to cancel their season and declare bankruptcy. Two potential donors have indicated that they might be willing to step in and give the needed money, but both come with strings attached.

smoking kidsThe first potential donor is a company named Altria. Altria has long been known in the arts community for their philanthropic activity; they support many regional performing ensembles, and seem especially interested in supporting innovative groups, like GVO, who perform new works. Altria is also the parent company of Phillip-Morris, a cigarette manufacturer that aggressively markets its Marlboro brand to children in 3rd-world countries. Altria’s support of the arts seems like a carefully calculated PR strategy to improve the public image of their company.

smokin grannyThe second potential donor is Victoria Wagner, a well-known and very wealthy member of the local community. Wagner has never shown an interest in supporting the arts before, so Struan is understandably curious when she contacts him with the offer. In the ensuing conversations, however, if becomes clear why Ms. Wagner has had a sudden change of heart. It turns out that her beloved nephew is a struggling composer, and has had difficulty getting his works performed by professional ensembles. Ms. Wagner makes it quite clear to Mr. Struan that if she writes a $6 million check, she expects the Green Valley Orchestra to debut his latest composition.

So, Struan is left with three options. He can accept the money from a cigarette giant hoping to buy some public good-will, he can accept the money from the doting rich aunt looking to launch her nephew’s career, or he can refuse both and close the doors of the Green Valley Orchestra.

Your job isn’t to solve this problem for Mr. Struan. In fact, I don’t even want you to tell me what you would do. Instead, I’d like you to think about the moral values that are in conflict in this dilemma. We will answer the following questions in class:

  1. If GVO takes the money from Altria, is it an implied statement of support for the company’s business practices?
  2. If a utilitarian were to evaluate the Altria donation, what consequences would they have to consider?
  3. Struan is having a hard time evaluating the Wagner donation. He has a sense that some moral principle is being violated by her request, but he isn’t sure exactly what it is. What do you think is wrong with her request? What kind of moral principle does it violate?
  4. Does it matter if the composition by Victoria Wagner’s nephew is well-written or not? Would it matter if he were already a well-established composer?
  5. Struan is a devout Lutheran, and believes that God’s commands are the final source of moral authority. Is there a biblical command that could help Struan navigate either decision?
  6. Kant said that we should act in ways that we would wish to see made universal rules. If Struan refuses to take money from morally tainted sources, is that an act that we would want to see universally applied? What would the consequences be if we applied that principle universally?

Previous in series: Ayana and the Sacred Song

Jetta-Tastic!

Jetta

I am so in love with this car. It hugs the road, kicks like a mule when you step on the gas, and I love the diesel rumble. I’d tell you the gas mileage, but I’m still on the first tank, so I don’t know yet. The kicker? I jumped in for the first time, turned the key, and a flat panel touch screen popped up out of the dashboard. Turns out the guy who owned it before me dropped in a $1400 alpine car computer system, complete with DVD player. Sweet!

Drop-bys and test-drives welcome. Come see the new little bundle of joy. And also, I think we had like a kid or something recently, so there’s that too.

[flickr pics]

Thinky Thoughts with Aly: Inequality vs. Inequity

It’s not my plan to make all Thinky Thoughts with Aly a Something vs. Something Caged Death Match, but thinky thoughts have a mind of their own (ha) and that’s just how they thunk this week. Actually, now that I think about it (double ha), pitting related concepts against each other to duke it to the death is one of the the ways we sort shit out. Maybe it’s part of the system Michael mentioned: “We take in data, organize it into a structure that makes sense of it, then use that structure to gather more data.” Maybe Conceptual UFC (RESPECT) is a good idea after all.

We’ll see. Onward…

This week I began editing Tony Campolo’s new book, Red Letter Christians: A Citizen’s Guide to Faith & Politics. (I’m excited and alternately petrified. This is My First Big Book.) I’m not very far into it yet, but it’s already got me thinking. [Side note: In days of yore, I used to think and write about politics a lot. This was until I came to the painful realization that obsessing about civics was a substitute for working out my issues, and I had to put on the kibosh to avoid the looneybin. Now that I'm fractionally less crazy, I'm allowing myself to put politics back on the cooktop, albeit on the back burner. Hey, they're important, but they're not Life.]

So I’ve been musing on the difference between inequality and inequity. In the U.S., “inequality” gets a lot of airtime, I suspect because we’ve got the holding of these truths to be self-evident thing going on as the bedrock of our democracy. (That would be “all men are created equal,” for any of you just tuning in.) But I’m not sure what ol’ Benji Franklin was thinking…it’s pretty clear to me that all people are not created equal. You’ve got tall people and short people, female people and male people (and sometimes in-between people), athletic people and clumsy people, smart people and dumb-as-a-stick people, musical people and hey-I-can’t-lift-this-tune-bucket people. If God created all men equal, She must be using a different dictionary.

To be fair, I’m pretty sure ol’ Benji wasn’t thinking that all people are actually created equal — he was just trying to find a poetic way of saying “Georgie, you’ve got about as much divine right to rule me as I have to fart on your face.” But we seem to forget the circumstances under which The Equality Clause came into being, and have a very bad habit of taking the words at face value, sometimes almost believing that we’re all the same with the lights off. But we’re not. And we’d do well to remember it.

Because aiming social reform at erasing our God-given inequality is about as smart (and effective) as using a paintball gun to screw in a lightbulb. It don’t make no sense.

I hate that “inequality” is so much more of an emotionally loaded word. I think that must be why we keep using it in place of “inequity,” which feels dry and math-ish in comparison. Dry or not, however, inequity is the real Nasty, the bugger we ought to strap on big boots to stomp out.

But it’s hard, and hard is difficult. Inequity is much less abstract than inequality, and that makes it uncomfortable. The numbers don’t lie. (CEOs getting paid 400% of the average worker’s annual salary, anyone?) It’s so much nicer to toss around Big Ideas like “All men are created equal” and golf clap until our hands bleed than it is to sit down with our slide rule and abacus and do the work.

Passive-Aggressivity!

Scotty and Danny (Not their real names)1 used to work together in the same office. Then Danny got promoted to Assistant Boss of Scotty. Now it’s Scotty job, of course, to make Danny’s life a waking nightmare of passive-aggressive antagonism. Here are some suggestions that I thought of all on my own, during that ugly time of morning between dawn and 1st cup of coffee.

  1. Offer to get him a cup of coffee every morning. Make a big deal of asking how he likes it, and taking notes on a little notepad. Then, make it with 9 sugars and buttermilk. When he complains that it tastes awful, pull out your notepad and show him, “9 sugars, buttermilk”.
  2. Call him Danny. Danny-O. Danny Boy. Irish McGillicuddy. Elvis.
  3. Refuse to type the letter “P”. Intead, leave a space and hand-write it in later. Explain that you’ve given it up for lent, and ask him why he doesn’t respect the religious observances of others.
  4. Blog every conversation you have with him. In realtime.
  5. Loudly mock his taste in music to coworkers, but only when he’s just out of earshot in that shiny new office of his.
  6. Forge a memo from you new “Boss” to everyone in the office, declaring Friday “Dress like a Pirate” day. When he’s the only one who shows up in normal dress, mutter comments to your coworkers about how Danny-O is not a team player.
  7. No matter what idea he comes up with, always respond by saying “Well, that’s one way to do it…” in your best sarcastic voice. “Hey everybody, we should try to keep each student’s file together in one piece, so please don’t scatter them around the office.” “Well, that’s one way to do it …”
  8. Print out a glossy pic of your favorite supermodel. Replace the family photo on his desk with the glossy supermodel pic. Try to do this on a day when his wife is coming to meet him for lunch.
  9. Send emails to his boss, praising him for things that are clearly faults. “Dear Boss, Just wanted to let you know what a great job Danny is doing in his new position. All of us in the office appreciate how flexible he is with deadlines, and he totally understands when we need to ‘borrow’ money from petty cash to do some lunch-time shopping. We love working for Danny-O!”
  10. Immediately forget how to do anything on your own, and come to him with questions about even the most minute tasks. Demonstrate learned incompetence in every single aspect of your job. Danny loves that!

Congrats on the new gig, Daniel. And Scotty, you know what to do.

1. Yes, those are their real names. Sorry I lied.

Fightin’ Fundies, Part 3: The Creation Museum

Fightin’ Fundies, Part 3: The Creation Museum

Sorry, I know this post arrived late in the day, but it’s still May 28…

Our last action-packed episode ended with mention of a major event today (May 28, 2007) that, in my humble opinion, will not help promote nuanced discourse about the origins of life. That event would be the grand opening of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Sporting a $27 million budget, this multi-media walk-through extravaganza, designed by a former exhibit director at Universal Studies Florida (as in “King Kong” and “Jurassic Park” rides), will function as a showcase (I use the word advisedly) for the organization Answers in Genesis and will also serve as the group’s administrative and ministry headquarters. Both Answers in Genesis and The Creation Museum are dedicated to advancing an unapologetic and uncompromising “young earth” interpretation of the contents of the Bible overall and Genesis in particular. Specifically, they insist that the earth and apparently the entire universe were created about 6,000 years ago, over the course of six literal 24-hour days – and much more.

The Creation Museum website speaks for itself, but I would direct your attention to a couple of representative entries. A description for the Bible Authority Room on the virtual walk-through tour announces, “The Bible is true. No doubt about it! Paul explains God’s authoritative Word, and everyone who rejects His history — including six-day creation and Noah’s Flood — is ‘willfully’ ignorant.” The descriptive text for the Creation area declares, “…the Bible’s clear—heaven and earth in six 24-hour days, earth before sun, birds before lizards. Adam and apes share the same birthday. The first man walked with dinosaurs and named them all! God’s Word is true, or evolution is true. No millions of years. There’s no room for compromise.”

Now I have no doubt as to the sincerity and commitment of those involved in this project, but I still cannot rejoice in the debut of this particular enterprise. For one thing, it would appear to be one of the biggest, most irresistible targets for media ridicule of Christians in many months. Watch for unflattering attention on SNL or MAD TV or the Daily Show, for starters. (I’m surprised no one picked it up for Phreaky Friday this week, but I suspect the 3-day weekend was a distraction.) No doubt the staff of Answers in Genesis is prepared for this, and will probably consider comedic persecution to be part of the cost of taking their particular stand.

But more bothersome is the fact that those who won’t give an inch in their opposition to the idea that life might have a designer will have another glorious opportunity to lump everyone who questions naturalistic evolution into the six-day, young earth camp. This of course is not at all the case, but it’s certainly a convenient rhetorical device, somewhat like tarring all followers of Islam as terrorists or pro-lifers as clinic bombers. For example, a May 24 LA Times editorial dealing with the Creation Museum (mischievously titled “Yabba-Dabba Science”), notes with some alarm that “…three of the Republican candidates for president do not believe in evolution. Three men seeking to lead the last superpower on Earth reject the scientific consensus on cosmology, thermonuclear dynamics, geology and biology, believing instead that Bamm-Bamm and Dino played together.” In fact, the question “Do you believe in evolution?” was asked of John McCain at the 10-candidate Republican debate on May 3. He said, “Yes” and then a moment later noted that he “sees the hand of God” in a sunset or at the Grand Canyon. The moderator then asked for a show of hands of anyone on the platform who doesn’t believe in evolution. Three hands went up, prompting considerable ridicule in the press during the ensuing weeks. I don’t know if the three dissenting candidates are young-earth Creationists or people who (like me) are comfortable with a 4.5 billion year old earth and a 15 billion year old universe, but question the “we are the product of random, meaningless biochemical reactions” party line. There’s a big difference, but I doubt that we’ll hear much about it in the media.

I have one other concern about the thinking represented in the Creation Museum, and, believe it or not, it is actually well-stated in the aforementioned LA Times piece.

Religion and science can coexist. That the Earth is billions of years old is a fact. How the universe came into being and whether it operates by design are matters of faith. The problem is that people who deny science in one realm are unlikely to embrace it in another. Those who cannot accept that climate change may have caused the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago probably don’t put much stock in the fact that today it poses grave peril to the Earth as we know it.

Okay, the last sentence is a little stretchy, but the point is worth pondering. In my own field I have repeatedly seen a disturbing tendency among some evangelicals to distrust scientific inquiry, and in particular to blow off a well-established body of knowledge about how the human body works in order to embrace eccentric or even bizarre therapies. I suppose I could be accused of doing the same with respect to evolutionary biology, but I see a major difference between understanding how cells work (and, for example, that they’re not influenced by “invisible energies” supposedly manipulated by someone waving their hands over the body) and claiming to understand how all of these intricate mechanisms assembled themselves randomly out of primordial soup.

I have to confess that I haven’t probed in depth to see how people who believe the planet must be 6,000 years old explain all of the evidence that suggests otherwise, but in this regard I find them in a similar position as the evolutionary fundamentalists, with a hard-core bottom line and a lot of ‘splainin’ to do about information that doesn’t readily conform to their doctrine. Put another way, I’m equally impatient with Christians who insist that a six 24-hour-day creation is the only way to understand Genesis 1 and with evolutionists who insist that they know that life has no designer.

To both I would say, “Really??…”

Fightin’ Fundies, Part 2: Evolutionary Fundamentalists

Posts in the Fightin' Fundies series

  1. Fightin’ Fundies, Part 1: Narrow My God to Thee
  2. Fightin’ Fundies, Part 2: Evolutionary Fundamentalists

At the conclusion of our last exciting episode, I noted that not all fundamentalism relates to deities and the dogmas surrounding them, and that I wanted to propose for membership in the Fightin’ Fundie Club a vocal group (not the Four Seasons) that claims no religious affiliation whatsoever. My nominees are (drum roll) the implacable proponents of naturalistic evolution, true believers in the fullest sense of the word. I’m not going to offer a systematic footnoted literature review here, but rather a personal meditation on the way the (non)discussion of the origin of life has been playing out recently in the mainstream media.

By way of introduction: I am a family physician focused on the daily care of people with various health issues and not an bioscience academician, but as such I have some degree of understanding of animal (though far less of plant) biology. I would submit that even the most casual study of any type of biological system – animal, plant, microbe – at any level – macro, micro, biochemical – and from any angle – structural, functional, dissected or integrated – reveals a level of complexity that is, in a word, staggering. Pick a topic – how the eye works, how blood clots, how nutrients are absorbed, how glucose enters cells, how white cells destroy microbial invaders, how viruses hijack cell nuclei to replicate themselves, how sound is converted into electrical impulses, how nerves communicate with each other, how cells divide – whatever the subject, study it in any detail: if you don’t experience awe and wonder, administer a good enema and try again. And we’re not even addressing the intricate play of astronomy, geophysics and climate that are finely tuned to allow these events to proceed.

Call me naive, but it has repeatedly struck me that the most intuitive and rational response to this information is that it seems incredibly unlikely that these systems would assemble themselves at random, no matter how much time one might give them to do so. If you make the random-assembly-over-billions-of-years assumption, there’s a whole lot of faith involved in the process, and a lot of ‘splainin’ to do in order to address how so many features of the above-noted complexity came to be. In recent years books such as Darwin’s Black Box have raised some reasonable questions about what the naturalistic evolutionists (NEs) are willing to accept on faith as they move from point A to point ZZZ despite the gaping uncertainties in between – a process that we used to call “hand waving” in math class.

Instead of responding reasonably and thoughtfully to these questions, however, I continue to hear (in the general public media, anyway) the NEs planting their flags and defending their position with startling, numbing ferocity, including routine rants about separation of church and state, political innuendo of all sorts and lots of ad hominem attacks (i.e., characterizing people who question the NE position are all Bible-wielding, IQ-impaired sub-hominids who want to take over the government and stamp out free speech). More than once in the past few weeks I have heard, with a clear rhetorical snort, references to the fact that X number of Republican presidential nominees don’t believe the naturalistic evolution gospel, as if that meant they also believe in Santa Claus and child sacrifice.

Yet what continues to leak through all of the rhetorical smoke, in my humble opinion, is that NE remains a philosophical assumption, a bottom line that was made the starting point and now has become iron-clad dogma, with no questions to be entertained, not even for a second. If the Scopes trial were held today, it would be the NEs who would be singing “Gimme that old time religion” and prosecuting the science teacher who had the temerity to ask students to think critically about NE’s assumptions. In other words, they’re acting like good old-fashioned Fightin’ Fundies.

Over the past decade some of the more nuanced and thoughtful questioning of NE has come from what is called the “Intelligent Design” camp, including authors such as Michael Behe (author of the above noted Darwin’s Black Box) and William Dembski. NE zealots routinely vilify these guys, and have seemed bent on avoiding at all cost an intelligent public dialogue about intelligent design. When I read op-ed pieces on this subject in the LA Times or even commentaries in medical journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, I repeatedly sense the following subtext:

Naturalistic evolutionist (NE): Life assembled itself over billions of years from primordial elements.

Inquirer (I): How do you know?

NE: It just did!!

I: But how do you explai—

NE: DON’T INJECT YOUR RELIGIOUS DOGMA INTO A SCIENTIFIC DISCUSSION!

I: But I was just wondering—

NE: “Religious fundamentalism is on the rise around the world, and our own virulent domestic version of it, under the rubric of ‘intelligent design,’ by elbowing its way into the classroom abrogates the divide between church and state that has served this country so well for so long.” [Robert Lee Hotz, “Laws of Nature,” LA Times Book Review, July 30, 2006.]

I: But could we just talk a little about the idea of “irreducible complexity”—

NE: Shut up! This has all been settled! Go back to your pews!

Okay, I’m exaggerating a little, but see if you don’t notice a little of this venom in the op-ed pages of the Times and other media outlets in the coming weeks. There will be, I’m sorry to report, a spectacular opportunity for NE pundits to vent their spleens – beginning tomorrow (May 28).

And what will be the occasion that will cause a major setback for intelligent conversation about the origin of life? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s exciting installment!

Previous in series: Fightin’ Fundies, Part 1: Narrow My God to Thee

Academic Cynicism

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a website where professors can anonymously bitch about their students, their administration, their colleagues, their facilities, their parking spaces …

It was funny at first, and a little cathartic. Then, after reading through more and more of the site, the cynicism started to get to me. It was post after post of profs talking about how apathetic and sarcastic their students are (where do we think they learned it?), about the sense of entitlement that students have these days, how dense they are, blah blah blah.

I know that sites like this are a caricature; nobody has a great day of teaching, or a meaningful interaction with students, and thinks, “I should bitch about this on my favorite anonymous professor blog.” You get people reacting to their most frustrating experiences of the semester.

Still, it reminded me again of something I’ve often thought: I have no desire to be a part of academia at large. If my position at APU goes away for some reason (like, if they find a dead body in my office. Or a copy of ‘Generous Orthodoxy’), I probably won’t even bother looking for a similar position somewhere else. I’m not all that interested in being a professor – I’m very interested in doing what I’m doing here, at this place.

I love our students. They are, for the most part, optimistic and intellectually curious. When we bump into each other outside of class, they want to have conversations about ideas; how cool is that?

I love the faculty that I get to work with. They have that critical mix of high intelligence and pragmatism; they are interested in what actually works, not in what theoretically should work (you have to spend a little time at academic conferences in order to appreciate how rare that is).

I respect my departmental leadership. The Dean is a political monster, able to bob and weave with the best of them, but he uses it to protect his faculty from administrative interference, and to advocate for student learning. His authority doesn’t just come from his position, it comes from his ability in the field. He can deliver. He’s a musician, who also happens to be adept at the politics of administration.

They give me the proper tools to teach my subject matter. I teach a technology class. Every 3 years, they rebuild my teaching lab from the ground up with the latest technology. Getting the right software for the job is rarely a fight. We have our turf wars with the IT guys, but it hasn’t yet inhibited the teaching environment.

I dunno. Maybe if you check back 10 years from now, I’ll be bitter and jaded and will spend every moment complaining. But not now.

Maybe it’s the two bottles of wine that I polished off over lunch while writing this, but I’m feeling blessed.

The Future of LA Metro?

Click the thumbnail for a full pop-up:

LA metro map

This just made me cry a little when I saw it. This is the kind of mass transit I want for LA – can you imagine being able to hop the metro from Pasadena to LAX, from Burbank to Long Beach? This is a map drawn up by Damien Goodman, posted and discussed vigorously over at my favorite little local blog, Metroblogging LA.

Here’s how much I love this plan – I would gladly pay a $0.05 gas tax for the next ten years if it went to a restricted fund to build this system (maybe we could get the good folks from the Port Hueneme Seabees to come build it in 6 months, instead of the 50 years it would take MTA). And you all know how much I hate paying taxes for anything.

Goodman has a site going live sometime in the next week or so, at www.GetLAMoving.com.