Archive for June, 2009

City Garden in downtown St. Louis: transformative art

| June 30, 2009 | 9 Replies
City Garden in downtown St. Louis: transformative art

There is a brand new sculpture park in downtown Saint Louis. It will officially open tomorrow. My family and I walked through tonight and we were wowwed.

Image by Erich Vieth

What used to be a bunch of office buildings (many of them less than inspiring) were transformed into a deeply beautiful and light-hearted extension of “City Garden,” a modern sculpture park occupying two city blocks. I probably took about 150 photos tonight, but I’ll give you my favorite 16 [If you don't see the gallery, click here ].

I’m shaking my head, thinking that the creators really nailed it. In my mind, the function of art is to challenge but to also draw an audience. This new park has succeeded in transforming dozens of sterile buildings into the all-too-willing background for a place that beckons people of all ages to come play, to walk, to talk, to ponder, to touch the sculptures and to stand back and admire.

[Epilogue 7/9/09: City Garden has turned out to be a powerful people magnet. Works of art draw in people, who draw in more people. It is truly one of the most remarkable transformations to hit downtown St. Louis. What used to be two big starkly empty lots is now a comfortable and beautiful place, open every hour of every day, for people to view the sculptures, to find themselves and to find each other. A big congratulations to the Gateway Foundation!]

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What marriage is FOR (i.e., why it’s important to gays too)

| June 29, 2009 | Reply
What marriage is FOR (i.e., why it’s important to gays too)

Nathaniel Frank has identified the elephant in the room. People don’t run off to get married to privately have access to government rights and benefits. Hell, where’s the romance in that? And when they get married, they actually get smacked upside the head by the government with the federal tax marriage penalty. The government screws with marriage by taxing it.

So what’s the draw and social function of marriage? Why do people really want to be married? Marriage involves far more than just the two people getting married. Frank explains:

[M]arriage is not just a private bond, but a public identity, whose meaning is shaped by the assumptions and practices of all those who claim and recognize its status. Being married helps us keep our commitments to our spouses and our communities by creating a shared identity with very public expectations. It doesn’t always work. But every day thousands of people choose to embrace this identity because of the support it helps afford them. This is why gays need access to the very same institution of marriage–not civil unions–that straights enjoy: so they can join not just each other, but the wider community of committed people whose marriage is recognized, understood and championed by people across the world. And this is why separate is inherently unequal.

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Twilight of Reaganism?

| June 29, 2009 | Reply
Twilight of Reaganism?

From a friend of mine:

You know how every once in a while you come across a piece of writing that is spot-on, so much so that you sit back and think, “Wow, that really captures it well.” This just happened to me in reading Halberstam’s book, War In A Time Of Peace (2001). Here’s the quote:

“(In 1992) Ed Rollins, the former Reagan political consultant, had an epiphany about how dramatically American culture had changed in the twelve years since Reagan’s first election. Driven by various technological, social, and economic forces, that change was now being seen in American politics. Reagan, Rollins believed had been the final political reflection of the popular culture of his time, derived primarily from the movies of John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Gary Cooper days when the American self-image called for one lonely man to stand up and do the right thing, whether it was popular or not. That self-image during the Cold War was comforting; it might not be true, but as they used to say in the west, when there was any difference between the truth and the legend, print the legend. Clinton, by contrast, was the political extension of a new popular culture, the age of empathy television, symbolized by Oprah Winfrey, the need to feel better about yourself in a difficult, emotionally volatile world where the greatest daily threat was posed not so much by the nuclear warheads of a foreign power, or by severe economic hardship, but by the inner demons produced by an unhappy childhood” (p. 108)

Reading this quote brought to mind George Lakoff’s two basic ways of portraying government which, in both cases, is metaphorically conceived as a family. Conservatives see government as run by a strict father figure while Progressives tend to see government a nurturing parent. Here’s a excerpt from Wikipedia:

Lakoff argues that the differences in opinions between liberals and conservatives follow from the fact that they subscribe with different strength to two different metaphors about the relationship of the state to its citizens. Both, he claims, see governance through metaphors of the family. Conservatives would subscribe more strongly and more often to a model that he calls the “strict father model” and has a family structured around a strong, dominant “father” (government), and assumes that the “children” (citizens) need to be disciplined to be made into responsible “adults” (morality, self-financing). Once the “children” are “adults”, though, the “father” should not interfere with their lives: the government should stay out of the business of those in society who have proved their responsibility. In contrast, Lakoff argues that liberals place more support in a model of the family, which he calls the “nurturant parent model”, based on “nurturant values”, where both “mothers” and “fathers” work to keep the essentially good “children” away from “corrupting influences” (pollution, social injustice, poverty, etc.). Lakoff says that most people have a blend of both metaphors applied at different times . . .

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Shout from your rooftop in solidarity with the people of Iran

| June 29, 2009 | 3 Replies
Shout from your rooftop in solidarity with the people of Iran

I will never forget the images of Pope John Paul II arriving in Poland in June of 1979. The Pope descended from his plane, kneeled, bent and kissed the ground of his beloved homeland.

The Pope arrived as a pilgrim, news reports said. The Polish people saw more, perhaps a glimpse of freedom in the offing where their historic contributions and ties to the world were once again recognized as Polish, not as a Warsaw Pact satellite of the communist USSR.

Something similar is going on now in the Islamic Republic of Iran. After an historic election where the chosen candidate of the ruling elite was challenged, the results were announced mere hours after the paper ballots were cast, and current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared the winner.

Some say the Iranian voters’ ballots were not even counted.

Reports of unrest due to concerns of electoral fraud continue, although foreign media have been barred from Iran

Many of the supporters of the rival candidate for President have taken to the roofs and shouting, “Allahu Akbar!” which I’ve seen translated as “God is the Greatest!” and “God is Great!”

Without a doubt, there is continued opposition to the hard line polices of President Ahmadinejad which many in Iran believe do not reflect the country’s history and traditions.

It has become a staple of the ruling council to denounce protesters as incited by the West, mostly the UK, where two diplomats were thrown out of Iran. The UK responded by giving the heave to two Iranian embassy personnel. But, the Iranian government raised the ante on the UK, yesterday and detained many members of the diplomatic staff assigned to Iran in violation of international law.

It remains an issue is whether there what actions may be taken in solidarity with the aspirations of Iranians by supporters of freedom around the world.

First, one must caution forbearance.

If many take up the rhetoric of the far right in the US calling for swift, strong action against Iran there will be a backlash against the protesters in Iran. Such is already in the offing as the media have been closed down, and the government tries to spin the whole thing as a plot by the West and points to such rhetoric in support of its claims. Those which make such harsh statements and urge imprudent action give aid and comfort to the enemies of freedom in Iran.

So, what then for those worldwide which support the Iranian people’s return to the world community and to again recognize Iran’s past contributions and continuing ability to contribute to the world at large? I offer several ideas.

We could tie a green ribbon ‘round the old oak trees. Green is the color of the party of the opposition in Iran.

We could join in solidarity with the aspirations of the protestors and go onto our rooftops or just go outside and shout or say; “God is Great!” at midnight Tehran time (about 2:30 p.m. CST [+4 GMT]).

And ask that peace be with our Iranian brothers and sisters.

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On past-love and future-hate

| June 29, 2009 | 13 Replies
On past-love and future-hate

I know it is wholly unoriginal of me to link to the comic XKCD, but today’s strip was just too true to life:
Comic by Randal Munroe of xkcd.com (with permission)

Almost nothing annoys me more than the bemoaning of the future as an immoral, uneducated, unenlightened time. Many people- of both conservative and liberal ideologies- call up sunny images of a past where people were happier, smarter and “better”. Usually we can point to political and technological advancements that demonstrate this is not the case.

My deeply-held belief is that the future is bright and brimming with promise, that today’s youth are not hopeless or devolved, and that new fangled technology will not cause the collapse of our species. When bad things arise, we are tempted to look to the past with a fond and foggy nostalgia- as if fundamental human problems were not always the same. Bringing apocalyptic rhetoric into the discussion of modern problems is inappropriate, I think, because every generation has its big, scary troubles. As this comic advises, we should always look to the evidence and not catastrophize.

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Hard work and drugs in America

| June 29, 2009 | Reply
Hard work and drugs in America

Ryan Grim has just published This is Your Country on Drugs, and he has presented some of his main ideas at Huffpo.

[O]ur nation diverges sharply from the rest of the world in a few crucial ways. Americans work hard: 135 hours a year more than the average Briton, 240 hours more than the typical French worker, and 370 hours–that’s nine weeks–more than the average German. We also play hard. A global survey released in 2008 found that Americans are more than twice as likely to smoke pot as Europeans. Forty-two percent of Americans had puffed at one point; percentages for citizens of various European nations were all under 20. We’re also four times as likely to have done coke as Spaniards and roughly ten times more likely than the rest of Europe.

What is driving law enforcement regarding drug use. Grim’s answer focuses on our ambivalence toward pleasure:

When pleasure is suspected, American drug use gets tricky, particularly when that high might do some real good, as in the case of medical marijuana.

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Employing your butt to save trees

| June 29, 2009 | Reply
Employing your butt to save trees

Americans talk a good game when it comes to the environment, but most of us aren’t willing to do much of anything at all. Are you willing to ride the bus, carpool, cut down on your consumption of meat, eat produce only in-season? No thanks,” say most Americans. That’s my personal experience, based on talking with numerous “concerned” citizens. Most people that I talk with tell me that they will make changes only when the “market” makes it worth their while. It’s crazy, but that’s the way it is.

How about this option: Would you be willing to use one roll of recycled toilet paper per year if it would save 425,000 trees? Resoundingly, America has said “no thanks,” according to Time Magazine:

[A] mainstream brand, Scott, started offering toilet paper made with 40% recycled fiber. Switching to such material could make a big difference: the NRDC estimates that if every household in the U.S. replaced just one 500-sheet roll of virgin-fiber TP a year with a roll made from 100% recycled paper, nearly 425,000 trees would be saved annually. . . Hence Greenpeace’s four-year-long campaign to pressure paper companies . . . to stop cutting down virgin forests. . .

It’s possible — but few Americans are doing it. Toilet paper containing 100% recycled fiber makes up less than 2% of the U.S. market, while sales of three-ply luxury brands like Cottonelle Ultra and Charmin Ultra Soft shot up 40% in 2008.

Considering that the average family uses about 20 rolls of toilet paper per month, NRDC’s suggestion is not a laughing matter.

Based on my conversations with lots of people, though, being responsible to the environment is truly a laughing matter for most Americans. They just don’t get it, unless it affects their pocketbooks.

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Catholic Answers: don’t even lie in the same bed . . .

| June 28, 2009 | 26 Replies
Catholic Answers: don’t even lie in the same bed . . .

Is it OK for unmarried adults to lie in the same bed, even if they don’t have sex. Quick answer: NO. That’s the advice I got here, at the Chastity Q&A. It’s a sexual catechism filled with all kinds of advice, such as how far you can go without committing a sin.

Is foreplay wrong? Here’s advice I had never before considered:

Perhaps the easiest way to find out if our actions conform to authentic love is to imagine God sitting on a nearby sofa watching us. If his presence would cause immediate shame or the desire to stop dead in our tracks, we need to ask ourselves why.

How creepy! Would a married couple have sex if God was sitting on a nearby sofa watching? And, BTW, isn’t God supposedly omniscient? Aren’t good Christians supposedly to always assume that God is on a nearby sofa?

Is it OK for homosexuals to raise children? No:

The impact of a mother in her family is unrepeatable, and the same can be said of the father. Two moms don’t make a dad, and two dads do not equal a mom. This is the way nature has designed it.

Oh, and don’t bother using condoms, because they cause greater numbers of unplanned pregnancies:

The fact is, increased condom use by teens is associated with increased out-of-wedlock birth rates.”

You’ll also learn that merely looking at women in swimming suits is akin to pornography and that “porn trains us to have mental polygamy.”

All of this advice was provided by spin-off (“Chastity”) site linked to a Catholic website (“Catholic Answers“) that provided so much Catholic esoterica that it left me disoriented in 20 minutes. Truly amazing that so many people are willing to discuss, as one example of many, the difference (if any) between the “holy spirit” and the “holy ghost.” Here’s another interesting question: Should rock music be allowed at church? Absolutely not, because “If you were before Christ being crucified on Calvary, truly there witnessing it, would you start up a rock band and clap and dance?” The argument seems to be that as Jesus was bleeding to death on the cross, he would rather have someone nearby playing solemn music on an organ.

If you want to be more than simply a good Catholic, “Catholicy Answers” is clearly the site for you.

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More ideas for comment policies

| June 28, 2009 | 31 Replies
More ideas for comment policies

Dan Klarman recently referred me to Pharyngula’s comment policies. That led me to Pharyngula’s High Crimes and Misdemeanors. I think that we have many of these covered in DI’s comment policy, but I do agree that all of these behaviors serve to hinder meaningful discussion. I anyone else has good comment policy ideas that they’ve seen elsewhere, let me know. I want to have free and open discussion, but I do want to keep the discussion moving and meaningful.

Perhaps more important, let me know what you think about the comments of Karl, who submits comments to this site almost every day. How much access should have have to this site? Unrestrained? Severely edited? How would you handle Karl’s many comments if you were administering this site? What is fair? How tired are you of Karl? Or do you see his points of view as a valuable foil that drives meaningful conversation?

Here are Pharyngula’s High Crimes and Misdemeanors:

Concern trolling A particularly annoying form of trolling in which someone falsely pretends to be offering advice to favor a position they do not endorse; a creationist who masquerades as someone concerned about the arguments for evolution as an excuse to make criticisms.

Godbotting Making an argument based only on the premise that your holy book is sufficient authority; citing lots of bible verses as if they were persuasive.

Insipidity A great crime. Being tedious, repetitive, and completely boring; putting the blogger to sleep by going on and on about the same thing all the time.

Morphing Changing pseudonyms to avoid killfiles.

Slagging Making only disparaging comments about a group; while some of this is understandable, if your only contribution is consistently “X is bad”, even in threads that aren’t about X, then you’re simply slagging, not discussing.

Sockpuppetry Like morphing, but with a specific intent: creating multiple identities supporting a position to create a false impression of popularity

Spamming Using the comments to sell real estate, mortgage assessments, little blue pills, porn, or Russian mail-order brides. Spammers are not tolerated at all; they are expunged without comment.

Stupidity Some people will just stun you with the outrageous foolishness of their comments; those who seem to say nothing but stupid things get the axe.

Trolling Making comments intended only to disrupt a thread and incite flames and confusion.

Wanking Making self-congratulary comments intended only to give an impression of your importance or intelligence.

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