Friday, August 24, 2007

Seventh Avenue and 21st Street.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Those Stubborn Atheists

Sure, the maxim “There are no atheists in foxholes” is offensive to atheists; it implies that faith is the default state to which the human mind reverts in times of crisis, that it takes a conscious act of stubbornness to remain “godless.”

But haven’t atheists created this situation themselves? Defining one’s religious beliefs by what one doesn’t believe is no belief at all. Which is the point. But by keeping the conversation focused on religion, the holy ghost, as it were, always lurks.

There was a campaign a while back to remedy this by organizing this surly group of unbelievers and renaming them The Brights. Arch atheist Richard Dawkins even joined in:
The noun bright was coined in March [2003] by Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell of Sacramento, California. In April, I heard them give a presentation on the new word in Florida, and they launched soon after. The new meme was almost immediately given a boost by two enthusiastic articles in large-circulation newspapers. On June 21, I wrote "the future looks bright" for the Guardian, one of Britain's leading national dailies. And on July 12, the distinguished philosopher Daniel Dennett followed up with "the bright stuff" for The New York Times op-ed page.
But has it really caught on? It’s a dumb name, that’s the first problem. But the second problem is that people like Dawkins frame the issue as fundamentalists: we’re right they’re wrong, and everything they do is killing us all. He’s anti-religion, and it gets tough after a while to maintain what is only a position on one issue as an entire platform. Defining one’s essence by what you don’t believe leaves no room for what you do believe. Which in this case would be science. And if science is the true default, as I know Dawkins believes, then why keep talking about religion so much? It plays into the whole premise that religiosity is our natural state.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Quote of the Day: Editor & Publisher

"It’s not about 'balance,' which is a false construct. It isn't even about 'objectivity,' which is a laudable but probably unattainable goal. It is about independent thinking and sound, facts-based journalism -- the difference between what we do and the myopic screed that is passed off as 'advocacy' journalism these days."
That's from an editorial by the staff of Editor & Publisher in response to an incident at the Seattle Times in which an editor chastised members of his staff for cheering Karl Rove's retirement. "Keep your political views to your self," he told them. I tend to agree; however, I think that one could argue that the cheers weren't totally political. That they were the glee of reporters relieved to see the passing of a prince of an administration that has been very secretive and even anti-journalism. Simply put, Karl Rove made it hard to be a political reporter.

What's important in the quote above is the part about balance. Too often, cable news networks (for example) will pit backcountry preachers against biologists and astronomers in the name of balance. First of all, that isn't balance (religion and science aren't two sides of the same conversation). But second, there shouldn't be sides when facts are being discussed.

Monday, August 13, 2007

What Do You Mean You Don't Get Contemporary Art?

The only thing more irritating to me than Slate's Lee Siegel saying that "You cannot fully understand [contemporary artist Cy] Twombly's art unless you know that he is gay" is "artist" Sam Rindy saying that she was moved to leave red lipstick marks on Twombly's $2 million blank canvas because he left the white space there for her, and that "This red stain is testimony to this moment, to the power of art."

For an idea of how Twombly's nine feet by six feet white canvas looked before Rindy tainted it, look at a piece of white paper.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Williamsburg Bridge going into Manhattan from Brooklyn.

How Conservative Pundits Got That Way

Steven Metcalf, in an essay for the New York Times Book Review last weekend, thinks he's figured out why conservative pundits like Dinesh D'Souza, Rich Lowry, Stanley Kurtz, and other well-educated right wing yahoos employed by think tanks connect so well with middle America. The short answer: Because they're dorks. They were left out of all the college activities the cool kids did:
"To be genuinely humiliated is to know how to tap into the humiliations of others. Rejecting tout court a culture of cool that prevails against him, a certain sorrt of person turns to campus politics. Because these conservatives were, by and large, low-status males (or the feminism-disdaining women who loved them) in high school and college, they know instinctively how to connect with the culturally dispossessed.

"And so it was that the workers of the world did unite, but with the bow-tie-wearing nerds at the Cato Institute. Ad hominem? Juvenile? Needlessly provocative? Maybe I could turn right after all."
Bravo! That warmed my heart. Metcalf was reviewing a new book, Why I Turned Right: Leading Baby Boom Conservatives Chronicle Their Political Journeys, a book full of what he says are more "conversion narratives" than journeys. "A more accurate wording," writes Metcalf, "might have been 'Why I Turned Right: Or, The Experience That Closed My Mind Forever.'"

It reminds me of a website I stumbled upon back in college, showing photos of the University of Minnesota's wacky Campus Conservatives on a field trip to Duluth to visit the hamburger joint owned by pro wrestling announcer Mean Gene Okerlund. The junior Republicans looked so gawky, so bloated and poorly dressed, but they looked happy. Happy like they'd finally found kindred spirits. Ah, college. Children can be so cruel. So be nice to nerds. Mistreat the most awkward of them and we'll have another crop of vindictive conservatives of the D'Souza stripe.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Weekly World News Stops the Presses

First Call Center Magazine, now the Weekly World News! What will be the next precious news source to permanently stop the presses? And at what cost to our freedom?

According to the reputable news service Reuters, the 28-year-old Weekly World News tabloid will no longer offer its disreputable brand of conspiracy theories, curiosities and superstition in print.

Fortunately, "The World's Only Reliable Newspaper" will live on in electronic form on the Web, so we can continue to read the rantings of Ed Anger's My America column and tap into the primate wisdom of Sammy the Chatting Chimp.

I don't want to dwell too long on the end of the Weekly World News as a supermarket impulse purchase, so in celebration of the tabloid's best columns, here's a list of the most recent ways in which opinion columnist Ed Anger was angry:
I’m madder than kids stuck in summer school
I’m madder than a tea-drinker named Joe
I’m madder than a smoker on a submarine
I’m angrier than a beaver in the desert
I’m madder than a porcupine stuck in a thorn bush
And here, for those of you out there who wonder about Sammy's qualifications as an advice columnist, is his story in brief:
"After leaving the circus to make a better life for himself, Sammy the Chatting Chimp started his own exotic pet business and made a fortune. Now he wants to share the many facts and secrets he's learned, not only about business, but life in general."
Finally, to bring this all back to Call Center Magazine, that beleaguered trade magazine of the customer service industry no longer in print and now known as ICMI's CMI, or, The International Customer Management Institute's Customer Management Insight, here's Sammy's advice for telemarketers about keeping potential customers on the line:
First, you should accept the fact that most people will hang up on you whatever you do. Sales, or telemarketing, is a numbers game. It's wading through as many people as possible until you find the ones that stick. However, in my opinion there're a few things that telemarketers do that turn people off. First, they call during dinner. That encourages a hang up. Second, they mass dial, which causes a telltale delay between pick-up and the time they come on. Finally, they're too robotic and formal. They say things like "Hello, is this Sammy the Chatting Chimp? Well, my name is such and such, and I'm calling on behalf of such and such.' Because the telemarketer is so insincere and scripted, the person feels at ease with blowing them off. However, if you call up like you already know the person, you'll get a very different reaction. Start off with something like 'Hey, Sammy? Hi, this is Dave Gibson!' That opening will intrigue the person you've called, because they’ll wonder if they actually do know you. Then, when they realize why you're actually calling, they may perceive you more as a human being to be respected, rather than a phony telemarketer. However, keep this in mind: many people have signed up with do-not-call registries. Don’t use any of those numbers. Heavy fines may result; you sure as heck aren’t going to get any business there and you should honor a person’s wishes not to be disturbed.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Quote of the Day: Stephen Flynn

"The fact is that Americans have been squandering the infrastructure legacy bequeathed to us by earlier generations. Like the spoiled offspring of well-off parents, we behave as though we have no idea what is required to sustain the quality of our daily lives. Our electricity comes to us via a decades-old system of power generators, transformers and transmission lines—a system that has utility executives holding their collective breath on every hot day in July and August. We once had a transportation system that was the envy of the world. Now we are better known for our congested highways, second-rate ports, third-rate passenger trains and a primitive air traffic control system. Many of the great public works projects of the 20th century—dams and canal locks, bridges and tunnels, aquifers and aqueducts, and even the Eisenhower interstate highway system—are at or beyond their designed life span."
Stephen Flynn is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. The quote above is from an editorial Flynn wrote for Popular Mechanics, which comes via the City Pages' page of links about the 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

Also notable from the City Pages links page is the Google Earth map of the bridge -- before the collapse.

I was flabbergasted this morning to see the front pages of both the New York Post and the New York Daily News covered entirely by photos of the bridge wreckage -- I'm always surprised when those provincial New York rags dare cover fly-over territory, much less my own home towns.

It was also the top story on Fox 5 New York's 10 PM newscast last night, taking up half the broadcast, complete with a Minneapolis weather forecast. The Post's coverage may be more hysterical than any Minnesota media would dare: "DEATH ROAR AS BRIDGE FALLS" is the current headline, and the attention to the tragedy is so personal, you'd think it happened here.

The New York Times has the CNN footage of the bridge actually falling.
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