The Mating Calls of Violent Men!


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Please accept my apologies for posting this piece of filth

So this morning I’m surfing the hashtags on Twitter, cause I have plenty better to do of course, but anyway…

…and I come across the image to your left. It’s just one of many memes produced every day by the right wing hate machine. This one in particular happens to have been retweeted by professional bigot Ann Coulter.

I look at this image and I can’t help but think of the words ‘nits make lice.’ the saying is popularly attributed to Colonel John Chivington, another of history’s great war-mongers who didn’t care to distinguish children from enemies. Ostensibly charged with protecting the people of Colorado from Cheyenne and Arapaho, Chivington wasn’t much good at fighting real warriors, but he sure knew how to kill women and children, and on November 29th, 1864, he knew exactly where to find a band of Cheyenne who weren’t going anywhere. They weren’t going anywhere, because they’d already been placed under the protection of the army at Fort Lyon. Chivington didn’t care.

Neither do people who produce images like this.

Sadly such folk are not such a fringe group in America, or in other parts of the western world. Today the net is also abuzz with talk of plans from Narcissa Trump to force Muslims to register all across the nation so we can keep track of them. We’re still hearing the echoes of a Jeb Bush plan to admit only Christian refugees to America. And of course calls abound to reject all Syrian refugees out of some generalized fears about terrorism. Some are concerned about the possibility of terrorists inserting themselves into the refugee population. Many more simply refuse to think of any Muslims, or those coming from Muslim regions, as anything but terrorists.


Because of course what some Afghans do is the best argument against helping Syrians in distress

I find myself waxing nostalgic for the days after 9-11 when President Bush carefully made it clear that our nation is not at war with Islam. I’ve never been a fan of Bush, but in this regard he at least held the rising tide of right wing malice to within certain degrees of sanity. In the intervening years, pseudo-conservative culture warriors have been working damned hard to overcome that limitation, and they have made great progress. They want a general war between the west (and Christendom) and Islam itself. Sometimes folks will qualify this by saying we are at war with ‘radical Islam’ as if ‘radical’ were ever enough to clarify the difference. These people want desperately for America to commit to general war against proponents of Islam all over the world.

And in this respect, they want very much the same thing that terrorists want. It’s as fascinating as it is disturbing to the dance of dangerous men and their couch-bound cheerleaders. Nothing brings the bigots out from under the rocks that hide them in America quite like events such as Paris. They find in terrorist acts a real source of empowerment, and they use that empowerment as much to attack moderates here in the west as any radicals abroad.

What is the worst thing about Isis? To so many right wingers, that would be Obama.

…or liberals in general.

What these war-mongers want doesn’t have much to do with ending terrorism or defeating actual terrorists, but they will make life miserable for those who happen to live near terrorists, who happen to look like terrorists, or (in the case of Syrian refugees) who happen to have already been hurt themselves by such terrorists. They would have been right at home with Chivington and the Colorado 3rd.

Each act of terrorism is an opportunity for right wingers to push aside the rest of us, to finally defeat their own domestic enemies and set the nation and the world at large on a violent course. They see in Paris and every act by the terrorists proof positive that their own violent worldview is the correct one, and that our nations must ever more place warfare at the center of public policy. That our own war efforts may have similar effects in far regions of the world could hardly be an objection to such a mind-set. It is synergy in action, the benefits of an ever escalating rhetoric of violence. As much as these people hate each other, they hate the rest of us more.

Its tough not to see a measure of alliance between terrorists and those who would reduce of American policy to a war against them, and against all of Islam. In some cases, this connection would be concrete, because you can bet the KKK and everyone at Storm Front are among the voices flooding social media this last week. In other cases the connection takes more thought. But each act of violence brings both forth cries for more of the same. These messages come ostensibly from enemies, and yet they coalesce into an odd sort of harmony.

The mating calls of violent men!

These violent men only have eyes for each other. And if they have their way, the world at large will soon be nothing but a battle ground between such people.

It will also be a dance hall for the morbidly obsessed.

Son of a Bullet Point Mind: Cold Reading the Textbook


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20151104_095016[1]It was a few years back. I had a couple students I had agreed to help with a reading. Since I didn’t think they were reading at all, I thought I would begin the session by simply giving them time to read. We would discuss the article after they had had a chance to read part way through it, or at least that was my plan. But there I was, not a full minute into the reading session and one of the students had already commented on the point of the article. He finished with rising tone, as if inviting me to confirm or deny the validity of his point. His overall demeanor seemed to suggest that he was ready to begin the discussion.

I asked this student to just read for a little while, explaining that we would discuss the article afterwards. If he had specific questions about the meaning of words in the text, I would be happy to answer those, but I wanted to save the general discussion until he had had a chance to read the material.

It wasn’t another minute before he asked me a question about the point of the article. And another before he made another point about a random line on the page. Each time, he seem to be trying to kick of the full discussion. I decided to compromise and agreed to discuss the matter after he’d finished one page.

He never made it throiugh that one page.

I should point out that this was a college student, and a rather bright one at that. But it was very clear to me that he didn’t read. I wouldn’t say that he couldn’t read, because I’m pretty sure that he could parse any reasonable sentence you threw at him, but perhaps the effort to concentrate on a full reading was too much. Anyway, the specific reasons for not reading in this case are beside the point. What interests me most about this example is what the student was doing INSTEAD of reading. He was working me, lifting a word or a phrase off the page and inviting me to elaborate on his own contributions. Whether phrased as a question or a comment, his every utterance was an effort to put the ball back in my court and get me started explaining the material. The one thing that was never going to happen that semester was him reading a text, but if he could pull it off, I would never realize he hadn’t done the reading at all. After all, he had so many thoughts about the reading.

…the reading he didn’t do.

On some level, this is simply a bluff. We’ve all done it, partly because we’ve all been caught with our pants down so to speak. At some point in our education, we’ve all been asked a question about readings we didn’t do. You can admit you didn’t do the reading or you can say something in an effort to sound like you know a thing or two about what you were supposed to have read. Most of us have probably tried the bluff a time or three. It’s not that unusual, at least not as a single instance. But what was unusual, or at least very striking to me in this case was the realization that this was standard operational procedure for the student in question.  Near as I could tell, this was how he handled all his teachers and all his readings. And why not? It worked.

Most of the time anyway.

What made that particular circumstance unusual, and awkward, was my own determination to get this student to read something on that day, even if it was just a single page. Had we not been meeting outside the classroom, and had I not made it a point to ask him to read then and there, the painful impossibility of my expectation that he actually read something might never have given us both cause to regret each others’ company that evening. I might have come away suspicious, but in this case it had become unusually clear that this student didn’t read, and that at least one of the reasons he didn’t read was that he never needed to. All he had to do was field an observation or two and let the imagination of his instructors fill in the gaps for him. It’s how he learned what was in all of his books.

This is exactly what psychics do, or at least one variety of them, the ones who do cold reading. Ostensibly ‘picking up a vibration’, or ‘getting an impression’, a psychic may ask you if there is someone important in your life, someone having trouble, and since of course all of us have someone like that in our lives, we will happily fill in the details and confirm that they are right. Soon we will be talking with the psychic about cousin Ernest and his heart problems. And if we’re not very careful, we may just think it an amazing thing that this psychic somehow knew about cousin Ernest without us ever telling her about him. We’ll come away from the experience thinking it’s amazing, and amazing of course is exactly what the psychic wants us to think about the whole experience.

Perhaps she wants to think that way about it herself.

Not the cold reading student though. The cold reading student doesn’t want their powers of divination to be noticed at all. He wants you to think his contributions to classroom discussion are perfectly normal, his errors understandable, and his proper calls exactly what one would expect of an individual working his way through the material. He may be hit or miss on tests and other assignments, but as long as he is talking about the classroom materials, he has an angle, and that angle is the imagination of the instructor. If he can land a comment in the ballpark, so to speak, he can rely on the instructor to pick that ball up and carry the game forward.

…perhaps without ever realizing that the student hasn’t a clue.

This is why some students specialize in so many one word answers. You can give them an essay by an abolitionist and ask them what the authors main point is in that essay and they will tell you it was ‘slavery’? What they are expecting you to do at that point is say something like; “yes, he is talking about slavery and what he has to say about…” If instead you insist on asking the student to explain what the author actually says about slavery, then the whole thing is just going to get very unpleasant. Since no-one wants to experience an unpleasant conversation, and since most instructors are dying to get to the interesting details of whatever they happen to teach, odds are quite good that the instructor isn’t going to be that fussy. So, students can just toss a word out and watch what happens, a bit like giving a broken machine a kick in the hopes it will restart.


I once had a one-on-one session with a student who had been asked to read an essay by John Stuart Mill. This was admittedly pushing the envelope for this student’s reading abilities, but it was actually one of the more user-friendly readings in the textbook my college (in its infinite wisdom) made me use that semester, so I figured I’d do my best and ask the students to do the same. So anyway…

I thought I would work through the first paragraph of the essay with her and see how things went. She looked at the first sentence and found the words ‘freedom’ and ‘will’ in there. She then looked up and thought about it a moment before explaining that we have freedom of the will. That’s what she thought Mill was saying. She had pulled two words off the page and thought her way to the connection between them. What she hadn’t done was to read the actual sentence in front of her.

We repeated this process for an hour, and she approached every sentence the exact same way, pulling a few keywords off the text, looking up, and imagining the connection between them. This approach yielded an interpretation nearly the polar opposite of the one Mill had been trying to convey. I carefully explained Mill’s actual position, watching her eyes widen as I did, and upon completing that lesson, I risked a comment on her reading strategies. I asked her to read each sentence in turn, each full sentence, and to do that for the full article. She looked at me like I was insane. That’s not how reading was done! She proved even more surprised to learn that this is what I wanted whenever I handed out readings in any of my classes.

And at last, I understood why she never got anything out of the other textbooks.

I can just imagine the number of readers now thinking of this or that tool or technqiue to help this student learn the necessary skills, or to motivate them to learn, and I myself wish the college where this occurred had more in the way of persistence and retention facilities, but all of that misses the problem. The problem in this instance is that this isn’t a problem, at least not to the student. It’s a problem to me, and to anyone who thinks reading is an important skill, and it would be easy to think that since this was a college class and I was the instructor that value ought to have controlled the situation, but that just isn’t the case. What this student was doing worked!

…at least as far as she was concerned.

This was not a young girl with a few Freshman skills to learn. This was a middle-aged woman with a white-collar job and a family, and this was how she read. Most importantly, her reading was NOT simply a function of her own inability; it was also an adaption of sorts, and one which she had been using successfully throughout her adult life. I reckon it suited her purposes for any number of tasks wherein a reader might be expected to have thoughts similar to those of an author. Her knowledge of the written documents in her life had thus been cobbled together from words and phrases off the texts and the verbal exchanges occurring around her.

Where this woman fell flat was in the encounter with an alternative point of view, one which happened to use a vocabulary familiar enough to suggest all the wrong things to her imagination. Did she care about such things? I doubt it. Today, she probably tells the story of her asshole teacher and that insane book that said all the wrong things about something important. Hell, her approach probably even handled quite a number of errors. If she misread a document, someone would correct her, perhaps without ever thinking twice about. Most of the time, I expect she was just fine.

But I do wonder what disasters might have followed when she wasn’t.

My point isn’t that these are mistakes. They are not. They are coping strategies, and they can be damned effective, at least insofar as these approaches can get a student through a discussion and perhaps even an essay. Students employing these strategies as a way of life may well accept that they will take a hit on exams and assignments, but when it comes to conversation, they will often be just fine. All they need is an instructor willing to fill in the details for them, to imagine that one word answers are the tip of a thoughtful iceberg, and to give a student the benefit of the doubt on ever so many moments of silence.

It really does work.

But of course the real question isn’t how this works in education. It’s how it works everywhere else?

Chevak Dancers from 2010.


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I thought I’d post this old video of the Chevak Dancers from the Alaska Federation of Natives 2010. It’s really short. I took this on my old Blackberry from too far back in the audience, so the quality is terrible, but the dance itself is really cool. I’ve been hoping to see these guys again, so I can get a better version of this dance, but perhaps this is the best I’ll get.

Bet you can’t tell what it’s about!


An Accusatory Confession


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selfie fail?

Okay admit it!

When you learned about “Confirmation bias,” your first thought was that this totally explained how some other guy could be so completely wrong.

You did, didn’t you?

…at least, I hope it wasn’t just me.

A Visit to the Museum that Goes Boom!


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IMG_4686The Atomic testing Museum in Las Vegas would be among the more interesting places I visited this summer. The museum has two major exhibits, one for Atomic testing and one for Area 51. I’m really not sure what to make of the Area 51 section, and really I’d just as son not be picked up by the Men in Black, so we’ll just leave commentary on that aside for the present. Besides, the Atomic Testing Museum provides plenty of interesting material t consider.

Seeing the Dina Titus reading room in there made me smile. It’s been a long time, but I do remember my old Political Science Professor rather fondly. Her book, Bombs in the Backyard would be the most obvious connection to this facility, though I’m not entirely sure how much of a role she played in the development of the museum and it’s collections. She does provide one of the more critical voices in one of the films shown in museum. I find myself wondering if her views couldn’t have received more coverage.

I’d have to say the material collections in this museum are fantastic. I’ll include a few pictures, but they really don’t do the place justice. It’s worth a trip to see this stuff, so remember this place if you’re ever in Las Vegas and your hangover is under control. Of course you may also pick up a bit about Nuclear testing at the Neon Museum, because nuclear tourism was once so very Vegas. But of course the Atomic testing Museum is a long way from Neon. Much of it is drab green and grey, just like I remember my dad’s old military paraphernalia, which is very fitting I suppose.

There is a tremendously matter-of-fact tone to the presentation in this museum. As you proceed down it’s halls you will learn how scientists first came to understand the possibilities which would give rise to nuclear technology; you will learn about the rush to acquire that technology during World War II, and you will learn about the many twists and turns of the nuclear arms race which would follow. Also you will learn about the steps and procedures taken to set up and run the actual facilities in Nevada.What bothers me is just how unproblematic each step in this process would seem to be in the narratives this museum provides.

The Atomic testing Museum presents the rationale for each stage in the history of its subject in a very straightforward manner. It does the same with protests, and even with various decisions to scale back nuclear testing and/or to discontinue certain programs. I wouldn’t say that the museum slights the protest movement in an overt manner, but the museum leaves a strong impression that the development of nuclear technology proceeded along a rational course. Whatever the pros and cons of nuclear testing, and of specific events in the history of nuclear testing, the planning process behind that history was, at least as far as the narrators here would have it, utterly reasonable.

This is of course exactly how I remember those in favor of nuclear testing presenting the case for it when I lived in Nevada. It’s also what I see whenever I dip my toes into the history of Atomic power. For whatever its worth, this does appear to be the view of those who worked in the industry. And of course those who worked in the industry are strongly represented in the Museum and its supporters.

This doesn’t mean that the museum is insensitive to critics of Atomic testing, but it does mean that the narrative presentation at the museum provides a strong bias in favor of the grounds for testing in each of its various phases. Whether testing is right or wrong, so it would seem, the case for doing was always a function of careful, rational consideration. The problem is of course that this just isn’t entirely true. It may well be that the arms race was inevitable. It may well be that the bomb needed to be dropped on Japan, as so many still argue today. It may even be that we needed to keep testing for so many years into the cold war. All these things may well be (and yet they may not), but that doesn’t mean that each step in the process can be fully explained as a rationale decision by someone genuinely interested in pursuing national security.

There are moments in the history of Nuclear testing in which the larger narratives just don’t fully explain what’s going on; moments in which the fingerprints of Dr. Strangelove seem to be found all over the course of nuclear testing; moments in the mad scientist seems to upstage the soldiers and scientist doing heir grim duty for the sake of loved ones, the nation, and possibly the entire world. When I see images of U.S. troops marching towards ground zero of an explosion because someone wanted to see how the bomb would affect troop movements, I can’t help thinking that I’m seeing one such moment in the history of nuclear testing

I look at such an image and I can’t help but wonder at the supposed reason for putting those troops in harms way, at least on that particular day and in that particular manner. Was this really a serious research question? Or was someone doing that simply because they could? Because they could put people out there and expose them to great danger in the name of science, and because being able to put human beings in danger for any reason must be one of the surest signs ever that you are somebody and that what you do is important.

I’m fairly certain that I see one such moment in one of the smaller placards of the museum, that devoted to Operation Plowshare. The placard reads as follows:

The Atomic Energy Commission’s Plowshare Program was named after a Biblical verse referring to “beating swords into plowshares.” The program was intended to find peaceful applications for nuclear weapons.

The Plowshare program, initiated in 1958, sought to develop peaceful uses for nuclear explosives to construct major facilities such as canals, harbors, earthen dams, and other engineering projects. Twenty-Six of the 35 Plowshare nuclear experiments were conducted at the Nevada test site. In 1961, the first off-site multi-purpose experiment, “Project Gnome,” near Carlsbad New Mexico was fired in a salt dome to study heat generated by a nuclear explosion, isotope and energy production, and seismic measurements. The most notable experiment in 1962 was Sedan, a 104 kiloton thermonuclear detonation, equivalent t an earthquake magnitude of 4.75 on the Richter Scale. The blast displaced 12 million tons of earth, creating a crater 1,280 feet in diameter and 320 feet deep. The crater could hold four football fields, end to end. Concluding the experiments in 1973 was Rio Blanco near Rifle, Colorado which focused on fracturing natural gas-bearing formations. The Plowshare program terminated in 1975 due to waning industrial interest and mounting public concern about the environmental consequences.

Not mentioned in this placard would one of the Plowshare projects never completed, Project Chariot. Project Chariot was an effort to build a harbor via nuclear detonations at a site just south of Point Hope, Alaska. Dan ONeill’s book, The Firecracker Boys provides a pretty thorough account of the politics behind this project as well as the opposition which eventually killed the project. Rachel Naninaaq Edwardson’s documentary, Project Chariot, also provides an interesting take on the subject, one focused the local Iñupiat population and their efforts to deal with the lasting impact of their brief encounter with an almost-bombing. I don’t particularly wish to rehash the full subject here, but it’s hardly a study in rational scientific inquiry. The Atomic Energy Commission ignored a great deal of science in planning the project, misrepresented the findings of its own scientists, lied to the people of Point Hope, and finally, when forced to abandon their plans to bomb the Alaskan coastline, the research team left radioactive material buried at the site without telling anyone.

I think about project Chariot when I read this placard telling us about the many successes of Operation Plowshare, when I see this matter of fact discussion of Plowshare’s goals and the simple decision to discontinue it. I think about the lives of scientists whose careers were trashed because they opposed it, and I think about the people in Point Hope today still unsure of just what did actually happen in their region, still wondering what effect it had upon them. In it’s pursuit of Project Chariot, the behavior of the Atomic Energy Commission was (as ONeill suggests) closer to that of kids with firecrackers, all-too eager to blow something up, than the sort of benign search for new ways to help mankind that one might expect from reading this placard on Operation Plowshare.

I think about all that, and I wonder how many similar stories never made it into the placards at the Atomic Testing Museum.


(Gallery. You may click the pictures. Don’t worry. They won’t explode!)

With Apologies to the Moths Along I-40; My Summer! (Includes Pictures)


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Just an excitable boy!

Just an excitable boy!

Stays in Vegas, my ass! What happens in Vegas gets bigger, wilder, and more sordid with every retelling of the story!

My summer in Vegas might even have included the slaying of giants, for example. Dice might have been involved, but let’s not dwell on the details. Other frequent activities included book night. Book club did involve Scotch I believe, or at least a Corona. I could say that I really don’t remember the books and leave it at that, but it’s entirely possible that no books were to be found at book night.

…or even discussed for that matter.

And if RPGs and an occasional beer ain’t wild enough for a good Vegas yarn, then let me tell you about the museums. Yeah, that’s right. Vegas has museums! No, I’m not going to tell you about the mob museum, because that’s just what you’re expecting me to do. But Las Vegas does have a Mormon!


I do recall a bit of neon!

And then there was the place that went boom! Lots to lean at the museum that goes boom. More on that on another day. The Mojave Penguin at the Clark County Museum was cool! The Springs Preserve was annoying, then amusing, then kinda cool, but there were absolutely NO butterflies, dammit! Pin Ball, you already know about, and of course there is the sexy museum that isn’t really that sexy! I took a former student to that place.  He declined to go next door. Otherwise, we’d have some real story to tell.

I met an old friend in an alley. Shhhhhh….

Downtown is always fun, and the Container Park rocks!

…sometimes literally.

I narrowly escaped a giant flame-spouting mantis somewhere in that area. No big deal. So did the others, you might say. I know. I saved everyone!

Hoover Dam is still there. Much of the water isn’t. Dammit!

Also I biggened the moon while I was in the area. Yes, I did!

The strip? What happens on the strip might as well stay on the strip, cause I couldn’t care less.

Apparently, I am now on Instagram.

Bob still makes great steaks, and Pam hasn’t greened a chili in a long time, but this summer was special. Plus Moni approved my gringo tacos, so I is a happy cookery-guy!

Vegas might well have included the Santa Monica Pier and a visit to Church, unless I was just sober. Not that I’m not often sober, or that any of this will make sense to you, but I don’t give a damn.

If you make sense to people, they will only make sense back at you!

Vegas might also have included a Corn Dance and a lovely stay in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but hey, I told you what happens in Vegas gets bigger with every retelling. Sometimes Vegas itself gets bigger with every retelling.

Or so I telled you!

Big skies happen!

Big skies happen!

Moni almost went boom at the corn dance. My fault on accounta I’m a bad person, but red chili be praised! She came out okay. My thanks to the kind people at Santa Ana Pueblo!

On a serious note, I really enjoyed our stay at Rancho Gallina and a chance to visit a couple of old friends. If you are ever planning a stay in Santa Fe, do yourself a favor and check out this bed and breakfast!

Yeah, there were utility boxes too, in vegas I mean, and the utility was sometimes amazing! I mighta seen a few other street-arts, some of which were quite cool. Or maybe they were hot, but only if being hot is cool, if you’re cool with that, I mean!

Hot pots also happen!As does Kimchi! And Origami statues happen! Lots of happenings happen, as it happens.

The View from Pikes Landing

The View from Pikes Landing

I would tell you that Vegas included the Chena River, but that might be stretching the bounds of credibility, so I’ll just admit that was Fairbanks. I went to Fairbanks before I became really Southy, and Fairbanks was cool. That said, credibility is a damned kill-joy and he’s not invited into any more of my stories!

Also, I really am a bad man, and I will probably be kicked next time I go to Vegas.

That’s ‘boiled alive’ in What-happens-in-Vegas talk!


You may click to embiggen!

Er, …the Los Angeles part of Vegas.

Moar Street Art!

Museums. …I like the one that goes boom!

On the road again…

(My friend Monica took a lot of these images, and I think she even tweaked the colors a bit for her Instagram page.)

Santa Fe and thereabouts.

Today’s Kinda Loaded Question – How Do You Read a Bible?


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006I always wonder what it means to ‘read the Bible’. The question comes to mind when people tell others to read the Bible; when they say they’ve read the Bible, and when they ask others if they’ve read the Bible. These questions and comments often seem intended to pack an extra bit of punch; something of value always seems to rest on them. But the phrase ‘read the Bible’ could mean anything from reading random passages to a kind of epic cover-to-cover journey. It could also mean reading specific (and very deliberately chosen) sections at length. Hell, it could mean a few other things too, but for me those are the ones that come to mind.

We could also talk about different versions of the Bible. It certainly matters what translation you look at.

The random passage reading approach is always interesting to me.  People using this approach open the book randomly and read what’s in front of them in the belief that they may be led (perhaps by the Holy Spirit) to some significant passage that will help them resolve a question or a problem of some sorts. It’s a fascinating approach to reading, one which gives the process more than a little trace of divination.

…a bit like palm reading or crystal gazing.

Which reminds me that I’ve been told many times one must be guided by the Holy Spirit to interpret the Bible correctly. Whatever else this claim means, it usually also means that my own heathen reading skills won’t account for much on Biblical topics, at least not in the ears of the person telling me this.  This may be a trip down the fallacy highway with stops in the Cities of Petitio and Ad Hominem-Circumstantial. It’s also a world in which spiritual powers and personal authority cut right across basic reading and reasoning skills, and parsing a simple sentence becomes an act of communion.

Do we want to get into the whole question of sola scriptura versus the authority of the Pope or some other religious authority?


I mean, we could, but seriously, let’s not.

I sometimes wonder at the degree to which the simple physical act of opening the book could skew this divination-reading approach to the topic. I mean just how often would you land on one of the first or last pages when you try this? And if you did, would it be due to a conscious effort on your own part or guidance by …you know who?

Ah well!

What actually started me down this path was a slightly more mundane question. Do you read the whole thing or do you simply read parts? People often claim to have read the Bible. I think some folks are just bluffing really. It’s a big damned sleeping pill of a book, and I somehow doubt that some folks could actually make it from cover to cover. A much more interesting question though would be whether or not it’s actually worth it to do that? To just read the Bible cover-to-cover.

Now a serious Biblical scholar might get something out of such a reading; he presumably already knows a lot about the context behind the text. I’m talking about your average Jane just sitting at home with as much knowledge of the text, it’s language, and its relevant histories as regular life gives your average Jane. Okay, I know the average Jane is itself a tricky concept, so let’s just say that in my mind she’s a middle-class American with a high school diploma (and perhaps a college degree). She watches a lot of TV, and she’s been to church a few times in herlife; perhaps she even goes regularly. You can skew this Jane-image in whatever direction you like. The point I’m trying to make is that their daily lives haven’t prepared most people (including I’ll warrant most people who claim to have read the Bible) to understand what they are reading as they go skipping along the pages of scripture. Without giving necessary consideration to the linguistic and literary traditions encompassed in the book as well as the (often murky) historical context in which the texts were written and/or translated, I don’t see how any substantive understanding (inspired or otherwise) could come out of the epic cover-to-cover reading quest. People have enough trouble getting the cool parts from Shakespeare. I somehow doubt this even older text is more transparent on first or even a third pass. No, I can’t see reading the Bible working without a lot of side reading as you go.

And somewhere in there, I can’t help thinking this ceases to be about ‘reading’ and starts to become an exercise in ‘studying’.

I’m not just saying you can do some extra study to get more out of the Bible. What I’m saying is that the exercise of simply reading that text is a rather meaningless ritual without the studying. …Okay, so perhaps the ritual does have meaning (Holy Spirit and all that) but if it does have meaning, that meaning has little to do with what we conventionally understand to come from the act of reading. I am accordingly unimpressed when people tell me that they have read the Bible cover-to-cover. When people tell me they have read the Bible, I figure this is either a hollow exercise or an occult activity with principles quite different from those of conventional reading skills. When someone tells me that they study the Bible, well that might be interesting…

It might be.

An evangelical Christian might be tempted to think that this meditation is a trap of sorts, because of course that process of study leads one to an awful lot of perfectly mortal sources of authority. How can one truly learn the word of God if doing so requires one to make decisions about alternative translations, assess the historical context based on books written by mere mortals (some of whom may not even be Christian!), and make a number of choices oneself about how to frame the context of understanding any particular passage. Far from a discrete project, the effort to study-up on the topic if a potentially infinite regress. Most believers aren’t going to want to do that any more than the rest of us. In any event, this process will never lead to anywhere near the conviction that this or that moral principle is the absolute and unvarnished word of God. For myself, I’m comfortable with that, and I suspect there are a few liberal Christians that could say the same, but I don’t think the notion that the Bible is the infallible word of god survives this process. More to the point, I don’t think that notion survives any serious attempt to think about what it takes to understand an historical text like this.

That’s my spirit-unfulfilled 2 cents.

I Rant! I Does!


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Me gal thinks I'm grumpy. I really don't know why.

My gal thinks I’m grumpy. I really don’t know why.

Context? We don’t need no freaking context! Let’s just get this started…

1) Reform happens. What needs reforming; who will take charge of the reform and what direction the reforms will take remains to be determined. In any case these are not important questions. Reform will happen! It is a singularity.

2) Resistance is futile. The most effective opposition to any given reform consists of failure to act on it. Many great plans have withered and died as people went about their business, just as they did before, but nothing nourishes a reform quite like vocal and open opposition. Write a few memos against a reform agenda, and you just may get added to whatever committee has been formed to enact it. Write a few more and you just may find yourself chair of that committee. (…true story!) You may ignore a reform, unless of course you can’t, but active resistance will shine a rainbow of regret all over your already miserable work-day.

3) Change is a Many-Splintered Thing. Support for any given reform means that people have found a way to read their own agendas into that reform. Every ‘yea’, ‘amen’, or ‘right on’ is invariably a sign that someone sees in a given proposal the chance to do something they’ve really been meaning to do for a long time. Listen carefully to the planning of a new policy and you will hear as many different reforms as there are active and energetic participants. When a reform policy is finally put in place, it may look nothing like it did in its initial conception. In fact, its originator is doing very well if the final policy isn’t completely inimical to her own goals.

4) Fresh and Refresh. Listen carefully to a given proposal and you just may hear the echoes of an old policy. Listen very carefully, and you may just realize how much reform is really about repackaging, but don’t try telling that to those peddling old drugs in new prescription bottles. Just learn to present your standard way of doing things as a new and original approach to business. Say it with enthusiasm and hope that you then get to play tug-of-war with a host of enthusiastic supporters, each of whom really wants to turn your new/old thing into their new/old thing and then make sure everyone else does it.

5) ‘Studies say’ and ‘research suggests’. You would be surprised at just how often a room full of highly educated people needs no more than to hear one of these phrases to be convinced that whatever claim follows them must be true.

6) Correlation is not causation. …unless of course you are one of the millions of people making policy on the basis of nothing more than a correlation loosely established using shady procedures most of which never make it into the summary that you only skimmed anyway.

…just like everyone else at the committee table!

7) You can count on objectivity, or at least visa versa. The most important thing about objectivity is that it takes the norm of numbers. It isn’t that the numbers provide more accurate information than qualitative data, personal reflection, or even interpretive dance, but committees know what to do with numbers. They can act on numbers, and that makes all the difference in the world. Once a committee gets wind of a compelling set of digits, they aren’t going to be too fussy about where those numbers came from. …or too patient with anyone who does want to get fussy about that.

8) Yes, in fact you are a number. For all the talk of ‘learning objectives’, ‘learning outcomes’, and other nice fluffy ‘learning’ talk about intellectual development, never forget that a student is also a statistic, and a very significant one at that. Her presence on forms describing participation in your institution and/or your own classroom can be used to facilitate transfer of funding back and forth between various agencies, both private and public. She may or may not learn a damned thing from any part of the curriculum, but her significance as a statistic is vital to all concerned.

Even you!

And yes, her too!

At least some of the money triggered by the presence of students on forms typically makes its way to faculty. Whether it be now or later, the presence of any given student on forms may also provide her with sufficient forms to open up new possibilities of money transfers into her own future bank accounts. No sane person would say that it was more important than all that ‘learning’ mumbo jumbo, but few sane people would allow the learning mumbo jumbo to interfere with the digital life of a catalyst for funding transfers.

This might seem a particularly cynical view of education, but don’t despair. With any luck your student will learn whatever she really needs to know from social media. …probably when she’s supposed to be listening to you.

9) Autonomy is a double-clawed hammer. Staff and administration will either want to change something in your classroom or they will want you and your students to spend more time outside of it. Every new policy will exacerbate one or both of these tendencies.

Time and again, you will encounter policies which make claims on your contact time. In the worse case scenario, you may face command and control over what you teach and how you teach it. In the best case scenario, you will be dealing with opportunity costs that can leave you kissing your own plans for this or that lesson goodbye. It will only take 15 minutes to complete this survey, explain that policy, or just step back and let someone from student services talk to your students for a bit.

…and cross something you meant to teach off your to-do list.

Don’t worry though, because you can always save the essential lessons by eliminating the most interesting themes from your lesson plans (you know the ones that made you want to become a teacher in the first place). There is always time for reform!

If the faculty at your institution have successfully minimized these incursions into your contact hours, then congratulations, but now you have a new problem. Your classroom has become dark matter to staff and administration, which means everything that takes place inside it is irrelevant to their view of the educational process. It has to be irrelevant to them, because they can’t affect it. So, when everyone else sits down to plan out how they want to improve the learning process at your school, they will envision these improvements taking place anywhere else but your classroom. This means the institutional world outside your classroom is going to get a lot busier. You will be attending more meetings and writing more reports, but don’t be too depressed about the time lost to course preparations, because your students will also be too busy taking advantage of support activities to attend to their studies.

And cosmic balance is thus preserved!

10) New people bring new policies. This often has the fringe benefit of meaning that old policies die with each new administrator, but rest assured these new administrators will replace them with something new. The near certainty that new policies will be allowed to die on the vine with the next administration does not seem to dampen enthusiasm for creating new ones. It’s the cycle of life.

11) Don’t Kid yourself. You are not quitting this job to go and join the circus.


Kumbaya! The committee chair sleeps tonight!

Ask Not What the Alibi Buddy Says About You!


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possible sighting?

possible sighting?

We’ve all heard about the alibi buddy. He’s that gay guy whose best friends with the man telling you he’s against gay rights. He’s also the black guy who hangs out with the fellow bashing African-Americans. He’s the Muslim who totally agrees with all of someone’s generalizations about Muslims, Arabs, and even Sikhs, cause that’s close enough, right? And of course he’s the Mexican drinking buddy to the guy telling you all about those damned immigrants, …er illegal immigrants, just the illegal ones, I mean. Cause we all know that people who bash immigrants are very precise about their concerns, and they never-ever cap on legal immigrants in any way! (Alibi buddy would probably tell us that if he were here.)

Does anybody else have any questions about this buddy, the one we never seem to meet? For that, matter, does anyone have questions for him? Who is he? Where does he live? Or does he really exist when the conversation is over? He might just be a kind of Berkleyian presence, only there when you’re in the room. I can’t be the only person to question if his reality outlives the moment. You gotta wonder if his friend even remembers him when the conversation is over and he doesn’t need an alibi anymore.

But it’s worse than that, I reckon, cause the alibi buddy ain’t there when you’re in the room either. So, this alibi guy is really weird, you know. He is and he ain’t, but he’s both of these (and neither) only when you’re in the room talking to the guy who has something bad to say about some group which totally includes the alibi buddy.

Which is confusing, I know.

Is or ain’t though, I’m convinced the alibi buddy is a singularity. I know, I know, the empirical evidence doesn’t say one way or another. It could be that all these people are talking about a whole bunch of different guys. It could even be that each community has its own ur-alibi, so to speak, a kind of minority spirit-keeper. There could be just that one guy who is friends with all the people capping on African-Americans, another one for Asians, and of course one sinister bastard for all the left-handed people. I mean it could well be that each disenfranchised group has its own alibi spirit who exists for the sole purpose of licensing friends to talk bad about them. On the face of it, this is at least possible.

…as is the existence of vast hoards of minorities living somewhere else, all of whom sent their trusted friends to say bad things about them.

…in good faith.

Still, the alibi buddy is just too perfect isn’t he? Always friends with someone who needs him, but never really there to answer any serious questions. Can that kind of perfection really be divisible. I think not. So, I really do think there is just one alibi-buddy for all the trash-talking not-really-bigots out there. You know it makes sense. There is just one alibi-buddy, one gay-Jewish-Afro-Asiatic Mexi-black man with a lisp. The alibi-buddy is is no Doubt a number of other things besides that, but really, he can only not be in the room for just so many reasons. So, we can probably rule out a few things. Alibi buddy isn’t white; I think we can all agree on that. He also isn’t straight. I would say that he isn’t a guy, but I can’t help thinking a woman would have the good sense to show up to set us straight.

The alibi buddy never does that, does he? No.

There is just one alibi buddy for all the people talking about him, and he is never really here to tell us how he feels about the issues. Evidently, he has a number of friends and they are all strikingly adversarial to the poor alibi buddy and his kin, but apparently he loves them anyway. Alibi buddy must be a very patient guy.

I say that, but I don’t really know for certain, which is frustrating, because I really would like to ask him something.  I’d like to ask him if he knows how his friends are talking about him? Does he know that his friend wants to make sure he can’t get married? Does he know his other friend wants him to go home (and I don’t mean Ohio)? That his drinking buddy thinks he’s unqualified and terrible at his job? I mean seriously, if his friends are any measure of alibi-buddy’s life, that poor guy doesn’t need anymore enemies!

Now I ask you; is this anyway to treat a singular entity capable of such miraculous patience? His friends always seem to want us to care about what alibi buddy thinks, …of them anyway. Just once, I wish someone would think of him and his feelings. As much as I’d like to know what he really has to say about all this, the question has always really been just what do his friends say about him.

…and the answer to that question is never all that pretty.

Behold! The Utility Boxes of Maryland Parkway


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Art by Arg

I’m not sure who first decided utility boxes would make a good canvas for local artists, or what city first tested this theory, but I like it. Happily, Las Vegas Has seen at least one such project, Zap 7, resulting in a number of wonderful paintings along Maryland Parkway and the general vicinity of UNLV.

My friend Moni and I first discovered a few of these murals while puttering about Vegas earlier this summer. One day with a little more time on my hands, I headed down Maryland Parkway with a camera. In time, a few specific artists seemed to jump out at me, but I really enjoyed the lot of the work here.

I always hesitate a little before doing these posts, both because art ain’t really my area, and because I always miss stuff. …and then of course I can’t include everything anyway. I have to leave out some of the stuff I did find. So, I’m just posting as a fan, and feeling like a guilty fan for not fanatizing enough about this stuff.

Yeah, that’s right. I said ‘Fanatizing’. Deal with it!

So, let’s just start this one off with a few random pieces.

(Click to embiggen! …you know you want to.)

Tatiana Hantig choose to focus on local varieties of endangered plants and animals. These are just a few of the pieces she put up.

Nanda Sharifpour’s personal website painted this whimsical set of murals. I’m kicking myself for not coming back when the shadows have moved on, but hopefully her work can overcome my laziness. I seriously loved this set.

Su Limbert produced a number of small creatures, many of which seem to be a little on the odd side.

…metaphysically speaking, I mean.

Adolfo R. Gonzalez did a number of colorful paintings, one of which is located at UNLV, just outside of the Humanities building,

…which is an old haunt of mine.

…a long time ago.

A copy of these artists (Tatiana Handig, Holly Rae Vaughn, and Holly Rae Vaughn again. ) even did videos of their work. Here is one video showing a project for Desert Breeze Park. I seem to have missed some of this stuff.



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