An Uncommon Icon


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146What is this?

It is conspicuous placement, to be sure, but what does it mean? What does it signify? What is its author trying to tell us?

Personally, I think it is a bicycle seat of scorn, placed here in condemnation of all the vehicles that pass through the underpass. Its message is clear. It is saying to the city of Anchorage; “I see your motor vehicles, and your drivers too. I see the lot of you, and I do judge. I do!”

Course, then again, I am prone to flights of fancy.

God is Not an Apologist! (Except Maybe on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 to 9:45am)


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Yes, the Holy Bible comes in an Arctic Edition

Somewhere in the movie, God is Not Dead, the main character proclaims that the burden both theists and atheists must face is the question of how the universe was created. In this moment, I think it’s fair to suggest Wheaton speaks for the movie makers themselves; his voice is the one we are meant to believe, and in this respect I think he is also voicing the views of many Christian apologists. From this standpoint, the debate over the existence of God is essentially a debate over alternative explanations of the universe. And fair enough, I suppose, one can certainly approach the subject in this manner, but I wonder sometimes if people realize just how much baggage this leaves unpacked?

We could start with the use of deictic markers to reference one of the key points of that debate. The word ‘God’ isn’t a descriptive term, much less a scientific one. It is a label which points at someone without doing much to tell us anything about Him, thus bringing God (along with His presumed attributes) into the debate by way of presupposition rather than demonstration. Raising questions about the existence of god in this way has the effect of setting a lot of interesting questions about His nature aside. The typical manner in which we have become accustomed to talk about God thus grants a strong presupposition in his favor and in favor of a number of assumptions about who He is and what role He plays in the universe. By ‘we’ here I mean pretty much any of us who talk about the subject, including non-believers like me. We Godless bastards doubt the existence of the Lord, and yet in doing so we happily fall into a manner of speech that practically puts him in the room.

That’s a bad habit.

It would be nice if we could put this habit down to twitter-apologetics or something, but as I recall the approach was already strong in the work of Thomas Aquinas, and with him, in philosophy seminars throughout the world. But seriously, how often do we talk about alternative explanations for anything using personal pronouns for key terms? We don’t explain falling Objects with reference to Mr. Gravity. Meteorologists don’t tell us about storms by warning us that Mother Earth is in a bad mood today. And we certainly don’t expect our doctors to enter into dialogue with the causes of our aches and pains. “…the cause of your sore throat is a guy named Fred. I’ve asked him to leave, and he said he would if only you would gift him these blue pills twice a day for the next two weeks.” Anyway, the point is that this is one respect in which the very vocabulary of God-talk is damned tricky. In using it, we may start with interesting questions, but we end up discussing it in personal terms.


The point here is that folks rarely examine the implications of that transition. But they should. Some of us may have qualms about using such sloppy rhetoric to try and explain anything, much less the entire universe (which is itself an odd almost-notion that could bear a little reflection), but you have to wonder about the proprieties of the matter? It isn’t really all that nice to talk about someone as though they aren’t in the room. It has to be a little rude to sit there and tell people about God making this and god making that when folks assure us he hears the whole conversation. We non-believers can at least plead ignorance if we turn out wrong, but I have to wonder about the theists among us. What’s your excuse?

Okay, tongue in cheek remarks aside, my point is that this whole fashion of reference to God throws every explanation sideways and it makes every theoretical explanation using God just a little conky-wobble, more than a little actually. The sheer awkwardness of that transition, seemingly naturalized by countless centuries of habitus touches on an interesting question about the history of this God. When did he become an explanation? It might have been the same time that he dispensed with all his companions and decided to become the only deity in town.

Most of your deities in classic polytheism just don’t play the same kind of role in the intellectual life of their believers. Sure they create (often by accident, …ahem, Coyote!), but they do not create out of nothing. More importantly, it isn’t clear that they are really there to serve as explanations for anything. A god of lightning may seem a poor explanation for lightning in this day and age, but one shouldn’t be too quick to assume he is really there to explain lightning. It is at least as plausible that those speaking of such gods may simply want us to think of them whenever we see lightning, in effect making the physical world (or at least its storms) a reminder of the stories told about them. This isn’t the logic of scientific (or even unscientific) explanation; it is a narrative style of its own. And the God of Abraham has his early days in those conventions. One searches in vain for anything like the rigor of Thomas Aquinas in the Book of Genesis, or even the rest of the Bible.

The God of Abraham was a god of war long before he was a First Cause. He was a god of agriculture long before he was a being than which nothing greater can be conceived. And he was a god of shepherds long before he was the supreme watch-maker. He was a god of many other things too, one of the being creation, but the conventions of that creation are not those of philosophical explanation. The account of creation we find in the Old Testament is the sort of loose-ended story-telling that one finds in the Iliad, the Mahabharata, or even the stories of elders in various native communities. The moral lessons of such stories and the ethos they facilitate are simply not those of the great philosophical arguments. We may use the same name to reference Him in each of these instances, but there is little reason to believe he is really the same person.

Truth be told, I suspect this is true of much of Christianity. The God who appears in the great philosophical arguments has little to do with the God spoken of in churches every Sunday. Small wonder that it is often the believers in the room who don’t really want to discuss the arguments for God’s existence. At least that was my experience when I taught Introduction to Philosophy. Each time I seemed to find myself, the only atheist in the room, trying to convince my students that the cosmological argument was worth thinking about, that the Ontological Argument wasn’t entirely insane, and that even Pascal’s Wager had its merits. Time and again, my students would simply proclaim that you couldn’t prove that God exists, all the while clearly insisting that he does. For me at least, the exchange was always fascinating and frustrating at the same time. I can’t help but think that my students were right about one thing though, that sort of intellectual exchange had little to do with their own approach to the subject. The God of the First Cause argument wasn’t really the God of their prayers, and it bothered them to speak of Him as though He was.

It isn’t really all that clear to me that anyone has to figure out where it all came from, so to speak, and it certainly isn’t clear that we must accept Christian accounts in the absence of an alternative. More to the point of this post, it isn’t clear that belief in God or gods has always been about answering such questions.

…or even that it is so today.


An Uncommon Beer Tap.


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If you click on it, it gets bigger. …really!

So, I’m at Humpy’s in Anchorage, and the hot wings really are hot (which is not always the case here in the land where salt and pepper count as bold spices). So, I’m well into my cups when I look up and see this beer tap. Hey, is that a walrus penis? Why, yes it is my lovely bartender Chelsey tells me. It’s for Oosik Amber Ale, which just happens to be what I’m drinking. So, naturally, I order another.

Had to. The wings were really hot.

Moar Murals from Anchorage!


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171Some of you may remember this post covering a host of murals in downtown Anchorage. I even had the privilege to meet Ziggy, the source for many of these toward the end of last summer. Over the last year or so, I’ve found a few more murals and picked up a few new pics of the old ones. Finally got a few pics of the last one i was after on my way out of the ice-box. I’m headed to Vegas and a summer with (fingers crossed) more time for bloggety things. So, I thought I’d show the additions now.


You may click to embiggen.


It’s Been a Good Week for Whitesplaining, Thank you Cliven Bundy and Dan Snyder!


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NFL Preseason - Cincinnati Bengals vs Washington Redskins - August 19, 2005I love the smell of Whitesplaining in the morning. Smells like, …privilege!

So, it’s been a good week for me, or at least for my guilty pleasures. One of the greatest joys of the week has been watching my usual qualms about lefty crit-speak vanish in a puff of “Oh yeah, that’s what that means!” See, I have to admit, I’m not always down with the use of ‘whitesplaining’, ‘privilege’, ‘objectification’ in critical commentary. Some might suggest my hesitation is just what you’d expect from a middle-class white guy, but I can’t help thinking these get a little overused at times.

But then Dan Snyder made a true believer out of me.

This miracle of clarity came on Tuesday a charity event in which he answered a few questions, …badly. According to the Associated Press, Snyder simply declared that the team name is “not an issue” and that people need to “focus on reality.” And lo! The matter was settled. If you are like me, you might be thinking that’s a neat trick. When people keep telling you they have a problem with something you’re doing, you just declare it isn’t an issue, and like magic, it simply isn’t. Teenagers everywhere should try that with their parents and teachers.

…or maybe not.

Of course Dan Snyder isn’t a teenager; he isn’t challenging authority. Given his wealth and his power, and that his primary critics here seem to be an underprivileged demographic, the man is speaking down the social scale in some sense, delivering a pronouncement from on-high, one that others will struggle to challenge. If Snyder’s ex cathedra pronouncement seems to work, it is precisely because he has the power to make the story stick, and that power does not come from the clarity of his personal insight or the cogency of his arguments.

This isn’t someone speaking truth to power; it’s someone speaking power in the face of truth.

But of course Snyder isn’t just playing privilege, he also has an argument. That argument has something to do with addressing real issues affecting the lives of Native Americans rather than the symbolic issues associated with mascot politics. As Snyder says; “The real issues are real-life issues, real-life needs, and I think it’s time that people focus on reality.”

Now this little gambit almost has promise. You could make a plausible argument out of prioritizing material needs over symbolic politics, at least some people could under some circumstances. So, this argument seems like it might have some legs. Of course those legs might take his cause further if Snyder weren’t busy laying down a hundred thousand dollars to help a high school team change their football field to field turf, this after bragging up some coats and part of a backhoe given to Native Americans. Those legs stop walking altogether when one considers that any effort to actually help people in their real lives does nothing at all to answer questions about the name of the team. As Keith Olberman pointed out, it is quite possible to do both. And those legs sit down and kick up their feet for a smoke break when one considers just how outrageous it is for a non-native to simply declare that he knows what the actual issues for Native Americans really are in direct opposition to the stated position of so many of them. Mind you, the man isn’t making a suggestion, fielding a question, or even respectfully submitting any thoughts for folks to consider. He simply declares his own command of the issues once and for all. …adding that he and his folks have done their homework, “unlike a lot of people.”

I wonder who Dan Snyder thinks those other people who haven’t done their homework would be? Could it possibly be the people whose lives he pretend to want to help? Could it be the very people he is talking about? So, yep. Dan Snyder thinks he can simply tell the world what the real problems are in Indian Country, all the while ignoring the input, comments, criticism, and vocal outrage from indigenous voices all over the country, not the least of them appearing on the pages of Indian Country Today.

If I had to give an example of whitesplaining, I think this might just be the first one that came to mind.

But of course Dan Snyder had competition this week from rural Nevada where rancher and Tea Party hero Cliven Bundy opted to tell us a thing or two about the ‘negro’. …yep. Of course some folks might not be surprised to find a man with odd thoughts about federal authority (and the lack thereof) also had odd thoughts about minorities, but I prefer to give folks the benefit of the doubt.

…at least while there is doubt.

Here’s the quick and dirty version:

Now some folks seem to feel this shortened version of Bundy’s remarks reflects an unfair edit, so they present a larger version of the clip showing a bit more of Bundy’s thoughts on different people. Here it is:

If you watch this longer version of Bundy’s remarks, you can see quite clearly that he is not trying to spread hatred of or prejudice against anybody. No, he just believes a lot of terrible things about African Americans, at least, and he doesn’t seam to see that those beliefs are offensive and harmful to the people he claims not to hate. Bundy’s comments reflect common stereotypes about African-Americans and somewhat less common musings about the potentially benign effects of slavery. They may not reflect the kind of strident racism one would expect of the KKK (though we might have our suspicions about a few of Bundy’s supporters), but Bundy’s remarks do reflect a casual racism that tends to show up in some circles a couple beers into a good BBQ.

What seems most striking about this to me is the role that minorities play here as an object of contemplation for Bundy and his many defenders. Minorities present to Bundy and casual racists everywhere a source of material, so to speak, one  tailor-made for commentary about where this damned world is going and where it really oughtta be. It’s a tired litany in which the real problems of the world can be found in the privileges of those with the least and with whoever is responsible for creating those imaginary privileges. Black folk aren’t the real evil of Bundy’s remarks. No, they are simply dupes of the Fed, fellow victims of big government who must be saved from it’s diabolical schemes. All the problems of the African-American community are thus subsumed under the interests of Bundy’s states’ rights agenda. They are simply one more reason to oppose big government, all for their benefit as well as his own.

The notion that the modern welfare state is just another form of slavery has been a favorite talking point of right wingers in recent years. It’s just one of the many ways in which the critique of welfare has long since jumped the shark in the echo chambers of America’s pseudo-conservatives and free market fundamentalists. So, I suppose it shouldn’t come as any real surprise to find Bundy reproducing this little yarn. It is a little bit of a surprise, I think, to find that people could be so thoughtless and so clueless about the realities of either slavery or social programs. The problem here is not malice (I will give Bundy supporters that much anyway); it’s ignorance, but it’s ignorance taken to 11.

One of the manifestations of that ignorance is a complete inability to conceive of minorities as anything but an object of casual consideration. Bundy’s past experiences are simply grist for the mill, anecdotes in a narrative about big government. The concerns, thoughts, and ideas of any actual minorities are quite absent from that narrative. So yet again, the key to minority problems turns out to rest in the hands of a random white guy whose principle concerns have little to do with them, who isn’t listening to them, and who has no real concerns for their welfare.

Like I said it’s been a good week for whitesplaining.

…and for nausea.


An Uncommon Parrot Sketch


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Okay we’ve all seen the original, and if you haven’t, then shame on you! Watch it 5.8 times and then come back.

What I don’t think we’ve all seen in the Nigerian version of the parrot sketch. Apparently, this is the result of a prank played on some 419 scammers. That said, I actually think they did the scene justice. The customer is particularly good.


I Pledge Allegiance to the Declastution of the Divided States of O’Murica!


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declaration“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

I wish I had a habanero for every time someone (usually a conservative) told me that passage was in the U.S. Constitution. My friends and coworkers would all eat really hot chili for couple of days!

Most recently, it was Jim DeMint who Declarified the Constitution, so to speak. That’s hardly an unusual mistake from right wingers, but it is a little uncommon from one who actually gets paid to sound like he knows what he’s talking about. Flat out getting the documents wrong is more common among the grunts of the culture wars, not their leaders at the Heritage Foundation. Usually, the talking heads just refer a constitutional question to the Declaration and hope you don’t notice the switch.

It would be easy to dismiss this as a mere accident, but there is a sort of logic to this, albeit a logic of deception. Usually the gambit facilitates a kind of scorched earth tactic in which all that is good and gooey about the Constitution becomes a direct consequence of Christianity (as evangelical Christians choose to understand it). See, the only mention of God in the U.S. Constitution is in the date, and that makes the explicit mention of a creator in the Declaration much more sexy for those who want their gods right up there behind the gavel of government. Now if you just ignore a few things about context of the Declaration (Jefferson’s Deism for instance), you can pretend that ‘creator’ means ‘Jesus’, pretend the Declaration is the Constitution, and pretend the whole point of the passages was not to say we have rights but to tell us where those rights come from, and voila! The Declaration is thus transformed into a speculative theological treaties and the constitution is taken along for the ride (whether by association or mis-recognition depends on whether the operative principle here is deceit or outright ignorance).

220px-Jim_DeMintBut of course such arguments are only meant for real O’Muricans! Us damned liberals aren’t expected to understand the miracles of Republican Jesus. DeMint only reminds us of the importance of God in passing, because this time he is trying to call attention to yet another of the great miracles of this document, the Declastution. This time DeMint was busy trying to convince us that constitutionalism amounts to belief in the power of small government, which is a truly miraculous transformation rivaling that of the Eucharist. This particular piece of conservative theology usually works by telling us about the importance of federalism, which is then defined as a need for balance between federal and state powers. Balance is such a magical word, because you can use it to describe the effort to increase Federal authority (which was clearly the point of the early Federalists) and then you can use it to describe the agenda of those hard at work weakening the Federal government (which is a common goal of contemporary ‘Federalists’). And you say this with enough faith and conviction modern voters won’t even notice the switch in emphasis.

Those that do can be dismissed as low-information voters!

Not content with such airy theological matters, Demint has proven himself a true charismatic, because he has performed a miracle in the name of Republican Jesus. Demint has enabled the Constitution itself and the conscience of good constitutionalists to end slavery without exercising the power of a big government. To hear DeMint tell the story, the move to end slavery was itself the work of those faithful to small government. They just willed it to happen. Some might think Lincoln had centralized our government and asserted Federal power over a states’ rights luvin’ Confederacy, but then again, some people believe in letting scientists define the science curriculum. There is just no accounting for the foolishness of liberal Apostates, but Republican Jesus will kick our asses on judgement day for sure.

And then Republican Jesus will transform water into Miller Lite.

constitution_quill_penYeah verily, his miracles abound! In His name, phrases like “No person” or “all criminal prosecutions” will refer only to the rights of U.S. Citizens. Non-O’Muricans are just fucked! By His grace, the word “religion” appearing twice in the First Amendment will only mean ‘religion’ once. The other time it will mean “state-sponsored church.” Hell, it might even be more narrow still if Republican Jesus wants it to. He will delete the Federal Supremacy Clause entirely, or at least guide the eyes of Teapublicans safely past this passage without inflicting its terrible words upon them. In His eyes, the Fourteenth Amendment is but the scribblings of a small school-girl, and it has no more force of law than a doggie drawn with a crayon. The Ninth Amendment has been sent to the cornfield, but the police are searching your home in hopes of finding the Fourth. And by “no religious tests”, the Constitution of course means “more religious tests.” All these things are known to those filled with the spirit of Republican Jesus.

One has only to accept that the Constitution is first and foremost a half remembered paragraph from a completely different document produced by a different group of people for a completely different purpose. If you also half-remember the Second and Tenth Amendments you get to call yourself a constitutionalist.


It Went Something Like This


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“What is that?”


“That right there out on the ice, is that a Nanook?”

“Is that a bear!?!”


“Right there!”

“Is that a bear?”

Is that a bear?”

“Oh hey, I see it.”

“Is it sitting down?”

“Did it just move?”

“Oh, yeah, it looks bigger now. It definitely moved?”

“I think it’s a bear.”

“I can’t zoom in enough without losing it.”

030“Is that a bear?”

“That’s definitely a bear?”

“Do you see it? Is it a bear?”

“I think it’s moving?”

“Let me just snap the picture and see if I can see it more clearly afterwards…”


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