All purpose vertically integrated publishing empire for cynicism, hopelessness and misanthropy. Mild nausea is common when using this product. Other symptoms may include, but are not limited to: dizzyness, headache, homicidal rage and yellow discharge. Rarely, users may begin to hear voices urging them to kill. If this occurs, discontinue use and seek psychiatric attention. Do not read when pregnant or nursing; the author thinks that's gross.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Last Minute Updates

Could Be A WhileBasically, we're in the process of the eternal move that wouldn't die, and we're heading from the extended stay hotel we've been residing in to a 'Luxury Corporate Apartment'.

The problem, as relates to the blog, is that the new apartment does not, as it turns out, have working air conditioning.

Which was a surprise for us.

See, it's a two bedroom, two bathroom 'duplex', but the place has precisely one window AC unit in the ground floor living room. Which makes it rather hopelessly overworked.

Now, my PC runs too hot as it is, so, most likely, I won't be able to set it up in the new place, or if I can set it up in the aforementioned living room, may not be able to use it for much of the day.

So I'm going to make a couple of last minute additions to the blog before what will probably be another hiatus.

First, the graphical tweaking of the site continues. On advice from the great and powerful Roommate/Oz, I've moved the site off the white background to a more eye relaxing gray scheme, with a Mars-friendly color scheme for the text.

I'm not completely happy with it yet, because I'm a perfectionist, but it's coming along.

Secondly, and I meant to mention this earlier in the week, I discovered the answer to the Pius XI shirt mystery: it's from a local Catholic school!

Seriously. There's a Catholic school in Milwaukee named after the Fascist Pope. Granted, it was originally named in 1929, when his disastrous dealmaking had yet to bring shame to the church and death to so many, but still. You'd think the school would have the decency to change the name, so as to cease honoring such a... dubious... historical figure.

Alas, it appears not.

There has been a lot of interesting sciency news this week. Water on Mars, Ethane on Titan (a huge lake of it in fact), all very promising.

New research into a magic pill to make you healthy with no hard work; apparently it may work utilizing some of the same chemical pathways as resveratrol.

Toby Keith, the famed country singer who hates him some arabs, has revealed that he loves him some lynching. I'm not shocked.

Dick Cheney apparently plotted to have US soldiers shot at to start a war with Iran under false pretenses.

What a whacko this man is.

Speaking of whackos, the Pentagon is using a multimillion dollar mobile theme park, aimed and marketed at children, in an attempt to recruit future soldiers.

Until recent protests, they were targeting boys as young as 13.

Gee, maybe we can just go back to Civil War standards, give them a drum kit and fake their age. After all, cannon fodder is cannon fodder, right?

Amoral scum. The ACLU is on the case, pointing out that this scheme violates a 2002 treaty on child soldiers that we ratified.

Ha! Silly international law, getting in the way of our bloodletting..

That's about it for now. More when, and if, I can get the PC going in the new place.

Failing that, see you in a month or so.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Advancing the Frontiers of Free Speech

A Lengthy Battle Against SavagesThis is an odd saga, to say the least.

It begins with an apparently faithful Catholic student by the name of Webster Cook, attending school at the University of Central Florida. Webster, it seems, wanted to show a (presumably) Non-Catholic friend a communion wafer, so he took it home to show a friend rather than eating it immediately.
Cook claims he planned to consume it, but first wanted to show it to a fellow student senator he brought to Mass who was curious about the Catholic faith.

"When I received the Eucharist, my intention was to bring it back to my seat to show him," Cook said. "I took about three steps from the woman distributing the Eucharist and someone grabbed the inside of my elbow and blocked the path in front of me. At that point I put it in my mouth so they'd leave me alone and I went back to my seat and I removed it from my mouth."

The story seems a bit odd, as he was apparently caught trying to take it out of the service and was confronted (he complains about physical force being used against him). A local tv station (in an admittedly inflammatory and biased article) suggests that he may have been protesting the fact that (and I thought this was odd) his PUBLIC UNIVERSITY has a CATHOLIC CHURCH on campus -- and uses public funds to support it.
A church leader was watching, confronted Cook and tried to recover the sacred bread. Cook said she crossed the line and that's why he brought it home with him.

"She came up behind me, grabbed my wrist with her right hand, with her left hand grabbed my fingers and was trying to pry them open to get the Eucharist out of my hand," Cook said, adding she wouldn't immediately take her hands off him despite several requests.

Diocese of Orlando spokeswoman Carol Brinati said she was not aware of anyone touching Cook. She released a statement Thursday: "... a Catholic Campus Ministry student representative filed a complaint with the Student Union regarding the behavior of the two young men. A Student Government Representative called Catholic Campus Ministry to apologize for this disruption."

Cook filed an official abuse complaint with UCF's student conduct court regarding the alleged physical force. Following that complaint, Brinati said church members filed their own official complaints of disruptive conduct. Punishment for either offense could result in suspension or expulsion.

"The church feels that I'm the problem here," Cook said. "The problem is actually that this is a publicly-funded religious institution. Through student government here, we fund them through an activity and service, so they're receiving student money."

Cook is upset more than $40,000 in student fees have been allocated to support religious organizations on campus for the 2008-2009 school year, according to student government records. He denied he is holding the Eucharist hostage to protest that support.
Source: WTFV

Because, as we all know, the Vatican is completely destitute.

At any rate, he managed to leave with the communion wafer/cracker though, and that, to my mind, would be that. If the church doesn't want him back, they always had the option of banning him. Big deal.

Well, to the good, faithful, and apparently radical Catholics of both the University and the United States, that most certainly was *not* that.

The Church decided to get in on the act, inflaming their local followers (knowing perfectly well the inevitable results):
Regardless of the reason, the Diocese says its main concern is to get the Eucharist back so it can be taken care of properly and with respect. Cook has been keeping the Eucharist stored in a plastic bag since last Sunday.

"It is hurtful," said Father Migeul Gonzalez with the Diocese. "Imagine if they kidnapped somebody and you make a plea for that individual to please return that loved one to the family."

Gonzalez said the Diocese is willing to meet with Cook and help him understand the importance of the Eucharist in hopes of him returning it. The Diocese is dispatching a nun to UCF's campus to oversee the next mass, protect the Eucharist and in hopes Cook will return it.

Cook said he'd consider returning the Eucharist if he gets an apology and a meeting with the Bishop's office to discuss the Diocese's policy on physical force.

Gonzalez said intentionally abusing the Eucharist is classified as a mortal sin in the Catholic church, the most severe possible. If it's not returned, the community of faith will have to ask for forgiveness.

"We have to make acts of reparation," Gonzalez said. "The whole community is going to turn to prayer. We'll ask the Lord for pardon, forgiveness, peace, not only for the whole community affected by it, but also for [Cook], we offer prayers for him as well."
Source: WFTV

And thus, wrath was rained down upon this poor schmuck, with the full blessing of the local religious establishment.

They accused him of committing a 'hate crime'. They harassed him. They compared taking the cracker to torture, and kidnapping!They threatened his life... repeatedly. The ultra-right wing Catholic League hate group led a national campaign against this poor student. Here's Donohue trying to ruin the kid's life:
For a student to disrupt Mass by taking the Body of Christ hostage--regardless of the alleged nature of his grievance--is beyond hate speech. That is why the UCF administration needs to act swiftly and decisively in seeing that justice is done. All options should be on the table, including expulsion.
That's right, if you disagree with someone, forget reason, forget discussion, forget the law: just terrorize them.

Webster just wants all of this to go away. Especially now that he feels his life is in danger.
Source: Pharyngula

All because he didn't chew... a wafer.

Well, after a few days of terror and threats, the poor, humbled student returned his cracker, and begged for his life/forgiveness.
"I am returning the Eucharist to you in response to the e-mails I have received from Catholics in the UCF community," Cook wrote in a letter to the church. "I still want the community to understand that the use physical force is wrong, especially when based on assumptions. However, I feel it is unnecessary to cause pain for those who are not at fault in this situation."

Cook said some threatened to break into his dorm room to rescue the Eucharist. Brinati said the Diocese of Orlando didn't condone those threats, but was happy Cook had a change of heart and returned it.
Source: WFTV They didn't 'condone' those threats - but they sure didn't put a stop to them either.


The oh-so-forgiving christian community continued with plans to ruin his life, but put the 'killing him' thing on the backburner, and the story started to die down. The University, for its part, started supplying ARMED GUARDS (presumably also at taxpayer expense) to the Church, to protect the poor, victimized wafer community.

Enter PZ Myers, well-known atheist/science blogger, who was shocked and disgusted at the raving mob trying to destroy, and possibly murder, this poor student. Whether a noisy protestor or apparently ignorant lapsed Catholic, his education, career, even life were now in the hands of the lunatic fringe. Myers thought this was outrageous.

So he came up with a simple plan:
So, what to do. I have an idea. Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There's no way I can personally get them — my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I'm sure — but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I'll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won't be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart.
Source: Pharyngula Yes, Myers determined that he would do to the wafer what this poor student never had: he would obtain one, maliciously, and desecrate it.

Needless to say, all hell broke loose. Again.
All of the regular readers have seen it — thousands of mindless comments by Catholics, demanding that no harm come to a cracker. My email is melting down with swarms of insults, threats, pleas, and promises of prayers because I threatened to violate one of their holy crackers. In my years of loud and often inflammatory blogging, it is the most impressive demonstration of mass lunacy I have ever seen.
Never mind that the Catholic League demands that I be fired, thousands of Catholics write to me demanding I be kicked out of the university immediately, and that they send me death threats, both the explicit kind and the vaguely menacing kind. Let's not forget Webster Cook, who started this all by simply walking back to his seat with a cracker, and now faces censure and possible expulsion from his university. Oh, those Catholics sure are forbearing and tolerant.

And since I mentioned yesterday that I was taking my oldest son to the movies, these good Catholics have leapt to the opportunity. Since I'm not demonstrating any fear over their threats against me, well hey, let's try a new target! KJ Atkins of Bellarmine University thinks cowardly warnings against my family might be effective.

"You fool, the vengeance for your sacrilege will not be . exhausted against you, but it will be carried out on your child. Wait and see."
Source: Pharyngula

Well, apparently Myers finally got his hands on a wafer/cracker, and did, in fact, carry out his 'threat' against an inanimate object. Despite stalkings, death threats against himself and his family, and, yes, another hate campaign from the Catholic League:
OK, time for the anticlimax. I know some of you have proposed intricate plans for how to do horrible things to these crackers, but I repeat…it's just a cracker. I wasn't going to make any major investment of time, money, or effort in treating these dabs of unpleasantness as they deserve, because all they deserve is casual disposal. However, inspired by an old woodcut of Jews stabbing the host, I thought of a simple, quick thing to do: I pierced it with a rusty nail (I hope Jesus's tetanus shots are up to date). And then I simply threw it in the trash, followed by the classic, decorative items of trash cans everywhere, old coffeegrounds and a banana peel. My apologies to those who hoped for more, but the worst I can do is show my unconcerned contempt.
Source: Pharyngula

Will this be the end of the saga?

Doubt it. Myers implores his readers, and the world, to exercise a bit of their own independent judgment and reason:
By the way, I didn't want to single out just the cracker, so I nailed it to a few ripped-out pages from the Qur'an and The God Delusion. They are just paper. Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet. You are all human beings who must make your way through your life by thinking and learning, and you have the job of advancing humanity's knowledge by winnowing out the errors of past generations and finding deeper understanding of reality. You will not find wisdom in rituals and sacraments and dogma, which build only self-satisfied ignorance, but you can find truth by looking at your world with fresh eyes and a questioning mind.
Source: Ibid

When I first read about this mess, back when Myers made his original 'threat', I thought it might be a bit over the top. Not all Catholics are jerks, I thought; I wouldn't take quite the same tack.

Though, if you could get a hold of a communion wafer from that SPECIFIC Church, the one that tried to rouse a violent mob to terrify someone into obeying them (or failing that, have the person killed).... well, that would be a very different story.

That particular church had it coming, I thought.

Having seen the sheer volume of hate, venom, and terror that people like Bill Donohue spew at Myers, the threats against his family, the attempts to run him out of public life on a rail because he protests the victimization of a college student, at a public university, by the most powerful church in the world...

Well, it's hard not to root for Myers after all. If it comes down to defending a loudmouth or a violent, disgusting thug like Donohue, I'll side with the loudmouth anytime, anywhere.

PS: One last note: the student who started this whole mess? He's still going through a living hell.
The University of Central Florida's student Senate voted to impeach one of its own late Thursday night -- the student who sparked a firestorm of controvery after taking off from a Catholic Mass on campus with a sacred Communion wafer in his pocket.

All but two of the 35 senators present voted to impeach Webster Cook, but the action did not result in his automatic removal from office.


Although the Senate could kick Cook off the student government's legislative body, it does not have the authority to suspend or expel Cook from the university. That could happen only if he's found to have violated serious conduct code violations in student court. UCF is barred by federal law from confirming whether any complaints have been filed against Cook. But the statements included in the affidavit refer to a formal complaint against Cook by the campus ministry for disrupting the service.
Source: Orlando Blog

That'll teach him to mistake a public university for an institution of higher learning and intellectual freedom.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

McCain Atlas!

Much has been made of John McCain's geographic knowledge, but how does Grampy McSame really see the world?Much has been made of John McCain's geographic knowledge, but how does Grampy McSame really see the world?

Luckily for my non-existent loyal readers, I have a source* deep within the McCain campaign, who sent me this page out of a top-secret foreign policy document, the John McCain Atlas of the World (2008 Edition).

Now you too can be a globe-straddling master of geopolitics, just like Senator John McCain.

(Click either thumbnail for full-size image)

*Also non-existent

Random Observation

T-Shirt EditionSo I was coming up from the laundry room in our hotel this morning, and I saw one of the gaggle of kids who currently inhabit the place coming down in the elevator, wearing a tie-dye t-shirt that said 'Pius XI'.

I'm no Catholic, but even I could recognize the format for the name of a Pope, and further, this particular papal name stuck in my head for some reason, so I decided to look it up once I got back to my room. After all, if they're making t-shirts for kids featuring the guy, someone thinks he's pretty important, right?

Hitting the Wikipedia, I remembered where I knew the name: Pius XI was the Fascist Pope!

Pius XI was the pope who traded the Church's credibility and moral authority to first Mussolini (in exchange for land, statehood for the Vatican, and a theocratic Italian state), and then HITLER (again, for various special favors!) Quoth the Wikipedia:
Pius XI aimed to end the long breach between the papacy and the Italian government and to gain recognition once more of the sovereign independence of the Holy See. This goal led to one of his signature achievements, the signing in 1929 of the Lateran Treaty with the Italian government and the establishment of an independent Vatican City State.

Most of the Papal States had been seized by the forces of King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy (1861 – 1878) in 1860 at the foundation of the modern unified Italian state, and the rest, including Rome, in 1870. The Papacy and the Italian Government had been at loggerheads ever since: the Popes had refused to recognise the Italian state's seizure of the Papal States, instead withdrawing to become prisoners in the Vatican, and the Italian government's policies had always been anti-clerical. Now Pius XI thought a compromise would be the best solution.

To bolster his own new regime, Mussolini was also eager for an agreement. After years of negotiation, in 1929, the Pope supervised the signing of the Lateran Treaties with the Italian government. According to the terms of the first treaty, Vatican City was given sovereignty as an enclave of the city of Rome in return for the Vatican relinquishing its claim to the former territories of the Papal States. Pius XI thus became a head of state (albeit the smallest state in the world), the first Pope who could be termed as such since the Papal States fell after the unification of Italy in the 19th century. A second treaty, the concordat with Italy, recognised Roman Catholicism as the official state religion of Italy, gave the Church power over marriage law in Italy (ensuring the illegality of divorce), and restored Catholic religious teaching in all schools. In return, the clergy would not take part in politics. A third treaty provided financial compensation to the Vatican for the loss of the Papal States.
Source: Wikipedia (article on Pius XI)

That's not all, of course. Mussolini wasn't the only waste of human skin that Pius XI was willing to sell the soul of the church to for money and political power:
Pius XI was eager to negotiate concordats with any country that was willing to do so, thinking that written treaties were the best way to protect the Church's rights against governments increasingly inclined to interfere in such matters. Twelve concordats were signed during his reign with various types of governments, including some German state governments, and with Austria. When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933 and asked for a concordat, Pius XI accepted. Negotiations were conducted on his behalf by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII (1939 – 1958). The Reichskonkordat was signed by Pacelli and by the German government in June 1933, and included guarantees of liberty for the Church, independence for Catholic organisations and youth groups, and religious teaching in schools.
Source: Wikipedia (Pius XI article, subarticle on German relations)

Good old Pius XI came to regret these treaties later, when the Fascists showed less inclination to follow some clauses than others. Apparently he was also unhappy with the whole 'wipe out the Jews' aspect to the Fascist worldview.

Not unhappy enough to give back the money, land, or political independence he obtained by aiding the Fascist ascendency to power, of course. In fact, even after the shame of World War II, his successor (remember, the man who actually negotiated with the Nazis) got the gifts from Mussolini written into the new Italian constitution... including the official theocracy clause!
The Lateran Agreements were incorporated into the Constitution of the Italian Republic in 1947.

In 1984 an agreement was signed, revising the concordat. Among other things, it ended the Church's position as the state-supported religion of Italy.
Source: Wikipedia (Lateran Treaties)

That's right. These odious agreements with a bloodthirsty madman were dragged into the modern era by the Church, which, it seems, still hadn't learned when to quit. For my part I can't believe Italy was an official theocracy until the 80s, but hey. They are pretty backward by European standards (just look at their government).

So there you have it. Pius XI, Fascist loving Nazi-enabler, is somehow deemed, in 2008, to be worthy of immortalization. On t-shirts for children.

What's next, Torquemada bibs and pacifiers?


Sunday, July 27, 2008


A Night at the TheatreSo the roommate and I went to the inaugural performance of the shiny new Epic Theatre Company here in Madison on Saturday night, where they were performing "The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon", and had a pretty good time, I must say.

First, the venue: the play was held in local software giant Epic's large convention building (nerdily named Voyager Hall -- everything there is nerdily named though), set up in a flexible hallway space rather than one of their theatre/convention halls, interestingly enough. Set design was extremely sparse and consisted of a small stage, black backdrop curtains and a sound booth in the rear. The audience sat on about 100, 150 portable chairs, comfortable models though, not the lousy wooden folding chairs you often get at community/school/church functions.

Secondly, the work: The Spectaculathon is a humorous mish-mash/retelling of (some) of the (apparently) 209 separate fairy tales collected by The Brothers Grimm. No wonder Fables never runs out of material...

The play tries to cover all the highlights, along with a mixture of the lesser known works, often contrasting the original versions of the stories both with their better known pop-culture derivatives (i.e., Disney) and with modern storytelling sensibilities as well (Why is Little Red Riding Hood so stupid anyway? And why do people keep going into the dark, dangerous, monster infested woods?).

The cast and crew were, according to the playbill as well as personal observation, a group of talented amateurs rather than professionals, which often made the resulting entertainment more rather than less impressive. In particular, the actor who played one of two Narrators, as well as two separate Grandmothers, is a man named Sean Mikles, whose bio indicates he was last seen on stage as an eight-year old.

Another of the male leads, who plays several incarnations of Prince Charming and, at one point, the entire principal cast of Cinderella (seriously), was also very quick-witted and memorable. I'd have his name here as well, but the playbill lists everyone other than the narrators as playing 'Various', which doesn't help to narrow it down (tsk tsk).

Spectaculathon was presented as a two-act event, and so, with a short intermission the entire thing was over in about two hours. This first play was free, proving that the Epic Theatre people intend to use the time-honored marketing strategy of drug dealers everywhere... usually a smart move.

I look forward to their next project.

A note on the audience, however: we went to the evening show on Saturday, in no small part, to attempt to avoid the matinee experience, but alas it was in vain. Small children were brought, audience members loudly nattered on during the show, and those of us in the back had to strain to hear during some of the first act over one child in particular who Just. Would. Not. Shut. Up.


Going out to public events is seemingly less enjoyable every year. I can't begin to describe the number of events I've had ruined by these people, almost all families with small children, who insist on dragging their brats along to every function, no matter the time of day or appropriateness of the subject matter. Society just doesn't impose any limits on these people and their spawn, and it's getting to the point where, honestly, you'd have more fun staying at home.

Which is a shame, because then we'd all have to miss out on things like the Epic Theatre Company. Just to satisfy the whims of a selfish few who insist on 'having it all'.

As a civilization, we really have to do something about that. If all culture and entertainment is destined to be reduced to a chatoic mass of screaming, wailing, sour-milk-smelling children, I suggest we just spike the communal Kool-Aid and get it over with now.