Tuesday, December 31, 2002

"The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now; in the sounds of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest editions."

from "Here Is New York" by E.B. White (published in 1949)

Thursday, December 26, 2002

Village Voice article on my favorite of the new proposed designs for the World Trade Center area. The THINK team's design allows for a construct that's actually taller than the original, yet isn't actually office space.

Its elegant latticework provides a haunting reminder of where the Trade Centers once were. It even incorporates beams of light like the popular, but short-lived Towers of Light did. New buildings would actually be constructed inside this latticework, as would an observation deck at the same height as the original one, and a memorial could be constructed high up in the sky where the planes actually hit. Best of all, this design is actually for a World Cultural Center instead of another World Trade Center. What a fitting way to replace these buildings originally devoted to commerce and show the world that the United States isn't just about the almighty dollar after all.

"The mission of reconstructing the skyline is one that is proposed at a cultural level," said architect Rafael Viñoly, who unveiled the design. "Should we reconstruct it with the offices of Merrill Lynch? We don't think so. The need is a cultural need. Almost in the same way, the Eiffel Tower became the symbol of Paris, and it is an empty building. This is an empty building."

I find this design to be the most aesthetically and philosophically compelling of all those submitted to date.

Monday, December 23, 2002

Avoiding the Words for fear of the Wounds

"After the tragic events of September 11th . . .." How many times have you heard that phrase? It's a cliché! How can something like that - a euphemism already - turn into a cliché? We can't even talk about it, face it head on.

"Post 9/11 . . .." OK, that one makes more sense. It's brief, punchy; it carries a lot of utilitarian value. After all, we can't always be staring into the horrible dark maw. We can't begin every mention of 9/11 with some godawful, weepy pre-amble, but it saddens me that we hafta talk around this thing. We can't afford to do anything but face this reality head on. As a doctor, wide-eyed, faces a horrible cancer before he slips the sharpened scalpel into skin and excises it, slippery, neat and horrid from the festering flesh.

And that applies to so much else that horrible in the world around us. We have to face the horror before we can surmount it. We can't just glide on blissfully by.

Whole Lotta Nerve

Trent Lott again revealed his bizarre and biased mindset when he blamed his downfall on the fact that he's a conservative and a Christian:

"There are people in Washington who have been trying to nail me for a long time," he said. "When you're from Mississippi and you're a conservative and you're a Christian, there are a lot of people that don't like that. I fell into their trap and so I have only myself to blame." CNN

Of course, he ends his statement by saying he has only himself to blame, but the clear indication is that he believes he became a target because of his Christian beliefs. What? Lott lives in the one country on earth where Christians are least likely to be criticized or discriminated against! He lives in a country where it's a taboo to criticize Christianity at all. Try it and you'll labelled a devil worshipper or worse.

So what has this guy been smoking? The only conclusion I can draw is that his definition of "Christian" is a far narrower one than that of the average American Christian. Maybe "Christian" to him means "fundamentalist." I dunno.

Whale of a Tale

Snake-charmer Michael Drosinin has a sequel to the Bible Code out: The Bible Code II: The Countdown. Amazon describes it as "This is the thrilling sequel to the #1 bestseller that shook the world." Thrilling? When it opens by cashing in on the events of 9/11/01?

From the first chapter:

"At 8:48 A.M. on September 11, 2001 I was awakened by the sound of an explosion that changed the world forever.

I turned on my clock radio and heard a news bulletin-a jumbo jet had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers.

I ran up to my roof just in time to see a second Boeing 767 fly right into the second of the Twin Towers, setting it ablaze. It was obviously no accident. The two planes had been hijacked by terrorists. New York was under attack."

I'd say Drosnin is just cashing in on our newly refreshed apocalyptic fears, but maybe he really believes this stuff, maybe his eyes have been clouded by his own theory. That would be a generous appraisal. For immediately after watching the towers come down he goes on to say:

"I ran down from the roof and immediately searched the ancient code on my computer, the Bible code. It was the one place I might find confirmation of the full danger, and a revelation of what was yet to come.

The hidden code, discovered in the Bible by a famous Israeli mathematician, had already revealed other world-shaking events that took place thousands of years after the Bible was written.

Now it revealed the entire event I had just witnessed. What I watched from my roof only minutes earlier, was there in detail on my computer screen in ancient Hebrew characters."

For clear, to-the-point debunking of the Bible Code, check out this site.

The site takes up Drosnin's challenge: "When my critics find a message about the assassination of a prime minister encrypted in Moby Dick, I'll believe them" (Newsweek, Jun 9, 1997). The writer shows how you find the "prophecies" of several world leaders in Moby Dick if you go looking hard enough for them. From my own reading of his book, I can tell you that his methods for divining prophecies leave room to find literally anything foretold in any book.

See also:



Why my particular interest in debunking this book? Because there's enough superstitious tripe being peddled in this world and attended to with solemnity without piling more onto the heap. I originally gave this book two stars - I should've given it one: It's simplistic, pseudo-intellectual, and perhaps intentionally misleading claptrap. If Drosnin didn't intend to mislead, he certainly stretched the "truth" to fit his theory. Even someone with an elementary knowledge of statistics could tell you that this "phenomenon" could easily be replicated in any work of literature.

If what I've said sounds a little harsh to you, I hope you'll ignore me and read the above material anyway - if only to get another viewpoint.

Whereas as the mainstream press (and I mean Time and Newsweek, not the National Enquirer) is usually a little more skeptical of this type of stuff, they seem to be giving Drosnin a free ride with this rubbish, since I suppose they stand to make a few bucks off the sensational nature of his vapid tome.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

So Trent Lott finally went down yesterday. He made the announcement after apologizing for his statements five times (or more depending on how you count). The blood was in the water and increasingly that blood was let by his fellow Republicans, as they came to better understand the impact his remaining the top dog in the Senate could have for the future of the party. So he had to go, obviously. Ain't politics grand.

Can you imagine the conversations he must have had with some of his best friends before he made his announcement yesterday? "Trent, I know you're not a racist. Most of your Republican friends know you're not a racist. But for the good of the party . . . man, you gotta step down." Sniff, sniff. Because, no doubt, many of his friends are just as blind to their own prejudices.

And they'll continue to pander to that whole spectrum of folks in the future: everything from those who pine for the days of the Old South, to those who explain about segregationist policies and slavery and racism that "you have to understand, it was different times back then" to even the shameless frothing at the mouth neo-nazi types. Of course, the last of these groups, to be fair, the Republicans will actually go out their way to avoid, and, I believe, truly do disagree with. But the Republican Party should ask itself (should have already, not just now), why are these types always attracted to the Republican Party? I don't think I've ever heard an honest answer to that question. Then again, I don't think I've heard the question asked.

Bill Clinton reacted with what I thought was a glorious eruption of righteous anger to the events within the Republican Party this week. As reported on CNN, the former President said it was "pretty hypocritical" of Republicans to criticize Lott for stating publicly what he said the GOP does "on the back roads every day." Preach it brother. "How do they think they got a majority in the South anyway?" he said. "I think what they are really upset about is that he made public their strategy."

Saturday, December 14, 2002

The Bush Cabinet vs. The Will of the People

This list hopes to be a comprehensive, growing catalog of the outrageous beliefs and behavior of Bush cabinet members: men and women whose views clearly do not represent those of the average American.

John Ashcroft, Attorney General

  • Anti-Gay Beliefs: Ashcroft believes homosexuality is a sin. Source: Washington Post
  • Narrow-Mindedness: Ashcroft also believes it's wrong to dance, drink or gamble. Source: Reason

  • Prudishness: Ashcroft spent $8000 of taxpayers' money to cover the exposed breast on the art deco statue, "The Spirit of Justice," at the Justice Department. Source: BBC

  • Religious Intolerance: Ashcroft told Bob Jones University: "America is different. We have no king but Jesus." Source: CNN

  • Trent Lott, Senate Majority Leader - Resigned

  • Anti-Gay Beliefs: In 1998 on the Armstrong Williams Show Lott declared homosexuality a sin and lumped homosexuals with alcoholics and kelptomaniacs. Source: PBS

  • Latent Bigotry: No doubt, Lott does not believe himself a racist. His record seems to indicate otherwise. Source: NYT

  • Senator Don Nickles, future Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee

  • Anti-Gay Beliefs: Nickles was against James Hormel's nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. Source: Slate He told Fox News Sunday, "One might have that lifestyle, but if one promotes it as acceptable behavior, I don’t think they should be a representative of this country. I think it's immoral behavior, and I think a lot of other behavior is immoral and shouldn't be treated as acceptable behavior."

  • Feel free to contribute your own examples, but please provide a reliable source for your information. I'd like this to be a truly authoritative catalog. In every case, I've found the allegations in multiple reliable sources, but I have listed only a single source, purely for the sake of economy.

    Excellent NYT piece by Paul Krugmanon how the Republicans (at least those in power) jockey for respect with both racist and tolerant folk alike. See also Joshua Micah Marshall's stream of articles which helped instigate the whole Trent Lott controversy.

    Lott has become emblematic of this whole issue. No doubt, Lott doesn't even believe he's a racist. Just like the folks at Bob Jones University who didn’t allow blacks to attend until 1971 and long stood against interracial marriage. The school only recently (March 2000) got rid of a rule which restricted students of different races from dating. According to a report I heard the other night on BBC radio, Lott came out in defense of the school's policy at one time. Nice.

    By the way, I went to school there. I had friends affected by the policy. Friends who were asked to stop dating. They got rid of the rule when Bob Jones Jr died (the current president is Bob Jones III - they like to keep the school in the family), but I know the sentiment persists. Getting rid of the rule may even have only been a matter of political convenience. I do think that perhaps after Bob Jones Jr died, the door was opened for some things to loosen up there a little. We're speaking very relatively, of course. Still no movies, no ciggies or booze. No rock 'n' roll. No kissing and cuddling or sex before marriage either. Nonetheless, the words of Reverand Lovejoy seem appropriate: "Let me just remind you that the church is changing to meet the needs of today's young Christians."

    So here's a slender ray of hope: it really seems that gradually, over the decades, even the most conservative groups are moving towards more tolerant and liberal behavior. I'm not prophesying Nirvana in our lifetime. But maybe things are getting better. Let's just hope we don't blow ourselves to kingdom come before we get there.

    On that thought, some scientists believe that the reason we've never been contacted by extraterrestrial life forms is because by the time they develop the means to communicate with us, they’ve also developed nuclear technology and they terminate themselves before they’ve had much of a chance to ring us up. Nice thought, huh?

    On a lighter note, I'd like to start a list of wacky beliefs and behavior by the blokes in the Bush cabinet. So if you happen upon this and can send me examples, please do. You know, stuff like John Ashcroft spending $8000 of taxpayers' money to cover the exposed breast on the art deco statue, "The Spirit of Justice," at the Just Department. Bizarro stuff like that. Or in 1999 when Ashcroft told Bob Jones (see a pattern here?): "America is different. We have no king but Jesus." Wow, the Kennedys must have been offended. Honestly, these people don't represent the views of the average American, do they?