Penn and Teller on The Vatican

Wow, this was awful. Line up a bunch of anti-Catholics to talk about the evils of the Vatican? Sorry, guys, but that’s bullshit. I say that as a never-been-Catholic, who has had more than a few historical beefs with The Church.

This was an awful, hacky one-sided hit-piece.

It started, as all these things do, with a long-winded list of the horrors committed over 2,000 years—well, it should be 1,600 years—which sure seem horrible. But then you realize it’s over 2,000 years. Name an organization that’s been around for that long that hasn’t committed far worse.

Tough to think of many who’ve been around even a fraction as long. And, golly, the ones that have been around for any length of time? Most of them have done something awful, within the limits of their power.

Then, of course, there’s child molestation. There are few crimes that are as devastating, and The Church has handled it badly, but part of their objection was that the current Pope (back in ‘60s) was part of the policy of covering up the crimes.

Well, duh. Was the Church supposed to adopt a policy of shouting this from the rooftops? The real sin, of course, was not taking the crimes seriously enough to remove the real risks. School systems across the country do the same thing, of course, but nobody seems to notice this.

Now, one could argue that the Church should be held to a higher standard, but this comes very close to Alinsky’s Rule #4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” To blame the Chruch, I think, you should make a case that it was policy to approve of abuse.

Most of the rest is about hatin’ on the Church for believing what it believes. For example, the idea that being gay is not a sin, while acting gay is, and using the defense “You’re saying they can’t act in their nature.” Well, yeah.

See, that’s what religions do. (Western religions, anyway.) They say, “Yes, it’s in your nature to kill those who stand in your way, covet like mad, and put your reproductive apparatus wherever you think it might feel good, and we’re telling you not to, because you’re better than that, it pisses God off, and all that short-term stuff pales next to an eternity of bliss.”

I never get this argument of “It’s our nature.” Is it not a serial killer’s “nature” to kill? Does anyone accept the pedophile’s argument that it’s in his “nature” to molest? Obviously, what two consenting adults do isn’t in the same league as rape and murder but, let’s not forget that coveting women is also on the no-no list, and few would argue that that isn’t part of male nature.

It’s not difficult, people: The Church says non-reproductive sex is a forbidden. There’s no way gay sex is going to be okay under this dogma. If you are gay, your particular cross to bear is not having the sex you want to have. And, actually, that’s probably your cross to bear even if you’re not gay, if fantasy is part of your sex life, or you might want to have sex with anyone other than your spouse, ever.

Then they get around to blaming the Church for AIDS in Africa. See, the Church forbids condoms. Therefore people are having unsafe sex and passing on AIDS to each other. Well, guys, the Church forbids having the sorts of sex that make sex unsafe in the first place. You’ll have to explain to me why you think that a bunch of promiscuous dry-sex fans are going to ignore the Church on sex but follow religiously (heh) on condoms.

No sale, guys.

The constant refrain of “Times have changed! Get with the program!” is really just a cover for “You try to make me feel bad about something I want to do.” Or “You make others I want to do something with feel bad about it.” As judgmental as P&T are, you’d think they’d get less fired up about others who are quite possibly less judgmental than they are.

They even screw up what should have been a pretty good point when they bring on the blaspheming comic. An Italian satirist suggested the Pope was going to go to hell and be sodomized by vigorous gay devils. According to P&T, the Vatican threatened the woman with a liable lawsuit which carries a potential penalty of five years in jail. Bill Donahue says this is an outright lie. (He also froths over the language, which is kind of dopey.)

First, they laud this women like she’s really doing something brave. I don’t buy that: Italy is rife with anti-Catholic, anti-Vatican types, not all of whom are Communists. But I think when porn star Cicciolina got involved in government 30 years ago, it was safe to say that The Vatican had lost a lot of its supposed clout.

Next, they applaud her for saying that the Church is wrong for meddling with peoples’ lives. For merely having opinions on things and getting them into the media, they are just like Islam. (I bullshit you not: This comparison is made.)

Libertarian much? I guess not: P&T champion free speech, but seem to object to it when it comes from religion.

Sadly, while they’re usually pretty pro-human, they look at all these Catholic people in the world and say, “Except for you guys. You guys are stupid.” Er, no, the Church is “pulling the wool over their eyes.”

Penn and Teller always approach their subject with a bias—the kind of glib smugness that comes from knowing the dogma and apocrypha of the era—but this is typically tempered with an allowance for the bias and humor. Even the tax show, which was supposedly rather personal to them, had plenty of humor in it.

This one? Nary a laugh. It was scold from the first minute to the last. Having decided up front that the Church is responsible for the sins of the world (that they could prevent if only they changed everything they believed in), they close by saying maybe you shouldn’t believe in a God whose representative on Earth would do all these horrible things (i.e., disagreeing with P&T).

A sad, hacky ending to an otherwise decent season.

Geraldo On Hispanics

Raker of Muck Geraldo (nee Gerald Michael Rivera) has a book talking about how cool Hispanics are, in a brave attempt to fight against Latino stereotypes. And while Gutfeld was interviewing him about it on “Red Eye” (politely not locking horns over the assumption that GOP resistance to Hispanic immigration was due to anti-Hispanic sentiment versus simple legality) and he was waxing poetic on how Latinos were going to save the country—I guess through providing support to the bankrupt Social Security system—and talking about the stereotypes of them as “wall jumpers” and other ideas you’d get about them from watching the news media (of which he is a well-established part), and also how they’d ultimately come to be accepted like any other immigrants (European Jews, Irish, etc.), I just kept thinking one thing:

Burrito. Taco taco. Burrito. Taco. Taco taco.

No, actually, what I thought was: Huh? I guess it comes from living in L.A., where Hispanics represent a plurality of the population. But do people really walk around with all these Hispanic stereotypes that need to be disabused? Was “The George Lopez Show” a real breakthrough in race-relations? If so, what does that make “Chico and the Man”?

I loved Jack Albertson.

I guess what I’m not getting is, is this the way race relations repairing happens? Each new ethnicity, or sub-niche of an ethnicity, or sub-niche of a sub-niche must tackle the stereotypes imposed upon their kind? Otherwise enlightened people, who have learned to treat blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans equally see an Australian Aboriginal and say, “But I’ll bet those guys can’t hold their liquor!”

I’m an open-borders guy in principle—in practice, I don’t think you can mix that with unfettered government giveaways—but I hated the way the last so-called immigration debate was conducted. Even Penn & Teller just decided the anti-illegal-immigration side was all racism: That there was no valid objection based on rule of law, revolving door handling of criminals, drug trade or anything else.

Sort of like any objection to stimulus, bailouts, universal health care, or any other policy unpopular with the left.

I was glad to see “my” side lose that debate.

Not once in my readings did I come across any anti-Hispanic sentiment. Not. Once.

Is it out there? And is it behind some portion of the resistance to open borders? Yes and yes. But it’s not the driving concern.

Why do I feel like all these people are constantly trying to cram modern situations into the terms of last century’s debates?

I Build A DVR

I get into things. I don’t mean I get into things, but I get into things. Like, I hate the Department of Water and Power. They provide plenty of service, but I always feel like I’m being overcharged, and it bugs the crap out of me that I can’t go anywhere else. (If I could go somewhere else, I’d switch and then start hating my new provider.)

My things usually involve feeling coerced into something, like having to buy something from one source when there’s no good technological reason for it.

Like DVRs.

We all made it through the ‘80s and ’90s with VCRs. It wasn’t such a big deal: You selected your device—made by any one of dozens of manufacturers, with the features you wanted, from your desired price range—and you hooked it up to your TV. Voila! You could record whatever you wanted.

Of course, the content creators hated that, and challenged the entire concept. The Supreme Court decided otherwise in the Betamax case. As result of losing that case, entertainment moguls made billions of dollars by selling videos in the new market.

They’ve never forgiven the world that injustice.

In the case of the DVR, whose function is identical to the VCR, they’ve colluded with the distribution companies (cable, satellite, etc.) to make sure that that doesn’t happen again. The battle was never really quit, of course. As soon as the TV makers sought to spare the consumer the presence of that big, ugly cable box by adding upper channels capacity to their TV, the cable companies moved the channels further up out of their range.

Then they just started scrambling everything, paid or free.

That wasn’t enough, though. You had to have the box, pretty much, but on top of that, they wanted to make sure that you couldn’t do anything with it. Congress even passed a law saying that cable companies had to provide a functional firewire port on their boxes for control and capture; but cable companies put the port on there—but in defiance of the law, they don’t bother to make it work.

I don’t want to pay the cable company an extra $15 a month. Or $10. Or even $5.

You can tell this is a thing with me, right?

Instead I bought some hardware and built myself a MythTV machine. The first thing that should be apparent from that is that money was not the issue. Even at 20 bucks a month, it takes a long time to make up the cost of a machine that has the oomph you want.

That’s not counting the trouble. Although some installations are very smooth, especially with things like KnoppMyth and MythBuntu, there are a lot of issues.

Most of the issues, not surprisingly, revolve the aforementioned content guys—creators (like movie studios) and providers (like cable companies)—working overtime to make sure that you can’t do any of the cool stuff you want. For example, it can be difficult to play—just play!—a DVD.

I’ve noticed kids’ DVDs have the most vicious security, and you can see the hard work these guys put into making sure you can’t play the DVD you just paid for by things like Vista downgrading your Blu-Ray discs. Remember that? And the Sony rootkit fiasco? I may be crazy, but I think when an industry’s priority is stopping copyright infringement over providing paying customers with the experience they paid for, I think there’s trouble.

The dumb thing being that, if you’re inclined to cheat, you could just download all this stuff from the Internet. I find it to be bothersome to get an identical copy of what I’ve purchased off the ‘net, but I’d hardly feel guilty for downloading something I already own. It’s a lot of work that messes up paying customers.

They’re not smart enough to look at the music industry and realize music’s not going away because everything is digital. All it will take is an MP3 format for video—i.e., something that’s easily exchanged and sufficient quality—and the party’s over.

Anyway, I make perfectly legal personal-use copies to protect my original discs (most of which are actually badly damaged, but that’s another story). And my DVR lets me store those and play those, which is something I can’t do with a store bought machine. And given how fragile DVDs are (Nearly indestructible! the hype claimed), having all the kids’ movies ripped and on a hard-drive is the only sensible thing to do.

There are a lot of cool things MythTV can do that your cable company’s DVR can’t. I won’t bore you with the details now (I like to spread my boring stuff out), but one of the coolest things is that, if you run out of space, you can just add a cheap USB drive. I have 2.25TB on my drive.

The most interesting thing—and if you’ve had a DVR for years, you may have encountered this—is that everyone watches less TV. We record everything, but we watch very selectively. Also, there’s none of that “Oh, we’re waiting to watch…”

Also, with the forty of us living here and sharing one TV, it’s much easier to apportion out the time.

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 23: Bad Taste Theater Presents….

[watching “Red Eye”’s story on Michael Vick shirts]
“I don’t want a Michael Vick jersey.”
“Oh, wait, they have them for kids!”
“They have them for dogs!!!!”
“We should totally get Michael Vick shirts for the dogs.”
“We should totally get Michael Vick shirts for the cats.”

More On The Theory: Obama Is Stupid And Lazy

You know, I actually have a hard time writing that the President is stupid and lazy. I really do. Which isn’t, I suppose, very American. Washington used to get all kinds of crap and if Washington did—well, that sets the tone, doesn’t it? Americans are not worshipful toward the Commander-In-Chief.

I thought it was overdone during W’s reign: Even now, W’s trips to Crawford are regarded as signs of his laziness, even though he worked while there. (Republican time away from office is always an issue to partisans, which to me makes no sense: If you don’t like the guy, the more time he takes from office the better, right?)

And stupid? Fuhgeddaboudit. That’s axiomatic, right?

I think that all politicians tend toward stupidity. Groupthink is pretty much the enemy of intelligence. And the way politicians seem to get elected these days is to be the head groupthinker, and to march along to some fixed idea.

Laziness, though, I think is a rarer quality. Campaigning is hard. Most politicians—the current President excluded—have to campaign hard for decades to get anywhere. And usually they have to bust their asses to make a mark that gets them noticed. Again, current President excluded. He’s gone right to the lazy part that most politicians put off until they’ve secured their perpetual re-elections.

My question for you, blog readers, is this: Right now I’m tops for the phrase “Obama is stupid and lazy” in Google, if you quote it, and third if you don’t quote it (and the sites above me don’t actually talk about Obama). And I think it’s an interesting and fitting topic that could really take off, but after hearing it for eight years, it might also be tiring.

So, I leave it to you. Should I run with this?

Should I, for example, point out that in the wake of extreme unpopularity over health care, Obama’s handling for this was apparently to encourage people to fink on their neighbors—and then spam them? How stupid is that? “Everyone loves spam! Let’s send out unsolicited e-mails to people who hate us!”

Or that Obama has put his brand on this bill, HR 3200? “My plan” he calls it. The lazy part being he had nothing to do with writing it, hasn’t read it, doesn’t seem to know what’s in it, and has never bothered to formulate a principled theory on which nationalized health care might work in the USA, despite failing everywhere else in the world. (Maybe the French health care system isn’t a failure, but it seems to have dragged the entire rest of their country down.) The stupid part being that when this mofo goes down, it’s going to have his brand on it?

This constant self-contradictory pose? At first I thought this wasn’t either stupid or lazy, just desperate politicking from a guy whose previous stupidity and laziness has boxed him into a corner, but it goes back to not doing the leg work to handle people’s objections because in the past, you’ve been able to smile your way out of situations. It’s the laziness of a guy who knows how to do one thing, and will keep doing it no matter how stupid.

But again, I wouldn’t want to bore everyone. I don’t think I’d ever post more than one of these month—no matter how much ammo the guy throws at my feet. And I’ll try to be more creative than the Bush bashers were. (Although that would’ve been an interesting study: Examining the ways in which W really was stupid versus the hacky policy disagreements that make all Republican politicians stupid in the eyes of their enemies.)

And we can have an interesting discussion on whether something is stupid or not. Like, is it stupid to not prosecute the Black Panthers who were intimidating voters at the polls? I would say it is: I think it comes from a belief that America—I mean, the good part of America—agrees with the notion that only right-minded people should be allowed to vote.

My theory is that the votes gained—which he didn’t need anyway, hello Watergate-level-stupidity—are going to be substantially fewer than those lost. There are plenty of liberals who still hold non-statist, civil libertarian values who would vote against a candidate who ignores this on principle.

Well, you see what I mean? There’s just so much material. My goal would be to be as apolitical as possible: That is, BHO and his pals want socialized medicine (yeah, I know they’re denying that in various ways, but that’s because they can’t get it as long as it’s called socialized medicine) and while I disagree, this isn’t about political disagreements.

It’s about how BHO’s stupidity and laziness—characteristics which we all share from time-to-time—thwart his attempts to reach his political goals. Think of it as an extended “Fat Albert” episode, where we all learn a little lesson at the end.

But as I said, I’ll leave it to you guys.

If You Let Me Play Sports

Back in the heady days of the ‘90s, Nike used to run an ad with a bunch of girls saying “If you let me play sports….” Followed by all these marvelous things that would happen. You know, “If you let me play sports, I’m 40% less likely to be depressed.” Or “If you let me play sports, I won’t leave you unconscious in a hotel bathtub full of ice missing your kidneys.”

Of course, I sat there weeping saying, “OK! I’ll let you play sports!!”

On the other hand, I thought Tatum O’Neal had resolved all that.

Anyway, in the murky mists of genetic pasts, insofar as they’re known, The Flower’s great-grandparents were athletic. Semi-pro ball players, a great-great grandparent who bicycled across the country and wrestled into his 60s, that sort of thing. But somehow, none of the grandparents were athletic. To say nothing of the parents.

The Flower is not particularly athletic. As much as I puff up about her skills, I realize that she isn’t one of these kids that is just a natural. They pick a ball and can dribble, kick it soccer-style, run with it, throw it—whatever. And that’s not The Flower.

Kind of interesting, since she started out fairly athletic. We did the IAHP program for her and she excelled, but more pressing matters took precedent and a lot of physical excellence diminished.

But—and I guess this isn’t surprising from an IAHP point-of-view—since she started playing sports, she’s gotten more physically excellent. Until now, she’s managed to do well by listening to her coaches and following their advice. But she’s gotten more confident, surer of foot, and I can generally see this change into “a naturally athletic person”. That is, I can see someone ten years from now thinking she is “naturally gifted,” with its implication that something was given rather than earned.

In her current season of basketball, she can’t do the Wall of Flowers, because they’re playing on a smaller court and the rules prohibit her from playing defense mid-court. I thought this might be a setback for her, but no: She’s come up with an equally effective defensive strategy.

To wit: She’s noticed that most teams have one really strong player/scorer that the rest of the team relies on. The strategy at this level is Pass to Johnny (well, Juan) and he shoots. She figures out who that player is and shuts them down. While she’s on, the other team has a hard time scoring. If she’s not (she actually missed one game so she could visit her cousins), her team takes a beating.

What’s particularly nice, though is that she’s seeing her hard work pay off, and it’s paying off fast enough that I’m less worried she might be boxed out of sports as they get more competitive.

She continues to pursue her other interests opportunistically. The other day she put together a Banker’s box and the hard part was getting Grandpa to not direct her…

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 22: OK, Now Mime Being Dead

[When I come out, The Flower is miming. Nobody knows why she does this or how she learned all the mime tropes, but some days she just wakes up and has to mime everything, as well as do the “trapped in a box”, “walking in the wind”, and so on.

The Barbarian, naturally, finds this irritating and is ordering her to stop. The Flower also intuitively knows that the first rule of miming which is: If you’re irritating, you know you’re doing it right.]
The Barb: “Stop! Stop doing that! Stop!”
[I wiggle the Barb’s toes.]
The Barb: “Hey, let go of my toe!”
Me: “Feeling bossy today?”
The Barb: [looking surprised] “ME, TOO!”

I Bought A Used Car Off Of Craig’s List

The above phrase strikes me as emblematic of the Internet age. Buying a used car is bad enough. Buying one off the Internet? Buying one off of Craig’s List?

What am I? Stupid?

I did, in fact, get ripped off. Or, more accurately, the guy who sold me the car intended to rip me off. Did he succeed? Interesting question. The car in question is a ‘91 Geo Metro convertible, which had 92,000 miles on it. I paid $940. It ran well enough, but it needs some cosmetic repairs. (Both “needs” and “some” should be regarded as a casual use of English.)

I was careful. The guy did a vigorous test drive. He put the top up and down. I had him take it to my mechanic. The guy fed me a lot of lines, including about how good the gas mileage was. I didn’t take those too seriously. (I ended up being a bit disappointed anyway, as it only gets 27mpg. It should get mid-’30s at least.)

My mechanic checked out the engine the next day and said the only thing that looked potentially bad was an excess of transmission fluid. I figured that was a calculated risk and told the guy’s friend—who had been sent to close the deal—that I would still take the car, but for less money (to $940 from $1,000).

Later, I remembered that the guy had told me that he had overfilled the transmission, and e-mailed him to tell him I wanted to give him the $60 (and also some pants left in the back seat) but never heard back from him.

I soon found out why. I had noted the tags on the back of the car were up-to-date and didn’t think anything else about the registration. When I took it to the DMV to get the registration in my name, it turned out the car had not been registered for four years. Far from a standard-issue used-car lie, my Craig’s List pal actually lifted the tags off a properly registered car. (Even my mechanic was surprised by that one.)

Now, it’s not my intention here to draw a parallel with the socialization of medicine, which I understand is causing something of a ruckus these days, but I’ve always been impressed by the degree to which governments show their lack of concern for anything other than collecting their money.

Like, I got hit hardest with taxes when I was self-employed and starving. There was no recourse, no concern, no need to justify the government’s desire to see me work for someone else. You can see it in public schools, from the lowliest Head Start program to the biggest University: The System Just Doesn’t Care. Even if you find individuals who do care, the rules are the rules (except when you’re “important” or some bureaucrat wants to make your life hell).

Even now I’m wrestling with a government-based health payment issue, where the sliding scale is free-$50-$800 for a 30 minute consult. I can’t get a single breakdown for the $800; that’s simply the arbitrary price It Has Been Decided I Should Pay.

Anyhoo. Needless to say, the DMV—which, by the way, is quite efficient if you call ahead and make an appointment—does not care that I was swindled. They do not care to find the malefactors who operated this vehicle for four years. No, they simply insist that I pay all the past due registration fees, along with any late penalties or whatnot they decide to levy.

Back fees? $441.14, bringing my total cost to $1,381.14. That kind of hurt, considering it was Christmas.

That wasn’t all. The guy had tweaked the engine in such a way that it had a lot more oomph than you might expect out of a 3-cylinder engine, and the upshot was that when it was cold—which, of course, I never saw before buying—it would stall.

This one drove me—and my mechanic—nuts. It wasn’t just “it’s cold, it won’t start”. It would start perfectly and then as you drove, it would get slower and slower, no matter how much you punched the accelerator. Though you could sometimes get it not to stall if you could start it, floor it, and then keep it floored. This was a challenge leaving the driveway.

My mechanic tried a few things and then stopped, figuring he didn’t know what was causing the problem, and figuring there was no point throwing a bunch of money at trying to figure it out. He told me to wait for it to get worse, and so I lived with it for a while.

And then, a few months later, the problem went away, never to return.

Weird, eh? Maybe evil spirits. Exorcised by my sunshine-y nature.

Anyway, all-in-all, the car cost me about $2,200. Maintenance has been cheap, just piddling things, maybe costing me another $300 over about two years.

Now, the reason I bought it in the first place is that, even though I don’t go into work much, when I do, I have to park in this really cramped underground lot. And when I took The Airplane—our massive mini-van—it was like trying to navigate the Queen Mary through the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Only with the other SUVs, kind of like trying to navigate Pirates simultaneously with the Lusitania, the Titanic and the QE2.

I hated it. I figured I had enough cash to buy a hunk-a-junk that: a) would be tiny, and b) wouldn’t matter what happened to it. I’m way more comfortable with small cars than I am with big ones. The Bumblebee (as my mechanic christened it) more than fits the bill. I can practically do doughnuts in the underground parking lot.

But the funny thing is that everyone loves this car. The convertible is probably the key thing. Hunk-o-junk though it be, the convertible-ness gives it a certain cachet. The kids, as you might imagine, love it.

And though it needs a bunch of body work, it constantly draws favorable comments. Well, the first one I got was, “HEY!!!” from some guy at a stoplight who had just followed me off the freeway. When I turned, he said, “I have to take your picture! You’re so funny-looking!” I’m probably on some jerk’s blog or Facebook page right now.

I can’t really argue with him. With the hat and sunglasses and—well, you’d have to see a picture to understand, and that ain’t happening—but let’s say I wouldn’t disagree.

Over the past two years, I’ve gotten a dozen comments on this car. Some people telling me they have one just like it, others saying they used to, some inquiring as to gas mileage, even offering to buy it.

I’ve put about 10,000 miles on the car. And will probably have about 12,000 on it by the two year mark, which means that each mile will have cost me less than 20 cents a mile, factoring in the base price and extraordinary costs. (The insurance is ridiculously small and lowers the insurance on my other car, for reasons I don’t understand.)

When you think about it in those terms, The Airplane will need to have over 60,000 miles on it to catch up. And it was cheap, too. A modest $30,000 car—hardly an extravagance these days—would need to be run for 150,000 miles to catch up with that.

And that’s assuming The Bumblebee falls apart at the 12,000 mark, which I suspect it won’t. I think I’ll be able to get 50,000 miles out of it without taking any heroic measures.

The only downside, really, is that we’ve become sort of attached to it. I’m inclined to fix it up a bit. I actually think, despite the guy’s attempt to rip us off, we got a great deal.

But the kids hate it when I say, “Buddha says, ‘All life is suffering. The origin of suffering is attachment.’” They have some choice words to say about the Buddha.

But it’s still spectacular driving down the Pacific Coast Highway at sunset in a convertible.