Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Inkheart Underworld

Rating scale: 9 (superlative) to 1 (execrable)
Short story: 9-7, recommended; 6-4, up to you; 3-1, eschew
Ratings intended for: adult SF&F fans

Short-attention-span synopsis: Love books? Inkheart!

Economic advice: You can only afford to see one SF&F film this weekend? Underworld is well worth missing.

Inkheart (PG, 1:46) — 9

They had me at "Hay". Hay-on-Wye, that is, the English town that's riddled with antiquarian bookstores, and where Inkheart begins — surrounded with books. There are books wall to wall. We're awash in books. Buried in books. Whispering books, talking books (and no, I don't mean the recorded kind), living books. As in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, it's possible for people in the bookworld to enter ours, and vice versa. But what it takes is a silvertongue, a person who can read aloud and make the printed word come to life. Brendan Fraser, Eliza Hope Bennett, Paul Bettany, Andy Serkis, and Helen Mirren are the featured actors, and they're all excellent, but the real star of this film is the written word in all its glory, joy, majesty, power, and beauty. A wonderful film in every sense of the word. Word!

Underworld [3]: Rise of the Lycans (R, 1:32) — 3

Every 3 years (2003, 2006, 2009) we get another one of these. The good news is that they're getting progressively shorter (2:01, 1:46, 1:32). Yes, it's another vampires vs. werewolves flik, which I continue to lycan* to rats vs. cockroaches, with the audience invited to give a shit. No, and no thanks. Done almost entirely in blue-black ink, with a cast** badly in need of soap and shampoo, and sets that let us know why their descendants prefer life in sewers, this film is pitched squarely at people who paid good money to see the 1st 2 but cheats them out of Kate Beckinsale. Could it have been worse? Yeah, because it did have some interesting plot twists and an appeal to abolitionism, which earns it a couple of grudging points.

*little pun there
**including Michael Sheen, also currently appearing in Frost/Nixon, in a role as diametrically opposed as imaginable to his turn here as the progenitor of all lycanthropes; the guy can act, I'll give him that!

Oscar Nominees:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button pulled in 13 Academy Award nominations. Continue to color me unimpressed. (I rated it 6.)

WALL•E is the front-runner for best animated film and also topped Time's list of the year's best films. It's a good (7) movie, another triumph from the "story first" geniuses at Pixar. I liked Bolt even better (9). Yes, Disney's Bolt!

A trio of terrific superhero flix — The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, and especially The Dark Knight — were largely ignored, except for the unignorable performance of Heath Ledger as The Joker. Comic books just can't get no respect. I guess they'll have to be contented with the ton of money they made and the appreciation of a grateful fandom.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Barton's Lies Still Circulating

"The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." — William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 3 Scene 2

The evil done by David Barton, founder of WallBuilders Christian Ministry, author of Original Intent and America's Godly Heritage, and proponent of (and apologist for) the idea that America is a Christian nation, certainly continues to live on long after him — and he's not even dead yet.

Barton fabricated a bunch of quotations purporting to be from America's founders and disseminated them widely among those receptive to his viewpoint. Eventually, however, they came to the attention of true historical scholars, who started off puzzled ("Boy, that sure doesn't SOUND like anything Jefferson would have said."), moved on to being skeptical, finally demanded to see the original documents, and finally ended up denouncing Barton as a fraud and a liar when he couldn't produce anything remotely like a primary source.

But all of those phony quotations continue to circulate out there, and I've seen a couple of them resurface in the last week alone, as dominionists and Christian apologists use this golden opportunity to try to make hay (and possibly converts bearing gifts) out of all the overtly Protestant religiosity which drenched the Obama inauguration ceremonies.

Just so everyone knows, I've written the following to both and The Straight Dope in hopes that these widely respected sources of, um, straight dope will help quash these lies for at least the short run. (I have no hope that they'll ever be permanently exterminated — since the internet is forever — at least not until that hallowed day when, as Denis Diderot hoped, "the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest".)

= = = = = =

You may have heard about David Barton, president of WallBuilders Christian Ministry, and his penchant for quoting the founders of America to the effect that the United States was supposed to be a Christian nation, founded by Christians on Christian principles. It appears that all of his quotations were fabricated. (I've appended below the ones that I'm aware of.) I had heard that Barton had subsequently made public acknowledgment of their spurious nature, but I can't find a good reference to a reliable news report of that confession, only obviously biased sources which claim it happened. What's the direct poop?

= = = = = =
It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.
-- George Washington

= = = = = =
The only assurance of our nation's safety is to lay our foundation in morality and religion.
-- Abraham Lincoln

= = = = = =
The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.
-- Abraham Lincoln

= = = = = =
America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.
-- Alexis de Tocqueville

= = = = = =
I have always said and always will say that the studious perusal of the Sacred Volume will make us better citizens.
-- Thomas Jefferson

= = = = = =
Whosoever shall introduce into the public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world.
-- Benjamin Franklin

= = = = = =
It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ!
-- Patrick Henry

= = = = = =
There are two powers only which are sufficient to control men, and secure the rights of individuals and a peaceable administration; these are the combined force of religion and law, and the force or fear of the bayonet.
-- Noah Webster

= = = = = =
Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise. In this sense and to this extent, our civilizations and our institutions are emphatically Christian.
-- US Supreme Court, Holy Trinity v. US

= = = = = =
We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves ... according to the Ten Commandments of God.
-- James Madison

= = = = = =
The principles of all genuine liberty, and of wise laws and administrations are to be drown from the Bible and sustained by its authority. The man therefore who weakens or destroys the divine authority of that book may be assessory [sic] to all the public disorders which society is doomed to suffer.
-- Noah Webster

= = = = = =
A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or eternal invader.
-- Samuel Adams

= = = = = =
The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.
-- Stephen Hawking (This one is real.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Help Define "Saddlebacking"

Seattle-based sex-advice columnist Dan Savage (the guy who popularized the sexual connotations for the terms "pegging" and "santorum") is looking for OUR help to define the term "saddlebacking".

You will recall that odious anti-gay fundamentalist Rev. Rick Warren is pastor of the megachurch Saddleback Church and author of the best-selling anti-intellectual book The Purpose-Driven Life. He's also a featured preacher at the Obama inauguration.

Some of Savage's readers, looking for an appropriate way to protest Warren's presence at what SHOULD be a purely secular event (to say nothing of one that should be a paragon of anti-discriminatory sentiment), wondered whether Savage could do the same noun-to-verb trick for "saddleback" that he'd already pulled off twice previously. Savage agreed to give it a shot and invited readers to send in proposed definitions. He's narrowed it down to 7 finalists and is asking people all across America to cast their votes at

Read the column here and do what you think best.

= = = = = =
Every Time You See a Rainbow God Is Having Gay Sex
-- bumper sticker

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Significant Anniversaries in 2009

There are some significant anniversaries coming up in 2009.

 • 1809 Feb. 12 (200 years ago), Abraham Lincoln born in Hardin County, Kentucky. Elected 16th president of the United States in 1860, issued Emancipation Proclamation 1863 Jan. 1, died 1865 April 15 in Washington, DC.

 • 1809 Feb. 12 (200 years ago), Charles Darwin born in Shrewsbury, England. Served as naturalist aboard HMS Beagle, 1831-1836, used scientific findings from that expedition to formulate theory of evolution, published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection 1859 Nov. 24, died 1882 April 19 in Kent, England.

 • 1969 July 20 (40 years ago), Neil Armstrong becomes 1st representative of Earth life to set foot on another world, deboarding from the Eagle, in the Sea of Tranquility, Moon. Followed shortly thereafter by Buzz Aldrin, while Michael Collins remained in orbit above them in Apollo 11. The event was most memorably commemorated here:

The last person to set foot on the Moon left 3 years later, on 1972 Dec. 14, when Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt departed. In subsequent years, numerous very intelligent people have asserted that it is cheaper and more efficient to explore the Solar System with robotic probes instead of human-crewed missions. In the entire history of declarative sentences, there has probably never been another which (a) is so factually correct while (b) so utterly missing the point.

 • 2009 Jan. 20 (0 years ago), Barack Hussein Obama 2nd, son of Barack Obama Sr. (a black African Muslim) and Ann Dunham (a white Kansas agnostic) becomes the 1st mixed-race person to assume the presidency of the United States, having been elected with a majority of votes from all racial groups, thus putting a significant dent in the most shameful legacy of the world's richest nation.

Which of these, do you suppose, will be the most celebrated anniversary in 2109?

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Unborn

The Unborn — 3

Cheap startlement moments, puerile "profundities", and tawdry panty shots are only slightly offset by the novelty of an appeal to Jewish Kabbalah tradition (instead of the otherwise ubiquitous old-line Catholics) as a way of getting rid of the evil spirit (a dybbuk, not a demon) trying to possess the heroine. Good performances by vets Gary Oldman and Jane Alexander are utterly wasted in this tripefest.

For those looking for a silver lining, there's this: Hereafter, when anti-abortionists trot out the word "unborn", you can call up a vision of something other than a cute, cuddly, gurgling baby. (For years now, I've contended that they could have, with no less inaccuracy, referred to "unborn teenagers", but this flik's depiction of the unborn might give a prospective mother even more pause.)