Thursday, November 30, 2006

How to avoid being eaten by an alligator

Alligators lie patiently there in the black,
Waiting in the still, warm water to attack
    The unwary in the dark,
    Who go in swimming stark
Naked after kicking back and smoking crack.
"Fla. Man Loses Arm to Alligator Attack": "Sheriff's deputies pulled a naked man from the jaws of a nearly 12-foot long alligator...It was not clear why Apgar was in the water at such an early hour. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Apgar told deputies he had been smoking crack." (Filed by The Associated Press, published November 29, 2006 in The New York Times.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mirror Image

Michael R. Gordon reported in The New York Times on November 28 "that American officials worry that a small group of advisers from the Shiite Dawa Party that [Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-]Maliki is surrounded by may skew the information he receives."

Or, to quote Maureen Dowd, writing November 29 in The New York Times:
Mr. Hadley bluntly mused about Mr. Malaki: “His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shi’a hierarchy and force positive change. But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.”

It’s bad enough to say that about the Iraqi puppet. But what about when the same is true of the American president? ["Turning on the Puppet"]
Or, as Paul Krugman concludes his December 1 op-ed piece in The New York Times:
Luckily, we’ve got good leadership for the coming economic storm: the White House is occupied by a man who’s ideologically flexible, listens to a wide variety of views, and understands that policy has to be based on careful analysis, not gut instincts. Oh, wait. ["Economic Storm Signals"]

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Imagined comment from Jimmy Carter

I'm just listening to an interview of former President Jimmy Carter on the Diane Reems Show on NPR. Ineluctably, I found my imagination wandering....
Ms. Reems: Mr. Carter, you weren't elected for a second term. What do you think about the current incumbent?

Mr. Carter: Well, in 1980, my administration didn't consider fraudulently depriving any state of its electoral votes.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Limerick o'Day

I really seem to be turning them out, don't I?
Oh, not a limerick a day—sometimes I'm bone dry—
    But on a given day,
    If my muse has her way,
There's not any number of limericks I won't try.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A dogmatic believer's lament

One day we will meet and ride on a bike,
Eat at the same table, and take a long hike—
    My relatives and I,
    In the sweet by-and-by—
Even those I met once and didn't much like.
"A benefit of being born into a family," someone has said, "is that you get a chance to meet people you'd otherwise never have chosen to associate with."

That may be a bit cynical, but most of us do have some one or more relatives we don't like or at least don't care to see. And some traumatically abused people have good reason to abhor their parents and would rather not have been born, or at least not to those particular parents. But while many of us might not have chosen our parents, we nevertheless love them and basically have no regrets about having been born to them.

Yet we do have one or a few relatives we would never have chosen to associate with. Would we be comfortable believing, as some people dogmatically do, that we'll be reunited with them "in heaven"?

No End in Sight

Religious war burns on and beleaguers
Iraq's Sunni and Shiite besiegers,
    But it brings no relief
    From dogmatic belief
But for stone-dead dogmatic believers.

Friday, November 24, 2006

It's the economy, stupid?

There is a class of Christian businessman
Whose myth that Mary was God's courtesan
    They're yearly given to exploit,
    And even though they're maladroit,
They do it now again because they can.
It's more than a month before December 25, but the question, "Why Keep Christ in Christmas?" is being asked already by a paying advertiser in our local newspaper1. I suppose, if the question weren't the title of a full-page ad, but were appearing on the comics page, one might retort something like, "But without 'Christ,' 'Christmas' would be more [Spanish 'mas']."

But it's an ad, and the page goes on:
Why is the Greeting
"Merry Christmas"
so important to the Christian
buying public at Christmas Time?
(Ah, the buying public!)
Because WE CAN NEVER forget
"And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name
JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins."
-Matthew 1:21
From "the buying public's" sin of putting too much on their credit cards during shopping sprees? Was Christ's mission, then, to improve "the buying public's" finances?

Thomas Paine, in The Age of Reason (1794), wrote that
It is not difficult to account for the credit that was given to the story of Jesus Christ being the Son of God. He was born at a time when the heathen mythology had still some fashion and repute in the world, and that mythology had prepared the people for the belief of such a story. Almost all the extraordinary men that lived under the heathen mythology were reputed to be the sons of some of their gods. It was not a new thing, at that time, to believe a man to have been celestially begotten; the intercourse of gods with women was then a matter of familiar opinion.

Their Jupiter, according to their accounts, had cohabited with hundreds; the story, therefore, had nothing in it either new, wonderful, or obscene; it was conformable to the opinions that then prevailed among the people called Gentiles, or Mythologists, and it was those people only that believed it.

...It is curious to observe how the theory of what is called the Christian Church sprung out of the tail of the heathen mythology...The Christian theory is little else than the idolatry of the ancient Mythologists, accommodated to the purposes of power and revenue...
Aha, revenue!
Without CHRIST
there would be no
Tom Paine's final clause, following a semicolon;
...and it yet remains to reason and philosophy to abolish the amphibious2 fraud.
And remains,
Too, perhaps, to ridicule with limericks,
To prick in verse with pointed rhymer's tricks,
    And, by means of jokes
    And of jibes and pokes,
To sting sharply with mocking laughter kicks?
  1. The paid advertising was
    Sponsored By: Upper Room Church of God in Christ • Superintendent Patrick L. Wooden, Sr., Pastor • •
    96% of American consumers celebrate Christmas and 5% celebrate Hanukkah, & 2% celebrate Kwanzaa
    ( "Majority OK With Public Nativity Scenes" by Dana Blanton, June 18, 2004)
    "FoxNews"? Didn't you just know that the Busheviks' propaganda organ might be involved in this somehow?
  2. "Amphibious"? I suppose Paine must have had in mind the word's sense of "combining two characteristics," not necessarily "able to live both on land and in water," but the myth that Jesus was "both god and man."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

"The Search for Common Ground"

Link to a clarifying essay by Stanley Fish on "philosophical" common ground and "pragmatic" common ground in politics. Includes comments from readers (and you, too, are free to comment—if you subscribe to The New York Times TimesSelect).

There have been many candidates [for philosophical common ground]. Christianity offers a fellowship in Christ and the injunction to love your neighbor as yourself because he or she, like you, is a child of God. Thomas Hobbes thought that what binds human beings together is a fear of death at one another’s hands, and as an antidote to that fear, he urged an absolute monarch who could restrain me from assaulting you and vice versa. Immanuel Kant and his Enlightenment successors plumped for a rationalist version of the golden rule tied to what they took to be the prime virtue of individual autonomy: don’t impose restrictions on others that you would reject if they were imposed on you. Classical liberals tried to sidestep substantive disputes by instituting procedural rules to which everyone, no matter what his or her ideological vision, was required to hew. (In this system, fairness replaces truth as a linchpin.) Global capitalists invite us all to worship and follow the market. Multiculturalists ask that we honor difference and establish a politics of respect for others. Libertarians ask that we just leave each other alone.
If any of my readers don't subscribe to TimesSelect, but would like to read Mr. Fish's reflections in their entirety, they may leave a comment on this post and I'll send them a copy of the text via email.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Just learned by email from that
When we began Call for Change, we knew that the campaign would succeed or fail on the commitment of folks like you. To reach our goal of 5 million calls to voters, tens of thousands of volunteers would have to step up to the challenge.

By Election Day, it was clear that you were more than up to the challenge—you blew away every goal we had. In the end, more than 100,000 people made over 7 million calls.
Since that's an average of only 70 "calls" per volunteer, I think that means not just "dials" but actual contacts. I myself spoke with well over 100 likely Democratic voters.

For their efforts, volunteers have been invited to choose either a mug or a T-shirt for the part each played! I chose the T-shirt for volunteers for their Call for Change

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Thanksgiving Prayer

As you may have detected (if you've read the pertinent posts on this blog), I'm currently rethinking my position (or positions) on religious belief. So far, I seem to have survived the days of my ambivalence toward, for example, what happened on the third day following Jesus Christ's crucifixion. I'm not sure whether I have yet survived my tendency to believe in angels, and I'm definitely not ready to sign up for atheism. I prefer, for now at least, the "maximum uncertainty" (50/50) of agnosticism: I truly do not know and do not think or feel that I know (whether or not God exists).

The author of Wired Magazine's November cover story (Gary Wolf: "The New Atheism") proposes an atheist prayer:
That our reason will subjugate our superstition, that our intelligence will check our illusions, that we will be able to hold at bay the evil temptation of faith.

A Durer's Praying HandsIt seems to me that (except for the word "evil"), this formulation could also serve as a starting point for an agnostic prayer, and I'm trying to think how to work it into a special prayer for Thanksgiving, day after tomorrow. Actually, I'm thinking it shouldn't be too hard for me, since I'm everyday grateful for what I have and for my prospects, whether I am grateful to something called "God" or not. That is, the non-existence of God (should God not exist) doesn't make gratitude irrelevant. In fact, I have long recognized that being grateful is effectively a condition (and not the only condition) of living a fully satisfying life. Or so I would argue.

There's gratitude (and its expression) toward other people, of course. On Thanksgiving, let's not forget to be grateful for and say "thanks" to those responsible for "what we are about to receive" (so to speak).

But over and above that, there's the possibility of feeling grateful (and being aware you're grateful) for existing...rather than not existing. Such gratitude, even if we can't identify to whom to address "thanks," is not only possible, but, for me at least, necessary. Maybe it's equivalent to a spirit of not taking things for granted, of being mindful that we have them and enjoy them...and we might not have them. Indeed, we won't always have them.

Such mindfulness, I think, is necessary in order to fully realize one's present moment.

Monday, November 20, 2006


Looks as though I need not only to bake some persimmon cookies (see yesterday's post), but eat a quantity of them as well: I weighed only 149.0 pounds this morning....

Here's a photo of my wife's 2005 Thanksgiving centerpiece (using Fuyus):

Persimmon Centerpiece for Thanksgiving 2005

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Persimmon Harvest

This weekend at my home was the persimmon harvest:

Persimmons in Total

The larger, shaplier persimmons are Hachiyas, the smaller, more pumpkin-colored persimmon is a Fuyu.

Compare the Fuyu with the Hachiya

The Fuyu tree yielded over 300 fruit last year, but after a severe pruning, it yielded only a single fruit this year. Ironically, I pruned the Hachiya tree even more severely, because it grows taller and I spent hours last year harvesting its 150 or so fruit.

Persimmons in the Sun with a Tape Measure

My wife and I agree that the Fuyu is a better tasting fruit than the prettier Hachiya. But still again this year, I will bake my traditional persimmon cakes and cookies for the other ten households on our cul-de-sac.

For recipes for persimmon puddings, cookies, cakes, pies, bread, jams, salads, fudge, butter, chutney, salsa, flans, filling, topping, yogurt, ice cream, gelatin, cheesecake,..., you could do worse than visit this web page from down under.

Here's the Hachiya tree right after leaf fall (a couple of weeks ago):

Hachiya Tree after Leaf Fall

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Thomas Paine on revelation

Wow! Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason is good stuff! I can see how it must have thrilled me to read it as a teenager. In a footnote to a post on October 29, I even used the same word to characterize works of religious revelation that Paine used in 1794:
...Revelation, when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man.

No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication1, if He pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it.
In the October 29 footnote, I had written:
...I don't count the existence of holy books as evidence that God is. They're just hearsay evidence that someone else may have had such a feeling [as I described in my post2]....
I remember that I felt pretty good about labeling the Bible, the Koran, and other works purporting to be the Inspired Word of God as "hearsay." I even thought I was probably being original!

Paine goes on:
It is a contradiction in terms and ideas, to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second-hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication—after this it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him. When Moses told the children of Israel that he received the two tables of the commandments from the hands of God, they were not obliged to believe him, because they had no other authority for it than his telling them so; and I have no other authority for it than some historian telling me so. The commandments carry no internal evidence of divinity with them; they contain some good moral precepts, such as any man qualified to be a lawgiver, or a legislator, could produce himself, without having recourse to supernational intervention.3

...A thing which everybody is required to believe requires that the proof and evidence of it should be equal to all, and universal; and as the public visibility of this last related act [the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ] was the only evidence that could give sanction to the former part [Jesus's immaculate conception], the whole of it falls to the ground, because that evidence never was given. Instead of this, a small number of persons, not more than eight or nine, are introduced as proxies for the whole world to say they saw it, and all the rest of the world are called upon to believe it. But it appears that Thomas did not believe the resurrection, and, as they say, would not believe without having ocular and manual demonstration himself. So neither will I, and the reason is equally as good for me, and for every other person, as for Thomas.
  1. One won't, that is, if he believes along with Paine that "the Almighty" does exist and has such a power.
  2. "That feeling, that surpassing feeling...."
  3. Thomas Paine's footnote: "It is, however, necessary to except the declaration which says that God visits the sins of the fathers upon the children; it is contrary to every principle of moral justice. —Author."

Friday, November 17, 2006

Thomas Paine on religion

We tend to remember Thomas Paine for his writings on Common Sense, but he also wrote what might be considered a precursor to Sam Harris's The End of Faith. I refer to Paine's The Age of Reason, which I've begun to re-read (roughly fifty years after I read it as a teenager). Here's the opening of Paine's book:
To My Fellow-Citizens of the United States of America
I put the following work under your protection. It contains my opinion upon religion. You will do me the justice to remember,that I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to answer this right, makes a slave of himself in his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it. [emphasis mine]

The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall.

Your affectionate friend and fellow-citizen,
Thomas Paine

Thursday, November 16, 2006

In preparation for Serena Joy's memoriam (and Southern Writer's)

Serena wants to be ready when she croaks, doggone it!
She asked me for an obit and I'm here to say I'm on it.
    "A limerick," she said, "should do,"
    And maybe, in fact, 'twould do.
But, damn! I'm sure you know: Serena deserves a sonnet.

That said, for Southern Writer I could say the same,1
Whose dedication to the art that bears her name
    Often compelled her to write
    Far into or through the night,
Working smart and hard to win her and her muse's fame.2
  1. Original version:

    That said, I could say the same for Southern Writer,
    Who, if I couldn't think of anything brighter,
        Suggested I could simply
        Get off rather limply
    With something like "she often wrote into the nighter."
  2. Earlier version of this last line:

    Playing smart and hard to win her sacred muse's game.

"My Introductory Statement"

This morning I created a blog at, with an introductory statement of my political background and interests. At the moment, I do not plan to post regularly to that blog, but continue here, and my first post there attempts to direct visitors to come here, to what I consider Moristotle's home.

I'm telling you about this only in case you might wish to read my short statement of introduction at (It'll be a quick link opened in a new window.) Again, the link is

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Secular rituals?

From the September 2006 interview of Sam Harris in The Sun Magazine:
...What we need are secular rituals.

This is an idea that has been bouncing around among scientists: that we need a kind of scientific liturgy. It's not as if, looking into this universe billions of light-years across, you can't find anything amazing to say about reality. It's actually far more amazing than the God of the Bible stalking the deserts of the Middle East, demanding burnt offerings. So we need a language that expresses a reaonable awe at the nature of the cosmos and our existence in it. And we need to make this language emotionally moving for people. I think it would be thrilling if we had a temple of reason that presented through ritual our growing scientific understanding of ourselves in the cosmos. Surely we could think of profound, uplifting, scientific things to say at the occasion of somebody's death. It's not as if, once you divest yourself of your religious myths, you're left with an excruciatingly boring, trimmed-down sense of confinement. In fact, it's the religions that are excruciatingly boring and confining. The scientific truth, so far as we understand it, is magical and open-ended and thrilling. It just takes a little more work to undersand it.
You can find a longer excerpt (as well as information about how to subscribe to the print edition) on the Magazine's web site. (Note, though, that the excerpt doesn't include the quotation above.)


Mark ZupanPerhaps you have never heard of murderball. I hadn't. That's what quadriplegic rugby was called when originated by the Canadians in 1977. As the U.S. Quad Rugby Paralympic Team spokesman Mark Zupan says, "That name doesn't work very well when you're trying to get corporate sponsors."

I know this from the 2005 Academy Award-nominated documentary film "Murderball."* When an old college friend surfaced recently after 40 years (into my ken, that is), he mentioned the film and, ahem, the fact that his son was one of the directors. My wife and I watched it last night, and we were powerfully affected. The film is many things: fascinating, entertaining, instructive, inspiring...and funny. I highly recommend it.
Henry Alex Rubin (left) and Dana Adam Shapiro* Directed by Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro. Abbreviated plot outline from "A film about quadriplegics who play full-contact rugby in Mad Max-style wheelchairs - overcoming unimaginable obstacles to compete in the Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece." MPAA rating: "R for language and sexual content; Rated PG-13 for sexual references and language (edited version)."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

An agnostic objection to atheism

Michael Lurski, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, has a letter to the Editor of Newsweek this week in which he adduces a problem with atheism:

Atheist author Sam Harris makes a strong case when he criticizes established religions for the harm they have caused and for the dangers they now present ("Beliefwatch: The Atheist," PERISCOPE, Oct. 30). And he is correct that belief in God is irrational and cannot be proved by reason or current evidence. However, it is just as irrational for Harris to advocate atheism, a certainty that no God exists. An atheist can no more prove there is no God than a believer can prove God's existence. The only alternative based on reason is agnosticism, the belief that it is impossible to know whether there is a God without sufficient evidence. It does not deny the possibility; it is uncertain.

Harris, however, addresses this objection in The End of Faith, but I no longer have a copy of the book to consult. I seem to recall that it went sort of like this: There are any number of things that might exist, whose non-existence we cannot prove: purple people-eaters, and the like. Shall we say that we're agnostic as to their existence as well?

That isn't exactly an ironclad argument in favor of atheism.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Test of section separator characters

First Section * First Section * First Section * First Section * First Section * First Section * First Section * First Section * First Section * First Section


Second Section * Second Section * Second Section * Second Section * Second Section * Second Section * Second Section *

* * *

Third Section * Third Section * Third Section * Third Section * Third Section * Third Section * Third Section * Third Section * Third Section * Third Section * Third Section * Third Section * Third Section *

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Karl Rove's Revenge

An "Obituary" of A.F. Flogger

There was a Bush hater named Flogger,
A feisty and outspoken blogger,
    Who, it turns out,
    Was, without doubt,
A double agent, a sorry hot dogger.

I received a telephone call yesterday from the widow of A.F. Flogger that her husband took his own life the day following the election, and, in his suicide note, he had asked her to tell me that he was sorry for what he had done. (I'd simply quote Flogger's suicide note, but Mrs. Flogger didn't share its very words with me because, she said, there is some question whether her husband actually died by his own hand. And she seemed to be saying that there was some possibility that the homicide detective who's investigating the case might want to talk with me....)

My newer readers will require some background on who A.F. Flogger was (or purported to be) and what it was that he was sorry for. It wasn't any one thing that he did. It wasn't that simple.

On July 19, I reported that "an embarrassed A.F. Flogger wished to make a statement":

Whoa! Hold on a minute. is not my website. I do not promote whipping or any other unspeakable sexual practices. The whole thing is a mistake. I mistyped the name of my registered domain when I first approached Moristotle about leaving and coming with me. He simply passed along what I typed. I didn't notice it. You know how people tend to see what they think is there anyway.

Besides, I had told Moristotle that my website hadn't been launched yet. That's undoubtedly why he didn't check out. My website name will be "P" is for "political," of course. Or, I suppose it could stand for "‘president’" or "pissant," since the main object of my brand of political flogging is George W. Bush.

The "" episode was embarrassing to me, at best. The reader in the world who has followed this blog longer than any other, Steve P, had just pointed out to me that seemed to be actively engaged in promoting the joys (and anguishes) of sadomasochistic sexual practices. (One of the many things that I admire and depend on in Steve P is his commitment to checking the facts. I hadn't visited before mentioning it on my blog, but he did. I'll always be grateful that he did so.)

Anyway, Flogger had first come to me purporting to be trying to recruit me to "go with him" and do my political blogging on his blog. I liked his suggestion that the term flogging was most apt for a political blogger of my stripe (and, he implied, of his stripe as well).

He made his very first appearance on Moristotle on July 9:

I found a comment here this morning from a man (he said) who identified himself only as "a fellow flogger" and the creator of a website (not yet launched) whose domain address he has registered as Frankly, he admitted, he wanted me to quit and come with him. He'd give me a "flogspot," he said.

To show his goodwill, he gave me his most recent political joke and said I was free to use it (anyway, he could use the publicity), so long as I would consider his proposal.

Okay, I'll consider it.
"What's the difference between a Texas pissant and 'President' George W. Bush?...A pissant doesn't need quotation marks."

On July 12, A.F. Flogger warned me that if I came with him, he'd "want [me] to slant [my] poetry along political lines." And he gave me an example:

There is a throw-up word—it rhymes with ‘whoosh’—
That I want never ever shush!
    The throw-up word—first letter ‘B’
    Followed by a different three—
That I want never ever hear is ‘----’.

Of course, readers familiar with my anti-Bush stance will understand that I had to find A.F. Flogger appealing. Then, on July 17, I reported that Flogger was predicting "that Arizona's voter lottery will provoke a Republican backlash." This seemed such a reasonable prediction (Arizona voters did reject the proposal) that it strengthened my opinion of A.F. Flogger even more.

Then came the aforementioned revelation of July 19, unearthed by Steve P. I should have been more suspicious of Flogger's really flimsy excuse that he had mistyped the address of his registered domain. For, you see, what Flogger was sorry for—Mrs. Flogger told me yesterday—was that he had approached me with the sole object of trying to discredit me in the eyes of the blog-reading public.

I asked Mrs. Flogger if she knew why her husband had done that. At first she seemed reluctant to go there, and she finally spoke only very guardedly, as though someone might be looking over her shoulder.

Karl Rove had commissioned him to do it, she said.

"That was in the suicide note?" I asked.

"Oh, God no!" she said. "And he didn't actually say it was Karl Rove...but I heard him talking in his sleep on several occasions before he killed himself...or...."

She went on to describe some of her husband's mumblings and how the mention of Karl Rove had actually explained a lot of things to her personally about her husband's recent political activities.

"Karl Rove really does have his tentacles in a lot of things that are going on," she said.

I nodded, hoping she'd say more.

"I've been reading your blog," she said. "You know that 'pissant' joke?"

"Of course," I said, my breath having stopped, I was so expectant what she might say next.

"That's what Karl Rove called Bush. His nickname for Bush."

I couldn't believe what I'd heard. "Would you repeat that," I said.

"Karl Rove's secret nickname for Bush was 'Pissant.' You see—and this is one thing my husband did tell me when he was awake—Karl Rove absolutely hated it that Bush called him 'Turd Blossom.' Hated it. He called Bush 'The Texas Pissant' behind his back."

I still wasn't breathing.

"Karl Rove wrote that joke."

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Critical Analysis of "The Limerick Maneuver"

by Chuck Finn
Friend and Fan of Moristotle since 1974

Moristotle's limerick of last night—

A growing-old writer of limerick,
Being choked by a joke about Heimlich,
    Went into his mind,
    Reached round from behind,
And conjured this meter-and-rhyme trick.

—announces its theme and its dominant rhyme word only at the end of the second line. This immediately throws the reader into some consternation, since the last word of the first line, "limerick," doesn't rhyme with "Heimlich."

Or does it? The final line refers, self-referentially, to the limerick's "meter-and-rhyme trick" and offers the clue to add a hyphen to "limerick" so as to subtract a metrical beat and render the first line ending "lime-rick."

I've looked at the referenced blog and learned that the joke, rather like a limerick, rests on a pun on the Heimlich maneuver, which is a method of helping a choking victim to expel whatever is lodged in his or her throat by grasping the person around the chest from behind, locking hands at the solar plexus, and pulling back hard to force air up the victim's esophagus. In the joke, the victim expels the lodged bite of her sandwich when she is shocked by a redneck's yanking down her drawers and administering a quick "hind lick."

And another of the blog's readers, one Steve G, comments that a "hind kick" would also suffice. Therein seems to lie the inception of Moristotle's limerick, for in a comment after Mr. G's, Moristotle announces that he "feels a limerick coming on." And in his first version of the limerick, his third through final lines refer explicitly to that situation:

There was an old writer of limerick
Who, inspired by a joke about Heimlich,
    Here told his intent
    Then came back content
To display his meter-and-rhyme trick.

But he obviously wasn't content, for (as Serena herself acknowledges), his revision is "even better."

How is it better? It's better by adding a whole second layer of self-referentiality: the "lime-rick" itself as a Heimlich maneuver (heralded, in fact, by the limerick's title). The "growing-old writer" is now metaphorically choking on the joke (not just "inspired" by it).

And now he turns out to be the author of the limerick: he "conjured this meter-and-rhyme trick." But this limerick was written by Moristotle, who is, we see, the "growing old writer," the one who found himself "choking" on the joke in Serena's blog and wrote the limerick by way of performing a metaphorical Heimlich maneuver upon himself (by "going into his mind and reaching around from behind").

Serena gets the last words: "Yay, Mori"!

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Limerick Maneuver

A growing-old writer of limerick,
Being choked by a joke about Heimlich,
    Went into his mind,
    Reached round from behind,
And conjured this meter-and-rhyme trick.
The joke (rather bawdier than this limerick) can be read on my friend Serena Joy's blog.

Would you identify yourself as an atheist?

Yesterday, Southern Writer commented on Wednesday's post:
He's [Sam Harris's] an atheist? It doesn't sound like it to me. I might just have to read the book [The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason].
And I replied:
I think that he would say, yes, he's an atheist. He presumably agreed to be featured, along with fellow "atheists" Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, in the cover article of this month's Wired Magazine: "The New Atheism." (And a couple or three weeks ago, Newsweek profiled him under the title, "Belief Watch: The Atheist.")
Well, I have since learned that The Sun Magazine published an interview with Sam Harris in its September issue:
Saltman: Would you identify yourself as an atheist?

Harris: Well, I'm not eager to do that. For one thing, atheists have a massive public-relations problem in the United States. Second, atheists as a group are generally not interested in the contemplative life and disavow anything profound that might be realized by meditation or some other deliberative act of introspection. Third, I just think it's an unnecessary term. We don't have names for someone who doesn't believe in astrology or alchemy. I don't think not believing in God should brand someone with a new identity. I think we need to speak only about reason and common sense and compassion.
And maybe neither should I be eager to decide whether to call myself an atheist or not an atheist. I've long felt that God (if God exists) doesn't care one way or the other, but might care whether I am reasonable and compassionate.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

A mystery absolute

When I learned that Sam Harris, the author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, wanted to "study the neurological basis of faith," I imagined clinical experiments involving MRI machines, probes into subjects' brains, and the like. And I expected, after his book's devastating critique of religious faith (belief without evidence), that he would propose a scientific alternative for individuals' "religious" or "spiritual" lives—scientific in the sense of controlled experimentation, double-blind studies, etc.

How surprised, then, was I to learn, in his final chapter (before the epilogue), that he recommends individual observation of one's own consciousness, very much along the lines of Eastern practitioners of Buddhism and some forms of Hinduism. (Harris spent several years inquiring into these practices before he undertook his baccalaureate degree in philosophy at Stanford University.)

Though I may have more to say about the thought of Sam Harris (I haven't yet read his sequel: Letter to a Christian Nation), I'll leave you now with the concluding paragraph of the epilogue of The End of Faith*:
Man is manifestly not the measure of all things. This universe is shot through with mystery. The very fact of its being, and of our own, is a mytery absolute, and the only miracle worthy of the name. The consciousness that animates us is itself central to this mystery and the ground of any experience we might with to call "spiritual." No myths need be embraced for us to commune with the profundity of our circumstance. No personal God need be worshiped for us to live in awe at the beauty and immensity of creation. No tribal fictions need be rehearsed for us to realize, one fine day, that we do, in fact, love our neighbors, that our happiness is inextricable from their own, and that our interdependence demands that people everywhere be given the opportunity to flourish. The days of our religious identities are clearly numbered. Whether the days of civilization itself are numbered would seem to depend, rather too much, on how soon we realize this.
This concluding paragraph resonates happily with my own "mystical" temperament. Harris doesn't exactly sound like a man with horns, does he? He's not what people tend to imagine when they hear that someone "is an atheist."
* My reading of the book began with the epilogue, which entirely captivated me the first time I read it and compelled me to read the book.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

My role in this year's election comes to an end

I've done all of the calling I'm going to do to get out the vote for this year's election. I feel relieved. And, I'm gratified to be able to report, I feel better than I did at the start of the day. It helped to speak with a number of voters who also seemed eager for change—eager enough to have already voted or to be going to vote for sure before the polls close tonight.

The late news tonight and the news tomorrow will tell us how some of it came out. May my visions of Bushevik dirty trickery have been more paranoid than realistic. I'll vote for that.

Enjoy the game?

George Will ends his column that I see reprinted in Raleigh's News & Observer this morning with a baseball metaphor for Election Day. We've just been handed a program and we're told to "enjoy the game."

Today's voting feels like anything to me but a baseball game. When my wife and I voted at 9 o'clock, the polling place felt grim to me. I just didn't feel as though I was exercising a "proud rite of democracy" or something. I think there's just too heavy a pall of uncertainty hanging over everything. Whether the Busheviks' fear-mongering and smearing can actually (in this country of "educated people") bring out voters for Republican candidates. Whether the Diebold voting machine company has the fix in again this year in key races, so that it won't actually matter how people vote in certain precincts.

Nevertheless, we voted, and I'm back home now and am continuing to call likely Democratic voters in tightly contested districts to urge them to go vote.

I do this despite my misgivings. Am I one of the people of faith? I am still a person with some little hope, at any rate.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Lots of folks still undecided?

One of my readers asks, "Do you think there are lots of folks still undecided?"

My sense, from the people I've spoken with on the phone as a "Call for Change" volunteer, is that there aren't many left undecided—at least among voters previously identifed as likely to vote Democratic (which is perhaps only roughly half of the total pool). I would think that there might be more undecideds from those "likely to vote Republican," since they have to deal with various disappointments in the way their "president" and their representatives have done things.

But, since one way to deal with disappointment is to just believe all the harder (like those folks in the 50's whose leader's prediction of the end of the world didn't come to pass1), there may not be so many undecideds among the Republicans as we might think, especially since Republicans tend, more than Democrats, to be "faith-based" folks2.
  1. The case was written up by the cognitive dissonance theorist, Leon Festinger, and I wrote about it on September 27.
  2. Being no admirer of Bush Republicans, I like to think that Sam Harris's book, The End of Faith, is warning us against certain Muslims and Republicans more than it is against Democrats. That is, "faith based" folks believe things that have no evidence to support them, regardless of contrary evidence. Like "president" Bush himself. See the excerpt from Krugman, in my post of a few minutes ago (below).

Mr. Bush's character

Ooh, don't you just love it when a smart, articulate, good man comes out and says in print what you yourself believe with most of the fibers of your being? Paul Krugman in today's New York Times ("Limiting the Damage"):
At this point, nobody should have any illusions about Mr. Bush’s character. To put it bluntly, he’s an insecure bully who believes that owning up to a mistake, any mistake, would undermine his manhood — and who therefore lives in a dream world in which all of his policies are succeeding and all of his officials are doing a heckuva job. Just last week he declared himself “pleased with the progress we’re making” in Iraq.

In other words, he’s the sort of man who should never have been put in a position of authority, let alone been given the kind of unquestioned power, free from normal checks and balances, that he was granted after 9/11. But he was, alas, given that power, as well as a prolonged free ride from much of the news media.

...That said, it’s still possible that the Republicans will hold on to both houses of Congress. The feeding frenzy over John Kerry’s botched joke showed that many people in the news media are still willing to be played like a fiddle. And if you think the timing of the Saddam verdict was coincidental, I’ve got a terrorist plot against the Brooklyn Bridge to sell you.

Moreover, the potential for vote suppression and/or outright electoral fraud remains substantial. And it will be very hard for the Democrats to take the Senate for the very simple reason that only one-third of Senate seats are on this ballot.

...[A] White House strategist has already told Time magazine that the administration plans a “cataclysmic fight to the death” if Democrats in Congress try to exercise their right to issue subpoenas — which is one heck of a metaphor, given Mr. Bush’s history of getting American service members trapped in cataclysmic fights where the deaths are anything but metaphors.

But here’s the thing: no matter how hard the Bush administration may try to ignore the constitutional division of power, Mr. Bush’s ability to make deadly mistakes has rested in part on G.O.P. control of Congress. That’s why many Americans, myself included, will breathe a lot easier if one-party rule ends tomorrow.
And if it doesn't? Will you be ready to take to the street?

A step behind...

You know how we're maybe always a step behind the terrorists? They hijack airplanes with box cutters, so we outlaw boxcutters and knives on airplanes. They try to ignite their shoe, so we now have to remove our shoes to board. They bring liquid components for a bomb on board, so we're restricted on the amount of shampoo we can take with us on vacation.

Well, it may be like that for the Democrats in this election. Karl Rove and the Republicans had effectively gotten out the vote in recent elections by muscular telephoning strategies, so now the Democrats are doing it too.

But sort of like the terrorists, the Republicans are using something new this time, something called "push polls," where they have computers call people pretending to be conducting a poll, but the questions are really carefully designed to influence the way the listener votes.

It's reported by Christopher Drew in today's New York Times ("New Telemarketing Ploy Steers Voters on Republican Path").

Sunday, November 5, 2006

In the woods

My wife and our poodle and I took a long walk in the nearby woods yesterday. We walked through glorious fall foliage, up and down some fairly rugged, rocky hills, along a wild-enough creek to provide many sounds of falling water and continual picturesque vistas. Though at no moment did I experience one of those "surpassing feelings,"1 the walk restored in me a sense of calm and balance. And I needed that.

Ironically, the way this country is "in the woods" politically now is anything but calm and balanced.

In his New York Times op-ed piece Friday ("Insulting Our Troops, and Our Intelligence"),Thomas L. Friedman wrote:
George Bush, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld think you’re stupid. Yes, they do.

They think they can take a mangled quip2 about President Bush and Iraq by John Kerry – a man who is not even running for office but who, unlike Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, never ran away from combat service – and get you to vote against all Democrats in this election.

Every time you hear Mr. Bush or Mr. Cheney lash out against Mr. Kerry, I hope you will say to yourself, “They must think I’m stupid.” Because they surely do.

They think that they can get you to overlook all of the Bush team’s real and deadly insults to the U.S. military over the past six years by hyping and exaggerating Mr. Kerry’s mangled gibe at the president.

...if the Bush team can behave with the level of deadly incompetence it has exhibited in Iraq – and then get away with it by holding on to the House and the Senate – it means our country has become a banana republic.
And in today's New York Times ("Throw the Truthiness Bums Out"), Frank Rich writes:
While lying politicians and hyperbolic negative TV campaign ads are American staples, the artificial realities created this year are on a scale worthy of Disney, if not Stalin. In the campaign’s final stretch, Congress and President Bush passed with great fanfare a new law to erect a 700-mile border fence to keep out rampaging Mexican immigrants, but guaranteed no money to actually build it. Rush Limbaugh tried to persuade his devoted audience that Michael J. Fox had exaggerated his Parkinson’s symptoms in an ad for candidates who support stem-cell research purely as an act.

In a class by itself is the president’s down-to-the-wire effort to brand his party as the defender of “traditional” marriage even as the same-sex scandals of conservative leaders on and off Capitol Hill make “La Cage aux Folles” look like “The Sound of Music.” Just in recent days, the Rev. Ted Haggard, a favored Bush spiritual adviser and visitor to the Oval Office (if not the Lincoln Bedroom), resigned as leader of the National Association of Evangelicals after accusations that he patronized a male prostitute, and the Talking Points Memo blog broke the story of the Republican Party taking money from a gay-porn distributor whose stars include active-duty soldiers. (A film version of Mrs. Cheney’s "Sisters," alas, still awaits. [Sisters is an out-of-print lesbian sex novel by the wife of "vice president" Dick Cheenie.])
As I said, American politics is the cheapest entertainment going, but it's not pretty or funny or fun3.
  1. My post about a "God experience" in my back yard.
  2. But why would the hapless Kerry joke [a verb] about this in the first place? Pathetic. When he read my post about Bush jokes not being funny, he obviously didn't get it.
  3. My first post about Kerry's "joke."

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Going to Canada

My spirit felt so heavy last night, minus day four of the election, that I found myself thinking this morning of a line from Robert Frost's poem "Birches":
I'd like to get away from earth awhile.
I'd like to get away, but I made a commitment to contact at least ninety likely Democratic voters before the polls close on Tuesday and encourage them to go vote (and help them find or verify their polling place).
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
There are lots of birch trees in Canada. Maybe I could recruit those ninety voters to join me there. We could all come back after "the end of faith" and the end of partisan politics. After the time it was possible for men like Tom Delay and Jack Abramoff and Karl Rove to flourish. After the time it was possible for a man we despise to be "elected" president.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Please help me verify this

In an email just received from Howard Dean, he alleges the following:
Here's how the Republicans are trying to win this election:
  • President Bush himself is trying to scare voters with ridiculous claims, saying that "terrorists win and America loses" if Democrats were to take control of Congress.
  • In Missouri, Michael J. Fox recently appeared in a heartfelt ad for Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill, criticizing the Republican incumbent's opposition to stem cell research. The GOP smear machine immediately attacked Fox and McCaskill, with Rush Limbaugh even suggesting Fox was faking his symptoms of Parkinson's disease in the ad.
  • In Tennessee, the Republican Party ran racist ads aimed at dredging up some of the worst racial prejudices imaginable. The ads attacking Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford, who is African-American, show a scantily clad white woman beckoning to him. The ad is so bad that some TV stations are refusing to run it, and non-political companies have fired the Republican consultants who made it. The RNC refused to denounce the disgusting ad, despite a public outcry.
  • In California, one Republican campaign took a page from the national GOP playbook, which calls for suppressing minority voters at every opportunity. The campaign sent a false and deliberately misleading mailing to Hispanics in the district that threatened jail time for any immigrant – legal or not – who tried to vote.
In the spirit of rational, evidence-based inquiry, I ask your help. Do you know of any evidence tending to disprove Governor Dean's allegations? Or are the Republicans really this bad?

If you are not a blogger and must comment as "Anonymous," please be so kind as to identify yourself. I will delete comments not so identified.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Further along the road toward a syllogism of self-blinding

In my post of October 30 post ("The Lost Candy"), I gave a two-statement version of a deductive schema to try to represent the faulty logic by which people "blind themselves" into believing things that aren't so. Thanks to Steve G for so far being the only taker on my challenge to convert my schema into a legitimate syllogism (which, by definition, consists of three statements; the classic example is:
All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.)
Steve G's suggestion was:
Americans are being sent to die for a made-up war.
A real president wouldn’t do this.
George W. Bush is a lost cause.
As I commented back to Steve G (it's the third comment on the October 30 post), "Very nice, Steve G! A clever and apt syllogism. And I particularly like how you include my long contention that Bush isn't legit. My two-statement version overlooks that point in order to concentrate on the blinding mechanism...Since, by definition, a syllogism represents a valid deduction, the challenge of the syllogism is to convey the logical contradiction that constitutes the act of self-blinding. In my two-statement version, this is handled by the phrase, 'It is inconceivable that...'."

I still haven't solved my own challenge as posed, but here is a syllogism of sorts that makes explicit the dilemma that statements beginning "it's inconceivable that" impose on a person:
It's inconceivable that the president of a country like the U.S. could send Americans to die for a made-up or lost cause.
George W. Bush is the "president" and he seems to have done so.
Either a U.S. President can send Americans to die for a made-up or lost cause, or the impression that George W. Bush has done so is a false one.
The third statement expresses the dilemma. It forces the thinker to choose between two alternatives (or others that might be mentioned, but I choose to keep this simple).

For certain people, the power of the first statement (the "it's inconceivable" one) is so huge that they reject it so quickly and so completely that they aren't even aware of doing so. And what does that leave them with?

It leaves them with: "The impression that George W. Bush has [sent Americans to die for a made-up or lost cause] is a false one," or "George W. Bush has not done so."

What "unblinding" yourself calls on you to do is to give up some cherished beliefs, such as the one that no president of the United States of America could do certain things (it's just inconceivable).

Or ones like "God just wouldn't encourage his people to stone women to death for being raped." (A large portion of the Muslim world believes that God does. Killing women who have committed adultery or been raped is considered "honor killing." Sam Harris writes about this in his chapter, "A Science of Good and Evil.")

I'll continue to think about this. Fascinating subject. Remember, Harris's thesis is that the world has become too dangerous to allow unfounded beliefs to continue to go unchallenged.

Will the new people be up to the task?

Bob Herbert, in his op-ed column Monday in the New York Times, "The System's Broken," wrote:
The system is broken. Most politicians would rather sacrifice their first born than tell voters the honest truth about tough issues. Big money and gerrymandering have placed government out of the reach of most Americans...

...American-style democracy needs to be energized, revitalized. The people currently in charge are not up to the task. [emphasis mine] It’s time to bring the intelligence, creativity and energy of the broader population into the quest for constructive change.
I'm making telephone calls for and hoping that a Democratic takeover of the House and possibly of the Senate will put some new people in charge (of at least part of the legislative branch of our federal government) who are up to the task.

I'm finding that working to get out the vote is like spanning Kierkegaard's chasm of doubt. On one side is the hope that the election will be fair (and the widespread opposition to Bush and his policies can be registered), on the other the fear that it won't be fair (and once again the popular will will be undercut by the ruthless, undemocratic people who have been bullying and stealing their way into political office under Bush, Cheenie, and Rove). Like the position of Kierkegaard's doubting believer—hanging by his fingernails between two cliffs, left hand on one side, right on the other—ours is an uncomfortable position to be in.

How Kerry's "joke" was supposed to go

Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.
Unfortunately, as I wrote last night, he delivered it as
You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.
Kerry hasn't had as much practice as Bush has. If he'd taken office in January 2005, according to the true outcome in Ohio, he might have delivered such a "joke" as written.

And Bush does seem to have used his advantage well. He even speaks with considerably more fire than Kerry. The words of Kerry's press conference after the predictable Bushevik attack on his gaffe seemed emotional enough, but I saw and heard a snippet of his delivery on TV last night, and he was more like Al Gore, vintage 2000.

And I haven't seen so many reports lately of Bush saying stuff like, "Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again." That was supposed to go, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on you."

Now that the Busheviks have a Kerry lapse (like "I voted for it before I voted against it") to pound to death until Election Day to distract as many voters as possible from the Bush record of incompetence and mendacity, they probably won't have to steal as many votes on November 7.