Conceived above a saloon, delivered into this world by a masked man identified by his heavily sedated mother as Captain Video, raised by a kindly West Virginian woman, a mild-mannered former reporter with modest delusions of grandeur and no tolerance of idiots and the intellectually dishonest.

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Americans United for Separation of Church and State

"No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
Article VI, U.S. Constitution

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Quote of the day

"I think they [religious tests required to hold public office] were invented not so much to secure religion as the emoluments of it. When a religion is good, I conceive that it will support, itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it, so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one."
Benjamin Franklin (Works, Vol. viii., p. 506)

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Intelligence briefing

This week's insightful observations from KGB's insider at the CIA, The Covert Comic:

Not that this matters, but it's a fact that the FBI has never been sued for failing to hire mentally retarded people.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Quote of the day

Supreme Court confirmation hearings are under way for Judge Samuel Alito. It's pretty interesting. Democrats want to know his position on privacy, while Republicans want to know his position on prison terms for bribery.
-Jay Leno

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Paraskevidekatriaphobic? Go back to bed.

It's Friday the 13th, which means, of course, it's Friday, and it's the 13th of January. The application of additional significance is left as an exercise for the reader.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Quote of the day

The inventor of LSD had his 100th birthday today. He celebrated his birthday with friends, family and a nine foot tall unicorn.-Conan O'Brien

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The best humor blog in Pittsburgh

I've added The Carbolic Smokeball to my browser's favorites list, and you should consider it as well.

Like Pittsburgh's own version of The Onion, TCS is a delight of demented news items. Today's breaking news: WTAE action news team meteorologist being treated for depression, news director cites lack of frozen precipitation.

WTAE News Director Bob Longo released a statement today announcing that Weather Watch 4 Meteorologist Don Schwenneker is being treated for depression. According to an anonymous source at the station, Schwenneker had been spending long hours staring at the Doppler Radar Screen searching for Arctic Clippers or lake-effect snow. Schwenneker reportedly hadn't left the station since last Friday when a rare warm spell gripped the region with temperatures well above the norm. When Anchorman Mike Clark arrived for work Monday, he found an unkempt, unshaven Schwenneker at his desk, surrounded by the latest storm modules and mason jars filled with urine. Security escorted Schwenneker from the premises. Longo cited an extremely mild January with a concurrent lack of precipitation as the primary reasons for Schwenneker's condition. "All of us at WTAE are praying for Don's swift recovery, as well as a massive, crippling winter storm in the five-day forecast. The combination of heavy snow and heavy doses of psychotropic drugs should have Don up and around in no time," said Longo. Schwenneker is the second WTAE meteorologist this year to succumb to a mild form of mental illness. Stephen Cropper underwent electro-shock therapy to help him deal with his own depression after Hurricane Katrina failed to deliver flooding rains to the Pittsburgh area last fall.

The site also addresses national issues like the Alito hearings, but emphasizes local topics, like Cyril Wecht's discovery that King Kong actually died from a massive heart attack. "'T'was cholesterol killed the beast," TCS asserts.

Some of the stuff is derivative- a report on WPXI news staffers trapped in a snowstorm, resorting to cannibalism and begging for an air drop of hair care products- is very similar to an old Saturday Night Live sketch- but local references and a few twists make the idea seem fresh.

Like The Onion, TCS may be too outrageous for some. To which I can only respond, "What's the matter with you? We grew up in the 60s!"

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Quote of the day

Elsewhere, one day after published reports alleged that author James Frey had fabricated sections of his bestselling memoir, A Million Little Pieces, Mr. Frey was named chief spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department.
The Borowitz Report

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Profiles In Stupidity

If you were Ted Kennedy, would you name your dog "Splash?" That would be like Bush naming his dog "WMD", or Clinton naming his "Cigar."

Meet the latest children's author, Sen. Ted Kennedy, and his Portuguese Water Dog, Splash, his co-protagonist in "My Senator and Me: A Dogs-Eye View of Washington, D.C."

Scholastic Inc. will release the book in May.

"I am very excited about the opportunity to create a book for young readers and their families that will deepen their understanding of how our American government works," Kennedy said in a statement Monday issued by Scholastic.

According to Scholastic, Kennedy's book "not only takes readers through a full day in the Senator's life, but also explains how a bill becomes a law." Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, was inspired to write the book from his work with a Washington-based reading program, "Everybody Wins!"

Kennedy's net proceeds will be donated to charity.

Books are a Kennedy family tradition, from John F. Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Profiles in Courage" to the poetry compilations edited by Caroline Kennedy. Books about dogs are a Washington tradition, thanks to the best-selling "Millie's Book, " by then-first lady Barbara Bush.

Ted Kennedy's book is 56 pages and includes illustrations by David Small, winner of the 2001 Caldecott Medal for his pictures in Judith St. George's "So You Want to Be President?"

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Quote of the day

Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.
C.S. Lewis

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Brings an entirely new meaning to the term Lab test

Dogs do as well as state-of-the-art screening tests at sniffing out people with lung or breast cancer. The research raises the possibility that trained dogs could detect cancers even earlier and might some day supplement or even replace mammograms and CT scans in the laboratory.

(From New Scientist.)

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Top-notch security

WASHINGTON -- Insisting that God "certainly needs to be involved" in the Supreme Court confirmation process, three Christian ministers today blessed the doors of the hearing room where Senate Judiciary Committee members will begin considering the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito on Monday.

Capitol Hill police barred them from entering the room to continue what they called a consecration service. But in a bit of one-upsmanship, the three announced that they had let themselves in a day earlier, touching holy oil to the seats where Judge Alito, the senators, witnesses, Senate staffers and the press will sit, and praying for each of the 13 committee members by name.

(The blessing doesn't bother me. But didn't we spend a couple bazillion dollars to make the Capitol a safe, inpregnable fortress invulnerable to attack and infiltration?)

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Is religion the root of all evil?

From The Belfast Telegraph. This view overlooks the good works done by those inspired by their faith. The problems arise when groups try to impose their faith on others, or use their faith as justification for acts of aggression or repression. Still, it's an interesting read.

Professor Richard Dawkins
06 January 2006

Known as "Darwin's Rottweiler," Professor Richard Dawkins relishes controversy. In his new TV series he explains how religion is a form of abuse- and why God is man's most destructive invention.

Imagine, sang John Lennon, a world with no religion. Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Kashmir dispute, no Indian partition, no Israel/Palestine war, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no Northern Ireland "troubles." Imagine no Taliban to blow up ancient statues, no public beheadings of blasphemers, no flogging of female skin for the crime of showing an inch of it. Imagine no persecutions of the Jews- no Jews to persecute indeed, for, without religious taboos against marrying out, the Diaspora would long ago have merged into Europe.

Hitler invoked "My feelings as a Christian" to justify his anti-Semitism, and he wrote in Mein Kampf: "I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord." Nevertheless, most such atrocities are not directly motivated by religion. IRA gunmen didn't kill Protestants (or vice versa) over disagreements about transubstantiation or such theological niceties. The motive was more likely to be tribal vengeance. One of "them" killed one of "us". "They" drove "our" great-grandfathers out of ancestral lands. Grievances are economic and political, not religious; and vendettas stretch "unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me". Quoting Exodus reminds me, incidentally, that humanists prefer Gandhi's version: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

But if tribal wars are not about religion, the fact that there are separate tribes at all frequently is. Some tribes may divide along racial or linguistic lines, but in Northern Ireland what else is there but religion? The same applies to Indo-Pakistan, Serbo-Croatia, and various regions of Indonesia and Africa. Religion is today's most divisive label of group identity and hostility. If a social engineer set out to devise a system for perpetuating our most vicious enmities, he could find no better formula than sectarian education. The main point of faith schools is that the children of "our" tribe must be taught "their own" religion. Since the children of the other tribe are simultaneously being taught the rival religion with, of course, the rival version of the vendetta-riven history, the prognosis is all too predictable.

But what can it mean to speak of a child's "own" religion? Imagine a world in which it was normal to speak of a Keynesian child, a Hayekian child, or a Marxist child. Or imagine a proposal to pour government money into separate primary schools for Labour children, Tory children and Lib Dem children. Everyone agrees that small children are too young to know whether they are Keynesian or Monetarist, Labour or Tory: too young to bear the burden of heavy parental labels. Why, then, is almost our entire society happy to privilege religion, and slap a label like Catholic or Protestant, Muslim or Jew, on a tiny child? Isn't that a form of mental child abuse?

I once made that point in a broadcast debate with a Roman Catholic spokeswoman. I've forgotten her name but she was some kind of agony aunt, and a stalwart of the Today programme's "Thought of the Day". When I said that a primary school child was too young to know whether it was a Catholic child, she bristled: "Just come and talk to some of the children in our local Catholic school! I can assure you they know very well that they are Catholic children." I believe it. The Jesuit boast- "Give me the child for his first seven years, and I'll give you the man" is no less sinister for being familiar to the point of cliché.

But what if religion is true? Surely sectarian indoctrination wouldn't be child abuse if it saved the child's immortal soul? Despite the smug presumptuousness of that, I can almost sympathise, if you sincerely believe your religion is the absolute truth. Let me, then, be ambitious if not presumptuous, and try to shake your belief.

Why do you believe in your God? Because he talks to you inside your head? Alas, the Yorkshire Ripper's murders were ordered by the perceived voice of Jesus inside his head. The human brain is a consummate hallucinator, and hallucinations are a poor basis for real world beliefs. Or perhaps you believe in God because life would be intolerable without him. That's an even weaker argument. Lots of things are intolerable and it doesn't make them untrue. It may be intolerable that you are starving, but you can't eat a stone by believing- no matter how passionately and sincerely- that it is made of cheese.

By far the favourite reason for believing in God is the argument from improbability. Eyes and skeletons, hearts and nerve cells are too improbable to have come about by chance. Man-made machines are improbable too, and designed by engineers for a purpose. Surely any fool can see that eyes and kidneys, wings and blood corpuscles must also be designed for a purpose, by a master Engineer? Well, maybe any fool can see it, but let's stop playing the fool and grow up. It is 146 years since Charles Darwin gave us what is arguably the cleverest idea ever to occur to a human mind. He demonstrated a beautiful, working process whereby natural forces, by gradual degrees and with no deliberate purpose, forge an elegant illusion of design, to almost limitless levels of complexity.

I have written books on the subject and obviously can't repeat the whole argument in a short article. Let me give just two guidelines to understanding. First, the commonest fallacy about natural selection is that it is a theory of chance. If it were, it is entirely obvious that it couldn't explain the illusion of design. But natural selection, properly understood, is the antithesis of chance. Second, it is often said that natural selection makes God unnecessary, but leaves his existence an open plausibility. I think we can do better than that. When you think it through, the argument from improbability, which traditionally is deployed in God's favour, turns out to be the strongest argument against him.

The beauty of Darwinian evolution is that it explains the very improbable, by gradual degrees. It starts from primeval simplicity (relatively easy to understand) and works up, by plausibly small steps, to complex entities whose genesis, by any non-gradual process, would be too improbable for serious contemplation. Design is a real alternative, but only if the designer is himself the product of an escalatory process such as evolution by natural selection, either on this planet or elsewhere. There may be alien life forms so advanced that we would worship them as gods. But they too must ultimately be explained by gradual escalation. Gods that exist ab initio are ruled out by the argument from improbability, even more surely than are spontaneously erupting eyes or elbow joints.

Religion may not be the root of all evil, but it is a serious contender. Even so it could be justified, if only its claims were true. But they are undermined by science and reason. Imagine a world where nobody is intimidated against following reason, wherever it leads. "You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one."

(Professor Richard Dawkins is the Chair of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University.)

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Monday, January 09, 2006

Good question...

Dick Cheney's got some heart trouble... somebody ask Pat Robertson what crime God is punishing him for!

(From Comments from Left Field)

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Can't we just be friends?

"I can't imagine a tax code that penalizes marriage. It seems like to me we ought to be encouraging marriage to our tax code."
-George W. Bush

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Thought of the day

There is only one way to achieve happiness
on this terrestrial ball,
And that is to have a clear conscience,
or none at all.
-Ogden Nash

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Give me warp 8, Mr. Scott....

(From, appropriately enough, The Scotsman.)

An extraordinary "hyperspace" engine that could make interstellar space travel a reality by flying into other dimensions is being investigated by the United States government.

The hypothetical device, which has been outlined in principle but is based on a controversial theory about the fabric of the universe, could potentially allow a spacecraft to travel to Mars in three hours and journey to a star 11 light years away in just 80 days, according to a report in today's New Scientist magazine.

The theoretical engine works by creating an intense magnetic field that, according to ideas first developed by the late scientist Burkhard Heim in the 1950s, would produce a gravitational field and result in thrust for a spacecraft.

Also, if a large enough magnetic field was created, the craft would slip into a different dimension, where the speed of light is faster, allowing incredible speeds to be reached. Switching off the magnetic field would result in the engine reappearing in our current dimension.

The US air force has expressed an interest in the idea and scientists working for the American Department of Energy - which has a device known as the Z Machine that could generate the kind of magnetic fields required to drive the engine - say they may carry out a test if the theory withstands further scrutiny.

Professor Jochem Hauser, one of the scientists who put forward the idea, told The Scotsman that if everything went well a working engine could be tested in about five years.

However, Prof Hauser, a physicist at the Applied Sciences University in Salzgitter, Germany, and a former chief of aerodynamics at the European Space Agency, cautioned it was based on a highly controversial theory that would require a significant change in the current understanding of the laws of physics.

"It would be amazing. I have been working on propulsion systems for quite a while and it would be the most amazing thing. The benefits would be almost unlimited," he said.

"But this thing is not around the corner; we first have to prove the basic science is correct and there are quite a few physicists who have a different opinion.

"It's our job to prove we are right and we are working on that."

He said the engine would enable spaceships to travel to different solar systems. "If the theory is correct then this is not science fiction, it is science fact," Prof Hauser said.

"NASA have contacted me and next week I'm going to see someone from the [US] air force to talk about it further, but it is at a very early stage. I think the best-case scenario would be within the next five years [to build a test device] if the technology works."

The US authorities' attention was attracted after Prof Hauser and an Austrian colleague, Walter Droscher, wrote a paper called " Guidelines for a space propulsion device based on Heim's quantum theory".

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Conversation of the day

(From Overheard in New York)

Nanny #1: Who were you named after, Paulette?

Nanny #2: My father.

Nanny #1: Oh, what was his name?

Nanny #2: Ette.

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New respect for hockey fans...

(From Russ Schneider's blog.)

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Copyright © 1987-2024 by Kevin G. Barkes
All rights reserved.
Violators will be prosecuted.
So there.  
The e-mail address is now something other than saga. used to be until December, 2007 when the domain name broker Trout Zimmer made an offer I couldn't refuse. Giving up and adopting created a significant problem, however. I had acquired the domain name in 1993, and had since that time used as my sole e-mail address. How to let people know that was no longer but rather which is longer than and more letters to type than and somehow less aesthetically pleasing than but actually just as functional as I sent e-mails from the address to just about everybody I knew who had used in the past decade and a half but noticed that some people just didn't seem to get the word about the change. So it occurred to me that if I were generate some literate, valid text in which was repeated numerous times and posted it on a bunch of different pages- say, a blog indexed by Google- that someone looking for would notice this paragraph repeated in hundreds of locations, would read it, and figure out that no longer is the they thought it was. That's the theory, anyway. Ok, I'm done. Move along. Nothing to see here...


Crystal Methodist

Laugh while you can, monkey-boy

I am a professional. Do not try this at home.

I canna change the laws of physics

As a matter of fact, I *am* the boss of you.
(as a matter of fact, i AM the boss of you.)

Truly great madness cannot be achieved without signficant intelligence

I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Left wing liberal nut job

Flies spread disease. Keep yours zipped.

Eff the ineffable, scrute the inscrutable.

If my answers frighten you then you should cease asking scary questions.

If evolution is just a theory, why am I surrounded by monkeys?

Nutrition makes me puke

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eat wisely

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