Christian Suffers for Her Ignorance

Number of the Beast: 666 or 616Will sent me a bit of sporting news today, Kentucky Cross Country Runner Pulls Out of Regional Championships Rather Than Run With Bib Number 666. It is already getting a bunch of attention and you can expect the Christian conservatives to make a big deal about it. Codie Thacker will be seen as a hero who refused to harm her relationship with God for glory in a track and field event. But I have a question: what if she’s just an idiot?

I’ve always found the Christian obsession with the number 666 ridiculous. For one thing, the Bible doesn’t say that the number itself is evil or that anything associated with it is evil. It says that the “beast” will have that number. Aristotle laid this out a few centuries earlier than Jesus was supposedly walking around. It goes as follows. “All the beasts will have the number 666” does not imply “All that have the number 666 are beasts.”

Beyond this, I would think that Christians wouldn’t like all this nonsense about 666. After all, this is superstition. In fact, it is very much creating idols. All the stuff about Satan smacks of a religion that has fallen back into polytheism. In the Old Testament, Satan seems more like a pixie. But in the modern conception of him, he is a god. There’s no getting around that. If there is a big fight coming between Good and Evil, it can’t be between a God and “not a god.” No one would even pay to watch that fight on pay per view. But whatever; I’ve been complaining for years that Christians don’t take their religion very seriously. It’s one apostasy after another.

The first thing I thought when I saw that their girl was making a bold stand for Revelation 13:18 was, “Don’t you read the news?!” Back in 2005, there was a lot of reporting saying that the number 666 was a mis-translation. Now it could be that I was just more aware of this because I love the whole issue of Biblical translations. One of my favorite things is to ask Christians what language most of the New Testament is written in. The average Christian has no idea. I don’t think most of them ever thought that it was anything but English!

The truth is, we don’t know what the number of the beast is. But it seems that the number of the Beast was not originally 666, but rather 616. How do we know this? Well, that’s Dick Cheney’s address! Oh, I kid the former vice-president! Here’s the thing. All we have of the Bibles in the first couple of centuries after Jesus are fragments like the one pictured above. So we run into this problem that a single error can be repeated over and over again in many early Bibles. But the earliest fragment we have says that it is 616, not 666. Now some early scholars thought that it was a mistake. We really don’t know, but many modern scholars think that 616 is correct.

This brings up a very important question. Do Christians believe what they believe because it is in the Bible or even because it is official church dogma? Or do they believe it because it is simply what everyone else believes? It is an important distinction. In the case of Codie Thacker, she wasn’t standing up for Christ or for her church. She was just standing up for folklore. As it is, I question whether she has ever even read Revelation 13:18. It’s really hard to get through the Book of Revelation—it’s bizarre. Most Christians focus on more relevant parts of the Bible like the Gospels (“Jesus loves you”) or Leviticus (“Get the fags”).

Christians may hold up Thacker as a hero. But she is no such thing. She’s just another Christian who doesn’t even take her own faith seriously. She’s yet another superstitious cultural Christian whose thinking is limited to knowing that Christianity is “right” and other religions are “wrong.” But as a typical example of the bankruptcy of American Christianity, she’s a total winner.

Sympathy for Rob Ford

Rob FordSince early yesterday, I’ve been wanting to talk about Rob Ford’s admission that he smoked crack cocaine. But before I get to that, I want to clarify something. Ford is a terrible human being. He represents everything that is wrong with conservatism. In addition to everything else—but this is core—he shows no empathy for others. But I have a lot of empathy for him. I’m sure you’ve seen the video of him where he goes back to throw a football and then falls down. Or just look through Gawker’s 39 Breathtaking Photos of North America’s Most Photogenic Mayor. Despite everything, he’s most clearly a loser who doesn’t fit in anywhere.

So the fact that he gets shitfaced every night is hardly surprising. And as we all know, when you are shitfaced, you tend to do things you would not normally do: take illegal drugs, sleep with your sister-in-law, run for mayor of Toronto. So I’m more than willing to believe that Rob Ford only smoked crack once that he can remember. And I don’t doubt that he is not a crack addict, although some people want to define the use of any non-approved drug as addiction. He might want to get some help on the drinking or, you know, just cut back a bit. That’s up to him.

People have claimed that he lied before, but he didn’t. I remember thinking when the scandal first broke, “These guys are asking the wrong questions.” What does it even mean to ask Ford if he was a crack addict? That’s at best a value judgement. It seemed strange that I never heard anyone ask him the very simple question, “Have you ever smoked crack?” (Someone might have yelled it at some point, but I didn’t hear it.) Even yesterday, the question was, “Do you smoke crack cocaine?” Well, Ford had to finesse that question to make the admission he wanted. Because if he has only smoked crack once a year ago, then he does not, in fact, “smoke” cocaine; he “smoked” cocaine. I would think reporters would be smarter about this kind of stuff.

I don’t really see the outrage here. Let’s suppose he is telling the truth and he only did crank that one time. It’s a problem because it is a felony. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s pretty minor. It’s not even up there with Eliot Spitzer going to prostitutes multiple times. And it is hard to see how it hurt his job performance. But the constant drinking? That seems far worse. The man has been making law in at least some state of inebriation. But as long as it never ended in a night of crack smoking, the media didn’t care. That strikes me as very messed up.

Look, I understand why the comedians are all over this. For one thing, can anyone watch Rob Ford for more than a minute and not think, “Hey, he’s a lot like Chris Farley!” But you know, Chris Farley if he had been drunk all the time. And the story is delicious. I think Stephen Colbert did a particularly good job of it:

But for the rest of us, I think a certain amount of understanding is in order. And I say this knowing full well that if the situation were reversed, Rob Ford would show me no such understanding. But that’s the thing about liberals: we’re better people. Conservatives should be restricted to work that doesn’t require empathy. Things like accounting and garbage collection. But the fact of the matter is that Rob Ford is just a very famous person who is being tarred by our ridiculous and hypocritical beliefs about drugs. And in that way, he is no less deserving of our sympathy than anyone else.


For the record, I don’t buy that Rob Ford only smoked crack that one time. The video of that one time was available? And what about the people he was with? They didn’t look like his normal drinking buddies. But it doesn’t really matter to me. Toronto needs a new mayor, but not because of his crack smoking.

More New Mexico Anal Probing

Anal ProbeIf I told you that that the police pulled over a guy for a minor traffic violation and then drug him off to a hospital for anal probes, you would probably tell me I told you about that yesterday. But you would be operating under the illusion that this doesn’t happen all the time in America. We have another story!

Okay, it didn’t happen again, it happened before. The same police force used the same untrained drug dog to drag an innocent man to the same hospital outside the court’s jurisdiction for anal probing. There are really only two differences. First, it was innocent citizen Timothy Young this time instead of innocent citizen David Eckert. Second, the traffic violation was a turn without a signal instead of an incomplete stop.

The bad part about this is that in the end, all the blame will probably go to the K-9 named Leo. Of course, I’m not buying it. Let’s suppose that poor old Leo starts barking at a drivers seat. Leave aside the whole question of why Leo was brought out to sniff around. (Was Young also clenching his buttocks?) After he does that, they take the driver to the hospital and thoroughly examine his anal cavity. No drugs are found. Doesn’t this make them think that leveraging minor traffic stops into major anal probes might be a bad idea?

But here’s the thing. I don’t think these are unfortunate accidents or mistakes. My understanding is that bringing out the drug dogs requires its own reasonable suspicion. So these guys are taking what sound like pretexts for stops: not signaling and not coming to a complete stop. Then they coming up with a pretext for the dog: clenched buttocks?! And then they are using the dog as a pretext to go to a hospital and go absolutely search crazy.

It looks like fewer procedures were done on Young than on Eckert. This may indicate that the officers were freaking out at the prospect of yet another negative on their anal probing. But really! What kind of a person jumps from a traffic stop to “You got drugs up your butt!” Because that seems to be what’s going on here. I’ll be watching this situation closely. Just with what we know now, this is beyond the pale.

Huge GOP Loss in Virginia

Virginia DistrictsSo a pretty weak Democrat won the Virginia governor’s race by 2.5 percentage points in what is still mostly a red state. Conclusion: the election was a repudiation of the Democrat?! And thus it is with the pundit class the day after the election. They seem to have lost their grip on what they are doing. Perhaps they think elections are like the stock market.

Here’s how this works. If a company’s quarterly profits turn out to be less than expected, the stock price goes down. This is because the going price for the stock was based on the belief that the company was making more money than it actually was. This is completely reasonable. But it is nothing like an election.

In the case of elections, the expectation means nothing. The only previous voting that took place was the last election. So the “correction” is the new election. In Virginia, it no doubt feels good to Cuccinelli supporters that he didn’t lose by as much as the polls suggested two days ago. On the other hand, one year ago, the polls suggested Cuccinelli would win. And the last Virginia government was Republican. Based upon those expectations, Cuccinelli did really poorly.

Still, it’s interesting to look at why Terry McAuliffe did worse in the election than the polls indicated. But it’s not interesting because it indicates that Cuccinelli did well because he didn’t; Cuccinelli was decisively beaten in an election where the fundamentals favored him. But it is interesting because the difference between elections and polls tells us things about voting patterns.

Jonathan Bernstein noticed something really interesting from the Virginia exit polling. The libertarian candidate in the race under-performed even more than McAuliffe. It seems that the supporters of the libertarian candidate were divided between conservatives and liberals. The conservative ones decided to go ahead and vote for Cuccinelli. The ones who stayed with the libertarian candidate would have voted overwhelmingly for McAuliffe if they only had the two major party candidates. So what it likely means is that the McAuliffe libertarians felt they were safe to make a protest vote without getting stuck with Cuccinelli.

If the libertarian candidate had done as well as expected, the Virginia race would have turned out exactly as the more recent polls suggested. Or to look at it differently, if 60% of those who voted for the libertarian had gone for McAuliffe, he would have won by 4 percentage points—just what we expected. What it shows is just how dangerous third parties can be in first-past-the-post voting systems. Had the libertarian contingent been larger, the strong public polling might have caused Virginia to end up with Cuccinelli as governor, even though a majority of voters wanted McAuliffe.

Regardless of all this, the facts in this election are very clear. McAuliffe won the election by 2.5 percentage points. The Republicans should have maintained control of the governorship. As it is, they lost as governor, lieutenant governor, and maybe even attorney general. This is a huge loss for the Republican Party in Virginia and it is madness that anyone is saying otherwise.

Back to Normal in New Jersey

Chris ChristieI am so glad that the New Jersey governor’s race is over. Now Chris Christie can get onto the serious business of showing his true colors. Are you ready for the start of Christie’s 2016 presidential campaign? I am. I’m looking forward to not hearing people talk about how reasonable and centrist Christie is. Look: I wouldn’t mind hearing that if it were true. But Christie is as extreme as Ted Cruz. And now that he’s looking toward the Republican primary, we’ll see more red meat coming from him.

I am also happy because I won’t have to watch the Democratic Party’s shameless disregard and often outright hostility toward the great Democratic candidate who took on the job of running against a very popular Republican governor. No one expected Barbara Buono to win this election. But with some party support, she would have done a hell of a lot better. Here is a partial list of New Jersey Democrats who endorsed the vile Republican: Mayor Dina Long, state Senator Brian Stack, and Mayor Jennifer Naughton. But it wasn’t just local Democratic leaders. Where was Obama?

Buono referred to this as “the onslaught of betrayal from our own political party.” This is something I have long complained about regarding the Democratic Party. And let’s face it, Obama is the best example of this. The administration is always willing to cut loose anyone over the smallest of political pressure. Whether it is ACORN or Shirley Sherrod or IRS chief Steven T Miller, it is always “abandon first; ask questions later.” So Obama was around for Terry McAuliffe while he was winning but he was conspicuously absent for Buono who could have used the help.

It’s hard to continue to support the Democratic Party. I’m glad that Bill de Blasio will be mayor of New York. But think back to 2009 when Bill Thompson ran for mayor. He almost won that race. But where was Obama then? Sure, he endorsed him. You would think that such an endorsement would be de rigueur for the head of the Democratic Party, but you would be wrong. But Obama’s endorsement was weak, including nice things about Bloomberg.

But Obama doesn’t live in a vacuum. He is the rightful head the Democratic Party—a pro-corporate centrist for a pro-corporate centrist party. But that isn’t the worst part of the party. We all understand why the Republicans are having problems: the demographic apocalypse they face has caused a collective freak out. But what’s going on with the Democrats? Far from having a Democratic version of the eleventh commandment—”Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Democrat.”—we don’t even have a wimpy version, “Thou shalt at least give vague support for those you agree with on policy.”

I’ve been shocked and dismayed at how many liberal pundits have also sided with Chris Christie in this election. That’s not to say that they’ve been for him. But they’ve acted as apologists, putting the best spin on his career. Now that the the election is over and Christie has his landslide and the Democrats have shown they don’t give a fuck about supporting their own people, we can get back to normal. Christie can go back to his Governor Who Shouts at People routine. And the pundits can be reminded what an extremist asshole Christie always was. And if things go very badly, the Democratic Party can learn just how much pain and suffering can be inflicted by President Christie in four years.

Trace Beaulieu and the Gospel of Crow

Trace BeaulieuOn this day in 1854, the great John Philip Sousa was born. He wrote many of the best marches ever written. I know that marches are thought to be kind of a joke today, but they are a wonderful kind of music. When I was in college, a march came into my mind and it has stayed in my mind for the last 30 years. Over that time, I’ve done a complete Mozart. It’s finished. I should really write it down one of these days. The funny thing is that I’ve learned a great deal about the march. It is basically a duet. It is like there are two bands playing together because there are two strong melodic lines. I think you will find this is all marches. Anyway, Sousa did a brilliant job creating these marches and he had a totally kickass band. Here is The Washington Post March. Unfortunately—And strangely!—I could not find any actual Sousa recordings on YouTube (you can find them on the Wikipedia page, however).

The great baseball pitcher Walter Johnson was born in 1887. The truth is that he did not have much finesse. He never did perfect a curve ball. But he could throw the ball so much faster than others of his time, that he managed to be really successful. But mostly he is remembered as being a very nice guy. Now, I always think that it’s a lot easier to be a nice guy when you don’t have to work that hard. Still, as Jonathan Richman said, “He’s a hero to me, I ain’t putting you on son”:

Other birthdays: the great comedian and film director Mike Nichols (82); musician Glenn Frey is retiring today; and actor Ethan Hawke (43).

The day, however, belongs to the great Trace Beaulieu who is 55 today. He is best known as the original (and One True) Crow from Mystery Science Theater 3000. He is also, interestingly, the only decent puppeteer on the show. No one else seems to have cared. It’s aggravating to watch the others; I take personal exception. Also, after Beaulieu left the show, Crow became a much nastier character (although he was still hilarious).

In celebration of this birthday, I was planning to start a twitter account, The Gospel According to Crow. It was just to be a single quote from Crow each day. You know, like, “MST3K 3:21 I wanna decide who lives and who dies!” But Andrea seems to think it won’t have enough context for people. Like that line: it was in reference to Joel asking Crow what he wanted for Christmas. So I’m going to think about it for a while longer. But the Word of Crow must be spread.

In the meantime, here is Beaulieu as Crow doing Jay Leno:

Happy birthday Trace Beaulieu!