My Old Kentucky Homesite

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Don’t Believe Kentucky’s Ill? A Proof!

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 04/01/2010

Augggh! Is there a witch-doctor in the house? A few weeks ago, many of us non-troglodytes were up in arms about the changes made to Texas educational standards by the wingnut-dominated Board of Education in Austin. Now, those revisions look positively benign next to the new standards adopted yesterday in — where else? — Kentucky. Here’s a small sampling of the sickening thoroughbred horseshit that will be shoveled into students’ heads starting next September:

(1) Poor dinosaurs will no longer be referred to as “prehistoric animals.” Instead, all the critters that lived millions and millions of years ago are to be designated as “antediluvian creatures.” Board member Lola Firpo wanted to get this standard through, and she got it. But she tried to mask her obviously Creationist terminology by saying, “Most people use ‘antediluvian’ as a synonym for old. ‘Prehistoric’ isn’t correct, because dinosaurs like T. Rex and that one with the three horns, I forget its name, must have a history, because otherwise we wouldn’t know about them. So I tried to think of a good descriptive word that we could also add to vocabulary requirements. ‘Antediluvian’ just came gushing into my head.”

(2) Remember the Founding Fathers? You can probably name a few of them without wracking your brain: Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Adams, Washington, Franklin. Did you mention Jesus? As of next year, Kentucky’s school kids will essentially be taught that the so-called “son of god” was one of the sires of our country (which I guess makes Yahweh America’s grandfather). Rollo Piaf, a 9th-grade history teacher and new Board Member, sang to reporters: “Even those few of our citizens who don’t consider our country to be a Christian nation, will readily admit that the philosophy of Jesus Christ was the most significant factor in forming the Founders’ idea of a Constitutional republic. I mean, look at Thomas Jefferson. He was a famous atheist, but he wrote a whole book praising Jesus’s thought. So I think it would be criminal not to teach that to our students.”

(3) In all science classes, when the work of Sir Isaac Newton is discussed, students must learn that he wrote: “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done. Is any other explanation possible?” Lori Apfol (who, ironically, is a Jew) justified this standard by announcing, “Our Kentucky education system is one of the finest in the nation, kinehora. But last time I looked, none of our kids was as smart as Isaac Newton. So nu? If God was kosher even to him, who am I to have the chutzpah to say that the Lord’s not good enough for our fartootst students?”

(4) Looking for a mention of evolution or Charles Darwin? Don’t attend biology classes in Kentucky’s public schools. The Board recognized that the basic principles of life had to be taught if our state’s students were to be competitive with college applicants from more enlighted parts of the country. But at the suggestion of member Ira Pollof, “evolution” will now be known as “the planned system of genetic changes” and Charles Darwin will be referred to only as “a small-time theorist from England.” On the other hand, teachers will still be permitted to call Genesis “the Controversy.”

(5) Forget making a distinction between ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans. Citing the “scholarly” (ha!) writings of one Prof. Ollia (Kentucky’s hardy Secretary of History from ’14-’41), the bible-thumping majority agreed that all civilizations before the alleged birth of Christ will be lumped together as “ancient people.” Ollia’s view, now adopted into our state standards, was voiced loudly by the impassioned fundamentalist preacher/educator, Board member Olaf Porli. “Most a them ol’-timey pagan guys was as alike as two turds from a catfish. But nothin’ them folks ever said or done or even thunk was god’s honest truth.” One moderate Republican at the session tried to point out that we should see those ancients as fore-runners. But Porli immediately responded, “A course they’s furriners. So why does Kentucky’s innocent child’n need to hear that kind a ignorant, un-American crap? If you ast me, what goes on elsewhere in this world is none a are goddang bidness.”

(6) Originated by a Medieval Catholic priest named Fr. LaPolio, the mind-crippling concept that the number 3 is “special” will be touched on in elementary arithmetic classes. Students will be required to learn multiplication and division by 3 before being taught how to do the same operations by 1, 2, 4, 5, or any other integers. However, multiplying 3 x 222 will be expressly forbidden.

(7) Of Mice and Men is being dropped from the 10th-grade literature curriculum. Pilar Lofo, the only Latina on the Board, claimed that the Spanish word for “mice” is also Caribbean slang for “Christians with small penises.” She also pointed out that the author wrote disrespectfully about the two main characters, George and Lenny, who were “obviously” symbolic references to God (same initial) and Jesus (since “J” and “L” are separated by only one letter, which, through no coincidence, happens to be the initial of “King of Kings”). English students will instead be required to read the graphic novelization of the “Left Behind” series or watch the New Testament on the American Bible Channel.

Lexington needs a Paul Revere to ride through the streets shouting, “The Christians are coming! The Christians are coming!” We certainly have enough fast horses in the area, although the jockey would probably have to wear a Wildcats jersey if he wanted to get people’s attention. Perhaps Kentucky native George Clooney could get himself an outfit from the revolutionary era and do something to really make us proud. Until he does, though, our state’s officials will continue acting like fools – even when April 1st isn’t the date. O, for a pill!

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Posted in Holidays, Idiots, New to Kentucky, Random Rants, Seriously Silly | 32 Comments »

You Mean, America Doesn’t Got Talent?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 03/26/2010

Philly Chief wrote a great post today entitled Intolerance Is Not Inherently Bad. He’s so right, and I urge you to check out what he has to say. Essentially: It’s a ridiculous idea that “intolerance,” in and of itself, regardless of circumstances, is automatically wrong.

When I began thinking about that inane accepted “truth” — that we must never, ever be intolerant of anyone, or anything, or any random train of thought — I realized that it’s predicated on another notion that’s even dumber. Many Americans have distorted the concept of equality under the law to mean equality, period. Therefore: everyone is equal to everyone else in every way. Therefore: we all share the same capability to formulate ideas. Therefore: every idea, no matter how vile or how stupid, is worthy of consideration. Q.E.D. W.T.F. L.S.M.F.T.

When, for instance, all kids win awards merely for competing in sports or taking part in a contest (because we wouldn’t want to hurt a child’s self-esteem), society promotes phony egalitarianism. When we insist that all young people “deserve” to go to college, society promotes phony egalitarianism. When we ignore nature, and claim that there’s no difference between men and women, or between the handicapped and the able-bodied, or between young and old (as a practicing geezer, I can refute that last one with some degree of authority), society promotes phony egalitarianism. Which leads to: voilà! tolerance of everything (even French).

So we find ourselves living in a society in which it’s “wrong” to criticize our most popular delusions: religion is a force for good; America is meant to be the greatest nation in the world; all children are special in their own way; “white” lies are justifiable; it’s better to be happy than too intelligent; everything works out for the best; teach the controversy; don’t be so judgmental!

The lie that all people are equal in all things, and that all ideas are equally sound, clearly does not sit well on most couches in this country. That’s why so many of us love watching “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars.” Programs like those encourage viewers to show discrimination, to rate participants as bad, good, better, best. Screw the performers’ self-esteem. Whatever gave that idiot the idea that he can sing?! (Hint: he won an award for breathing during a 4th-grade talent contest.)

So, to sum up: religion is not a force for good; America is not meant to be the greatest nation in the world, some children aren’t special in any way, lies don’t come in colors, ignorance is not bliss, things sometimes work out to suck big time, and many ideas are not worth teaching. Oh, and please use your judgment always.

I expect to be intolerant about some of the comments that follow.

Posted in Random Rants | 22 Comments »

A Petition I Won’t Sign — and Why

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/08/2010

Sometimes, even alleged freethinkers can be sooooo dense.

I received an email from the American Humanist Association asking me to sign a petition addressed to President Obama. What the petitition requests is that he proclaim February 12, 2010 as Darwin Day. The desired proclamation would contain the following words:

I call on all Americans to recognize the importance of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution by natural selection, to endeavor to preserve scientific discovery and human curiosity as bedrocks of American society, and to commemorate this day with appropriate events and activities.

That’s a great sentiment, and it would be excellent for an American president to express it. Not on February 12, however.

February 12, 1809 was noteworthy not only for the birth of Charles Darwin, but for the birth of Abraham Lincoln, as well. Lincoln, as even the most militant of atheists would acknowledge, may well have been the most important president in American history.

When I was growing up, we in the North celebrated Lincoln’s birthday in a pretty big way. Americans in the South? Not so much.

The battle between the Northern and Southern worldviews is still reflected in our politics today. The ignorance of religionists is a major factor in the ballot boxes of the “red” states, among which are most of those in the South.

Because of Lincoln’s pre-eminence in American history, quotes both pro- and anti-Christian have been attributed to him. It’s difficult to know which are authentic, and which the work of writers with a specific philosophical axe to grind.  But although it’s debatable whether or not Lincoln was an atheist – I’d say: most probably not – he seems to have had little use for oh-so-pious Christian zealotry:

My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.

I am approached … by religious men who are certain they represent the Divine Will. … If God would reveal his will to others, on a point so connected to my duty, it might be supposed he would reveal it directly to me.”

Both [North and South] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.

It is an established maxim and moral that he who makes an assertion without knowing whether it is true or false is guilty of falsehood, and the accidental truth of the assertion does not justify or excuse him.

Darwin was a brilliant thinker and, as such, is revered by many of us in the skeptical community. We should definitely mount a campaign that President Obama proclaim the importance of his life and work. But perhaps we should urge the White House to designate November 24, 2010 as Darwin Day. That would correspond with the traditional anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. (“Traditional” because the book actually may have been published about three weeks earlier.) November 24th would be a very nice juxtaposition to the next day, the pseudo-religious feast of Thanksgiving.

(And, yes, paradoxically enough for the argument I’m making here, Thanksgiving was proclaimed as a one-time national holiday in 1863 by … President Lincoln. Before he  announced that specific day as a time of prayer throughout the entire Union, various yearly Thanksgivings had been celebrated — primarily in the Northern states — on different dates.  The unifying war measure was urged upon Lincoln by, along with many others, the elderly editor Sarah Josepha Hale, writer of such major works as “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”)

Whether or not Lincoln believed in a supernatural entity, and, if so, what kind of deity he recognized, is unknown. He certainly was able to use the simplistic American version of “God” to achieve his own political ends. As I’ve said, I suspect that Lincoln was not an atheist. But our friend Darwin never claimed to be an atheist, either. If we want an honest-to-no-god Atheist Day of Joy, we should look to other persons or events for commemoration.

However, what should be significant to American freethinkers about Lincoln is his symbolic position as a leader in the fight to civilize our country, a fight which we’re still waging in 2010. Those atheists who focus their battle against ignorance only in the arena of science vs. superstition sometimes give short shrift to the value of literature, of history, of political philosophy, of culture in general. In those areas, Lincoln should be held up as an exemplar, a champion of reason.

We faithfreeists have few enough heroes to celebrate. Why lump two of our greatest into the same 24-hour period, merely because of a coincidence of birthdate? Since when have we become astrologers? Let’s not be so overeager that we turn stupid.

February 12th should continue to be, as it has been for many years, reserved for Lincoln.

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Holidays, Random Rants | 21 Comments »

We’re Number One!

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 01/24/2010

Do you love – to the exclusion of all other interests – college basketball, horse-breeding, bourbon, and coal-mining (not necessarily in that order)? If you said yes, you should definitely consider a move to Lexington.

But if you said no, and if you already happen to live in Lexington, you should get the fuck out. That’s what three letter writers advise on the opinion page of today’s Herald-Leader.

If you don’t like the Wildcats or discussing their success, you should leave on the next bus out.

If he doesn’t love the Horse Capital of the World, please, he should feel free to leave.

I know a great moving company that could aid in putting you out of your misery. It may not be for everyone, but I and a whole lot of other people think “this town” is just fantastic.

A great way to keep a “town” (why the quotation marks?), or a state, or a country, or a religious community, or a political party ignorant and unproductive is to invite its critics to leave. In the old days, they were run out on a rail. That’s illegal now, so the next best thing is to insist that everyone indulge in unquestioning boosterism.

On yesterday’s late-night news, in the lead story, some old biddy sports fan exulted that the Wildcats were, for the time being, at the top of the standings. “We’re number one!” she cried. “We’re number one!” How she became part of “we” went unanswered.

It should be obvious to everyone but a Lexingtonian that the victory of a mere basketball team is no substitute for working towards a society that respects education and culture, where political corruption doesn’t hold sway over progress, where the majority religion doesn’t ram its agenda down the throats of the entire populace, and where the coal industry doesn’t hold the citizens in an ecological deathgrip.

But who am I to judge? That woman was number one! Even though Kentucky’s percentage of persons with a bachelor’s (or higher) degree is 46th in the nation. Even though we’re only 29th (30th if you count D.C.) in expenditures per public school pupil. Even though Kentucky’s Personal Income Per Capita is 46th. Even though we’re 7th in the United States (6th if you don’t count D.C.) in percentage of citizens living below the poverty line, and 14th in Unemployment.

She’s number one! This boast from a woman whose local newspaper, on a recent January 26th, ran the brilliant headline:

Free Advice: Bundle Up When Out In The Cold.

So: If the people here can’t take the winter without throwing on a bunch of sissy clothes, if they can’t abide being undereducated, underemployed, and poor, then they should leave on the next bus out.

Because we’re number one! A whole lot of people think that’s just fantastic.

Posted in New to Kentucky, Random Rants | 8 Comments »

“No Law” Means No Law

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 01/22/2010

I’m a free-speech purist. I agree with Justice Hugo Black, who, commenting on the First Amendment, said: “No law” means no law.

It sometimes happens that insisting on free speech is inconvenient for some citizens, perhaps even the majority of citizens. But the right of free speech, and its sibling right of a free press, are the most important rights we as Americans have.

I’ve read a number of impassioned responses to yesterday’s Supreme Court opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. One of them came from one of my best friends, whose email decrying the opinion stated that she was “so disgusted.” Another response appeared as a post by a blogger friend of mine, whose intelligence I respect.

After writing an email to the former and commenting on the essay of the latter, I thought my rant mechanism would be satisfied. But it’s not. So I’m going to lift some of my own words to state my position clearly here, in case anyone else asks.

I agree with the critics of the decision that in its immediate aftermath, big corporations will feel further empowered to interfere with politics – at least in a non-clandestine way.  (Note: they never stopped trying to influence elections in a covert manner.)

I disagree strongly, however, that the decision was a bad one. The First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech or of the press …” It doesn’t state that it specifically relates to a person’s freedom; it’s a blanket ban on the U.S. Congress censoring or restricting any kind of speech.

Some victims of censorship – be they individuals, organizations, or corporations – may well be beneath contempt, or even dangerous. The public dialogue may well benefit from keeping those disruptive forces safely squelched. American democracy, as it’s constituted today, may well fare better when messages are controlled.

However, we free-speech purists must be vigilant. Any nickering away at the principle of an open dialogue, no matter how small, endangers every American. If Congress can get away with banishing one group from the forum of public opinion, who’s to say that everyone else’s freedom is guaranteed?

Civil libertarians on both the left and the right understand this, and so filed briefs for the appellant in this case. Along with all the usual “bad guys,” supporters of Citizens United included the ACLU, the California First Amendment Coalition, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Center for Competitive Politics.

We can’t know the motivations of the Supreme Court Justices. They might have wanted to favor big businesses over “everyday Americans” — whoever those mythical creatures may be. They might be the right-wing extremists that they’re often painted as being; I can point to a number of decisions that seem to reinforce that stereotype, and that trouble me in their politico-legal machinations.

But the Court’s decision yesterday was dead-on correct. “No law” means no law.

Posted in First Amendment, Random Rants | 13 Comments »

So Does That Mean I’m Always Right?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 01/21/2010

I am not a number. I am a free man.
Number 6 (the Prisoner)

Today, I called the IRS for some information. Having made a payment agreement with the tax collectors, I’d expected to receive an invoice in the mail, as had been  promised in numerous form letters wrapped in red tape.

But, even though the postman has rung considerably more than twice since I was scheduled to receive it, this month’s invoice still hasn’t arrived. Since I know it’s absolutely impossible for our government to screw up, I decided to find out what I’d be blamed for if I chose to wait – as any person who could actually read those letters would – for my bill?

So I dialed the number of my friendly federal tax office, and, as you probably could have guessed, was greeted by a recorded voice. First, it asked me to choose the language I preferred. I picked plain English; one can always hope. The voice then spelled out a menu of options for me: Make a payment, ask a queston about making a payment, request forms for making a payment, ask a question about requesting forms for making a payment, make a payment to receive a form for asking a question, and finally, request permission from your neighbors to howl at the moon.

None of these options being even remotely related to what I wanted to find out, I pushed the zero button on my phone. A voice informed me that I would be put on hold until the next available representative was, in fact, available. I was also told that my wait for an actual human would be approximately seven to ten minutes.

On hold, I was treated to a musical composition for perky piano and background bongos. The chipper melody sounded like one of those tunes that float around dentists’ offices: Music to Prepare You for Pain.

After about a minute, the recorded voice returned to remind me that I had not been forgotten. It was sorta like a robber reminding a victim to keep his hands up. The recording let me know that, despite what I may have been thinking, the IRS employees were not just screwing around playing tabletop football with taxpayers’ quarters. The voice told me: “Our representatives are still helping other customers.”

OK, listen. The Prisoner is wrong, at least in America. I am a number. You’re a number, too. We’re all nine-digit social security numbers, and ten-digit cellphone numbers, and sixteen-digit credit card numbers. We’re license numbers and health insurance numbers and bank account numbers and even bookclub membership numbers. I’ve learned to accept that.

But the United States Constitution isn’t a purchase agreement. The President, the Congress, and the Courts should not be for sale – even though sometimes they are.

I am not a customer.

Posted in Random Rants | 4 Comments »

Johnny Depp and the Coal Industry

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 12/22/2009

Coming from New Yawk, which offers very little hometown rah-rah in its newspapers or on its local TV and radio stations, I find it difficult to understand why I should care if a notable or infamous person ever happened to live in my locality. Yet here in Kentucky, no opportunity is missed when it comes to announcing that an actor hails from these parts. Thus it was that about a week ago, I opened the entertainment section of my local newspaper, and saw a still from the famous flick White Christmas. In the caption, performers Bing Crosby, Vera-Ellen, and Danny Kaye were joined by “Kentucky native Rosemary Clooney.” An ad for a TV movie noted that it featured “actor and Lexington native Josh Hopkins.”

I’m guessing that this phenomenon is related in some way to the sports mentality that pervades my new home. Today, the local rag went nuts with the news that the U.K. Wildcats had won their 2000th game. That world-shaking information was on the front page and on the second page, although there’s a sufficiently big sports section – which, this morning, also managed to spread the good news. In Lexington, even during this holiday season, if Jesus Christ himself showed up in town, he wouldn’t make it to the headlines unless he’d managed to score a few baskets.

Apparently, here in Kentucky, the triumphs and accomplishments of complete strangers magically redound to the benefit of everyone who shares their two-letter postal abbreviation. The team’s defeats and embarrassments also reflect on us. And why not? It’s a proven fact, isn’t it, that if the locals don’t pray hard enough, if they don’t wear the right colored clothing, if they don’t shout sufficiently loudly, or honk their car horns at the necessary moment, or perform their daily ablutions in a distinctively success-producing manner, the gods will not allow the blue-and-white to vanquish their opponents. And then what would the rest of the world think of us, huh?

In this bastion of chauvinistic hoopla, the U.K. pennant (Go Wildcats!) is almost as popular as the American flag (U.S.A.! U.S.A.!) It is critically important to most Lexingtonians – who invest so much of their mental activity toward this goal – that the University of  Kentucky team win, win, win. Otherwise, the city’s entire population becomes despondent and/or angry. Many people in the region have been hard hit by the recession, but what does that matter if a bunch of overstretched athletes can sink a free throw? Go Wildcats!

I suppose that if the local team doesn’t come out on top –  O ye divines, protect us from such shame! – we can turn to our very own homegrown movie stars to buck us up.

That kind of irrelevant “pride” reminds me of those lists of famous Jewish celebrities that my parents used to love reading when I was a kid. In what way did it matter to me if Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, or Lauren Bacall were Jewish? Were any of them going to come to my house to deliver knishes?

So that’s pretty much how I feel about actors who just happened to spend a few childhood years in the same state in which I now live.  What’s it to me? Are they going to arrive at my doorstep with fried chicken? (I hope not, because I hate fried chicken.)

I did, however, look up some Actors from Kentucky on Wikipedia, the world’s greatest authority on everything. To be honest, many of the names included are meaningless to me. I’ve never heard of Becky Ann Baker (born in Fort Knox), Nicole Scherzinger (went to a performing arts high school in Louisville), or Rumer Willis (born, by happenstance, in Paducah – where  her father, Bruce, was making a film). I can, however, identify George Clooney (born in Lexington) and Johnny Depp (born in Owensboro), Jeri Ryan (went to high school in Paducah) and Ashley Judd (attended U.K. Go Wildcats!)

But in what way are my neighbors’ daily lives improved – or affected at all – by the fact that they may shop at the same grocery as did any of those people. I can’t imagine George Clooney picking up a 12-pack of store-brand toilet paper at my neighborhood Kroger, or Ashley Judd cutting out coupons for the latest Meijer special on Honey Nut Cheerios. But even if they did, how would those actions affect the bowls of any other Kentuckians?

My wife points out that Lexington is not unique in its hometown chauvinism. According to her, everyplace that isn’t New Yawk shares a sense of glee when a native son or daughter earns a positive mention on the news. But, I retort, I don’t have to put up with that kind of nonsense elsewhere. I’m here. If folks in Morgantown, West Viriginia want to brag about Don Knotts; if the citizens of Green Bay, Wisconsin feel that they somehow share in the glory of Tony Shalhoub; or if the denizens of Cheyenne, Wyoming choose to go crazy over Acquanetta: I don’t have to read or hear about it over my Cap’n Crunch. I’m not bothered by the nonsense found in other towns’ news media.

The problem with the parochial mentality – wherever it occurs – is that it extends into other areas of endeavor besides sports and entertainment, areas that affect us all. Every day, I read letters to the editor about Kentucky’s coal. The writers say, in essence: Who gives a crap if coal is bad for the environment? It’s good for our economy. People would lose their jobs, f’chrissake,  if governmental restrictions were applied. And just think of how much it would cost us to warm our houses in the winter or cool them in the summer if we had to convert to a cleaner, more efficient energy source. Screw the Earth. Coal is our friend. Go Wildcats!

Anyway, here’s what I really want to know about all those Kentucky celebs: Are they Jewish? What teams do they root for? And do they really enjoy the soot they’re forced to sprinkle onto their breakfast cereals?

Posted in New to Kentucky, Random Rants | 7 Comments »