Friday, June 30, 2006

James Watt Said What?

I was looking into some of the atheism materials over at Kele's Journey, another e-blogger blog, and ran across a supposed quotation of James Watt, a former official in President Ronald Reagan's administration.
According to Kele (no citation was offered), Watt said "We don't have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand."
I could remember Watt being accused of something along those lines, but that quotation looked unfamiliar to me. I did a Google search particular to the phrase and returned plenty of hits minus any helpful context. Restricting to .gov sites turned up no results. Restricting to .edu, suprisingly, shrank the number of hits down to two. Just for good measure, I also checked the hits for Google Scholar. Google Scholar generated one hit, and the citation simply referred back to a Gainesville (FL) humanist site.

Of note, I did find an article by Byron York apparently exposing a similar quotation attributed to James Watt (parroted by Bill Moyers, of all people).

Okay, I've got a well-substantiated quotation that falls vaguely along those lines. confirms that Watt said
"That is the delicate balance the Secretary of the Interior must have: to be steward to the natural resources for this generation as well as future generations. I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns; whatever it is we need to manage it with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations."
The same site also confirms the York story to the extent that Watt secured an apology from Bill Moyers over the misquotation issue.
The quotation that Kele is using is suspicious. Given the quotation of Watt here, the presumption probably ought to be that the quotation is inauthentic. In any case, I'll do some follow-up research in order to put the matter to bed. I suspect that the quotation was a paraphrase that got attributed to Watt over time.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

More Neighborhood Explorations

Cop the Truth is the first conservative blog I've stumbled across randomly at eBlogger (though a few of my traditional favorites are also here, such as the Belmont Club). Well the Belmont Club is at ... same thing, isn't it?
Most of the time I'd rather interact with those who disagree with me, but I'll probably look up Cop the Truth from time to time just to see to what degree we agree.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Testing the Elbow-Room

I was casting about e-blogger to see what kind of company I'm keeping. So far, I've stumbled on about three politically liberal blogs and about an equal number of "about me" blogs and foreign language blogs.

I decided to post a reply at Kele's Journey in order to maybe start up some dialogue. Kele's politically liberal, from what I can tell, and apparently an atheist ... so we've got plenty to talk about.
Kele had a post talking about James Dobson's comments on the gay marriage issue, and had an expanded post showing some maps that were colored in according to where gay marriage was "banned" (among other things).

I posted the following, just to get a feel for how Kele would respond to a challenge regarding the rhetorical treatment of facts:
Hi, Kele.

It's improper to say that states are outlawing homosexual marriage by amendment. Rather, they are withholding government recognition from homosexual unions. Homosexuals remain free to have church ceremonies, exchange rings and vows, and cohabitate monogamously (among other things).

They [amendment proponents--bww] are also, of course, by statute preserving the traditional definition of "marriage" rather than allowing courts to effectively legislate without respecting the intent of previous legislation.

So, we'll see what happens.

Update 10:00 p.m. 6/29/06:
Kele replied promptly, and with apparent good sense. He allowed the distinction between literally making homosexual relationships illegal and the state declining to recognize those relationships. He affirmed that he referred to the latter with the "banning" phrase, finding that it was just a different way to express the same idea.

New Perspective on "The Day the Earth Froze"

"The Day the Earth Froze" has long been one of my favorite episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. For those who aren't familiar with the latter, it involves inflicting torture on a human and two wisecracking robots marooned in space by forcing them to view bad movies. The episode is named for a rather odd European film that involves a witch stealing the sun with her animated shawl and the efforts of Nordic villagers to get the sun back.
No, it's not the '50s sci-fi flick that inspired "The Day After Tomorrow."
Anyhow, I've been involved in studying European witchcraft persecutions, and the recent quarter-century of scholarship in that field has incorporated meteorological studies into the attempt to explain the relatively well-defined period of witch persecutions. The period of greatest persecution was during the "Little Ice Age" where calamities such as hailstorms and bitter winters might be blamed on the activity of witches (the Plague years figured in also).
So, maybe it's clear where I'm going with this. "The Day the Earth Froze" gives the appearance of a Scandinavian folk tale. My observation is that the story seems to reveal a truth about Medieval ideas concerning witchcraft that turned out a somewhat more accurate representation of the subject than was conceived by the general public (especially in the US, where an exceptionally bad encyclopedia entry in the early 20th Century gained widespread acceptance for faulty notions). The witch persecutions weren't so much related to an organized pagan religion as they were a response to a creepy change in the weather that tended to reinforce apocalyptic thought. People thought the world was coming to an end, and looked for the involvement of human agency in their misfortunes.

The reasons for witch persecutions were quite varied, in truth, but charges of affecting the weather (damaging crops and all that) were very common.
By all means, see the Mystery Science Theater version of the movie. It's hilarious.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Constitution of the United States of America is Unconstitutional

Now, what do I mean by that?
The conclusion stems from the manner in which the court system has interpreted the so-called separation clause of the constitution. Government must prevent itself from becoming excessively entangled with religion according to the Lemon test, a procedure established via court precedent. But how do the courts define "religion"?
There's the rub.

From "West's Encyclopedia of American Law" (via
To determine whether an action of the federal or state government infringes upon a person's right to freedom of religion, the court must decide what qualifies as a religion or religious activities for purposes of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has interpreted religion to be a sincere and meaningful belief that occupies in the life of its possessor a place parallel to the place held by God in the lives of other persons.
Let's ignore for the moment that the Supreme Court made belief in God (as a type of belief) the standard required for qualification of a religion.

Using a common contemporary church-state controversy, does belief in young-earth creationism stand parallel to belief in God among those who advocate its teaching in government schools? If it were a less important belief in terms of comparison to God would teaching young-earth creationism then be okay?
The court seems to have provided itself virtually unlimited wiggle-room. The fairly recent challenges to the "under God" version of the Pledge of Allegiance illustrates the point even better. Is the belief that the United States is a nation "under God" a belief comparable to role of belief in God in theistic religions? That hardly seems to be the case. In practical terms, the court seems hold the sincerely-held beliefs about the nature of reality qualify as religious beliefs--except that ideologies are largely excepted. It seems that the courts do not really have a method for distinguishing between what is religion and what is not. If the courts ruled consistently, then the beliefs about the nature of reality (that it is best for a government to allow for a free press, that providing for the general welfare is a legitimate goal of government) that are incorporated into the Constitution become unconstitutional.

Thankfully, hardly anybody looks closely at the issue, so the courts are more-or-less free to rule as they will on issues of church and state without worrying too much about principle. They can set their own principles via precedent (tests such as the Lemon test), or, if the court is of sufficient weight, overturn the old precedent in favor of a new one.

The remaining problem, of course, is that the new test (like the old test) is essentially arbitrary and only ends up discriminating against beliefs that the court classifies as religious.

There's a way out of the dilemma, I believe, but I'm saving that for another day.

Monday, June 19, 2006

I was thinking about banking today.
Suntrust changed their logo. It had been largely blue. They changed it to warm, summery tones, and gave the stylized sun curved, embracing rays.
I think the new logo looks kinda dopey, but it sure looks like the product of a focus group or two.

In contrast to the image that Suntrust wanted to convey, I thought "Why not intentionally cold associations?"

Arctic Bank.

The logo could make ample use of cold colors. Where else to keep your cold hard cash, after all? On top of that, Santa could be shamelessly employed for endorsements, without any serious risk of having to pay him a cent.

A safe-deposit box for diamonds also carries built-in appeal at Arctic Bank.

Arctic Bank. We're on top of things.

Sunday, June 18, 2006


In deference to the odds, this highly opinionated person is going into the blogging business. I'll offer my opinions on all sorts of things, since I don't have a clue that nobody else is interested in what I have to say (don't even begin to suppose that a view counter would ever begin to change that!).
Right now, my most significant opinion is that I don't have time to post much at the moment.

But I'll be back.