Is it spam or is it legit? You be the judge! uses a built-in spam filter called Akismet. I’m very impressed by how well it works. Spam rarely gets through, and legitimate comments rarely get spammed.

But no system is perfect. Today I was asked to moderate the following comment (warning: bad language ahead):

ocytyfj | | | IP:

His eyes lingered on the glass before standing around the big tits ebony teen titty fuck poolparty. Dad drove usslowly past the drink, tit fuck pregnant for anothermartini. Theo s 1. She wassmiling. You agreed to waste tit fucking freckled on theo looked so small. He was not make no mistake you re told me wide titty fuck milf eyed.

On another occasion, I was asked to moderate this:

lesbians | | | IP:

big tit lesbians lesbian sex videos young penis latin ass interracial lesbians ass licking lesbian girls butts

As I say, no system is perfect. But I’m baffled:  why would Akismet hesitate to identify those comments as spam?!

By the way, this post may not stay up for long. If I suddenly find I’m getting dozens of hits from people searching for “pregnant ass licking interracial lesbians with big butts who love to tit fuck latin penises,” I will reluctantly delete the post.

btw, it occurs to me that we have all lost some of our innocence in the age of the internet.

The struggle for the soul of Islam, part 3

(If you’re wondering where parts 1 and 2 are, I’m reaching back a bit:  more than two years! See Fuel for antisemitism in the Qur’an and The struggle for the soul of Islam in Canada, both posted in July 2005.)
Johann Hari tells the story of a Somali woman, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who fled fundamentalist Islam for sanctuary in the Netherlands. Hari says that Ayaan is deeply conflicted. There are “two Ayaans … with clashing and contradictory views on Islam.” On the one hand:

She has no time for what she sees as the ignorant, woolly Islam-is-peace message of Western liberals, insisting: “I see no difference between Islam and Islamism. … Sayyid Qutb [the thinker who inspired al Qaeda] didn’t invent anything, he just quoted the sayings of Mohammed.”

On the other hand, reform of Islam is possible:

She insists, “It’s wrong to treat Muslims as if they will never find their John Stuart Mill. Christianity and Judaism show people can be very dogmatic and then open up. There is a minority like Irshad Manji and Tawfiq Hamid who want to remain in the faith and reform it. …

Can you be a Muslim and respect the separation of church and state? I hope a large enough number of Muslims will agree you can, and they will find a way to keep the spiritual elements that comfort them and live in a secular society.”

The struggle (= jihad) for the soul of Islam is dramatized in Ayaan’s ambivalence. I hope the part of her that dares to hope for reform is right. All of us have a stake in the outcome of this particular struggle.

The interview is gut-wrenching. Ayaan continues to live in grave danger:

The internet is littered with pledges to torture and slay Ayaan Hirsi Ali. … When she describes the people who want to hack her body to pieces, it is in paragraphs that feel pre-packed. Perhaps it is all she can bear to show.

The government of the Netherlands used to provide security services for Ayaan, but now they have thrown her to the wolves. Sam Harris hosts a site where you can make a donation to help defray the costs of private security.

A generational shift in evangelicalism

This is a follow-up to a post from a couple of weeks ago.

Last week, Scot McKnight spoke at a convention which brought together three scholarly societies:  the Evangelical Theological Society, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the American Academy of Religion.

For those who don’t know, McKnight is a professor, the author of 20 books, and a blogger. He is solidly evangelical in his convictions. Nonetheless, he has embraced emerging Christianity, perhaps with some reservations about its postmodern orientation.

I was surprised to see that the meeting of academics included on its agenda a forum on the Emergent Church. And I’m grateful that Andy Rowell recorded the sessions he attended, including the Emergent Church Forum.

Here is a ten-minute excerpt. McKnight begins by telling a story about a blue parakeet (i.e., emerging Christians) stirring up the sparrows (i.e., evangelical / orthodox Christians) in his backyard. And then he identifies six uncomfortable questions that emerging Christians are asking.

You can listen to the audio, or read my summary (verbatim at some points, a free paraphrase at other points) below.

McKnight on emerging Christianity

  1. What kind of truth can be found in scripture?
    Emerging Christians are beginning to ask questions about scripture that an older generation thought it had answered. The questions include, Just how human is this book? and Is it possible that the story of Jonah and the whale is just a myth? Emerging Christians hear that there might have been three Isaiahs, and they aren’t too bothered about it — it isn’t even interesting to them.

  2. Questions about science:
    My students put it like this: If evolution isn’t true, I would like to ask God why he made a world that looks so much like evolution. This is a generation that isn’t even attracted to questions about proving that Genesis 1-11 is a historical record. They don’t care about creation science. They believe in evolution, and that’s just the way it is.

  3. Questions about Christians and how they behave:
    Emerging Christians grew up with the scandals of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker and the priests, and they just don’t trust institutional leaders. Behind closed doors, church leaders do things that are despicable. Emerging Christians ask this question:  If Paul says that those who are in Christ are a new creation, why are there so many old creatures in the Church?

  4. Questions about hell:
    I’ve had students say to me, Scott, my evangelical pastor tells me that people who haven’t heard the gospel are going to hell. Is he really telling me that everybody in North Korea who never has a chance to hear the gospel is going to hell? Well, I just can’t believe that’s true.

  5. A moral critique:
    I’ve had students say to me, Why is Jephtha in the Bible? And why is he valorized and heroized in Hebrews 11? That is a serious question. It’s easier to talk about how many Isaiahs there are than it is to answer that question.

  6. Questions about social location:
    Emerging Christians are aware that what we are interested in comes out of the world in which we live. There are other people in other parts of the world who don’t care about our questions.

    Social location matters to everything we talk about, the language we use to discuss it, the way we shape theology, the way we respond to the gospel, etc.

    Emerging Christians don’t just admit that, they delight in it. They’re not seeking a universal theology. They’re willing to live with a theology for the midwest, or the east coast.

I have a few comments of my own. First, none of the questions that McKnight points to are particularly new (except perhaps the last one, which brings us into the realm of postmodernism). What is new is the degree to which the traditional answers — answers which satisfied a previous generation of evangelicals — are now regarded with suspicion. As McKnight puts it at one point in his presentation,

This is not a question that evangelicals and orthodox Christians can simply give a traditional answer and get by with it anymore.

Second, the refusal to settle for easy answers may be related to McKnight’s third point, the distrust of institutional leaders. The traditional answers were never intellectually satisfying. They were accepted largely on the say-so of the priest or the Doctor of Theology, who was regarded as a trustworthy authority. Given the new cynicism about church leaders, emerging Christians aren’t taking things on authority; they’re waiting for an argument that they deem reasonable.

Third, I think emerging Christians within evangelicalism look particularly shocking in the US context. In Canada, you will find extremely few Christians, evangelical or otherwise, who insist that the earth was created in seven 24-hour days. Evolution is perhaps somewhat more controversial, but I think most Canadian believers accept, at the very least, that theistic evolution is a legitimate position.

Finally, the six “questions” of McKnight’s presentation do not touch on all the elements of emerging Christianity. McKnight knows that:  he has given a very different summary of the movement in a Christianity Today article.

France Hates Democracy

…or so every Internet “fanboy” would have us believe. Still, I think there’s a story behind the recent declaration by France that their citizens may lose their Internet privileges if they misuse it:

A pact between the French Government, French ISP’s and the local music and film industry will see French users who download material from P2P networks losing their internet access.

French internet users will face a three strikes and you’re out policy, according to the NY Times. Users will receive a warning for each illegal download before losing their service on the third infringement.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy endorsed the deal with rhetoric that is bound to win him an Honorary Life Membership of both the RIAA and MPAA: “We run the risk of witnessing a genuine destruction of culture…The Internet must not become a high-tech Far West, a lawless zone where outlaws can pillage works with abandon or, worse, trade in them in total impunity. And on whose backs? On artists’ backs.”

I think the move is the wrong one, but made for the right reasons. It is true that the Internet has a bad reputation of permitting easy access to illegal/immoral content. The fact that “pillaging works with abandon” is not a desirable situation is evidenced if you ask any Internet pirate whether or not he/she would rob Wal-Mart of a CD… the resounding answer is “no”.

However, I think we are past the point of no-return in regards to stopping Internet piracy, particularly in regards to the arts. Downloaded music and movies have been restricted, removed, criminalized,  raided, and tearfully renounced by those responsible for ensuring profits are earned by singers/actors. And much the same as alcohol prohibition or the war on drugs, the Anti-Piracy War ™ is already doomed.

For the sake of amiability, we can all agree that alcohol/drug/download abuse is negative. But pragmatically speaking, this battle was lost before it began. To stop these abuses is not a feasible goal, and likely a waste of resources.

This new e-generation is not going to conform to the standards of prior markets. It’s high time the arts industries moved on and began thinking on their feet, instead of turning to the government to prolong their demise. Compromise is not always negative, and if profits are the driving force behind business morality, then conceding defeat and attempting to innovate should be considered saintly.

The UN’s response

Not surprisingly, the United Nations is on top of the taser issue, although whether there’ll be any practical implications of this is dubious. Still, the decision is interesting:

“The use of these weapons causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture,” the UN’s Committee against Torture said.

“In certain cases, they can even cause death, as has been shown by reliable studies and recent real-life events,” the committee of 10 experts said.

Through all the debate, no one has mentioned the word torture, as far as I have heard. According to the international definition (Wikipedia’s international!!!), torture is described as:

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

Whether tasering constitutes torture is  not as black-and-white as something such as, say, waterboarding. To label tasering as such, two things need to be considered: Severity and purpose. The severity isn’t too hard, although the relatively short pain period suffered by the victim ( I think? Perhaps it’s more drawn-out than I thought) could cause a debate over just how severe it is. Harder to determine is the purpose. Obviously the use is not to obtain a confession, but could it be construed as punishing or intimidating? Since the victim is rendered immobile, I would say intimidation isn’t so much a factor. Threat of tasering would be intimidation, but since the end result does not depend on the person mentally acceding to the demands of the policeman, it’d be hard to make a case. But certainly punishment could be a perceived purpose, whether preemptive or reactive, depending on the offender’s composure.

That being said, it’s not surprising the issue of torture hasn’t come into play here until now. I know I never would have taken the time to consider that possible interpretation until it was suggested by the United Nations. And surely that “what if?” isn’t going to be sufficient to stop taser usage, since it’s not really contributing to a solution. If every form of physical pain used to hinder — punish? — potential criminals (pepper spray, for example?) were to be declared “torture”, there’d be a mob threatening to tear down the Parliament every other week. As 49er pointed out, no officer should be expected to “single-handedly out-wrestle a berserk desperado” (and phrased so nicely, too)! That means that sometimes, causing physical pain is going to be the lesser of two evils. But the article does have another interesting point, which I think is far more relevant.

Apparently,  there have been three taser-induced deaths in Canada alone over the last five weeks!

That’s a whole new ball-game. Forget torture; In this instance, I would reassert that tasers should be considered lethal!!! Sure, it depends on  specific circumstances, but (once again, as 49er brought up) those circumstances are not well researched and documented, and, I would add, neither would it be particularly useful if they were. I suspect many of them would depend on a person’s heart and inner conditioning, rather than any overt physical characteristics, and so the situation would be either impossible or incredibly difficult for the police to judge. In high-pressure situations, there simply isn’t time to make such a call with any degree of accuracy. The question is really one of “to tase or not to tase.”

And, since shooting the person would clearly be frowned upon, I think it’s pretty clear that the answer is not to tase.

Rev. Billy decries Christmas consumption

Yesterday was one of the biggest shopping extravaganzas of the year. Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on a Thursday, and most of them take the Friday off work, too. En masse, they head to the shopping malls to begin buying, getting, consuming:  spending themselves into massive debt to commemorate the birth of the baby Jesus.

baby Jesus Christmas presents losing balancing

Rev. Billy doesn’t like it. Not one little bit!

We’re trying to get people to back away from the Walmart; back away from the Target; back away from the Home Depot! … Backing away from the product, slowing down your consumption is a spiritual act. … Stop shopping, children! Amen!

Rev. Billy is a persona created by performance artist and activist Bill Talen. He is featured in a movie, What Would Jesus Buy?, which is produced by Morgan Spurlock (who scored big with Super Size Me).

What Would Jesus Buy? is built around a 2005 documentary of Rev. Billy’s activist hi-jinks. The original documentary was made by Rob VanAlkemade, the director of What Would Jesus Buy?. Footage from the original documentary alternates with interviews and commentaries from experts and everyday consumers.

According to SignOnSanDiego, the movie’s message makes it a tough sell to potential distributors:

“Major distributors have backed away because Wal-Mart pushes half of their DVDs,” VanAlkemade said after a sold-out screening of the movie Sunday at the Silverdocs documentary festival near Washington.

Starbucks — a frequent target of Rev. Billy which got a court order to keep him out of its California stores — pulled out as a sponsor of Silverdocs. The festival is presented by the American Film Institute and the Discovery Channel.

Festival spokeswoman Jody Arlington said Starbucks expressed discomfort with the movie and raised security issues, but it let Silverdocs keep the sponsorship money even as it withdrew its logo. Starbucks Mid-Atlantic manager Carter Bentzel denied the decision was linked to the movie.

This is a good illustration of the potential negative impact when enormous, multinational stores like Walmart control the lion’s share of a particular market. So much for supply and demand as the sole regulatory principle of a free market! If Walmart doesn’t like your movie, they can pretty much turn the lights out on you.

Rev. Billy comments, “The multinational corporations have got as much control over us as the Roman Catholic Church in the 1300s.” Then again, there’s always the democratic power of the World Wide Web:

VanAlkemade pledged that the movie will find its way to audiences despite the marketing challenges. … “Maybe someone shot this screening today and we’ll see it on YouTube tonight. It’s worldwide distribution. It’s instantaneous.”

How will Christians respond to the movie? I haven’t seen it; but as I watched the Youtube clip, I alternated between laughter, cringing, and shouts of “Hallelujah! God bless Rev. Billy!” Christianity Today offers a generally positive take on the movie:

Aside from a few more serious, melancholy scenes, WWJB is more or less a comedy. It’s hard not to laugh at the confused faces of holiday shoppers as a robed choir marches through Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria’s Secret stores, singing about the impending shopocalypse as hovering security guards call for reinforcements. It’s classic agit-prop theater — using humor and stagy gimmicks to shake things up, entertain, and provoke. It’s a creative brand of protest, certainly, and according to the choir director (and Rev. Billy’s wife) Savitri D, it’s a protest grounded in Christian tradition: “Jesus was preaching within a tradition of theater as activism.”

… Some critics have noted that the film’s playfully sacrilege use of Christian forms and traditions may alienate some audiences. Rev. Billy’s character is clearly modeled after a sweaty, breathy, over-the-top southern televangelist (Billy name drops Jimmy Swaggart) who prances around in polyester suits and occasionally “speaks in tongues” or is “slain by the Spirit.” Catholics might also take offense at some of Rev. Billy’s antics, whether he’s in a makeshift confession booth on a city sidewalk (taking “confessions of shopping sins”) or “baptizing” a baby outside of a Staples.

Yes, it’s condescending. Yes, it cheapens Christianity. But the whole argument of the film is that our commodity culture has already cheapened Christianity.

Aint that the truth! Amen! Amen!

But would it be appropriate if I bought copies of the DVD for everyone I know, as Christmas presents?

Why the planet may be doomed

Kelly Leahy at posted three simple tips for an ethical Christmas:

  1. Keep it local. Presumably as an alternative to having products shipped long distances, at a cost to the environment. Even better, says Kelly, if the local retailer is within walking distance.
  2. Bring your own bags. Go for reusable cloth instead of plastic that’s going to end up in a landfill site.
  3. Buy recycled products.

Big deal, right? Nothing controversial there.

But you’d be wrong. It is indeed a big deal for some commenters at the Digg site.

  • Do articles like this totally piss anyone else off? Why you gotta tell me how to enjoy my Christmas.
  • i hate this article.
  • I’m tired of this conscientious crap Digg is shoving down our throats. From now on, for every eco-friendly, tree-hugging, anti-pollution article I see, I will pollute, waste, not recycle twice the amount I usually do.
  • When did becoming a wacky environmentalist become associated with ETHICS? do they even know what that word means?
  • I am now officially tired of all this hippy “green” crap.
  • Who honestly lives within “walking distance” of anything remotely worth a damn?
  • Ethical Christmas? WTF? This is a sign of the Apocalypse, the Birkenstockification of Digg.

Those are seven of a total of sixteen comments. Five commenters got sidetracked by the word “Christmas”. Two others made Santa jokes.

Only two commenters agreed with the eco-friendly thrust of the post; one of them didn’t think the post demanded enough of us. (Which may be the case.)

Some people will not support any environmental protection measure whatsoever. Others will support a flashy environmental plan, but only as long as it doesn’t cost or inconvenience them personally.

That’s why the planet may be doomed.

species richness

The potential impact of global warming on the richness of land-dwelling vertebrate species in northeastern Australia; according to the Government of Australia.

Previous Older Entries