Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Religious Ignorance: Preaching Without Understanding

The Great Unlearned speak for God.^

There is a lot of hand-wringing and head-scratching over the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life poll that tells us half of our countrymen don't know much about even their own religions, not to mention the religion of others. I'm not sure why anybody is surprised.

Americans are basically incurious, disinterested and aggressively ignorant of even that which seems to be important to them--unless it's football. The average American, I'll venture, has far more in common with George Bush than with George Orwell. We have consistently voted against our interests in electing Republicans to office, shopped at Walmart (which would be the third-leading importing country of Chinese goods if it was a country) and killed our own jobs, watched "reality" TV and killed our minds, fouled our nest and resisted the obvious truth about global warming, refused to learn what caused our monetary problems, gone to war for no good reason time after time, continued to use fossil fuels even with the knowledge that they are killing us in several different ways, and on and on, ad infinitum.

We are a nation of morons, so what's the big deal about not understanding something as complex and often contradictory as religion? Christians often incorrectly quote the Bible in making their arguments and they are not above taking directives out of context. That whole litany about the various "abominations" on which homosexual bigotry hangs is a great example. Homosexuality and football are equally banned, but nobody mentions the football. I just love how Mark 6:5-6 is ignored by those who pound us over the head with their religion, trying to convert us.

Religious conservatives of every stripe are often among the most ignorant of what they claim to worship. Islam, for example, is a religion of peace, as is Christianity, but you couldn't tell it if you look at the record of war the world history. The numb-skull practitioners of the right in both those religions think that soldiering is God's personal directive and the non-believer must be converted or killed.

The poll, in fact, revealed that those most knowledgeable about religion are agnostics and atheists. I have as little use for atheistic philosophy as I do for Bible thumping, but the agnostic is the person who questions, who seeks, who tries to understand and I think that deserves our respect if not our strong support.

Maybe if we all adopted the notion that we need to know more, we'd be better off. We certainly would read "love thy neighbor as thyself" in a different light.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tech Grad Sets One-Day Jeopardy! Winnings Record

Virginia Tech College of Science alumnus Roger Craig (above with Alex Trebek), who set a one-day winnings record of $77,000, ended his reign as the show's champion this week, amassing a seven-day total of $231,200 in cash winnings.

He was beaten by Winston-Salem writer, commedian and marathon runner Jelisa Castrodale (right). She beat Craig with a one-day total of $39,399 (which is about what Craig averaged over his run), but lost the next night. (Her interesting Web page is here.

Castrodale beat Craig in Final Jeopardy (coming from behind) when the category was "Sports and the Media." She has a communications degree from Wake Forest and writes for the Winston-Salem Journal and NBC.com.

Craig, a 33-year-old graduate student at the University of Delaware earned a prominent place in the show's history by becoming the third highest winning contestant on the quiz show (excluding tournaments), right behind Ken Jennings ($2,520,700) and David Madden ($430,400). Jennings’ $75,000 one-day total was the previous best.

“I had no idea that I became the third highest winner until Alex Trebek announced it," Craig is reported to have said. "I was totally shocked. It obviously helped by having set the highest single game record and by my large Daily Double bets.”

A native of Newark, Del., Craig will earn a Ph.D. in computer science this fall. He says he plans to use the money to pay off school loans, buy a new car, travel and donate to charity.

(Photo of Roger Craig from the Jeopardy! Web site. Jelisa Castrodale's photo from nbcsports.com.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Perriello Is Apparently Closer Than Thought

Apparently Tom Perriello (right), the 5th District Congressman who some felt had been given up for toast by the national Democratic Party, is apparently not only alive, but running well against his faceless Republican opponent, a guy appropriately named Hurt, who won't debate Perriello.

My pal Tom Cain sent two reports my way today saying, in effect, that Perriello is running nearly a dead heat and that he has $1.2 million to pump up the volume if need-be. Apparently, Perriello's intense work, his town meetings, his ability to listen and take principled stands has earned loyalty among Democrats and admiration among Republicans.

His campaign pits his stances for his constituents--mostly blue collar working people--against corporate interests represented by the Repubs. SurveyUSA had Perriello trailing by 61-35 percent a week or so ago, but the reports Tom Cain sent me say the difference is closer to two percentage points.

A report on the Huffington Post says Perriello is one of a handful of Democrats that national progressives are banding behind five candidates they especially like and Perriello--appropriately--is one of them. They're sending money and rooting out volunteers, which can be invaluable in a district as wide-ranging as the 5th.

Perriello is the kind of honest, courageos and principled man we all would like to have representing us, even if we don't necessarily agree with all of his stances. The Repubs would like to give you George Bush lite. Here's hoping the good people of the 5th know the difference.

(Image: Politics Daily.)

Beethoven After Midnight: A Roanoke Show

My pal Cara Modisett has been busier than a one-legged Texan in an ass kicking contest since "retiring" from Blue Ridge Country magazine as its editor. Cara (who's no more retired than your favorite editor) has been using her time before starting school again to the best advantage of everybody around here.

One of her projects is Music After Midnight, following No Shame Theatre (which starts at 11:00 p.m.) Sept. 17 at Mill Mountain Theatre (yes THAT Mill Mountain Theatre, the one that died). There will be additional performances Oct. 8, Nov. 12 and then in December, January and February.

This is the second installment the concert series in downtown Roanoke. This month's performers: The piano trio of Gordon Marsh (head of the Roanoke College music department), violinist Geronimo Oyenard and cellist David Feldman who will perform Beethoven's Archduke Trio.

Says ara, "This is not your typical classical music performance. Music After Midnight has been launched to get rid of the old notions of traditional concerts. Musicians wear jeans, not formal black, and the audience shares the stage with them. There's free food and soft drinks, and conversation is encouraged between musical pieces. It's sort of concert-hall-meets-living room, or a recital/salon/classical jam session."

Music After Midnight is the brainstorm of Kandinsky Trio violinist Benedict Goodfriend and pianist/writer/pal o' mine Cara, who performed the first Music After Midnight in August, with food provided by the Texas Tavern. October's concert will be a program of Spanish music by mezzo soprano Ada Lis Jimena and guitarist Bill Krause.

Admission is left open to your own sense of value: pay what you can and proceeds benefit Center in the Square and its member organizations.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tennis Grunters: Oh, Just Shut Up!

Michelle Larcher de Brito is the champion grunter at 109 decibles. A lion roars at 110.^

At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy, I'm hoping the International Tennis Federation will stick a cork in the mouths of those players like Maria Sharapova and the unbelieveably shrill 16-year-old Portugese player Michelle Larcher de Brito whose grunts and screams are as annoying as the soccer trumpets.

The grunters insist they simply can't play without grunting (though players through time did without the grunts until Jimmy Connors and Monica Seles started bellowing more than two decades ago). Not many of their opponents have complained that the grunts leave them at a disadvantage, but that's beside the point. When you're paying $50-$100 for a ticket to watch these dorks play, it would behoove tennis not to annoy you. You're paying the players' salaries.

Same with soccer, where those damn horns kept me from watching more than a minute at a time of the World Cup a few weeks ago. The horns were too annoying to allow enjoyment of what many described as good soccer (I wouldn't know, truth be told; 0-0 ties don't strike me as good anything). I complained a few years ago to the management of our pro basketball franchise in Roanoke (the unfortunately-named Dazzle) and indoor football team (the late, lamented Steam) that the music they played was giving me a headache and raising my anxiety levels and they toned it down. That was good business.

The tennis grunters, according to several published reports (like this one in the London Sunday Times) are hitting decibel levels that are dangerous to our ears. A lion roars at 110 and de Brito screams at 109. Sharapova comes in at 101. Serena and Venus Williams are at 89 and 85, so imagine watching them play doubles. No letup.

Hearing damage begins at 85 decibels. A normal car or home stereo at max volume comes in at 100. Pain begins at 104-107. One of those often banned 6X9 car stereos turned up full tilt is the equivalent of de Brito grunting. A grenade "very close" is 191, but you'd never hear it. Your head would be gone first.

Here is de Brito at her shrieking best. And here's one just for fun. Or not.

Wind Power Coming Strong; Creating Jobs

While would-be congressional carpetbagger Morgan Griffith (right), who is running for the 9th District seat even though he doesn’t live in the 9th, bemoans Congressman Rick Boucher’s support of cap and trade legislation because it could cost jobs, alternative energy continues to create them.

My pal Diana Christopulos informs me that the U.S. Department of Energy has just issued a report that tells us wind power in 2009 generated 10 gigawatts of new capacity and had a $21 billion investment. It accounted for 39 percent of all new U.S. electric generating capacity in 2009 (down slightly from 2008, but up dramatically from 2004, when it was 4 percent). The report says that for the fifth straight year, win was the second-largest new resource added to the U.S. electric grid, behind natural gas. It was ahead of new coal power.

Community colleges in areas where there are wind turbines (including Dabney Lancaster near Covington, anticipating turbines in Highland County) are teaching students how to work with and on the turbines (that's jobs, for those still guessing, in addition to jobs manufacturing and installing the generators).

Griffith insists that we must continue to generate dirty power, to choke children to death and to retain coal mining jobs (which also kill a whole lot of people every year), rather than going to alternate forms of energy that are cleaner, healthier and more dependable. It is an industry that could hire coal miners tired of going into a hole to work every day.

China, which has recognized alternative energy as a potential profit center, overtook the U.S. in annual wind generation plant additions (though the U.S. leads the world in “cumulative wind power capacity”), according to the report. The rest of the world is serious about wind power with countries like Germany, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and Ireland.

Texas leads the U.S. in wind capacity addition with Indiana and Iowa behind in the distance. Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota lead the U.S. in generating the highest share of in-state electricity from wind power.

(By the way, Griffith wants to serve in a city he apparently detests and whose name he can't pronounce, if his TV ads are an indication. Washington does not have an "r" in it.)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

How Serious Is the Threat to Perriello?

My buddy Valerie Garner has an interesting post today, talking about 5th District Congressman Tom Perriello's (right) uphill battle to retain his seat in a year when Jesus would be challenged if he had a "D" after his name.

The 5th is one of those nutty, gerrymandered districts that the Repubs devised in an effort to smother Charlottesville's liberals with Southside's Rebel flags, tobacco culture and milltown education levels. It worked every time Virgil Goode was sent to Congress as perhaps the least competent representative in a body that hardly pushes the envelope on intellectual sophistication.

Perriello, as it turns out, is the darling of a whole lot of people, most of whom don't live in the 5th--though he has a nice following there, as well. He's a guy who doesn't bring to the party anything that Goode flaunted (including an accent that yelled, "I'm from around here, ain't I?"). Perriello is bright, accomplished, educated, and a man of considerable courage in a number of arenas (including helping to cast out an African despot while George Bush was cutting brush back on his ranch).

The Tea Party and its minions consider Perriello a perfect--and perfectly vulnerable--candidate for just those reasons. He ain't like us, they say. And that has him trailing, in one respected poll, 61-35 percent. Fact is that those are big numbers, but Perriello has trailed before and if he's anything, he's a good campaigner. Frankly, I've never seen a candidate with better TV ads ... the kind that don't foster hate, but that give you a good indication that the guy's bright and he's on your side.

We'll see how this works out in the long run, but if Robert Hurt beats Perriello, the 5th will have told us that George Bush and Virgil Goode were good enough for its sensitivities and that the Repubs really do know where our worst instincts are.