Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

June 26, 2009

The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, died suddenly yesterday afternoon in Los Angeles at the age of 50.

I’ve made no secret of my love for 80s music, and there is no one from the 80s as iconic as Jackson. Already famous as a member of the Jackson 5, his 1982 album Thriller turned him into a superstar.

I “predicted” about 15 years ago that Jackson, like Elvis Presley, would be undone by his own celebrity. Sadly, that appears to be the case. Both Elvis’ and Jackson’s careers were at their peaks about 20 years prior to their deaths; both grew increasingly eccentric over time; both had unsuccessful marriages (Jackson’s, coincidentally, to Preston’s daughter); both died untimely deaths at roughly the same age.

Jackson’s genuine talent has been overshadowed in recent years by his personal, financial, and legal troubles, as well as his personal eccentricities, most notably his constant changes of appearance due to cosmetic surgery. I won’t minimize those problems – “he’s a celebrity, and celebrities are known for doing weird things” is really not an excuse for anything – but it’s easy to forget that before he became a walking freakshow, Jackson was an R&B legend of considerable talent. I will still spin Thriller regularly, because it is a near-perfect pop album. This 1983 clip, from the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, and Forever television special, introduced viewers to Jackson’s phenomenal dancing talent, including his signature dance move, the Moonwalk:

RIP, Michael Jackson.


And now . . . this – June 25/09

June 25, 2009

Well, what did you think it was?

Wallabies are getting high on opium from poppy fields and flattening crops, an Australian official has said.

The marsupials have been snacking on poppies growing in fields in Tasmania, the world’s largest producer of legally-grown optium for medicines.

Afterwards, they hop round in circles before crashing on top of the crops and trampling them to the ground.

[Full Story]

So it’s not UFOs, it’s not “vortexes,” and it’s not Doug and Dave. It’s drunk marsupials. Don’t you hate it when the world gets a little less mysterious?

Don’t tell me you didn’t see this from a mile away

The Belgian teen-ager who made headlines across the globe after claiming a tattoo artist had drawn 56 stars on her face, rather than the three she asked for, has admitted she lied.

Kimberley Vlaeminck from the city of Kortrijk, 90 km (56 miles) northwest of Brussels said she fell asleep during the procedure, and woke up in pain when her nose was being tattooed.

But the 18-year-old was caught off camera on Dutch television when she said she quite liked the tattoo, but lied about asking for all 56 stars when she saw her father’s furious reaction.

[Full Story]

I’m shocked. Shocked!

And now . . . this – June 16/09

June 16, 2009


Here’s a tenez ma bière et observez ceci moment if I ever read one:

A furious Belgian father has gone to the police after his teenage daughter ended up with 56 stars tattooed on her face after allegedly asking the tattooist for “some points of colour.”

Kimberley Vlaminck, 18, claimed that she asked for only three stars to be tattooed near her left eye as a present from her father, Diego, who was upholding a family tradition of tattoos. . . .

As her father ate an ice cream outside, Miss Vlaeminck claims she fell asleep before waking up to find her face covered in the “nightmare” tattoos.


I don’t have a tattoo, and I don’t want one. But given that a) tattooing is done with a needle, b) needles hurt, and c) needles in the face especially hurt, I rather doubt Ms. Vlaminck fell asleep long enough to have 53 superfluous stars inked on her cheek without her knowledge. Unless “fell asleep” means “passed out after a few too many pints of Hoegaarden.” And it must have been one heck of an ice cream to occupy her father for that long.

I tend to believe the tattoo artist:

“She was awake all the time. I did not hypnotise or dope her, as they say, it was with agreement. No way could I have tattooed so many stars on her face against her will,” he said.

[Full Story]

More 9/11 Truther Science! revealed

June 10, 2009

Over the past few years, I’ve seen a whole bunch of Science! used by the 9/11 “truth” movement to prove that there is no possible way a plane crash and the resulting fires could have caused the collapse of steel-framed skyscrapers such as the World Trade Center. These would-be CSIs have modeled the twin towers with such accurate representations as chicken wire and paving slabs, stacking desk trays, and Microsoft Flight Simulator-generated videos.

But this guy tops them all with his Scientific! prowess:

I’m no materials engineer, but I can find at least three holes with this experiement:

  • Each tower of the World Trade Center was a massive, load-bearing structure of about a quarter of a million tons. A frying pan is, well, a frying pan – and it needs at least a few strips of bacon in it before it can be considered “load-bearing” in any sense.
  • If that pan is like any other stovetop frying pan I’ve seen, it’s actually aluminum, not steel.
  • But assuming for the sake of argument that it is steel, notice how at about 3:45 he puts it back on the element and it rocks. I thought they manufactured frying pans flat-bottomed. Looks like fire can deform steel, after all.

Sometimes these Truthers are so out in left field with their Science!, you have to wonder whether they’re some sort of pardody. Unfortunately for our educational system, this one appears to be completely earnest.

(H/T: the tireless Screw Loose Change.)

George Tiller revisited

June 10, 2009

My previous post on the murder of Kansas abortionist George Tiller on May 31 gained me a few comments. Most notable are (as of now) the two most recent, from “Blaise” and “Doh.”

First of all, Blaise wrote:

I think you’re inconsistent. You preface that you’re against this type of “vigilantism,” but then say “Good Riddance.” If Hitler or Stalin would have been assasinated, would we say we condemn that action? Tiller the Killer killed how many babies and would have continued to kill how many more? I think the man who assasinated him should be a hero; he saved many babies. Proof in point; if a man were attempting to stab little kids in your neighbor’s back yard and you shot the perpetrator before he could do harm to them, would we condemn the man with the gun in his hand? I think not; nor do I condemn or disagree with this man’s courage in defending the babies.

The ends don’t justify the means. It’s a proverb so entrenched in our moral thinking that it’s almost redundant even to state it explicitly. Everybody recognizes that good outcomes may be reached by bad means. Hypothetically, had George Tiller been indicted and convicted of some gross form of malpractice (i.e. some more serious charges than the misdemeanours he was acquitted of earlier this year), that would have been a moral means to the same end. Similarly, so would banning abortion on demand through the usual legislative process. There are means that are justified by the ends. Shooting isn’t one of them. The Ten Commandments prohibit murder (Exod. 20:13), and an accused murderer could not be convicted or put to death without due process (Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6). Similarly, the apostle Paul reiterates that the civil government bears the sword to punish evildoers (Rom 13:3-4). God has not given this judicial power to the church or the individual – and there’s no exception clause for odious people whom we think deserve to be offed.

On the other hand, the Bible repeatedly tells of good ends from bad means. Joseph acknowledged that when his brothers sold him into slavery, they were evil; but God’s purpose was to put him in a position where he could save many lives (Gen. 50:20). According to the book of Habakkuk, the Babylonian invasion of Judah was God’s righteous judgment on the covenant-breaking Jews, although the Babylonians would themselves face judgment for their own evildoing. And Jesus himself was “crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23), but every Christian recognizes this act of ultimate evil as God’s plan to bring about ultimate good.

So there is no inconsistency. There is the human perspective, in which we are held morally responsible for obeying God’s revealed moral will, and there is the providential perspective, in which all things are part of God’s own plan, and we are not responsible to “help” him carry out his intentions – he does just fine without our help.

In that light, it’s easier to evaluate Blaise’s case studies. Since the outcome is God’s business, we can focus on the morality of the act itself. Is it morally justified to assassinate Hitler or Stalin, knowing that we may prevent many, many more deaths? In wartime, I would say yes: enemy leaders are a valid military target. In peacetime, that is not the case. A man attempting to harm children is committing a crime, and the law recognizes that it may be justifiable to use deadly force in their protection. (The law is not so easy on excessive force: compare the druggist in Oklahoma City recently charged with murder for allegedly emptying a handgun into a robbery suspect who was already down.)

There are relevant differences between these two scenarios. George Tiller was not in a state of war with his murderer, and in any case a private citizen has no authority to declare or carry out a war on his own initiative. Nor was he committing a crime in his jurisdiction, and he had not been convicted and sentenced to death. Tiller was deprived of due process, because his assassin was not authorized by the civil government to carry out an execution. Finally, the maniac stabbing small children is only a relevant analogy if he were also doing so at the request and with the approval of the children’s mothers, who actively sought him out to procure his “services.”

Next, Doh said:

Wow – you contradicted yourself pretty quickly there. Not condoning the violence – but hey if that’s how God chose to take him out, so be it.
I never understand the seriousness with which so many of your kind take the unborn child – something that is sorely lacking in most as soon as that unborn child takes a breath and becomes a burden you don’t want to help care for. The spirits of these children – if they are yet that – are with God and go back to God. I have 3 nieces that would not exist if my sister hadn’t had an abortion when she was 14. Her life would have taken a completely different trajectory. I thank God I have these three girls in my life. I wouldn’t change one thing. God can work with all the choices a woman makes to bring about blessings.

I can’t win with either Blaise or Doh. Blaise thinks I’m inconsistent because I ought to approve of the means by which Tiller was dispatched in addition to the outcome. Doh, on the other hand, thinks that if I don’t condone his murder, I should tacitly approve of his abortion practice. Not so, for the reasons I have already given above.

This is merely an emotional appeal. It plays on pity (“Her life would have taken a completely different trajectory”) and consequences (“If my sister had not had an abortion, I wouldn’t have three beautiful neices to love”). But it ignores the real issue: what is the unborn? If it is a human person, then we cannot justify killing it merely because of the good outcome. It is axiomatic that you cannot kill a person if doing so gives you something you like (e.g. a better life, cure for disease, love from other family members, and so forth). Whatever joy someone gets from his nieces, the fact remains that a fourth niece or nephew died, having done nothing to deserve it, to make that joy possible.

By this same logic, the death of George Tiller is a greater moral good, since the end of his abortion practice brings joy to many pro-life advocates all over the world. (Indeed, it was recently announced that the clinic itself would be closed permanently.) Pragmatism is an unworkable ethic, which is why I took some pains to avoid it in my previous post.