Reza Aslan can’t talk about Jesus? Reza Aslan literally is Jesus

[Editor’s note: This post was already about a week behind the times when I wrote it two and a half weeks ago, so my apologies in advance for stretching the limits of your memory/interest/attention span.]

FOX has deservedly taken flak over its journalist’s treatment of Muslim author Reza Aslan on-air. Not only was the question ‘How can a Muslim write about Jesus?’ absurd on its face, but it highlighted a glaring double standard within the ranks of FOX journalists themselves:

Questioning Aslan’s expertise on Jesus is absurd for another reason as well.

Before I explain, full disclosure: I have not yet actually watched the controversial FOX clip. And you might suppose that, as an avowed non-viewer of FOX News, I am unqualified to discuss a specific piece of footage that appeared on that network.

But here’s the thing: like Reza Aslan, I don’t need a license to talk about anything I want. I don’t need to degrade myself by watching even one moment of FOX News in order to recognize the utter absurdity of alleging a Muslim is somehow not qualified to talk about Jesus. And Reza has one up on me. As it turns out, Aslan literally (and by this, I literally mean figuratively) is Jesus:

Continue reading Reza Aslan can’t talk about Jesus? Reza Aslan literally is Jesus


How not to waste your one quote in the New York Times

Most people are not so fortunate as to ever be quoted in the New York Times. So it almost goes without saying that should you ever find yourself in such a unique position, be sure to make it count.

Surely, “make it count” means different things to different people, but to me, it means never miss an opportunity to make someone groan (specifically, as the result of a terrible pun).

There, that’s it. That’s my advice. Which brings me the story of someone who failed to heed it. Specifically, I refer to the contents of an article that appeared in the New York Times today titled With Proposed Rail Expansion, Northwest Confronts Its Clean Image. It is all about shipping fossil fuels by rail from the interior of the continent through the Pacific Northwest — more specifically, coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin to Pacific port cities:

Mile-long trains from the coal mines of Wyoming already run daily, and the load could more than double if three big proposed export terminals gain approval and financing.

The expected outrage has ensued.

One quote from the article in particular caught my attention:

Because of a constriction point on the rail grid known as the Spokane Funnel, every one of those energy trains on the horizon — 60 a day by some estimates, empty and full — would come right through the middle of Spokane, Washington’s second-largest city, with a population of 209,000.

“Spokane is the canary in the mine,” said Ken Casavant, a professor of economics and the director of the Freight Policy Transportation Institute at Washington State University. “They’re in the middle.”

tl;dr Casavant managed to botch his quote in the paper of record not once, but twice-over.

First, the phrase “canary in the mine” has nothing to do with being in the middle. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt: the Times separated the two clauses, so let’s assume he didn’t mean for them to be linked in quite the way they appear in print.

Second, “canary in the mine” might technically convey the message Casavant wished to communicate, but it is simply incorrect in any context.* What he meant to say is “canary in the coal mine.” And to make things worse, this was not just any context:  this was an article literally about mines… and not just any mines — coal mines!

Really, this article about enabling energy companies to dig up all the coal and tar sands so we can burn them just made me sad, but I’ve written about what a terrible idea all that is already. So instead I decided to focus on the botched pun. What a huge waste of an opportunity.


*Don’t believe me? Compare the number of search results on Google:

Canary in a Coal Mine

Continue reading How not to waste your one quote in the New York Times

Susan G. Komen wouldn’t let them use “for the Cure”, so these cancer orgs did them one better

I was reminded yesterday by Wired that the more browser tabs you keep open at once, the faster your computer’s battery will drain. That’s a bit of a problem, because I keep track of what I want to write about by leaving browser tabs open — and those open tabs can add up quickly, especially when I haven’t written in a while. So for the sake of energy efficiency and battery-life conservation, I’m going to try to knock off some browser tabs in short order. Let’s see how this goes.

First up, Susan G. Komen for the Cure. You’re probably familiar with this now-controversial organization after it made headlines the past few years in all the wrong ways: overselling mammograms, cutting off Planned Parenthood, and most memorably — to me, anyway — filing suit to defend its exclusive use of the phrase “for the Cure.”

Nowadays, if you google that specific term, every actual single search result on page 1 (to the exclusion of clever advertisers) comes up Komen:

Continue reading Susan G. Komen wouldn’t let them use “for the Cure”, so these cancer orgs did them one better

The Chinese lion-dog isn’t really a story

Last night, I wrote about the two big zoo-related stories that dominated social media: the discovery of an olinguito masquerading as an olingo and of a dog masquerading as a lion. My suggestion was that the stories were governed by an absurd double-standard: in both cases, a zoo failed to recognize the animal it housed, but one was celebrated while the other became the subject of widespread ridicule.

When I posted my reaction on Facebook, one of my friends pointed out that there might just be a simple explanation:

Koalas, spectacled bears and now olinguitos are cute and dogs are boring what didn’t you get?

She certainly has a point. As a cat person [who has previously written about the uselessness of the dog], I’m not going to dispute the charge that dogs are boring. And it would seem that many people agree with that point of view. Why else would they go to such lengths to transform their pets into something less commonplace? [And trust me, there are many, many more than these five — if you care to take a look.]

Continue reading The Chinese lion-dog isn’t really a story

Our differing reaction to these big news stories is all kinds of hypocritical

On slow days — the ones with no political scandals, salacious affairs, or bloody coups to report on — “human interest” stories [sometimes] come to dominate the news cycle and, in turn, my newsfeed.

Today proved that this can occasionally happen on fast days, as well.

On a day when over 600 people died in clashes with the Egyptian military, additional details about the NSA spying program leaked, and MLB finally decided to [somewhat] extend instant reply, the two most frequently-posted items I came across on social media were, coincidentally, both about zoos.

I’ll start off with the one from China, because I’m still not entirely sure whether the Onion managed to pull a fast one on the entire world media, Chinese zoo substitutes lion for dog:

With the sun shining and kids at home for the school holidays, many families in the eastern Chinese city of Luohe decided to pay a visit to the city’s zoo this week.

But those hoping to be thrilled by the zoo’s fearsome beasts were left disappointed by a rather tamer set of substitutes.

“One family surnamed Liu took their six-year-old son to the zoo in People’s Park,” reported the local Dahe Daily newspaper.

“On the way, Mrs Liu was teaching her son all the sounds that the different animals make. But when they arrived, her son said the lion was barking like a dog.”

Turns out, that’s no lion — that’s a space station. You can read the whole article above (if you [somehow] aren’t already familiar with the story), but the main takeaway is this: people were outraged — and the Luohe Zoo became the subject of worldwide ridicule — because of a mislabeled animal in a zoo exhibit.

Meanwhile, the second story I’ve seen shared all day comes from this very hemisphere, and concerns an astonishing story of scientific discovery, Adorable new mammal species found ‘in plain sight’: a raccoon-sized critter with teddy bear looks:

Continue reading Our differing reaction to these big news stories is all kinds of hypocritical

The saddest fact (allegedly) about Canada

While researching my response to Bret Stephens’ article “Can Environmentalists Think?”, I came across a 2009 editorial that was published in Canada’s National Post (by either the editorial board or Editor-at-Large Diane Francis; it’s unclear), CN idea a winner for oil sands.

“CN idea” happens to be shipping tar sands by rail, which is a bad idea for reasons I addressed in my response to Bret Stephens, but it was an off-hand argument that appeared in the column that struck me as just the saddest thing I’d heard all day:

As for Canada’s environmental concerns, the oil sands is absolutely essential to maintaining the future living standards of Canadians. They should not be stopped.

I’m not even talking about how the author dismissed environmental concerns without actually thinking too hard about them, which would normally make me both angry and depressed. I’m talking about the part where she argues that developing oil sands is “absolutely essential to maintaining the future living standards of Canadians.”

You see, I was under the impression that Canada is a wealthy, developed, first-world country. I thought it was recently ranked most-educated in the OECD. I thought it was a major world power, with both the 35th-highest population, and — because of its second-largest size — the 228th-highest population density. From my visits to BC, I thought it was filled with beautiful natural scenery that stretches from one ocean shore to the other. I thought it was the land of maple syrup and honey. That it shares a long peaceful border with a wealthy, friendly neighbor who speaks mostly the same language and with whom it has secured a free trade agreement. I thought it was home to world-class cities and centers of culture like Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver (and I’m out of Canadian cities). I thought its banking system was among the most effective and secure anywhere in the world. I thought it ranked 11th on the Human Development Index, earning it the designation “Very High” (much like Canadians in general — Canadian kids smoke the most weed among their counterparts in western countries). I thought it ranked fifth in Economic Freedom (a measure by which the US ranks 18th). I thought it got all the benefits of a royal monarchy (zomg!! Kate had a baby!) without having to pay for it without having to pay very much for it. I thought it ranked third for overall quality of life.

Much as it pains me to admit it, Canada sounds like a pretty great place to live. And I refuse to believe that it got that way, and can only stay that way, because of some gunk it learned to extract from the ground. Canada was prosperous long before it seriously began to develop the tar sands and presumably can remain both happy and healthy even if it decides to leave all that fossil fuel where it belongs. The idea that tar sands are “absolutely essential” to Canadian prosperity and well-being or anything else, really, is just absurd — and ultimately, tragic. Canada’s perch among its international counterparts is not so precarious that one decision regarding a small portion of Alberta will send its economy plunging into Lake Ontario. It has the potential to build — hell, it already has — a strong economy on the basis of more than just unsustainable* resource extraction. There was a Canada long before the tar sands, and there will be a Canada long after the tar sands, whether they’re ever developed or not. That fact alone is not reason to leave them in the ground — but scaremongering is not reason to take them out of it either.


*I mean this in the most literal sense. No matter how good we get at extracting them, we will one day run out of fossil fuels. And that’s sort of the definition of unsustainable.