Monday, December 15, 2014

On Police Brutality

More and more lately, the subject of police brutality and killings is becoming something the bought and paid for media cannot ignore.  Millions of people around the country are constantly marching in protest over the almost constant din of what are often out and out murder cases in which police are almost universally absolved of criminal liability.

Mostly against blacks, but let's be clear - there are others being killed who are not black as well.

It would also be good to note that the issue of police brutality isn't just about killings, although those are the most egregious.  Remember the lady in California whose beating by a CHP officer went viral?  There are whole websites devoted to documenting these incidents.

And that isn't the most alarming thing about this whole thing.

What is the most alarming is the strengthening of the "thin blue line".  The police have tended, even in the past to have this "us vs. them" kind of attitude, that exists to protect each other from what they consider unfair punishment.

To an extent, that is understandable.  They exist in an ordered and very structured environment.  They are trained in discipline, the better for their bosses to control them.  After all, they are, each and every one, out in the community for eight or more hours a day, exposed to the possibility of having to confront the very worst elements of society.  People who are often armed and prepared to use those weapons at any time they feel threatened.

And police officers around the country die every year because of that exposure.  Such an environment tends to bond people together.  I understand that.

But in recent years, there is a sickness that has invaded that environment.

Militarization.  Arming and training our police with the arms and the attitudes of soldiers.

There is a meme that is making the rounds occasionally on Facebook.  It says, basically, that a country's military exists to defend it from enemies of the State.  And when the police and the military begin to blend together, the people tend to start looking like enemies of the State.

That sounds kinda familiar.

We need to remind ourselves, and our police, of the ways in which our government was designed and empowered by the Constitution to provide (as the constitution says) for the General Welfare.

First, the military is an arm of the Federal government, and is authorized by the Constitution under the authority of the President.  It is for the protection of the country from enemies of the State, generally protection from invasion.

Our police departments, of whatever level, are authorized under both the General Welfare clause for the Federal government and the "reserved powers' clause for the States.

Separately, all levels of the government are authorized a judiciary.  It is considered a separate branch of government at the Federal level.  Most States are generally designed the same way, so that judges and courts are their own authority and not under the executive power of the President or a Governor.

This is important, because the Constitution makes it fairly clear (and subsequent SCOTUS rulings further clarify this) that the Court system is supposed to be a defender and a protectorate of the people.

Police are, too, since their authority is generally under the authority of the General Welfare clause.

And when the police act against their authority and hurt members of the public, the courts are supposed to protect us, not side with the police.

Our Constitution is a document that sets forth the powers of the Federal government and allows for those powers not explicitly given to the Federal level to be reserved for the States or "the people".  This pretty clearly shows that the powers so delineated are delegated directly from the people.

WE, the people of this country, delegate those powers for OUR benefit.  Those powers are not there for the benefit of the officials so empowered.  They are there to provide for US.  For the general welfare - for everybody.

In spite of the original version having clauses respecting slavery, none of those clauses noted color of skin nor ethnicity as a condition of that status, and most certainly did not separate "the people" into differing classes based on ethnicity, skin color, sex, sexual orientation, social classes, or economic status.  It merely uses the term "We, the people".

In short, if a person works for a government entity at any level from city to State to Federal, they work for US.  They have their jobs for the purpose of providing for the General Welfare of the people of these United States.  Their jobs are there for OUR benefit, not theirs.

The police are not there to protect the government.  They are there to protect us from threats to society.  They are not there to force us into submission, they are there to protect us.

Not to shoot us, nor beat us nor subjugate us.  Their paychecks come from the taxes we pay.  WE are their bosses, ultimately.  All of us, regardless of economic status, color of our skin or ethnicity.

They should not be thinking of "us vs. them".  They should be thinking about policing their own, about getting rid of officers who make them look bad, who are not worthy of wearing the uniform.

Their "us" should include "we" the people.

Unlike in many totalitarian countries, our police do not live in guarded compounds.  They live among us, they ARE us, they are part of "the people".  They live next door to us, they marry our daughters and our sons, they eat at our backyard barbecues.  They shop at the same stores we do, they vote in the same elections we do.

It is time they rejoined us.  It is time they stop thinking of us as the problem, and realize that it is their attitude that is the problem.

They work for us, and it is time they started acting, again, like they do.

They should be our defenders, not our oppressors.


Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Racism

Today, in a FaceBook posting, someone made a statement that made me rock back on my heals and think hard about something.  It is a subject America has been struggling with since it's very founding, and before.

Racism.  Racial prejudice. Ethnic hatred, or however you wish to term it.

The statement went something like "us whiteys who aren't racist...", and something about it stuck in my craw, as we say in Texas.  It took me a bit to realize what it was, but once it did, it brought back an incident when I lived in Texas that truly did change the way I see other people and how our words - no matter how innocently we might see them - can hurt and wound others very deeply.

I was working at the FDA District office in the mail and file room, and there was an older black fellow that I knew from up in the lab I liked quite a bit.  He was always friendly, and we'd struck up somewhat of a gentle kidding around kind of relationship.

At one point, he came down to the file room, and said something I can't remember, kidding me, and I turned around, and in a kidding and jaunty kind of tone, said, "Hey, ni**er, how ya doin'?"

Instantly, his face turned ugly, and he growled at me in a furious tone of voice, "Don't EVER call me that again!"  And stalked away.

Apart from that being completely different from the reaction I'd expected, I was quite simply devastated.  I'd never thought I'd cause someone such hurt or ignite such anger, and I was just blown away once I realized what I'd done.

Fortunately, the man who oversaw the file room was not only black, but knew me, and the other fellow as well, and being also a minister, was able to (after I abjectly crawled virtually on hands and knees begging forgiveness) managed to help me to repair that relationship somewhat.

But it never was quite the same after that, and this is the first time I have ever mentioned it since that time.

But it illustrates exactly my point here.

Which is that once you've been introduced to an "education" that includes ethnic racism, you can NEVER quite wipe it out of your head.  You can become educated in a more enlightened point of view, you can meet, befriend and work with lots of people you were educated as a child to despise for their ethnicity, and you can very successfully train yourself to hide all that crap deep inside where it will never show its ugly face again.

But, try as you might, it will not ever go away completely, and for the rest of your life, you will fight it, inside.  You will hear that quiet little ugly voice say horribly nasty things, and you will cringe and dismiss it back to the garbage it came from, but the echo will still resonate silently in your head.

And you will keep on struggling to keep your ears from still hearing it.  You will successfully turn the snide little ugly thing back into the muck and replace it with a proper and more realistic reality, and over the years, that will get easier. The more you practice, the better you'll get at it, and the fewer chances that you'll let the wrong thing outta your yap and embarrass yourself.

But you have to be careful, or you'll say stupid things like "us whiteys who aren't racist".

Fact is, every human being on the planet is to a degree, racist, of one manner or another.  It may take the form of tribalism, or clanishness, or nationalism, but we all are infected with one form of it or another.  It is, as they say, fed to us in our mothers' milk.  We grow up exposed to it in the society around us, and we absorb it as we do lessons about the difference between cousins and aunts vs. the milkman.

It's just something we don't notice, until one day, we get our noses rubbed in it.  One day, you open your eyes and see how the other guy feels.

Which, really, is the key.  It's why racist attitudes are so ingrained in the South.

The different races live in enclaves, which, for whites, are usually, bigger, nicer and protected from the incursions of the "others" unless they have sanctioned business there, as, perhaps, a house maid or a gardener.

Places where they are rarely exposed to the other side as anything but servants.  As not humans.  Not being exposed to blacks as humans allows the old stereotypes to be engrained and not exposed as the racist bullshit they are.  Old hatreds can be allowed to fester.

On both sides.

Don't get me wrong.  America has come a long way, even if it is largely a thin veneer of legally protected rights and public behavior.

But, underneath, yeah, the old racism is alive and well, and the only way we'll ever get rid of it is to actually live side by side.  To be exposed to each other as human beings, with loves, hates, preferences and cultural differences.  To be forced to make public concessions to public behavior which allows us to interact with dignity and grace, even if we all will have that internal demon to fight every step of the way.

Because the real proof of civility and adulthood is the ability to win that internal battle, EVERY DAY.  To see clearly that racism, tribalism and such artificial divisions are no longer needed in civilized society and are the wrong way to see other human beings.  To be able to move forward into adulthood with dignity and resolve in defeating the demons of our childhood.

As they say, the first step towards solving a problem is to realize that there is one.

After that, it takes resolve, courage, and stamina.  Only the weak fail, only the mentally lazy trapped in the mesh of childhood trauma or propaganda fail to see what everybody else takes for granted.

Don't be weak.  Don't be lazy.  Fight your own internal battle, and strive to win!  Know yourself, understand where the ugly impulses come from, and fight to put them back into the muck they slid so stealthily from.

But above all, be aware.  Understand yourself, and understand others.  It really isn't so hard to do. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Of shirts and comets.

It's been a week since the European Space Agency landed their probe on the surface of a comet for the first time ever in human history.  A proud day for the Agency, a proud day for Europe and a milestone for human space flight.

Which will forever be tainted by the image of a team member wearing a wildly inappropriate shirt emblazoned with images of scantily clad women while being interviewed by the international media.

Almost instantly, social media picked up that image and noted its inappropriate nature, criticizing the man for his insensitivity.  Within a day, the scientist, Dr. Matt Taylor, had apologized profusely, even breaking down in tears on camera.  For many people, that ended the incident.  

But not for the apologists.

Social media exploded with apologies for his behavior, some even going to far as to weigh in with their opinions as to how innocent that shirt was, because the depictions of women were cartoonish instead of photography.  They opined that feminists were overblowing the incident, eclipsing the accomplishments of Dr. Taylor and his team.

And so today, a week after he appeared on camera, the argument still rages on social media.

More and more, louder and louder, the argument rages.  But, wait!  That loud sound you hear?  That roar?  The one that sounds like a hundred airliners going over?

That's not a fleet of 747's.  That is the sound of the entire point missing your heads.

Yesterday, a comment was made on a post on Facebook I have been following.  Here's the important part of it:

The only thing that strikes me as sexist in this is the fact that men don't seem to be expected to consider the implications of what they wear to the office, while women have to take the rest of the office into consideration.  Take a look at your company policy on dress and lateness.

This.  This is the point.  Somehow, someway, Matt Taylor managed to appear in front of a major media outlet's camera wearing a shirt that should have been considered inappropriate in any professional setting.  And yet, EVERYBODY, from his fellow team members to his team leader, to the head of the ESA (and don't fool yourself, that control room was literally crawling with management before those cameras ever got in the room.) completely missed the fact that he was wearing it.

Even at the last minute, somebody could have tossed the guy a lab coat to cover up The Shirt.  It would have been that easy.

Instead, the ESA missed numerous opportunities to notice The Shirt.  His team leader.  His team leader's boss.  HIS boss.  The ESA Public Relations Office.  Upper management on that morning's walk through.

So, what does that say about the ESA and its policies towards professionalism, given that literally nobody even noticed?  Anybody want to bet how quickly a female team member would have been counseled on her dress if she'd tried to wear something even mildly provocative on camera?  At the very least, she'd have been forced to wear that lab coat.

But not DOCTOR Taylor.  No, apparently The Shirt is so much a part of the environment in that team's space that nobody thought it was important.  That millions of women around the world would be put off by it, and that it might send a message to girls everywhere considering a career in the European Space Agency that sexism is such a normal part of life that a team member can appear on camera, representing the ENTIRE Agency, wearing The Shirt and nobody cares enough to even make him wear a lab coat. 

This isn't just a problem with Dr. Matt Taylor.  It isn't just a problem with the ESA. It is a problem within the entire world of science, wherever this kind of thing can happen.  It is pervasive and part of the culture, so much so that an entire chain of management can miss something that simple.

This very public conversation we are having is important.  You apologists out there, pay attention.

We aren't blaming the good Doctor.  Not now, he apologized and is moving on.

It's the rest of us who need to understand that the issue isn't just an ugly shirt.  The issue is an environment where that ugly shirt is allowed on a guy, ON CAMERA, while women are still judged by the clothing they wear and not on their professional abilities.

That needs to change.  Not only do we need to be more aware of things like The Shirt, but we need to change the atmosphere where men aren't judged by their clothing but women are.  We need for people to see how corrosive sexism can be and just how invisibly invasive it can get.

How unnoticed.  So badly unnoticed that a man can get away with representing his team and his Agency on camera while wearing a wildly inappropriate shirt and it takes someone from outside to see it.

We've got a lot of work to do. This conversation is important, which is why we are having it a week later.

Got the message?

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Why Democrats might lose this election, and why they shouldn't.

If the Democrats lose this election, I'm going to be pissed.

Not at Republicans, they're doing what any stupid animal does - what comes naturally.

No, I'm going to be pissed at the Democratic Party, because this (and every election going forward from now) are theirs to lose.  The Republican Party is so reactionary, so blindly stupidly conservative, pushing so many of the fear buttons, you've got to be an idiot not to notice.  They've managed to piss off so many different voting blocks, it's a wonder even white males are willing to vote for them.

Unless you've been propagandized, like so many Americans have.  The Republicans may not be able to govern their way out of a wet paper bag, but they are masters at obfuscating the truth and making everybody think up is down and right is left.

Along those lines, there is one truth about the Republicans' long and well trod road over the last 40 years nobody can argue against - they've managed to make the word "liberal" into a cuss word.  They've made everybody think that government is incompetent and constantly conspiring against us, both at the same time, all the while convincing us that it should be small enough to drown in a bathtub, and that it SHOULD be drowned in a bathtub.

How they've managed to claim that government is incompetent by gaining power in government and PROVING it is without the entire population of this country noticing that it has been Republicans' incompetence and not that of Democrats, I'll never know.

Republicans have managed to make almost every liberal position seem like evil incarnate.  Socialism is now a dirty word even though most Americans wouldn't know a Socialist if one bit them on the ass, and have almost no clue what they stand for.

If we lose this election, it will be because The Democratic Party has given up.

They have not even tried to call Republicans out on their stupidity or their lies or even the obvious hypocrisy on display almost every time a Republican politician opens his/her mouth.

Most egregiously, they have failed utterly to defend liberal, progressive ideas and principles.  They have stood by silently while the Republican Party and conservative Democrats have dragged the political discourse in this country so far to the right that there isn't so much as a dogcatcher who can be elected on a true liberal ticket.

Every single time Obama has managed to get a law passed in his Administration, you'll notice that they all were originally proposed by conservative Think Tanks!  Even the ACA, Obama's signature accomplishment, is based on the Massachusetts law, which came straight out of the Heritage Foundation!

Ya wanna know why the Democrats are losing?

Because liberals are staying home.  In droves, because there isn't a single solitary politician who is representing the true liberal position and principles in this country.

Not one.  Even Independent Senator Barney Sanders of Vermont can't manage to defend liberalism, no matter how hard he tries.

It is time to stop letting the Republicans set the agenda.  To stop letting them define who liberals are and what liberalism is.  It is time to explain to the American public what liberals stand for and why.

It is time for LIBERALS to set the talking agenda.  It is time for Liberals to define Republicans so that America and the world can see what they truly are and what they truly stand for.

Politicians today are afraid to stand up and defend their principles.  Poor things, they might lose and have to sit out a few years away from Washington!

NO!

Stand up!  Defend yourself, defend your principles.  DEFINE yourself, DEFINE the principles you stand for, the values you love.  Do it passionately, do it with feeling.  Shake your fist, pound the table,  rouse the crowd with passionate, earth rattling rhetoric!

Emotions are the key, and Republicans know that.  They are masters of the fear signal.  They can push their constituents' fear buttons and get the reaction they want immediately.

But passion and excitement can overcome fear.  Talk about the future!  Extol our scientific advances! paint visions of the very real utopia we can advance towards, if only we can give up our addiction to war and violence.  Describe the world we can build together if only we can cooperate together, and bring every American up to a better standard of living.  How much growth we can bring to our country by educating ALL of our children, and making this country a leader in science and industry again.

There is a lot to defend, and a lot to look forward to, if only we will get together and COMMUNICATE these things to our fellow Americans, who are sick and tired of hearing the negative and the fearful.   People want to hear about the positive things, the good things we can do, so let's tap into that and help them see what a wonderful future we can bring to this country together!

The Party which can bring a positive vision of the future can and will win.  Let's stop enabling the Republicans in their sick, negative picture of America.  Let's show America and the world what LIBERALS can do to bring us a bright and shining future!

The first step is for every liberal and every independent who cares for this country to get out and vote.  VOTE BLUE!  VOTE DEMOCRAT!

I mean, hey, it's only the welfare of our kids and grandkids at stake.


Saturday, November 01, 2014

But which core values? Yours, or...yours?

Hermant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist, had a fascinating take on an incident that occurred a while back.  It seems that in a recent debate, a young man, Chad, challenged Mr. Marcellino (the Christian debater) about the fate of people who do not know Christ.

You know, the question of Hell, and god sending those unfortunates straight there for eternity.

First, though, Mr. Clifton had asserted earlier in the debate that he didn't think Hell was forever.

Then, later, he admitted, at Chad's questioning, that he is a believer that the bible is literally true.

Chad followed that up by questioning Marcellino’s claim from earlier in the debate that Hell wasn’t really forever — doesn’t the Bible say it is? 
Marcellino: … Forever doesn’t really mean forever.Chad: … you said it was all literally true.Marcellino: Well, yeah, it’s not literally English true. It’s Hebrew and Greek. So you have to get into the Hebrew and Greek.
Apparently, Chad has done this before, challenging Christian debaters and flummoxing them into stumbling and making idiots out of themselves.  The Friendly Atheist has covered these debates, so if you want to actually see the video, go to the link above and watch.  It's cool!

Go, Chad!

Great stuff!

But that's not exactly what this post is about, though it did spark the old noggin a bit.

I've seen a lot of debate lately about whether the Progressive agenda, including Atheism, is really progressing (pardon the pun), or whether the right wing backlash has got us on the run.  Certainly, the narrow polls in this election are cause for concern, as there is a very real possibility the Republicans could win the Senate.

Or so the pundits say.  I do remember that the last election surprised a lot of pundits and pollsters alike.  Anybody remember the epic meltdown of Carl Rove on Fox?  It was, truly, something to watch!

I am, quite naturally, an optimist, even though I do take the engineer's position about that proverbial glass of water - I still insist the damn thing is just not the right size... but I digress.

One needs to take the long view in these things.  Cultural changes do not take place overnight, even though we did manage to upend things in the 60's pretty quickly.  Today's backlash is a direct result of the 60's, and it is a doozy!  But, it isn't the end of the struggle.  Not by a long shot.

227 years ago, the United States Constitution was ratified.  That is, arguably, the greatest success for the men of the day in their struggle for the spread and the social acceptance of the principles of The Enlightenment.  But the road leading to that day was long and bloody.  Historically, the enlightenment began with the Crusades, believe it or not.

Before that time, Europeans were pretty much (except for merchants, mostly) confined to Europe, and didn't do much traveling.  Travel was hard, dirty, and dangerous, and getting anywhere really interesting took months, and often years.  The nobility of Europe were mostly interested in warfare, politics and religion, pretty much in that order.  Few of them were literate, as most of their time was spent in the practice of martial arts, if not actively engaged in real fighting.  The rest was often politics and such.  There was a day when learning to read was actually discouraged for the nobility, as it was considered beneath their position.  That's why they hired monks and learned priests to do their paperwork.

Much of that was the Church's fault, because really, they wanted the ability to read strictly in their purview, which allowed them to interpret Scripture.  If you couldn't read, you had to take the priest's word for what was even written there!  In fact, in the earlier centuries of what we call the Dark Ages, learning to read was actually forbidden by the church.

But when the nobles who answered the Pope's call for the Crusades got to the Holy Land, they didn't find barbarous savages as the Church taught, but very learned Muslim nobility, who had safeguarded many ancient writings over the centuries.  Documents in Greek and Latin, often predating the Church, many of which were long lost writings of Greek philosophers.  Histories, too, in both Greek and Latin;  a lot of these men learned those languages, and took some of these documents to Europe when they went home.

The principles they learned, the ideas the Greeks had struggled over and debated about changed European thought and culture forever.

Looking at European history since those times, one can clearly see the slow but long term steady change from a society dominated by the Church and theocratic rule to one ruled by secular authorities which eventually denied the Church any secular authority at all.

Today, Europe is even more secular than the US, with some countries boasting fewer than 20% of their populations claiming religious belief.

I am not going to dive into the whys and the wherefores of how this took place, I'm not an historian.  But it is sufficient to this discussion that it HAS taken place, and the progression of western culture from the conservative and the intolerant to a newer more liberal set of principles is easy to see.

It wasn't an easy road, and it wasn't a straight one.  There was much backsliding and a lot of blood was spilled along the way.

But as of today, the culture wars (as Ed Brayton puts it) are still slowly and jerkily moving us forward, even if it is like clawing your way up a steep hill in the mud, fighting gravity every inch of the way.

American culture has moved through the 18th and 19th centuries, forging a new set of unique values. Values built on the movement of millions of Americans across this continent which has cemented our belief in the worth of the individual.  Past migrations across places like Asia were based on mass population movement.  Entire cultures were displaced and forced to move into other parts of the world, but they moved as a people, in groups.

In the US, we did it often as individual families or small groups.  Sometimes one by one, these brave people made names for themselves and the stories of their travels are legend.  They depended, though, on each other.  On the frontier, the old traditions of breaking bread together around a fire were rediscovered, and the ideals of helping those in trouble were there to ensure that everybody had help when they needed it.

Individualism tempered by tolerance and charitable assistance where trouble struck has always been an American value.  We are, therefor, a proud people.  We pride ourselves on being independent.  On not being led around like sheep.  The watchword for early America was Caveat Emptor - let the buyer beware.

We have a sense of fairness, of balance.  American frontier justice was swift, but fair, mostly.  It had to be.  Early communities depended on that.  Religion was an individual thing.  Preachers were rare, priests even more so.  With so few to preach at them and so much to do simply to survive, religion just wasn't very important in large part, until civilization caught up.

But by then, the principles were set, spread by the media and popular books and newspapers, extolling the "Manifest Destiny" of this country to spread west.  The exploits of the pioneers were read voraciously throughout the US and even overseas.  The principles of individualism and their liberty from authoritarianism were well set by the middle of the 19th century.

So, you say, just what does all this have to do with a young man named Chad and an embarrassed Christian debater?

Plenty.

The modern American Evangelistic movement likes to pretend it is a monolithic movement, spreading like wildfire and taking souls from Satan daily.

But it isn't.  There are at least three types of evangelicals.

The Fundies - committed believers.  Literal bible believers, they are the soul, if you will, of that movement.  They set the tone.

The Moderates - they talk the talk, but rarely walk that walk.  They make all the right noises, but really?  All they do is check the right boxes on those national polls, so jesus will win.  But they either stay at home Sunday or just pretend.

Then you've got The Cognitively Screwed.  Guys like the debater, Mr. Marcellino.  He knows the Scriptures by heart, he is admired by his peers and his fellow congregants.  He talks with Jesus!

But, deep in his heart, he is still imbued with those core American values.  The sense of fairness, the core belief in an individual's rights to his own mind, without being forced into a mold.  He is, in short, uncomfortable with the idea that anybody should be tortured forever for a short term sin.   Particularly if they never knew what a sin was!

His values aren't biblical.  His values are informed by The Enlightenment, as formulated by the American Revolution and forged in the heat of the American Frontier.

But he can't admit it.  He is also an Evangelical.  He MUST believe in the infallibility of the Scripture.  It is pounded into his mind every Sunday, but his American values are in his mother's milk.  His culture insists that America is the greatest country in the world, with the greatest values.

But those American values conflict with his Evangelical values.

So, when he gets confronted by someone like Chad, his mind cannot deal with that conflict.

There are millions of people like Mr. Marcellino.  Hard core fundies, until their core values are conflicted with their religion.  Then, they are confounded as to where to turn, what to think.

To me, that is encouraging.  The more we see people who are supposed to be very religious being confronted and failing to even reconcile basic beliefs, the more we will see those reconciliations being resolved in a way we will think of as favorable.  Many people doubt their religion.

It is our job to confront them and help them resolve those conflicts reasonably.  That way, Progressivism WILL win.

Just don't expect it to be overnight.



Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Shattered feet of clay.

It is always unsettling - and a bit sad - to see an icon fall.  Our society so badly needs its heroes and icons, and when one's feet of clay are finally exposed, a lot of people are often terribly disappointed.

But some icons need to be exposed, because the things they represent are so sordid and harmful to society, yet have been touted as being good.

Mother Teresa is one such icon.

Her public figure has always been a saintly one, so loving, so giving, the head of an order (which she established) devoted to caring for the poverty stricken in need of medical attention, and possessing over 400 missions around the world. Such goodness, such devotion to poverty, she was depicted as living as poorly as her charges.

Christopher Hitchens exposed her for what she really was - a hollow figure, callously sequestering millions of donated dollars, refusing to provide the medication and care her charges so badly needed, she essentially forced them into the suffering she felt was so central to her public faith.   But when she needed care, she got it at an American hospital.  One of the best, at that!  Flew first class, was feted by the high and mighty.  Especially by dictators and warlords, who lavished her with donations, which she gladly took and often funneled directly to the Vatican.

And talking about her public faith; privately, she agonized over a disbelief she admitted in letters and private writings, one which could never be made public.  In reality, she admitted she never heard Jesus or God speak to her, and wondered if they even existed.

Now, in a peer reviewed study, two Canadian researchers have revealed new information, corroborating Hitchens completely, and totally exposing the raw truth of her perfidy at allowing a media campaign which twisted her into a public saint.

What is worse is that the Roman Catholic Church not only allowed that campaign, but probably orchestrated it in a callous and deliberate attempt to create another saint.  A figure meant to illustrate and illuminate the church's dogma of poverty and suffering, which it claims brings its adherents closer to God.

A dogma which, in actuality, simply controls its members by helping them to be happy in their poverty, fooling them into complacence and compliance.

When I write about harm from religion, this is what I am talking about.  Policies and actions which take a true shameful condition of millions of people around the world - one which could be alleviated - and turns it into a control measure to avoid those unhappy people from upsetting the current political order.

While the current Pope talks about how terrible secular capitalists are about hoarding money and perpetuating poverty by paying poverty level wages, the organization of which he is the absolute monarch is busy propagandizing those unhappy poverty stricken millions into believing that their plight is a blessed one to be embraced instead of improved upon.

In the meantime, the world marches on, pouring billions and billions of monetary units around the world into military capabilities with which to grind those unhappy millions into human paste.

Thank you, Mother Teresa.  On behalf of a frustrated world population which yearns for a world at peace, thank you for helping to perpetuate a world at war.  A world which encourages poverty and suffering.

Like you did.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

It’s your government. Why do you want to kill it?

I’ve made no secret of the fact that just last September marked the 40th year I’ve worked for the United States Government, first as a GI in Europe, then as civilian employee at FDA, under the Department of Health and Human Services.  I’ve worked with people as diverse as Vietnam Vets, entomologists, lawyers, contract specialists (who spend millions of your tax dollars), real estate specialists, IT personnel with a huge diversity of specialities, drug manufacturing inspectors, retired military personnel of several different services, and people with many other talents.  Some of them were functionaries who worked at the same drudgery day after day and complained constantly - others were some of the smartest people I’ve ever known.  Almost all of them, complainers or not, showed up regularly, worked to the best of their ability and many of them could have quit Federal Service and gone to work outside of government service for more money than they made inside.  Some of them a considerable amount more.  The one thing they all pretty much had in common was a willingness to work in service to the United States and its people with the understanding and the knowledge that their work made a difference.

I know of very few who could point to a Federal salary which led to wealth and fame.  It just doesn’t work that way.

I’ve never seen any evidence that any of us were involved in a conspiracy to take your guns, infect huge numbers of Americans with deadly diseases or detain millions of you in concentration camps.  All I’ve seen is normal Americans engaged in careers that benefited the US and her people tremendously.

Yet, there is a persistent group of people whose purpose in their political lives is to convince as many of you as possible that your government is engaged in a large number of nefarious plots and conspiracies to kill, imprison, enslave, and generally wreak havoc on, in particular, white Americans.  Their plot revolves around another point, contradictory to the first, that the very same government is so inept and clumsy that it cannot perform the simplest of basic governmental functions without completely making hash of the effort.

The right wing would have you think that the situation is so dire the only way to solve the problem is to make the government as small as possible so it can be conveniently drowned in a nearby bathtub.  Without water, preferably, so as to make the entire operation as cheap as can be.

As the Right Wing Saint Ronnie put it, “The government isn’t the solution to the problem, the government IS the problem!”

Bullshit.  That’s just plain, unadulterated bullshit.  Pure, unrefined and complete.

We do not live in a country which is governed by the military.  The Supreme Leader of this country doesn’t exist.  There is no “Feuhrer” and no “Dear Leader”.  The government of this land is controlled, as described by the preamble of the document that establishes the framework of our government, by We, the People.  It is, as established and empowered by that document, a Representative Democracy, or as otherwise described, a Republic.

The Representatives, as elected by Us, are empowered by our collective Voice.  Their power and ability to act is only delegated to them through the collective actions of The People through regularly held elections.  The Government is headed, in the Executive Branch, by a President, elected by the People every four years, and has the power to sign legislation into Law after it is duly passed by both the House and Senate.

This is the part of the government which is guided and informed by The People - or a majority of them.  That’s where the democracy comes in.  Popularly known as government By Majority.

But, the Founders knew that Power corrupts. They knew that a majority could be convinced that the Constitution was wrong and needed to be circumvented, because, well, GOD!  Theocracy in Europe has a long history (in fact, throughout world history, not just Europe).  Many of them had personally experienced what that meant, and the recent history of religious war in Europe was well known to all of them.

Few of them wanted that repeated here!

So, they came up with a third Branch of government, and tasked it with the crucial job of protecting both the Constitution and the minority of people who disagreed with the Majority!  The judiciary has the power to nullify laws (otherwise duly passed and signed in a procedurally correct manner) which are not allowed under the Constitution.  So, even if the Majority hates some ethnic group and wants to discriminate against them legally, the courts have the ability to nullify those laws based on the Constitution’s Equal Protection clauses.  If the majority wants to give a particular religious group some advantage under the law, those laws too, can be nullified under the auspices of the First Amendment.

That is NOT judicial activism.  That is NOT judicial “legislation”.  That’s the courts doing their fucking job.

Look, the preamble of the Constitution says very clearly that the government is established by We, the People to “…form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”.

It is that General Welfare clause that encompasses much of the government’s power.  The Supreme Court has interpreted that clause very generously, and the fact is, that interpretation has actually worked out pretty well.

There is a reason that people have, for over two hundred years, virtually broken down the gates getting in here, and lots of them still experience tremendous hardships to do that, legally or not, in order to experience those “Blessings of Liberty”.  The reason is that our government provides for us pretty well compared to others around the world.  We enjoy a peaceful existence and a freedom from violence that many other countries envy tremendously.

Our frontier traditions have instilled in us the urge to care for those whom misfortune has struck, and as the country has grown in population, we have decided that the most effective way to pool our efforts is through the government.

That is an advantage over private charity, and there is one reason why.

Control.

We cannot control, as a society, the uses private charities put our money to.  There are some legal restraints, yes, but by and large, private charities can legally put that money to whatever use they please.  Much of the time, what pleases them is to enrich themselves.

But when we give that money to the government and establish programs to distribute it or use it for caring for people who have specific problems, that money WILL be spent for that purpose.  There is, legally, no choice.  If at some point, we decide to repurpose that effort, through Congress and the President, that gets done just the way we want.

Control.  If the government is doing it, EVERYBODY gets a say in how that money is spent.

If private charity is doing it, who knows where it will go?  Only the people who run that charity have the authority to make that decision.

Which is why the Right Wing wants you to give to private charity.  Because the rich folks run them, and get rich doing that, and the Right Wing gets to decide much of where it goes, and to whom it goes.  A lot of that is based on religious charities.

They do not have the control and cannot benefit from that money if it is funneled through government programs.

So, you get the Right Wing meme that government is corrupt (which they have proven by joining it and corrupting it), inept (which they have proven by joining it and MAKING it inept), and cannot solve the country’s problems (which they have proven by joining it and making sure it cannot solve those problems.

Fuck these people and their false values!  Their every effort is to convince you and the rest of America that private enterprise is more effective than government, and that American Values are somehow based on GOD.

Both ideas are wrong, bankrupt and just plain unAmerican.

Vote Blue!  Vote Democratic this November!   Throw the bums out and lets take our government back!

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

First Amendment, redux.

I suppose most of you have heard by now about the lady in Indiana who got pulled over by a State Trooper for a traffic violation and got proselytized and handed pamphlets instead, when she "admitted" to going to church, right?

That's bad enough, but listen to what the American Family Association of Indiana has to say in the officer's defense:

“Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Asso-ciation of Indiana, said that although the traffic stop might not have been the best time to quiz someone about faith, he questioned whether a police officer should lose his right to free speech because he is wearing a badge. 
“‘I have people pass out religious material all the time. Mormons come to my door all the time, and it doesn’t offend me,’ Clark said. ‘(This case) might not be the most persuasive time to talk to someone about their faith, but I don’t think that a police officer is prohibited from doing something like that.’ ”

Take another look at the part I emphasized.

That's the part that burns me up.  I hear this shit all the time.  Every time a public servant pulls out the religion card some right wing moron pulls this crap out of his hat in defense.

It is well established in past SCOTUS rulings throughout the 20th century that when a person is acting as an agent of the government (of whatever level) he/she is not acting in his/her capacity as an individual.  That person is acting in the "person" of the State, and has the authority of the State.

That's why, when a police officer confronts you for a violation of the law, that officer has the authority to summon you to court.  That isn't the cop telling you to go to court, it's THE COURT summoning you.

And he's doing it with a gun on his hip that he is authorized to use to kill you if you endanger him or a member of the public while he is performing his job.

Read this:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,...
Now, then, think about that for a moment.  It is known as the Establishment Clause.  It means that Congress (and by virtue of the 14th amendment, that goes for State and local governments, too) cannot pass laws (or regulations) that favor a religion.  In other words, establishing an official relationship between the government and a religion.

Now, read that again:
               Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,...
Is it becoming any clearer?  A cop, or any public servant, in the course of performing his/her official duties, while acting thus as an agent of the State, cannot act in a manner consistent with the establishment of an official relationship with a religion.  Favoring a religion gives the impression of such an official relationship.

Giving out pamphlets gives the impression of such an official relationship.

Asking if someone has accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior gives the impression of such an official relationship.

Every cop is familiar with the principle of time, place and manner.  Some things are only appropriate at a certain time, or in a certain place, or in a certain manner.  That is how it is with religion.

If that cop had approached the woman on the street, in civilian clothes, and engaged her in conversation and handed her that pamphlet, she would have been free to disengage and refuse the material.  His approach would have been proper, and legal, and nobody would have any grounds to complain.

But by approaching her with those words and that material in uniform, with a traffic citation book in hand, she was NOT free to disengage.  She could not leave, and she was well advised to be in fear that had she demurred his offer of that material, she would have been awarded with a traffic citation.

No.  The officer had no right to put an innocent (or even a guilty) civilian in such a position.  Yes, his First Amendment rights get checked at the door when he puts on the uniform.

You see, there's another aspect of the First Amendment that needs to be understood here.

It applies to what is called Prior Restraint by the government on your right to speak, or to the prohibition of the government's ability to punish for past speech.

The government.  In this case, yes, his employer is the government, but because he is in an employee/employer relationship with the government agency in question, that agreement governs the relationship.  Part of the implied (and often implicit) governing rules of that relationship is the employer's right to restrict your speech while acting in its behalf.  It has the right to make you say things that are in accordance with its views and policies, and to NOT say things that are not in accordance with those views or policies.

That goes with ANY employer, private, public or government.  That's because in entering in that agreement, you do so voluntarily, by exercising your free will.  So, you are voluntarily giving up your right to speech while acting as your employer's agent.  This not a new or controversial rule.

Apparently, to the Indiana AFA, it is.


Monday, October 06, 2014

Playing Catchup!

I was just looking at the blog stats today (down, but surprisingly, not out) and realized I've not posted anything for over two months.

(Caution - Excuses ahead - if you cannot tolerate excises, lame or not, you might want to skip a paragraph or two...)

The summer was brutal - tenants moved out and we had to clean the place up, deal with contractors, etc., in preparation for putting the house on the market, which we did last month.  Every single weekend has been gobbled up by that house - and it is a bit over an hour away, so just going there is a chore.

Physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting.

Well, we've had a couple of weeks of only a single trip up there (not both weekend days) and that just to water some flowers and make sure the A/C/Heater is working properly for the weather.  The house is professionally staged, and to let the flowers wilt into an early death might spoil the affect, dontcha think?  The Cyber-wife thinks so, so we go - or at least I do...

But all this while, I've been perusing Facebook, reading the news, talking with friends, online and off, and generally trying to soak up the feelings this election cycle.

I do tend to be a bit optimistic at times, but my considered opinion is that the Republicans are screwed.  Why?  The polls are mixed.  None of the pundits agree, either with me or with each other.

President Obama is still in office, the Republicans are still livid that he is, and determined to obfuscate at every opportunity - and even when there are none.

Republicans are still spouting nonsense, some are getting arrested or investigated, and the rest are acting like either children in kindergarten or high school kids with hormonal problems.

Democrats are still divided, one or two are playing the get-arrested-for-idiocy cards like Republicans and are still failing to play political hardball to take full advantage of Republican faults - which are many.

And Pat robertson is still talking like a demented Altzeimer's patient on steroids.

In short, everybody is doubling down on what they were doing last election, including Bernie Sanders, who seems to make more sense than most of them.

So, why do I think Republicans are going to not win this election?  (Notice I said "not win", instead of "lose" this election.)

Because they pretty much didn't win the last one, and they've done nothing to change their game.  While they've attempted a bit of fluff here and there to try to reach out to women or Hispanics, none of it went far, and never was a serious attempt, so neither went anywhere.  No wonder, all their energy went towards marginalizing and shitting all over both groups.

In at least one Senate race, today, it was noted the Republican in the race, an incumbent, is down with women by 18 points.  That is not an insignificant amount, and could lose him that election.  I don't remember the State, unfortunately, and I'm too lazy to go look it up.  They didn't say if that State has a significant Hispanic population, but the media has largely ignored those fine folk unless commenting snidely about immigration.  But the number of States who do is growing by the year, and in many of them, that population is often tending towards the Democrats, and not the Republicans as in the past.

I guess that wall down along the Mexican border is finally sinking into the Hispanic consciousness.  Republicans still haven't realized that the demographics there are catching up with them, and the media ignoring them hasn't helped.

That's cool, I hope they keep it up!

Last election, I posted almost daily about the shenanigans the Republicans were getting into - ;was passing against women, pronouncements against immigration, crazy, stupid statements about rape, abortion and women, and all of the typical crap they tend to spout.

I've avoided that this year for a couple of reasons.

First, I'm sick of it.  I could, if I wanted, do that again, but then again, I'd be repeating myself.  Day in, day out, like a broken record (younger set, google that!), same old crap.

Which brings up the second reason - if you really want to read any of that, just go back in my past posts and look up the last cycle - no use writing it again, I've already done that!

In short, Republicans haven't done anything different.  Same old anti-Obama crap, anti-immigration crap, same old anti-woman crap, same old anti-abortion crap.  Maybe a bit of shallow discoloration as camouflage, a few wilted leaves here, a bare branch stuck in a cap there.  Nothing to really disguise what they are still selling.

Unadulterated conservative crap, leavened with corporate bribery and topped with the fluffy whipped cream of religion.

It is less than a month before the election, folks, and some States allow early voting beginning SOON!

GO VOTE!!!  Get off your ass and get your friends, family and neighbors out to vote - especially if they are Democrats.  Urge everybody to vote Democratic.

Everybody.

Not only can't we afford to lose the Senate, but we really need to narrow the lead of Republicans in the House.  I don't know how much good that may do now and in the next two years, but it sure will make the next election easier to take the House back when we have a better chance!

And it wouldn't hurt to change a State House or two back to Democratic control, either.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

First they came for the Socialists...

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist. 
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist. 
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew. 
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. 
Martin Niemöller

The original intent of this remark, given in speeches around Germany, was to point out that Germans—in particular leaders of German Protestant churches—had been complicit through their silence in the Nazi imprisonment, persecution, and murder of millions of people.

Today, in the United States, the Republican Party is responsible for the intensification of racial animosity against minorities - blacks and hispanics in particular - and are the cause of much of the violence against blacks now being acted out on the public stage by the growing militaristic police presence in this country.  White militia groups, openly carrying loaded weapons, now patrol the US-Mexico border against the "incursion" of hispanic children!

Recent stories in the press, such as the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and several additional instances of such violence have resulted in a growing unease in social media about not just official violence against blacks, but the increasing trend of police violence against any public dissent against that violence, regardless of the race or ethnicity of the protestors.

Additionally, numerous Stand Your Ground laws in various States have resulted in civilian violence against minorities which have allowed the perpetrators to walk away without fear of prosecution.  These laws have been promulgated by Republican legislatures over the loud and vociferous protests of Democratic and pro-gun control groups.

I am greatly troubled by these various developments.

While law enforcement violence against blacks and hispanics is nothing new, especially in the South, to see such violence pop into the public eye in places like Missouri and California is troubling, to say the least.  And to see the situation in Missouri escalate into such a state that the police turn the town into an armed camp, arresting both members of the press and a State Senator, is beginning to border on the absurd and the alarming.

I add here the recent execution of Troy Anthony Davis (October 9, 1968 – September 21, 2011), an American man convicted of and executed for the August 19, 1989, murder of police officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah, Georgia.  In spite of the recantation of numerous prosecution witnesses and the admission of guilt by another inmate, the State of Georgia went ahead with the execution.

I can add several more, indeed, four out of the top 5 wrongful executions in the US were of black men.  It is well documented that the US justice system, nationwide, is stacked against minorities.

It is an interesting phenomenon that the only groups of pro gun demonstrators "exercising" their open carry rights are white.  There are no documented cases of groups of black men so demonstrating their "right" to open carry anywhere in the United States.

I wonder why that is?

I think the situation is getting out of control.

I think the fact that it is out of control is deliberate.

Republicans have been running on a platform which asserts that the "government" doesn't work and is a burden on the American people.  They have worked very hard, using every opportunity to ensure that their assertions work out to be true, sabotaging good government at every possible turn.

They have ensured that American police departments, under the aegis of the "War on Drugs", have loaded up with as much militaristic weaponry and equipment as possible using Federal money to finance that buildup.

Their campaigns of fear and uncertainty aimed at the poorest elements of white America have stoked the fires of racial animosity and hatred in order to ensure the re-election of Republican leaders at every level of government, using State and local powers to subvert Federal laws and regulations wherever possible to foil the increasingly liberal march of American social beliefs and morals and any influence that may have on US law.

The trust and confidence of the American people in our police, in the courts, and in the prosecutors who administer our system of justice is eroding daily.  When police concentrate on blacks and hispanics, ignoring whites, and prosecutors apply different standards of justice to minorities, public trust in these institutions begins to erode.

When the courts begin to allow these other groups to violate the rights of minorities without consequence, the erosion of public trust accelerates.

Sooner or later, the people of this country will decide that they've had enough, and Republicans hope that they can cash in on that decision.

Don't let them.  Speak out!  The best way to do that is to vote.  DON'T STAY AT HOME!

This November, get out and vote.  Vote Democratic!  Toss out the Republican Party and force them to go into exile, where they can hopefully restructure their party and relearn what it is to be an American.

I think they've forgotten completely.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Negative Consequences of Believing in Superstition - Part III

This is Part III of a three part series.  (Go read Part II if you've not seen it yet!)

Politics/Law

America is in the middle of a severely dysfunctional period of political and social change.

Over the last hundred years, technology has rocketed us from the horse and buggy days to jet aircraft and rockets to the moon.  From simple telephone tech to cell phones and computers in our pockets.

A hundred years ago, information was limited to those who could read, which for the population of the US as a whole was about 90%.  In 1979, that rate was 0.6%.  The ability of people to distribute information was limited.  For a regional audience, newspapers were the norm, and was limited to what the editors would print.  A wider audience could be reached in book publication, but that was limited to what the major publishing house editors thought would sell.

Accordingly, the public picture of what was normal was limited to what people could read, and that was tightly controlled, even with what was then a fairly free press.  The abnormal was easily ignored and any contradicting speech or dissension was often swept under the rug.

Until women got angry, and began working to change things.  By 1920, the 19th amendment allowed women the right to vote after a long and contentious public debate, including protests outside the White House, often resulting in arrests.

Today, information is everywhere.  The Internet allows instant connection to just about any repository of information that has an online presence.  Many traditional repositories of information, including the Library of Congress, are rapidly digitizing their collections.

The Internet has changed communication as well.  In the early 20th century, overseas telephone calls were expensive and rare, requiring coordination by letter so both parties were available at a coordinated time.  While this got easier with time, even as late as the 1960's, calling overseas often required advance reservations of a time slot, and were still not cheap.

By the 1970-'s, with modern satellite communications systems well under construction, such calls became both cheap and easy compared to just a decade earlier.

The Internet changed all that.  Today, there are multiple methods for connecting to people, even across the globe.  Email, texting, land line calls and even cell phones can be used to connect to people instantaneously.  While the online bulletin boards of the early 90's allowed communications by text, today, with such Internet giants as Facebook and Google, communication with huge numbers of people across wide swaths of the globe are as easy as sending an email, posting to a Facebook page or setting up a web site.  Skype and FaceTime allow instant face to face communication across the globe.

Any of this can be done on a cell phone.

This communication explosion has greatly changed the character of our political discourse.  While Americans slowly and quietly moved away from devout religious observance during the course of the late 20th century, the 21st, with the advent of instant internet communication, has resulted in an explosion of secular movements and groups.  The demographic of "None" as related to religious affiliation is the fastest growing category world-wide, not merely in the US.

Many in the movement attribute this to the Internet and the ability of people of a secular point of view to see - for the first time - that they are not alone and are part of a growing and dynamic community.

The growth of secularism, from the 60's on, resulted in a backlash of religiosity, starting with the Moral Majority, and Ronald Reagan's Presidency.  This backlash has grown in political influence, spurred on by the Republican Party allying itself with the religious right in a bid for increased political influence.  Successfully, I might add.

The Religious Right (RR) has gained influence on a regional and local basis through intense local organizing and political activism.  The resulting political power thus gained has allowed the Republicans control of a substantial majority of State Houses, allowing the RR to bend the political discourse far to the right of center.

A movement known as Dominionism (of which I've written here extensively) has orchestrated much of the successful passage of laws undermining education and science, causing much social controversy and political division, especially in the area of abortion and women's reproductive health.  In many States, there is a virtual dearth of any legal means of abortion, and now the fight is being directed towards a subject everybody thought was won decades ago - contraceptives.

So, today, after decades of successful advancement of women's rights, including the right to vote, the right to divorce, including no fault provisions, the right to contraceptives and abortion, and the right own property (largely won in the 19th century), women's groups are now having to gear up and spend vast amounts of money fighting for the continued existence of rights once thought secure.

Most of this is due to religion.  Patriarchy, biblical proscriptions against women (whether real or not) and a Dominionist movement intent on converting the US from a democracy to a theocracy have all brought the American political scene to a complete and utter standstill.

RR's efforts haven't stopped there.  There is a litany of things they are working on.

abstinence-only education - Instead of medically accurate information and thoughtful conversation about intimacy and childbearing, teens get promise rings and slut shame. 
Opposing protections and rights for children.  Thanks to the influence of biblical Christianity, the U.S. stands alone with Somalia in failing to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  
Undermining science - The scientific method has also become an existential threat to Bible belief. We know now that the Genesis creation story is myth, neurotransmitters rather than demons cause mental illness, mandrake roots and dove blood don’t improve female fertility or cure skin diseases, and the cognitive structures of the human mind predispose us to certain kinds of religious belief.
Promoting war - George Bush didn’t need to seek input from his earthly father about the invasion, because he asked his Heavenly Father.  Besides, Jesus is coming soon and war in the Middle East is predicted in the Bible.  That makes it not only inevitable, but—in a manner of speaking—desirable.
Abuse of LGBT persons and refusal of equal rights - They've fought equal rights for these folks for decades, and still are, and it would be bad enough if we were simply talking about history. But homophobic American Christians, thwarted at home, have turned to inciting oppression in Uganda and Nigeria where their hatred still finds fertile ground.
Destroying Earth’s web of life and endangering future generations - Climate change denial and refusal of reasonable methods of keeping our air and water clean and unpolluted is based on biblical scripture giving man "Dominion" (there that word is again) over the earth and all its animals, as well as the believed inevitability of the Second Coming, where God will simply create a new and better Earth guarantees that the RR will refuse to assist in doing anything to protect the environment or protect future generations from the consequences of our irresponsibility today.  Add Republicans' devotion to Corporate welfare, and the die is cast.
(Thanks to Valerie Tarico at Salon.com for her ideas and some of her language.)

I guess the greatest harm in general that religion (right wing fundamentalism in particular) does to this country is through its insistence that we support Israel.  The most vile technique they use is to accuse detractors of being anti-Semitic.  Even people who have reasoned and logical arguments against that support are branded with that epithet.

I am not, in principle, opposed to Israel.  I am not even against some form of support for it.

But our foreign policy regarding Israel is held hostage by the RR for religious reasons (because of the Second Coming) and tolerates no deviation from complete and total support.  Regardless of whether American interests are harmed or even devastated by that support, they insist that we continue to support Israel, blindly and without digression.

This has resulted in anger towards the US and much hatred of us by the Muslim world, and has resulted directly in the attacks on the World Trade Center (both of them), and a continued campaign of terrorist activity against American interests.

Our responses to that have been goaded by the RR to the point that our constitutional rights are now under attack at home and US Intelligence has eroded America's reputation for even handedness and high standards of morality to the point of almost nonexistence.  The RR's toleration and indeed, insistence on, classifying water boarding and "advanced interrogation techniques" as acceptable has completely destroyed the ability of this country to hold other countries accountable for similar actions against our own citizens, resulting in the inability of the government to protect American Citizens overseas.

Even if the Progressive movement (such as it is) managed to gain political ascendancy in the next election by some miracle, it would take decades for us to regain our good reputation for being a humane and law abiding nation.  As it is, forget it.

Obviously, this examination of the negative affects of having the population of this country believe in superstitious Bronze Age beliefs is incomplete.  If I tried to classify it all, I'd have to write a series of books.  One wouldn't be enough.

But the short story is a beginning.  If the only negative affects of religious belief were what I have touched upon here, it would be bad enough to justify organizing the secularists of this country to incite political influence and action to combat it.

But it is far, far worse than this.  The struggle to overcome religiosity and its negative affects on this country will continue into the future, and may never be fully complete.  Christianity, Judaism and Islam have been here, collectively, for over three thousand or more years.  That kind of influence doesn't go away overnight; we've been fighting it since the beginning of the Renaissance in the 12th century.

Let's not allow it to make a comeback.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Negative Consequences of Believing in Superstition - Part II

This is Part II of a three part series.  (Go read Part I if you've not seen it yet!)

Sex

The subject of sex in the US is so screwed up, and it is mainly because of religion.  The system of patriarchy discussed above forces men and women into gender based roles.  While the social aspects of patriarchy are bad enough, the affects on sex and human sexuality are even worse.

As noted above, men are forced into a false and totally artificial image of "manhood", that is as false and artificial as the image of "womanhood" the ladies are forced into.  This produces mental and psychological stress and often damage that hurts the individuals, their families and their friends - often their employers as well.

Why?  Why is it damaging?

Several reasons.  (Stick with me - I'll get to LGBT issues in a bit.)

I think the most obvious is in personal confidence.  Body image, and how a person portrays him or herself sexually is extremely important in this country.  Heck, for that matter, in much of the world.  It affects our social standing, our family and how it is viewed by the larger society, and eventually, how and whether we are accepted as marriage potential.

Accordingly, we are obsessed by sex, we are obsessed with youth and the sexual aspects of it.  The secular commercial realm tells us that sex is good, it is natural and wholesome and, well, whoopee!

But...

In American society, sexual beauty and attractiveness is so skewed from the norm that millions of Americans, both men and women, suffer from severe lack of self confidence because they perceive themselves as unattractive, through failing to live up to an artificial and false vision of beauty.  No, this isn't because of religion, it is because of rampant and unregulated capitalism.

Religion, or the so-called "Judeo-Christian" or "Abrahamic" religions, especially in this country, as mentioned above, enforce a patriarchy.  A large part of that system is the second class status of women, and therefore, control over their public behavior.

Christianity especially, enforces a view of sex that restricts sex to the role of procreation within a family context.  This comes, probably, from the role of the family, or the clan, as the center of Roman life.  The individual wasn't important, the family or family group, was.  Loyalty to that group was paramount, and for women, that meant only having sex with their husband, to preserve the purity of the bloodline.  Hence the religious obsession with sex as procreation, looking down on both abortion and contraception.  One because it is an "illegal" rejection of the man's seed, and the other as rejection of a man's control over his woman.

So, religion forces us into this weird, twisted image of sex - the patriarchal picture of gender roles, mixed with the god-smacked rejection of women as full humans, subservient to men, and under their full control.

This results in our social culture allowing this culture of rape.  Men are supposed to be virile, strong and manly, which is supposed to drive women into raptures of sexual frenzy.  Women are supposed to belong to men, which means they owe us sex, and they owe us their love and devotion.  Women who reject this and refuse to go along are subjected to campaigns of hate and vitriol, threats of rape and violence.

If a guy doesn't fit that manly, virile picture, he is a failure, and is ridiculed as such.

So.

For women, you have to fit this image of womanhood that reflects the stay at home mother, homemaker, sexy wife and willing brood cow, while the larger social milieu tells you that you've got to be beautiful, sexy, and available to any guy that pinches your ass.  If you don't, you're a prude, and you'll never find a husband, especially if you are ugly.

In the meantime, religion tells you that if you DO, you are a slut, a sinner and you'll go to hell.

Guys, largely, get a pass on the religion thing because, you know, patriarchy.  Unless, of course, they aren't manly, so they're failures.  Or if they allow their wives to "hen-peck" them, they aren't following the bible, so they'll go to hell then, too.

Double-failures.

Especially if they are rejected by the ladies.  Since this isn't anticipated by the traditional patriarchal framework, guys that see themselves as manly and virile who get rejected by the ladies anyway can't comprehend that rejection.  They get mad and blame their failure on the ladies, who, of course, OWE them sex.  Severe mental pain and emotional confusion are common resulting from this condition, and has been known to generate violent reactions.

Is it any wonder that Americans are so screwed up about sex?  The true wonder is how any of us manage to grow up with normal pictures of reasonable and responsible relationships in time to have families.

But wait, I'm not finished.  Not everybody is a cis-gendered, heterosexual human being.  Some folks are homosexual.  Some folks are trans-gendered, and some are bi-sexual.  There are other categories, but I don't feel qualified to talk about them.

These traditional roles I spoke of above, as screwed up as they are, aren't the whole picture, especially since they ignore our LGBT friends.  That alone is responsible for untold misery,  family fights and estrangements.  Since these folks don't fit the "normal" categories, they have traditionally been either ignored or forced into playing roles they were not comfortable with, and often beaten or killed for refusing.  All of them are condemned by religion, and totally ignored by the patriarchal system unless they rock the boat.

The 21st century's success in this country in advancing marriage equality for homosexual couples is a remarkable story of the LGBT movement's ability to go mainstream, but is still being fought tooth and nail by the religious right.

Demographics tells us that the religious will lose this fight.

But wait!  That's not all, folks!

Let's examine some other issues, like clergy abuse of both children and adults, sexually.

Everybody knows, by now, of the Roman Catholic child abuse scandal.  The RCC has spent millions of dollars in the US alone just to make this go away.  Not much to actually stop the abuse, but surely to make it go away.

One wonders, as one examines the issue and how the RCC hierarchy responded to the scandal at first.   How prevalent IS the abuse of kids by Catholic clergy?  And how long has it been going on?

There are some clues.

First, in Ireland, we've all heard of the "laundry scandal", where unwed mothers and their children were warehoused by the Church (with complicit authority from the Irish government of the day) in homes, and were made literal slaves in big laundries.  Scorned by the Church for their sexual sins, their children were as badly treated as they were.

This broke even bigger a couple of years ago and again recently when news broke (over here) of the discovery of almost 800 graves in a hidden graveyard, with an unknown number of bodies even hidden in an old unused septic tank.  Graves going back over a hundred years.

Also in Ireland, the scandal of a few years ago of stories of child abuse and murder in Irish Catholic monasteries. possibly going back hundreds of years.  Horrific stories of terrible abuse, both corporal and sexual, often combined.

In Europe a number of decades ago, there were archeological discoveries of monasteries and cloisters, built fairly close by one another, with hidden tunnels linking the two.  The most horrific part of the discovery were chambers off that tunnel containing the graves of infants and fetuses, most of whom were probably buried hours after or before birth.

All of this is evidence of a terrible epidemic of sexual malfunction in a religious hierarchy, over a thousand years old, denied sexual release and access due to official greed, excused and justified by religious scripture.

(For those who don't know, the RCC finally outlawed marriage not for religious reasons, but to end the bleeding of "church" property through inheritance to families of clergy, especially to noble families with large estates.  With no marriage allowed, thus no heirs, their property was "inherited" by the Church.)

Don't think that only the RCC is involved, preachers of almost every Protestant denomination regularly are arrested and either fired or also charged for either child abuse or sexually predatory abuse of adults.

It's all over the place.

Not to be outdone, Islam isn't far behind, as you may have noticed in the recent re-emergence of the quote of Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini.
He says: ‘A man can have sexual pleasure from a child as young as a baby. However, he should not penetrate vaginally, but sodomising the child is acceptable. If a man does penetrate and damage the child then, he should be responsible for her subsistence all her life. This girl will not count as one of his four permanent wives and the man will not be eligible to marry the girl’s sister… It is better for a girl to marry at such a time when she would begin menstruation at her husband’s house, rather than her father’s home. Any father marrying his daughter so young will have a permanent place in heaven.’ 
Read more.
Not only is this considered child abuse, but Islam has doubled down on it and authorized it because Mohammed did it.

At least, the Muslims are honest - they'll tell you God wants this to happen.

Talking about child abuse, let's talk about masturbation, something Christianity in most of its forms doesn't like to do.  In many denominations, it is banned and called out for being sinful and of the devil.

But now, scientifically, we know that it is not only a natural urge (even infants play with themselves) but it is known to be actually good for you!  It releases hormones and endorphins that make you healthier and live longer.

Heck, we know, both from scientific study and from statistics that people who have a long term sexual relationship that is happy for both parties not only stay together longer, but also live longer.  Regardless of whether they have kids or not.

So, in summary, religion in this country (and throughout the world) twists sex and sexuality in humans to the point that millions of people are, at best, dysfunctional and at worst, mentally ill and twisted towards pedophilia and sexual predatory practices, even the clergy.

It taints our marriages, our dating practices, and inculcates a culture of rape that regularly threatens the lives and well being of over a half of all women in the United States and probably causes a significant percentage of our divorces.

It directly harms our LGBT friends through violence and intimidation, forcing them into hidden lives and damaging stress by denying them a happy and healthy lifestyle.

And because sex keeps us healthy and can help us live longer, by discouraging sex in most forms and twisting our sexual practices so badly, religion is also killing us.

Are you mad yet?

(Come back tomorrow for Part III)



Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Negative Consequences of Believing in Superstition - Part I.

I was perusing Ophelia Benson's Facebook page Saturday morning and ran across a post she put up Friday about the post on Dave Muscato's wall regarding Jaclyn Glenn's Youtube video slamming feminism and how she is disappointed - no, outraged - that AA is supporting Glenn's anti-feminism.

One of the comments (which I can't find to quote, dang it) made a comment about the negative consequences of believing in superstition.  It rang a bell with me, so here we are!

There are numerous negative things religion brings to society which many religious folks either overlook or are brainwashed into thinking they are good, mainly because they believe it's good because they're told it is, but have never actually examined the issues to see what the reality is.

But today, we're going to look at a few things.

As I see it, there are at lease three major areas in which religion (believing in a superstition) brings negative consequences to society.

  1. Patriarchy (Part I)
  2. Sex (Part II)
  3. Politics/Law (Part III)


Of course, these aren't the only things at issue, but each of these are major, affecting broad areas of society.  So, let's take them one at a time.

(This is going to be a long post, so I will post in installments.  This is the first, the others will follow tomorrow and Monday.)

Patriarchy

Patriarchy is defined as:
1.  social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line; broadly :  control by men of a disproportionately large share of power
2.  a society or institution organized according to the principles or practices of patriarchy
This sounds very clinical, and almost reasonable, doesn't it?  But what are the consequences of these things?

In the modern context of our present day political scene, the relevant part of that is about the legal dependance of women and children, though we will see other consequences of it as well.

In today's western society, especially the US, the practice of patriarchy is at least partially based on religion.  In the Republicans' "War on Women", it IS based on biblical strictures requiring men to be the head of the household, and women being denied the right to be "in charge of" men.

In other words, they are relegated to second class citizens.

Now, in the larger US society, in the last hundred or so years, we've managed to back some of that off.  Women can now own property in their own names, vote, drive cars, work outside the home (and in fact, at jobs traditionally reserved for men), and can marry (or not) according to their own wishes.

But, I am going to back things up a bit and note some negative consequences of allowing the Fundies to begin denying women those rights, as they seem to want to do - which will highlight some ways in which we have failed to progress into a more modern way of thinking about women.

First of all, think about the term "dependance" in that definition above.  Legal dependance, especially. What does that entail?  Briefly, it means a woman (or a child) has no legal rights of her own.  She has to have a male guardian who has the right to "care" for her, as a legal responsibility.

That has two consequences.  The most obvious is that she has no rights of her own.  He can pretty much force her to obey his every wish, and she has no legal recourse, unless he is neglecting her welfare.  She is, in fact, virtually his property.  In many countries, this is in fact, the case.

But wait, there's another side to it.  HE is obligated to care for her.  That means he is responsible, legally, to feed her, clothe her and provide her with shelter.  This isn't something he has a choice in, it becomes his legal obligation, for which he is liable if he fails.

What if he can't?  What if his resources aren't up to the task?  Sure, he can neglect her to her detriment, but that leaves him vulnerable to accusations of neglect which may, if his society cares, cost him.

Either way, this kind of situation isn't exactly fair to either one.  Worse for the lady, since she is the one losing rights, but if she is prevented by the social or legal rules to not be able to work, the whole family suffers.  In fact, the entire society suffers.

This is actually the worst part of the patriarchal system.  The entire society, from the individual, to the family, to the potential employer, to the city, State and the entire country, everybody suffers, both socially and economically.  To stop half of the population from working is to cut your potential GDP in half, at the very least.  Even if you only go halfway and allow women to work, but restrict them to certain jobs (and, equally, restrict men to certain jobs) you are still preventing people from working in their best way and potentially most skilled career.  The potential of people working at their best level and in a skill that they are best suited for is huge, and the frustration (for both men and women) in being prevented from doing that is as huge as the potential.  The cost of such false restrictions based on arbitrary and unnatural reasoning is perhaps not as bad as a complete ban on women working, but it is a non trivial figure.

Society suffers in other ways.  Women are, actually, as smart as men, and as capable of doing anything men can, save perhaps (on average) some jobs or tasks requiring major body strength.  (...and even there, some women exceed that standard and do quite well in those circumstances, as on the other hand, some guys fail!) In the US, after over a century of women working, there is plenty of evidence that many aspects of society are better off with the participation of women.  Corporations find that women make better organizers, deal better with adversity and are better at mediating conflict.  In politics, women (when allowed to work independently) are often better at compromise and negotiations than men.

As costs have risen in recent decades, women have been forced into the workplace, bringing in much needed resources and allowing single women to raise children alone under better economic conditions than once was allowed.

I could go on, but it is obvious from these examples (which are only a few examples of many) that were women forced back into the home, the economy of the US would take a hit that would guarantee our immediate slide into third world status.  Poverty would become, instead of merely commonplace, rampant and virtually the norm.  The middle class would be destroyed, and those in poverty would be devastated completely.

Notice that I haven't even touched on the health care aspects of women's rights, and the devastation the American family would suffer were women no longer allowed to control their reproductive rights.  In fact, the proposed restrictions on contraceptives would be devastating to not only women, but to the entire country, as it would push us back into a time where women were not capable of stopping pregnancy.  (This does, of course, include the prohibitions against abortion.)  The social consequences of this would be to push many women out of the workforce, and reinstate the social pressures against allowing women to work, with the consequences noted in the previous paragraphs.

I haven't addressed the other side of the issue, which is the damage to men a patriarchal system can and does do.

This system not only imposes restrictions on women, but imposes strict (depending on the time period and the culture involved) roles for the two different genders.  (Note here, the refusal of this system to even acknowledge the existence of the LGBT folks!)  This framework of strict roles is restrictive and limiting for both men and women.  Men may have a larger menu of choices, but they are no less prevented from crossing that line than women are.

Some women are great corporate managers.  Some are great politicians.  Some aren't.  Many men just suck at those roles, and choose to do other things, including these days, staying home to take care of the kids.  Numerous articles have been written by guys who have done this, and it is liberating for them to be able to do so.  As it is liberating for women to be able to be corporate managers.

Some guys are fantastic secretaries, or office managers, or nurses.  Men can be social workers, cooks, day care workers, pole dancers and strippers.  And they can be good at it.

Patriarchy would prevent them from doing all this, as those are not "traditional" men's jobs.

Men are forced into a false and totally artificial image of "manhood", that is as false and artificial as the image of "womanhood" the ladies are forced into.  This produces mental and psychological stress and often damage that hurts the individuals, their families and their friends - often their employers as well.

It also forces men into this culture of rape we all know so well, but I'll deal with that in the "sex" topic.

In short, patriarchy is not a system that is supportive of society, but is damaging and harmful to a society that hopes to progress into a modern, peaceful, and productive society which accords equal rights for all citizens.

In short, it is un-American, in accordance with the ideals declared by us in the Declaration of Independence.

Some of the last points I raised also apply in the next section.

Come back tomorrow for Part II!