Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What year is this, anyway?

I can't decide if I'm living in the USSR, Czarist Russia, North Korea, Medieval Europe, or some combination thereof.  Or at least in a developing something the designers can't make up their minds where they're going with it all.

It's bad enough that Dominionists have been trying to remake American History to show the US as a Christian country.  But now, Oklahoma's legislature is trying to ban AP American History and replace it with some crackpot version of a perfect Christian America.

It seems they object to the technique of learning from the past by pointing out where we went wrong so future generations won't make the same mistakes.

I can understand how seeing your most cherished values being pointed out in school as mistakes and wrong might be upsetting.  But as a past (but reformed) Republican, I can testify from personal experience that one can learn from one's past and one can move on to a better way of thinking.

It really doesn't hurt at all.  It's kind of liberating, in fact.  Oh, sure, one does get the odd pang of regret if current events smack you in the face with something you used to think was cool but was really harmful.  But I see those as reinforcing the initial lesson.  Kind of like reminders:  "See?  Weren't you stupid then?  But you're smarter now!"  In the end, they remind you that you've come a long way, baby!

But I guess some folks just can't get past it.

I can understand that, really I can.

What I can't understand is why you'd want to paint over those past mistakes by turning our lovely country into a totalitarian nightmare.  Remaking the past is something we accused the Soviets and the Maoists of doing.  You know, those dirty commies who painted out the totalitarian rulers of their countries' past and replaced them with monsters to contrast with their own "perfect" replacement?

In our case, the Dominionists want to replace the very real monsters on our own past with visions of lollypops, candy canes and unicorns farting rainbows so their kids will never question Jesus.

Probably because they want to keep making the same mistakes and call them "family values".  Or whatever.

But in so doing, they are destroying what they claim to love about our country.  Its liberty.  Its freedom.  Whatever happened to "Truth, Justice, and the American way"?  Somewhere, on the way to the forum, it got lost.  Or waylaid, or mugged or something.  Probably something, because it sure ain't what I was taught it was supposed to be when I went to school.

Nobody taught me that it was Ok to lie, cheat, and steal your way into office, and when we learned about politicians who did, it was never presented as an honorable way to act.

The one thing Conservatives always forget in their zeal to protect their way of life is that all things come to an end.  People change.  Countries change.  Societies change, often rapidly.  The one thing about American Destiny that Conservatives always are proud of (and justifiably so) is the huge number of technological changes America was responsible for in the 19th century.  We were instrumental in an extremely rapid advancement of humanity out of the horse and buggy days and the days of direct fire based energy into the 20th century where our transportation methods were advanced by hundreds of years in just a few decades, and we marched into the age of electricity almost overnight.

The problem for Conservatives is that such technological changes always - always - bring social changes as well.  Old technologies die.  Remember the old buggy whipmaker example?  As I typed that, Autocorrect wanted to change it to "chipmaker".  So old professions die, too.

A few hundred years ago, the very best swords you could ask for were made with Damascus steel.  A decade or so ago, some guys trying to relearn the old ways of the blacksmiths realized that the techniques for making Damascus steel had been lost.  Nobody knows today how those swords were made.  We have made guesses, but we don't know.  Not for sure.  We may never know for sure.

That's because we can kill people faster, better and from farther away with weapons using gunpowder.  You don't win a war by showing up with Damascus steel swords.  That's how you die.

These changes are not made in a vacuum.  The social changes that come from dying professions, new classifications of devices, better and faster ways of doing things are and have been immense and have caused the old comfortable Patriarchy to be shaken to its foundations.

Young people in America today are overwhelmingly progressive.  They accept and think little about the homosexual issues of the day and are accepting a more equal role for women in jobs, marriage, and politics.  Demographically, the old Conservative way of thinking is dying, and probably won't survive more than another decade or two.

Dominionists and Conservatives (especially the ones who are both) know this, and are doing all they can to stretch out the days before they lose power.  Education of one of their best efforts.

Unfortunately, their efforts are unAmerican and damaging to our democracy to an extreme degree.

We shouldn't really let them get away with it.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Freedom of Speech and Religion

By now, the world has had time to digest the horrific attacks on the Paris newspaper which has resulted in the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie in social media.  Twelve people dead, four of them journalists and one the founder of the paper.

Sure, the paper was known for its harsh graphic criticism of Islam in the past, and had been firebombed last fall over previous drawings of Mohammed.  But did you know that it is also known for some pretty harsh stuff criticizing ALL religions?

I want to make my stance here perfectly clear.

In EVERY case, freedom of speech trumps anyone's heartfelt beliefs, whether religious or secular.  No belief system is sacrosanct against criticism.


Not yours, not mine.

Criticism helps us grow, it points out our weaknesses, exposes our flaws.  Responding to criticism helps us sharpen our debating techniques, correct the flaws in our thinking and brings us back down to a human level, instead of existing in the clouds of our own perceived perfection.

I know, it's hard.  It often hurts.  Believe me, I am no angel when it comes to receiving criticism.

Ask my wife.  She knows!

But, really, at no time should criticism deserve a violent response.  Not a punch to the nose, not a pistol shot, not a firebomb.

Surely not a barrage of AK-47 bullets resulting in multiple deaths.

Any ideology or theology which requires, or even allows, the penalty of death for criticism neither deserves such protection nor can, obviously, tolerate it.

Our response should be to post the offending images, everywhere, spreading them as far and wide as possible, with the reason why posted prominently therewith.

Therefor, here is my contribution to that:

The Muslim world isn't sitting back silently, no matter what Fox News may want you to think. To quote:
“What have you really accomplished?” 
Yesterday you killed 12 people and freedom of expression. You say that you avenged the Prophet. You were violated because caricatures were drawn. Charlie Hebdo had a circulation of 50,000. You changed this yesterday. Those caricatures you thought were worth killing for, so that no one would ever again dare to caricature our prophet? Those cartoons had a circulation of 500 million yesterday. At the very least.
Newspapers worldwide have the cartoons on the front pagte today, online, on paper. Millions have changed their profile picture to a caricature of Muhammad . You said “Charlie Hebdo is dead.” The world responded by saying “Je suis Charlie,” “I’m Charlie.” You’ve made ​​Charlie Hebdo immortal. And freedom of speech has reemerged stronger than ever. And did you know that many Muslims, who in 2005 and 2006 were hurt and depressed over the Mohammed cartoons, yesterday wrote that they have changed their minds? They say that the killing of the defenseless is a far greater insult against Muslims than caricatures will ever be. They say: “Draw, draw, draw.” This is what you have achieved.
It's called the Streisand Effect, folks.  Try to suppress something today, especially on the Internet, and that WILL backfire.  So many more people will hear about it, you'll be sorry.

Instead of loading that AK-47, try sitting down and looking at yourself.  There is a reason millions of your co-religionists are also lambasting you on various Arab TV networks, including Al Jazerra.  Engage them, talk to them, learn from them.

By shooting your critics, you merely multiply them.  You hurt your cause, you do not help it.


Changing course a bit here, and bringing up the criticism some have brought up against those who are pursuing what they claim is "Islamaphobia", I will only say this:

The suffix -phobia is intended to indicate a fear of something.  I do not "fear" Islam.  I abhor it and all religions.  Religion condones, teaches, and advances non-critical thinking, subjection to unquestioned authority and adherence to non-scientific, superstitious beliefs which do not advance our knowledge of the material world.  Such beliefs cause us to advance solutions to problems which do not exist and stop us from pursuing solutions to real problems.

This has real and extremely harmful consequences to real people, billions of them, worldwide, which deserves the full and most scathing criticism and/or satire possible.  Wherever we can, however we can.

Harmful theologies, as with harmful ideologies, deserve no respite from criticism, nor protection from satire.

If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The True Genius of Steve Jobs

Today's topic has nothing to do with religion - unless you see the popularity of Apple, Inc. as being somewhat akin to a religion.

Which for some, of course, it is.

One of the biggest disappointments - regarding Apple - of the decade, was the death of Steve Jobs.  Millions of us were dismayed that such a genius could be so stupid as to fail to use his significant fortune to get the best medical care possible, and instead allow quack science to delay that treatment to the point that a very treatable cancer could kill him.  Goes to show that genius has its limitations.

Since then, Apple, Inc. has been watched closely by both detractors and investors with one question in mind. Could Apple repeat its success after the death of its genius founder?  Steve Jobs was seen as the architect of that success - the man whose vision informed and pushed for the creation of some truly world changing devices - devices that have reworked our world into patterns that were comic book sci-fi just decades ago.

Now, lots of words - billions, probably, have been written about this, many of them by people smarter or more educated than I in business and psychology.  I am not under the mistaken impression that I am unique or smarter than any of these folks.  But I have been watching Apple for over twenty years, and I've got some observations about that company that many have not noticed.

So I wonder sometimes.  Most of the articles I have read about Jobs focus on his product genius.  The creation of the products Apple has released and his part in that creation.  How he pushed people to and beyond their limits in making things they never could have imagined they'd produce otherwise.  Products that have been attributed to that genius.

Then, this morning, I read a VERY short article in which the author had been asked one question:  What was the most surprising thing about 2014 to you?

His answer:  Apple has survived, and even thrived, after Jobs' death.

I'm sorry, but my response?


I've never seen such a stupid, uninformed, pitiful excuse for an answer - EVER.

So, you ask me, what WAS Jobs' true genius, genius?

It wasn't in making insanely great products, although he was pretty darn good at it.

His real genius was in building the company he built.  He built a company that has survived his death and in fact, is STILL turing out insanely great products.  Without his guidance, apparently.

I say "apparently", because that guidance is really still there.  His genius was in institutionalizing that vision.  Building teams of people and infusing in those teams the vision of how to make insanely great products.

Thats why they made such great products when he was alive - HE didn't make them, his company did - because he infused his vision and his methods into the teams and the people who made them work.  It is the people - the employees - of Apple, who made the products - who designed them, tested them, redesigned them, retested them until they met the insanely tight and high standards Steve helped them set for themselves and their output.

That company - those teams - are Apple, Inc.  As long as management at Apple continues to follow that vision and maintains the institutionalized vision Steve Jobs gave them, they will continue to make insanely great products.  At least until economic or cultural conditions change that challenge Apple's management to alter that vision in order to keep up.

Then we'll see if that vision stands up.  If Apple's management at the time is flexible enough to see whatever handwriting is on the wall at the time.

But for now, continue looking to Apple, Inc. to continue to make insanely great products - it is what Steve Jobs built that company to do.

Thanks, Steve.

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


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!


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?


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.


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.


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!)


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 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.