Friday, June 29, 2012

"Armed Rebellion"? Really? Why aren't these guys in Federal prison?

Ok, this is just insane.  (I know, I know, I've used that phrase enough, it's like the kid crying "wolf"!  But, damn it, read on!)

The Chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party, in the wake of the ACA (ObamaCare) SCOTUS decision, has called for the overthrow of the US Government.  Additionally, Matthew Davis, an attorney and former Michigan Republican Party spokesman, wrote yesterday that citizens might be justified taking up armed rebellion.

Armed rebellion.  Pardon my French, but armed fucking rebellion?  Do you see why I use the term "insane"?  I am not one to denigrate the purpose of the Founder's giving us arms in the Second Amendment, and do believe that their first thoughts were just that - intended to give us the ability to resist an oppressive government.

But, damn it, having a black President who is forced, politically, to support and sign right wing goddam legislation is not by any stretch of a sane person's imagination, an oppressive government.  You don't have the right to rebel against the Federal government by the use of arms just because you don't like the President's skin color!

Why the hell these guys aren't rotting away in a Federal prison for high treason boggles the mind.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What’s all this talk about marriage?

Marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready for an institution.
Mae West
Marriage is a mistake every man should make.
George Jessel
Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?
Groucho Marx
Marriage is a wonderful invention: then again, so is a bicycle repair kit.
Billy Connolly
Marriage is an adventure, like going to war.
Gilbert K. Chesterton
Marriage is an alliance entered into by a man who can't sleep with the window shut, and a woman who can't sleep with the window open.
George Bernard Shaw
Marriage is an attempt to solve problems together which you didn't even have when you were on your own.
Eddie Cantor

Everybody, it seems, has something to say about marriage.  The traditional jokes abound, satirizing the stereotype of the bumbling husband, miserable under the thumb of the henpecking wife, and the overbearing shrew herself.  They illustrate the supposed misery of marriage, the agony of divorce and the poor, broke ex-husband, eating beans and bread after his ex-wife has soaked him for all he was worth.
So, yeah.  Then why do the fundamentalists insist that marriage is forever?  The Catholic church has, for centuries, insisted that “what god has joined together, let no man put asunder” - yet, an annulment, even if somewhat faked, isn’t hard to get with the right “donation”, at least if you’re rich, it is told.
Which is it?  Untold, lifelong misery?  Or a god-given, divinely inspired, holy bonding?  Or, maybe, just maybe, something in between - or just completely different.
Let’s explore this.  
Define marriage.  Webster’s says it is, first:  
The state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law.
Wow, that’s pretty simple, isn’t it?  The good old, traditional definition.  But what does “united” mean?  How? Joined at the hip?  Tied at the waist?  Is this some magic spell cast on the couple that joins their souls forever in some arcane, godly manner?
Some say it is religious.  But the Catholic church only recognized it as a sacrament since about the 10th or 12th century, I forget which.  It wasn’t always considered a holy bond.
So, how did people get married before the RCC “legitimized” bonding men and women together for eternity?  Traditions varied.  Even in the early US, before there were churches on every corner, in some parts of the Appalachians, jumping over a broom sufficed until a "real" preacher drifted through.
So, what is so magic about it that the fundies have to rant and rave over the idea that some people want to “get married” yet are of the same sex?  Is it so unbreakable?  (Can’t be - the divorce rate for fundies is almost twice the rate of the general population)  Is it so blissful?  Again, not if that divorce rate is so high.
I’ll tell you what I think it is.  Traditionally, in the minds of those fundies, to live together, you had to be married.  Shacking up was sinful.  (Never mind that every State in the union has common law marriage rules, shacking up was sinful, daggone it!)  But that no longer applies.  People today, from teenagers to old agers live together, happily shacking up, pooling their resources to save money. Some of them are intimate, some of them aren’t so much, but they’re doing it at a higher and higher rate, so much so that the marriage rate of the general population is down.  Seriously down, so much that it worries those fundies.
So, what is the “magic”?
It’s the law.  “Married” couples have rights and privileges that unmarried folks don’t.  Income tax, inheritance rules, hospital visitation rights, end of life decisions, etc., all are easier if you are “married”. It’s also because it’s harder to get UN-married than just moving out.  Even so, divorce, once unobtainable, then merely extremely difficult to get, is now fairly easy in many States, now that “no-fault” laws are on the books in more and more places.
But, what if that were no longer the case?  Do we really need special rules favoring “married” couples?  Should the State really be in the business of defining marriage?
What if we substituted a different system?  One that featured “marriage contracts”?  You could have the basic, traditional marriage between two people, obligating each to being faithful, sexually and emotionally, with defined expectations regarding finances, child-rearing, real property ownership and sharing, inheritance and divorce, with clearly defined clauses regarding each partners’ role, obligations and rights.
One could have a more complex contract, designed for multiple partners of either sex, with similarly defined expectations, obligations and rights, with additional clauses regarding bringing new partners into the relationship contract.  This could be as simple or as complex as one wished, dissolving the marriage upon various events, mutual agreement, or even upon a future date, limiting it to a specified period.  Or it could be a very complex vehicle, essentially making that marriage immortal, as new parters are introduced and older ones die off.
Such a marriage contract was envisioned by Robert Heinlein in his famous novel,
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and also in the novel Friday.  Partners would come and go, be accepted into the marriage or, as in Friday, expelled summarily and quietly paid off.
Other models would be possible, allowing all sorts of different expectations regarding sexual mores and restrictions which would codify a much more lenient set of values from ours today.  The sky, literally, would be the limit!
In such a system, the State would be involved much as it is now in the realm of contract law, registering contracts and enforcing settlements derived from disagreements over one thing or another.  Divorce, as such would no longer exist, but would be a matter of how the contract you signed defined it’s dissolution and the obligations of each partner depending on the circumstances of that dissolution.
In other words, the State would simply make and enforce the rules of “marriage” similarly to how contracts are defined and enforced today.  Simple, easy, and no discrimination based on bogus racial or sexual boundaries.  Just what each set of partners desire in a future relationship.
And, of course, since minors can’t legally enter into contracts, they couldn’t marry, either.  So, any worries over the past polygamists’ practices of forcing minors into marriage with older men would not only be prohibited (as it is now) with the force of law behind it, but would be more widely frowned upon, since polygamous marriages could be legally entered into with adults of legal age.  When a thing is outlawed, it becomes unregulated, forcing it underground, which automatically introduces all sorts of unsavory practices, like the sexual abuse of minors.
With legalization, regulation becomes possible, nay, inevitable.
I strongly believe that some forms of marriage like those above will someday be widely practiced.  The legalization of “gay marriage” is just cracking the door a bit, once us old fogies die off, the next few generations will change the entire idea of how we see human relationships.
It can’t come too soon for me.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Catholic Insanity - another level higher

Today, the news broke, first in Britain and then here, that the RCC has issued strict new "rules" allowing church leaders to excommunicate and even defrock priests who are guilty of abusing children, for the first time making it a quick and easy reaction, as opposed to past cases, where the cases had to go up the ladder on a case by case basis for resolution.  Not bad, on the face of it, right?

But (and that's a BIG but), hold yer horses, pardner!  There's more to come!

The other side of that coin is that the same document also created rules to the affect that the ordination of women is just as "grave" a "crime", meriting the same punishments - for both the woman AND the priest who ordained her!

Now, I ask you, what kind of moron equates elevating women to higher positions within an organization as being as great a "crime" as child abuse? Come on, it's bad enough to use the word "crime" in the same breath with ordination of women, but to label it as a "grave crime", is just beyond the pale.

Of course, now one can cue the jokes regarding the church moving bishops ordaining women around the country in 3..2..1...

No, not funny.  Not funny at all.  Taken together with the Republican Party's activist exploits against women and their reproductive rights, this is truly heralding a "war on women", for real, on the part of the far right wing.  Make no mistake about it, if the right wing wins this election in November, you ladies are well and truly screwed, pants and all.  You'll have to wait for a new generation to take over and backtrack all of this, one stupid law at a time.  It'll take decades.  In the meantime, women will die as a result of all of the misogynistic laws putting women's reproductive rights back hundreds of years.  Look for further restrictions after that, ultimately resulting in all of you ladies losing your jobs and having to go back home.

Yep, even you unmarried ones.  You'll have find some accommodating guy to marry who will hopefully be able to provide enough for you and your child to keep you (and him) off the streets.  Good luck with that.

Read all about it, from Britain and from ABC News.

So, now, I only have one question to ask the Catholic women out there:  What ever could there be that would keep you continuing to support this evil misogynistic, child abusing organization of out of touch men?

I really want to know.  How can any woman, self-respecting, honest and smart, know this about the church you probably grew up with and still be able to donate money to it?  How can you look your local priest in the eye while betraying what you know are values contrary to the values you were brought up with?  Don't tell me that it is consistent with past teachings, you and I both know that a majority of Catholics in this country don't agree with this position of the church.  We all know that bringing in women would solve - overnight - the problems the church has had with finding qualified priests, as well as repair relations with fully half of its membership!

Don't just read this and go back to Facebook to post - post it here first then copy of to Facebook.  I'd like to get a conversation going on this. I am truly curious.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Genealogy! Family skeletons! (or at least old pictures...)

Sorry about the hiatus, folks, but i’ve been doing some family genealogy research.  I’ve been at it for a lot of years.  Oddly enough, a visit from a Mormon young lady to our neighborhood introduced us to it, as she explained their beliefs in family and afterlife.  That part didn’t interest me much, but the discovery that they had information from around the world on births, deaths, marriages, etc., was a wonderful thing!  she got me copies of their genealogy forms, which I started with, and still have to this day.  
As with most American families, ours is an amalgam of different cultures and heritages throughout Europe.
We’ve got family from Germany, Scotland, Ireland and probably England, too.  Peru is in the mix, and there are undoubtedly additional countries that have been brought in by marriage in recent generations I’ve not been made aware of (HINT, HINT! to the younger generation of my family, if you are reading this!).
We’ve got folks who have been cowboys, newspaper printers, lumberyard owners, soldiers, restaurant owners, engineers, and my grandfather died of injuries he sustained on his own oil well.
Each of you has his/her own story to add to the family history, but I can’t do it all.  I may or may not have the chance in the future to do further research, but I can distribute what I have to all of the family so it doesn’t get lost.  Hopefully, someone else will get interested and continue my efforts.  I hope so, because there is a lot to tell, both about the past, and about the present.
My efforts recently have borne some amazing fruit.  I’ve been able to trace one line in Germany back to the 17th century, and a similar line (from a wife of a man in that line) may go back as far.  So, we’ve got information on family for as many as eleven generations, including the current crop of little Eckenrodes my daughter has going.
Not bad for an amateur.

Monday, June 18, 2012

What is the root of political violence?

As one peruses the history books, looking through the collected volumes of man’s past, one finds a clear pattern.  Violence.  Raw, unmitigated, violence.  Sometimes, it is army against army, sometimes it is an army against a civilian population, sometimes, it is tribe against tribe, family against family or clan against clan.  Often, one sees individual violence done for political purposes.

Swords, axes, pikes, lances, knives, cudgels, and a thousand other implements of death, morphed into rifles, pistols, rocket propelled grenades, fighter aircraft, helicopters, bombers and atomic bombs.  The more technologically advanced we’ve gotten, the more people we can kill at once.  There was a time when people had to be killed one at a time - you needed strong, muscular fighters trained from childhood to wield the heavy, edged, pointed and blunt weapons of yore, and they needed to be largely within arm’s reach to do it, unless you count the archers and pikers.

Today?  Any 18 year old kid with an automatic weapon can kill a dozen men older, stronger and wiser then himself with a twitch of his finger and a bit of practice in keeping the weapon trained downrange - or can push a button launching a guided missile designed to kill hundreds of civilians thousands of miles away.

In our history, most of the violence has been for political purposes.  To either take resources, change leadership, force ideology or religion on others or just to eliminate a threat you are afraid of.  Most governments in the past have had one thing in common - succession plans were either non-existent, or really necessary, since leadership changed, sometimes drastically, if the head man died.  Often, those plans failed anyway, since the killers were members of a different clan, tribe, family or nation.  The goal was the same - put someone else in charge, most often, yourself.

In recent centuries, mankind has gravitated towards forms of governments that tend to soften the need for violence, by cementing in place a form of government that eliminates the problem of replacing the head guy at death sparking civil war - democratic forms with legal systems of laws that cement that succession so that another member of the head guy’s political party takes over - thus smoothing over the transition by ensuring that many policies of the dead guy remain in place.  This eliminates one goal of the killers - changing leaders to change policies, as well as the plan to replace the dead guy with your own candidate.  Not to say that there still aren’t other reasons to assassinate a leader.  Lots of people think the mob killed JFK and his brother, because of their “war” on the mob.  If so, that tactic failed, too.  The US government not only kept that war going, but intensified it, and by the 70’s, had largely put the major crime families out of business. (only to be replaced by drug lords, but, hey, any power vacuum is begging to be filled…)  That illustrates the value of modern bureaucratic organizations, which have policies that can survive the demise or resignation of the head honcho.  The age old tactic of the mob in killing its enemies to stop threats against them don’t work when your opposition has more people than you’ve got bullets.

So, does this mean that violence is a thing of the past?  No, but it does mean that as mankind modernizes its political systems, we can eliminate some major causes of mass violence.  It is time that we got together and started outlawing dictatorships.

The world has that power, it just has to muster the courage to use it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What it means to be a humanist

Humanism means a lot of different things to different people, it isn't one of those tightly defined terms.  Not yet, anyway! But to me, it means basing my ethical and moral belief systems on being human, on how my actions affect me, my family, my community, nation and the rest of humanity.  One assumes, as someone who was raised in a christian based belief system, that morality and ethics come from some objective, unchanging source.  Many christians find it hard to believe that a person with no religious belief can even be moral, that such a person would tend towards selfishness and greed to the detriment of those around them. Why?  Why is it that christians have this picture of the godless? 

Perhaps it has to do with what they are taught as christians.  The bible teaches that humans are sinful.  Not just some, but all of us.  This sin requires us to be "saved", in the parlance of theology.  Although some christian sects have some version of predestination in mind, saying that you are saved through god's grace and not good works, most christians insist that your status in the afterlife they call heaven requires some form of being good and obeying god's will and commandments as a prerequisite, or that you've begged his forgiveness, which is always granted.  That's what I am addressing here.

 Do you see the problem yet? 

The afterlife is all about YOU.  The way to get there is all about how YOU act and surrender yourself to him in order to win entry to heaven for YOU.  Nothing is said about your family, children, uncles, aunts, grandparents or neighbors.  Your country is ignored, as is the entire human race.  Yes, the method of winning entry requires some measure of being good to your fellow man, but since there is a big fat get-out-of-jail-free card in the fact of christ's forgiveness, where is the incentive?  There is none.  The entire thing is set up to appeal to people's selfish nature.  Robert Heinlein has a cynical quote:

 "Never appeal to a man's better nature - he may not have one, better appeal to his self interest, it is more reliable." 

How does this differ from the Humanist viewpoint?  How does one move from this self-centric model our society encourages to a more broad based model which gives much more weight to the interests of one's family, community and the wider society?

 Doing it better.

 First, one needs to simply drop the need for selfishness in favor of a more socially centric ideal, where your well being is better served by a better connection with that wider circle and a closer connection to the wider world.

 How does that work?  Well, look for a moment at the environment.  Christian teachings often lead them into a state of not worrying about the environment, either because they think god will take care of it or since he's coming back soon, he'll just fix what's wrong as part of building us a new world.  There is a part of christianity which takes seriously the biblical admonition to be a good steward, but it is a minority.  Most christians either think god will take care of it somehow or just don't let themselves worry about it. But, as a humanist, you realize that there isn't a god to "take care of it", or fix it at some nebulous point in the future.  If anybody will, it has to be us.  You know and see how pollution poisons not just the wild environment, but how it sickens humans and costs us uncountable resources in lost productivity and lost lives.  The fact that there isn't another life after this one brings home the realization that those who are sickened have their lives here and now, the only life they will ever have, made worse and often ruined, by this pollution.  You realize that unless we, as a society, do something, it won't stop, and lives will continue to be ruined, if not lost, as a result. You realize that, in a larger picture, the fact that we all have only that one life, changes the entire way we look at how we approach virtually everything we do. 

Christianity is selfish, and teaches us that we must act in certain ways to protect our life which will last for eternity.  Humanism realizes that the only life we will ever have is short, limited in scope and when it is gone, it is gone.   We know, from recent research and past clinical medical experience, that the brain is the seat of our personality. 

The brain is a physical construct, made of specialized cells which hold memory, process information, control our bodies and hold the basic building blocks of who we are.  As that brain is deprived of oxygen, it experiences damage, until at three minutes, it begins to have sustained enough damage to limit its ability to operate normally after resuscitation.  Give it enough time beyond that, and consciousness may not be possible, until it reaches the point where it just dies.  At some point in this process, that part of the brain which houses you, as an entity, sustains enough damage that your essence is just gone, even if the larger organism survives with technical assistance.  We know this, it is no longer a mystery.  We know the process, we know how it happens, why it happens and can sometimes treat people with brain damage to help them relearn things like walking, talking and such.

 But we can't bring back memory, and once your essential personality is gone, you are dead.  So, where's the soul?  If one had a soul, the personality would not sustain damage which could destroy it.  The brain would, logically, be able to simply "relearn" that personality and relocate its memories to another, undamaged location.  We know the brain can do this for bodily functions, so why couldn't it do this for the soul, which one would assume is a much more basic part of what makes us what we are? 

But it can't, so we must assume there is no soul, since there isn't any evidence of one. So, when the brain dies, you die.  End of story.  This life is the only one you get, one to a customer.

 Dang, that's heavy!  The implications are huge!  There's no afterlife, no heaven, no hell.  So, why bother to worry about what happens when you are gone?  Try thinking about family.  …about your community or your country.  Those are things we should be working to make better while we are here, for our and our family's benefit, right?  Doesn't it feel good to ensure continuity?  To ensure that those who come after will have the same or better benefits you did?  Working with others is a rewarding experience, and can make you feel better about yourself and can raise your status within that community, so we can see a little bit of that self interest at work here, too, but it isn't so selfish.  It is community based, and changes the focus.

We aren't doing it because it'll get us into heaven, but because it is the right thing to do. Suddenly, the environment is important!  Global warming becomes a threat to the future of our children and grandchildren, in this life, and with no magic savior to make it right, it is up to us to fix it.  Us, not the kids. Suddenly, we realize that when someone dies, they are gone.  Finis.  Forever.  That's a long time. 

It changes how we look at death and how we look at such things as violence and sickness and making products better so they don't sicken and kill or maim, since when you ruin someone's life, it is irreparable!  They don't get another chance in heaven, cause you just ruined the only one they've got.  It changes how we look at crime, and punishment.  We can see how it would be better to deal with the causes of crime, so we don't have to ruin people's lives locking them up behind bars. The list goes on and on, and I'll leave the exercise to you from here.

The point is that as a humanist, you care about humanity, not yourself so much.  The focus of the ethics is on the community, not the person.

 And that changes everything.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Nice shop ya got here neighbor!

Be a shame if it burned.  All that nice stuff ya got....just...gone.  Oh, did I mention? We've got a real nice fire protection plan... Everybody's familiar with the stereotypical extortion scam made famous by movies about the mafia.  Gangster comes into a neighborhood shop, makes the pitch, get thrown out, shop then burns down that night.  The rest of the neighborhood shop owners get the message, pay up.  Pretty clear message, huh? But there's another scam that makes that one look like it comes from a bunch of pikers. It goes like this: "Nice life ya got here, dude.  But there's a problem, the man upstairs, you know, the guy who made you?  He wants your endless worship and attention. (not to mention 10% of your income)  If he doesn't get it, he's going to burn your ass in hell for eternity.  If he does, you get to go to heaven and be with him instead. Sound similar?  It is, it's the same gig.  Nice shop ya got here, up or go to hell for the rest of forever.  Cause I loves ya!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Haven't I seen this somewhere before?

Here are the lyrics for the song, "For What it's Worth"", by Buffalo Springfield:

There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
I think it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away
We better stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, now, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Look it over, I don't think the warning is any less appropriate today, do you?

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Sometimes, even good intentions are clueless

Today, PZ Meyer wrote an awesome post.  In it, he said some things about the atheist movement and issues that have cropped up regarding women, minorities and other groups which are often discriminated against such as the LGBT community where many in those groups have felt left out of this movement, to say the least.
Basically, his message is that if those of us who are actively trying to promote a non-theist community really are serious about opposing the deleterious affects of theism and the theocratic movement in this country or indeed, the world, 
we won’t achieve that by telling women and people of color that they need to adopt our priorities to fit in; we need to recognize that social justice, equality, and fighting economic disparities must also be a significant part of our purpose.
He goes on to say,
Using our white male position of power to tell others that they must adapt to us to fit in actually is an example of the logic of white supremacy, offensive as that sounds…even if we mean well, intent does not override the fact of what we do.

And the beginning of wisdom is to wake up and notice.
The second step is to try and change it.
And then it’s a long, long march afterwards.
I don’t want to try and steal his thunder here (I couldn’t if I tried) so I won’t belabor what he said except to tell you to go and read his post.  It is a wonderful eye-opening look into how a white male (like me) must begin to see himself as he is and how he is wrong before he can truly begin poking at the other guy’s eye.
So, go!  Read it, now!   I’ve even provided another handy link for you!  But I want his post in your mind before you come back here.  I'll wait.

Finished?  Good, read on.
So here’s my own spin on it.
Like PZ, I am a white male.  I grew up in Texas, where white males have a special place in heaven.  I’ve got a college education, a good, senior government job I’ve worked at for over 38 years and a salary to match that privilege.  In short, like PZ, I’ve got absolutely nothing to kick about.  Well, ok, I’ve got this handicap where I don’t quite fit the “P” part of the WASP thing, but, seriously, it’s never really affected me in a major way.  I live in Maryland, if that helps explain it.
Like PZ, it takes effort to stop, take notice and realize that I’m not being deliberately biased or racist - but I am often acting in that “institutionally” biased way PZ was talking about.  I have to stop and realize that there are issues and problems that I’ve never experienced because I’ve never been exposed to them, so I have no clue that they even exist.
That isn’t easy.  As a matter of fact, until he wrote about it, I’d not seriously even looked at it in quite that way before.  Now that I’ve read his post, it’s damn uncomfortable.
I’ve always thought of myself as an inclusive kind of fella, at least once I married a girl from another country and realized that America wasn’t all there is.  But I now see that it has been a journey, and a long one at that.  It isn’t finished, either.
It has just started.
I genuinely like people.  All sorts.  Tall, short, skinny, fat, black, white, brown and whatever other colors there may be, male, female, transgender or bi.  Living in Maryland has helped there, because I’ve been exposed to a lot of folks I’d never have known if I’d stayed in Texas.  It’s been an interesting experience, and I’ve found that most people are just that - people.
...and that’s my problem.
I have this tendency to see other people as just another person and have tried for so long to think of all sorts of folks as “just another human being”, that I’ve overlooked one of the most important things about those “other” people:  by being different, their experiences are different, giving them a different perspective on life and what the problems a secular, humanist and atheistic community should be worried about.
In other words, “it ain’t just about me.”
So, here’s what I’d like for you, my dear readers, to do for me.  If you are one of “those” folks with a different life experience, and you don’t see me talking about or linking to places that talk about things that you know are important in order to make you want to join our efforts in building a secular, humanist centered community, tell me about it!
Please.  Just tell me.  I am all ears, and really want to learn, because if our community doesn’t talk about and work to correct problems that affect you, we can’t expect you to care about ours.  This has to be a two way street, where all of us care about each other and work for the common good.  Together we can be stronger.  Divided, of course, we remain, well, divided and weak.  
If we want you to join us, we have to be willing to join you.
Final note:
Please, understand that I am not trying to limit the definition of “other”, above.  I mean to include women, transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual, all ethnic groups, races, nationalities and whatever other definition that helps to separate us into differing segments of humanity, including economic strata.  Every viewpoint is valuable, every opinion counts.
Oh, and if you think this is an important topic, link to it on Facebook or Twitter!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Monarchy, who needs it?

In the chronicles of the United States, as seen by future historians, it will be most vociferously argued as to why the very Republican US seemed to have had a puzzling yet very strong love affair with the British Monarchy.

We romanticize it in books, in movies and in popular culture.  Every little girl is supposed to dream of being a Princess with a dreamy Prince Charming riding in to save the day and carry her off as the prize.

(Sound of screeching tires and screeching brakes)  Hold it, hold it!  What the heck are we doing?  He's supposed to carry her off as a prize?  Are we back to that shit again?  I thought we just fought for women's rights?

And how about that hereditary ruler crap?  Or the Divine Right of Kings?  Do we really admire the fact that the British have a Queen who is the hereditary head of the Church Of England?  Really?

So, really, what is a noble?  Where did the concept of "nobility" come from?

So, go see Wikipedia and look it up.  You'll see lots of high faulting' stuff about high social class and so forth, but the reality is, they are the descendants of the biggest baddest thugs around.  Warlords, mostly, because that's what it took to hold onto land and territory and capture the loyalty of the folks who lived there.  Big strong arms, long swords and heavy armor.  Not so much on brains, though.  That came later.

Much later.

Today, what do they provide the societies they "rule"?  For that matter, none of them really "rule" at all!  Figureheads, for "tradition's" sake.  Just about the only place a noble really rules is that little principality Monaco down around France, and even he's got Constitutional Monarchy status.

Lots of pomp and ceremony, high society balls and goings on, fancy marriages and funerals, all to "celebrate" the "tradition" of autocracy in which you, me and all the other little people would have been serfs or worse, bound to some feudal lord or, in some places, to the land, for life.

Did you know that in some places, the local lord had first shot at the virgin bride on the wedding night?  Yep.  For that matter, had some big rich lord patted some poor kid on the butt and led her into the bushes, who was she to say no, or cry rape?

No, the feudal system is dead, and the "nobility" we so fawn over today are a poor shadow of their former selves, strutting about in their wealthy homes, yachts, fancy duds and cars, pretending to be someone important.  While all they really do is provide fodder for the National Inquirer and the British equivalent so the rest of us can sigh and wish we, too were rich and famous.

No, thanks.  I've got a job I love, the bills are paid, my family is raised and living their own lives and I and the cyberwife are happy in our suburban lives without the irritation of scads of bothersome photographers.

Goodbye and good riddance, say I.

R.I.P. Ray Bradbury!

At the age of 91, Ray Bradbury has followed Robert Heinlein into the great Sci-Fi mag in the sky, where editors never screw with your book titles, smile and nod at the wisdom of your writing and the royalty checks are never late.

I read his books a bit later, somewhat after the early juvenile period of my reading life, was mesmerized by Fahrenheit 451, never quite got the Martian Chronicles, but enjoyed the Illustrated Man.

Go read the Washington Post's column by Alexandra Petri.  It is worth the read.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Oh, woe is us! (Or them, whichever)

Ok, all you rubes out there who like to smack Texas around as one of the most ignorant of States, it’s time to sit back and eat your words!
As any loyal Texan knows, Louisiana is much worse, and as a Texan with Louisiana roots, I can say that with a straight face!
What’s the problem?  Education, wouldn’t ya know it?  If those poor Cajuns weren’t in bad enough straits just bein’ Cajun and all, the local Republicans are going to go and kill off what little remains of the public education system in that poor, benighted State!
Vouchers!  Vouchers for $120 of State money, which will reduce the local public school’s portion of State money by at least that much.  Of course, who will get the lion’s share of that largess?  Religious schools, of course, that bein’ Louisiana dontchaknow?
Sein’ as how those poor rubes doin’ the scalpin’ of the public schools and all are probably the products of those schools, they’ve yet to figure out that Islamic schools will qualify for that money too.
Oh, the horror when they figure that one out!


Monday, June 04, 2012

Sorry, I've been sick!

Sorry about no posts, but I've gotten this stupid sinus infection again.  Maybe tomorrow!

In the meantime, enjoy these photos of an antique fire truck in Brunswick, MD!

Friday, June 01, 2012

Why do we criticize moderate christian beliefs?

This question keeps coming up.  Not just with me, but is asked in other venues and other blogs.  I know other bloggers have dealt with this before me, and a lot of them are probably a lot better writers than I, but, here goes.
One wor… ok, two words:
Cherry pickers!
“Let’s see what we can find in this book!  Ok, that’s nice, I can deal with that.  Nope, that one’s illegal.  Oh, this one’s great, and the next one after that is just peachy!  Uh oh, gotta ditch the whole next chapter, it just makes me ill.”
Take a look at that for a minute.  Yep, it’s a bit hyperbolic and overdone, and no, very few christians probably go through the bible and process it like that.  But it illustrates my point.  It is the process that takes place, albeit silently and in the back of your mind - or would, if many christians would actually read the bible instead of just reading the weekly suggestion from the pastor or the Sunday School teacher.
The American religious scene is a widely varied one.  It goes from the very liberal to the very fundamentalist and even the crazy nutters like the guy who got snake bit and died the other day.  So, with so many convenient targets of the crazy and the insanely flipped, why target the moderates?
Because they legitimize the nutcases.  No they don’t agree with them.  Not at all, as a matter of fact, and they think that’s the end of it.  But it isn’t.  It isn’t, because at the very most basic level, they do agree on the essentials: Jesus Christ died for your sins, ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God.
Now there is plenty of disagreement over the details.  Was he born of a virgin?  Were there really three wise men?  Or shepherds?  What was his essential nature?  God?  God-man?  Only man?  There are a thousand different bible verses that seem to say one thing, but can be interpreted in others, often many others.  
But, wait!
Another thing most christians agree on is the fact that the bible is the word of god.  Again, there is disagreement, because there are many differences of opinion over just how much can be taken literally.  Some?  All?  Where does one draw the line?
Ah!  That is the real crux of the problem!
Where do you draw the line?  Where do you draw the line?  Exactly what criteria do you use to decide which verses are valid and must be taken at face value and which are “obviously” simple metaphor, and thus, can be ignored as “law”?  Some are taken as mere guidelines, and others will get you into heaven!  (or keep you out!)
Be honest.  Think about that for a moment, I’ll wait.
Back already?  Cool.
Do you have a special edition of the bible which has annotations that say what god meant as metaphor and which are serious and have to be taken literally?  I’ve never seen one.  But I think that many clerics would like you to think they do.  They’ll use theological arguments that’ll tie you into intellectual knots, twist your brain and rot your teeth (well, maybe not that last, but you’ll grind ‘em enough), to justify their twisted logic for using this one but dropping that one.  Often enough, they’ll just ignore the need for justification.
There’s a saying in law schools:
If the law is against you, pound the facts.If the facts are against you, pound the law.If both the law and the facts are against you, pound the table.
There’s a lot of table pounding over this.
Atheists look at it this way:  If your god had really wanted you to know how he wanted you to live in order to avoid getting thrown in hell, he’d have laid it out nice and clear.  No equivocations, no contradictions, no hemming and hawing.  If the consequences of not believing (or believing the wrong way) were so horrendous, you’d think he would take extra care to ensure that his instructions were especially easy to understand, wouldn’t you think?  Especially if he loves you like he’s supposed to?
Instead, you’ve got a collection of documents, written no less than 1800 years ago, at the very latest, edited constantly over those ensuing 1800+ years by clerics with plenty of motive to be sure that their specific version of christianity was included in that book.  Plus, at least half of the letters supposedly written by Paul are known by scholars to be forgeries.  That means NOT written by Paul at all, but by some guy whose ideas are often at odds with that worthy individual and often took great pains to ensure that anti-semitism and misogyny were well included in his forgeries.
The gospels were NOT written by the Big Four.  Nobody knows who did.  Nobody!
The entire first half of the bible wasn’t christian at all, but was added in once it was clear that the church needed some ancient writings to convince the Romans that it was a valid religion (and Judaism was respected for the antiquity of its holy writings).
So, tell me again, just how do you decide what is valid and what isn’t?  Most folks aren’t biblical scholars, and none of the above matters to them.
What does is how you were raised.  You were raised to know and understand what this society thinks is ethical, if you were born and raised in the US - or in a Western European country.  Our laws are based, in the US, on principles of the enlightenment - humanist principles.  Principles which enshrine the American ideals of individualism and the rights of the individual which are to be protected from encroachment by the government.  Modern European governments are largely based on those same principles, too.
The bible isn’t.  It’s principles are those of theocracy.  Worshiping god and surrendering to him and his will.  We hear that every time a fundamentalist preacher opens his mouth.  The very word we use to describe him, “The Lord”, is a word based, in english, on a word used to describe a feudal noble who had, for centuries, the power of life or death over his subjects.  There is nothing democratic about the bible and christianity’s basic teachings!  It was used for centuries to justify the principle of the “Divine Right of Kings”, or the idea that god appoints them, so you’d better obey them!
The US Constitution establishes the principle that the power of the government is derived from the people and our agreement to give it those powers.  The right to rule isn’t given by god, but by the people.
Nothing is further from biblical teachings than that!
So, once again, just what criteria do you use to decide what biblical verses to follow and which to silently ignore?
You cannot dodge this question.  It is at the very basis of how you believe what parts of the bible are valid and which are not, which are interpreted the right way and which other christians are getting wrong.
If you are not a fundamentalist christian with designs on turning this country into a christian version of Iran, then you are cherry picking the bible.  There is no way to avoid this conclusion.  If you read the bible and take it literally, believing that it is the word of god incarnate, you must have the desire to obey the bible before and over man’s law and you must secretly (or loudly) think that America is going to hell in a hand-basket if it doesn’t turn back to god.  Otherwise, you are disobeying god’s word.
Being a moderate christian and believing in only parts of the bible doesn’t let you off the hook.  Quite the contrary.  Your continued belief of the same basic theology of Christ and his redeeming death is exactly what the fundamentalists believe, and that, to them, justifies their continued attempts to bring this country “back” to their way of believing.  To them you are simply misguided, and it is up to them to guide you properly to avoid this country’s destruction.
That’s why we attack moderate christian beliefs.

Why do I attack religion?

Ok, here goes another one.  I’m going to try to clarify some thoughts here.  
There are really two parts to this:
    1.   I try to make clear that my often acerbic remarks about religion are just that, about religion.  They are not intended to be attacks on the adherents of religious belief.  It’s not about people, but the theological teachings and the dogma which leads people to do bad things with, in the beginning at least, good intentions.
    1.   The second part, and the real problem, is how people use those teachings in constructing their daily lives and how they relate to other people.
It is hard to separate those two things in many peoples’ minds.  A lot of folks hear the arguments about how religious teachings are used for evil purposes and think that they, themselves, are under attack.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Attacking the person is what is called an Ad Hominem, which in latin means “To The Man”.  That’s a logical fallacy, and simply betrays a weakness in an argument.  If you don’t have a good argument, attack the messenger.
I am not attacking the people, but the teachings and dogma which illuminates the basis of the evil behind religion.
A good illustration of this is the current battle over gay marriage rights.  The basis for opponents’ beliefs that it is wrong is based on two bible verses in the Old Testament.  
Leviticus 18:21 -22 And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through [the fire] to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I [am] the LORD. Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it [is] abomination.
Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood [shall be] upon them.
Nobody on the proponents’ side is trying to deny the meaning of these two verses.  What is being noted, however, is the hypocritical behavior in which christians insist on adhering to these two verses, while ignoring the other 75 rules and prohibitions in that same book which are not exactly in line with modern, enlightened American ethics and law.  (See my recent post on the 76 Things Banned in Leviticus.)
This hypocritical stance is having real, negative repercussions on the American political scene and has traditionally served to marginalize and stigmatize gays in ways that has created real, lasting harm to real people who have no control over their feelings and desires.
This is a real world example of how religious teachings, taken literally and widely followed, have done bad things to our society.  Yet, there are verses in that same book, Leviticus, which prohibit a wide range of activity which is today taken completely for granted as being normal and accepted behavior.
Insanely hypocritical, and completely illogical on a rational basis.
This is real harm.  This is a topic that is being used by the far right wing to divide America and the American people into two warring camps over an issue that, in reality, has no real bearing on the future welfare of this country.  It is being used as a whipping post to drum up alarm and fear in order to get that conservative constituency to the polls.
Yet, that whipping post is hurting real people, their families and friends, and is costing the business community millions of dollars in legal fees where they end up battling what will be a losing fight in support of intolerance.
Can you wonder why folks like me dislike and fight religion?  How could I support people who will use an issue that is so divisive and harmful for the cynical purpose of driving supporters to the polls?  And this is only one issue and only one way that religion harms people and the country I love.