Thursday, December 19, 2013

Free Speech and personal responsibility.

Let's examine the First Amendment, shall we?  Specifically, the part of the FA that protects your free speech rights.

This is, of course, prompted by the firing of the "patriarch" of the reality show Duck Dynasty for his anti-gay statements on GQ the other day.  Right wingers are going apoplectic over it, saying that he is being stifled from speaking out.

The first thing to understand before we even start looking at this is that the Constitution is a blueprint.  It is the blueprint for how our government is to be built and managed.  The Bill of Rights is an addition that was added a few years later as the result of a compromise that allowed certain States to vote for the ratification of the Constitution because those States were worried that the original did not specifically lay out the rights that were guaranteed to citizens and prohibited the government from violating those rights.

Thus, strictly speaking, the First Amendment restricts THE GOVERNMENT from abridging your speech.  It cannot either keep you from speaking by censoring your speech nor punishing you for speaking.  Written or spoken, it doesn't matter, and some actions are also, by rulings from the Supreme Court, considered political speech, and this also protected.

Naturally, since the government cannot restrict your speech, neither can others.

But, and this is important, YOU can.  You can even enter into a contract with someone wherein you promise to censor your public speech and actions so as to not reflect negatively on the relationship between you and the other party.  In return, you allow that other party to take certain actions against you should you violate that part of the contract.

Which is what happened to Phil Robinson.  He signed a contract with A&E, probably a standard actor's contract, and that standard contract contains a reasonable and common clause that says he must restrict his public actions and speech so as to not reflect badly upon the reputation of the show.  

He then went on ANOTHER network and violated that contract by making controversial and hateful comments that did reflect badly upon both him and the show and A&E.  Little wonder that they fired his ass.

His free speech rights are NOT being violated.  He still has full rights to speak up and say anything he wishes, stupid or not.  He just lost the contract because he opened his mouth and said something he should not have said in public.  His choice, his responsibility.

The right wing IS big on personal responsibility, isn't it?  Well, this is the result of his acting irresponsibly.  Suck it up, big guy!  Ain't responsibility a bitch?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Next week is Christmas and on Saturday is the Solstice.  No matter which one you celebrate (and many people celebrate both) - it is time for family and feasting and spending time watching football - or is it basketball?  Soccer?  Frosty?  I know! The Abominable Snowman!

Oh, forget it, I'm going to Portland, Oregon next week to snuggle with new grand babies and spend time with the parents I haven't seen in longer than I like to think.  So, folks, I cannot guarantee that I'll have time or the inclination to post anything.

But hey, you might get lucky and see baby pictures!  Or, I might have time after all!  I'll be back after the first of the year.

So, for those who care, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy (Merry?) Kwanzaa,  Happy Solstice, and just for grins cause I know I'm early - Happy Chinese New Year!  I know I'm missing something, so if I missed your favorite holiday this month, Happy Whatever-it-is!

Or Merry, or Great or whatever floats your boat...I hope it is just as great as you want it to be!

I'm gonna snuggle babies, so there!

Monday, December 16, 2013

It's War, I say! War on Christmas! (or not)

Every year about this time, the Fundies circle the wagons, mount the ramparts and prime the cannon, all ready to defend Christmas from the evils of the secular "War on Christmas".

This year, Fox News is doing all it can, inflating whatever little niggles there may be anywhere in the country in order to fan the flames.  The main thrust of their complaints seem to be that "atheists" want to prevent Christians from celebrating Christmas, and seem to want to attack them at any place or manner "they" can.


It gets tiresome, when the people you have to battle for every concession turn your arguments around and build elaborate straw men that they can then point to and inflate their own rhetoric, inflaming their base and pumping millions of dollars into lawyers' hands in an effort to defend the indefensible.

There is no War on Christmas.  There just isn't.  There may be a few lonely atheists with an agenda that includes eventually destroying religious faith and ending the hegemony of religion over mankind, but even the most fervent of them realize that is a multi-generational fight that they will never see the end game to.

I'll even admit that I may be on the fringes of that group, as I do see religion as harmful.

But that isn't the holiday fight we wage every year.  It IS possible to see milestones along the way, and the goal of managing to enforce the First Amendment's strictures of the Separation of Church and State is one such milestone, one which we join with many Christians to achieve.

Plainly stated, the First Amendment says that the government may NOT play favorites when it comes to the authorized use of public space for private purposes.  If it is going to allow one group or religion to display holiday symbols, it MUST allow them all.

That's it.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Nobody is trying to stop anybody from displaying their beloved Christmas symbols on the courthouse square - we are simply making the point that it is not an automatic authorization, nor can it be an exclusive one.  It shouldn't be that hard to understand.

It isn't about being offended.  It isn't about countering someone else's beliefs.  It is about the government of this country, from Federal to local, obeying the law.

If anybody tries to say it's about anything else, they've got a private agenda, so you'd better start looking for what they are really after!

Now, can we go enjoy the Christmas lights?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Customer Service Par Excellence!

I have a fantastic story of customer service, folks.

Every year about this time, we order gifts for our grandkids (as do millions of other grandparents). What we have chosen to do is give gifts from online companies offering toys and such for kids with a scientific or educational theme. Brain teasers, science kits, puzzles, etc., all age specific.

The company we have settled on is one called Mindware.

This year, we ordered as usual, and one of the items we ordered had two separate boxes, one for patterns, and one for pictures. A magnetic mosaic kind of thing. The online catalog had three different order numbers, with one being for both boxes. We got that one.

But when the order came today, someone had mistakenly put two of the same type into the shipping box, meaning we didn't have the second one, for patterns.

So, we called their customer service to correct the error, expecting to get a return authorization and shipping label to return the wrong box.

Nope, didn't happen. Instead, as she set up the order to have the correct item shipped to us in just three days, she told us to DONATE the mis-shipped item!

Yes, you got that right, they are allowing us to keep the item that was sent by mistake, on the proviso that we donate it to a charity that will give it to a needy child for Christmas!
We have decided to donate it to Toys for Tots, run by the US Marines, which is being collected at my office this year.  (Every year, in fact)


I am SO impressed by this company, I want all of you to share this story, because for a company to actually push donation as a solution to this kind of error is unheard of, and I think a wonderful solution it is!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Who'd a thunkit?

It's been a while since we've gotten anything juicy from the media about child sex abuse at churches.  It seems that the RCC has managed to calm things down a bit in recent months.

But wait!  What's that I see on the horizon?  Dimly, a bit fuzzy, not exactly major fare for the mainstream media in the US, but - yes!  Yes, it IS!

MORE child abuse scandals!  But, hang on, it's getting a bit clearer, lemme see, just a moment...

Oh!  This time, it isn't the Catholics!  Wow!  I can't believe it!  It's... it's...


I know, that first paragraph was just a bit harsh on the RCC.  I mean, they've kissed and made up... I mean, they've ...

Oh.  You mean they didn't?  Rats.

Ok, look.  Seriously.  This business of child abuse in churches IS serious.  And it isn't just a Catholic problem.  I did at least one post a while back that documented dozens of child abuse cases around the world, including all the major religions and a few of the minor ones.

Also, no, it isn't just a religious problem.  Children are abused at home, at school, in church, at the ball park, in the day care, at Aunt Martha's house, at the gym, the dance school - in short anywhere children are left by their parents under the care of some trusted adult they suppose will care for and protect their offspring.  Except that often, those "trusted" adults don't deserve the trust we place in them.

The reason that churches get the attention is that many people are beginning to understand that churches have gotten a free ride - a free pass from the scrutiny we often force on other less trusted venues.  I mean, church leaders - ministers, priests, etc., especially, are supposed to be above reproach.  Men of God.  Geez, if God can trust them, why can't we?

We are beginning to realize what we should have been remembering all along - they are human.  they have human faults, prejudices and desires, and often, those things can harbor darkness and evil.

Even preachers can be evil and/or do evil things.  Not all by any means, don't get me wrong.  I'd be willing to bet that the incidence of child abuse in churches is probably about on a par with that in other similar venues here children are left in the care of adults not their parents.

I have focused on it in the past because so many people give religion a pass.  Men Of God aren't supposed to be human, they aren't supposed to have carnal desires and certainly aren't supposed to harm children!

But, sometimes, they do.

So, what do we do?

Treat them like other professionals we wouldn't leave our kids alone with.  Insist on at least two adults being present at functions where a minister is left with children in his/her care.  Drop in sometimes unannounced.  Watch your kids for sudden changes in behavior.  Ask questions about their activities and watch for vague unexplainably evasive answers.  Don't let your routine become too routine and predictable.

BE INVOLVED!!  An involved parent is the best protection your kids can have.  Against just about anything, not just abusers.

Monday, November 25, 2013

More evidence of harm by religion.

Well, we're back at sniping at the Catholic Church.

A theme of mine has always been how religion (ANY religion) can be harmful to humanity.  That the very precepts that make it what it is are so easily manipulated into something that supports violence, bigotry, patriarchy and other evils that it should be seen by humanity as inherently harmful and chucked into the waste bins of history.

Yes, I understand how those same precepts are often used for good, and that there are millions of people who do good obeying those same ideals.

The problem is, when people, individually, obey those ideals and do good, they are doing it one person at a  time.  When church officials and politicians use them to justify evil, that evil affects often millions of people at once.

Case in point.

Remember the hurricane in the Philippines a while back?  Remember how that monster was the biggest, well, typhoon (not hurricane, that is in the Pacific) to hit land with the highest wind speeds EVER?

The destruction, as you might imagine, was equally historic in scope.  Countries around the world have been sending assistance and money to help.

So, what does the Roman Catholic Church, the oldest, richest most influential church in the world do to help?  Does it send money?  Food?  Medical supplies?  Remember, the Philippines is a big follower of the Catholic Church!

No.  It sends rosaries.  And bibles.  So, when the Pope twitters to his followers that they need to help too, what does he advise?  Sending money or food?  No, he suggests prayer.

He could have suggested prayer AS WELL AS sending money or food.  But, I guess that would have taken up valuable shipping space that might have been used for his rosaries and bibles instead, huh?

Or maybe would have sent his tweet over the character limit, so they had to leave that part out...

See what I mean?  Instead of sending real assistance that survivors of a natural disaster really need to continue being survivors, they send useless crap, and let their followers do a simple prayer instead of money, letting them think that by doing the Pope's bidding, they've done something to help!

Instead of using valuable shipping space for valuable survival supplies instead of useless crap or sending money, which is the most valuable assistance ever.

Thus preventing real assistance from getting to where it needs to be sooner.

Folks, this is real harm.  This is not helping, even if you think prayer does some good.  But prayer doesn't increase shipping cubage.  It doesn't buy food, or medicine or temporary shelter.  It doesn't bring in doctors and the medical facilities that allow them to do their jobs.

It merely lets people thousands of miles away essentially talk to themselves, thinking they'e done some good.  Instead of nothing substantial.

Harm, pure and simple.  An excellent example.

Thanks for listening.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Big News!

Today brought a big victory - albeit a bit delayed - for secularists fighting for Separation of Church and State.

The District Court of the Western District of Wisconsin, presided over by U.S. District Court Judge Barbara B. Crabb, ruled that the oft-called “parish exemption,” which allows religious ministers to avoid paying taxes on the value of their housing granted to them by their religious employers, “violates the establishment clause” of the U.S. Constitution and must be discontinued.

The problem with this exemption is that it allows a double dip, as the law allows a minister to both pay no taxes on a housing allowance, but to later also take the standard tax deduction for the interest and property taxes paid using that same money.

In affect, getting paid for taking out a mortgage!

Now, the ruling was essentially put on hold until the appeals process is ended or the time frame allowing an appeal ends, which ever is later.

But one can guarantee that the right wing will begin a full throated attack on this ruling as another "attack" on religion.  Privilege, it seems, cannot be abridged, unless through "attack".

It will be interesting to see if this survives an appeal to the Supreme Court.

I know many of us would prefer to see ALL religious tax exemptions be lifted, but, well, sometimes baby steps are all you get!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Evolution, DNA, and Genealogy

Today, for not much over a hundred bucks, you can get a DNA test that will reveal the secrets of where your family came from in a broad general sense.  It can reveal other secrets, like hidden genetic illnesses and such as well.

I am sorely tempted to take the plunge.

But there is a word of caution for the faint of heart.  Watch out for what you are asking, the answers may not reveal what you think.  I am reminded here of the white supremacist recently who discovered that one of his great, great grandparents was black.  Cherished family history stories may turn out to be just that - stories!

Not that I would be terribly disappointed.  To me, the most disappointing would be to turn out to have a perfectly vanilla family history with NO surprises.  I'd almost love to see an odd twist here or there.

Genealogy is fun and interesting.  Here are a couple of things about human genealogy you may not know.

To the human race as a whole, you are merely a repository of DNA.  Your purpose is to replicate that DNA in the person of your kids to ensure the continuation of the species.  The physical manner of how this works is fascinating.  You have two parents, four grandparents, and eight great-grandparents.  Each generation back, in essence, doubles the number of humans who contributed to your DNA.


Assuming 40 years per generation, going back 1000 years, if you are from Europe, you are related to over 34 million people, which is over 90% of the population of Europe at the time!

Which kind of illustrates how mixed up and varied your DNA history might be.  Europe was a hotbed of migrations, wars, invasions and other population mixing and destabilizing influences, and the centuries after 1000 CE were not the most stable from a political standpoint.

Most Americans don't record much family history.  Records of individuals are spotty going back as little as a hundred years.  Back then, many people weren't literate, and going back a mere hundred more, MOST people could not read, at least not much.  The US has census records going back to the 18th century (late), but those early records didn't have much on kids' names, only parents, and where they did, they only recorded male names.  Girls weren't important, and really only kids over five were given a name anyway, given the high infant mortality rates.  Since literacy wasn't widespread, spelling wasn't standardized, names were often misspelled, or spelled differently from census to census or on other government or church records.

So, documenting birth and death records was spotty, and finding the ones that were kept is not easy today, even with the internet.  Finding out much more than that is even harder. 

So the fact that our family records document one line of our family going back to the late 17th century is kind of cool!  That's in Germany, if you are curious.
So, yes, I am interested in getting the DNA test done, if only to see what other information may lurk in there to inform and direct my future genealogical searches.

But, to all of you out there, what I want to say is this.

Keep records.  Write down stories.  Tell your kids about your parents, your siblings, your aunts and uncles and cousins.  Family history is all about who we are.  What we did, where we lived and how we made our way through life.

It's all about people like my Aunt Daisy, who had (supposedly) five husbands and never would ride over a bridge in one of those new fangled motor cars.  Or Gandpa Bob (my great grandfather) who was a 32nd degree Mason and was so superstitious, he'd go blocks out of his way to avoid the path of a black cat that had crossed his!  Or my father, who once broke his leg trying to impress a girl with how he could emulate the carnival's human fly climbing the brick wall of the local hardware store.

We all have our stories, and those stories make up our family history.

Don't let them get lost.  Record them, remember the people, remember their stories.  Record the details, and pass them on.

These days, it isn't hard.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Education is critical! Fight back against the right wing attack!

The "National School Choice Week" is January 16 to February 1, 2014.  

Sounds good, right?  I mean, "choice" is always good, and is at the basis of our personal freedoms as guaranteed by the Constitution, right?


Well, that's the right wing's theme when it comes to education, anyway.  (Don't even think that word when talking about abortion, or women's health care, though, just sayin’!)  That’s what they want you to think - that the most important thing about education is your right to choose the school your kids go to.

The problem is, too many of even the most evangelical folks choose public education.  Why?  Cost.  Public education is free, supported by our taxes.  Why is that a problem for the right wing?  Because for every child who goes to public school, that represents thousands of dollars that does NOT get spent at sectarian, religious institutions!  (Not to mention the real science based education they often get instead of bible based mythology.)

That is why Republicans support school vouchers, under the rubric of “school choice”.  It is a way of taking public education dollars and funneling them into those sectarian, religious schools that most evangelicals cannot afford.

Enter "National School Choice Week”.  Their website is quite neutral sounding, and seems very benign.  They claim to be nonpartisan and politically neutral.  But in their handbook, listen to this:

 Open enrollment policies provide increased education options within traditional public schooling. Open enrollment allows parents to select the best public schools for their children, regardless of where those schools are located. Depending on the state or local open enrollment policy, this means that parents can choose any public school within a district (intra-district school choice), or, in some cases, outside of their home district (inter-district school choice).

Notice the language used here.  “…regardless of where those schools are located.”  This is traditional language used by parents who want to take their kids away from a local school filled with minorities and send them to a school across town where the percentages of white kids is higher.

School vouchers, also touted by these folks, takes the concept of choice one step further.  The idea is that parents should have the freedom to not only choose an alternative school for their kids, but take that public education money with them.  A voucher takes that money away from the local school their kids would have attended and gives it to the private institution they end up sending their kids to.

Which defunds that public school.  This is another tactic used by the right wing - defund public education as much as possible, under the excuse that the State is spending too much on schools and cannot afford the expense.   When the schools then begin to fail, criticize them, attack them and claim that public education is inefficient, ineffective and that private schools are better, cheaper and affords parents the choice public schools do not.

Obviously, this completely ignores the fact that a majority of parents, of whatever racial background, cannot afford private schools.  Enter the voucher program, which fortunately, is even more underfunded than the schools are, effectively limiting the vouchers to mostly white middle class parents sending their kids to religious evangelical schools!

Enter Sarah Jones, at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.  She has written an excellent critique of the “National School Choice Week” in the form of an open letter, written by Steve Nelson of Manhattan’s prestigious Calhoun School.

She quotes him at one point:

“You say you hope ‘schools that participate find the Week to be an enjoyable, rewarding and celebratory time.’ Is that really what you hope?” he wrote.

“Or do you hope that your work, funded by the most conservative, anti-union, anti-progressive and anti-teacher forces in America, will accelerate the demise of public education in America?”
She goes on to say:

As Nelson notes in his letter, National School Choice Week is funded by an array of conservative groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Koch brothers and FreedomWorks, a Tea Party outfit that enjoys the support of former Fox News bloviator Glenn Beck.

Not exactly “non-partisan”, is it?

Education is the most important way we can ensure that the United States remains a First World country.  Without a good, effective educational system, our traditionally high standard of living will not be possible moving into the future.

Steve Jobs once famously told President Obama that one of the reasons companies are moving jobs overseas is that the science-educated workers companies need for high tech manufacturing are not as available in the US as they are in other countries.

Let’s fight the right wing attack on US public education, shall we?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Yes, your vote really does matter!

If I've heard it once, I've heard it ten thousand times, "Ah, why vote, one vote doesn't make any difference..."

I beg to differ.

In Virginia, Democrats have been fighting hard to take back the State government, in part to stop and possibly reverse the Republican War on Everybody Else they've been waging ever since they took over.

And, if Democrat Mark Herring, running for State Attorney General, survives the recount, they may have succeeded!
As of 11:30 p.m., the unofficial State Board of Elections tally had Herring up by 106 votes.Herring released his statement after the tally of provisional votes in Fairfax County added a net gain of 57 votes for the Democrat, which would give him a lead of 163 votes out of 2.2 million cast.
That's a margin of only 0.0074090909%.  That is, in case you don't realize it, less than 7 thousandths of a percent.   That makes a nice, bright, shiny, razor margin look like an old, rusty butter knife in comparison!

Out of the entire State of Virginia, the votes of 163 Democrats (assuming the margin holds after the inevitable recount) made the difference between Herring winning or losing.  If 164 Democrats had decided to stay home, the margin would be even thinner, and a Republican would have won.

It is a matter of record, long understood by both parties, that in most "swing" states, a larger turnout favors the Democrats.

In November of next year, GET YOUR ASSES OUT THERE AND VOTE!!!

'nuff said.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Child abuse - systemic and sickening.

If you go back and read all my posts (sit back and have a beer!), you'll notice that a majority of the ones about child abuse by clergy are about the Roman Catholic Church.  Not all by any means, but that's what was hitting the news at the time.

Today, I'm not sure if this has really hit the news, but this came sliding down my newsfeed on Facebook, and I just had to look.

One of the enduring themes on my blog is the harm religion does to society.  I try to note on a regular basis that I do recognize that not all religious people or religious ideas are in and of themselves harmful.  Yes, there have been good things and people come out of the various religions on this world.

But so have nasty, evil, harmful things.  Things that have been perpetuated over time and made part of the systematic inside workings of some religions.

Like a culture of raping young boys in the RCC, and turning an officially blind eye to the practice.  Enough news stories have come to my attention to make me believe that that particular practice is present in other religions as well, and may well be systematic in other places too.

Just such a story is what came to my attention today.

Take a minute to go and read the story.  Go ahead, I'm not going anywhere, I'll be here when you get back.  But, be warned!  The story is graphic, the description of the abuse will sicken you.  If you are in danger of flashbacks of similar abuse, I can excuse your refusal to read it.

This is a story of systemic, ingrained, oppressive evil.  This is what is known as evil incarnate.  If indeed, there could be a real, living breathing devil, he resides inside that community and grows stronger from the corruption, the pain and the horror of what transpires there.

If the RCC's systemic abuse of children is evil, this makes what they do look like cartoon caricatures of reality.

There is no way that an entire community where over 50% of the male population has been abused could be unaware of the situation.  This kind of evil enlists the whole group in its practice.  Through fear, corruption and violence, it perpetuates itself.  Since this kind of abuse tends, in untreated victims, to make its own new generation of abusers, how long until the entire group becomes one seething cesspool of corruption?  How long until the rabbis invent some theocratic justification for the ritual of abuse?  How long until it becomes a secret, but witnessed, rite of passage?

Is this what the Jewish religion has become?  Is this what they have allowed themselves to descend to after surviving the world's most terrible pogrom?

In the past, I have posted other news items citing similar abuse (but not so group-wide in its corrupting influence) in other religions.  Hindu, Islam, Christian and others.

What is it about religion that seems to target young boys?  Is it because they are more available?

One thing is for sure, this is NOT a sexually based crime.  I hope you understand that rape is a crime of violence and power.  It is intended to put the abuser in a position of power over the victim, to make the victim feel powerless.

As if speaking for a deity isn't enough power.  These people are insane.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Change of plans! (No curses today!)

I was planning on running a piece on curses - how American culture uses curse words to support misogyny and rape culture - but I changed my mind.

Today is Veteran's Day.  The day we supposedly set aside to tell Vets that we are appreciative of their service to the country.

I remember the Vietnam War.  I entered the Army at the end of that war, and never had a chance to serve in a combat theater.  Too late for Vietnam and too early for the Gulf Wars.  So, as you read this post, remember that even though I AM a Veteran, I am not a COMBAT Vet.  Never fired a shot in anger nor had one fired at me.

It is gratifying to see so many normal folks now doing the "thanks, vets" thing, and the Vietnam vets finally getting the recognition they deserve.  You know, the ones who were really there and really got shot at, compared to the guys like me that sat around the barracks in places like Europe and watched some of our fellow "soldiers" getting high and doing drugs.

I get thanked occasionally, when someone discovers I am a vet, and I really don't want to throw cold water on their parade by telling them I don't deserve it, because I don't want to discourage them from saying it to the guys that really do deserve that thanks.  But, really, I don't.

I know.  Some folks would say that military service is inherently dangerous, because of the equipment we use, some of which is frankly, not safe to operate.  While I was in Germany, an M113 armored personnel carrier like I drove was involved in an accident.  The driver was going too fast, and untrained as he apparently was, pulled the left track brake too hard at too high a speed.  His intention was to make a sharp left turn by halting the left track, so the vehicle would spin around on its left side center of gravity.

But when we were trained at Fort Knox (Those of us with the actual specialty for driving those vehicles and were trained to do it), they taught us that to use that brake (instead of the normal steering brake), you had to be going UNDER 15 miles per hour, if I remember correctly.  I think this guy was going around thirty or so, so he flipped the vehicle onto its top.

They scraped the track commander (who sits with his top half out of the center hatch) off the tarmac with a spatula.  That vehicle weighs 11 tons.

So, yes, I am aware of the dangers of serving and using military equipment.  That doesn't, in my mind, put me in the same class with guys who were getting shot at.  So, it makes me nervous to have someone thank me as if I did.

Another reason I am not happy about the "Thanks Vets!" thing is that as far as the government is concerned, it is not sincere.

I mean, come on, Congress just allowed an automatic cut of $5 billion to the SNAP program (depended on by many vets) to occur, without lifting a finger to do anything about it!  (When I say "Congress" here, read that as "Republicans in the House")  Now we hear they are talking about an effort to cut more!

There is a laundry list of bills "Congress" has failed to pass that would have made life so much better for vets.  A long one.

So, until this country gets off its ass and votes these ungrateful bastards assholes out of office, please don't tell me thanks for serving - your thanks should come in the form of a vote to correct the terrible way we treat our vets.

Every vet should be guaranteed a job when discharged.  Job training should be available if he/she needs it.  Those wounded should be guaranteed medical care for life.  Those maimed should not only get free medical care for life, but should be allowed to get that medical care at the best civilian facilities available - at government expense - for life.

We asked them to serve, and they volunteered.  We should treat them like we truly appreciate it.

THAT is better than a thousand years worth of Veteran's Days.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

"When I feed the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why so many people are poor they call me a communist."

On my Facebook page this morning, I shared a post about an article on CNN's Belief Blog.  The story began with a description of a pastor of a Southern church talking about ObamaCare, and how Christians should be concerned about the people who have dropped between the gaps because of the refusal of Conservatively controlled States to refuse the Medicare Expansion part of the ACA.
McDonald cited a New Testament passage in which Jesus gathered the 5,000 and fed them with five loaves and two fishes. Members of his congregation bolted to their feet and yelled, “C’mon preacher” and “Yessir” as his voice rose in righteous anger. 
“What I like about our God is that he doesn’t throw people away,” McDonald told First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta during a recent Sunday service. “There will be health care for every American. Don’t you worry when they try to cast you aside.  Just say I’m a leftover for God and leftovers just taste better the next day!”
 The blog is very well written, and I shared it because I think it should be widely read.  It is a fairly balanced piece that covers the situation well.  It shows the concerns of both sides of the issue and tries to give an honest look at what both sides are saying.

I won't even try to recap that blog here.  It is done very well by a professional journalist I cannot compete with in the ability to do background work and research, combined with a well polished ability to craft the English language.  I don't have the time for research and don't write for a living.

So, I will use this story as a starting point for another part of the issue.

Well down in the piece is an examination of the differing points of view which examine the differing attitudes about just how the mechanics of caring for the poor might work out - is the government meant to be part of the solution or not?

Now, I am not going to try to claim any kind of theological insight.  I am NOT a trained theologian.  I wouldn't even get out of the Registration office of a Theological Seminary, much less into a class!

But it sounds like the argument goes like this.

On one side, Jesus said that it is is up to the individual to do what he can do for the poor, and there is nothing in the bible to say that the government should get involved.

Progressives, on the other hand, say that approach is ineffective because there isn't enough money in the private charity "market" to do enough good.  That it is unChristian to claim that the government should stay out of the issue even if there isn't enough to cover the problem.

Needless to say, I take the Progressive side, but I want to expand on the logic a bit.

Since this is largely an argument aimed at the religiously conservatives, let's concentrate on the biblical side of this for now.

Is it true that Jesus never meant for the government to get involved?
The Rev. Phil Wages, senior pastor Winterville First Baptist Church in Georgia and a blogger, was one of the few Bible Belt ministers willing to speak on the subject.
“I do not see any biblical precedent where Jesus ever went to Herod or Pilate and said you should be taking care of the poor,” Wages says. “Jesus told his disciples to take care of the poor and the apostles said the same thing to the early church.” 
Wages’ position is impractical and unbiblical, says Ronald Sider, a longtime advocate for the poor and author of “The Scandal of Evangelical Politics." 
Churches and charities don’t have enough resources to take care of an estimated 48 million Americans who don’t have health care. The Bible is filled with examples of God's fury over economic oppression of the poor, which Christians should regard as scandalous, he says. 
“If you are not sharing God’s concern for the poor, it raises huge questions about whether you are a Christian at all,” he says about pastors who say nothing about the uninsured poor. 
What I think folks Like Pastor Wages are missing is that when Jesus urged Christians (his followers) to care for the poor, he wasn't just talking to a nonexistent middle class.  He was talking to everybody!

Context, people, context.  At the time of Jesus (or the second century, when some say the Gospels were finally finished), governments were not democratic.  The government of a country consisted of a King, or a Warlord, or in the case of the Roman empire, a small group of very wealthy members of the ruling class.  The only known example of a program for feeding or caring for the poor administered by a government was where Rome fed the mobs of the poor in that city, and THAT was more a political ploy to obtain the political backing of those unorganized mobs of common folk.

No other "governments" had any kind of program to feed or care for the poor in the context of what we mean in this country today.  That IS one of the reasons the French, for example, overthrew their monarchy and cut off as many noble heads as they could!  They got tired of getting the scraps.

But should that matter?  No.  Jesus was, I am sure, even talking to the rulers.  There was nothing standing in their way to keep them from using their power and wealth to help the poor in their country.

Today, the context is different.  In large portions of the world, including this country, we have (officially, anyway) a democratic form of government.  That means the government is WE, THE PEOPLE.  It is US.

Nothing Jesus said precludes any kind of communal action to form a community based program to feed or care for the poor and unfortunate among us.  In fact, the first churches were formed into communities where people's wealth and efforts were handed over to the community at large, specifically for the purpose of caring for the less fortunate of the group!  The Epistles of Paul clearly show this to be true.

In short, the very first Christian communities were in fact, communes!  Their very purpose was to use the community itself to care for the poor among them, in keeping with Jesus' teachings.

Somehow, the Evangelical community in the US has lost sight of this fact of their very own history.

I would argue that the progressives have the right approach.

It is more efficient and powerful to use one single entity to guide and control the administration of assistance to the poor across the whole country.  The overhead is lower, the rules are standard across the entire country, there are no geographical gaps of coverage (the poor in rural areas are as covered as are those in the cities) and it is easier to catch and guard against fraud if one is looking at one entity rather than thousands!

Of course, none of this says there is any problem with private entities or churches or even private individuals handling their own responses and efforts on behalf of the poor they may see and encounter.

Remember, Jesus' teachings were for ALL to care for the poor.  Especially today, when we have a form of government that consists of  (theoretically) all the people, one can argue that those teachings and imperatives apply to the government also.

I think the word we should be using is "inclusive".  In such a rich country, everybody should be included in the gravy train.

Which brings me to the last point I want to make.

Another meme on Facebook recently is the point that if one is "pro-life", one shouldn't just care for the unborn, but for all life, especially those poor enough for their lives to be in danger because of that economic position.

A post the other day linked to a piece by MSNBC about Wendy Davis in Texas and her expansion of the words Pro-life" to mean exactly this!

This is what I am talking about.  We should care about every American.  We should care about all people and the welfare of all.  Forget the special circumstances of some to the detriment of others.  The concern should be for all life.

It would change how we do practically everything.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

So, you think you live in a Democracy?

I want to tell you the story of two police related incidents.  One occurred in Chicago and one in New Mexico, Hidalgo County.

In Chicago, one Flint Farmer was shot by a Chicago cop.  He was lying on the ground, face down when the cop fired three rounds into Farmer's back, killing him.  The officer had two prior shooting incidents THAT YEAR, but had not been placed on leave, or charged or placed on any kind of special watch by his supervisor.  The Chicago prosecutor now says that since he could have mistaken Farmer's cell phone for a gun, he will not be charged with a crime.

In New Mexico, David Eckert was stopped for a minor traffic violation, coasting through a stop sign.  When told to get out of his vehicle, one of the two cops thought he saw Eckert "clinch his buttocks".  He was detained on suspicion of having narcotics and taken to a nearby medical center, where they waited for a search warrant for a cavity search.  Upon obtaining the warrant, the doctors at the center refused to perform the search due to ethical concerns.  So the two officers packed up Mr. Eckert and took him to another medical center, where doctors weren't so picky.  He was violated physically numerous times as late as early the next morning with doctor's fingers, enema paraphernalia, and finally, a colonoscopy tool with a camera while Mr. Eckert was under anesthesia.  The last took place after the time period of the warrant had expired.

In addition, the medical center in question was in ANOTHER COUNTY, rendering the warrant completely invalid on its face, since the warrant had been issued in an adjacent county by a county judge.

The problems with these two stories are legion.  Official misconduct in both cases, obviously.  A complete disregard for standard police procedures also in both cases.  A total disregard for the civil rights of the victims. (I refuse to call them suspects) A failure of supervising authority to both train and supervise their officers in proper legalities and procedure, and an additional failure of the management of the entire justice system in Chicago to restrain an out of control officer or even adhere to proper procedure in failing to administer a blood alcohol test ( the officer had been drinking before coming on duty) and by allowing a possibly alcohol impaired officer out in public with a firearm.

What is so different about these two cases?  Amazingly, nothing.  You can google various key words and get dozens of such stories almost every day across the country.  

Oh, well, maybe one thing;  both victims were white.

But really, nothing else stands out, which is the biggest problem.  Even with national attention, the cops in these cases will probably not suffer any more than some vague administrative penalty, if that.  Maybe an ass chewing by the boss, and that to the two in New Mexico, because the invalidation of the warrant kills any possibility of prosecution.  Not because they had him officially butt-raped, but because they took him to another county.

We have become inured to this kind of official violence.

So inured, in fact, that when several State legislatures, including the Virginia legislature, passed laws forcing invasive sonograms on pregnant women who want abortions, much of the public... yawned. The outrage was, for many people, the abortion restrictions, not so much the official rape the procedure involves.

Welcome to Theocracy, folks.  This is what it looks like.  Laws passed over the objection of a majority of the population (most Americans support some easy form of abortion by choice), police able to violate the rights of citizens (even white ones) without consequence and with mostly very little public outrage.

is this how the great American Experiment ends?  Not with a bang but without even a whimper?  Are we such wimps that we will allow our public officials to run roughshod over our rights, pass laws that ignore our expressed wishes, and gerrymander election districts so they can stay in office indefinitely?

I've written extensively about the Dominionists in this space.  Yes, I believe that there IS a right wing conspiracy to bring theocracy to this country, and I believe we are partway through their agenda.

No, I don't necessarily think that the stories I noted above are specifically the result of that conspiracy.  But they don't help us resist, either.  Corrupt and unaccountable cops are likely to play right into the hands of those theocrats, because if the cops are already accustomed to violating people's rights through sheer negligence without consequence, taking that extra step to deliberate oppression shouldn't be that big a step to make.  It certainly puts police officials into the position of being blackmailed into these kinds of activities, if they were to be reluctant.

Ignore these signs at your peril. Theocracy is at our doorstep, if we don't take deliberate action to forestall its installation.  Corruption in our government is not only bad in and of itself, but plays right into the hands of those who already call our government dysfunctional.

Let's work to fix that, huh?

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Yesterday, the GOP in Virginia lost big time.  Both the Governor and Lt. Governor slots fell to the Democrats, and the AG race is still tied at 50% each - less than a thousand votes apart.

I watched the whole thing on Rachael Maddow last night and was interested to see her pet Republican political commentator pass the whole loss off to the Republican's poor tactics.  He felt that if the big national money doners hadn't sat out, the Party had paid more to put ads in the crucial northern Virginia market, and hadn't used a convention method to choose an ideologically pure Tea Party candidate, and that candidate had tried harder to appeal to the independent voters instead of his base, that "We'd be sitting here talking about the Republican Governor- elect."

Now, I am not a political pundit, nor any kind of expert on Virginia politics.  But, I can read the proverbial tea leaves in the form of polling data, and from what I've seen in the last month, plus exit polling from yesterday, Cuccinelli and the Tea Party lost, not because of esoteric electoral tactical failures, but because Cuccinelli and the Tea Party are out of touch with American's social values.

The one thing that kind of leaps out at you is the fact that in exit polling, 20% of those voting noted that abortion was their main reason for casting the vote they did.  59% of those voted in favor of the Democratic winner.  That translates to over 12% of those casting votes, more than enough to put the winning tally in the Democratic column.  Add to that the pissed off women who disliked the Republicans efforts in the last year to push invasive ultrasound procedures on women getting abortions, and I'd say that pretty much clinches the idea that the Tea Party's efforts to ensure an ideologically pure candidate is the main reason for their defeat yesterday.

Not esoteric, failed electoral tactics.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Whence cometh the rights of man?

I covered, on this blog's Facebook page this weekend, the minor kerfuffle between Glen Beck and the blogger "An Atheist in Wheaton", James Kirk Wall over the question of whether the rights guaranteed us in the Constitution are given us by god or by man.  Glen Beck had made the statement about our rights being god given, Wall wrote a post disagreeing, Beck then smacked back at Wall, and now Wall has replied in a post once again.

While I applaud Wall for a nicely put together answer to Beck's drek, I do have a problem with his statement about laws vs. rights:
A right is something considered to be morally good, justified or acceptable. A law provides rules and resulting penalties for certain actions.
I think he's got his terms defined incorrectly.  Let's consult Wikipedia, since Merriam Webster's dictionary online doesn't define it:
Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement; that is, rights are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people, according to some legal system, social convention, or ethical theory. 
Laws, on the other hand, are different.  Since we consulted Wikipedia for the first term, lets stick with it here too:
Law is a term which does not have a universally accepted definition,[2] but one definition is that law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior.[3] Laws can be made by legislatures through legislation (resulting in statutes), the executive through decrees and regulations, or judges through binding precedents (normally in common law jurisdictions). Private individuals can create legally binding contracts, including (in some jurisdictions) arbitration agreements that exclude the normal court process. The formation of laws themselves may be influenced by a constitution (written or unwritten) and the rights encoded therein. The law shapes politics, economics, and society in various ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. 
So, we have a definite difference between the two terms.  Rights are principles of freedom or entitlement.  Laws are rules governing behavior and often providing an organizational structure for some social or legal grouping of people.

From a practical point of view, say, in the US, a right is paired by a Constitutional limitation of the government's ability to infringe on that right.  It could also create the necessity for government to promulgate laws to protect that right, as in our 4th amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizures.  The government has had to make all sorts of rules governing the efforts of law enforcement agencies to prevent either deliberate or accidental abridgment of that right.

So, Wall IS closer to the idea of a law.  Laws do provide rules, and they also provide penalties for handling people who violate those rules.

Wikipedia also delineates between two types of rights - natural rights vs. legal or civil rights.  Neither Beck nor Wall differentiate between the two, but I think that difference is important.

Why?  Natural rights are the ones spoken of in the Declaration of Independence.  They are immutable, inalienable and cannot be taken away, because they are inherent in your existence as a human being.  A common right of this type is the Right to Life.  A movement today in the US is the idea that there is a human right to health care, because good health care both lengthens one's life and makes the one you've got of better quality.  Natural rights are universal and apply to all human beings, and are often seen as expanding as human society becomes more progressive in nature.

Legal rights, on the other hand, are better defined by Beck's idea that there are rights that can be given or taken by parliamentary edict.  These kind of rights are based on cultural norms and practices.  An example might be the right to drive.  Your right to drive is conditional, those conditions based on laws setting forth the rules for how to obtain a license, etc.  Not all citizens are allowed that right, and those rights may change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction or from time to time.  So, NOT inalienable.

Wall's description of how our rights are determined are very descriptive of natural rights.  He uses a quote from good old George Washington:
“The foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epoch when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period, the researches of the human mind, after social happiness, have been carried to a great extent, the Treasures of knowledge, acquired by the labours of Philosophers, Sages and Legislatures, through a long succession of years, are laid open for our use, and their collected wisdom may be happily applied in the Establishment of our forms of Government” 
George Washington, Circular to the States, June 8, 1783
 But Beck makes the complaint, as Wall describes it:
Glenn Beck implies this statement means I would have no problem with mankind taking my rights away. I would just say, “Oh well, evolution.”
Which is perfectly descriptive of a legal right.  A right that CAN be given or taken away by legal edict.

So, who is right?

I think Wall has it better outlined.  Beck is, as the right wing often does, using confusion and misdirection to attack the other side, with nothing more than simple declarations to make his own point.

If our rights were to come from a god, then our rights in this country would be severely curtailed.  The bible is NOT designed to protect nor organize democracy among men.  It is designed to lay the foundation for a theocratic form of tribal control over the ancient Hebrews, hence gives no basis for civil rights as we know them, nor any kind of guarantee of individual rights against governmental action.  In fact, fully half of the Ten Commandments are fully in violation of our First Amendment guarantees of freedom of religion and speech!

It is obvious to any even halfway educated person that our Constitution was founded upon the Principles of the Enlightenment as espoused and written about by many of our Founding Fathers.  The Constitution lays the foundation for a secular government, not a theocracy, so the idea that the rights it guarantees may have come from religion is, to say the least, absurd.

One last note.

The right wing, when it talks about our nation having a religious foundation, uses this tactic of mixing terms and loose definitions of terms to good use again, by its use of the phrase "We are a Christian Nation".

They talk about the government being a theocracy, while their arguments are often about the numbers of colonists who may have been christian.

Our GOVERNMENT is founded and organized by the Constitution, which is a secular document that only mentions religion in restrictive terms, limiting the government's involvement in it.

The NATION, on the other hand, was settled by mostly Europeans, who at the time, were mostly Christians of various stripes.

This conflation of the two ideas is deliberate, as too many liberals and supporters of the Separation of Church and State fail to see and remark on this tactic.  The government and the nation are NOT synonymous!  They are two different entities, with two different histories and origins.

The fact of whether this country was populated by mostly Christians or not is irrelevant to the issue of whether the Constitution mandates separation between the church and the State.  European history is rife with stories of wars, intrigue, and struggles over religion, its rules, whose rules would govern and which particular stripe of Christianity was the right one to rule.

Arguably, over the centuries, well over a million or more human beings were killed, either through deliberate action or through disease and starvation during the conflicts engendered by religion in Europe alone.

Our Constitution was intended to prevent that.  The solution was to keep the government OUT of the religion business and to prevent ANY religious group from dominating the government, and thus, the rule making business of governing the American people.

Thus, guaranteeing the American population the right to religious freedom, whether that meant a complete devotion to a religious culture, like the Amish or the Mormons, or a complete divorce from it, as we atheists would have it.

In other words, like the Republicans would say, leave it up to the INDIVIDUAL.  Keep the government out of it. (Another Republican principle.)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Changing gears...

Well, not really, but sometimes, in the realm of watching, remarking on, and publicizing the idiocy of the right wing fundamentalists, sometimes something particularly nasty and smelly gets your attention and takes your focus off of their focus on politics.

Today is such a day.

On Facebook, I saw someone post a link to a web page on Patheos, called "Above all love, Unfundamentalist Christians", where the blogger posted a letter from a woman who had, at a younger age, been raped.  In the middle of her sad story, she revealed this about the pastor she went to for counseling after the rape:
While I was literally still bleeding from the attack, he told me (and I quote) “It’s too bad that you didn’t force him to kill you instead. That way you could have at least died a virgin.” 
Emphasis mine.

It is easy to simply call the pastor a misogynistic asshole, shake your head at his abysmal counseling manner and move on.

But it isn't that simple.  His attitude didn't come from out of the religious ether.  It didn't come purely from a cultural tradition, either.  It's kind of both, and it something that badly needs to be fought and fought hard.

This statement reduces the poor young woman (16 at the time) to nothing more than a womb with legs.  The entire worth of her person boils down to her ability to bear a child, and her virginity is the certainty (to her husband) that the child is his.

Besides the obvious misogyny involved here, there are a couple of things to criticize over this attitude.

First, it comes out of a time and culture where one thing was important - your body heir.  Your heir embodied the continuation of your estate, and any titles you may have that would be hereditary.  It was vitally important that the heir be of YOUR blood.  Because, of course, the blood of the nobility was different from others, and one didn't want the by blow of some tryst mucking up the family talents (or lack thereof).

Of course, for 99.9% of the human race, none of that mattered - but social imperatives always embody what is important to the ruling class.  Screw the little people - but the little people inevitably pick up those imperatives and comply - just in case, you know, you get incredibly lucky and the king makes you nobility.

So, without DNA testing, how does one make sure that the firstborn IS yours?  You keep your wife locked up tight and away from errant penises and ensure that she was a virgin when you got her.  When the fate of entire countries depend on a tightly controlled bloodline, women become walking, talking wombs.  Nothing else is important about her.  Just her ability to deliver your heir.

If that doesn't seem really all that important, look up the story of the reign of Henry VIII of England, whose entire reign was focused on what we now know is his early inability to sire a boy.  Of course, they didn't know that then, which is why he dumped an an entire basketball team's worth of wives trying to find one who could present him with an heir.  (He did finally get one, Edward VI)  His search resulted in the separation of the Church of England from the Catholic Church, as he sought an annulment from the Pope, which was refused.

Like I said, serious stuff.

That cultural imperative was bolstered by the teachings of the Church, which was a result of the embodiment of the Pauline teachings on the dogma of the church, which resulted in the subjugation of women by the church.

Combine that with the needs of the nobility to ensure "pure" bloodlines, and the limitations on the worth of women as baby-making machines is guaranteed.

Problem is, none of that is necessary any longer.

First, the requirement of the inheritance of the first born is sort of passé these days.  Nobody gives a shit.  Well, maybe a few European noble families still do, but with the attention of the press and photographic pack hounds, the need to lock up their women is kind of redundant!

Plus, with DNA testing, the need to lock them up to make sure the first born is yours isn't necessary.  A simple swipe in the inner cheek, a few days wait and you KNOW - so she's got every incentive to make sure she doesn't get preggers when she screws around!  Not if she cares, anyway.

As for the other 98% of us, few of us have that kind of focus on the issue.  Oh, the 1% still do, since there are often billions of bucks involved, but most of the human race either can't afford the cost of the test or really doesn't care so much.

In addition, here in the US, we have this thing we've built up called freedom.   It also endorses and glorifies something else - the supremacy of the individual.  People, individually, have power, have rights and are extolled for their independence.  Well, of course, if you're a man, or maybe an extraordinary woman.

Like the movie character, The Unsinkable Molly Brown.  I could also name some other truly extraordinary women whose real life stories also bring them into this realm where we, as a society, value them as people.  Scientists, actresses, teachers.  Political leaders.  Captains of Industry.

For a hundred years, America has struggled to bring equality to both sexes.  It has taken a wide range of activities, court cases, Congressional fights and a widespread change in social attitudes to turn this around.

And now, today, we still have the blowbacks - the conservatives who cannot relinquish the thought that a woman cannot be more than a womb.  Most of them have taken refuge in the Evangelical movement in the US.  Fundies.  Still hanging onto the biblical admonishments to not allow women the right to even talk, much less have authority over men.

Hence this young woman's humiliation by a pastor who felt that her worth as an individual had been so damaged, she would have been better off dead.

Is this what we want for our children and our grandchildren?  Is this what we want for the future?  The continuation of a misogynistic "tradition" designed for a feudalistic society that no longer rules us, indeed, no longer even exists?

No.  This is NOT right.  A free society which values the individual must value ALL members of its population.  Equally, with no reservations.  No special privileges, no special conditions.  All members of this society must have the complete autonomous right to determine their own fate and their own way of life within the constraints of the legal and social bonds we all agree to.

No exceptions, none. Not for so called "traditional" reasons, nor for religious reasons.  This is a society in motion.  Constantly moving, constantly changing.  Our technology has changed radically the way we live, the way we see the universe around us, the way we conduct our lives and relate to each other.  It will continue to make changes similarly in the foreseeable future.

We have no time for feudal throwbacks, either ideas or people.  The world today moves too fast, and the rules of the past are no longer useful, but are instead harmful.

We can't afford that.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Three stories, one point. American traditions under attack, but fighting back!

Today, I've got three stories for you.  One is totally nuts, one is crazy in a good way, and one has elements of both, plus makes a point.

The first is about the preacher of a church in North Carolina.  A perfect example of crazy.
Marc Grizzard, of Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, North Carolina, says that the first King James translation of the Bible is the only true declaration of God’s word, and that all others are “satanic”.
Not only is he crazy, but he is ignorant, too.
 The New Revised Version Bible, the American Standard Version Bible, and even the New King James Version are all pronounced to be works of the Devil by Pastor Grizzard and his followers. 
Pastor Grizzard said: “I believe the King James version is God’s preserved, inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God… for English-speaking people. 
“We are burning books that we believe to be Satanic.”
 He is ignorant, because it is well known by biblical scholars - even the apologetic ones - that the King James version he likes so much is acknowledged to be the absolute worst translation of the bible ever.  If your objective is to know what the original authors of the books of the bible wrote and meant, it should be the last translation you'd want to pick up.

Oh, and the book burning part is pure idiocy.  Grandstanding at its worst.  This is pure ideology, not theology.

Second, a pastor in Mississippi, Dr Michael Minor, embarked on a personal odyssey to improve the health of his congregants after coming to his church (in 1996) and finding an epidemic of obesity so bad he was burying them at the rate of one a week!  His latest effort?  Pushing ObamaCare.
He has had marked success. "You can see the difference. People are much better sized, way better. And once they get it off, they want to keep it off," he said. 
Now he is taking on the much bigger task of trying to get the state's nearly 275,000 uninsured people to sign up for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 
With technology problems dogging enrollment on Obamacare health insurance exchanges, the roles of people like Minor are becoming increasingly crucial in determining the success or failure of President Barack Obama's healthcare law. 
His church is one of only two organizations in the state to get a federal "navigator" grant to help the state's uninsured sign up for policies provided through Obamacare.
Go read the article about him, it is a wonderful example of someone who truly cares, and puts his preaching into practice.

His understanding of his holy book is diametrically opposed to the idiot in North Carolina.  It is also opposed to the understanding of the bible of a women who runs a homeless kitchen in South Carolina you may have heard of.

This third story is about a humanist group in South Carolina who offered to assist at a homeless soup kitchen in Spartenburg.  They were rebuffed rather sharply.
… Landrum, executive director of the Soup Kitchen, told the Herald-Journal she would resign from her job before she let atheists volunteer and be a “disservice to this community.”“This is a ministry to serve God” she said. “We stand on the principles of God. Do they (atheists) think that our guests are so ignorant that they don’t know what an atheist is? Why are they targeting us? They don’t give any money. I wouldn’t want their money.“
It seems to me that it is that director who doesn't know what atheists are!  How did the group respond?
Despite the setback, the atheists pulled through for the people they were trying to help. On Saturday, they gave away over 300 care packages to the homeless, each package costing about $15 and including things like gloves, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, lip balm, snacks, etc.
They didn't get nasty, they didn't call names. they set up across the street to take advantage of the homeless gathered at the soup kitchen to provide further help.

The best part of this story, and why you should go to this link to read the whole thing, is that another soup kitchen, run by a different church group, has asked the humanist group to come assist at their facility!
“[the Greer Soup Kitchen] even wrote to us during the recent media frenzy to tell us how much they look forward to us coming.”
It seems that the media attention attracted the other group's attention, and they decided that the first was just doing it wrong.

I have a point to make about this.

The driving divider in all this is obviously people's differing interpretations of the christian bible.  Some see it this way, some see it that.  Some groups hate gays, others welcome them as just another christian.  Some will accept help without condition, others only think christians can meet the test.  Some folks see ObamaCare as another way to provide healthcare to the needy while others just see the needy as moochers.

While the godless are busy shattering people's ideas of what it is to be godless.  One CAN be good without the assistance of a deity.

Is that my point?  No.

My point is that without the divisions of differing interpretations of the bible, it would be easier to come together to solve this country's problems.  For over forty years, the conservatives (allied with the religious right) have dragged their feet, fighting every attempt by the left to weave a safety net for the needy of this country.  Today, more and more people are coming to see how the obscene amount of money we spend on the military could, all by itself, turn the problems of the poor in this country around and probably end poverty once and for all.

But we just can't overcome the opposition to it engendered by the propaganda pushed by the right wing, often spread in churches, large and small.  Lies about who the "moochers" are on welfare.  Lies about contraceptives and abortion.  Lies about health care.

Lies about Obama and his health care law.

It IS encouraging to see people like Dr. Minor who are willing to put ideology aside and do good for the sake of doing good.  It IS good to see the Greer Soup Kitchen step in and offer a place for the humanist group to assist in spite of their differing religious beliefs - to see them recognize that doing good is an end in itself, and not just an expression of religious belief.

That kind of changing attitude is going to make things better in this country, IF we can see more people put religious differences aside and come together as Americans.

As Americans.

As Americans, we have a system that was designed to allow differing religions and traditions to live side by side with a minimum of strife.  On the whole, it has worked remarkably well.  So well, religion has thrived here, without the artificial restraints other countries have put on its practice.

People from other countries with a history and tradition of animosity towards other ethnic groups or religious groups come to this country and often live side by side with their former enemies - peacefully!  That animosity becomes less of a necessity here, where religious freedom is itself a tradition and a way of life.

But our own tradition is under attack.  The right wing extremists in this country, led by the Dominionists, are trying to change people's ideas of history, trying to re-write that history to make it seem as if this has always been a christian country.  Their goal is to turn us into a theocracy, where only their brand of god worship is acceptable.

It doesn't need to happen that way.  We need to fight that attitude, and spread the ideals of tolerance and progressivism.

Whether you are a believer or not.

Friday, October 25, 2013

How much longer do we have to listen to this charlatan?

I really hate to get personal on people because of their views, but sometimes, I just have to make an exception because what they say is so vile.

So, when, exactly, is Pat Robertson going to get too damn old for TV?

His latest insanity is to berate and denigrate the mother of a blind child because she called into his show to ask why God hasn't healed her son't blindness, even though she has prayed over and over for it to be healed.

What did he say, you ask?
“I have dealt with people who are deaf and you rebuke the spirit of deafness and they get healed,” Robertson claimed. “I don’t know what you’re doing wrong. Why don’t you try that and if it doesn’t work, try something else.”
Spirit of deafness?  Really?  I don't recall there being any such thing in the bible, but then, I might be wrong.  The mother of that child may have been wrong for praying instead of going to a doctor - or maybe she did and they couldn't help.

More likely, they could have, but she couldn't afford the treatments.  I didn't hear Robertson volunteer to help, did you?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Popes come, Popes go...

This last Monday, Pope Francis was quoted as making an amazing statement.

According to Radio Vatican, the Pope said:
“In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements. The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”

I am reminded of a photo meme on Facebook that pops up occasionally that quotes President Carter as saying:
"If you don't want your tax dollars to help the poor, then stop saying you want a country based on Christian values. Because you don't."
After searching for a bit, it seems that the statement was made by John Fugelsang, but comments indicate that Carter has made statements of that nature, including his "resignation" from the Southern Baptist Convention.

Another photo meme is attributed to a popular comedian, Stephen Colbert:

The Catholic Church is an old, monolithic institution.  It is, arguably, the oldest organized institution in the world, and is certainly the oldest monarchy to survive into modern times.  As such, the Pope is the titular head of that institution and supposedly sets the tone, direction and the goals of it during his reign.

That said, its history shows that when a Pope bucks the general trends and opinions of the rest of the church hierarchy, it doesn't always go his way.  Popes have, in medieval times, even been murdered for bucking powerful internal factions of Cardinals.

Now, that doesn't mean that I am saying that this new guy in in danger of his life.  This IS the 21st century, after all, and one would hope that after around 1800 years, it would have matured to the point that internal differences of opinion might be settled in a more - civilized - manner!  I am noting this because the direction this new Pope seems to be trying to steer the Church is a radically different direction from recent Popes' policies, and seems certain to anger church groups on the radical right fringes of Catholicism, many of whom got privileged treatment from the last couple of Popes.

Be careful, though as you are tempted to cheer this new guy.  Don't think for a moment that he is changing Church dogma or teachings.  He isn't.  He is merely warning the men who control powerful parts of the church under his direction that their past very public focus on very conservative teachings is driving rank and file Catholics away.  Those very conservative teachings are still there, still in affect, but he wants to focus instead on the kinder gentler things most Catholics DO support.

A sort of misdirection, if you will.

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"  I can hear the famous line from the Wizard of Oz still ringing out, desperately trying to divert attention from the revelation of his subterfuge by the little dog.

It didn't divert the attention of his audience then, and it won't work for the Pope now.  The curtain has been pulled back, their true nature has been revealed by the light of public scrutiny.  As long as the Conservatives in the Republican Party in the US are stupid enough to keep ringing the bells of extreme right wing fundamentalism, and the US Council of Bishops keeps on helping them pull the rope, the words of the new Pope may sound nice, but they won't fool many.

In OUR world, unlike the fictional Oz, there are many more than just one man behind that curtain, and we desperately need to pay attention to what they say.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Furlough - and how it should elevate people's opinions of the government.

Before I start, I guess I'd better kind of apologize.  I haven't published anything here for over a week.  Yeah, I've been furloughed, but that didn't give me more time - less, if you can believe it.  But approaching the reality of missing a paycheck - and as a senior government employee, that paycheck isn't hay - has put me in a kind of funk.  Missing that check will hurt, big time.  The worst part is not knowing how long until they do decide to give me one - whether a replacement or one for work done after we go back to work isn't clear at this point.

But that's about my personal troubles, which isn't what I wanted to talk about today.  Federal workers are just pawns here, and our troubles aren't the worst of what is hurting this country.

Sure, some of it starts with us - since I've been off work, I've curtailed a number of what would be normal activities - many of which involve spending money.  The vendors I would have spent that money with didn't get it, and in my area - they're probably missing money from my friends and neighbors who are also Federal workers, too!  So there's that.

But what really sparked this post tonight was Rachael Maddow (and Ed Schultz).  She made some remarks on a segment where she was talking about how the popularity of the Republican Party is suffering a major historical loss of popularity - because of the shutdown, specifically.  Much of that is the result of a lot of folks in this country who either have been or will soon start missing government checks they have been used to getting.

Seniors, single mothers, small business owners, disabled vets, families of vets killed in action, the list goes on.  People are beginning to realize the sheer scope and size of a government that many had taken as an abstract concept - one their party has been telling them for a long time is bad for them and too intrusive.

The problem is, they never realized that the "intrusiveness" was masking something valuable - support in the form of government money.  Or perhaps government inspectors ensuring that their food is safe to eat, their drugs safe to take, the air they are breathing is clean enough to not make them sick.

In the abstract, 800,000 government workers sounds like a lot of tax money - and if nothing else, right wingers have been taught that taxes are THEIRS, and anything that it is spent on is negative.

Unless it comes back to them.  Now that the checks aren't or are threatened to not come, a lot of folks are beginning to take this seriously.  They are beginning to understand that this government is not an abstract concept, not a pie in the sky kind of thing to be spoken of as if it's something that affects others but not them.

This government is food stamps.
This government is aid to local school districts.
This government is national parks that attract customers to local businesses.
This government is food safety.
This government is aid to single mothers and their children.
This government is aid to disabled vets.
This government is safety in the skies.
This government is maintenance money for our national highways.
This government is scientific and medical research into human diseases.
This government is clean air and water.
This government is inspections of EVERY oil pipeline in the country to prevent oil spills.
This government is water safety along the entire coastline.
This government is border patrols.
This government is weather safety and prediction.
This government is emergency response to natural disaster.
This government is emergency response to transportation disasters.
This government is control of the economic system to prevent another Great Depression.
This government is control of interstate commerce.
This government is a safety net for seniors, the disabled and the poor.
This government is law enforcement.

This government is all these things and a thousand other items I could have gone on about for thousands and thousands of lines.

Some decades ago, two people, a man and a women, embarked on a crime spree across the central US. They robbed banks, shot people and raised general hell.  You remember Bonnie and Clyde, right?  In some circles, they were almost Robin Hood style heroes.

But to a lot of folks, they were true villains.  You see, in those days, there was no FDIC.  If a bank were robbed - either by gun or by pen, the money was gone.  Not recoverable, unless the robbers were caught before they spent it.  So, all those banks they robbed lost money, and it was the little folks at the bottom who lost - sometimes everything they'd saved for a lifetime.

That was one problem.

Another was law enforcement.  In the roaring twenties, on into the thirties and forties, law enforcement didn't do much information exchange.  States didn't do much to assist each other in catching criminals, and it was often easy for a bad guy to slip across State lines to avoid arrest.

Gangs like the Bonnie and Clyde gang changed all that, and it was the power of the Federal Government, able to reach across State lines with national reach and authority, that enabled us to begin to get a handle on that kind of crime.

Safeguarding our lives, our prosperity.  Both the FBI and the FDIC helped to stop bank robbery as a major source of crime.

Yeah, that "government" everybody on the right seems to think intrudes into our lives too much.

You know, the one that built the InterState Highway System.  The one that rocketed our economy into the stratosphere after WWII, by enabling people and goods to cross the country in just weeks instead of months.  The highway system that every major Corporation today depends on to get its goods to market - inside the country or out - yet whines to high heaven if asked to pay their fair share to maintain it!

Yeah, that government.

The one I work for.  The one that works for YOU.

I have a message for the Democrats.  Yes, me, little old me.  The message?

Get off your asses and start pushing Progressive ideas and ideals!  For Obama's entire tenure as President, he has tried reaching across the isle to deal with Republicans, even going so far as to bring Republicans and Republican policies into his Administration to show a willingness to compromise.

I say, enough is enough.  If the last two weeks haven't shown you how unwilling the Republicans are to compromise, I don't know what it would take.  The only thing today that is getting their attention is the fact that they are now polling at the lowest level they've ever polled, since that poll was started!

Yeah, now that it has been banged into their thick skulls that they are f'ing LOSING this fight, NOW they want to begin talking seriously.

Well, I say fuck 'em.  I'm already a paycheck down, as of tomorrow.  I say let the bastards sweat.  Make them come clean, and I mean clean.

But don't stop there.  Rub it in. Show the bastards that their tactics have not only made them lose, but that they've pissed off the wrong set of people.  Force them to raise the debt ceiling for a year, but make THEM make serious concessions in some of their most important talking points before giving an inch.  Make the bastards agree to bringing back the budget to pre-sequester levels.

Mr. President, Mr. Reid, Ms. Pelosi, please.

Support, push and FORCE more progressive policies and do it in the next year.  Do it BEFORE the next election, and I guarantee you that you can bring out your base for the 2014 elections, and we will be ENTHUSIASTIC!

But you've got to give us a reason to be passionate.  We HAVE to see, indeed, we have to KNOW that you three have OUR backs and care about the things WE do.

Trust me, you do NOT want us to get discouraged and stay home in a year.

None of us do.