Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sanity returning or just Republican's infighting?

Well, finally, there is some very good news today!  The House, with the help of some 87 Republicans who seem to have retained at least a modicum of political sense, passed the Violence Against Women Act today, which will not go to the President's desk, where it has a 150% chance of being signed into law.  Frankly, it'll be lucky to hit his desk - he'll probably meet it in the hallway coming in the door!

This represents a major defeat for Boehner, and it comes during a heightening intra-party rumble as Republicans increasingly fight over whether a pure ideological approach is better, or whether to bow to public pressure and retain some semblance of sanity. Boehner is, some say, at risk for his leadership position, as this represents at least the second major bill passed without a majority of Republican support, a position Boehner himself took as he took office in 2010 as Speaker.

Frankly, I think this represents more than a major defeat for Boehner, but a major defeat for the Republican Party in general.  This bill has been ramping up the pressure through women's groups, online petitions, and other major political players, as the misogynistic Party of "No"held its breath and threatened to turn blue if their own version of the bill didn't pass.

It failed miserably.

Is the country finally getting tired of the Tea baggers and their unsavory political positions? One can only hope...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Slow News Day!

Hey, it happens.  Some days, there just isn't anything exciting.

I mean, all the Senate did was to cut off debate on the Hagel nomination.  Yawn.....

Or, maybe... the Pope resigns Thursday!  (He'll be called Pope Emeritus, can still wear white, although plain so as to not show up the new guy, and he'll have to give up his red shoes...)   <rubs eyes>

The Coast Guard is now upset after having spent hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars looking for a shipwrecked family off the coast of California that turned out to be a hoax...ho, hum...

The middle of the country is buried under a foot and a half of snow...

The CEO of Yahoo! has told her employees that they can't work from home at all any more...

Apple is on the way to settling another lawsuit...

Apple's shares are back up after rumors of a stock split...

The Game of Thrones season 3 trailer is out...

Chris Christy is the eighth State governor to agree to expand Medicare and sign onto the Health Care expansion under "Obamacare"...

We had biscuits and chili for supper tonight!

I know, I always save the best for last!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Going out...well, not in style, but at least with some dignity.

In the recent flurry of news about the Roman Catholic Church, there has been a lot of bad news that is causing a lot of headaches in the Catholic hierarchy, and a lot of heartache in the laity.  Not the least of these reports was the recent report about the Scottish head Prelate Cardinal Keith O'Brian, and allegations of his sexual misconduct with three young priests in the 1980's.

Now, I have always been one to chortle over the revelations of strict anti-gay advocates having been caught in the act of practicing that of which they preach against, and the initial reaction of mine was just that the other day. But having had a couple of days to let it swirl around in my head and mix with the other news stories about his fellow prelates, including the up and coming resignation of the Pope, today's news that he was forced into retirement by the Pope and that he now does not plan to travel to Rome to take part in choosing the next one made a surprising difference in my attitude.

I kind of didn't expect to hear myself say this about Ratzinger, but - Bravo!  This is exactly the kind of reaction an organization under the gun about members' misconduct should be doing: taking a hard line on that misconduct, even if it means rolling the metaphorical head of a high ranking official.

The good news is kind of tempered by the thinking of a lot of folks that this is simply to prevent the good cardinal from distracting the press/media from what the church really wants them to pay attention to - the election of the next Pope, but one hopes that this means that cooler heads are now getting some traction in the public relations department by getting the top dogs to listen to reason.

An additional caution to my thinking was that the allegations are just that, allegations.   Until proven or admitted to, he really should get the benefit of the doubt, at least from a legal standpoint.  Obviously, since the church isn't a government and is his employer, they've the right to can him if they wish.  Not an unusual thing for people accused of unethical behavior.  Not that he's been canned, just "retired" early, if only by a few weeks, and denied the honor of attending what is probably going to be the only papal conclave within the rest of his life.

Now, there are demands that the other prelates under clouds of suspicion, the Irish cardinal and Cardinal Mahoney of LA be "uninvited" for the conclave as well.  Both are accused of condoning the sexual abuse of children and moving priests and protecting them.  Additionally, the Irish fellow is also under the cloud of the Magdalene Laundry scandal.

We'll see how that plays out.  Obviously, the non attendance of all three of these gents would slim the ranks of the more conservative cardinals.  what affect that would have I can't pretend to know, but I'll take what I can get.

Both should stay at home and allow the untainted ones to make the choice.  At least that would eliminate the possibility of the future Pope being rumored to owe any favors to any of those men for his election.  Any lowering of the possibilities of further corruption at the top gives the whole organization more credibility.

And the outgoing Pope should get the benefit of doing something right in his last week.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Really? This is your answer to the world? Sigh.

Much has been written about the sexual abuse scandal roiling through the Catholic Church.  I've written about it here.   I've even noted that other organizations have been plagued by similar problems.

But there are two things that distinguish between an organization that nobody blames for an instance of sexual abuse of a child and one which deserves the full condemnation and blame that can ever be heaped upon it.


No, they don't understand.

My main problem lately with the RCC has been just that.  The failure of the RCC to fully, completely and transparently deal with the fact that pedophile priests within their ranks (not by far all priests, mind you) have not only been active, but have been protected by the hierarchy over the years, being moved from parish to parish to avoid discovery, not only by their parishioners, but by local law enforcement.

The fact of the existence of these actions is bad enough, but to date, the poster "child" for this entire scandal is Cardinal Mahoney of LA, now retired, and also recently removed from all pastoral and administrative duties, even in retirement, after the full brunt of documents were revealed in the current lawsuit over the scandal.

But I am here to reveal to you what was merely hinted at yesterday on the ABC Evening News regarding Mahoney's blog.

He starts out bravely.

One very insightful and powerful Address has sustained me over these past difficult years as all of us in the Church had to face the fact that Catholic clergy sexually abused children and young people. 
Entitled On Carrying A Scandal Biblically it was first delivered in late 2002 by Father Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I., in Canada.  The Address was edited into an article, and is readily available on his website.
 Sure, even Cardinals under fire need some form of support, and there's a lot of places online where one can find inspiring things to sustain oneself in times of mental hardship.

But, keep reading:
There is nothing else in print which has so captivated my heart and soul, and served as the basis for countless meditations and reflections.  I recommend it to anyone who is searching for a truly counter-cultural approach at dealing with this terrible sinfulness which has overwhelmed all of us in the Church.
"Counter-cultural" approach?  Hmm.  Go on.
You will never find the Rolheiser approach even mentioned in any news media, since it is not about condemning others, but about how disciples of Jesus are called to carry and live out a terrible scandal day by day. 
He calls our suffering what it really is:  painful and public humiliation, which is spiritually a grace-opportunity. 
 Wait, hold it. Here, we begin to see the real problem, as illustrated by Captain Sparrow.  This isn't about you, Mahoney or your "suffering" upon being exposed as a law breaker.  This about your criminal actions in protecting other criminals.  This is about ending your criminal activities.  This is about you and your fellow bishops, archbishops and cardinals admitting your past actions and officially, publicly and finally, for all time, ending your organization's criminal activities in supporting these pedophiles and their heinous activities and hiding them from public view.

But, wait, read on!  There is more that fully exposes the real attitude problem.

I have tried to live out--poorly and inadequately far too often--his two implications of humiliation:
  1. the acceptance of being scapegoated, pointing out the necessary connection between humiliation and redemption;
  2. this scandal is putting us, the clergy and the church, where we belong--with the excluded ones; Jesus was painted with the same brush as the two thieves crucified with him.
 No.  Full stop.  Nobody is being scapegoated.  You, cardinal Mahoney, the entire Church Hierarchy, all the way to the Pope are being blamed because you not only failed to stop the abuse, but under the full authority of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith over Ratzinger's signature, hid the abuse,  and moved the offending priests to both avoid public exposure and prevent the arrest and prosecution of those offending priests.  You did it, not as"bad" individuals, or as men failing your god, but you did it in full understanding of the criminality of your actions and the actions you were protecting, and you did it using the full authority of your organization's hierarchical power, as delegated from the Pope, your absolute monarch.  You did it, arrogantly asserting that your church and all of its priestly hierarchy are above secular law, all over the world!

You are astoundingly presumptuous and arrogant by even suggesting that this puts you in league with your founding figure's travails - your church teaches that he was innocent and without blame!  You, yourself have probably pointed this out thousands of times in preaching to your flocks over the decades of your ministry!  How in the world can you, of all people, have the presumption to compare your current situation, accused of felonious, criminal activity with that of your innocently proclaimed god!

That's not all.
"Jesus models this for us.  He took in hatred, held it, transformed it, and gave back love; he took in bitterness, held it, transformed it, and gave back graciousness; he took in curses, held them, transformed them, and gave back blessing; he took in betrayal, held it, transformed it, and gave back forgiveness."  That's what it means to ponder biblically.
What a pile of crap.  I'm sorry for the blunt language, but that is the best way I can find to describe this tripe.

There is no forgiveness possible for a man, or an organization, which has the chutzpah to compare themselves and their "suffering" by public humiliation in the exposure of their criminality with the proclaimed innocence of their god and the story of his humiliation and crucifixion.  There is no comparison, and any person who accepts his words without utter disgust and contempt either isn't thinking very deeply or at some level has to condone the RCC's actions fully and completely.

The depths to which these people have fallen is astonishing, and the fact that more Catholics haven't risen up and made their disgust and anger known is frankly a puzzle to the rest of the world.

These people no longer represent their god.  These people can no longer claim the moral right or the standing to preach to the rest of us about how innocent and pure their crucified god is supposed to be.

If that god were real, he would denounce these monsters.  He would clean the world of the stain that organization represents upon his church and his reputation.  If he were real, his very hand would wipe them from the face of the earth.

Somehow I just don't see that happening.

Friday, February 22, 2013

It sounds crazy, but it is crazy like a fox!

There's a very interesting article on the MRFF's web site where Mikey Weinstein calls out a Christian fundamentalist blog for hinting at demonic possession because of his opposition to military mandatory prayer ceremonies, implying that he and his MRFF clients might be possessed because, you know,
It is the Trinity that such people abhor, especially any reference to Jesus, Our Lord. May the devil and all of his demons be cast out, wherever they are, in the name of Jesus, Our Lord, who commands them to leave. Look at Our Lord suffering on the Cross for us! His Love is what they hate!
It is frustrating to a high degree that these cretins think they know what is in my head.  Or do they?  Do they really think that?

Or is there something else going on here?

The reality is that they don't think that at all.  That's what they want their believers to think, though.  This is an attack against atheists and non-christians that goes back centuries.  It is subtle and insidious and turns your real beliefs and world view invisible so their flocks see you as an enemy.

Notice that this attack makes the prior assumption that you really know god exists!  What does that mean then?  That if you are claiming he doesn't, you are lying (another of their attacks against us) and so you are really undermining him because you secretly hate him!  This goes along with their constant meme that it is christians against the rest of humanity.  Humanity is always trying to stop christians from worshiping god because then they'll go to hell too!

Us vs. Them.  It becomes this dichotomy that sets up the conflict between good and evil, and if you aren't a christian, you are evil and evil people like company in hell.  The reality that other people worship other gods which are just as imaginary as theirs is a death knell for any religion, and destroys the two sided conflict.  People can then be seen as just ordinary humans which is counter to the idea that they are evil.  If people can be shown to be evil, then intolerance, discrimination, and hatred are not only allowed, but necessary as part of defense of the faith.

Notice that in the article Mikey cites, once their mad claim is exposed to public ridicule, it simply disappears!  That is because it is an argument that is for insiders' ears only!  Obviously, to any modern, thinking American, the idea that demons even exist is a ridiculous notion, dismissed out of hand as superstitious and backward.  But is is a claim that holds a claim to the hearts and minds of the very religious, those who fall for the whole schtick - lock, stock, and barrel.

Fortunately, most of us aren't that gullible.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Looking into the Future and the Roman Catholic Church. Part II.

Obviously, I would (and do) dream of a world where religion is an artifact in museums and studied in history books, sociology texts and psychology classes.

No, I am not smoking something good!

Reality, however, has a way of intruding rudely into our dreams and smashing our most heartfelt desires into tiny, infinitesimal pieces.  By that I mean that I do realize religion isn't going away.  It will, however, be transformed.

We live in a period of intense unrest and extreme instability.  We see tension between the very rich and the very poor, indeed, in the US, even the middle class is getting into the ring!  Religious tensions around the world, not only the US' "War on Terror", but also in Europe between the native, largely secular populations and the newly immigrated Islamic groups from the Middle East.  Even worse tensions in Britain between a growing secular population, the traditional Church of England remnants and a growing Islamic immigrant population often eager to bring their sharia traditions with them into their new home.

The immigrants in Europe are also symptomatic of the growing tensions in the Islamic world.  They flee because they are part of a growing segment of muslims who are less and less conservative and even include many secular converts, all of whom are at risk of violence or death at home.  These are mixed with conservative muslims who have fled to Europe for political reasons or to avoid their own threatened death by rival conservative groups, who are trying to import their own version of conservative Islam into their  new homes to thwart the more secular groups.  Economic issues as poor immigrants don't make the situation any easier.

In short, Islam is a mess right now, and it isn't going to get any better in the foreseeable future.  In fact, the whole world is in turmoil, religiously, and I would make the claim that most of the unrest and violence in the world today is a result of those religious tensions.

In Part I, I introduced you to a man named Matthew Fox, an ex-priest and theologian hounded from the RCC by Ratzinger.  He claims to have an idea of what Christianity could look like and how he sees it moving (at the behest of the Holy Ghost, no less!) as time goes on.

I am a bit surprised by some of his thoughts, as they seem  But, on the other hand, many of the remarks made on Facebook by some of my friends there are remarkably in tune with his vision of what Christianity should be.
Utterly, religion is something very simple.  It is about the heart being turned on, to be generous, and to be just, and to be courageous enough to pull that off; and to be compassionate, and to celebrate. 
This remarkably similar to the feelings and beliefs of many of the secular folks I know.  The...atheists I mean.

Religions all over the world provide one thing that is inherently non-religious:  Community.  People of similar beliefs, feelings and culture tend to gather together for mutual support, for social interaction, for marriage and for business.  The ties that bind are not always religious, and indeed, I think that the religious ones are probably the weakest.  We tend, at least in the US, to avoid too much religious discussion outside of formal ceremonies or classes, and do a lot of socializing.  I've seen churches where the after church rituals of gathering the families, talking on the way to the parking lot and such often take as long as the formal ceremony did!

Unless some form of religious dogma gets in the way, people in the US have often ignored or dismissed sex scandals, alcohol use (in denominations that officially frown on it) and other indiscretions of a religious nature, providing long standing cultural traditions aren't violated.  Americans have always had a tradition of coming together as a community with an amazing amount of generosity when disaster strikes and helping people get their lives back on track.  Americans have always had a tradition of fairness, of having a sense of justice.  And don't even ask about how we love to celebrate!

I believe that in the future, these elements will be a big part of Americans' growing sense of communal spirituality.  Of coming together as a people, as a community to celebrate our humanity, our togetherness and our joy of life.  Demographically, Americans are becoming more progressive.  Religiously, I think they already have been to a large degree.

I don't see folks from other countries being much different.  They are as human as we are, and humans have evolved to have a sense of community, or cooperation against the elements in favor of survival.

Progressivism, is, at its core, a return to the caring and the communal support of our tribal past, a belief that society has an obligation, for the good of human survival, to ensure the survival of all its members. I think that the future of religion will be a return to these roots, an acceptance of the basic goodness of humanity and our communal spirit.

The younger generation, the first to come of age in the 21st century, is a very informal group.  Formal organizations are just not important to them, and their relationships tend to be more fluid.  Virtuality, in the form of various online service such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., are more important to them, and reflect a wider interest in the world beyond the immediate physical vicinity.  It is easy for them to use Google to find information, and they are often quick to debunk falsities and lies.  Community, for many of them, is just as far away as their iPhones!

I won't try to predict exactly what form future religion may take.  I believe it will embrace science and reason, and will take in a much wider audience than a simple local congregation of today.

In the meantime, buckle up, the transition is going to be rough.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Looking into the Future and the Roman Catholic Church. Part I.

Yeah, yeah, it's a somewhat dramatic title, but you're here, right?  I hope not to disappoint, but I don't intent to bash anybody either.

I read a fascinating article today, a transcript of an interview with a man named Matthew Fox, who is an ex-priest and ex-theologian who was hounded out of the church by Ratzinger.  He is a well educated man, very articulate and he has some very interesting things to say about the church.

I write this because everybody is focused on the RCC, both because of the pope's upcoming resignation and the puzzling but fascinating articles popping up recently about a rumored arrest warrant for the man if he ever leaves the Vatican grounds.

My point of view here is definitely one of an atheist, but many of you already know me as having two minds about religion, the future, and religious organizations.  Yes, I am militantly opposed to religion in and of itself, and am of the opinion that it is too much like a loaded gun in the hands of children for people to be trusted with it unsupervised!  But on the other hand, religion has a multi-thousand year history in human culture, possibly going back tens of thousands of years.  Not a tradition to be dismissed lightly.  People will believe a lot of crazy, misguided stuff, and if that stuff gets institutionalized, its around to stay for a while!  Just look at Scientology if you don't get my drift.

So, please stay with me, I am trying to work something out here.

Fox says basically, that the RCC is being hijacked by a group of hard conservatives who have taken the church in a radical new direction not envisioned by the Vatican II Council.  What difference does that make?  Vatican II was decades ago, right?  Can't things change a lot in that time?  Yes, they can, but his point is made by this remark:
When there were three Popes in the 14th century all claiming their infallible rights, if you will, they called a Council. The Council deposed all three and chose a new one. And so, Councils trump Popes, Popes don't trump Councils, but what has happened the last forty [40] years is that these two Popes, Ratzinger and John Paul II, working together, have trumped the Council. Therefore, they're in Schism; and people who are still attempting to live out the teachings of Justice and also horizontal Catholicism, they're not in Schism, they're trying to live the reality.
He backs up his point about JP II and Ratzinger with a fair amount of evidence, much of it dealing with Opus Dei.   But that is something a lot of people already know about, much thanks to Brown's books and the movies.

Moving on, Fox makes a remarkable statement here:

Well, that's why I have very, very little optimism about the next Pope, because they've sacked the Cardinals, the people who vote for Popes.  All the men they've appointed the last forty [40] years think like themselves, which means they'll do nothing new there.  So that's why I think the Holy Spirit has asked us to step beyond the structure that we know as the Catholic Church.  I think that it's run it's course.  
And I'm not alone in this at all.  A very great Saint, a Father Bede Griffiths was a monk in Southern India for fifty years, a Benedictine monk, and he said to me shortly before he died a few years ago, "Don't worry about the Vatican, don't look over your shoulder, don't even think about them."  He said, "Continue to 'plant shoots' for the new Christianity, because one day it's all going to come tumbling down, just like the Berlin Wall."  And I think we're living through that day. 
He says repeatedly that he believes the Holy Ghost is "deconstructing" the Church.

Well, I don't, as you might imagine, put any faith in a supernatural being using any kind of earthly influence in that way, but I certainly see what he means by somebody deconstructing the church!  It seems to be pretty much going along with the game plan the Republicans are using, which is to keep spouting all of the traditional and extreme conservative values, slanted as extremist as possible, which is having the effect of not just pushing people away from the church, but is making them literally run the other way!  It is less deconstructing itself than it is merely tearing itself apart.

An example he gives:
I tell you, I did a retreat a few years ago in upstate New York, and Friday night about a hundred and fifty there said what traditions they were from.  A hundred were Catholic, "How many are practicing?"  About 60 percent.  Then I said "How many of your children are practicing?"  Every hand went down.  Zero percent of the children of these Catholics were practicing, and that was three or four years ago.  I find this everywhere, that again, the revelation of pedophilia and the way it's been handled, plus the other teachings against birth control, against gays, the preoccupation with sex as the apparent primary teaching of Christianity.  All this is turning off many, many people, as it should.
 I think that's enough to show that even the most religious of folks can see and know what's happening.

Now, he goes on to make the case that he thinks the RCC, or at least Christianity, as a religion is going to change, and radically at that.
I mean, the real issues are not about Popes, the real issues are about the survival of the planet for God's sake!  You know, these are the Spiritual issues of our time, and of course, melting our war machine into real work for real people.  There's so much unemployment in the world, when there's so much work that needs doing and so forth, it makes no sense.  Humans have to wake up.  That's what has to happen, and a healthy church would be leading the way in that, it wouldn't be narcissistically preoccupied with it's own make believe heroes, idols. 
 Emphasis mine.

He talks of a new spirituality.
One thing is, it would be ecumenical, what I call "Deep ecumenism (oecumenism?)" With that I mean, let's make out the essence, the distillation of the teachings of Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed and Isaiah and Lao Tzu and Black Elk and other great spiritual teachers of the world.  I think that clearly no one religion has all the answers, we're all struggling today as a species, and so we can draw common wisdom.
 At the end, he talks briefly about atheism, and I think he sees it in a altered light that is too twisted by his religious training to truly understand how much atheism has taken hold around the world, so that it is the fastest growing demographic in the world today.  But that isn't really germane to my post.

I see that we are living today in a period of extreme instability in traditional religious circles.  The extremism in the Republican Party is one symptom, as are the scandals wracking the RCC.  The terrorism roiling in the Islamic world, I am beginning to think, is another.  In the world of traditional religion, nobody is safe, no theology is not being questioned.

The internet is one reason, and I believe, Facebook is another.  Yes, Facebook, that corporation you love to hate and are all worked up over their mixed up, hard-to-understand privacy rules, is, I think a prime reason that religion today is so endangered as a traditional belief system.  Throw in Twitter, where news and short spurts of info can make their way across the world in seconds, and you've got a literal revolution in information.

Revolution.  Information.  See what I did there?  It is well established that more educated populations, in general, are less superstitious.  Less religious, on average.  One can see that clearly in Europe, which has arguably the best education system in the world and is the least religious area anywhere on the planet.  In the US, the States with less successful educational systems have not only the highest incidence of religiosity, but also have the highest rates of negative social success indicators (rape, murder, divorce, etc.) compared to States with lower rates of religiosity.

As the world get smarter, and information get a wider field of dissemination, fewer people are staying religious in a traditional sense.  Fox has this to say also:
That's what it comes down to, and we're at one of these times of history when we have to simplify, we have to come back to the real meaning, not just of the Christ event, but of the Buddha event.  The Buddhists have to clean their act up.  The Muslims have to clean their act up.  The Jews have to clean their act up.  The time for the shaking down our religions to get to the distillation of it, and then linking up with the distillation of each, and create a new thing, with the help of science.
 Yeah, the science thing.  One of the reasons religion is going the way of the dodo bird is science.  Once you see the beauty of the universe as a thing of natural laws and logical cause and effect, the natural beauty of how it all fits together kind of blows the book of Genesis out of the water, along with most other creation stories that depend on gods.

Many of my past posts have dealt with the harm of religion or how I see it collapsing around us.  Not many have dealt with how it might change in the future.

See Part II for my thoughts on that.

In the meantime, I would urge you to go to the linked article, the whole interview is interesting and worth the read.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sorry about that!

Not going to be another post tonight, and yesterday was a holiday.  Today, I've got a sore knee, and I'm going to set myself up in the big ole easy chair in the living room and divide my time between Facebook and the TV!

See ya'll tomorrow!

In the meantime, here's a nice atheist themed wallpaper, applied to a Mac OS X background for you!

Friday, February 15, 2013

How Static is Morality?

Christians are fond of telling us that their god is unchanging and his morals are set in the bible and are absolute.  At least some of them, the loudest, do.  The RCC is certainly insistent about that, as are the Evangelicals.

One of the worst things those folks on the hard right can do is to insult you with the epithet that you are a "moral relativist".

Let's take a look at the idea here for a moment.

A popular meme making the rounds on Facebook is a photo with the short version of the story of Lot where the two angels are visiting him in his home in Sodom, looking for just ten good men to save the city.  You know, the one where all of the men of Sodom gathered in front of his home after they discovered they were there and demanded for Lot to produce him so they could "know them"?  Yeah, the one where Lot offered instead that the crowd take his daughters in lieu of his guests.

That is an interesting story from a couple of aspects.

It is one of the stories Evangelicals use to show how god hates gays.  Enough that he would nuke a city that was full of them!  Plus, today, we look at this story and gasp at how callous he was to offer his daughters - his innocent daughters - for the crowd to enjoy and how they refused the offer, so the angels had to blind them all to allow Lot's family to escape.  Further evidence of the crowds' homosexuality, and their depravity!

There are, however, a couple of problems with this story and how modern Americans understand it.

First, this story is badly translated, according to at least two scholars I've read recently.  The part of the passage where the crowd asks to have Lot throw the men out for them, in the original Greek, does not indicate that sex was the motive, but robbery and simple assault.  So the homosexual aspect of our understanding is completely off.

Second, the real point I am making.

In that time and place where the story was first told, guests were uncommon.  The land was harsh, travel was hard and dangerous, and human habitation was an oasis in such harsh conditions.  People had developed a standard custom regarding guests in a harsh land.

First, the guest was bound to good behavior, he was not to harm his hosts nor steal from them.  He was expected to dine with his hosts and provide news of places he had been in return for his host's hospitality and protection.  The word protection here is especially important.  A host was bound by strict custom to hold his guests harmless, to protect them from harm.  Otherwise, people would be reluctant to stop in a strange place with strange people!  So, a balance of expectations.

A man's reputation was based on how strict and proper he was in meeting these expectations.  To allow the crowd to successfully assault and rob his guests was a travesty Lot could not afford to allow to happen.  So, he offered them what he had to offer to appease them.

In this he is held up in this story as a righteous man, which, in his time and place, where daughters were often a liability, was certainly true.

Today, we hold different ideas, and look at Lot's offer of his daughters as being horrifying.  The defense of the guests is overlooked, overshadowed by the anti-gay message in the mistranslation.

Today, we look at guests differently.  We do not take in just any stranger as a guest.  There has to be a connection in order to be invited into someone's home.  The idea that there might be danger we would have to protect a guest from is not often thought of.  Our society has motels, hotels, guest houses, etc., that travelers can stay in, and people are not stuck with the necessity of staying in private homes.  so the morals are different.

In the past, due to the harsh conditions, providing food, shelter and protection to a traveler was an obligation everybody took seriously, because who knew, maybe you would be in need someday, and it was in everybody's best interests to buy into that moral code.

Today, we don't have to, so morals in this regard have changed.  We are not obligated to give food and shelter to any Tom, Dick or Harry that stops by the door.  Of course, those who are allowed as guest are still given free food and drinks, and we often offer a room or the couch to friends in need, and of course, do not dream of harming them or allowing them to come to harm.

But we don't have an obligation to offer our daughters as tokens for that protection, nor are we obligated to offer shelter to strangers!  Then, women were property, today, at least in most western countries, they are not, and have a better, more equitable status.

Different conditions, different moral code.

What do you think?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Republicans make history again!

Republicans have made history again, but this time it is a new low.  Rachael has the scoop.
For the very first time in American history, a cabinet nominee was brought to the Senate floor, filibustered by a minority of members, and came up short of 60 votes.
Note that the nominee, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, is a Republican!  He's from their own Party!   One has to wonder what is going through these clowns' heads'.  The man has always been very well respected as a member of his Party, and was expected to get through this mess, though nobody expected it to be a quick easy slide in.

But the thing that has me wondering is just what is going through Harry Reid's mind right now?  I mean, the man had the power to shut this crap down.  Stop it in its tracks cold.

And he threw it away.

It seems the Democrats have this uncanny ability to snatch Defeat from the jaws of Victory.  One more example of their ability to fail to miss any good opportunity to miss an opportunity!

Rachael again:

The Senate wasn't designed to work this way. For about two centuries, it didn't have to work this way. But the radicalization of the Republican Party has led to a political environment in which we end up using the word "unprecedented" an awful lot. 

GOP obstructionism has reached epidemic levels in recent years. Today, to a historic degree, it got worse.
 And the Democrats have nobody to blame but themselves this time.

Paint me disgusted.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Robertson - again!

I guess this isn't as bad as some of his crazy stuff, but Pat Robertson said yesterday on the 700 Club that Islam is a “religion of chaos” that is almost “demonic” — before saying that he doesn’t consider Islam a religion at all but “an economic and political system with a religious veneer.”

Pot, kettle, black!

Christian extremism, also known in these pages as Dominionism, is also an economic and political system - or at least in this country, a wannabe.  There are christian extremists in this country who would dearly love to make christianity into exactly the same kind of system, so it is no wonder that they will offer up the statement of sour grapes when speaking about a system which has achieved their coveted status, at least in some countries.

I offer the video, for your listening pleas... er, your listening ordeal of the evening!

Yeah, that kind of stupidity should be painful, shouldn't it?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

If He's for it, We're agin' it!

There are times I despair for this country.  There are times I don't, and right now, I am laughing my tail off, watching the Republicans chewing their own tails, trying to demonstrate to each other how opposed they are to Obama.

I sit here, hot chocolate and popcorn in hand, highly entertained, and having to strap myself in my chair to keep from falling off, I'm laughing so hard.

On one hand, they are outraged when anyone on the left even mentions the word racism, yet, in their actions and in their own conversations, they illustrate so clearly how very racist and intolerant they really are.  The latest is a Washington Post poll that shows 60% of Republicans support some form of a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, but if Obama is for it, that support largely melts away.

What in the world is wrong with these people?  Either an idea is a good one, or it isn't.  Is it so drastically important that you do virtual mortal harm to this country and more than likely your own party just to make Obama look to history like a bad President?  Just because he's black?

That isn't just racist, it is disgusting, stupid, and simply amazingly moronic. Face it, Conservatives, you've lost.  Obama got elected, TWICE!  That makes him one of only 16 Presidents who have won the honor of being elected twice.  Get over it, move on.  You have some serious work to do in reforming your party and getting back on some semblance of a platform that the American people will at least partially support before you try to nominate another idiot for President.

Keep going the way you are, and you'll really need some form of divine support to make it.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Let's talk, Ok?

I want to tell you a few things, just you and me.  (and, yeah anybody else who tunes in, but let's pretend, ok?)

I get frustrated when people misconstrue what I write.  I have to rewrite it to try to make it clearer.  That keeps me from writing something new.  Whatever.  If ya gotta, ya gotta.

I've written a lot about the harm religion causes.  A majority of that has been about the Roman Catholic Church. (RCC)  Not to pick on the RCC, but, well, low hanging fruit, right?  Like anyone who writes about current events and how they impact our society, you take what the times offer you.   I'll go into that in a bit, but first, I want to acknowledge what some have noted, and I have also noted in the past - other religions and other christian denominations have these issues too.

To give you an idea of the scope of the problem, here is a web site that keeps an eye out on these issues, worldwide!  It is called Religious Watch, and I recommend it if you have a strong stomach but want to see what other places are dealing with.  Some of it is disgusting, especially the one about the young 15 year old girl abused by her local imam, who got her pregnant and is not only facing a difficult pregnancy, but was sentenced to 101 lashes (the same number as her abuser) and is being forced to marry the bastard!

The list is long and sometimes difficult to read.  But, it will give you an idea of what the scope of the problem is, and that the RCC isn't the only bad apple in the barrel.  The barrel is literally full to the brim with bad apples.

It has been commented on, over and over again, that these things are due to a small number of bad or evil people.  Alluding to the excuse that no fault accrues to the religion that person belongs to.  Well, I won't argue that these people can be described as bad or evil, but I will not agree that no fault accrues to the religion of the bad guy.

Look.  Pedophilia isn't new.  It's description by the mental health industry as a mental problem may be a 20th century thing, but even that isn't new any more.  We are learning more and more about it all the time.  And one of the things we have known for a while is that organizations and occupations which offer contact with vulnerable populations of the underage attract pedophiles.  This isn't rocket science.

There have been a number of decades since the US (and I presume Europe) have come around to looking at pedophilia as a twisted bad thing as societies in general.  Yet, over and over again, we see these cases where men and occasionally women abuse their young charges.  The authorities of whatever organization employs that person express shock, fire the accused and try to smother the scandal as quickly as possible.  Sometimes, they will cooperate with authorities in the prosecution of the accused, but not always.

What I do not understand is why an organization which employs presumably adult managers cannot see  their way to establishing common sense procedures to protect the children they help or educate or work with in whatever their business may be from the very real possibility of abuse.  It isn't hard, but it takes dedication and attention to detail.  The results of having a safe environment for your young charges to seek your services in is well worth it.

Besides that, in most US States, taking those common sense precautions is the law.  Protecting the children you service is required and notifying the authorities if a violation of that protection occurs is mandatory.  Not notifying the authorities of abuse is in most States a felony.

Everybody knows this.  TV shows examine these issues in detail, news programs talk about it in news broadcasts where abuse is discovered and any business with a lawyer has access to the kind of legal advice that makes failing in that duty hard to excuse.  Yet, time and time again, many different organizations do fail.  Abuse occurs.  Most organizations do report that abuse to the cops, but some do not.

Two recent examples include of course, the RCC, but what hit the news big was the Penn State scandal.  A high profile coach resigned over the issue, because he failed to report that abuse, even though he knew about it.  For over a decade he knew about it! And yet, he kept his mouth shut.

Why, we'll never know, because he died.  Beyond the reach of the courts, his family is now trying to resurrect his reputation, now resting in shattered pieces after the revelations that he knew and kept quiet.

Others, on the board, have resigned also.  Who knows where the investigation will lead now?

Now, a word about the Roman Catholic Church.

I know that this is a sore subject for some.  Painful for them and others too.  Why, I am asked, do I "bash" the RCC?  Why do I pick on them?

Well, again, low hanging fruit.  When these things hit the news, they hit big, and everybody knows about them.  The RCC is not your neighborhood Solid Rock Evangelical Snake Wrestling Pentecostal Church.  When they screw up, it's news, and yes, other religions have these same issues.  But christianity is here, in the US, and it is that religion that affects my life the most, so I am more concerned with it.

But, in reality, that isn't it.

From the perspective of the christian religion, the RCC is the original organized church.  Historians know that it wasn't really the first church per se, since it was just one among dozens of small sects vying for the attention of the Roman public towards the end of the first century.  But it was the one Constantine picked as the winner of the great public "Who's Going to be the Next Official Roman Religion" lottery.  Thus, for our purposes, the RCC is IT.  There are no opposing messages from the period before 324 AD, and the Council of Nicea.  There are no surviving records of what those other competing sects believed or thought, or at least none written by them. What we know about them is what the surviving sect wrote about them and chose to keep.  Which is not much.

As the originator of the bible, the RCC picked and chose what to put in it, and what to leave out.  Much of what survived got altered from the originals, we know that too.

But without going into painful, "too long; didn't read" length, the upshot is that everything we know about the christian religion comes from one source.  The bible.

Every thesis, every theological treatise, every essay written in the 1700-1800 some odd years since the canon was established comes essentially from that one source.  There are no other authoritative sources.  Scholars will tell you that lots of other"gospels" did survive, many of them in hidden caches of documents discovered in the last two hundred years.  They do give us a window into the Christian and Jewish religious worlds of thought at the time, but they are not authoritative representations of what christianity is today, as we know it, and as it is taught in churches around the world.

What concerns me, and what led me to decide in the end to stop identifying myself as christian, is at the very foundation of my thought, credibility.

Religion deals with what we are told is our immortal soul.  Something, a part of us, that never dies.  To me, that has always been something one should look at as important.  I mean, forever is a very long time, no?  So what happens during that very long time has to be vital to our very existence.

I'm not going to trust that soul to just any Tom, Dick or Harry that comes down the Pike.  As a matter of fact, I'm not going to trust whether I've even got one to just any Tom, Dick or Harry.  I want something better than just the words "trust me"!

So, hey, they've got this book, right?  It's old too!  Real old!  But, immediately, we've got a problem.  They tell me its two thousand years old, but every bible I've ever held has a copyright date less than a hundred and fifteen years ago.  It is a lot more complicated than that!

So, I begin to look into it and find out all sorts of things about translations, copies, mistakes, transpositions, interpolations and out and out forgeries.  A lot of that I had to study up on to even figure out what they were!  What I found wasn't reassuring.

But the kicker is the who, not just the what.  As I look into the history of religion in the western world, I am not reassured either.  It just doesn't look much different from the shenanigans of the reigning monarchs of Europe.  The doings of the popes themselves alone is enough to curl your hair.  Murder, bribery, war, hedonism, adultery.  It's all there, and more besides.

It got so bad their own priests couldn't take it any more and the Reformation was born.  It didn't take long for those men to become as corrupt as their Catholic counterparts.

Today, we've heard from the Irish how the church there molested young boys in monasteries and sometimes murdered them and buried them in hidden graveyards.  We've heard about the Magdalene Laundries where young girls were kept as virtual slaves for sometimes decades, and often abused as well.

Now the abuse scandals, and the word that the church hierarchy itself condoned that abuse by moving the priests from place to place to avoid criminal prosecution, by order of the now current Pope.  There is word now that there is a documentary in the works on HBO that will publish more documents that may expose Ratzinger's further, closer involvement in those scandals.

And let's not even get into the scandals involved with the Church of England and its wars against the RCC and Catholic monarchs, and the monasteries and convents on the European continent (both Protestant and Catholic) that sport tunnels between them with handy little hidden graveyards of children, babies and fetuses.

Oh, did I mention the word "credibility"?  sorry, but just that word alone, much less the concept, has failed to survive through all that stuff above.

No matter how well intentioned the modern pastors, preachers and priests may be in this enlightened age of progressive ideals and values, the foundation of what they teach today is rotten to the core.  After having been copied so many times even the most senior and enlightened biblical scholars don't know how many generations of copies there may have been since the beginning, there is no way we can ever know what the original documents may have said.  Or, for that matter, if there even were single originals to any of the biblical documents.  Bart Ehrman has written a lot of books about these subjects, and here is what he says about the credibility of the bible:

Teaching in Christian seminaries, or to largely Christian undergraduate populations, who wants to denigrate the cherished texts of Scripture by calling them forgeries built on lies? And so scholars use a different term for this phenomenon and call such books "pseudepigrapha." 
You will find this antiseptic term throughout the writings of modern scholars of the Bible. It's the term used in university classes on the New Testament, and in seminary courses, and in Ph.D. seminars. What the people who use the term do not tell you is that it literally means "writing that is inscribed with a lie." 
And that's what such writings are. Whoever wrote the New Testament book of 2 Peter claimed to be Peter. But scholars everywhere -- except for our friends among the fundamentalists -- will tell you that there is no way on God's green earth that Peter wrote the book. Someone else wrote it claiming to be Peter. Scholars may also tell you that it was an acceptable practice in the ancient world for someone to write a book in the name of someone else. But that is where they are wrong. If you look at what ancient people actually said about the practice, you'll see that they invariably called it lying and condemned it as a deceitful practice, even in Christian circles. 2 Peter was finally accepted into the New Testament because the church fathers, centuries later, were convinced that Peter wrote it. But he didn't. Someone else did. And that someone else lied about his identity.
So, you ask, how does that matter if the teachings were christian teachings?  They well could have still been guided by god's hand!  Well, look at this next passage:
Whoever wrote the book of 1 Timothy claimed to be Paul. But he was lying about that -- he was someone else living after Paul had died. In his book, the author of 1 Timothy used Paul's name and authority to address a problem that he saw in the church. Women were speaking out, exercising authority and teaching men. That had to stop. The author told women to be silent and submissive, and reminded his readers about what happened the first time a woman was allowed to exercise authority over a man, in that little incident in the garden of Eden. No, the author argued, if women wanted to be saved, they were to have babies (1 Tim. 2:11-15).
Largely on the basis of this passage, the apostle Paul has been branded, by more liberation minded people of recent generations, as one of history's great misogynists. The problem, of course, is that Paul never said any such thing. And why does it matter? Because the passage is still used by church leaders today to oppress and silence women. Why are there no women priests in the Catholic Church? Why are women not allowed to preach in conservative evangelical churches? Why are there churches today that do not allow women even to speak? In no small measure it is because Paul allegedly taught that women had to be silent, submissive and pregnant. Except that the person who taught this was not Paul, but someone lying about his identity so that his readers would think he was Paul. 
Credibility.  It goes to the heart of what we can or should believe.  Do we believe the weatherman is credible?  That determines whether we will or won't evacuate when he tells us that a big storm is going to hit our hometown.

For me, I cannot believe what I am told by people who have the history that the western churches have going all the way back to the earliest times.  I cannot because the book they tell me is the word of god has been so altered and riddled with out and out lies and forgeries, included for the purpose of their  own goals and ends that I cannot determine what the original authors meant us to know.  A growing number of scholars are now even questioning whether Jesus himself may have been a mythical figure and not historical.  (the jury is still out on that one, and isn't likely to be settled any time soon.)

So, take this one as my own opinion, and what led me out of religion.  A complete lack of credibility, a book of errors and lies and a history of violence, greed and sexual abuse ruined anything good or positive I may have been able to glean from the religion of my fathers.

Your opinion may and probably will, differ.  You may not even believe what I am saying here.  If not, I urge you, indeed, I challenge you, to study for yourself.  Stay away from the apologists, they will mislead you with comforting tales of twisted theology, meant to make you feel good about your faith.  The ones to read are the ones that question the mainstream, the guys and gals who have studied and aren't afraid to tell a different story.   That story is out there.  You just have to be willing to go find it and be brave enough to actually read it.

A final note.

I do not and will not dispute that many religious people have done a tremendous amount of good.  Religious charities abound.  Millions are helped by them after disasters and storms.  They take care of widows and orphans and care for the sick and hospitals have long been a favorite activity of religious institutions.

None of what I wrote above is meant to denigrate any of that good, and I hope you can understand my journey to where I am today.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Even christians are beginning to notice!

I've been saying for a long time that religion is harmful.  I have posted a lot of stories that illustrate exactly how harmful it is, from stories about the RCC and abuse to idiots in the Republican Party saying stupid crap on TV.

I know that a lot of my readers from Facebook have been reading these stories, and a lot of them are still on the fence, at least about some of it even while accepting much of the more atrocious mockeries as obviously bad.

But here is a blog from Patheos, "Why I still Talk to Jesus - In Spite of Everything", written by Frank Schaeffer.  He is an ex-evengelical now attending an Eastern Orthodox church.  His post written on November 2, 2012, "How the Evangelicals Doomed the Republican Party, God and (Maybe) America", was obviously written before the election, but he is prescient about the results, and after you read his piece, you'll see why.

He pretty much hits on all of the stuff I've written about, plus a lot of the things we (in the FB group Thinkers Without Malice) have been seeing and talking about, and I am encouraged by the fact that a progressive christian is noticing this stuff and talking about it.  I do have one beef about it though,
I say again: Touch it where you may the evangelical/Republican Party/billionaire alliance is doomed, it’s doomed because the non-retributive Jesus is the true Lord, not a hate filled ideology of imperial overreach that is embraced by crazed and militarized right wing neoconservatives and the haters of not just our first black president but of God and his good earth.

It is doomed because most Americans aren't right wing crazed religious fanatics wedded to a Republican/billionaire alliance.   As a matter of fact, when you get right down to it, a vast majority of Americans aren't.  This has nothing to do with whether there is a god, or who/what that god may be or which theology may or may not be right.

This is about politics and real American values, not the fake stuff Republicans like to natter on about.  This is about the fact that America is becoming a progressive country, whether the right wing likes it or not.  Attitudes and social trends often take a decade or more to work their way between Europe and the US, no matter which side of the pond a particular social thing began on.  In this case, the trend away from religion began in Europe, as a reaction to how Europeans saw the churches bow down to and fail to stand up to the Nazis and how well those christian "values" were twisted and bent to fit the Nazi programs.  The trend away from religion began with the children who were born before the war, who grew up during and through the war and survived in spite of the inaction of the churches in countering that evil.  Their parents were too busy themselves fighting the war and trying to survive to teach their children religion in an era in which churches were not a major part of peoples' lives.

As my generation was born, the trend accelerated until, today, the very most religious European countries have less than half of their populations claiming christianity as a spiritual home, some claiming as few as 10%.

That trend has not gone unnoticed here, as the younger generations in the US now claim as few as 30% as being religious, and many of those do not adhere to any organized groups.

I encourage you to go read Frank's post.  It is a wonderful collection of all the things Republicans are doing wrong, at least as of the days immediately prior to the election.  As we all know now, Republicans have not wised up, and are as set on tearing their party apart as they were then.

Here's hoping they keep at it.  It will be fun to watch, although there may be some painful moments to watch.  Kind of like watching some guy on TV playing ball with his four year old who whacks him in the balls with the bat.

Yeah, you know, the moment when you're glad it's him and not you.

Friday, February 08, 2013

More abuse, but not on little boys.

I've got two news reports for you, both on the same subject.  This should horrify and shame all of us as members of the human race, that in the 20th century, a supposedly modern state could do this to a supposedly free people.

I refer to the country of Ireland.  The country of green fields, little people and the overbearing and (once) powerful Catholic Church, and the so called Magdalene Laundries four orders of that church ran from 1922 to 1996 in which over ten thousand young women were enslaved, working six days a week for no pay.  It is a story of humiliation, more than likely sexual abuse and certainly mental abuse, as these women were publicly called "Maggies", a term which brought them shame as "fallen women", even though many of them were sentenced there by the courts for petty crimes. It turns out that almost a third of them were there at the behest of the government of Ireland!
The Magdalene Laundries were a network of 10 institutions run by four religious orders — the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge. They were used in certain cases to detain women considered deviant in what was a deeply conservative Roman Catholic country. Women who had children outside marriage, girls deemed flirtatious (so-called preventive cases), those with mental disabilities and even victims of sexual abuse were sent to the laundries, often turned in by family, where they simply disappeared from society.
A nice place to make that very inconvenient, flirtatious and disobedient daughter disappear!  With no questions asked, either, they must have been glad to get another free worker.

If there is any question over how dangerous it is to get the State and religious institutions mixed up with each other, this has got to be in the top five of perfect examples and illustrations to prove the point!

I hope this example helps many of you to understand, again, how many people, not just atheists and agnostics, simply cannot bring themselves to support institutions of religion.   This has nothing to do with belief.  It has everything to do with refusing to support an institution with an 1800+ year history of violence, repression, and horrible abuse, which is increasingly being shown today to have not only not stopped the abusive practices, but still advocates its repressive tendencies, as it fights for the right to force its misogynistic and patriarchal belief system on the rest of the US in the fight over contraception under "Obamacare".

It is time for these old institutions to just die.  They are harmful and do little to justify the money people give them.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

In hard times, we've already got a ready made revenue source, but today, it's illegal!

There was a time when talking about legalizing pot was guaranteed to mark you as a hippy and a counterculturist.

Today, it is becoming almost mainstream - there are even Republicans suggesting legalizing it to raise taxes!

And why not?  The Drug War has turned into a major and dismal failure.  It is so bad, we should stop calling it a war, so we don't have to admit to losing one!  It has forced millions of Americans into prison, cost the entire economy billions in lost revenue enforcing laws that a vast majority of Americans have at one time or another broken flagrantly.  It has turned our police forces into corrupt criminal organizations, forcing them into the position of sometimes trumping up charges simply for the purpose of confiscating property that by Federal law, comes back to them as additional funding.

The second house my dear cyber-wife and I bought, we bought at a considerable savings - because the owner was afraid her daughter, who was dealing drugs, would get raided, and the police would have been able to confiscate the house as supporting that drug trade.  The loan she had, of course, would have been called in immediately by the bank, for which she would have had no way to pay.

We spend billions as a nation enforcing our drug laws at the borders, and any competent drug cop will tell you that we barely catch a fraction of what gets through.

So, why not legalize it?  Legalize drugs, too, and establish a system of outlets to provide a subsidized distribution network that would so undercut the street price of drugs that the market would collapse overnight.  Control it like alcohol, tax it like alcohol.  Retroactively declare an amnesty for all individual drug crimes (possession of amounts too small to be considered a distribution business, and so forth) and release all drug prisoners who have no history of violence.  Wipe their records clean of any convictions.

It is time to clean up the insanity we created when we started this ill-advised, ill fated mess.

More importantly, it is time to reap the monetary rewards that heretofore have gone to the violent, lawless drug lords.  I think the Mexicans would thank us profusely.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Talking about the Constitution...

I have always been a fairly strict defender of the US Constitution.  Not a strict interpreter of same, that's a different subject altogether - but a strict defender of it.  I've taken two oaths to do that, one military and one civilian.  Both I feel deeply and strongly.

As many of you know, I am also a fairly liberal fellow these days, although I do support individual rights to the ownership of firearms.  Again, another discussion for another day.

But being liberal is not skimping on that defense of the Constitution, as some Republicans would like to say.  The US Constitution is the document that is the foundation of this democratic government, the one that has successfully governed this country since its ratification.

It empowers the government, defines the power of the States and guarantees the power of the people over that government through the guarantee of our rights and the reservation of non-enumerated powers to the States or the people themselves.  Benjamin Franklin once said that we have a Republic - if we can keep it.  Thomas Jefferson noted that he felt that we, the people, need to examine that document every decade or two for whatever updates, changes, deletions or additions we might feel necessary to keep it in sync with the changing moralities of the times.

This is something we have failed miserably in keeping up with.  When that document was written, nobody dreamed of machine guns, tanks, bombers or artillery, or such things as telephones, radios or computers.  That's why the state of our rights regarding those things have fallen into such a sad state of affairs.  We've nobody to blame but ourselves.

Another thing the Founders never dreamed of were unmanned drone aircraft.  Especially armed drones.  I especially think that their reaction were they to learn of our current usage of them would be less than favorable in several ways.  Warfare in the 18th century, even as the Continental Army was radically changing the rules at times, was still considered a Gentleman's affair.   British General Lord Cornwallis, while he was in charge of British forces in the Carolinas, was incensed at the colonials' "underhanded" tactic of specifically aiming at his officers in skirmishes.  Officers at the time were nobility and considered gentlemen.  It was scurrilous and virtually criminal to target officers specifically, he thought!

How would he like our current tactic of shooting the leaders of our enemies from unseen and undetectable unmanned drones far above their heads?  What would the leaders of the Revolutionary Era forces, both British and American, think of having the ability to cripple their enemies' forces by killing their counterparts from undetectable locations - especially in situations where innocent civilians were within the killing zone?

I have no doubt that Cornwallis would have welcomed that ability wholeheartedly, as long as he could cut off the heads of the Revolutionary forces, and would certainly have no trouble with there being no requirement for a trial or any real evidence to be presented to a higher authority prior to the operation!  Nor, for that matter, would he have lost much sleep over the loss of non-combatant life.  His record in the Carolinas is fairly clear in that respect.

I feel equally certain that the colonists would have been outraged and alarmed by such a turn of events, and would almost guarantee that their reaction would involve denying that ability to the new US Government, had they any such dream that the technology was possible.

So, why, oh why does the current US Government take upon itself the ability to do that, when almost any schoolchild with even a rudimentary knowledge of our Revolutionary history could see how dangerous that ability is?

The bill of rights limits the government's ability to deny us our rights to situations where it is forced to use something called "due process" to decide the matter of punishment.   In situations of treason, it goes further and specifically requires the testimony of three witnesses to the treasonous acts before conviction can be pronounced!

There is not one word I can find in that document that allows the government to decide, without a single judicial review, that a person has so set him or herself against this government that it has the power to kill that person without trial.  A Justice Department lawyer is NOT a judge, and a memo written by such a lawyer is not a judicial review.

A similar situation is in play with the Patriot Act, which gives the Government the right to tap your phones, and copy and examine your email and other electronic traffic without so much as even a secret warrant, much less a warrant signed by a public court official.

I will note two things here.  Yes, this stuff began under Bush.  The Patriot Act was his baby.  Drones were first used by his Administration too, although not nearly to the extent they are being used now.

But in no way does that excuse Obama from staying the course and using those same unConstitutional tactics.

The Patriot Act should be declared unconstitutional, and the drone program, at the least, should be publicly discussed and perhaps eventually limited to use in declared theaters of war against valid uniformed military personnel and for valid military intelligence purposes.

I do not dispute the effectiveness of those tools in tracking down and eliminating the leaders of Al Qaeda.  Yes, they have worked marvelously.   One can argue that the function of those men were such that they made themselves legitimate targets in what we might be able to call a "war", in some sense.

But the tools are flawed.  Not only must the NSA copy and scan virtually all the electronic traffic passing through the US (some of it not even originating or addressed within this country) in order to track the needles in that very large haystack that represent the terrorists' communications, but the drones have often killed innocent civilians, either mistakenly identified as terrorists or as innocent bystanders close to legitimate targets.

Additionally, there is nothing in the recently leaked memo to show what evidence is required for a person to be declared a legitimate target.  None.  No court case need be filed, no arrest warrant need be signed and no alert to the individual giving him/her the chance to surrender need be transmitted.

Both tools are unacceptable.  Both are wrong, and are violations of the very most basic values we founded this country on.  They are overreach to an alarming degree by a government that is no longer being restrained by the people who are supposed to be the ones from whom its power derives.

This state of affairs needs to change, as quickly as possible.  I don't care if the President is a Democrat or a Republican, or whether the Congress is ruled by one party or a mixed bag between the two.

Lets get back to making our government follow the rules.  It isn't supposed to change those rules to suit itself.

That's OUR job.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

More Immigration, but slowly!

This isn't exactly breaking news.  There's a story on the Daily Kos about how Republicans have decided to slow down the reform of immigration.

Yep, that'll do exactly nothing to ingratiate Republicans to Hispanics and other minorities in this country.  What it will do is to help everybody to see clearly, once again, that the whole problem with immigration reform is the Republican Party.
You can only hold so many hearings, though, before people notice that you're standing in the way of meaningful reform. Especially when House Republicans like Idaho's Raul Labrador, Texas' Lamar Smith, and all the usual extremists are running around ranting against immigration policy that doesn't involve fences and guns. In the end, Republicans have a choice: change their extremist views or keep losing Latino votes. No amount of foot-dragging and equivocating will get them out of this one.
This only serves to illustrate, again, my points recently that the Republicans are slowly tearing their party apart and doing everything they can to kill its chances at another Presidential win.  You don't have to go around saying stupid, crazy and nonsensical things, all you need to do is piss off over half the electorate, and bingo!

Mission accomplished.  (But doing those other things, repeatedly, doesn't help either.)

Monday, February 04, 2013

Some things are great relief, others are just irritating.

Good news out of Alabama today!  That young autistic boy held hostage by the crazy guy has been rescued, and is, physically, at least, ok.  I won't take any bets on his mental well being after five days of captivity with a crazy old man, but at least the FBI got him out alive.  His mother has to be ecstatic!


During the newscast by MSNBC today, the reporter, to pass some air time before the press conference, interviewed a local pastor.   Meh, I guess it was for local "color", or just to pass the time, but talking about passing, the pastor said something that irritates me every time I hear it.

In referring to the suspect the FBI killed, he noted that the man had "passed on".  Aaaarrrrgggggggggg!

No!  He didn't GO anywhere.  He died.  He was shot and killed.  He didn't pass go, he didn't collect $200.  They blew his frikking brains out, the few he possessed, anyway.  It was not a natural death, unless you count the usual manner of redneck death after calling out, "Hey ya'll, watch this!"

In Texas, where I grew up, they used to say (and probably still do) people "pass away".  We have a lot of other euphemisms for the act of dying besides those, too.

kicked the bucket
pushing up daisies
dirt nap
Shuffled off the mortal coil

And about fifty others.

Americans have this unhealthy phobia about death and dying.  For a christian country which supposedly believes they'll meet their maker and all their dead relatives after they die, we sure seem to hate talking about it!  I've got news for you.  I know plenty of people for whom that particular eternity would better resemble hell than heaven, as their relatives are not the folks they'd rather pass the afterlife with at all.

We'd be better off just telling it how it is.  People die.   They are killed, or they die of natural causes.  The sooner we face that natural truth, the better.

Then maybe we'll start understanding how terrible it is that so many of the things we have or do in our modern society kill so many people, and how simply disgusting it is that we pass it off with euphemisms and try hard to forget it.

Friday, February 01, 2013

I wish they HAD slapped his wrist, it would have been worse than this!

Remember Cardinal Mahoney?  Oh, you know, the guy I wrote about a few days ago, who aided and abetted criminal priests for decades in LA avoid the legal ramifications of their pedophilia?  Yeah, that one.  (Patooie... splat.  Oh, sorry bout the rug!))

Well, he's back in the news again, sort of.  It seems the current head guy in charge of the ArchDiocese of LA, Archbishop Jose Gomez, has removed Mahoney of all his remaining pastoral and administrative duties after the public release of the priests' records exposing Mahoney's culpability in aiding and abetting their criminal acts.

That's it?  They forced him into retirement?  Here's a man who has spent the last forty years keeping the law (and the public) from discovering that the Catholic Church had a pedophilia problem by making the problem worse instead of better, and the only thing they can think of to deal with the issue is to force him into retirement?

I now refer you to my previous post about this subject, linked above on the first line.  This activity of Mahoney's is NOT simple mismanagement.  It is behavior which was not only condoned by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, but was the subject of a written order by the now current Pope spelling out the actions the Church expected its members to follow, specifically designed to prevent civil authorities from discovering the problems and acting against pedophiliac priests, and potentially, the guilty cardinals as well.

I do remember in the Nuremberg Trials, when the guilty Nazi officers of the SS were charged with horrific crimes against humanity, their defense was that they were simply carrying out orders.

We hung the bastards anyway.

This situation is only a matter of degree.  Nobody's been killed, and nobody is at risk of execution.  But men like Mahoney (I refuse to use his title as a gesture of respect) only deserve to spend the rest of their lives in prison.  Carrying out orders that one KNOWS to be illegal is not excused by the fact that one may lose their job if they refuse.  There is a duty to refuse the orders and do what one knows is right.

These men are supposed to be men of god.  they are tasked with teaching their human "flocks" the route to heaven.  Sexually abusing the innocent children of those flocks is not on the list of duties expected of men of god.

Again, this is another symptom of an organization corrupted by generations of a culture where this activity is not only condoned, but is a part of it and allowed, indeed, probably even controlled by unwritten rules.

Disgusting.  Simply disgusting.