Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Jeffress Inspires Revival of Barmy Bible Study!

Crusader doing God's Holy Work





























It's that time of the week again - the night we all look forward to: Wednesday Night Barmy Bible Study!

Yes, I know we missed our bi-monthly Bible Study for awhile, but sometimes it takes a little time to recover from the horror  properly appreciate the goodness in holy scripture. Let's just get down to the business of wondering at the awesomeness of the Lord, shall we?

In honor of this week's Good News, we will depart a little from the usual Bible class structure of choosing a specific story and discussing it. Let's study a small sampling of the dozens of passages in the Bible wherein God/Yahweh/Jehovah promises his worshippers land, riches and all sort of success, and orders them to utterly destroy anyone and anything which gets in their way.

Deuteronomy 7: 1-6  Driving Out the Nations
1When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— 2and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. 3Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. 5This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. 6For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
Joshua - "saintly man and great leader"
doing God's holy work.

Deuteronomy 20: 10-18
10When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. 15This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.
16However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God. 

1 Samuel 15: 3
Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'" 

Joshua 10: 40-41
40So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded. 41Joshua subdued them from Kadesh Barnea to Gaza and from the whole region of Goshen to Gibeon. 42All these kings and their lands Joshua conquered in one campaign, because the Lord, the God of Israel, fought for Israel.

And of course, the verses which lay the foundation for absolute confidence that one is carrying out God's Holy Will, even for New Testament purists:

Romans 13: 1-5
1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.


Joshua fought the battle of Jericho,
And the walls came tumbling down!
God is good!
Study Questions for Show Them No Mercy

1. What did Yahweh/Jehovah/God command the Israelites to do?

2. Why did God order them to do this?

3. How does the Bible teach us that the Israelites reacted to these commands and what does their reaction teach us?

Something that believers all know - but which those who do not believe that the Bible is the inerrant, literal word of God fail to understand - is that God chose one small group of people, out of all His creation, to be his especially chosen favorite people.  Just as the Hebrews had chosen Yahweh out of all the gods in the ancient pantheon of the desert region to be their one special God, the Bible says that Yahweh returned the favor. The Bible doesn't say that the other peoples in the region were privy to this unilateral decision by the Hebrews until the Hebrews descended upon them en masse expecting to take over their lands, their possessions and their women, as they believed their god had promised they could do. When the Amalekites, Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, et al continued to faithfully worship the gods of their ancestors equally to Yahweh - and in some case, with even greater fervor than they had worshipped Yahweh who was to them, after all, only a minor war god in the ancient pantheon - the newly promoted Lord, God of Israel was angered.

So, scripture says that the God of Israel commanded the Israelites to invade these lands, kill all the people and livestock, destroy everything that is sacred to these ill-favored wretches and then claim the lands for themselves. One might think that an all-loving, all-powerful god could be expected to love all of the people He created equally - or at least would be able to hand over the Promised Lands to his Chosen people without harming the other people who did not make the "favored people" cut (rapture them? uncreate them? surely nothing would be impossible for the omnipotent One?) - but one would be wrong.
Nobody can see, hear, touch or feel God
but we know in our hearts that 

He wants exactly what we want!
The _?_ god is an awesome god!

The Lord, God of Israel was a jealous god. Just because those other people had not received the memo that the Hebrews had chosen Yahweh for special One True God™ status, they unwittingly had signed their own death warrants. It was their own fault! Nothing would do but that they be wiped from the face of the earth and the Hebrews were just the people to do it! Amazingly, not only did the Hebrews know in their hearts what God wanted them to do, but they also managed to do every bit of the invading, killing, raping and plundering by themselves, too!  Of course, they knew in their hearts that they had the Lord, God of Israel rooting for them, but they did it all themselves - with His silent, invisible blessing. Praise God!

This is one of the great things about the Bible to which non-believers should really pay more attention. Of all the peoples on the planet, God decided to elevate one group over all the others for no particular reason. That happily blessed group just happens to be Christians!  Well, at first it was the Jews, but now Christians have their own Testament which clearly teaches that there is a New Covenant and in this new deal, Christians are the ones! Well, God is the One and Only, of course (and He is very, very powerful, so don't cross Christians Him if you know what is good for you!), but since He cannot be seen nor heard nor felt nor...well, Christians are His ambassadors on earth and speak for Him - they know in their hearts what God wants, so whatever Christians say, goes. Capice?

Christians doing God's holy work.
(Sabra-Shatila Massacre)
Of course, since Christians co-opted the Jewish Bible Old Testament, too, they still politely refer to the Jews as the "chosen people"... for now. Besides, Christians need the cooperation of the Jews in order to take over the Promised Land in time for the second coming of Christ!  Shhh, no, that is not shamelessly using the Jewish people for Christian ends.  God has clearly given the OK to any means necessary to bring about the glorious destiny of His Chosen People - lying, stealing, cheating, murdering - everything is permitted, even ordered, by God within the sacred pages of the Good Book™. When Christians have total dominion over the earth - as they believe that God has promised - then the Jews will have the same chance as everyone else to fall on their knees and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Then, they will truly be the chosen people...because they will be Christians!  You see? The Christian god is an awesome god!  Of course, if they refuse to bow down to the true Chosen people (Christians), well then one only has to read Deuteronomy 20 to know what God commands Christians to do with people who refuse to accept their His holy word, submit humbly to forced labor and hand over everything they love and value.

Jews doing God's holy work.
(Gaza Massacre, December 2008)
Some people may argue that just as the Christians cobbled together a New Testament to justify their claim to the status of the newly chosen people of God through the blood of Jesus Christ, so did other religious groups. Mohammed dictated the sacred Koran which clearly shows that Islam is the one true faith and Muslims are the chosen people of God. Likewise, the Mormons produced a sacred Testament - the Book of Mormon - which establishes that they are the chosen people of God.  Indeed, just as the Jewish Bible justified the ancient invasionsmassacresrapes and plundering by God's chosen people: the Israelites,
and the Old and New Testaments justified the invasionsmassacres*, rapes and plundering by God's chosen people: the Christians,
so the Koran justifies invasionsmassacresrapes and plundering by God's chosen people: the Muslims
and the Book of Mormon justifies violencemassacresrapes and plundering by God's chosen people: the Mormons.

Muslims doing God's holy work
(Nigeria, Christmas Day Massacre)
Except that all of those other religions and all their made-up "sacred scriptures" are simply dead wrong. Christians believe they are commanded by God to take righteous dominion over the world. They believe they are commanded by God to utterly destroy any and all who stand in the way of them in fulfilling this Great Commission. Non-believers will get one chance to accept the Christian dogma and submit to life under Christian rule, but if they refuse to submit, Bible-believing Christians will have no choice but to annihilate them all. Christians always want others to choose life, but if non-believers refuse to bow down to Christian supremacy, then unfortunately yet inescapably the non-believers will have chosen death.


How do we know this?  The Bible tells us so.

Class dismissed.

       ----------------------------------------------

* Bonus points for the use of "I came like a thief!" a favorite self-referential passage of dominionist Christians when describing their long-term stealth strategy to infiltrate every avenue of world power.



Tuesday, July 4, 2017

We Are All Americans - Go Fourth!

Image credit: diversitynursing.com



























Happy Independence Day, Everyone! 

In honor of the holiday, I am republishing an older post which still manages to be true, even in these challenging times. The post was in response to remarks made by one Bishop Giminez, the organizer of a prayer rally back in 2012. She declared that America was "mired in moral depravity" and that nothing but a mass rally begging the favor of the Almighty could ever put us to rights again. I had something to say about that:

No. America is not mired in moral depravity. America is a land of diverse people; hardworking, industrious, innovative, tolerant, forward-thinking people. We are red, brown, white, black, and every beautiful shade of human skin. We are all American. We are atheist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and every religious and political stripe. We are all American. We are female and male, gay and lesbian, bisexual and transsexual and every gender identity on the wide, wonderful spectrum of human sexuality. And 



We are all Americans


We coexist in relative peace, as imperfectly as current human limitations might predict and as transcendently as human aspiration can occasionally soar. We have succeeded as a country because America is founded on principles which limit the power of religions to divide, conquer and destroy us. As messy and imperfect and unjust as much of our history has been, it has still stood out as a beacon of hope in a world of messy, imperfect and unjust systems of government which - nearly always using religion - continued to oppress and abuse their people long after the American journey toward 'liberty and justice for all' was haltingly begun. For more than 200 years, we have struggled and fought and inched our way toward realizing the dream - toward living the ideals - that those founding documents point us toward. We are a people evolving, with a roadmap to liberty in the Declaration of Independence and a blueprint for achieving it in the Bill of Rights. We will continue to negotiate and argue and push and pull toward a more perfect union of equal citizens because this country is a work in progress. And we are all American.

No. America is not mired in moral depravity. It is power-hungry wealthy and religious elites who are mired in moral depravity. It is the religious elites who call injustice "justice", who fight relentlessly against equality and human rights and who seek to enshrine bigotry and misogyny into our laws without a shred of remorse or compassion for the human suffering they would cause. It is the conservative religious right which seeks to overturn the natural order of things - calling myth "science", calling oppression "justice", calling evil "good", calling what is immoral "moral". Those who call themselves "righteous" - who pretend to speak for God! - are the ones who are mired in moral depravity. They have lost their moral compass, but their fellow citizens can help them find their way again. Because,

We are all Americans

America does not need theocratic "saving". It needs protection from dangerous, ambitious, vicious religious power-mongers like Bishop Giminez, and the wealthy Christian elites that they represent. America needs saving from the approaching train wreck of Christian totalitarianism which a privileged few wish to force upon all of us. America does not need "saving" by ambitious men claiming to represent their silent, invisible God. America needs saving from them. This nation has the tools to fend off this attack from the religious right. We have the diversity and the strength in numbers to resist a takeover attempt by one hardline fundamentalist faction among us. We can weather this storm. We are all Americans!

No. America is not mired in moral depravity. America is mired in political and social turmoil which was deliberately created by the conservative Christian right-wing for their own political gain. It is the powerful, wealthy elites who seek to drag this entire country to the brink of disaster, just as religious extremists elsewhere in the world have done to their countries. It is the power-hungry religious elites who hope to precipitate a cultural crisis in this country out of which they hope to wrest ultimate control over everyone and everything that is American. Right wing extremists hope to destroy the America that is and build an America that they can control. But they underestimate the passion for liberty and justice in this country. They underestimate the American spirit. We are not all Christians. Yet,


 We are all Americans

Whether or not one believes there is a god - or any higher power that cares about the welfare of humanity - constant historical evidence has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that He does not reside within the ruthlessly implacable ambition of religious elites. The success of the great American experiment in nationhood has only been possible - painfully, lurchingly, imperfectly and minimally  not thanks to religious belief, but in spite of it. Before the ink had even dried on the founding documents, religious groups launched their efforts to subvert the American dream of a more just and democratic Republic to their own theocratic agenda. And they have never ceased in their efforts since.

We are red, brown, white, black...
every beautiful shade of human skin.
We are all American. 
There is a seat at the national table for conservative Christians just as there are seats for every other kind of American. The difference is that conservative Christians want to banish everyone else except conservative Christians from the American table and in that sense, they are profoundly unAmerican. I only hope the basic goodness and common sense of the American people has been awakened to this looming crisis at last and that we can come together for the good of the country before it is too late.

America can only be saved by Americans. By performing our civic duty: educating ourselves on the crisis before us, registering and voting in every election and holding our elected representatives to their Constitutional responsibilities, the American people can save America.  Let's not allow one religious sect to hijack the ship of state and sink the hopes and dreams of freedom-loving people everywhere. It is not the silent, invisible God, nor the men who claim to represent ultimate godly authority who speak for America. Only Americans speak for America. 

Educate yourself. Register. Vote. Let no one speak for you. Speak up for yourself. We are all in this together and the future of this country depends on all of us. We are all Americans.




Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Happy Summer Solstice!





























At 11:24 CST,  our planet arrived at that point in its elliptical journey around the sun when our north pole is tilted as closely as it ever tilts - about 23.5 degrees - toward our life-sustaining star.  It is officially summertime!

The northern solstice (or June solstice) occurs on either the 20, 21 or 22 of June. It marks the peak of the lengthening hours of daylight that began with the March equinox. On this date, northerners will experience the greatest number of hours and minutes of daylight in all of 2017. For those in the southern hemisphere, the opposite is true - their day will be the shortest of the year. 

I was going to post a poem about midsummer night full of fairies and magic, or about flowers and breezes and the smell of freshly mowed grass. But this poem pushed its way to the front of the line: I think in its own way, this poem communicates a warmer, more human affirmation of life than more conventional metaphors of growing things and magic.

Summer Solstice, New York City
by Sharon Olds

By the end of the longest day of the year he could not stand it,
he went up the iron stairs through the roof of the building
and over the soft, tarry surface
to the edge, put one leg over the complex green tin cornice
and said if they came a step closer that was it.
Then the huge machinery of the earth began to work for his life,
the cops came in their suits blue-grey as the sky on a cloudy evening,
and one put on a bullet-proof vest, a
black shell around his own life,
life of his children's father, in case
the man was armed, and one, slung with a
rope like the sign of his bounden duty,
came up out of a hole in the top of the neighboring building
like the gold hole they say is in the top of the head,
and began to lurk toward the man who wanted to die.
The tallest cop approached him directly,
softly, slowly, talking to him, talking, talking,
while the man's leg hung over the lip of the next world
and the crowd gathered in the street, silent, and the
hairy net with its implacable grid was
unfolded near the curb and spread out and
stretched as the sheet is prepared to receive a birth.
Then they all came a little closer
where he squatted next to his death, his shirt
glowing its milky glow like something
growing in a dish at night in the dark in a lab and then
everything stopped
as his body jerked and he
stepped down from the parapet and went toward them
and they closed on him, I thought they were going to
beat him up, as a mother whose child has been
lost will scream at the child when its found, they
took him by the arms and held him up and
leaned him against the wall of the chimney and the
tall cop lit a cigarette
in his own mouth, and gave it to him, and
then they all lit cigarettes, and the
red, glowing ends burned like the
tiny campfires we lit at night
back at the beginning of the world.


For your musical inspiration on the brightest day of the year, here is Julia Fischer accompanied by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields playing Vivaldi's Summer from his violin concerto The Four Seasons. The performance was recorded at the National Botanical Garden in Wales.

Friday, May 12, 2017

25th Amendment Remedy

































The president's latest flurry of self-incriminating behavior begs the question: what is the remedy for the country when its president is clearly not in control of himself, has committed prima facie illegal actions and none of his so-called advisors, spokespeople and legal representatives seem to have any ability to provide him guidance or indeed to even anticipate his next unhinged act?

There has been talk - almost from the beginning of our current "long national nightmare"- about the possibility of the vice president, senior advisors and congressional leaders invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump. But removal by Trump's own people was never really likely, since Trump's character deficits were glaringly apparent even before the election and none of these people seemed inclined to oppose him then, much less remove him.

What stops seemingly sane government officials from acting?

The reason, the argument goes, is that the Republicans and Trump's inner cabal will continue to back him until they get their own agenda through -- which seems to be to repeal the ACA in order to claw back funds to then finance a huge tax cut to the wealthiest 1%.

Here's the thing, though. In the current chaos, it isn't likely that there will be much legislative activity, and certainly not of the type the Koch brothers et al had in mind when they pinned their expectations on Trump/Pence. In fact, as the dripping of investigative fire crackers increases to a tsunami of bombshells, the likelihood  increases of not only failure to pass the Republican agenda but the collapse of public support for Republican in the House and Senate.

The strangest thing of all is that this could all be avoided by the Republicans! The argument that Trump and only Trump is necessary to get the massive wealth distribution legislation passed just doesn't make sense. Mike Pence is at least as committed to that agenda as his reluctant running mate, having been approved as early as 2014 by the Koch brothers, Grover Norquist and others in the billionaire elite.

They don't need Trump anymore now that his emotionally manipulative, hate-filled and sadly effective campaign has already delivered all three branches of government into their hands. It would be ever so simple to pretend to wake up and -- acting appropriately shocked, dismayed and kept in the dark - deliver the knock out blow to Trump and his band of merciless men. They could point to Trump and his associates as the source of all the nation's ills right now and claim to restore calm and dignity to the office and get government back on track. They could renenergize the Republicans in the House and Senate and answer Paul Ryan's and Mitch McConnell's prayers.

What's stopping them?

To be continued.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sir, With Much Respect, I Encourage You To Keep This Up!

A rite of spring - the calving of an iceberg


























I'm from Newfoundland, known not only as the place where the events portrayed in the hit musical Come From Away take place, but also one of the best places on earth to view an annual parade of icebergs.

Newfoundland's icebergs "calve" off the glaciers on the west coast of Greenland. They break off in late winter/early spring, and make their way via the Labrador current out into the north Atlantic ocean. Then, they hug the coastline of the island of Newfoundland, gradually losing mass as they enter warmer waters below the 49th parallel until they melt entirely away - usually at some point just south of the Grand Banks.

Historically, the number of ice bergs that can be found in the northwestern Atlantic varies from year to year. In an average year, the peak of iceberg season (usually late May) would see a few hundred ice bergs drifting in the transatlantic shipping lanes. As of the first week of April, 2017, more than 400 ice bergs had already been counted in the area. The average for early April is about 80 bergs.

A warning by USCG ice patrol Commander Gabrielle McGrath notes that, early this month, three icebergs were found outside the boundaries of the area the Coast Guard had advised mariners to avoid and she is predicting a fourth consecutive “extreme ice season” with over 600 icebergs in the shipping lanes during the peak of the 2017 season. 
John Konrad, gCaptain, April 19, 2017.

People who deny the reality of global climate change can spew their pseudo-science but Newfoundlanders know this is not normal. The effects of all that sea ice and the hugely increased number of ice bergs are numerous and not limited to just the ice. The increased ice keeps the ocean temperature offshore colder later into the year, too. Apart from a longer colder spring (and in Newfoundland, spring is an often miserable, foggy, wet, cold season), the colder ocean temperature means that the annual capelin spawning season has been pushed later and later into the summer. The capelin roll that used to happen in early June every year, is now occurring in mid July and even as late as early August. Whales travel to Newfoundland in summer to feed on the capelin and it is not yet known how this altered capelin season may effect the whales migratory habits and wellbeing.

Global warming is the cause of many similar cascading effects around the planet. The effects of global climate change on ice, capelin and whales are just the tip of the iceberg regarding how planetary ecosystems may be disrupted by the changes. Some we already can predict and it is possible that there will be many more effects that we cannot yet foresee.

Some people, like William Happer, you'd think would be able to grasp science - being a physicist and all -but no. Maybe, since his discipline is physics and not climate science, the professor simply cannot comprehend the overwhelming conclusions of the vast majority of climate scientists that global climate change is real and it is being accelerated by human activity.

Then again, his penchant for comparing the work of climatologists to Nazis (WTF!) throws up a vaguely familiar flag. Happer has been vying for a position in the Trump administration. So, there's that to consider.

The world is a complex ecosystem and sometimes we just need someone to explain things in plain language to help make sense of things. Enter Bill Nye, the science guy! Nye is well-known for making science fun and interesting to kids, so he is probably the best possible person to explain the danger of ignoring climate change to the ignorant - and the willfully ignorant - in the Republican party.

"Sir, with some respect, I encourage you to cut this out..." 
Bill Nye to William Clapper

A mechanical engineer, Bill seems to be about as qualified to speak about climate science as Happer the physicist. More trustworthy, too, since Nye is not vying for a job in a corrupt, science-denying administration and has little to gain by it. Of course, a couple of minutes of air time and even less for each member of the panel, didn't give Bill much time to get a message across about the science of global warming, so he used his time in an even better way: to school Happer on his willful ignorance and misleading of the public, and to draw attention to the false equivalency that various media perpetuate in their eagerness to appear to be "even-handed".

Check it out:



Friday, April 28, 2017

Jason Flees The House




























Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has a reputation on Capital Hill for being an incredibly ambitious man. In a 2015 article enumerating instances where he climbed over his former mentors in his ruthless pursuit of greater power, Huffington Post reported that Cheffetz's ambition is so notorious, his name has become "a verb" in political circles. Every move he makes - every career decision - appears to have been meticulously planned, even if that doesn't appear to be the case at first glance.

All things to everyone...
Like a chameleon, Chaffetz has changed his colors - switching positions and allegiances - to match the political environment at any given time and make the most of every opportunity for career advancement. Knowing this fact about Jason Chaffetz, many of his colleagues, rivals and critics were initially puzzled by the sequence of events that unfolded over the last week.

Run... Last Wednesday (April 19), Chaffetz announced that he will not be seeking re-election  in 2018. Not for his own seat in the House of Representatives, and not for Orrin Hatch's seat in the U.S. Senate. Interestingly, he was pretty specific about not running in 2018, thereby leaving the door open for a run for another office; perhaps Governor of Utah in 2020 or... some other office in 2028.

Sounds like Jason's striking a
bipartisan note to play out on...
Run... The very next day, Thursday April 20, Chaffetz astonished people anew by saying that he might not even finish his current term. Rumors flew that he might resign the very next day - or at least soon. He didn't. Instead, on Monday April 24, he stood with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and made patriotic noises about wanting answers from Michael Flynn about his dealings with Russia.

Away... Then, just as everyone was adjusting their sets and preparing for a new Chaffetz, reinvigorated House Oversight Committee Chairman, he announced that contrary to his statements last week ("I am healthy"; "I still have a job to do and I have no plans to take my foot off the gas."), he in fact is not healthy, needs foot surgery and oops! looks like he will have to take that foot off the gas after all. Let's just pause for a moment here to take in the sheer oddness of these contradictory statements within the span of 7 days. It seemed kind of weird last week when he threw in "I am healthy" into his announcement, but now it just seems bizarre, especially with the choice of metaphor he used to describe his continued commitment to his job!

Speaks for itself, doesn't it?
So, speculation has been spreading like wildfire. The timing of these rapid-fire announcements seems to suggest a connection to the Trump/Russia scandal. Could it be, some people wonder, that Jason Chaffetz is embroiled in the scandal too and is running back to Utah to escape consequences?  As seductive as that line of thinking is, it doesn't really make sense to think that running off to Utah is going to protect him from prosecution if he is guilty of any crimes and there is evidence to prove it.  The idea that Chaffetz can avoid legal trouble and everyone, including the FBI and the Justice Department, will forget about him if he simply leaves the spotlight just doesn't make sense, although it is also true that not a lot about his abrupt actions and pronouncements over the past week make sense, either.

The more likely explanation is, as several articles have pointed out, simple ambition. Chaffetz has already registered the domain name JasonChaffetz2028.com for instance, and he is nothing if not a forward planner. The current mess in Washington DC, and the potential for even worse scandal involving treason, is a stink he does not want clinging to him, even 11 years from now.

My own view is that it is possible for the truth to be both ambition and collusion, although it is looking more like simple ambition. Chaffetz's coldly insensitive remarks about Healthcare last month were apparently heard in Utah and blew up campaign contributions to his Democratic opponent, Kathryn Allen. That unexpected news, combined with the unexpectedly bad reception he received during the spring recess, very likely changed the calculus. Chaffetz made an abrupt change of course at least once before in his career, and for much the same reason - evidence that his success was far from assured persuaded him to drop his plans of running.

Ouch! Feels like Jason's not going
to be hitting the gas for awhile...
Something about the sudden foot surgery explanation doesn't ring true, either. It's a little better than the sudden need to 'spend more time with family', but not much. After all, if  83 year old Dianne Feinstein can slip away for two days to have a pacemaker installed (that's heart surgery) and return immediately to continue important Congressional work, then surely the much-younger Chaffetz could grab a set of crutches if absolutely necessary, and get back to work?

Maybe Jason decided that with RepublicanCare looming on the horizon, which aims to remove protections for patients with pre-existing conditions, he had better schedule that elective surgery to remove the screws from his 12 year old injury sooner rather than later.

Whatever the case may be, Jason is no longer in the house - he has fled to Utah. We certainly live in interesting times.

For your Friday Feature, for no particular reason, I give you "Run Runaway" (Great Big Sea) :


Run Runaway

I like black and white
dream in black in white
you like black and white
run runaway

Chorus:
Looks like Jason's got it sussed...
See chameleon lying there in the sun
all things to everyone
run runaway

If you're in the swing
money ain't everything
if you're in the swing
run runaway

If you got it sussed*
don't beat around the bush
if you got it sussed
run runaway

oh now can't she wait?
no no come on and wait
oh now can't she wait?
run runaway

I like black and white
dream in black in white
you like black and white
run runaway

- Jim Lea, Noddy Holder

* "If you got it 'sussed'" = If you've got something figured out

Thursday, April 27, 2017

TBT - Show Some Respect, Damn You!

Respect. How does that work, anyway?
























“I have met some highly intelligent believers, but history has no record to say that [s]he knew or understood the mind of god. Yet this is precisely the qualification which the godly must claim—so modestly and so humbly—to possess. It is time to withdraw our 'respect' from such fantastic claims, all of them aimed at the exertion of power over other humans in the real and material world.”
― Christopher Hitchens, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever


Respect.  We hear a lot about it. But, how do we as individuals and as a society determine who is deserving of our respect? The Paige Sultzbach story got me thinking about this.

Most of us are taught that we must show respect for the essential humanity of all people. We are told in school, at work and at home that we must respect other people as our equals - fellow human beings. Beyond this baseline, though, people are usually expected to earn any higher, more deferential level of respect through their meritorious behavior. We are not usually expected to pay respect to people who behave immorally, who harm us or who harm other people. Usually, we are not compelled to respect ridiculous or destructive ideas, either. But there is one glaring exception to these sensible guidelines: religion.

We hear every single day that we owe special, unassailable, respect for the religious beliefs of others, simply because they are religious beliefs. There is no way to evaluate the relative merits of religious ideas because the very act of questioning, evaluating or criticizing religious beliefs is deemed disrespectful and being disrespectful of religion is taboo. This catch-22 situation means that even when religious ideas clearly cause harm to ourselves or others, the cultural taboo which demands unearned respect for religious dogma and practices also forbids questioning them.

More precisely, people are pressured every day of their lives to pay respect - and be subordinate - to the religious majority wherever they live. In Iran, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia (to name a few countries under explicit Islamic rule) that would be the Muslim majority. In the USA, Denmark, Hungary, Canada and Great Britain (to name a few countries with explicit or implicit Christian state religions) it is the Christian majority. Of all of these, the United States was the first to explicitly guarantee in its Constitution that no single religion would be established by the state, thus preventing the official empowerment of one religious group over all others. In this way, the framers of the Constitution hoped to provide the foundation for a truly revolutionary new kind of nation: a country where people could be as free as humanly possible; where the rights and welfare of the individual would be balanced as far as humanly possible with the rights and welfare of the rest of the people, preventing both tyranny of the majority and the rise of theocratic dictators.

Freedom of religion!* 
*For Christians only.
The founding fathers, who were educated in religious and political history, understood that religious sectarianism has always resulted in oppression of minorities and the rise of theocratic dynasties - usually, but not always monarchies. Whether they were monarchies or putative republics, the ruling elites always claimed to rule by divine right. The framers of the US Constitution - James Madison and Thomas Jefferson in particular - recognized that constant sectarian strife and vicious social inequities enabled by the power structures which churches prop up would destroy Americans' hopes for a better life in the fledgling new state as surely as the suffocation of those very hopes had driven them out of Europe. And the founders understood that it was state-sanctioned empowerment of favored groups (nearly always identified by religion) which was the reason why the common people in every country in the world lived in miserable poverty under the rule of religiously-privileged "noble" classes.

Demonstrating a wisdom beyond experience (because such a nation had never been tried before), they determined that, in order to form a more perfect union, the United States must be kept free of the appalling religious strife that had destroyed virtually every great civilization in history before them. They were convinced that freedom of religion in a nation that could not legally favor any one religion over the others would offer the best hope for the country to prosper, by enabling the people to prosper in peaceful coexistence as equals.

The freedom to practice their own religion has never been enough for some Christians; they have always sought special status and special power.

But there have always been ambitious groups who seek to restore the bad old days of feudal oppression for their own benefit. There have always been people who consider themselves the chosen ones - the nobility which is called to rule over the lesser classes. Before the ink was dry on the US Constitution, religious groups were attempting to circumvent the prohibition of establishment of state religions. The freedom to practice their own religion has never been enough for some Christians; they have always sought special status and special power. That battle over the separation of church and state has been waxing and waning constantly in the 225+ years since Independence, and while the Constitutional guarantee has held in theory, in practice the religious power-play has succeeded in carving so many inroads into the separation of church and state that the country has been reduced to a de facto Christian nation.

You want to build a mosque? Well, we have news for you.
Just guess whose country we think this is! 
In theory, the First Amendment still protects religious minorities and non-believers from unwanted Christian intrusion into their lives, but in practice this is not so. From public holidays honoring Christian holy days to public religious displays, to compelled silence for Christian prayers in legislatures, in schools and at events of huge public significance, from the casual assumption of Christian privilege and prominence to the very real favoritism via tax exemption and government funding which has enriched churches - secretly and without public oversight - at the public expense, the reality is that churches, especially Christian churches, are intimately entwined with the state. The battle to gain special status and the resulting economic and political power was on from the moment James Madison signed the First Amendment (actually even before) and for good reason from the point of view of the churches. They have benefited enormously from these unconstitutional arrangements.

The truth is that the Christian religion has been quietly empowered both financially and politically, and it aims to gain supreme power by replacing the current republic with a Bible-based state. Christian conservatives will never cede that power willingly. The truth is that when minority religions or the non-religious expect equal respect from the Christian majority, the Christian majority cries persecution and refuses to honor the Constitution that they claim to uphold, but which they are undermining because they hate it as a threat to their ambitions. When a minority's beliefs conflict with majority Christian beliefs, the majority will use every avenue available to force the minority to accept having Christian belief shoved down its throat, even when the Constitution has promised that this will not happen. For Christians, the First Amendment guarantees their religion; they believe that it guarantees that they have the right to strip away the freedom of others to enjoy public life free of Christian proselytizing and the presumption of Christian supremacy. Christians regard the insistence of others that the Constitution guarantees them the same freedoms and rights as Christians as a challenge to Christian rights.

...as long as it is Christianity
Merely requesting that the Constitutional guarantee for religious freedom for all be upheld results in public outcry from the majority, lawsuits, threats and ostracism of the individual(s) who dare to stand up for the right of the minority not to be oppressed by the Christian majority.  Respect for Christian beliefs is deemed of such paramount importance that we must disrespect the beliefs of others or we are accused of persecuting Christians and oppressing Christian belief. On the rare occasions when citizens (sometimes even Christian themselves) push back against the ubiquitousness of Christian belief  - for example  by objecting to its illegal injection into the publicly funded spheres of our society - the Christian majority shrieks that it is being oppressed or persecuted.

The very act of respecting the beliefs of non-Christians - or even of allowing them to be visible, free to simply exist in this society - is perceived by Christians as an attack upon them. In short, the Christian majority claims to be oppressed if they are prevented from oppressing others. It is an amazing fact of western life that the concept of religious persecution has been perverted by the Christian majority to such an extent that it is no longer recognizable as a meaningful description of the reality of what persecution actually means. It has been turned on its head. In the United States today, Christian religious belief is accorded such a level of public respect that it must be deferred to in every situation. In schools, in government offices, in supermarkets, hospitals and gas stations, non-Christians cannot escape the constant demand for public obeisance to Christianity.
Ah, religious respect 
for girls and women.

Last week, a young girl was made the scapegoat in a fundamentalist Catholic power-play. The fact that Christian misogyny is still so open and accepted in society is bad enough, but the repeated expressions of respect by everyone involved - including the victims of the discrimination itself - for this medieval, systemic marginalization of women and girls was little short of amazing. In a breathtaking show of oppositional apologia, the ultra-conservative Catholic school in question brazenly couched its policy of discrimination against girls as "teaching boys to respect ladies". Apparently, the only way to "respect ladies" is to bar them from sports they are qualified to play, deny them opportunities to compete with their ability peers and generally limit their horizons as far as possible within strictly segregated, narrowly traditional gender roles.

The gender roles that Our Lady of Sorrows and similar ultra-conservative Christian organizations advocate for boys and girls tend - as always when "religious tradition" is invoked - to mean these things: active, dynamic, leadership roles for boys;  passive, submissive, invisible roles for girls. In this religiously-fueled zeal to squeeze their female adherents into a suffocatingly circumscribed world of few joys and almost no choices, conservative Christians are exactly like their conservative brethren of other faiths - ultra-orthodox Jews and the Islamist Taliban, for instance - which enshrine repression of women into their orthodoxy under the same perniciously virtuous-sounding label of "respect for women".

A lifetime of shrouded invisibility.
Now, that's respect!
These religious extremists do not respect women. Their actions betray that their motives are the polar opposite of respectful; they intend not to respect the rights and autonomy - the humanity - of women and girls, but to deny them autonomy and rights - and their humanity. The purpose of this dogma is to control women for the use and service of men: to keep them subservient, less than men, silenced and invisible. The farce of conservative respect for women is nothing more than a cruelly ironic cover for the conservative campaign for the subjugation of women. There is real harm being done in the name of religion and it ought not to be allowed to continue without vigorous criticism.

I do not respect the beliefs of Our Lady of Sorrows school. I condemn their beliefs and their actions as the  immoral, repressive expression of deeply misogynistic theology. Attempts to establish medieval religious extremism should never go unchallenged in a civilized, egalitarian, free society. We would do well to remember that no society is impervious to the ever-present danger of right-wing authoritarianism. Domestic turmoil usually lays the conditions for the rise of oppressive theocracies, but war and failed government are not the only ways that authoritarian rule can gain a foothold in a contemporary society. Too often, authoritarian theocratic regimes take over when the people of a country have become complacently overconfident in their ability to detect and deflect such extremism. Tolerance of religious oppression is not respectful. It is foolhardy.

We would do well to remember that no society is impervious to the ever-present danger of right-wing authoritarianism.

It is time to stop paying undeserved respect to religious groups which marginalize and disrespect selected groups of human beings - usually female-bodied human beings. People who possess sincere respect for the essential humanity and dignity of others must refuse to offer "respect" for these oppressive ideologies. We must stand up and declare that this behavior is an affront to human dignity. It is immoral and people must have the courage to call it what it is. Religion is powerful. It is powerful enough to call for the elimination of its opponents in many parts of the world, and most religions do not hesitate to do so when they feel threatened. But, if people who value freedom of religion and who understand the threat which tyranny of the majority poses will not stand up, then we are - willingly? - participating in the destruction of our own democratic republic.

(This post was previously posted in 2012)


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Handmaid's Tale

























Tonight, Hulu will air the first episodes in a ten part serial adaptation of Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel, The Handmaid's Tale. Atwood's tale of a dystopian America in the quite near future became an instant classic and according to Sophie Gilbert's excellent review in the Atlantic, this television adaptation of the novel is unlike anything we have yet seen on television or in film.

Several other reviews -- all seem to be glowing.

The Washington Post

The New York Times

Salon

The Chicago Tribune

As Atwood wrote: Nothing in any society happens quickly, or without warning, and "in a gradually heating bathtub, you'd be boiled to death before you knew it". Michael Phillips, The Chicago Tribune



Tuesday, April 25, 2017

I Have A Dream - Tuesday Tonic
























      Daffodils
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Handwritten manuscript, British Library
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

- William Wordsworth


In memory of one of the best and kindest men I have ever known: my father.  He loved to garden and his favorite flowers were "daffs", "glads" and yellow roses. Dad loved poetry and could quote many poems from memory. For this Tuesday Tonic, I am combining these two loves in one post for your enjoyment.

My father was also a great admirer of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Back in the 60's before YouTube and ITunes, Dad ordered a record of Dr King's magnificent speeches and would often spend a contemplative Sunday afternoon sitting with a cup of tea listening to Dr. Kings soaring words. Below, find his favorite, the incomparable "I Have a Dream" speech.

Rest in peace Dad. I miss you every day.



Monday, April 24, 2017

Persistent Resistance























Another weekend has gone by and another wave of people power has swept the nation.  The March for Science in Washington DC was echoed in hundreds of cities and towns all over the country. Just like the Tax March earlier this month and the Women's March in January. Just like the Black Lives Matter marches that have popped up all over the country every few weeks.

There's something happening here.

People have been calling it the Resistance. Hundreds of citizens have been showing up at town halls and thousands have been marching. Joining together as an indivisible force for truth and justice in America.

The Republicans may be pretending to themselves that governing is business as usual, but there's been nothing like this sustained, country-wide, persistent resistance and protest movement before.

Let's keep it up!

For your Monday Music, a protest song from another era that is as relevant as ever today.

For What It's Worth

There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

It's s time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line,
the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, now, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

- Buffalo Springfield (1967)