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)



Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day - March For Science!

Photo credit: NPR























In 1970, 20 million people demonstrated in cities and towns all across the United States to bring attention to their concerns about the environment and humankind's impact on our planet. According to the website, earthday.org, the first Earth Day and the activism it inspired led to the formation of the Environment Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act by the end of that year.

A big part of that success story was that in the 1960's and 70's, respect for science had not yet been eroded by Christian fundamentalism. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle were able to agree on basic scientific data and to work together to create legislation, based upon solid science, which would benefit the entire nation for decades to come.

Today, we live in a very different world.

The dismantling of the wall between church and state, which was facilitated in earnest during the Reagan years, has led to myriad devastating consequences for the country, but perhaps the most critical losses have been the gutting of public education (as funds have been siphoned off for religious private and charter schools) and the gradual acceptance that religious belief is being taught to millions of kids and presented to be as valid as the scientific method for understanding what is true about the world around us.

In 2017, we now have an upside down reality where anti-environment people have been put in charge of the EPA, where religious extremism has been allowed to dictate environmental policy and deny global climate change and where the new administration has declared war on air, water, earth and humanity.

What can we do?  Quite a lot!

Public protest works. Speaking out and showing up, works.

This morning, all across the United States, people in cities and towns will be demonstrating on Earth Day again, just like in 1970.  The March for Science is for everyone interested in a sane and safe world. It's time to stop the madness and insist that community and national leaders stop allowing public funds to be siphoned off to underwrite harmful mythology-based education and patently false pseudo-science, and restore actual science and the rigor of the scientific method of enquiry to our public offices.

Decisions which affect the life-sustaining earth, water and air of this planet must be made based upon the best science and research we can achieve. The time has come to insist upon it.

March for science today!

Look here to find a March for Science near you. And listen below for a little Saturday Inspiration as you head out the door!

Symphony of Science - MelodySheep

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter!


Thank goddess, Christians are constitutionally protected from having to participate in pagan rituals!
(photo credit: Cambridge-News.co.uk)


Mark your calendars, NiftyReaders. Today, I agree wholeheartedly with a fundamentalist Christian argument. According to online sources for Christian correctness, Christians have a big problem with Easter. The problem is that Easter is not Christian enough. In fact, Easter is not Christian or Biblically endorsed at all.

Hot cross buns?
Abominations!
Now let’s go to the other scriptures authorizing Easter. This presents a problem. There are NONE! There are absolutely no verses, anywhere in the Bible, that authorize or endorse the keeping of Easter celebration! The Bible says nothing about Lent, eggs and egg hunts, baskets of candy, etc., although it does mention hot cross buns and sunrise services as abominations, which God condemns. (The True Origin of Easter, the Reformed Church of God.org)

The name “Easter” has its roots in ancient polytheistic religions (paganism). On this, all scholars agree. This name is never used in the original Scriptures, nor is it ever associated biblically with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For these reasons, we prefer to use the term “Resurrection Sunday” rather than “Easter” when referring to the annual Christian remembrance of Christ's resurrection. (What is the origin of Easter? ChristianAnswers.org)

Oh, those pagans with their "Happy Easter/Happy Holidays"! Unbelievers have been distracting Christians from the true meaning of Christianity's most important holidays for too long! Easter is all about springtime, flowers budding, bunnies, chicks and sex. So unChristian!  Resurrection Sunday is about the story of a dead man who disappeared from his tomb and is believed to have risen from the dead after a horrific execution. That's more like it! Ask any Christian, he will tell you: holidays don't get much more joyful than that!

Coloring eggs? 
That's a no-no, Christians!
For these reasons, I would prefer that Christians use the term "Resurrection Sunday" rather than Easter, too! It makes perfect sense for Christians - who happily profess to be washed in the blood of Jesus, after all - to name their own holiday something more appropriate to what it really is about. I enthusiastically support their right to begin calling their holy day by this name forthwith. Keep the Resurrection in Resurrection Sunday!

And while we are on the subject, why do devout Christians allow the secularists to win on Good Friday, too? Why accept the politically correct - and frankly much too bland - "Good Friday"?  Christians, call it what it is!  It is Crucifixion Friday! It is high time that Christians admit to the rest of the world - loud and proud - that their holiday is about blood, torture and a terrible death, not the Easter Bunny, jellybeans and a chocolate coma!

And about those Easter Eggs. No, no, no, Christians. Do you have any idea of the depraved history of these pagan symbols? Easter eggs are pagan symbols of a fertility goddess! ChristianAnswers can fill you in:

Most children and families who color or hide Easter eggs as part of their Resurrection Sunday tradition have no knowledge of the origin of these traditions. Easter egg activities have become a part of Western culture. Many would be surprised and even dismayed to learn where the traditions originated.
“The egg was a sacred symbol among the Babylonians. They believed an old fable about an egg of wondrous size which was supposed to have fallen from heaven into the Euphrates River. From this marvelous egg - according to the ancient story - the Goddess Astarte (Easter) [Semiramis], was hatched. And so the egg came to symbolize the Goddess Easter.”
Sneaky... but they're still eggs.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The idea of a mystic egg spread from Babylon to many parts of the world. In Rome, the mystic egg preceded processions in honor of the Mother Goddess Roman. The egg was part of the sacred ceremonies of the Mysteries of Bacchus. The Druids used the egg as their sacred emblem. In Northern Europe, China and Japan the eggs were colored for their sacred festivals.
The egg was also a symbol of fertility; Semiramis (Easter) was the goddess of Fertility. The Easter egg is a symbol of the pagan Mother Goddess, and it even bears one of her names.

Do you hear that? Fables! Fertility! A Mother Goddess! The horror! Now, do you see why no true Christian should ever be caught dead dyeing eggs or participating in Easter egg hunts? Instead of an almighty (yet silent and invisible) creator god, the humble egg has been universally celebrated as a symbol of fertility and new life for thousands of years only because those people chose not to know any better. Dozens of cultures who observed the natural world around them, recognized the natural cycle of birth, life and death and celebrated the life-giving sunlight, moon cycle (reproductive cycle) and motherhood in the form of goddess worship were clearly unChristian, evil and pagan.

Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies, jellybeans and marshmallow chicks are all very seductive. They seem like delicious innocent fun, but they are not. They are dangerous temptations down the road to unbelief. They suggest natural sources of life and, with those eggs and chicks and hens and such, they are also suggestive of all of the necessary and naturally-occurring components of reproduction. They suggest that the plants and animals on the earth - including human beings - are actually born, live and die without the aid or interference of any deity. Of course, throbbing, pulsing, thriving, living reality cannot compete with the power of fervent, mystical religious belief (right? amirite?), but why should Christians risk it?

And just in case you didn't catch the recurring motif of feminine power in those evil, pagan myths, just look what else this Easter/Eastre "holiday" is all about (according to ChristianAnswers):

Nice try, Christians, but no.
... this adulterous and idolatrous woman gave birth to an illegitimate son, she claimed that this son, Tammuz by name, was Nimrod reborn.” Semiramis “claimed that her son was supernaturally conceived [no human father] and that he was the promised seed, the 'savior'” - promised by God in Genesis 3:15. “However, not only was the child worshipped, but the woman, the MOTHER, was also worshipped as much (or more) than the son!” Nimrod deified as the god of the sun and father of creation. Semiramis became the goddess of the moon, fertility, etc.

The woman, the MOTHER (!!1eleventy1!) was worshipped! If ever there was proof that Easter is an unChristian festival, this creation of a female god is it. Any mythology that pays respect to women - let alone that elevates one to goddess status - autonomous, powerful and life-giving - is a mythology that is antithetical to everything that patriarchal Christianity stands for.

And come on, look at that silly fable! It cannot hold a candle to the 100% true, God-breathed, divine message in the Bible describing the singular Truth of Christianity: An innocent and immaculate young virgin miraculously gave birth to a son. The Bible claims that this son, Jesus by name, was the son of God, conceived of the Holy Spirit (no human father) and that he was the promised Messiah - the "savior" promised by God in Genesis 3:15. Not only is the child, Jesus, worshipped as he should be, but his mother, Mary is also paid deference as only the Mother of God deserves to be.

Now, that is a story that has the ring of ultimate Truth™!

In the old fables of the Mystery cults, their 'savior' Tammuz, was worshipped with various rites at the Spring season. According to the legends, after he was slain [killed by a wild boar], he went into the underworld. But through the weeping of his mother… he mystically revived in the springing forth of the vegetation - in Spring! Each year a spring festival dramatically represented this supposed 'resurrection'...

Nope.
In the old holy scriptures of the One True Faith, the Christian savior, Jesus Christ, is worshipped with various rites at the spring season. According to the inerrant word of the Bible, after he was slain (killed by Roman occupiers), he died and descended into hell. But according to the will of his father, he mystically revived - bringing "new life" to the world - in Spring! Each spring, during holy days, worshippers dramatically re-enact the utterly unverifiable story totally true Biblical account of this real resurrection.

Thus, a terrible false religion developed with its sun and moon worship, priests, astrology, demonic worship, worship of stars associated with their gods, idolatry, mysterious rites, human sacrifice, and more. Frankly, the practices which went on were so horrible that it is not fitting for me to speak of them here.

Exactly.  We will speak no more about it. The Christian religion with its divine Son worship, priests, mysticism, belief in angels and demons, worship of holy shrines associated with visions of their gods, angels and saints, mysterious rites and liturgical human sacrifice ritual is so much more than this terrible false religion from which Easter has sprung. For one thing, Christians add ritual cannibalism after the ritual human sacrifice! Frankly, these practices are so obviously correct, righteous and good, that it is not fitting for any Christian to participate in anything else. The source of that whole springtime/ new life/ bunnies and eggs/ ickily feminine, fertility cultish, Eastery thing is a terrible, false religion. What kind of a legitimate spring/rebirth festival elevates a MOTHER over a son? Definitely not a Christian festival!

Easter is clearly an evil pagan festival which Christians ought to decry.

Absolutely not!
Christians ought to take a stand against this tawdry commercialization of Christianity's most glorious holiday and simply refuse to partake in it. Perhaps they could demand that retailers post Happy Resurrection Sunday signs in their stores. Insist that schools and businesses should be closed out of respect for Crucifixion Friday. Fight for the power to teach schoolchildren the Good News™- whether they are Christian or not - through faith-building activities. Why shouldn't they be able to put on an annual Passion Play in public schools? What little boy wouldn't love to portray the crucified Jesus? What little girl hasn't dreamed of being cast as the Blessed Virgin grieving over the broken body of her murdered son? Even the littlest Christians can partake in the spirit-filled fun by baking Resurrection Cookies with Mom. As Mom reads the appropriate scriptures, the little ones can beat nuts into pieces with a wooden spoon and imagine they are breaking the bones of their long-suffering savior†. Godly, wholesome, fearsome fun. Now, that is the way to celebrate Easter Joy Resurrection Sunday!

One might wonder if there is a better way for Christians to celebrate Jesus Christ's resurrection, the most important of all Christian holy days. In retrospect, it seems obvious that it would have been a better witness to the world if Christians had not attempted to “Christianize” pagan celebrations* - adopting the name “Easter” (Ishtar/Semiramis) in remembrance of Christ. Jesus has been obscured by painted eggs and bunnies. Attention has been shifted away from spiritual truth and toward materialism (clothing, products and candies with the wrong symbolism). Stores merchandise the name of Easter (not “Resurrection Sunday”) and sell goods that have nothing to do with Christ's death and resurrection.

I couldn't agree more. Leave that pagan Easter business to the heathens, Christians! Resurrection Sunday belongs to you and Easter belongs to the rest of us. You glorify divine capital punishment, substitutionary atonement and human sacrifice - we prefer bunnies, eggs and chocolate. You keep the Crucifixion in Crucifixion Friday and the Resurrection in Resurrection Sunday and we will keep the Easter in Easter. Sounds fair to me.

(This post was previously published on this blog)

† Read the Resurrection Cookie link. Seriously, you can't make this stuff up.
Can I get an "Amen" to this, brothers and sisters?

That's right, Easter Bunny, just keep on hopping right out of the Christian calendar. 
And you can take your abominable eggs with you!










Saturday, April 15, 2017

Tax Day Marches - We Can Be Heroes




























April 15 is tax day. Where are Trump's tax returns? Today there will be marches all over the country by concerned citizens who are demanding that President Trump release his tax returns.  Everyone hates filing tax returns and paying taxes and few of us have much interest in the tax returns of other people. The president's are a big deal, though. The tax returns will point to the true sources of Trump's "wealth" and financing. They can answer many questions about his connections and associations and to whom he owes money. Trump has broken his promise to release them for a reason. He is hiding something.

Stand up. Speak out. Resist.  We can do something. Resistance works.

For a little inspiration to help keep up the fight, here is David Bowie singing We can be heroes.


Heroes

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing, will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day

And you, you can be mean
And I, I'll drink all the time
Cause we're lovers, and that is a fact
Yes we're lovers, and that is that

Though nothing, will keep us together
We could steal time, just for one day
We can be heroes, forever and ever
What d'you say?

I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim
Though nothing, nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, forever and ever
Oh we can be heroes, just for one day

And the shame - it fell on the other side...

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing, will drive them away
We can be heroes, just for one day
We can be us, just for one day

I, I can remember (I remember)
Standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns, shot above our heads (over our heads)
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall (nothing could fall)
And the shame, was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes, just for one day

We can be heroes
We can be heroes
We can be heroes
Just for one day
We can be heroes

We're nothing, and nothing will help us
Maybe we're lying, then you better not stay
But we could be safer, just for one day
Oh-oh-oh-ohh, oh-oh-oh-ohh, just for one day

- David Bowie


Friday, April 14, 2017

Have a Good Friday

                                                                                                                                               Artwork by cliodhna
















If we want a signifier for the human condition, imagine the culture we would live in now if, instead of a dead corpse on an instrument of torture, our signifier was a child staring in wonder at the stars. That’s representative of the state of humanity, too; it’s a symbol that touches us all as much as that of a representation of our final end, and we don’t have to daub it with the cheap glow-in-the-dark paint of supernatural fol-de-rol for it to have deeper meaning. -PZ Myers


The resilience of nature, new life
and spring flowers. This is the
true meaning of Easter!
Even when I was a practicing Catholic, I never quite wanted to "celebrate" the Christian remake of Easter. I was happy to celebrate spring, rebirth, flowers blooming, days getting longer, the Easter bunny and coloring eggs to symbolize fertility and new life - in short, all the aspects of the ancient festival of Eastre that most people enjoy celebrating at this time of the year. But the human sacrifice myth that Christianity grafted on to Easter has always repulsed me.

I think one of the most puzzling and disturbing things about theism is this: belief seems to alter the human mind so that otherwise rational, good and decent people are able to accept a doctrine of "salvation through human sacrifice" without apparent discomfort.  In fact, Christians not only embrace this doctrine as the truth, but they consider it to be a beautiful proof of the love of the Biblical god.  Without any apparent irony, most Christians regard the story of the torture and execution of the son-god, Jesus, as the very zenith of joyful good news.

This is good?
In any other context, human beings who think bloody human sacrifice is acceptable, let alone good, would be considered sociopathic. An entire culture of them would be considered monstrous. Yet, human sacrifice to gods - bloodshed for religion - is accepted as a normal part of human culture even to this day in some parts of the world. Only in a religious context is such depravity considered not only acceptable but laudatory.

The concept of redemptive blood sacrifice disturbs me on many levels.  It disturbs me that people are told that humanity is in need of redemption - that we are sinful, "filthy rags" condemned by our very nature to an eternity of torture in hell unless we seek "salvation" from a deity - when it is the deity which theists also believe created our human nature in the first place. More important is the chilling reality that people accept this vile, self-loathing doctrine. I wonder at the twisted psychology of a faith that teaches little children that they are sinful, hell-bound creatures, and then goes on to tell them that their only path to salvation must be through a bloody human sacrifice that allegedly occurred 2000 years ago.

It's disturbing that the deity that millions of people worship is believed to require a blood sacrifice to expiate the sinfulness of its own creation at all. It seems incredible that an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving god - whose alleged desire is to welcome humanity into its presence - would deliberately create humankind with a curious, independent and impulsively immature nature and then subject the first humans to a life or death test which requires incuriousness, unquestioning obedience and experienced maturity.

A god of constant fury
It disturbs me that millions of people worship a god that would condemn all humanity for all eternity because of the inevitable failure of the two prototype humans to pass that impossible test because of the limitations of the very human nature with which that god endowed them.  It could make sense if people acknowledged that the god is a viciously manipulative tyrant which only fear kept them worshiping, but instead Christians insist that the mythical monster is a "loving" god.

It's disturbing that the cruel, capricious, psychopathic behavior which is the nature of the Biblical god - it is evident throughout holy scripture that God is all that and worse - must be called just, holy and glorious by its worshipers. Believers never seem to wonder why their omniscient and omnipotent god would require total, abject obedience in the first place nor why it could not - or would not - think of a more humane way for its followers to avoid eternal hellfire for the "sin" of being what they were created to be. It never seems to occur to believers that the deity they truly believe in is actually awful, even evil.

Christians refer to the Passion and Resurrection stories as the most "joyful" part of scripture.  I understand that they think it is the most important part - indeed it is the very foundation of the Christian faith - but I do not understand how people can remain so uncritical of this "salvation".  I find myself wondering how people can suspend normal human horror at such violent cruelty in this one celebrated instance,  calling it necessary and good. Their insistence that a god that can do anything somehow needed someone to die a violent, painful death to satisfy its thirst to punish and that this capriciously cruel demand is the greatest love humankind will ever know strikes me as very sad.

Human beings fear death more than anything else. Al Stefanelli writes that through most of history, the horror of dying spawned many versions of the Savior story.  Probably human beings then, as now, felt an awful impotence in the face of their inevitable demise and that sense of impotence may explain the continued acceptance of a doctrine of human failure leading to misplaced faith in irrational belief.

Think about that...
But, while fear and a sense of impotence may explain the willingness of believers to accept a savior myth, I feel that it is early religious indoctrination and psychological manipulation which leads people to sublimate their normal, healthy human aversion to wanton cruelty and to accept the meanest of human impulses - in the guise of Godly judgement - with hardly a murmur of protest.  Cruelty is called kindness, evil is called good and contempt is called love. Such is the bizarrely twisted Christian moral compass.

I suspect that the early Christian conquerers co-opted the pagan Eastre celebrations of springtime fertility not simply to 'win over' pagans to Christianity (they generally achieved that through intimidation and persecution anyway), but to make Christianity more palatable to the masses by entwining the terrifying and immoral doctrine with the more hopeful, joyful celebrations that most psychologically healthy human beings naturally prefer. By fusing the repugnant with the refreshing, Christianity keeps its adherents off-balance and confused about what ought to be the clear difference between goodness and evil.

I do not believe that the Biblical god - or any gods - exist, but I do think that the idea of such a god - and the repulsive religious doctrines built around it - ought to be resisted by all morally healthy people with every ounce of vigor that they can muster.

(This post was previously published on this blog).

Replica of torture/execution device is the universally beloved symbol for the religion of "love".