Monday, February 28, 2011

While there are already plenty of reasons NOT to be a USC fan, their quarterback's all too common ignorant breed of homophobia is yet another. He "Shakes [his] head" that Obama won't defend DOMA. Whatever...USC sucks to begin with, and so long as guys like this head his team, I'll feel even better about the joy I get watching them lose. Go Bruins!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Jewel Burks would die...

This professor of Psychology wrote something that damn near made me cry. Here's the last paragraph:
I would die for these beautiful, young, smart, funny, mouthy and obnoxious students who want nothing from married couples but the opportunity to make their own relationships as deeply committed, lawful and as sacred as possible. I would die to protect these students from those who would so easily harm them, solely for being courageous enough to be honest about who they are.

economics and politics

I apologize for posting all too frequently lately, but I have a lot of time to read the internets again. I'll try to do more combined postings, but this one deserved to stand alone. Also, if you're reading these on Facebook, sometimes it delays cross posting and then posts a bunch that I've written over a few days simultaneously...I know it's annoying. I'm sorry.

I read "What's the Matter with Kansas" before moving here--basic premise is that the Democratic Party has ceded explaining or even standing behind its own economic principles and thus abandoned middle America (specifically, non-college educated white "folks") to the culture wars, which the Democratic Party has already won, but which the Republican Party will continue to use to motivate voters to come out and vote against their own economic interests.

Right now, I'm reading "Unequal Democracy". This book is a fairly scientific analysis of how income and class affect politics. Specifically, it talks about how money influences political decisions, how a person's class affects his political beliefs and how this has changed over time.

I was listening to NPR this morning and was able to find the article I heard online, which is here. The tagline is "Blacks, Hispanics more optimistic about the economy than Whites." But, the body of the article is more specific as they are talking about Whites without a college degree. The line that caught my attention was this one:

These voters have a right to be deeply pessimistic about the economy since another trend of long duration has been the increased difficulty people without college degrees have in finding jobs with good pay and benefits.
The reason this struck me is because right now in Wisconsin, there is a mass protest that has been ongoing for days. The Democratic State Senators have fled the state to keep the Republicans from passing a bill that would make it more difficult for the Unions to organize, bargain and collect dues. This, it seems to me, is something that is ANTI creating jobs with good pay and benefits, specifically for people without a college education.

However, as the first book explained, somehow the Republican Party has convinced "middle America" that what is good for Corporations (whose taxes have been cut dramatically in Wisconsin) is good for the people (who will be required to pay more for their health care, more for their pensions and receive less in benefits).

Here is an interesting chart I found on the internet which compares three views of the American distribution of wealth. The first is how wealth is actually distributed. The second is how people think it is distributed. The last is how people think wealth should be distributed. The differences are staggering. The second book, however, outlines how precisely because of the American Dream (that even if things are grossly unequal NOW, they will be, or can be equal soon), Americans are willing to forgo policies that will benefit themselves--we don't "soak the rich".
Again, however, this outlook is flawed. We are not "soaking the rich". Taxes on corporations are the lowest they've been since the mid 19th century. Taxes on the rich are the lowest since then. For the first time since FDR, we don't tax inheritance (as an aside, when the country was founded, there was a vocal group of "Founding Fathers" who didn't believe in ANY inheritance because they saw it as an impediment to equality and as something that would only subsidize the stupid and lazy who didn't make their own fortunes).

This study by the Economic Mobility Project shows that this idea of "pulling oneself up by his bootstraps" is largely delusional. You can see by the graph below that most people, especially those in the top and bottom quintiles, end up in the same quintile they're born into. Moreover, while white men often move up (52%) women and black men move down the rung over time.
So, what does this mean? It means education is necessary. Both to help people move up, and to help people understand the truth of what is happening today. The American Dream is further out of reach than it has been before. It is HARDER now than before to move up, and yet, we vote in policies and politicians that favor the rich getting richer. I don't know how to make this happen, or what the answer is, but it must happen, and soon.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The reactionary right...

So, as expected, the right is going apoplectic about the government not being bigoted enough. Here are some reactions to the DOMA decision:
  1. Speaker of the House John Boehner:
    While Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending, the President will have to explain why he thinks now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue that sharply divides the nation
    It is worth noting here that the House he presides over, in order to NOT divide the nation and help create jobs has so far read the Constitution, de-funded Planned Parenthood, re-defined rape and tried to mandate putting "In God we Trust" on all public buildings. Because, you know, those things don't divide and make lots of money?
  2. Rick Santorum, a guy you shouldn't google lest you see this, released the following statement
    This is yet another example of our president's effort to erode the very traditions that have made our country the greatest nation on earth, and it begs the question what language changed in the constitution since 2008 to reverse his position?
    which shows not only an outdated understanding of civil rights, but also what is a willful misrepresentation of what "Constitutional" means as well as a ridiculously ignorant reading of Maine and California's votes on marriage equality.
  3. Mike Huckabee tries really hard to make the case that somehow marriage equality has some effect on absentee fathers saying,
    There is a quantified impact of broken families,...[There is a] $300 billion dad deficit in America every year...that's the amount of money that we spend as taxpayers to pick up the pieces because dads are derelict in their duties.
    Which doesn't even make sense. Is his implication that many of those kids are left abandoned when their fathers go gay? Even if that was the case, wouldn't allowing those errant fathers to marry some other man at least create a stable environment for the kids? Or, at the least, since money is the main issue here, provide another bread winner? Or is he implying that if we keep it illegal, more absentee fathers will go home to momma? I honestly don't know wtf he meant with that one...
  4. On FOX News, Meghan Kelly looked as concerned as she always does while interviewing Maggie Gallagher, the always bigoted defense of marriage woman who said,
    unilaterally declared that gay is like black
    and then went on their website to somehow link this as being "unconstitutional" just like the Democrats in Wisconsin leaving to block a vote. The only problem is, unlike a filibuster, which isn't in the Constitution at all, a quorum, for better or worse, IS in the State Constitution. But, when you're a bigot and can't hide behind bad law anymore, just muddle the issues, say some buzzwords and hope something sticks.
So, there you have it. What Obama did is unconstitutional, purposely erodes America, is Communist, illegal, contributes to absentee fathers and doesn't create jobs as much as changing the definition of rape. All in a days work for the reactionary right...
GOV Abercrombie of Arizona has picked up the pieces that disgraced ex-GOV Lingle left behind and signed civil unions into law for Hawaii saying,
"E Komo Mai: It means all are welcome. This signing today of this measure says to all of the world that they are welcome. That everyone is a brother or sister here in paradise...The legalization of civil unions in Hawaii represents in my mind equal rights for all people."
While I do not want to cast a shadow over what is a very good thing, I do find it slightly ironic that in naming something NOT marriage someone would say this is proof things are "equal". But...yes, it is a step closer.

fun lil' read for lunch

Your lunchtime roundup of what I'm reading:
  1. Some lawmakers in Tennessee, who have spent so long trying to create religious law in their state, are now worried that it just may happen--only the "wrong" religion, so are trying to outlaw Sharia Law. You see, if you would just settle for the good ol' Constitution and its ban on any religious test, then you wouldn't have to go trying to pass redundant bills. But, if you're trying to have your cake and eat it too, well, that's a little harder. My question is, what if you accidentally practice Sharia law?? I mean, Jews don't eat pork either, but that's Halal, part of Sharia! So...are Jews breaking the law by following Sharia on accident?
  2. A LOT of good information coming out of Wisconsin. First, the Governor warns of "dire consequences" if his union busting antics aren't passed to solve the budget crisis. But then, out comes information that Public Sector workers are compensated LESS than private sector workers. So, Unions volunteered to go along with the pension and health care deductions, giving GOV Walker what he wanted, but he said NO. Because, as he'd later reveal in private conversation with Tea Party funder Steve Koch, his real aim is to crush Unions, period--he'd even considered doing some illegal things to make it happen. Oh, but it wasn't really Steve Koch, it was a liberal commedian pretending to be. Oops.
  3. Glen Beck, a guy who thinks Google is in cahoots with anti-war protesters and the Muslim Brotherhood to overthrow--the world and his show--or something like that, called Fareed Zakaria an idiot. Yeah, that just happened.
  4. A list of the top ten polluting states--you'll find most of them have Governors with R's in front of them and are very concerned not with the health of their children, but the birthrate of their embryos and protecting someone from Sharia Law. I shouldn't have been so harsh--they do care about babies. That's why they're now fighting against funding the Consumer Product Safety Commissions new website that would let you see how many children have died from a toy, carseat or stroller before you buy one--so while they may not be protected against lead in their pacifiers or cribs that will break their necks, but they'll at least have no pesky government oversight to worry about!
  5. Lastly, the CBO estimates about the cost of repealing health care are out. It will add something ridiculous to the deficit. So, while the Republicans vowed to do nothing that would add to the defecit, they left out this peach. It's a little like when I was in third grade and my dad said we couldn't afford to buy the nice, brand-name cereal because we were saving money, but came home in a new red sports car.


Really quick reaction, but today, two really gay things happened:

  1. During a training meeting, a new slide bullet being monitored appeared. All the Commanders are now tracking "Army Homosexual Policy Training". The best part is--the meeting was still incredibly boring. It was such a non-issue it was on a list with "two urinalysis trainers" and "four ammunition holders" as things being tracked. The S3 (Operations Officer) briefly said, "oh, yeah, one alibi, we'll be getting some powerpoints on the Army plan for repealing the don't ask thing." one quit or ran from the bathrooms.
  2. Obama has ordered the Dept. of Justice to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act! Holy Crap...this is HUGE! For those of you who DON'T know, the DOMA is what means married couples in Massachusetts are no longer married in California (where they're "unionized") nor can they divorce in Texas, nor, I think, breathe together simultaneously in Kansas. The federal government is not authorized to recognize marries that aren't between "one man and one woman" and states don't have to recognize one anothers' marriages either. It's blatantly un-Constitutional and now, it might go down in a blaze of unglory!

I think this post deserves a re-posting of my favorite picture from last weekend...

deep thinkers

OK, I've done "important" work, so I know that sometimes levity creeps in. At the same time, I'm not sure if I should laugh or cry at this. Apparently the memo ISN'T a joke, as I first thought when I saw it, but is real. Ha ha, so the "big brain" behind Bush boiled down our problems to this? Dear lord, be glad you weren't Doug Feith, what would you even say to this???

When I grow up...

Totally random, but I wanna be this guy...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I'm an Army Fan. Everyone who knows me knows that. I'm a member of the A-Club and go to pretty much any Army sporting event I can. Hell, we got them to play the Army/Notre Dame game in a bar showing Ultimate Fighting on a big screen...when we were down by seventy-thousand points in the fourth quarter...and finished the game. I'm THAT kind of a fan.
That's why I got pissed when I read the following quote from Kevin Anderson, ex-Athletic Director, in the 2009-2010 Annual Report:
I am proud to say that, once again, our coaches, administrators and cadet-athletes fulfilled our mission of winning while developing leadership, demonstrating character and competing with integrity.
Now, I'm sorry to say this, but while winning with integrity is important, beating Navy is as well. So, while Mr. Anderson can point at Patriot League victories, he has not a single win over Navy in either football or the overall Star Matches annually in his entire tenure.

Kevin Anderson is a nice guy. I had dinner with him several times while at the Academy. But, he would have been well advised to heed the words of a famous graduate who said "there is no substitute for victory." (And yes, while he was talking about war--West Point IS at war with Navy. A protracted one in which we have given up ground too long.)

I'm looking foward to seeing the changes that the new athletic director will bring--amongst them, I hope, will be beating the hell out of Navy.


I JUST now read about the DISCLOSE Act, which failed to pass in the last Congress. I'm not sure how this one flew under my radar, but it seems as though it should have gotten more attention. The pernicious influence of anonymous money and donations on our election system is something I fear will only grow worse as the curbs on "speech" by groups and corporations gets louder.

The DISCLOSE Act would have required that ALL political ads, not just those run by politicians themselves, mention in the ad the top donor/donors, as well as have a spokesperson state his/her name and that s/he "supports this message".

The Act failed in a typically lopsided vote of 59 for 39 against with two republicans abstaining. Without even getting into how a 59-39 vote can be a "failure" (something I hope changes soon), the response of Republicans to the bill is telling, as well as which groups did or did not support the bill.

Here is what some Republicans voting against the ACT said:
  1. Patrick Toomey-
    "I've advocated for a long time that the best way to approach campaign finance is to allow unlimited contributions and require immediate disclosure."
    Apparently, however, he was unwilling to force people to disclose who they were unless they were simultaneously allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money. Of course democracy works best when he is the richest is heard the most.
  2. Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell said-
    “They want government to pick and choose who gets to speak in elections, and how much they speak.”
    confusing the issue purposely to make us think the DISCLOSE Act did anything to limit contributions. There is, however, a difference between limiting who can speak, how much one can speak, and ensuring we know who is speaking. But he, and his Republican colleagues, don't want us to know who is speaking on their behalf. (OpenCongress.Org, however, lists for us who is speaking. It tell us who the major organizations are who were opposed to DISCLOSE, as well as which politicians those groups donated to, and how those politicians voted. It's one of my new favorite websites.)
  3. In his speech on the Senate Floor, Senator Kyl of Arizona confused process with outcomes, saying,
    The closed-door process under which the DISCLOSE Act was written contradicts its supporters' professed goal of transparency. It is a partisan rewrite of campaign finance laws without hearings, without testimony, without studies, without a markup--again, written behind closed doors with the help of lobbyists and special interests.

The objections repeat, again and again, from Republicans that this would have "limited free speech". This is, however, a common misconception--that being responsible for ones speech, and speaking openly, is the same as not being able to speak. It's like Dr. Laura saying that her "first amendment rights were trampled" because people were upset enough with her words to boycott her.

The argument that forcing corporations, organizations and individuals to tell us who they are when making a political claim is somehow infringing upon "free speech" seems ridiculous to me. Does it matter who is running an ad saying we can achieve "energy independence" by drilling in Alaska? Yes! If the people who are running that ad are oil and natural gas companies, then it DOES matter. As things stand now, however, we do not know who it is, and cannot know.


Urban development versus Suburban development has been an issue that, while I know little about, has become increasingly "on my radar." It seems as though quite a few of the problems we face (crumbling infrastructure, rising government costs, environmental pollution etc.) could all be solved if we moved away from government subsidies of suburbs, allowed more mixed commercial/residential living and started to gear government programs toward urban living.

This article I read talks about Chicago, which lost some 200,000 people over the last ten years, and how exodus from the city center has affected the city:

On the South and West Sides in particular, the shrinkage has left vast empty lots, miles of broad streets. The lots are yielding little or no taxes, yet the streets running by them must be maintained. Public transit options are reduced because there are fewer folk around to ride the buses and rails. There is less of everything--and what there is can be expensive--when there aren't as many people around to support it.

Matthew Yglesias talks about this far more often than I, particularly with an eye on DC and the areas around it.

I grew up in the 'burbs. In Los Angeles, I lived in an exurb (Lomita) which was so far from downtown that I don't think I'd ever BEEN downtown until I was in my twenties. I grew up where the only restaurants were chain style restaurants and the opening of a McDonalds down the street (a two story! With a fish tank! and bullet proof glass for cashiers!!) was a memorable highlight. When we moved to San Diego, my dad worked about four exits from downtown, but we lived in Fallbrook--as north as you could go and still be in San Diego County. With no public transportation, it took him almost an hour each way for work. That's ten hours a week sitting in his car, polluting the air, to drive to a house that was too big for our family to begin with (four bedroom, two and a half baths with an unfinished basement).

As anathema as this is to say, Europe has, for a long time, managed to live in dense urban centers. You can live in an apartment and walk to farmers markets, grocery stores, bars, coffee shops and Churches. The cities feel like "homes" as well--something I can't say for the vast tracts of identical homes sprawling across every flat piece of land left in America.

I've lived in tract homes in Killeen, TX and in Sierra Vista, AZ. I felt oddly "at home" and simultaneously alien in both of them. I could walk into anyone's house and know where their bathroom was without asking, know what lighting would be used without looking up and know the layout of the bedrooms without a tour--because they were all built by the same people, equally shoddy and equally ill equipped to deal with the regional differences in environment.

Maybe we should amend the "American Dream" from the post-World War II ideal of a house with a white picket fence to something less harmful. Maybe the American Dream should be to be part of a local community where "home" extends beyond our front door to our neighbors (next door and below), to the grocery store at the corner, to the local pub and the cities we are a part of. Instead of isolated pockets and individual families, urban development would allow us to integrate our individual cells into a cohesive whole which would be less damaging to the future and help cut down on the budgetary problems we have today.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day recap

Valentine's Day, 2008 was the first year that I had a Valentine. We had met on New Years day and were pretty much inseparable until geography took its toll on us. I was extremely excited to finally participate in what had been, for the first 28 years of my life, a spectator sport. We made plans to stay in and have dinner since we didn't want to brave the crowds and because I didn't want to run into anyone from work while out on a date (it would have been incredibly awkward).

That morning, I found out that I was the DFAC (dining facility) Officer in Charge, and that there was an "emergency" shortfall of foodstuffs--the inventory done the night before showed $10,000 worth of missing food and we had to re-inventory 100% of what was on hand. This could only start AFTER the DFAC had closed for the night--1830 or so.

I called Lee, cancelled my dinner plans and explained that it might be a late night. I weighed bacon, thyme, lettuce and bread. I counted gallons of condensed milk and spent hours in the sub-zero freezer outside. I counted packets of ketcup and little cups of creamer for coffee until three in the morning and "found" all the unaccounted for foodstuffs. Around two in the morning, my boss's boss showed up. She was in uniform and asked that I meet her in the hallway. She put her hand on my shoulder and said, "I know this sucks. But, someday, you'll look back on your Lieutenant years and laugh about this." I drove to Lee's, half asleep, and crawled into bed only to wake up two hours later for work.

A year later, Iraq.

A year later, Killeen, TX. I was dating someone again, and we had gone out the night before. We were hung over. We slept on separate couches, nursing hangovers, unable to stomach food or drink, watching Iron Chef.

This year? This year, I forgot Valentine's Day was coming. I met a nice kid the weekend before and, over brunch on Sunday, suggested we get dinner the next night (Valentine's Day). Valentine's Day is a high pressure second date! Especially when the first date is watching YouTube videos on my phone and eating omelettes on my kitchen table. But, we went with it. I didn't think it appropriate to bring flowers on date two, so I texted a picture of flowers, and a teddy bear--I didn't want to ignore V-Day either! We went to Chinese Food Buffet (one of my favorite comfort foods), and laughed, and came home to watch a movie. We watched Best in Show, laughed, and then parted ways. There was no kissing or hugging or hand holding, but a lot of laughing and I had a great time.

Not bad, considering the first two Valentine's Days. Who knows if this will pan out to be anything more, but hey...salvaging what could be a horrible day for single people is hard to do, and I think we did it well!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

civil military divide

The "civil military relationship" is one of those things that people often write or talk about. For those of you who don't know, a short explanation is that there is a military culture, and a civilian culture, and the two exists in separate spheres. The further those spheres become removed from one another, the more dangerous it is for the country. The idea is that, the further removed from civilian life the military becomes, the less careful civilian leadership is to use the military properly, and the more isolated military leadership becomes from the people they're sworn to protect and defend.

This weekend, the idea came up twice, in rather tangible form to me. The first was at the "K-State Drag Show". The show is one of the biggest in the area and was a lot of fun. Besides seeing so many people come out to support the LGBT community in an area that isn't that supportive, it was a festive atmosphere and a rare moment of levity when LGBT people and allies could get together and And be happy.

Toward the end, there was a serious moment when a look back at the last year began and of the Queens introduced people in the audience who had made a difference. First was the celebration over Manhattan, Kansas passing an anti-discrimination ordinance and then there were shout outs to the gay and lesbian sorority and fraternity (who knew the only school in the US to have both was K-State?) But what was missing in the review of the year and thanks to those in attendence? There were "special thanks" to allies, to older people, to straight boys and gay girls...but who was not thanked? What was NOT mentioned? Soldiers! wouldn't have bothered me other than there are as many Soldiers here in Manhattan, Kansas as there are students! The most significant LGBT legislation to pass in the last year was repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell. Soldiers, who serve every day, who came out to support the students sat there idly and ignored. Why? Because of the widening gap between civilian and military spheres. Even with Fort Riley not six miles away, the worlds of difference between those who serve and those who don't was too large for one group to recognize the other even within a special community as tight-knit and as familial as LGBT groups. Sad...very, very sad.

The second part of this civil military relationship that I thought about today stemmed from a work party I had to go to. At the party, hosted by a Military Police Lieutenant Colonel, there were two ROTC Cadets who were branching Military Police. Talking to them and their two girlfriends, and being around K-State, I realized something though--while K-State is HUGE, it is rather homogenous. Most of the kids here grew up in Kansas and will stay here in Kansas. Most, not all.

One of the things I learned the most from at USMA was other cadets. While we were homogeneous in our accomplishments (at least, those straight out of high school), by virtue of needing a Congressional Nomination, West Point pulls from as wide a geographical selection as possible. I met kids from Queens and from no-where Alaska...from San Francisco and Tomball, Texas. Each has a VASTLY different upbringing and experience to bring to the table. At K-State, I feel like I meet a lot of kids that have VERY similar upbringings.

So, one of the ways that's often mentioned to "bridge the gap" between the two worlds is to expand ROTC to get more Officers with "well rounded" educations who interact with the civilian world around them. The flip side of that argument, often used against West Pointers, is that ROTC cadets are more "worldy" than us since they didn't go to school with all other future Officers.

My experience at K-State would argue otherwise, for the second point at least--that going to a school like K-State, where everyone comes from the same background as you, does less than going to West Point to expose young Officers to world views and experiences beyond their own. I would argue that going to WP, where my friends came from all over the country, and from whom I learned, does more to make me empathetic to experiences different than my own than had I gone here, where while I know thousands of other civilian students, their experiences are similar to my own.

(disclaimer before anyone jumps on that second half: I know there are international students at K-State, and that it is a big AG school so people come from everywhere to go here, but the vast majority of students DO come from Kansas. And yes, there is a wide variety of experiences within Kansas, but the differences pale to the difference between, say, Manhattan and Manhattan.)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bryan Fischer: Native Americans Need to Convert to Christianity

For the record, this isn't a "fringe" group, like Westboro Baptist. This is the American Family Association's official spokesman talking about why there is rampant alcoholism on Indian Reservations. Apparently when he said similarly ridiculous things about Muslims, Gays and others, it was tolerable and right, but now he's gone too far. I'm sure CNN, Fox and MSNBC will still continue to give the American Family Association air-time to spew their rhetoric as one "side" to the debate, but at least now more people will see them as the simple bigots they are.

Political LARPers

I stumbled into NewsRealBlog accidentally today and feel a little bit like I walked into a LARPer convention--there's a lot of craziness, but the crazies take it VERY seriously, and to outsiders, it's bemusing, befuddling, laugh inducing, and simultaneously scary.

The first article I saw was one where the author took William Kristol (editor of the The Weekly Standard) to task for, get this, not being conservative enough because he doesn't support Glen Beck's craziest theories. Not that he doesn't support Beck generally, but because he didn't support Beck one time. In the article, he writes the following, which while unrelated to Kristol, was my first inkling that there was something ridiculous (to use the analogy above, it's like when approaching LARPers you suddenly realize that the crowd that looks like they're partying are really wielding plastic swords and wearing capes...the moment you realize it's ridiculous and crazy):

We pointed out at the time that the steering committee of the largest coalition against the Iraq War — that is against toppling Saddam Hussein — included on its steering committee the Muslim Students Association, an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2003, we laid out the facts in an 80 page booklet edited by John Perazzo and me, called Who Is The Peace Movement? ...

Everything we know about the collaborations of the Communist left with the Soviet police state, about the collaborations of the New Left with the Vietnamese and Cuban Communists, and about the committees of leftists in solidarity with the communist dictatorship in Nicaragua and the Communist guerillas in El Salvador told us that the current left would be in bed with the Islamic Nazis who now confront us. In 2005 I published a book — Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left — which described this uniting of domestic forces with the external threat, and four years later our Frontpage editor, Jamie Glazov followed it with United in Hate: The Left’s Romance With Tyranny and Terror. ...The unholy alliance between Islamo-Nazis and the American left described in these pages is the gravest threat our country has ever faced.

OK, so besides the fact there's more right ring buzz-words in here than in a random right wing generator, it's kind of ridiculous on it's face. Why? Here's why--the first paragraph argues that anti-war protestors were really the Muslim Brotherhood in disguise. He does this to support Beck's claim that "Islamo-Nazis" have taken over Iraq. Did you catch that? Group A is against invading Iraq. The US does it anyway. Group B then takes over Iraq. The conclusion, the group that was against invading Iraq, thus setting up the ability of Group B to take over Iraq, is really the same group--Islamo-Nazis.

I dug around the site a little more because I was bored and found a debate between two people over if gays could be conservative. The one who argues that they can be is the more well reasoned of the two, but in order to gain more right-wing "street cred" feels the need to call the President the "Radical-in-Chief" as well as include lines like the following:

How is it that fighting such admirable patriots as Tammy Bruce and GOProud’s Christopher Barron can strike you as a higher priority than than taking on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Barack Obama?

So, even the "open minded" libertarian leaning writers on this blog feel the need to lump the President in with Ahmadinejad, al-Awlaki and other anti-American forces. Not to mention the rampant fear mongering against Muslims that takes place throughout the debate. (Not to mention how sad it is to see someone who thinks the best way to gain acceptance is by casting aspersions on someone lower on the totem pole. It reminds me of in Junior High when the kid who was ALMOST the class dork tripped the class dork to impress the "cool kids". Seeing this gay Republican fear monger against Muslims just seems pathetic to me.)

Why does it matter? It doesn't really, I don't think, other than it's a small window into the mindset of people whose thought processes are so far removed from mine it's difficult to fathom. It's like finding life that breathes nitrogen here on earth--sure you can imagine it, but when you see it, it's just shocking.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

extremely long response

A reader commented on my recent post, written in reaction to the New Yorker article about Scientology (which I still commend to your reading as it is simply interesting and well written). His response is here, and he makes three points which are paraphrased as such:
  1. An unchanging scripture is something that only certain members of non-Catholic Christian faiths hold.
  2. The Church didn't "re-write" history about Galileo or the Crusades, as evidenced by the late Pope's apology for Catholic action re. Galileo.
  3. The Shroud of Turin was not an important apologetic relic prior to the late 1800's and thus is inconsequential to my argument.

Those are my words, not his, but it gets across what I understand him to mean. Feel free to read his whole post here so you can decide for yourself if I've mis-quoted/understood.

Now, to address those issues. First, I was not ignorant of the first point, but I didn't direct my post at Catholics. I know Catholic theology well enough to know that a Catholic (at least, one who understands his own faith well) would never argue that the bible is a direct transmission from God in the same way the Koran is. However, the main gist of my post, while using mostly Catholic examples due to my own experience, was to draw similarities between ALL faiths, not just Catholicism and Scientology. Many people in Protestant denominations *DO* believe the Bible is the inerrant and perfect word of God transmitted through the hand of man, as is today. I think, in that case, my point still holds. In the book, Does Inerrancy Matter, the author writes,

Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives’

Considering the context of what I was comparing (the Scientologist explaining that while Dianetics had anti-gay writings in it, those writings were never supposed to be in it, so while they were, and still are, they're not "really" Dianetics), I think this explanation holds for Catholics and well as other religions. While a Catholic would say that the Bible took X years and went through Synods to become "The Bible", most Protestants (and many Catholics ignorant of their own faith) would argue vehemently that the Bible was given to us perfectly, as is, and cannot ever be changed. Muslims cling to this belief so strongly a Koran isn't "really" a Koran unless in antiquated Arabic and Bahia's believe the entire world will one day speak Persian so as to fully comprehend the full texts of Baha'ullah.

(In this sense, the Catholic understanding of the Bible (from what I know) is the closest to Scientology. While the Church would never simply expunge the homophobic and sexist passages, it takes great pains through apologetics to explain that the passages either 1. don't REALLY mean what they mean or 2. need to be taken in the context of the time and culture.)

The second point begins with an embarrassing admission. I switched the words Inquisition and Crusade. I know...a ridiculous mistake as they are quite different events. I hesitate to even address this point as we are talking about two different things, but I will as quickly as possible. Here, from the Catholic Education online is the explanation of how the Catholic Church never killed anyone during the Inquisition:

Most people accused of heresy by the medieval Inquisition were either acquitted or their sentence suspended. Those found guilty of grave error were allowed to confess their sin, do penance, and be restored to the Body of Christ. The underlying assumption of the Inquisition was that, like lost sheep, heretics had simply strayed. If, however, an inquisitor determined that a particular sheep had purposely departed out of hostility to the flock, there was nothing more that could be done. Unrepentant or obstinate heretics were excommunicated and given over to the secular authorities. Despite popular myth, the Church did not burn heretics. It was the secular authorities that held heresy to be a capital offense. The simple fact is that the medieval Inquisition saved uncounted thousands of innocent (and even not-so-innocent) people who would otherwise have been roasted by secular lords or mob rule.
I won't elaborate further on this point since he thought I was talking about the Crusades. But, even if looking into semi-official writings about the Crusades, you can see where Catholic apologetics gets involved in explaining away any culpability. (This is an area Catholics have an upper hand on. Since anything not imprimatured by the Church isn't "official"--no matter how widely disseminated or spread--it's very difficult to challenge things. You can just say, "Well, that's not REAL Church teaching.")

When it comes to Galileo, the Catholic Encyclopedia (which IS imprimatured as official) has the following:

It is, however, untrue to speak of him as in any proper sense a "prisoner". As his Protestant biographer, von Gebler, tells us, "One glance at the truest historical source for the famous trial, would convince any one that Galileo spent altogether twenty-two days in the buildings of the Holy Office (i.e. the Inquisition), and even then not in a prison cell with barred windows, but in the handsome and commodious apartment of an official of the Inquisition.“…. It is wholly untrue that he was — as is constantly stated — either tortured or blinded by his persecutors — though in 1637, five years before his death, he became totally blind — or that he was refused burial in consecrated ground. On the contrary, although the pope (Urban VIII) did not allow a monument to be erected over his tomb, he sent his special blessing to the dying man, who was interred not only in consecrated ground, but within the church of Santa Croce at Florence.
So, while the classification of this as "rewriting history" may be a bit harsh, I think the sentiment still stands--there is a systematic attempt to whitewash or at least look at things in the best possible light in order to exonerate the Church from historical facts. So, while the Pope said that the Church apologizes for how Galileo was handled, simultaneously, there is still official Catholic doctrine which tries very strongly to weaken and minimize the role the Church played in his life. And, one of these two things is officially Catholic, and ironically it is NOT the apology of Pope John Paul II. Luckily, I believe if there is a God, he's probably not concerned with technicalities.

My point? While the above examples aren't as blatant as the one in the article, the intent and sentiment are the same.

As for the Shroud of Turin, I think this is a disagreement upon which we cannot find common ground. Simply put, belief in the Shroud or not is simply a matter of faith. And being such, I cannot PROVE positively or otherwise that there are people for whom belief in it is vitally important to their own overall sense of faith. I can claim to have met them, to have been one, to know them now or otherwise, but there is absolutely no way I can prove that statement. I would ask you (or anyone else) to take it on my word, but what good is that in a proper debate? So, technically speaking, you are right--the Shroud poses no apologetics value whatsoever and one can dismiss it as a hoax and still believe every article of faith.

To close, a vignette:

I had a very good friend at West Point who was absolutely insistent that since the Bible says the first rainbow was after the flood, there was no rain before the flood. I asked what happened before the flood, and how, if the Bible talked about agriculture, there was no rain. He explained that, prior to the flood, water bubbled up from the ground to water crops. He was insistent to the point of yelling until he finally left. Hours later, he called me and said that, after talking to his pastor, he now admits there WERE rainbows before the flood, and thus rain, but that the one after the flood was SYMBOLICALLY the first.

My point? The overall argument I made I think still stands--the self-convincing arguments that Haggis made to explain inconsistencies (scientific or historical) are the same self-convincing arguments people make everywhere. The entire process of fitting an octagonal peg into a square hole repeats itself over and over again. And, over the course of history, we see the same patterns--something inerrant and perfect (be it the Koran, the bible, the sura or anything else) either changes literally (like the Scientology example) or figuratively (as in Catholicism). The Church splits with some trying to reclaim "true" religion X and everything we consider good is then attributed to that "true" religion while everything bad is considered "bastardized" religion X. Instead of judging a tree by its fruits, we judge the fruit by the tree throwing out the rotten apples and keeping the good ones.

Which, to be honest, was the initial response I was looking for. While it's clear the commentator has a vested interest in the Shroud of Turin, my question was never answered--should Religions and Faiths be judged based upon the net impact on the world (is it a net positive or not) or should individuals simply judge based upon the value it has provided them individually?

job creation

In an effort to further stimulate the economy after: Reading the Constitution, re-defining rape to ban abortion and not repealing Health Care, House Republican John Kline is sponsoring a bill :

Reaffirming ‘In God We Trust’ as the official motto of the United States and supporting and encouraging the public display of the national motto in all public buildings, public schools, and other government institutions.

Yep, I can see all the jobs coming in now! I mean, who needs High Speed Rail, stimulus for improving existing infrastructure or otherwise when we can just put up "In God We Trust" on all our schools and public buildings?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011's good!

Sarah Palin, always the foreign policy guru, has declared the "lamestream media" irrelevant. As always, she takes softball interviews with friendly press, and has finally done a sit-down with someone almost reputable--Christian Broadcasting Network. (As an aside, why do our Presidential hopefuls feel the need to do interviews with Christian Broadcasting Network or mega-church pastors?)

In it, she is asked a series of questions, most of which were answered in the usual incomprehensible fashion, but two in particular were both overly-absurd, and important. I find the more important a question is, the more she reverts to politico-babble. (I can hear her head now, "talking point...wait, um, Reagan, and...Obama's bad...Jesus!")

here are the two questions, with answers in block quotes:
Q: What is your opinion on the situation in Egypt?
Remember, President Reagan lived that mantra, "Trust, but verify." We want to be able to trust those who are screaming for democracy there in Egypt, that it is a true sincere desire for freedoms. And the challenge that we have though, is how do we verify what it is that we are being told, what it is that the American public is being fed via media, via the protesters, via the government there in Egypt in order for us to really have some sound information to make wise decisions on what our position is?

Trust but verify, and try to understand is what I would hope our leaders are engaged in right now. Who’s going to fill the void? Mubarak, he’s gone, one way or the other. He is not going to be the leader of Egypt. That’s a given. So now the information needs to be gathered and understood as to who it will be that fills now the void in the government. Is it going to be the Muslim Brotherhood? We should not stand for that, or with that or by that. Any radical Islamists, no that is not who we should be supporting and standing by.

So we need to find out who was behind all of the turmoil and the revolt and the protests so that good decisions can be made in terms of who we will stand by and support.

Question 2: How is Obama handling the Egyptian crisis?

It’s a difficult situation. This is that 3 a.m. White House phone call and it seems for many of us trying to get that information from our leader in the White House, it seems that that call went right to the answering machine. And nobody yet has explained to the American public what they know, and surely they know more than the rest of us know, who it is who will be taking the place of Mubarak.

I'm not real enthused about what it is that is being done on a national level from D.C. in regards to understanding all the situation there in Egypt and in these areas that are so volatile right now, because obviously it’s not just Egypt, but the other countries, too, where we are seeing uprisings.

We know that, now more than ever, we need strength and sound mind there in the White House. We need to know what it is that America stands for, so we know who it is that America will stand with. And we do not have all that information yet.

So, having read that, and imagining that she may someday be the Woman responsible for making decisions for how and when the military will be utilized, I promptly killed myself.

Wait, that's not true, I'm typing right now. But seriously...when given such an easy audience, and not being able to articulate any kind of coherent response, how can people STILL listen to this woman? It seems like the more ridiculously uneducated and uninformed she sounds, the more they like her. Is there anyone that can cull some sort of value out of the above? Is she going to claim that this was a "gotcha" interview as well? Dear Lord, make it stop!

Commander in Chief...of most

Tim Pawlenty, an as-of-yet undeclared Presidential aspirant on the Republican side, has come out to call for repeal of repealing Don't Ask/Don't Tell. He has gone so far as to say it should be "unfunded". (As an aside, I'm not sure what is left to "fund". If anything DA/DT cost the government money. Unless he's thinking about the dozens of dollars it cost the Commandant and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps to make this video saying they won't continue to harass fellow Americans.)

My question is this--in two years, there will be a Presidential election. The Republican Party, thus far notorious for being anti-gay, will have to choose a Presidential nominee and Tim Pawlenty has already come out against troops he will eventually be (he hopes) Commander in Chief of. When repeal is already finalized (as it will be by the elections), will people who hope to lead the military stand during debates and say unequivocally that they do NOT support the troops they hope to lead and, possibly, send to their deaths?

That would be something wouldn't it? I could be wrong here, but I feel like this is something unprecedented in modern history.

the baby of religions

I read a really interesting article in the New Yorker today. I found it not interesting not so much because of the content or topic of the article itself, but because the topic could have easily been replaced with another topic and still been true.

Here, let me show you--

If you read the following, what would you think the author is talking about?
[His] material must be and is applied precisely as written," Davis said. "It's never altered. It's never changed. And there probably is no more heretical or more horrific transgression that you could have in the [X] religion than to alter the [writings]
Everything in square brackets has been changed to keep you from knowing which religion it is that the author was discussing.

Later, there are interviews with people who are adherents to the religion. In it, they talk about how ascribing to the faith has helped them overcome problems--depression, drug addiction, find jobs etc. The author, who does not seem particularly friendly to this faith, takes them mostly at their word.

The article is about Scientology. What I found myself continually feeling was a sense of deja vu having heard all these things before--but from other religious practitioners. From Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Muslims, Bahia's--each of them has claimed to me at one point or another that if it weren't for their particular faith, they would have fallen to vice X or Y and their lives are forever changed for the better.

I have never questioned them at their word, nor do I now. What this article made me realize, however, is that none of these people (nor I, for that matter), had ever questioned how their religion as a whole affected humanity, not them as individuals. The people in this article don't either.

My point? Well, I'm not entirely sure I have one. I have a lot of friends who are religious, of various faiths, and I guess this blog post would be a question to them--have you ever questioned if your faith has been a force for good in the world, or does the answer even matter?

If Scientology helps person X, as an individual, to get his life back on track, stay off drugs, pay off bills...leap tall buildings, then would it matter if, as a whole, Scientology as a religion takes money from practitioners and funnels it to the leadership? (I am not implying this is the case, it's a hypothetical.)

For those of you who ARE religious (I will pose a Catholic hypothetical), would it matter to you as an individual for whom Catholicism has helped you to get your life on track if, simultaneously, it contributes to a culture that keeps women as a second sex and stigmatizes homosexuality to the point of violence?

In reading this article, those were the questions I asked myself as the parallels kept mounting. Re-writing of history (Catholicism: We never condemned Galileo or killed anyone during the Crusades. Mormonism: John Smith was never a water auger. The list goes on, but these are just two examples). The disbelief by practitioners in clear, tangible evidence that could possible cause the slightest doubt in a small tenet of belief (see Catholic devotion to the Shroud of Turin, an obvious hoax that is not even canonical or Church approved, but which most every Catholic will defend because to cast doubt would begin to pull a single thread of the fabric of belief).

All these things, and so many more, seemed to parallel any Church. The difference between Scientology and other faiths is simply that it is newer, and thus less accepted. Hell, it is even beginning to schism like other Church as members try to get back to the "true teachings" of Hubbard--how often have we heard THAT claim made by so many in every branch of every faith?

This post is not in any way intended to disparage any religion, but only to express my own reaction to this article which got me thinking less about Scientology and far more about religion in general. I would be interested to read your reactions, particularly those of you who are of a faith tradition. I would imagine other atheists would feel similarly to me. Obviously this doesn't mean DON'T respond if you share my beliefs, I'm always interested in yours as well.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

time travel now

A database of old photographs from the Sydney police spanning the first half of the nineteenth century (1912-1965) has caught my fancy. There is a very brief description of each photograph as written at the time they were taken. It's really interesting...they're vignettes from the past with no explanation as to why the police took these pictures. One imagines that each of them was probably something they were called to--there are deaths, and falls and burglaries. The one above I found particularly captivating. The caption reads simply:
Abortion instruments, Sydney City Central.

The photographs are strangely beautiful and you find yourself inventing stories to go with them--why is the chair overturned? Who was killed? Were there children left behind? It's like time traveling for a voyeur and I wasted at least an hour on it today.

Friday, February 04, 2011

notes from my awesome meeting.

A short list of funny (sometimes intentionally, sometimes otherwise) things said at a meeting today:
  1. "Sir, to figure that out, we'll have to minus that number from the first one..." apparently not all college graduates learned the word "subtract".
  2. My boss: "I'm starting a list--civilians who piss me off." This is in regards to civilians who control one tiny little sector of the Universe--they have one stamp or one staple that is VITAL to your organization--and who rule that sector of the Universe with an iron fist and no regard for reality.
  3. Regarding Army management and bureaucracy: "It's not fixed when it's's fixed when you turn in the paperwork saying it's fixed."
  4. In response to, "Do we have a system for that?" Someone responded, "Yes! Well, I'm not saying the system works, I'm just is."

Somewhere on this page of doodles and comments I thought were funny are my actual work notes...somewhere.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Rape Panels--the new Death Panels.

The proposed "No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act" is something I've been discussing with a friend. Amongst other things, it:
  1. re-defines "rape" in a far more specific and less inclusive manner.
  2. specifically denies the ability of Soldiers to obtain an abortion other than paying out of pocket themselves.
  3. forces anyone who gets an abortion to pay taxes on the cost of the abortion instead of allowing them to deduct it as health-care costs.

I disagree with all of those. Moreover, re-defining "approved" rapes to qualify for federal funding as "forcible rape" would, in essence, force any woman who has been raped to prove that her rape was "forced". Would this include date rape? Would it include if she was too drunk to say no? This bill sounds like it would create a "rape panel" that victims would have to prove their case to, and I hope it does not pass.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

rising from the ashes

Even in chaos, there is beauty. Like the scene in Thin Red Line of the butterfly hovering over the battlefields, today in Egypt, with chaos all around, Egyptian youth have banded together to save the library from violence.

The library, built in 2002, is designed to look like a rising sun. A semi-circle, rising from the ground, it was to reference the historical library, which had been burnt twice before. But today, while riots, violence and chaos surround, students and young people of the area, have taken guard around the library to ensure its safe passage into the future.

In the New York Review of books, Ingrid D. Rowling, writes an eloquent reaction to what is going on, but what Andrew Sullivan pulled out of it is probably the best passage, where she explains why it is we destroy the beauty around us in times of crisis:
Blind rage cannot understand anything as complex or beautiful as Rome, or a library, or even a person, an animal, a book, a tree, a work of art—but blind rage can make these intricate systems stop, and the ability to make things stop has served many of our kind since time immemorial as a fine substitute for learning, experience, scientific method, artistic creation, philosophy. Destruction, too, can count as hard work.

And so, today, instead of destroying, these Egyptian youth gather together to safeguard the beauty. Not for themselves, but for the future.

The libraries director wrote the following:
The young people organized themselves into groups that directed traffic, protected neighborhoods and guarded public buildings of value such as the Egyptian Museum and the Library of Alexandria. They are collaborating with the army. This makeshift arrangement is in place until full public order returns. The library is safe thanks to Egypt’s youth, whether they be the staff of the Library or the representatives of the demonstrators, who are joining us in guarding the building from potential vandals and looters.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Coming Out In The 1950s

This video is really cool! I am a big fan of trying to capture gay history--all history, really--but gay history particularly. It's so easy for us to forget our past, and to look only at today. I complain about the lack of gay bars in Manhattan, Kansas, and that we ONLY have Civil Unions in California. But there is so much more, and we've come so far.

To forget our history, and those who made today possible for the rest of us, would be a huge injustice. Not only to those we've forgotten, but to ourselves. I've written before that the LGBT community often forgets that we can build upon our history, that we can stand on the shoulders of giants. Instead, we each come out on our own--instead of standing on their shoulders, we try to jump.

This project and others like it will help to change that. Moreover, I think, it will help to humanize an ideal. By showing the world that the struggles and issues that the LGBT population has gone through over the decade, other people will realize that they are, at heart, human issues, not particular to LGBT people only at all.

Listening to Phyllis talk about her experience (the briefcase anecdote is adorable in only the way an old person can be adorable) is really touching, and her admonition to come out is so very hard to ignore.

I can't wait for more of these videos to come inspiring!