Sunday, December 6, 2015

But Is It True?


Seems like in recent days, terrorism is all the vogue. I've often posted about how we ought not judge Muslims based on the actions of a few lone radicals, but I hold no such restriction upon Islam itself. So let me take a quick swipe at the creed which some dare to kill innocents over. After all, if one commits an act of terrorism over a creed, it becomes more than fair to ask if that creed is even true.

The essence of Islam is that there is one God, and Muhommed is his prophet. So what do we know of Mohammed? He is revered as the ideal man in the Muslim world. But was he? Even the most generous depiction of Mohammed must admit that he waged war to spread his creed, tortured political opponents, married multiple wives (at least one of whom was underage even by ancient standards), and put believers of other religions to the sword (in Medina, if nowhere else). In other words, this guy was an asshole by any metric, ancient or modern. This, we must conclude that if there is a true religion, it must lie elsewhere - at least in the words of a different prophet.

There are five pillars of Islam according to the Sunni tradition. One is the declaration of one God, and Muhommed as prophet, which I just dealt with above. The second is obligatory prayer five times a day. Ridiculous! The very notion that any God would require such endless adulation so constantly is ludicrous in the extreme. Were I God, I would tell people. "Shut up, already!" The third pillar is charity. I don't really have too much of a problem, there. The fourth is fasting for Ramadan. I really don't think that not eating is particularly gracious or holy, and it isn't healthy, besides. And the fifth and last pillar is the pilgrimage to Mecca. This one refutes itself, as the annual logistic nightmare that takes place in Saudi Arabia every hajj makes my case for me.

So, out of five pillars, four are ridiculous.

And people kill over this shit?

And that is merely today. Only a few centuries ago, Christianity tortured people to death in order to save their souls, all over a tautological blood redemption allegedly done by a man born of a virgin who walked on liquid water.

It's easy to ridicule others' beliefs. But your own beliefs are just as ridiculous.

Why believe when you can know?

My commitment to the truth is absolute. When I left Christianity, I did so because the evidence was incontrovertible that it was false. As a result, I lost nearly everything. I lost my golden-boy status, my career in the ministry, and my direction in life. I had to start all over again. Furthermore, were I to announce a return to Christianity after years of being an atheist, I would become a celebrity. I could write best sellers, do lectures, and become a millionaire! The reason I don't do so is because truth means more to me than millions of dollars. 

What's your excuse?

So when I am confronted by people who not only will not face the truth of their religion's falsehood, and on top of this, not face it to the point of inflicting it upon others, and on top of this being willing to kill others over it, I'm baffled!

How much does truth mean to you?

The real question, for all of us, is this: If evidence presents itself runs contrary to your beliefs, are you willing to change your beliefs as a result?

If your answer is no, then I argue, you are the true harbor of terrorism. Because terrorism thrives in such cognitive dissonance.

Eric

*

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Paris Attacks - And What MUSLIMS Should Do About It


Almost a year ago, when Charlie Hebdo happened, I nearly went ballistic. I very nearly lashed out, calling out all Muslims as evil for simply being Muslim. It didn't matter how peaceful or moderate a Muslim might be, I nearly said, because the beliefs themselves provide fodder for extremism, which they - the peaceful of Islam - then don't bother doing anything substantive to stop. If you're peaceful and loving, and happen to be a Muslim, you have but one choice, as I argued then. LEAVE! Because only the abandonment of Islam will make terrorism stop! Only empty houses of worship make religious leaders change!

Well, I was right about that last part, as far as it goes. Fortunately, I was talked off the ledge by some very kind and intelligent friends who reminded me of what it's like for a peace-loving Muslim who upholds Western democratic values. They get reviled, insulted, spat upon, ostracized, all because of something they had nothing to do with and openly condemn. That's not fair! That's not reasonable! And yes, it's part of why people who are treated that way get radicalized.

I understand that part of the natural reaction to an event such as 11/13 (we might as well give the Paris attack 9/11 and 7/7 status, right?) is for people to become extra xenophobic. They want to yell at people who wear the hijab or burqua. They tell Arab-looking people to "go home!" They shout profanities at men who unroll prayer rugs in the park. But I'm also aware that this is part of what the terrorists want. They want us to be Islamophobes! They want us to lash out.

Just as I nearly did almost a year ago. It radicalizes the moderates, and the cycle continues forever.

I suppose I can't blame people for lashing out. I'm a pretty anti-war guy, generally speaking, and back then I was tempted to say "outlaw the creed and burn every Mosque and minaret." Today, I, even I, am tempted again to say we should simply drop two or three nukes on Daesh (ISIS) held territory and win the war by making the entire area a radioactive wasteland. After all, it certainly seems odd that a nuclear power is getting pushed around by some Kalishnikov-waving imbeciles driving Toyota pickup trucks, doesn't it?

And yet - no. Islam really can be a religion of peace - if given the chance. It proved so back in the Christian Dark Ages when the ancient classics of Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras were nearly lost. The Islamic culture, not yet radicalized like it is today with Wahabiism, was able to preserve those works of learning, paving the way for the Enlightenment and what we today call Western values of freedom and democracy. How ironic that same culture has now transformed into something which gave birth to a terrorist philosophy which is trying to destroy the very democracy Islamic culture once helped create! Today, Islam is not a religion of peace anymore. But it once was, and could be again. How? I'll get to that in a minute.

Muslims point out that condemning all Muslims for the acts of a few among them is like blaming all Germans for the rise of Adolf Hitler. Good point - almost. The only problem I have with that line of thinking is, I do blame all Germans for Hitler! At least, the Germans of that generation. And I don't merely say so as an American of German descent. I say so because it is an historical fact. The Nazi loyalists never did achieve a working majority among the German populace. They didn't need to. The remainder of Germans, those opposed to the Nazi regime, were simply too afraid to speak out. They were scared of reprisals to themselves, and more importantly, to their families. As the Nazi party flourished, they looked the other way for the sake of their own personal well being, and for prosperity. That was to their eternal discredit. They should have had the courage to speak up and derail the Nazi regime before it threatened to bring the world crashing down into fascism. They didn't. Nazis, and their leader, Hitler, came to prominence largely because the peaceful majority of Germans did almost nothing to stop them.

Just as peace-loving Muslims do now.

Oh, I get it. Speak out against Jihadism, and you put the risk of your wife and children being knifed down in the middle of Brussels in broad daylight. Yeah! Who wouldn't understand that kind of threat? But isn't that level of evil even more reason why we should find some way of standing up to it? Can't there be some solution that allows us to dig in our heels, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, and say with one voice, "Enough of this shit?!"

Up until now, the approach of peaceful Muslims has been to let the largely Christian military powers attempt the futile effort at exterminating the terrorists through the use of their military superiority. They feel that not speaking out against this is enough. Well, I doubt that. It hasn't worked so far. I mean, short of dropping several nukes between Syria and Iraq (and I still privately wonder why the hell we don't!) military might really isn't going to achieve much.

So what can we do? Shit, we have to do something!

And here's where my science-fiction writing ability comes to the forefront, because as a writer of tales, I can see strange strategies and plots where most don't. And what do I see?

I see a story - a grand tale about a secret spy organization whose sole purpose is to root out terrorism from within. Secretly funded by Muslims and Muslim-world governments, it finds the terrorist cells and then kills them before they strike. It is acting out on the realization that Islam's greatest P.R. challenge is terrorism, and that it cannot survive as a religion unless it is stopped. And so this organization goes forth, battling terrorism behind the lines, gaining intel that most spy organizations miss, killing the terror cells in their caves and their hovels, and keeping the world safe for religious freedom and democracy. Think of it as INTERPOL meets S.H.I.E.L.D. blended together with the Free Muslims Coalition and Muslims Against Terror. I intend to call this fictional super-spy organization the "M.P.K." for "Muslim Peacekeepers," and I think the story line would best be published as a graphic novel. I've never tried a graphic novel before, but I like the prospect of trying.

You see, Muslims could support something like this without fear of reprisal because it's a secret organization! Fuck, I'm a genius!

And here's my challenge to the peace-loving Muslims of the world: While I write about this organization in fiction, you should make it reality in fact - or at least enact something which makes a similar stand against terror. No, it doesn't have to be a super-spy organization with secret decoder rings and fancy exploding pens, but it does have to be making a stand - and a strong one. The way I see it, you have two choices if you want to live in Western democracies without hanging your head in shame. 1.) Fight terrorism with every fiber of your being, or 2.) leave Islam! Those are your only two choices. Because ever right-thinking Muslim prays the same prayer when some act of terror is first reported on the news. That prayer goes like this: "Oh, dear Allah, please let it not be a Muslim!" And I say that it's high time you did something about that prayer!

Hands that help are better than lips that pray, as Ingersoll once said. Ben Franklin once put it, "God helps those who help themselves." In other words, Allah says, "Answer your own damned prayer!"

Yes, conspiracy to commit terrorism should be punishable by the death penalty. France should probably bring back the guillotine and Germany should get over it's scruples regarding capital punishment. But otherwise, the only thing we can do is let Muslims stand against terrorism, or watch terrorism slowly destroy their religion forever. Why? Because Islam is radicalizing, and also growing somewhat, but it is also setting the stage for it's own destruction. Christianity did something similar before its current demise. It's coming, Muslims, unless you stop terrorism now.

People don't leave radical religions for any sort of outside threat. Believe me, I know, being a rare escapee from such, and knowing well the mentality. They only leave when their conscience is pricked, and that can only happen when we turn the other cheek, as Jesus is said to have recommended. It's not easy, but the best way to fight terrorism is to let the Muslims fight the physical fight, while we win the war of words, and defeat radical Islam (and Islam itself, I might add in my atheism-promoting moment) in the free marketplace of ideas.

In the meantime, go M.P.K.! I'm going to have so much fun writing this!


Eric

*

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Radical Proposal For Russia (And Reflections On Mom)


So, yesterday morning, my mother finally passed away from Alzheimer's disease - something no human being should ever have to endure. And consequently I find myself mulling things over, taking some time off from work, and reassessing a lot of things. Who wouldn't? And perhaps that's the sort of thing that causes me to write a blog post, not about my own mother, but about (oddly enough) foreign policy. Not that my mother doesn't deserve a write-up; believe me, she's going to get a big one, and not on something so deliberately tainted as this blog of mine. Rather, everything that she went through brings into focus how much I just plain see things differently than everybody else, and probably a lot clearer.

I could complain about how unintentionally condescending people have been, telling me to do this or that to help care for her - as if somehow she were somehow still there after her brain had gone. Or I could do a rant about how people actually dared to speak to me of spiritual matters in regards to her soul being at peace, as if somehow I didn't know far more about the subject than they do. Hell, I could decide to go off about how absurd it is for our culture to object to euthanasia in the face of such travesties as Alzheimer's. Certainly, were I to be diagnosed with the disease, I would join the Hemlock Society the very next day. Is the world really filled with that many imbeciles?

Then again, I really think I shouldn't be so cavalier. It's not like I don't suffer from my own delusions regarding what my mom went through. After all, I understood on an intellectual level that my mother's brain was gone long before her body was, and yet I scolded numerous hospital doctors for talking about her when she was right there in the room with us - people of science; people like me. They knew far better than I did how dementia worked, and yet I presumed to argue with them on their own turf! How arrogant of me! I understood perfectly well that science said she wasn't really there. But damn it all, that was my mother's face looking at me! I wanted to scream, "Couldn't we at least try to be polite and talk about her outside in the hallway?"

I guess I'm an imbecile too, sometimes.

No, I have my non-intellectual, emotionally driven moments, just like everybody else. So I'm not justified in going off on other people acting human in front of me. I therefore shrug it off when people say that they're "praying for me," telling me that mom's "happier now," or saying any of the other unintentionally insulting shit that goes along with learning someone has had a death in the family. They're not being stupid. They're just being human. Ultimately, I'm only human, too.

Which brings me, jarringly, to Russia.

Why? Well, the subject of Russia intervening in Syria has been something I've been pondering for quite some time. But when your mother dies and you take time off from work, one of the consequences is that you find yourself watching the first Democratic party presidential debate on CNN, and you see that nobody on the stage, not even Hillary Clinton, has as effective a plan for dealing with Russia's incursion into Syria.

And I do.

When my mom was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's, I moved back home, and the Obama economic recovery was being hampered by Republicans, and thus moving too slowly to have caught up with the accounting trade. Hence, I found myself living at home, in my parents' basement, turning 40, making very little money, and having very little prospects of pulling myself out of that hole anytime soon.

So I started writing. Honestly, what the hell else are you going to do in that situation?

And now, at my mother's death, I am again driven to catharsis, and find myself sharing the brilliant thoughts I had during the Dem-Debate. Hence, I'm sharing them. (Thanks again, mom.)

So why would Russia be so anxious to get involved in Syria? As is often the case, it comes down to money and resources. Syria is one of the few nations willing to trade with Russia in the wake of the crisis in Ukraine. While other nations are slapping sanctions on Putin, Syria is willing to provide much-needed oil - below market. Russia depends heavily upon oil exports because it is one of the few resources that gets around trade sanctions, and the Syrian oil fields would go a long way to sustaining the Russian economy. When trade sanctions are lifted on Iran, Russia will be able to compete for Iranian oil, but this additional resource will also flood the market, driving oil prices down. With lower oil prices, one of the only commodities left to Russia for export will become a lot less profitable.

So! Into Syria Putin goes! His goal? Well, he says there are only two options: The Assad regime, or ISIL. He sides with Assad, and is currently trying to rescue his rule from rebellious factions which seek to oust him.

But oddly, he isn't bombing ISIL targets just yet. Why? Well, he doesn't want an incident between Russian and American planes, to be sure. But also, ISIL sustains itself primarily from oil sold on the black market at a discount.

And Russia is undoubtedly a primary buyer!

So, what Putin really wants is the oil. He will eventually target ISIL. But he'll seize the oil wells before he targets the troops.

Our goals in the region are to oust the Saddam-Hussein-like Assad, and then encourage the region towards democracy while simultaneously eroding ISIL and driving it to extinction. Easier said than done. And the real problem is that Putin has a valid point. There really isn't a pro-democracy force with the military strength or political will to guide Syria to democracy.

Which is where my radical proposal comes in: How about we ask Putin to oust Assad and temporarily rule Syria while guiding it to democracy?

Yeah. I know. That's big. It's huge. It's a real gamble. And it just might fucking work!

But what can we offer in exchange? Why would Russia be willing to get even deeper into a military quagmire in a middle eastern country just for us?

My second proposal regarding that is even more radical: In exchange, we push for partitioning off a portion of Eastern Ukraine for autonomous rule. Possibly even a newly annexed Russian territory.

Am I seriously proposing the violation of the sovereignty of two nations in order to permanently end the conflicts in both? Yes! It's not fair to the people of Western Ukraine to lose another region in addition to what they've already lost in Crimea, and it's not fair to see Assad given a golden parachute to live out his days in the lap of luxury in Petrograd. But at a stroke, it achieves peace in two regions of the world while satisfying democratic freedom in both. I think that's worth it.

It might be a tough sell in the U.N., but I think the nations of the world would be willing to forgive another Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory if it meant building a new democracy in Syria. Trade sanctions on Russia could eventually be relieved, and the U.S. and Russia together could tag-team to defeat ISIL. (It would mean a new Republic of West Iraq, but that's a subject for another blog post.) Putin may be mad, but give him an opportunity to play the role of international hero, and he may very well jump at the chance.

Like a patient with Alzheimer's, we could let the whole thing fester until it dies horribly, or we could end the suffering quickly.

I argue for the latter - for reasons of regret as well as realization.


Eric

*

Monday, October 5, 2015

Another Mass Shooting


So, big shock, another asshole with guns up the wazzoo has shot up a school. This happens with such disturbing regularity that we've gotten numb to it, and unless it happens in our own back yard, we seem not to even care. In fact, the knee-jerk reaction to all this is for so-called conservatives to immediately condemn any attempts at attempting to regulate firearms in the aftermath, almost as if to say "Don't even think of using this tragedy for political ends, bub!"

Now let me be clear, I'm very much in favor of defensive weapons. I believe we have the right to protect ourselves and our homes from burglars and/or random assailants. The real question, at least for me, is where do you draw the line between a defensive weapon and an offensive weapon? It bears repeating that you don't need an AK-47 to shoot deer, and you hardly need an Uzi to keep burglars away from your front porch. So, in light of another mass shooting, where ought we draw the line? Because it's perfectly clear by now, we'd better draw the damned line somewhere.

Perhaps now is a good time to look at the second amendment to the Constitution and remember what it says:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Now, here's where I get confused: Where in there does it say the government can't issue a license or a permit? So far as I can tell, it doesn't. Where does it say that citizens must be allowed to sell such guns to others without any oversight? It doesn't say that, either. In other words, taken at its literal meaning, the government can regulate the shit out of firearms! It's only the keeping and bearing of them that cannot be infringed. But buying, selling, and bartering for firearms is fair game!

Another key point, as has often been pointed out, is that the technology of warfare has changed radically over the last 240 years. The most common application of weapons technology at the time the second amendment was written was the musket, and the pinnacle of weapons technology was the impossibly bulky cannon. A well regulated militia meant that people would be called to war, at which point fathers would get the family musket from off the fireplace mantle and go fight. Both federal and state governments were also usually strapped for cash, and income taxes were unheard of. They simply couldn't afford to arm draftees! It was hard enough just to feed them! It was literally an era of BYOG - bring your own gun. But my, how times have changed!

Today, our wealthy nation has developed cruise missiles, laser-guided bombs, Abrams tanks, harrier jets, stealth aircraft, napalm, aircraft carriers, gunship helicopters, satellite surveillance, drones, and very likely soon, droid armies. And, let's not forget, the atomic bomb. Now, if the second amendment is to be taken at face value, then citizens should be able to obtain "arms" of the same technological advancement by today's standards, as the musket was back in 1776. But that means that the average citizen would be able to purchase bazookas, rocket-propelled grenades, landmines, tanks and fighter-jets. But just try obtaining any of these! The government clamps down on you like a vice! And rightly so! Armed citizens are one thing. Heavily armed citizens are quite something else! The government has determined that modern military equipment should not go to common citizens. Good thing, too, or else Donald Trump would be able to buy his own private military to go to war against the private army of Bill Gates!

So the government has already determined that some weapons are illegal. Somewhere between musket and atomic bomb, we need to draw the line. And here it is good to point out one of the more common arguments used by gun advocates, namely that citizens need to be armed in order to prevent the government from taking away citizens' rights and freedoms. If the citizens are disarmed, they will have no defense against oppression.

Um, two things in response to that: First, the government has already taken away your rights and freedoms! Uncle Sam has been ass-fucking the people since Vietnam! Gerrymandering has stolen their votes by the billions! Corporate interests have bought our government and transformed it from a democracy into a plutocracy - an oligarchy of the elite wealthy class. The revolution that assault rifles are supposed to be needed for should have happened with the Citizens' United ruling! And yet the rednecks of our nation just sit there on their fat asses, never bothering to march on Washington with the weapons they claimed were meant to defend our rights! What bullshit!

The other point is this: You are already disarmed! Do you really think a puny little assault rifle matters to an M-1 Abrams tank? Do you think the government will care if you shoot down one drone while the other fifteen take you down? Do you think your stockpile of ordinance will even matter if one smart-bomb hits it with napalm? Fighting our government's massive arsenal with AK-47's is akin to fighting a fire-breathing dragon with a book of matches!

But disarmed though we may be, people who stockpile guns are still a significant threat to other citizens. They can't take on the government, but they can certainly target a room full of defenseless students, or a day care full of kids, or a theater full of moviegoers. Our government could at least protect them. Instead, it protects the shooters - at least until after the massacre. What madness!

We need private hunters to help regulate our wildlife, and we need citizens to carry small arms to help prevent those who would go on a shooting rampage from getting very far. But honestly, can't we all agree that someone who buys 100 Kalashnikovs at a gun show is probably up to no good?

If the NRA were about defense, as it claims, then no state of the union would be able to outlaw tasers. A taser is a defensive weapon, and thus We The People have a right to it. But the NRA doesn't give a fuck about that. Five states and the District of Columbia all outlaw tasers. Seven states and D.C. outlaw assault rifles. Four of those states, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, at least outlaw both, but Rhode Island is stupid enough to legalize assault rifles while banning tasers! And where is the NRA? Nowhere to be found. Wisconsin used to be similar to Rhode Island in this respect, but the concealed carry law, passed by Scott Walker in 2011, lifted the ban on tasers. Wisconsinites can now own them - with a permit.

Why not a permit for other defensive weapons as well?

Yes, you have the Constitutional right to bear arms. You do not have the constitutional right to stockpile. You need one gun for defense. A few if you want options (shotgun vs. handgun, for example). But if you own dozens of guns, you're nuts! Oh, you're a collector? I don't care. Find another hobby!

Yes, you have the right to buy a gun. You do not have the right to buy one without oversight. And you sure as hell on earth don't have the right to sell it to someone else afterward!

Yes, you have the right to carry a gun. You don't have the right to do so without a license!

Finally, let me point out that the problem is not crazy people. We're ALL crazy! The problem is that even the sanest among us can crack. Even the nice guys occasionally go postal. If we assume that someone is crazy just because he kills people, we make a dire mistake. Ted Kaczynski was one of the most sober and sane people alive, but that didn't stop him from becoming the unibomber.

You say guns don't kill people? People kill people? You're right! People kill people - with guns!

I mean, come on! If we can't at least ban the big shit after this latest tragedy, America really doesn't stand a chance.


Eric

*

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Bible Disproofs Where You Least Expect Them


In my ongoing quest to re-invent my career yet again, I have stumbled upon yet more Bible verses which prove that not everything written therein is accurate. This time, it chanced upon me in the form of a very boring booklet which my welding theory class is forcing me to read. The author (whom I will graciously not name here) recounted many Bible passages detailing how the early Philistines and Israelites show the progression of the invention and use of forged iron and steel. At times, he seems almost enamored of how many Bible passages confirm his hypothesis. And yet, the very first Bible passage he quotes presents him with a very serious problem, if he would bother to think it through.

The verse he initially quotes is the Genesis reference to a man named Tubal-Cain. In this part of the Bible, a very long and boring genealogy is spun which details names of the first artisans, all of whom are descended from Cain, the slayer of Abel. Cain, after his exile, fathered Enoch, who fathered Irad, who fathered Mehujael, who fathered Methusael, who fathered Lamech. And Lamech, it is then revealed, had two wives, Adah and Zillah. Adah bore him Jabal, who was the forefather of all nomadic cattle-herders who lived in tents, and Jubal, who was the forefather of all those who played musical instruments. Now, at this point, it is self-evident that we are dealing with a kind of caricature of history in which various professions are all ascribed to one particular mythical figure out of folklore, But this particular author overlooks that. Zillah, the other wife, bore Lamech his other son, Tubal-Cain, and this man, according to Genesis 4:22, "instructed all those who forged bronze and iron." From this, my needlessly wordy author concludes, the forging and use of metals is steeped very early in human history. While this is undoubtedly true, there are better and more relevant evidences than scripture which can be cited to make this point.

The problem arises in the earliest known uses of bronze and the earliest known uses of iron. Bronze began to be used around 3,300 B.C.E., whereas iron and steel did not make their earliest appearances until about 1,100 B.C.E. - a difference of well over a millennium. It is therefore highly unlikely that the same individual, living in a time which pre-dated Noah's purported flood, developed and used both bronze and iron technologies, even if Methuselah did live to be over 800 years old (which is highly suspect). And what's more, the dates I just cited are cited by this very same author as well, meaning that he should have been able to spot the discrepancy staring him right in the face!

Now, I know first-hand how difficult it is to see a contradiction within one's own dogma and/or scripture when it happens to be part of the religion you were raised upon. After all, every Christmas we see nativity scenes showing the baby Jesus beneath the Star of the East, not even realizing that this is a clear depiction of astrology, which not only is obvious pseudo-scientific bunkum, it is a practice of divination forbidden by the Law of Moses - proving the story to be of Roman rather than Jewish origin. Nevertheless, this particular author completely misses the Tubal-Cain contradiction, not bothering to question how the same man could be the progenitor of two separate metallurgical arts eleven centuries apart. Now, other Bible versions, such as the NIV, attempt to soften this problem by saying that Tubal-Cain forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron without bothering to name him as the first instructor or inventor. But this hardly erases the problem, as the flood of Noah came at 2,400 B.C.E. according to the Bible, and Tubal-Cain and all his students would be killed off. The bronze and iron arts would then have to have been revived or re-invented by Noah's sons, Shem, Ham or Japeth, and the span of time found between bronze artifacts and iron artifacts according to modern archaeology would not jibe with the Bible either.

It's really amazing how many Bible errors pop up where they are least expected. I sincerely doubt this particular author is anything more than a layperson when it comes to Biblical scholarship, nor do I expect many would-be welders are particularly astute in theology. Nevertheless, even in the world of blue-collar skill trades, there are ample opportunities to see the errors of fundamentalist Biblical literalism, if one simply bothers to look.

One wonders how it remains such a profound influence among politicians.


Eric

*

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Daniel Pipes Confirms My Iran Analysis!


Sometimes, other brilliant people confirm the brilliant things I say on this blog. Such as Daniel Pipes. For those who aren't aware who this guy is, let me give a little background: Dan Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum, a conservative think-tank that promotes American interests in the Middle East. Unlike most conservative hawks, Pipes is at least an expert on the cultures of the region, and knows a thing or two outside the five second sound-byte.

And what does he agree with me on? Why, he agrees with me on the Iran deal! No, he doesn't agree that the deal is a good thing. In fact, he's quite staunchly opposed to it. But he does agree that the deal paves the way for a potential Arab Spring event within Iran, something I previously argued on this blog way back in May, when I called for the 47 U.S. Senators who sent a letter to Iran to be impeached for treason. I also briefly made this argument in April on the Sacred Cow Wursthaus Podcast for April 4th. You can read the Daniel Pipes blog post here for comparison.

Now, Pipes is a conservative hawk. He wants democracy for all the nations of the Middle East. He simply thinks that the best way to achieve this is by outright warfare and/or overthrowing the governments covertly. He also feels that Islamic culture is not ready to instill such democracy itself because Islamic religious extremism stands in the way. But democracy cannot be imposed from the outside. It must be earned from within. We learned that the hard way after World War II, and not just with the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Democracy must be earned from the inside. Fortunately, we have many people inside Iran, citizens of that great Persian culture, who are highly educated, who love the West, and who desire democracy themselves. Back in 2010, they nearly revolted against their government. With the United States no longer their looming enemy, they are more likely to do so again. After all, the government is now their only enemy, aside from the possibility of a preventative strike by Israel.

In my original blog post, I cited another expert on Iran named Bruce Bueno De Mesquita, who essentially argued the same point. (There was much more to his talk, but that was the essence of it.) Again, I include his speech at TED here for comparison.

Isn't it interesting when people on the left and the right, having nothing in common except an intimate knowledge of Iran's people and culture, both come to the same conclusions? Other people making this same point include Iranian-Americans, such as noted comedian Maz Jobrani. These people of Iranian descent are split regarding the deal themselves, but they all agree that it gives Iran a better chance at democracy than no deal at all. The chance for democratic revolution is agreed upon by both sides, pro and con. The only difference is that Pipes thinks it's merely a silver lining, and Bruce De Mesquita and I think it's the whole damned point!

And by the way, that's why those 47 Senators should still be impeached and tried for treason! Not only have they betrayed democracy in the U.S., they've betrayed it in Iran as well.


Eric

*

P.S. For those who really want to know about this debate, there is an Intelligence Squared session in which those in favor argued directly with those opposed. Experts on both sides duke it out over the issue, leaving neither side convinced, but all of us who watched better informed. You can watch the debate here. (And I strongly suggest you do so!)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Hillary Clinton's Emails


Often, I feel the need to write something on this blog because I strongly feel that it is being under-reported elsewhere. This is one of those posts.

What's going unreported is the real back-story behind the Hillary Clinton email scandal which is threatening to undermine her presidential aspirations. She still leads in the polls in Iowa. She still leads them nationally. Only in New Hampshire does she trail Bernie Sanders, and good ol' Bernie can't win with just that. But there's a real sense that Hillary may be damaged goods. Is she?

I argue not, and if the media were doing its job, I feel that everyone would  know that. Here's why:

The State Department has already said that Clinton did no wrong. In an official statement on CNN, spokesman John Kirby, a Rear Admiral in the Navy before joining the State Department, told Chris Cuomo that there were no policies in place at the time Hillary was Secretary of State that prohibited her use of a private email server for official business. Chris Cuomo then pressed the Admiral regarding a possible change in 2009 which Clinton violated, and Kirby guardedly said that he did not believe that there were such changes.

The changes Cuomo referred to were from the National Archives, which is not part of the State Department. In 2009 they said that agencies allowing employees to do official business on nonofficial email accounts had to ensure that any records sent on private email systems are preserved “in the appropriate agency record keeping system.” This, Clinton did, with such correspondence going from her private email to government email addresses, thus preserving them. Even if this were not the case, Clinton would only have violated a regulation from the Archives, a government agency which ranks fairly low on the overall totem pole. For Cuomo to imply that this meant Hillary was in serious violation of any major rule is biased reporting, in this author's opinion.

Now, here's the important part. There are three government organizations investigating Hillary's email usage during her tenure as Secretary of State. One is the Justice Department, which is investigating whether any regulations were violated. Another is the FBI, which is keenly interested on whether or not classified information may have been leaked. And lastly, there is the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which is comprised of seven Republicans and five Democrats, with the Republicans controlling the chair. (The chairman is Republican Trey Growdy of South Carolina.) The State Department has already absolved her. But what about the other three investigating bodies?

The Justice Department is likely to exonerate her after review. After all, if the State Department already has, then the issue about whether or not Hillary violated any rules or laws is moot. That's one down.

The FBI will most likely exonerate her as well, unless there really was something she leaked which was clearly and unambiguously classified. That's a whole separate issue, but for now, the FBI will say she did not commit any serious breeches of information. I suspect, however, that the FBI will also seriously chastise her. That would be a blow, but if the FBI clears her, she'll gladly endure it. That's two down.

And the Select Committee on Benghazi? Well, that's where politics is most likely to be played. But there are five Democrats on that committee, and they're not likely to let too many shenanigans take place. That means they may try something, but a manufactured October surprise is unlikely. This board will not find a direct link between this scandal and anything that happened with the Benghazi attack, because there isn't one.

That's all three! And presuming these three events take place before Iowa's primary, Hillary will be our next president.

Ah, but that's the trouble! Will these three investigations conclude their snooping and sniffing around in time? Will Joe Biden jump in beforehand and add a new option for wary Democrats? Clearly, the sooner this all wraps up, the better for the Hillary campaign. And this is the part where the media just plain missed it. There should be a watch on all three investigations! THAT'S the real news story! And I'd go so far as to say this needs to be a special feature. After all, so much of the Clinton campaign hinges on it, and consequently, so does much of our nation's potential future. Were it up to me, all three major networks would do a countdown to a statement release. "It's been 143 days since the start of the FBI's investigations into Secretary Clinton's email controversy, and no word yet on any conclusions." That type of thing. For that matter, Hillary supporters should broadcast this as well as a means of putting pressure on the agencies to resolve things quickly. I know I certainly will.

But is there anything really here with this so-called scandal? Anything at all? Well, let's take a look: So far, the worst of the accusations has been that Hillary passed some sensitive information to Huma Abdein, Hillary's long-time aide. Not classified, just sensitive. How sensitive? We're not sure. It might be rumors about Prince Harry, for all we know. Abdein, in turn, is the wife of Anthony Weiner, who was recently scandalized when it was revealed he had "sexted" several women with pictures of his own anatomy (which the press simply devoured). So the accusation is, apparently, that some sensitive information was appropriately shared with her aide, which was then inappropriately shared with a philandering husband. Oh, and by the way, there is no evidence at all for this last part. Scratch that one.

Next up is good ol' Dick Cheney. He's calling Hillary's email use "sloppy" and "unprofessional." Now, this is the same man who has never been above outright lying to the American public in order to achieve his political ends, so if that's the worst he's got on her, it seems clear that he hasn't much of a case. Scratch that one as well.

And really, that's about it. So much for scandals! But it's not like there isn't some legitimate concern regarding all this. Several things have been retroactively been labeled as "confidential" or "sensitive." This has exposed a real problem within government, which is that different agencies regard different things as classified or confidential at different times. So the FBI might consider something classified when the State Department does not. What's worse, they could change their minds later about what's classified or not! What a mess! This is a real concern which needs to be addressed, and this controversy has shed some light on the need to do so. But that in and of itself is not a bad thing.

So that's my take on it. We're waiting to hear from the FBI, and the Justice Department. Everything else reported about the emails is just plain smoke. But it's rumor-mill smoke, so people will pay attention, unfortunately. The Special Committee will take its own sweet time, so that agency can be safely written off. Hillary's fate is now in the hands of two federal agencies, and at least one of them won't particularly care about the primary schedule.

Perhaps that's why Hillary has pivoted on this lately. She hasn't been dismissive or scoffing any more. Now, she's contrite, acknowledging that her email use, while allowed, was a mistake, and one which she takes responsibility for. For some, that's waffling, but this has always been a Clinton strength - to adapt and re-tool when necessary in order to achieve the greater goal and the greater good.

Hillary's still my pick. But it's largely out of her hands, now.

Go FBI! Go! Read! Research! Conclude!

(As if they'll ever listen to me.)


Eric

*

Sunday, August 23, 2015

John Oliver: Should We Tax The Churches?


On Sunday, August 16th, John Oliver delivered a hay-maker on the HBO television program, "Last Week Tonight." In it, John exposed the televangelistic criminatilites of Robert Tilton, a man who was exposed for his shenanigans back in the 1980's. But unlike Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, Tilton was not completely brought down. He's still out there, and that made him a prime candidate for John Oliver's wrath. Lumping him in with other faith-based assholes such as Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar, he attacked the notion of "seed faith," which is a concept I'm all too familiar with, having spent most of my youth in a Pentecostal church. The basic idea is that if you tithe your 10% to the Lord, that God will repay you many times over. In other words, prosperity comes by giving to the Church, and to various televangelists as well. But if you give over and above your tithe, God will reward your faithfulness even more. In other words, gifts to preachers are investments in your own prosperity later on. Many people have learned the hard way that this doesn't work, and many more get continuously spanked by this doctrine, and go on self-punishing themselves anyway, to the delight of the televangelists who bilk them mercilessly.

So, Mr. Oliver proceeded to respond to this with his usual mockery, launching the Church of Our Lady Of Perpetual Exemption, and asking people to send him their "seeds," (which, one week later, it seems some people literally did - not money, ACTUAL SEEDS!).

But this awesome publicity stunt, which small-media outlets like this blog are totally in favor of, has put tremendous pressure on the government to begin taxing churches. People are sick and tired of this shit, and so they're calling legislators, e-mailing representatives, and begging them to start taxing the churches. Should we?

I've written and spoken on this subject before, and my answer may surprise you. HELL, NO! We shouldn't tax the churches, because the whole fight over the separation of Church and State hinges on our being able to tell religious entities that they cannot have a voice in government because they don't pay taxes. In other words, if you didn't pay your admission fee, you don't get to play. But if we tax the churches, we lose that critical point of argument. Churches will be able to turn around and not only argue that they paid their admission fee, so they should be able to influence government, they will resurrect the old rallying cry of, "No taxation without representation." And we atheists will have no defense to this counter-offensive. Sorry, guys, but the churches should stay tax free. And sorry, Mr. Oliver. You've made your point, but I'm afraid that, just this once, it was for a losing cause.

But wait! Perhaps not all is for naught! While we cannot tax the churches outright, we CAN enact some common-sense safeguard legislation that will leave most churches tax-free, while cracking down on the most hideous abuses of this tax-exempt status. Here are my suggestions:

1.) Only grant tax-exemption to parsonages which are at or below the estimated average value of a home in a given state. For example, in Wisconsin, the average home costs about $150,000. That means that a home can be owned by a church and be free of property taxes if the value of that home is below $150,000. If the home is worth more than $150,000, then the owner, church or not, minister or not, will pay property taxes on whatever additional value that home is worth. With this rule, the vast majority of churches will still pay no taxes, having provided homes for their ministers which are adequate, but not lavish. But the assholes who buy multi-million dollar mansions like the one owned by Kenneth and Gloria Copeland (something cited by John Oliver in his expose), would get hit HARD! And that's the way it should be! Housing prices fluctuate, but they tend to fluctuate together, so tying the standard to the average value of houses in a state is a sound measure. And keep in mind, it wouldn't even be the full value of the property taxed, if a tax were levied! It would only be the small amount over and above the average home value for the region! Most churches could afford that, even on a limited budget. The ones who would pay, and pay big, are the Creflo Dollars and Kenneth Copelands of the world - and that's the way it should be!

2.) Apply a similar rule to parsonage vehicles. Limit of one per household, and tax exemption can only be claimed below the average value of a standard automobile, pickup truck, or SUV. The dodge here might come in the form of traveling preachers who crisscross the nation in large recreational vehicles. If so, fine. If it's a mobile ministry, limit of one RV per ministry too. Not household, ministry.

3.) Fully tax the national televangelism ministries. No, I'm not talking about the local churches who appear on local cable channel number 71. I'm talking about nation-wide broadcasters. It goes without saying that nation-wide broadcasters are not local churches, and therefore should not receive the same sorts of tax exemptions as local ministries and neighborhood churches. You want to do a television ministry in Davenport Iowa on the local community access network? Fine, you get to be tax exempt. But if you broadcast to every state in the union? Too bad! Cough it up!

4.) Only tax the megachurches. The vast majority of churches are small, seldom breaking 200 in attendance on any given Sunday. That's including multiple services at 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., nightly services and Wednesday family night. Only 2% of churches have attendances of 1000 or more per week. If you have much more than that, you're a megachurch. And the abuses of megachurches are extreme. For example, the largest church in Wisconsin is Elmbrook Church, located in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Its capacity is so large that it could hold easily hold 3,000 people. Its weekly attendance is roughly 7,000 per week! Contrast this with the Riverside Theater which holds 2,450 people, or the Pabst Theater, which has a capacity of 1,345. Uihlein Hall, part of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, has a capacity of 2,305. If you're a church, and your building can hold more than 1,000 people, you are ridiculously huge! And the chances that your church is corrupt increases exponentially with its size. Now, I'll grant Elmbrook church a break and say that its probably not corrupt, but that doesn't matter, because its so large that police officers have to be pulled in from their regular job of protecting the public from crooks in order to direct traffic! Elmbrook is that huge! So not only is it not generating any tax revenue, it's costing tax dollars! Taxing such churches is therefore more than fair, whether the ministry is corrupt or not! So, I propose a tax levy upon any megachurches with a seating capacity exceeding 800. 10% of the property's value becomes eligible for taxation when a church's seating capacity exceeds 800, and an additional 10% of that property's value should be subject to taxes for each additional 100 seats. Keep in mind, Elmbrook is probably the only church in Wisconsin that would be hit by any such rule. All the other churches would still be completely tax-exempt.

5.) Tax churches that get involved in politics. There is already a law in place which does this. More than half a century ago, then-senator Lyndon Johnson proposed an amendment that would tax churches that engaged in political activity. In other words, churches could not endorse a political candidate or campaign for a particular political party. If they did, they would lose their tax exempt status. When the law was revisited in 1987, it was actually strengthened, further specifying that churches could not campaign against political candidates, either. Such laws need further strengthening, and a separate bureau to police such activity should be put in place.

So, John Oliver, your little stunt was not a complete wash-out. It inspired me to write this. This, my dear Mr. Oliver, is MY "faith-seed." And I will send you a copy of this proposal with my love offering of $10.00, hoping that you will read my letter and agree with me.

And who knows, some other smart cookie with a lot more political influence than myself might even read this blog post and do something with it.

I have faith in that.


Eric

*

Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Stirring Aborted Fetus Video


There's an amazing video going around Facebook that I should share, and it's bound to make the pro-life people go ape. But I'm showing it anyway, because I worship Truth rather than some pre-literate-era deity, and because I'm demonstrating that I'm unafraid of anything my opponents might have to say. Yeah, that's right, I serve the truth straight up, no ice, no soda.

First, let me remind everyone of my position regarding abortion. I argue that the brain's development, not conception, defines the onset of a being. Republicans have accidentally admitted as much with their recent push to ban abortions at 20 weeks because that's the point they feel a fetus can begin to feel pain. That point is both wrong and arbitrary, because it has been determined that the point a fetus begins to feel pain is more like 29 to 30 weeks. (For more info, go to FactCheck.org's website on that issue. I've included a link to it here.) The brain defines the being, and that means without a functioning cerebral cortex, a being's individual life, by any measure, has not yet truly begun. Or, to put it into spiritual terms, the soul hasn't entered the body yet.

In this video, you'll clearly see the fetus move in response to the physician's hand touching the placenta. This makes perfect sense, because the part of the brain that governs movement is the cerebellum, or hind-brain, and this forms very early on. Although it continues development later, it begins functioning at around 10 weeks, at which point it goes through a kind of "systems check," and the fetus begins to move quite a bit. Interestingly, this is usually the point at which a woman is required to do an ultrasound by certain states whose laws try to discourage abortions. After this point, however, the fetus goes into a kind of stasis, where it can move, but does so sparingly.

In other words, what you are about to see is a fetus capable of movement yet incapable yet of thought or feeling. You're seeing the beginnings of what will later be a "being" in the true sense of the word, but which has not yet crossed that threshold, because the brain hasn't reached that point. Again, to put it into spiritual terms, this is the empty clay cup, not yet finished baking, into which "God" (or whatever deity you will) will pour the "soul" into. But for now, it's an empty shell - a body without any "spirit," if you will.

Here is the video:

video


To my inexperienced and untrained eye, the fetus shown in this video appears to be about 16 or 17 weeks into development. (That's a guess, mind you.) As such, the fetus can move, and does so when prodded. But the cerebral cortex has not yet fully formed, and as such there is no conscious perception going on. There is no pain, no pleasure, no sensation at all to be frank.

Will this video pluck at the heart strings of those who feel abortion is murder? Undoubtedly. Will some be convinced to turn to the pro-life side of the argument? I'm certain that's so. But the brain defines the being, period. And that means that the snuffing out of this life (and yes, it's alive) can be done ethically, because while it may be both alive and human, it is not yet a human "being." For that, you need a developed brain.

Let's hope anti-abortion activists grow one.


Eric

*

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Hillary Over Bernie? Yes! Here's Why:


Many of my left-leaning friends are excited about Bernie Sanders. Many are also convinced that he can, will, and should win the Democratic primaries and the general election. Personally, I like Bernie. I think he's an upstanding guy and would make a fine president. If he ends up being the nominee, I'll back him 100%. But right now, I'm all for Hillary, and I'm about to give an impassioned speech as to why I am, and why you should be too.

I know, I  know, this is where people who "feel the Bern" will write me off as a "Hillary schill" or worse, and not bother to listen to a single thing I have to say after this point. But please, hear me out! I think those who write Hillary off do so at their own peril! Some of us may not like Hillary, but as you'll see in a moment, we need her, plain and simple.

First, let's address Hillary's downsides, since we all know them well. People say she's 1.) shifty, 2.) an insider, 3.) totally ruthless, and is 4.) chummy with the big-money. All of which is true. But let's get something straight, because it's the crucial point:

That's what we want! That's what we need!

Shifty? Yes, she plays dirty. But the republicans have played dirty for seven years, and all during that time, we've watched our first African-American president, a man with a heart of gold and a brilliant mind, get completely and thoroughly lynched! Frankly, I'm fucking sick of it! It's time for us to get up, dust ourselves off, turn to the Republican machine as we wipe off our bloodied mouths and say, in all sincerity, "So ya wanna play rough, do ya?!" Yeah, Hillary plays dirty. Well, GOOD! We want to play dirty! Because only by playing dirty can we stop ourselves from getting steamrolled!

An insider? You bet! But she's an insider in so many ways. As Secretary of State, she knows world leaders personally, and knows what they're capable of. As First Lady, she was present at all the prayer circles and luncheons, and you can bet that she got the dirt on everybody through their wives! Believe me, Republicans fear her inside info, because she has the dirt on all of them, and don't think she won't use it!

Ruthless? Again, GOOD! I don't know about you, but I'm sick of Washington gridlock. How do you break gridlock? By breaking those who orchestrate it! No, we won't get compromise through appealing to the mavericks on the left and the right, because there aren't any more mavericks on the right. Only the Democrats have any moderates. The only way we will broker any compromise deals now is to make the opposition too scared to do otherwise.

In the pockets of big money? True! Welcome to the necessities of Citizens' United plutocracy. And make no mistake, it is a plutocracy, and an oligarchy, and has been since that sick, twisted SCOTUS ruling back in 2010. So the only way we can beat it is to strike a Devil's bargain and get enough big money to support our own side just long enough to undo it. If we don't, we're all fucked, because only billionaires will be able to play the political game. And here's the sick part: We only have one realistic shot at this, and it needs to be THIS election year! Otherwise, the Supreme Court could end up stacked against being able to do anything about this for generations. Hillary has a realistic shot to do it! She's the only one with the financial power to challenge the Republicans and their big-money donations. No checks and balances exist to prevent the Koch brothers and many others from throwing as much money as they can at their candidates, so having the finances to fight them means everything. The only hope Democrats have at matching this is having a candidate win early, and then wrapping up as much airtime as possible before the Republicans have a candidate settled. That advantage is key when you have less money than the other candidate, and already Hillary does have less. In spite of a four-year head start over everyone else, Jeb Bush has already out-raised Hillary, and you can bet that disparity is going to increase as the election wears on. A prolonged fight between two Democrats for the nomination will mean losing that all-important edge. We can't afford to fuck around!

But is Hillary in the big-donors' back pockets? It's possible, but I find it unlikely. She's proven herself to be a woman of integrity in the Senate and through many purported scandals and many different personal trials. She may be forced to keep certain campaign promises to the biggest money people, but if that's what's needed to beat back C.U. and win back our democracy, I say so be it.

Ah, yes, the Clinton scandals. She's had some of those swirling around her, that's true. But have you noticed, for all the concerted efforts Republicans have made to bring her down, none of those scandals seem to stick? Nobody's better at fending off attacks, warranted or unwarranted, than Hillary Clinton, and I argue that the current attacks on her are completely unwarranted. Benghazi? A Republican panel already exonerated her. Dead issue. E-mails? What 68 year old woman hasn't fretted over being required to use a new e-mail address? Unless she actually shared sensitive information, she's already off the hook. Oh, some scandals certainly stuck to Bill, but the last time I checked, he's not on the ballot.

Can Bernie win? That would be nice, since he's a nice guy. I dare say he could pull off an upset for the nomination, but I have grave doubts that he can win the general election. First, he's been very honest and outspoken about bringing fairness to a tax system that gives too many breaks at the top, and feels that income inequality is best addressed by making certain that the wealthy pay their fair share. Okay, fine, but in politics, especially post Citizens' United politics, there is such a thing as too much honesty! The big-money lenders who traditionally back left-leaning candidates will balk at Bernie's blunt admission that they too will be hit in their pocketbook, and it will cost him.

Too much honesty will cost him as well because he's too blunt about being a Democratic Socialist. The word "socialist" no longer has a stigma among young people, but among older Americans, it certainly does. Even MSNBC's Chris Matthews shows a knee-jerk reaction to Bernie using the "S-word." And I perfectly understand that Bernie's form of watered-down socialism doesn't entail the government running the means of production, nor does it mean undoing a capitalist base that's been proven to work. But you can bet the general population won't understand that at all! People are lemmings! And too many people are still affected by the Red Scare of McCarthyism to put the label of socialism completely behind them. Even today.

Also, Bernie has a huge albatross around his neck in the form of his being Jewish. No, I don't have a problem with this, and neither should anyone else, but he will almost certainly be attacked as a "non-Christian." Say what you will about Obama, but he was truly a Christian (not a Muslim). But this time, accusations of a candidate being a non-believer in Jesus Christ will be 100% accurate, for once. Hillary, as anyone who knows her is aware of, is a devout Presbyterian, and her faith is something she cherishes deeply, although she doesn't flaunt it. A Jewish candidate shouldn't be a big deal, but people are just plain idiots about that sort of thing.

And Hillary has a powerful X-factor in her favor in that, of course, she's a woman. The prospect of our first female president is simply too loud a siren call for jaded voters to ignore. They'll vote her in, even if she is a bitch. Perhaps even because she's a bitch! (That's what I'm arguing for, after all.) She already has the black and Latino vote, but if she chooses a young Latino vice president, such as Julian Castro, the White House could be safely Democratic for another sixteen years!

So, there it is. Hillary is our one realistic shot, as I see it. And Bernie's a very nice guy, but that's just it, he's too nice! When you need a warrior, you pick the mean bastard, not the gentle scholar. And after nearly two terms of nice-guy Obama getting stomped on, nice just doesn't cut it for me anymore. I am literally arguing "no more Mr. Nice Guy!" Yes! The bitch is back, and I'm on board!

Make no mistake, everything rests on this upcoming election! The culture war could end and America could finally be the nation of freedom and prosperity it was meant to be. Or it could all collapse into even more oligarchy and plutocracy, forever put out of the reach of any reform. The other side is playing for keeps! And so must we! So, with that much at stake, the question I would ask all of my friends who are (and I'm being good-naturedly humorous, here) "Bern-outs," is simply this:

Would you rather have your second choice and win it all, or your first choice and lose everything?

We're betting it all on one throw. Let's bet wisely!


Eric

*

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Megan Phelps-Roper on Leaving Westboro


On this week's episode of the Sacred Cow Wursthaus, I referenced the interview Sam Harris did with Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps. Here is the link to the interview, and enjoy!

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/leaving-the-church

Sunday, June 28, 2015

SCOTUS Gay Marriage After-Shocks


I want to go into the conservative reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling, effectively striking down any bans on gay marriage, and the example I want to use is an audio clip from the NPR show, ‘Here and Now,’ because it’s just an awesome example of skillful word-smithing. I can’t use the actual audio clip because it’s copyrighted, but I can use excerpts of what was said. The person being interviewed was Jim Campbell director of the Center for Marriage and Family with the Alliance for Defending Freedom. He said the following:

“The court regrettably stripped All Americans of our freedom to debate and decide marriage policy through the democratic process. Moreover, the court overrode the considered judgment of tens of millions of Americans who recently reaffirmed marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and in doing so the court went beyond what the Constitution says, beyond what the Constitution requires, and took this issue away from the people.”

When asked by NPR host, Robin Young, whether he wanted this debate to be in the court of public opinion, he said yes, and she immediately (and justly) countered with the fact that, among the general public, a vast majority do approve of same-sex marriage, especially among millennials. So the court of public opinion seems to be trending against the opposition to gay marriage, in that case.  Here’s how he argued around that.  He said:

“The most important opinion poll is taken at the ballot box.”

In other words, let’s decide this where gerrymandering favors our side, let’s decide this where we can use voter I.D. laws and other intimidation tactics to make sure that the young and minorities don’t get heard, and let’s decide the issue that way. Disgusting, no?

He goes on to say: “The point that you are making is that it appears, from your perspective, that opinions are shifting on this. And if that’s the case, then we should allow the people to continue to discuss, debate, and decide the issue for themselves.”

Brilliant! See what he did there? He first said, “It appears, from your perspective (never mind that it’s an opinion poll, not her perspective) that opinions are shifting on this.” Shifting my ass! They’re moving decidedly and rapidly away from this man’s position! And yet so engrossed is he in the absoluteness that his religion must be right, that he acknowledges that there’s  movement in the debate, but can’t come to grips with the fact that it’s moving against him! How about that!
Robin Young then asked whether or not religious freedom was at the center of their argument he said it was.

“There are some instances where people are trying to operate a business and trying to live consistent with their faith, and courts are forcing them to either host or facilitate same-sex ceremonies, even though doing so conflicts with their faith. So I do think that that actually is a real issue.  Moreover, one thing we do know here at Alliance for Defending Freedom and one thing we are committed to is that no one should be threatened or punished by the government simply for believing and living consistent with the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

How? How are they being forced? That's the part I don't see.
Host? Where would they host? A Christian-owned banquet hall, perhaps? Maybe. But if gays and lesbians wanted to rent the hall for a party, such a business wouldn't object. It's only the marriage part they object to. But so what? If you own the hall, you don't have to attend, do you? Or you can hire out some other bartender/host. Big deal, right? It sure beats losing the business to someone else.

He then goes on to cite the standard jobs where someone’s Christian faith and/or belief that gay marriage is a sin might cause that person’s beliefs to be violated. Namely, a florist, a baker, a wedding photographer, and although he didn’t include it, I will also include a DJ, because at least one friend of mine who is a DJ says he will never do a gay wedding no matter what the Supreme Court says.

So let’s take a good look at that, because this is really where the proverbial rubber meets the road. What happens when, say, a devoutly Christian wedding photographer or planner gets asked to help out with a gay wedding?

Well, the nice and responsible thing for that photographer or planner to do would be to say, “Look, I’m a devout Christian, and as such gay weddings make me uncomfortable because they’re contrary to my religious beliefs. But I do know someone (competitor, assistant, contractor) who would be willing to do the photography for you instead of me.” In other words, that person is willing to lose their business to someone else, or hand the actual business duties to someone else, in order for the customer’s needs to be met. That might mean that the proprietor loses that customer to a competitor, but if one’s religion places such priorities over profits, then so be it. Let the free market decide the matter.

Now, would that be discriminating against the gay couple? Yes, maybe a little, but it isn’t turning the business away as such, either. Would that be a violation of the gay couple’s rights? Well, if the only wedding photographer willing to do a gay wedding charges an arm and a leg, maybe, because the gay couple is forced to pay a lot more for the same service just because the competitors are squeamish. That may happen, but the odds are rather low.

My point is, there are reasonable compromises which allow for the accommodation of both the anti-gay religious beliefs of the proprietor and the gay-accepting religious beliefs of the customer. There are numerous other examples of where something like this can happen, whether it is a Seikh who religiously objects to drinking alcohol selling you a case of beer at the convenience store, or a Hindu who objects to the eating of cows serving you a hamburger at McDonald’s, there are plenty of ways where we recognize that accommodating other people’s lifestyles is not the same thing as endorsing them.

How about other examples? Dressmakers? Who cares, they won’t be attending. Tux rentals? Same thing. Florists? They won’t be in attendance, unless they have to set up the display on the altar, and then they’ll be gone before the actual ceremony takes place. Cake-makers? There isn’t a baker I can think of who wouldn’t be willing to say, “Look, I can’t approve of your lifestyle due to my religious beliefs, but I value your business, so how about if I sell you the cake and the icing for writing the message on it separately?  I’ll even throw in the icing for free. (That’s only like, a buck anyway.) Of course! Every baker worth his business would do that!

The objection is all imagined. Gay couples have made peace with their god when it comes to the love they feel, and that’s their religion, regardless of what label they use.  But Christian extremists want the ability to say, “I religiously object to your religious interpretation, and so I want the right to try and shame you into changing your ways by refusing to do business with you, and doing so in a rude way because there are some easy ways I could compromise to accommodate having you as a customer, but I’d rather just say no and label you ‘icky!’ Well, if so, fine. But at least be honest about it. This is you trying to force your religion upon someone else's creed. And that’s not “restoration of religious freedom,” no matter what else you may call it!

            Bottom line is, the free market will work this out, just as it always does. If your religion dictates the need to attempt to force others to comply with your religion’s edicts, then there will be some other vendor which will take your business, and that’s the way it should be. If you’re a dick, you lose customers. And we really shouldn’t care or be sympathetic that your religion makes you a dick.


            Certainly, it’s none of the government’s business.


Eric

*

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Let's TPP The Neighbors!


Friends, it's time to talk about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. This is a free-trade treaty involving twelve nations around the Pacific Rim (and possibly more later). These are: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, The United States, and Vietnam. Collectively these countries account for 40% of the world's GDP, making this one of the most significant trade deals ever brokered. Naturally, this has attracted staunch advocates as well as fierce opponents. Who's right and who's wrong here? What follows is my qualified analysis after doing some research, and I hope people find it helpful.

Elizabeth Warren is against it. So is Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton has tentatively said some things in opposition, but is (as always) holding her cards close to her well-tailored blazer. But Barack Obama is very much in favor of it, and many analysts see this as a legacy deal for him. Why the disparity? What has some Dems fighting to stop it, while others within the same party are so anxious to see it passed?

First, let's all acknowledge something here: we're all flying blind when it comes to the issue of this trade deal. Much of what's involved is being kept secret, and it's only through security breaches that we know anything about this treaty at all. Were it not for Julian Assange and Wikileaks, we wouldn't even be able to have this debate. (Something to bear in mind the next time someone attempts to argue that Wikileaks is tantamount to treason.) But if we don't know what's in the TPP, how can we truly evaluate it's merits or demerits? The sad answer is, we can't - not really. But we can take the information that's been leaked to the general public, analyze that, and at least come to some reasonable (if tentative) conclusions. We can also evaluate the actions of certain insiders (people who know what's going on) who champion or chide this deal, and draw some conclusions based on what they have to say and what we know about them, personally.

First, let's talk major impacts. What significant changes will this treaty bring, based on what we currently know? Well, primarily, it seems that the major beneficiaries will be businesses which rely heavily upon intellectual property rights. Copyright infringement will be more sternly enforced under this trade deal, allowing Hollywood to crack down on piracy of movies, and tech companies to better able to control unauthorized use of proprietary software. It would also better enforce trademarks, making knock-off brands less profitable for foreign manufacturers. Sadly, it would also make it easier for major pharmaceutical manufacturers to keep cheaper drugs out of the market. Given that the businesses which rely upon these kinds of laws are typically left-leaning in their political support, it's understandable why some Democrats might be in favor of such a deal.

What about jobs? Opponents say that this trade deal will be "NAFTA on steroids," and that more jobs will be lost overseas, labor unions will be weakened, and what jobs remain will have lower wages. This seems to be a legitimate concern. According to the Economic Policy Institute, such a treaty would have a negative impact on both number and quality of jobs unless it included a strong provision regulating currency manipulation. In other words, it should do something to prevent a country from deliberately devaluing its currency by over-printing its money, thus gaining a trade advantage by being able to export more and offer cheaper labor. If a strong currency control were present to prevent such actions, lower-valued currencies would quickly balance out, and American jobs would, in fact, be protected. But does the TPP include such a provision? Sadly, we are not sure. It could potentially protect jobs, but even if it did, it would not necessarily create them. A recent report has shown that nearly 80% of Americans already live below or near the poverty line. The last thing we need is something that will diminish or limit wage growth, even a tiny bit.

Will lower tariffs boost the economy? Proponents say that there will be a benefit in reduced tariffs and more open trade, but is that true? Economist Paul Krugman points out that tariffs are already so low in general that a further reduction really won't have a significant impact, and he's right. There may be a few more American cars in Japan, but aside from that, there will not be much of a change. Therefore, arguments about more open trade increasing business are unfounded. Unless this trade deal suddenly includes China and India, any increased business activity will be negligible.

What about the environment? Will this trade deal violate national sovereignty and allow mega-corporations to sue the government in order to circumvent mining, foresting and fossil-fuel rights? Critics say it will. They say that a corporation could call upon third-party arbitration to get around restrictions meant to protect the environment. But is this true? Possibly, but not necessarily. For starters, the arbitrator could potentially see the wisdom behind the environmental protections and rule against the corporation's lawsuit. Also, other environmental protections could be added through such a treaty. Yes, the 12 nations involved represent 40% of the world's economy, but they also represent 25% of the world's fishing consumption. A trade deal that opens up trade in fish - provided that fishing has been done within legal restrictions - could actually benefit everyone by allowing fish populations to recover, resulting in more food for everyone, to say nothing of a healthy ocean. Such a trade deal would also be able to clamp down on illegal trade of black-market natural resources, and not just illegally caught fish or whale-oil. Poached lumber, game or other ill-gotten goods could have a more difficult time getting to market, decreasing both supply and demand and actually helping the environment. There is risk, but there is also potential reward.

Finally, let's look at Obama and his endorsement of the TPP. He has flat-out called Elizabeth Warren wrong for opposing it, and this comes from a man who seldom has a harsh word for anyone, much less someone within his own party. What are we to make of this? Surely, Our Trophy President knows more about what's potentially in this treaty than we do. But are we simply supposed to put our faith in him on this one?

Critics of this trade deal are calling it crony capitalism. They say that Obama is paying back the big corporate donors who helped him get elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. But he's a lame duck now. Obama could simply decide to screw over Big Corporate in favor of what the people of America better need for a sustainable economy, right?

Ah, but there's the matter of his successor, isn't there? In order for Hillary to win, she'll need the backing of the same big corporate firms who backed Obama. It's no secret who those corporate firms are. Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Google, Hollywood, Music Firms, Big Pharma, Big Banking, Comcast and Time Warner. Maybe the TPP does make us lose ground somewhat, but it helps the firms just named quite a lot, and that could have major benefits for the Democratic Party.

Ultimately, it might boil down to one simple question: Do you trust Obama's judgement on this, or not?

So here is my cursory, and very tentative conclusion: Will this treaty hurt the American economy? My view is that it will, but not, I think, by very much. The benefits are not substantial, but neither are the costs. Yes, it will hurt unions, but they're all but dead, and the concept of unionizing needs to hit the reset button - possibly by unionizing the service sector. Yes, it could hurt the environment, but it could also help it in other ways. Yes it could cost jobs in the short run, but it could protect them in the long run.

The bottom line is this: We live in a post Citizens' United world of politics, and that means the big donors get to decide who can compete, and how well they are funded. We The People get the final say (if we actually bother to vote, that is), but the nominations and the popularity contest is directed by the money. If the TPP turns out to be a bad deal, but gets Hillary elected by making the Big Corporate Donors happy, it's worth the trade-off. Treaties can always be re-negotiated, especially if people get disgusted and show a significant amount of buyer's remorse. But we are probably only one more presidential term away from putting the Supreme Court out of reach of moon-bat conservatives, and thus ending the destructive culture war that has so torn our nation. The TPP might be the key to doing that. If so, I say fine - for now. I reserve the right to change my mind if new evidence comes to light.

But I also say this: We need to get more people involved in the debate! Go tell people to read up about this treaty. Get them interested! Get them motivated! Let's tell them how important it is to at least try to learn about just one complex piece of legislation before it happens. In other words...

Let's TPP the neighbors!


Eric

*

Monday, April 27, 2015

The End Of Journalism In America


One last thought regarding CSS, Corporate Sponsored Stupidity (see previous post). I mentioned that CSS has so infected the minds of people that the news only placates to one side or the other - such is the brand-loyalty which has poisoned citizens against the truth. Well, there is another consequence that I would be remiss not to address. The news now has to disguise itself as comedy in order to entice people to watch it.

This phenomenon seems to affect the young people of America more, and this makes sense. They are the ones who grew up in a corporate-dominated world, with corporate-dominated media, where advertising assaulted them from the cradle on into adolescence. Naturally they would suffer from CSS more acutely - albeit more sophisticatedly - than older Americans who saw corporate advertising evolve from earlier, less effective formats. As such, the necessity of disguising the news as comedy seems to be targeted at young people, because it's the only way to get them to watch. They have to literally be lured into learning things by laughter. Jon Stewart and John Oliver tell us that they are comedians, not journalists. I respectfully disagree. They ARE journalists. It's simply a new variety of journalism - one which has evolved to not only report the news, but then figure out a way to get people to sit up and notice it. First they have to dig up the news, and then they have to dig down to reach you.

The opposite situation seems to apply to older adults with CSS. The way to entice them into watching the news is to get them pissed. They are the angry generation, and so want to get mad about something. Vietnam is over, forgotten are the liberal ideals they had in their youth, and they now want to defend faith and family, not realizing that by supporting today's so-called conservatives, they are eroding both. So their news comes in the form of angry white males who vent and vent and vent, and, according to the ratings, people just love that shit.

You  know what? Fuck all this. Does anybody give a shit about the truth for the sake of the truth anymore? It seems not.

So that's my take on it. People need to give a shit about the truth. Say what you will about Jon Stewart and John Oliver, but they at least do, if only because the truth is so bizarre that it's funny.

Do you give a shit about the truth? Or do you blindly bat for Team Conservative or Team Liberal?


Eric

*

Corporate Sponsored Stupidity (CSS)


Remember TV back in the 70's? It was awful, wasn't it? Even the so-called "good" shows, like Emergency!, or The Rockford Files were only good because the leading characters were good. The supporting cast, however, might as well have been played by cardboard cutouts. Why on earth was television so bad back then? Well, the consensus is that it was due to only three networks being on the air to choose from. Any given television program didn't have to be all that fantastic. All it had to be was better than the other two shows available. Oh, sure, there was public television and the token UHF channel, but the former was for kids and snobs while the latter was where old programs went to die unnecessarily prolonged deaths. For the entirety of the 70's and 80's, the UHF outlet was pretty much where you went to watch Happy Days, Scooby Doo, or (heaven help us!) Gilligan's Island.

But at least one thing was good about 1970's television: the news. With three choices to pick from, and with every household tuning in at precisely 6:00 to learn about what was happening right after eating dinner, there was real competition to be the best in journalism. The news had a solid time-slot which was, up until very recently, all but unshakable. And people had a real sense of value for the truth. Lack of journalistic integrity was the kiss of death for any network. Over-editorializing was generally rejected, even by those who might have agreed with it. It was the glory age of Walter Cronkite, which saw the overturning of the Red Scare, the end of the war in Vietnam, and the resignation of a dishonest president. It guided us through the lunar landings as well as the Iranian hostage crisis, and let us know through a prolonged gasoline shortage that, although things were bad, things were moving to make it better. Best of all, it was local. The local newscaster you saw lived in the area. Very likely, he or she grew up there. There was no need for journalists to hop from city to city like carpetbaggers. There was assurance that your friendly face on TV reporting about local events was someone who pronounced the suburban villages correctly because he grew up near them. In short, it was an age of journalism. Not perfect, but fairly responsible.

Kiss all that shit goodbye.

Today, the news has been hijacked by well-moneyed interest groups bent on influencing the public for its own ends more than for safeguarding the truth. And, just like back in the 1970's, there are only three outlets to choose from. Thanks to some unwise deregulation of the airwaves in 1996, and an end to the fairness doctrine before that in 1987, the news is now dominated by three outlets, none of which have a regular time slot, and almost all of which are no longer local. Whether it be your traditional television channel broadcast at your nearest city of residence or a giant cable network, almost all the stations are now owned by three corporations: Newscorp (FOX News), Time Warner (CNN), and Comcast (MSNBC). And it doesn't matter which affiliation your local station might have, whether it be the traditional CBS, ABC or NBC, or the more recent ones like the CW (essentially what's left of UPN and the WB). They're all part of one of three hydras. And all three of them back corporate interests over your own.

It's primarily for this reason that they pay people full time jobs to do nothing else but pour fuel on the political fires of America. Because with each election cycle, they get to cash in. Every two to four years, huge amounts of money get dumped into political advertising. All that money doesn't go down a deep, dark hole, you know. It all goes into the pockets of the three big companies who own damn near everything. And they get to charge premium prices for ad time due to high demand - which only gets higher as they continue to influence the general public through professional polarizers such as Rush Limbaugh or Ed Schultz. People become so pissed that they open up their pocketbooks wide to do battle with the other side, liberal vs. conservative, not realizing that the money they dump into the machine is only making their problems worse, not better.

Were it not for the Internet, this would mean the downfall of Western civilization.

This consolidation of network power has not only affected the news, although that's its greatest consequence. It has also affected attitudes in general. Television has always been funded by advertisers. Yet those advertisements have had much more than a selling effect for products. They are deliberately designed to convince you, the consumer, to be dumb enough to buy their product over their competitors' products based on some shoddy argument which doesn't hold up under close scrutiny, but which they're counting on nevertheless. In other words, they win when you don't think too much.

And if you think they wouldn't dare try to deliberately try to dumb down the intelligence level of the general public so that they can boost their profit margins, you'd be mistaken.

This results in a phenomenon which I will dub "corporate sponsored stupidity." (CSS for short.) It essentially means that people get primed to believe complete bullshit by giant mega-corps who depend upon such blind faith for the sake of their shareholders. The CEO's of these corporate giants fully realize the potential this has to influence politics, and so have worked hard to harness CSS to favor their own political viewpoints - ones which are often conservative due to the elderly status of most zoots. But CSS also has another unintended and dire consequence. Because it primes the proletariat to be accepting of bullshit, the public ends up buying into nonsense which is crackpot, but which follows the same template of argument the corporate advertisements do. So people believe wrongly that vaccines are harmful, refuse to vaccinate their children, and then their children (and worse, those of other parents) become sick. People believe the lunar landings did not take place, not because the evidence is compelling, but because the conspiracy theory is. People believe in creationism rather than evolution because the religious advertising follows the corporate model of inducing stupidity. Or worse, people believe a war is justifiable because the propaganda machine says so.

CSS has infected the minds of most people so much that the news can now only be reported in such as way as to lure viewers into learning what's going on in the world. Liberals, fired up by CSS to be more irrationally liberal, suddenly want more and more liberal news sources. Conservatives, fired up by CSS even more so become irrationally conservative and listen only to the conservative news outlets. The result is a growing level of polarization in news coverage that gets ever worse and worse. As we all know, FOX is primarily conservative, MSNBC is primarily liberal, and CNN, well, CNN basically twists in whatever direction the wind is blowing in, which often means reporting human interest fluff over the real news that's going on, i.e., over-covering a downed Malaysian Airlines Jet while ignoring critical legislation being considered on Capital Hill.

Well, I have to say that it's time to call out Corporate Sponsored Stupidity. Come on, everyone! Purge yourself of your CSS! And don't think you don't have it. We ALL do! Somewhere, somehow, even the most rational and level-headed of us are bullheaded and wrong about something.

So find that something, or group of somethings, in your life. Then choose truth over what you would prefer.

And the Truth will set you free!


Eric

*

Monday, April 13, 2015

Ready For Hillary?


Well, it has started. Hillary Clinton has officially announced her presidential bid. Does she have my vote out of the gate? Probably.

I say "probably" only because there might actually be a Democrat who unhorses her in the primaries. I don't think that's likely, but you never know. Not Elizabeth Warren. She said no, and she meant it. And certainly not Joe Biden. But maybe HUD Secretary Julian Castro. Who knows?

Ah, but here come the naysayers, some of which were undoubtedly the same giddy fools who gleefully anointed her as Obama's successor before he was even sworn in for his second term. Now the buzz is somewhat negative, and Facebook is already humming with posts about how Hillary is the right hand of Satan. I would like to address some of the points such people bring up, as I feel it's important to do so. It's dirty work, but somebody's got to do it.

First, let's get the big stuff out of the way: Is she a liar? Ruthless? An insider? Someone who bends the rules whenever it suits her? Yes, she is. But let's get this straight: That's what I want! Sure she's a battle-hardened bitch, but we need that. We need someone who's willing to spank the crybabies of Congress until their bottoms are blue, and then send them to bed with no supper!

Gennifer Flowers? Monica Lewinsky? Whitewater? Travelgate? Vincent Foster? Sure, that's a lot of baggage. But it's Bill's baggage, and the last time I checked, he's not running.

Benghazi you say? Yeah, the Republican-led investigation into that cleared her. So, unless you are still under the delusion thatFox News is fair and balanced, there's no scandal, there.

Emails? Yeah, not so much, either. Unless an off-account email is found which is a clear breach of national security, I don't see much of a problem. Besides, we've all done personal stuff on company time or dime, haven't we?

We've had it good with Professor Obama. But while good ol' Prof was my first choice then, the Tough Ol' Bird is my preferred choice now. Make no mistake, the bitch is back! And I'm good with it.

Then again, I'd vote for Bill Cosby, if it meant keeping the crazies who pass for conservatives out of the White House.


Eric

*