Archive for December, 2010

The strongest Rebublican presidential challenge to Obama is a woman…but it’s not Sarah Palin


Sarah Palin’s poll numbers are (finally) dropping to the point where she is last in the line of likely Republican candidates for the 2012 presidential election.  As for the rest of the field, it is an assortment of the usual suspects, most of whom are in the employ of Fox News.  Which might make the right wing of the Republican party happy but is not likely to turn on too many other Americans.  Some, like Gingrich, are carrying some heavy personal baggage.  Huckabee, who is smart, likable and eloquent is probably a little too neo-evangelical to carry the majority.  And the most moderate of the bunch, Mitt Romney may not have the necessary charisma, or the cojones (when it comes to standing up to his party’s right wing) to get the job.

There is a good candidate lurking in the Republican party’s wings who has the qualities needed to make a strong showing against Obama, and that is Condaleezza Rice.  Like Palin she is smart, attractive , personable and of course, a woman. Unlike Palin, she is knowledgeable, intellectual, articulate and experienced with the added bonus of being both evangelical and African American.  Having served as Secretary of State, she is also presidential, something that the other Republican lady is not.

But there is another lady out there, a Democrat, who is also knowledgeable, articulate, experienced and presidential, but if Hillary Clinton runs it won’t be until 2016.  Which is why we probably won’t see Rice as a candidate in 2012 – she’ll be waiting in the wings for the later face-off.  Which, in a way,  is a shame, because I would’ve loved to see a debate between Barak and Condi.  I imagine it would be quite civilized and intelligent. For a change.  In Rice’s recent interview in Christianity Today, she comes off as quite the moderate libertarian, not that much different than Obama in many respects, but enough to make a difference in the eyes of the voters.  Is Rice testing the political waters with this interview? It would be interesting to see  a poll taken with Rice’s name thrown in.

Americans are quite good, actually, at finding a way to deal with these extremely divisive and difficult moral issues. And it’s not that I’m a relativist. It’s not that I believe everybody has their own morality. But I do understand that there are different ways of thinking about how these issues are going to play out in people’s lives, and I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt in governing their own lives.” – Condaleezza Rice

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The Christian Grinches who almost stole Christmas


I guess it’s becoming a holiday tradition for me to make spicy chocolate crunch, since this is the second year in a row that I’ve done it.  Pretty astounding for me to stick with anything that long.

So I wrapped up a package of candy and topped it off with a Fuentes cigar tied with a red ribbon, to take over to my next door neighbor’s house.  Walking up their front steps,  I considered how to greet them, as they are devout Muslims.  I decided that this year I was going to go against my better instincts and say “Merry Christmas”.  For the past 3 or 4 years I’ve been a staunch advocate of  the  “Happy Holidays” approach.

When Asan opened the door he beat me to the punch with his own hearty “Merry Christmas”! And why not? It’s an American custom, a tradition that really has little to do with religion anymore.  The Christmas season has always been about the universal ideal of  “peace on Earth, good will towards men”.  That is, until some mean old Christians went and ruined it.

No one used to worry about offending anyone with “Merry Christmas”.  I used to work for a reformed Jewish fellow and we made no bones about the season being about Christmas.   Hanukkah fell in their somewhere,  but it surely wasn’t a Hanukkah season.  We put a tree up in the restaurant lobby every year and, yes,  there was a menorah on the mantle.  We both enjoyed the season and we both enjoyed the business that the season generated.   I never gave my personal greetings much thought, but probably gave equal time to Christmas, the Holidays and New Year.

But then some overly sensitive, paranoid and doctrinaire Christians became offended by the lack of “Christ” in the Christmas season (as if Christ hadn’t been upstaged by Santa Clause since long before WWII).  They mounted a national campaign designed to regain uncontested control of the holidays.  Coming from their lips “Merry Christmas” was no longer a  heartfelt greeting meant to wish people joy and happiness, it was now a challenge like  “I dare you to knock this frankincense off my shoulder!”  Or the Christian equivalent of the Black Power salute:  a symbol of defiance in the face of ‘secularists’ and solidarity among the ‘faithful’.   Where is the grace in that?

All of a sudden it became difficult for the rest of us to wish people a merry Christmas.  These zealous Christians had created an air of tension where there was none before.  It wasn’t the  ‘secularists’ or the rare militant atheist who made the Christmas greeting into a politically incorrect statement – it was the result of needy, insecure Christians demanding that everyone confirm their religious tradition.  In their fervent devotion to the idealized story of the birth of a  baby God they effectively  buried the adult Jesus’ message beneath the sands of a mythical Bethlehem.

But not quite. I find it heartening, when a  devout Muslim man is able to share the true spirit of Christmas with a jaded, cynical  Christian like myself, without compromising his own faith in the process.

Merry Christmas!

and

Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah!

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Why the Right was against repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”


Because that’s how they handle the issue of sexuality themselves.  Keep it in the closet. (The other closet, not that ‘prayer closet’ – which doesn’t get used much by today’s crop of budding theocrats.)

It’s ironic. Although conservative evangelicals (who are now the power base of the Republican party) claim to be the champions of morality, they have such a hard time living up to their own standards.  Sure, liberals have their share of fallen angels, but rarely does the left claim to be the standard bearer of morality. Yet it is common for the most strident of the ‘moral majority’ to find themselves in the public spotlight with their pants down,  sometimes quite literally.

Why do so many conservative, evangelical, Republicans expose themselves doing precisely the opposite of what they say others should be doing? Henry Hyde, Helen Chenowith, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, Larry Craig, Bob Allen, David Vitters, Glenn Murphy Jr. – the list goes on. How many of these scandals have resulted in the outing of aggressive homophobes?  After years of rumors that he might be gay,  it looks as if  Lindsey Grahamw will soon find himself in the same predicament. What ‘s the deal?

A 1996  psychology experiment conducted at the University of Georgia found strong evidence that (at least among males) “homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies.” If this is true, and since most politically conservative evangelicals are  vigorously opposed to the ‘gay agenda’,  then it makes sense that a significant portion of these people might very well be closet homosexuals.  Of course, this is just speculation, yet it does hold up fairly well under the historical evidence.  But why would people who are confused (or in denial) about their sexuality gravitate towards the evangelical right-wing of the Republican party?

Is it because, having been forgiven for all their sins, both past and future, these closet homosexuals no longer feel the need to confront and conquer their inner “demons”?  That Jesus has already taken care of that for them? Yet eventually many of them will find out that their religion is not sufficient to facilitate lasting personal change (if this type of change is possible or even desirable).

A huge part of Christianity is the idea that we are all broken people who can be healed through the redemptive power of God, as revealed to us by Jesus. But that does not mean that we are somehow magically, perfectly, made ‘whole’ (i.e conforming to someone else’s orthodox world view) – that we are completely changed by God’s grace or the Holy Spirit or the love of Christ.  It doesn’t mean that we can let our guard down and expect prayer alone to obliterate years of habitual behavior.  Or obviate our personal natures.  Nor, apparently, will the threat of punishment, divine or otherwise, accomplish this.

I think a better guess might be found in the attraction they may have to the hard-line theology of neo-evangelism.  It’s as if,  though perhaps in denial, they suspect that they are ‘bad’ boys in the eyes of God and feel a need to be part of an ideology that embraces the clear-cut rules of stern father figures, from Yahweh to James Dobson.

‘We’ve decided the Bible is the word of God. We don’t have to have a General Assembly about what we believe. It’s written in the Bible. Alright, so we don’t have to debate what we think about homosexual activity. It’s written in the Bible.” -Ted Haggard

‘Some strong-willed children absolutely demand to be spanked, and their wishes should be granted. . . Two or three stinging strokes on the legs or buttocks with a switch are usually sufficient to emphasize the point, ‘You must obey me.’ ” – James Dobson

“Part of my life is so repugnant and dark, I’ve been warring against it all my life…the dirt I thought was gone would resurface … the darkness increased and dominated” -Ted Haggard

Christian fundamentalist parents, James Dobson included,  should know by now that children cannot be spanked into submission, not unless the goal is to create sadly warped versions of themselves.   Who has ever really benefited from this? What type of person is attracted to an intolerant,  domineering and violent task master? For many of these people violence comes to be associated with love.

“In Revelation, Jesus is a prize-fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is the guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up” – Mark Driscoll

The threat of punishment, even the ultimate punishment of Hell,  apparently cannot compel people to change their natures beyond a superficial level.  It can, however, compel them to mimic the doctrinaire natures of their overlords, even to the point of absurd and shameful  hypocrisy.  Or develop an appetite for hate filled language, perhaps even violence.  History has provided us with an undeniable pattern.

“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela

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The Tea Party’s dysfunctional family tree


Now, before anybody comes back trying to link Obama to Karl Marx or George H.W. Bush to the Bildeburgers, all these connections are documented and spoken of quite openly by the people in question. Just Google them and you will see.

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Liberals reveal hidden puritanical streak. Again.



The latest political silliness, now from the Democrats, rivals the absurdity of conservative ‘birthers’ and Islamophobes .  This from Matt Lewis at Politics Daily:

While it’s impossible to know, some are beginning to speculate that Boehner’s penchant for turning on the waterworks might have some connection to his consumption of wine. Liberal MSNBC host Ed Shultz, half-jokingly, called Boehner a “cheap drunk” the other day, Capitol Hill aides of both parties are wondering, and there’s even a web page devoted to it.

For years, political professionals have quietly discussed Boehner’s drinking. Some have told me off the record that his mannerisms remind them of that of an alcoholic. So far, most of the public speculation having to do with the connection between drinking and Boehner’s crying has come from the left. In addition to Ed Shultz, liberal talk show host Randi Rhodes recently implied Boehner’s crying was due to his drinking. But the speculation is becoming more widespread. Earlier this year, Joe Scarborough noted of Boehner that “by 5 or 6 o’clock at night, you can see him at bars.

Well, that is the traditional time, Joe.  It’s called the cocktail hour.  And drinking in bars?!  Sinful!  I guess Boehner would feel more comfortable drinking behind closed doors, with the puritanical hypocrites.  Probably not.  And Randi Rhodes calling someone a drunk?  Talk about people who live in glass houses.

So is drinking the issue — and why might a person struggling with drinking be more prone to weeping in public?

Really? Is that the important question? I’m not too crazy about the recent spate of conservative histrionics but you’d think that liberal progressives would be a bit more accepting of a man’s emotional openness. I mean, aren’t we supposed to be overcoming our gender stereotypes? Maybe all the conservative rhetoric about the nanny-ness of liberals is not so far off.  Time to stop playing to the namby-pambies in the Democratic party and let adults decide for themselves if, and how much, they should drink.

As for blaming this new political emotionalism on alcohol consumption, tell that to Winston Churchill or John F. Kennedy, neither man likely to refuse a drink and neither man prone to silliness. In fact, I thought that cigars and whiskey were the main staples of a political diet (which, I guess, is one reasons why I am a frustrated amateur pundit). Besides, Glenn Beck will break down at the drop of a tricorn hat and he’s a teetotaler.

It’s bad enough that the neo-cons resort to this type of sensationalist rumor mongering, and I can understand the liberal media’s frustration with that, but this kind of foolishness can eclipse any credibility they might have. No longer will serious people  swallow any story at Fox News without a liberal dosing of salt because of this penchant for reporting on sensationalist non-news stories.

For his part, though, Boehner — who was described in one profile as “a heavy-smoking, hard-drinking former linebacker” — has made no secret of his affection for merlot, and those familiar with Capitol Hill know he frequents The Capitol Hill Club, as well as a favorite Italian restaurant on Capitol Hill, where he is frequently spotted sipping vino.

Good for him. I’m not likely to vote for Boehner but I probably would enjoy sharing a meal with him (but sorry, no Merlot, please).  Dinner without wine is no dinner at all (unless it’s brats or BBQ and then beer is essential).  I myself enjoy at least two glasses of wine with my evening meals and maybe a cocktail before and/or after.  And then I might smoke a nice big cigar.

I know this admission will horrify some of you, but I can’t remember the last time I cried, drove off a bridge, beat my wife or flew a plane into a mountainside.  My blood work just came back and my liver functions are all A-OK, thank you very much.

C’mon liberals. For folks who are always crowing about a personal right to privacy , it’s time to pull your noses out of peoples lives and let them eat, drink and smoke what they want.  Just like you want for your selves.  And as for you conservatives out there, I meant just that:  whatever they want, even if it’s not made by your friends over at Phillip Morris or Bacardi.

The first vice we should worry about is our unhealthy addiction to hypocrisy.

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Here’s a way to help with the deficit: a 100% tax on Wall Street bonuses


After bailing them out of the hole they dug for themselves with shovels they stole from middle class investors, tax payers are pissed off about the crazy bonuses Wall St. firms are awarding themselves this year.  Wall St. is finishing up a strong year, but lets no forget that this was accomplished with Federal money.

A little glimpse into how greedy and immoral these fat cats really are is with the reason they give for being able to award such large bonuses: so many of them have been laid off or incarcerated that everyone else gets a bigger slice of the pie.  Even though many of the remainder should be out of work themselves, if not in jail, they are able to stuff millions of bonus dollars under their mattresses (can’t trust the banks, now can they?)  Why do they deserve these rewards? It’s not like they are providing a benefit to the country and I can’t think of any jobs they are creating.

Because of these selfish Scrooges, a lot of Americans, if they are fortunate enough to be employed, are not getting Christmas bonuses this year, if ever again.  So, I say the Feds should tax the banker’s bonuses, every penny,  and then use it to help fund extended unemployment benefits. They should be able to muddle through on their six figure salaries.

Merry Christmas Mr. Potter.

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Republicans oppose sneaky Democrat push for bill that includes millions of dollars in new Republican spending


Crazy, aint’ it. From “The Hill”:

Senate Republican leaders are taking heat for millions of dollars worth of earmarks they requested in a $1.1 trillion spending package on deck for passage this month.

GOP Policy Committee Chairman John Thune (S.D.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) convened a Wednesday morning press conference to criticize Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for trying to speed the package through the Senate before Christmas.

But Thune and Cornyn faced a barrage of hostile questions about their earmarks by reporters from NPR, ABC News and NBC News.

“Going through this bill, there is earmark after earmark from the both of you, millions of dollars in earmarks from the two of you and from other senators,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl told Cornyn and Thune. “How do you have any credibility on this? Why do you have earmarks?”

Cornyn said he had credibility on the issue because he plans to vote against the omnibus spending bill.

“If people have concerns about what’s in the bill, we ought to be given an opportunity to offer amendments to strip those out and I’m happy to have that process done,” Cornyn said.

Taxpayers for Common Sense, a non-partisan group that tracks federal spending, said that Cornyn secured $750,000 for a drinking water project in Midland, Texas; $800,000 for a stormwater mitigation project in Nacogdoches, Texas; $500,000 for a street improvement project in downtown Denton, Texas, among other projects.

“The simple answer is I’m going to vote against the bill and refuse all of those earmarks,” said Cornyn.

But that answer didn’t satisfy some members of the Capitol press corps.

“Isn’t it awkward, though, for you to be standing here and advocating for stripping these out when you both have requested them?” said Kelly O’Donnell, NBC News’s Hill correspondent. “It appears like you’re saying one thing and doing another.”

Thune pushed back against the charge of hypocrisy.

“If we get on the bill, I will vote against the bill. If amendments are offered to strip earmarks, I will vote for those amendments,” Thune said.

Cornyn and Thune tried to steer the news conference back to Reid’s decision to put a massive spending bill on the Senate floor in the waning days of the lame-duck session. The GOP leaders also highlighted the inclusion of more than $1 billion to fund the implementation of President Obama’s signature healthcare reform law.

“This is not just about earmarks,” said Cornyn.

“You’re missing the story if you think it’s just about earmarks. This is about a flawed process of sweetheart deals cut behind closed doors and a big spending bill dropped on the American people and on us on Dec. 14 without adequate time to amend it and debate it,” he added.

The GOP lawmakers called for a short-term, stop-gap spending measure to keep the government funded until the beginning of 2011, when Republicans will then control the House and can advance spending cuts.

ABC’s Karl kept pushing the issue of earmarks, asking Cornyn whether “it was wrong to put earmarks in the first place.”

“You’ve asked that question about five times and I’ve tried to answer it to the best of my ability,” Cornyn shot back.

A GOP aide immediately called an end to the conference as Cornyn and Thune quickly left the room followed by a crowd of reporters.

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The second coming of Ronald Reagan


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What is so offensive about ants crawling over a cheap plastic crucifix?



So the Smithsonian caved in  and decided to censor a video  from a larger showing of work by the controversial GLBT artist, David Wojnarowicz .   The image above,  taken from a longer scene , was apparently offensive to some influential Christians.

“I think that in the artistic community, directors, curators are tremendously insensitive to Christians,”  You can’t make fun of the Holocaust, you can’t make fun of black slavery, and you can’t even depict anything about Mohammed.”  – Bill Donahue, Catholic League President

(Sounds like Mr.Donahue is really peeved that he can’t make fun of blacks and Muslims and get away with it. Sour grapes.)

“American families have a right to expect better from recipients of taxpayer funds. While the amount of money involved may be small, it’s symbolic of the arrogance Washington routinely applies to thousands of spending decisions involving Americans’ hard-earned money. Smithsonian officials should either acknowledge the mistake and correct it, or be prepared to face tough scrutiny beginning in January [when the new majority in the House moves in].” – John Boehner, incoming Speaker of the House

(In other words: a shake down)

Now the film itself is pretty disturbing and many will, understandably, find  it’s more explicit moments offensive .  But the part that is getting all the attention is where real live ants are crawling over a cheap plastic crucifix.  I don’t know if Wojnarowicz staged this, it certainly could be something he stumbled upon, but what exactly is the big deal? It’s not as over the top as Serrano’s “Piss Christ”, of which the most offensive aspect is probably the title.  If Serrano hadn’t told us, we would think he had taken the shot through an amber filter (but then it would have gotten little media attention).  According to the Serrano,  even that photograph was never meant to be a critique of religion per se,  but rather a commentary on the cheapening of Christian icons by today’s culture (something we see a lot of this time of year).  By comparison,  Wojnarowicz’s crucifix is much tamer and I doubt if it would have upset these people if  he hadn’t been homosexual.

So what’s the  theological concern here? Are cheap plastic crucifixes sacred? What about a dashboard Jesus?  Or porcelain angels? What do ants crawling on a crucifix mean to us?  Wojnarowicz  is certainly telling us something here.  But I would imagine, as with most art, the message is different for each person listening.  I wonder what message  the censorship advocates are receiving. Whatever it was, it likely was filtered through their perception of the artist’s sexual orientation.

To me, this image suggest that the institutional Church, with it’s cathedrals, statues, seminaries, doctrines, dogmas, creeds and icons, is as much a product of the complex human mind as the holy (and unholy) trinkets that clutter our lives. And as such, is just as likely to be cast off, either by those who have lost interest or by those who have grown beyond its allure.  So it is best not to pay too much attention to the trinkets or we may miss the bigger picture, which involves Jesus as artist, and not subject.   A picture that Mr. Boehner and Mr. Donahue and so many religious people seem to have missed.

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Do those thought provoking atheist billboards point to God?


It’s hard to ignore the billboard battle going on right now and it looks as if the atheists have the high ground.  Their claim: religion has no monopoly on morality.  Hard to dispute that one.  Of course, neither does atheism.  It seems that morality is fleeting and held loosely by all of us,  no matter what our belief system.  Mankind has proven itself to be uniquely self-destructive even as it aims to prosper.  Or is it because we aim to prosper that everything we touch seems to spoil?

I think it’s interesting that some extreme Christians and atheists alike have found ways to excuse mankind’s most egregious acts.  One  Christian response evokes the idea that the Earth was given to us by God, that Satan is messing with our intentions and sometimes horrible things must be done in order to save souls for the after life.  Some atheists claim that the things that we do are neither good or bad, they just are – that what we do is only natural and part of the evolutionary process.  Natural selection often appears cruel, but it is necessary for the perpetuation of the species.

First, let me be clear:   I think that the theory of evolution is the best means by which to address the questions we have about life on this planet.  I do not take Creationism seriously nor am I enamored with all the aspects of Intelligent Design.  That being said,  I’m trying to figure out what evolutionary point there is for speculating on these, or any other ideas at all.  What is the point of thinking about things that don’t put a roof over our heads or food in our bellies?  I’ve started to wonder if the development of the self-aware  human mind has done anything to help perpetuate our species.  Does philosophy, poetry, music, art or religion help humanity in any practical way? (A lot of people say they don’t).  Some prominent atheists have even suggested that there are genes for these behaviors.  But why?  From an evolutionary perspective they seem like such wastes of time.  You’d think these frivolous tendencies would’ve been filtered out.

Not only that, but it is the human mind, with all  its technical capabilities, that has placed our planet in jeopardy.  Without the human mind there would be no sword, no arrow, no cross-bow, no cannon, no rifle, and no H-bomb. Without the human mind there would be no smokestacks, no highway deaths, no slums, no Love Canal, no Chernobyl, no red tide, no DDT, no flooding in New Orleans, no genetically modified plants or animals. Many of the great threats to our existence would not exist themselves.

So, how can the human mind, with its capacity for leisure, greed, curiosity, art, beauty, hatred, discovery and religion, be a product of evolution?  It  seems that the more ‘primitive’ minds of other species serve them better.  Sure, they can’t ultimately defend themselves against the violence of humans,  so I guess that natural selection has given us an advantage in that regard.  We can kill them better than they can kill us. But our technology doesn’t always come out on top, at least not with microbes, rats and roaches.  But because of our technology, we are capable of destroying ourselves, like no other species we know of. It almost looks as if the human mind is ultimately self-destructive and not a product, but a contradiction, of natural selection. If so, then does the self-aware human brain, particularly when examined under the light of natural selection, possibly support the idea of something supernatural going on? And if so, then what does our capacity to do both good and evil say about this supernatural aspect?

I don’t think faith concepts should be discarded or ignored because of any ugliness and violence associated with them, anymore than faith should be blithely endorsed because of those parts that are beautiful and life affirming. I think that these controversial billboards, both theist and atheist, represent minority perspectives. There are a few people on both sides of this debate that listen more than they shout. Those are the ones we should engage with and hopefully learn from. We are better off ignoring the rest, no matter how loudly they yell or how big their signs are.

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