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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Creepy Nationalism

Poor Poughkeepsi. They had to take a flag off a fire truck. Seems most fire trucks weren't built to hold a flag and somebody thought that perhaps it is not the best place for display. But now outrage has set in. Once a flag goes up it is such a delicate matter to take it down. Another example of the creeping fascism within this country. Don't have a flag on that fire truck? Well, why do you hate America? Every photo opportunity for every candidate for public office now has the guy or gal standing before a dozen or so flags. Flag lapel pin? Check. Flag tie clasp? Check. Flag underwear? Check. If you're caught on the beach somewhere and you are a public employee you better have your flag swim wear. Oh, and gymnasts everywhere, when that anthem plays you better hurry up and stand with your hand over your heart (which got its start in the 1940s due to the prior stance of the Bellamy Salute--essentially the Mussolini/Hitler salute--being, well, deemed less suitable), otherwise you'll be pilloried, cursed at, and generally demeaned by all those good flag-wearing people out there. Right, Gabby (but why wasn't Michael Phelps similarly pilloried--oh, yeah, he's a white guy)?

And by the way, where is your Bible?!

There are citizens of this country that do not feel they need to wear a flag or have one within ten paces every moment of their waking day (nor to sleep under flag-decorated bedspreads) in order to feel proud of their American heritage. That should be okay. There are also some people who feel that there is a problem with displaying the flag overmuch, that this reeks of fascism and a tendency to be hypercritical of anyone daring to point out deficiencies within our nation. This is highly ironic, since those on the far-right (do we need to say "far-right" anymore since that is the only locale on the entire right-wing political spectrum?) commonly criticize this nation. Indeed, the left has now become the arbiters of a neo-Reaganism with regard to national oaths if the recent Democratic convention is any example. 

If you do not display the flag that doesn't mean you hate America. It doesn't mean you disrespect veterans. It probably just means you think the American flag should be displayed at grave sites on Memorial Day, on public buildings, and at memorials. Not on fire trucks. Not on underwear. Not on swimming trunks. Heck, most of the time, a flag just isn't necessary to be in view. I so wish we could get rid of the flags that serve as a prop backdrop for candidates.

Let's not turn the flag into an ornament of discord--Francis Bellamy (socialist Christian minister that he was) wrote the Pledge of Allegiance so that the North and the South could have something to rally behind, to be united under. Hatred, it seems is always the disease of the nationalist. Do we really need to wrap it up in a flag, hang it on a cross, and salute it?

Friday, August 05, 2016

The Church in an Age of Doubt

"Science, in other words, thrives on anomaly, inconsistency, controversy, and doubt. Certainty kills it."

Hans Christian Von Baeyer, Discover, Mar.'96

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Finessing the Green Vote?

Sanders' supporters, take heed! A write-in vote for Bernie is a vote for Trump! A vote for Dr. Jill Stein is a vote for Trump! Or so we hear. (Way too often.)

And yet a vote for Hillary is a vote for the corrupt DNC. What to do?

Up to this moment I've stood against the tide and advocated a vote for conscience. A moral stand for whomever you felt should be president. And if everyone did that--if everyone was informed--my guess is that Jill Stein would make a run for it. But the vast majority of people do not even know her name. Do not even know there is something called a Green Party.

The media has black-balled her. No debates. Few interviews. Of course this is a chicken and the egg problem: She cannot get traction unless she gets some of the free corporate media bestowed on Trump. (The reader is left to form his/her own opinion if this has anything to do with Stein's anti-corporate platform.)

Would Stein's platform appeal to all those millennials who supported Bernie? Of course it would: the platform is even better than Bernie's for appealing to those with college loans and anyone concerned with the future of this planet.

But wishing doesn't make it so. We are left with a Corporate Clinton vs a Troglodyte Trump.

Both would harm the nation; both are false choices. No one wins with either candidate.

I have been lectured to that this is not the time to throw in with the Greens. Work for the Green Party in off-year elections, build up support little by little. Now is too dangerous, what with Trump threatening our very stability as a country. We just cannot risk a Trump presidency, I am told.

Thing is, it is only during a presidential election that the focus can be put on the Green Party. In off years even Democrats don't turn out to vote. Does the average voter even know who their congressman is? No. Vice-President, even?

The typical American is ignorant of all politics. All economics. History. And that is the problem.

There has to be a focus--this year--on the Green Party. Bernie's supporters are too critical to lose. Next year they will go back to voting for corporate candidates within the Democratic Party. Now is the time to get the Green Party message out.


I can understand someone voting for Hillary in a purple state, such as Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina. But in a state like Vermont, like New York, or Hawaii, or Rhode Island or the District of Columbia, which will all run Blue for Hillary, these are the states where many more people are needed to vote Green. There is no --ZERO--chance of Hillary losing in these states. But if the Green Party could pick up ten percent of the vote it would be considered viable. The media would then have to turn the spotlight onto it. The movement would have a foothold.

And on the other side of the aisle, if you live and are a Bernie supporter in Alabama, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nebraska, Oklahoma...your vote is meaningless. You and Hillary are going nowhere. But if the Green Party got a sizable increase in their vote tallies it would count a great deal. Trump still wins your state but a progressive voice has been shouted from the mountaintop. Believe me, the DNC will hear it.

And we would not be blamed (as Nader so often is, wrongly) for a possible Trump presidency.

The Greens can have their cake and it it too. It just takes a bit of finesse.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Is Franklin Graham a Christian?

Franklin Graham is the son of America's leading evangelist, Billy Graham, and runs Samaritan's Purse, a Christian international relief organization. He also runs the Billy Graham Evangelistic organization and he gets a hefty compensation package for both, totally over $880,000 per year (last figure reported in 2015). So we can assume it is higher than that at the present time.

That figure is in the upper tier of compensation packages for mega-pastors and their ilk. Some such as Pastor Rick Warren "reverse tithe" and give much of their salaries back to various charities and their own congregations. Graham has said that he is not doing so in order to accrue enough money so that he can work for free when he is 70. One wonders how much work he will be doing at that age.

It must be said that Samaritan's Purse receives a high rating by Charity Navigator, despite Graham's salary being about 50% higher than average for aid organizations such as Graham's. His salary has not gone unnoticed by many within the Christian church. Some comments on Charity Navigator are as follows:

To Franklin Graham, "How much is enough for you?" It doesn't matter if you give much of it back to the ministry, why take it in the first place? Your children are grown, expenses must be modest at this stage of your life. Would you do the same work for less? If so, then why not take less? What other compensation do you receive? Allowances, vehicles, book royalties, etc. We fill 1,600 shoe boxes each year. You could fill a lot of these boxes with some of your income.

This is supposed to be a Christian based organization. I don't remember Yeshua comparing his salary to Pontius Pilate, saying it's not so much. Reminds me of Matthew 7:15--ravenous wolf anywone? Or Micah 3:11: ...her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they look for the LORD's support and say, "Is not the LORD among us? No disaster will come upon us."

Samaritan's Purse has been connected with political support for anti-gay legislation in Uganda, other countries in Africa, and in Russia. This political work, far outside their core mission and focus, should be of concern to anyone donating to the charity and interested in where the money is really going.

Graham's actual salary is higher if you take into account that as a non-profit he is being subsidized by the government.

Franklin Graham is now touring America, going to all fifty states, holding prayer vigils for our politicians and candidates, so that Americans will support candidates who will support "biblical values." There is no political affiliation as such, however it can be assumed that "biblical values" does not include the Democratic Party or progressive ideals. Biblical values has long been code for supporting anti-gay legislation, anti-gay marriage (supporting the supposedly biblical definition of marriage as being one man, one woman except that there is no "biblical definition" of marriage), support for pro-discriminatory laws such as that attempted in Indiana, and of course anti-abortion laws. He has supported Republican candidates in the past but for this year's election he has stated he endorses no one, wishing only to get out the Christian vote in a "campaign for God."

He hasn't said if he believes Trump is a Christian (he said nearly the same thing regarding president Obama, which implied that he wasn't positive the President wasn't a Muslim either) and that voters needed to make that decision for themselves. He has supported statements that Trump as made in the past, particularly re the Iran treaty and the candidate's views on political correctness:

"This political correctness, everybody's afraid of offending somebody or saying something that's going to turn somebody else off. I mean it's terrible," Graham said.

This is a bit odd for a Christian pastor to say, since offending people is likely not to be considered along with loving one's neighbor. Franklin's own father, Billy Graham, always made certain not to offend people since this would take away from his chief ministry, leading people to Christ.

It is chiefly Graham's stance on supporting anti-gay rhetoric and legislation in Africa and Russia that leads some to question Graham's own christian beliefs. Would a Christian say, as Graham has, that President Putin, who cracked down on the gay community in Russia, has a better policy toward gays than our own President Obama? These laws have put the lives of gays within Russia in danger. [This has earned Graham his very own "Pukey" award.]

Samaritan's Purse has also been very active in South Sudan, and throughout Africa. Its support for the anti-gay agenda has put many people's lives at risk throughout the continent.

Christians often see a duty, an obligation to help the less fortunate, those in poverty, the sick, those seeking asylum. This comes from Jesus' own ministry (cf Matthew 25). However, Graham is very outspoken regarding the obligation of Americans to help immigrants coming from the war torn areas of the Middle East. He lauds Trump for his call for cutbacks --a ban-- on Muslim immigrants. He's fine with letting Christians in, but not others. Here is his Facebook post:
Four innocent Marines(United States Marine Corps) killed and three others wounded in ‪#‎Chattanooga‬ yesterday including a policeman and another Marine--all by a radical Muslim whose family was allowed to immigrate to this country from Kuwait. We are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad. We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the U.S. until this threat with Islam has been settled. Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized--and they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad. During World War 2, we didn't allow Japanese to immigrate to America, nor did we allow Germans. Why are we allowing Muslims now? Do you agree? Let your Congressman know that we've got to put a stop to this and close the flood gates. Pray for the men and women who serve this nation in uniform, that God would protect them.
Samaritan's Purse no doubt has done its fair share of charity work in undeveloped areas of the world and during catastrophes. One does question how it can withhold aid though until after a half-hour or so prayer meeting. The people in El Salvador, after  enduring an earthquake, were told they would be shown how to construct shelters but were told to wait after a prayer meeting was held. It must be noted also, that these people were likely already Christians, as El Salvador is a Catholic dominated nation. But protestant evangelicals see Catholics as a field for harvest; you apparently can be Christian, but Christian of the wrong sort.

If one takes a broad view of Graham's activities, and his statements, one might conclude that he is no Christian at all. Remember Jesus' own words, "You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" The fruits of Graham have consistently been of hate and greed: grapes of thorns, one might say. That is not behaving as a Christian would behave, if one had truly undergone a transformative spiritual experience, which is what evangelicalism actually means. 

So is Graham a Christian? Perhaps. Let's have the voters decide. 


Friday, June 24, 2016

The best 7 minutes on gun control by the Virtual President

Bill Whittle, aka the Virtual President, created several years ago a speech where he pretends he is speaking to Congress. The speech concerns the rights of gun owners, and the 2nd Amendment in general. And boy is is viral. If you are on Facebook, you've probably seen it.

The beginning is hokey, sure. There are shots throughout of various members of Congress seemingly listening to this presidential speaker. The only thing missing was "My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims" line. But, it is kind of effective, at least for those already in the guns-are-cool camp.

The first appeal (one cannot really call it an argument) is that violence and insanity is built-in, innate, and there is nothing that can be done. Well, except focus our laws on those things...but if they're innate then what is to become of that? Oh, well. This tends to create a focus on mental illness. As a country we treat mental illness by throwing people in jail. Our two largest mental health facilities are the two gigantic prisons in Chicago and Los Angeles. It needs to be said that the mentally ill are not likely to commit violent crime with guns. Highly unlikely, in fact. To stigmatize them is to misdirect the discussion from the real causes to another, although it would be nice if mental illness were treated in this country with doctors and nurses, instead of with jails and guards.

"If you make things easier for predators you get more predators." So says our "Virtual President." He wants us to consider that if we take guns away from law-abiding folk then we just clear the aisle for the bad people. Better to have the path blocked by an AR-15 or some-such. And yet...

one might also claim that the more guns out there the more likely it is that people are going to die or be injured from those guns. David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, says he would “bet a lot of money” that the prevalence of guns increases homicide, all other things being equal. “I think the evidence is very consistent with the notion that more guns have made us less safe.” But it’s “almost impossible” to prove a causal relationship. “All the data are consistent with a causal relationship, but it’s very hard to say anything is causal,” he says. [Taken from]

While gun enthusiasts will point to statistics showing a net decrease in some crime statistics they will often leave out the number of suicides committed with guns. The response to this is sometimes to say that someone hell-bent on killing themselves will simply jump off an overpass or some cliff if a gun isn't readily available. Wrong. Psychologists will tell you that having a gun at hand increases the likelihood of its use when undergoing a depressive episode. Guns that are available also increase the likelihood of accidental death in childhood injuries. Gun availability actually increases the likelihood of you dying from a gun--guns do not afford one protection, but increase your chances of dying.

As a recent Politifact story shows there is a general correlation between states that have restrictive gun laws and a reduction in gun deaths. Stanford professor, John Donohue states,  "Guns are a bit like chest x-rays. If you really need them, they can be helpful to have around, and even save lives. If you don’t need them, and yet are constantly exposed to them, they represent a constant threat while conferring little or no benefit." The LA Times also has an article showing quite conclusively that owning a handgun puts you at risk...and yet people are buying them in order to feel safer. 
The problem with this Old-West style of argument, the one that says that a guy carrying a gun can stop a bad guy on a rampage is that it simply is not true. Worse than merely not being able to stop a bad guy is that the supposedly good guy will just make things worse. We do have to add one proviso this this statement, however. While it is true that if that good guy with a gun happens to be a currently well-trained individual, that is trained in all aspects of the firearm as well as trained in combat situations, then you might be right. He might be able to help. But if that good guy with a gun is anyone else, anyone other than say James Bond or Jason Bourne then things are not going to go so well. It has been said, by police trainers, that unless you are trained--every month, repeatedly--you better not try and intervene in a situation involving a mass shooting. Bullets will fly, more innocent by-standers will be hit--heck, it is likely the good guy with a gun will end up shooting himself as he desperately tries to get his/her gun out of the holster.

And now we come to the figures trotted out by our Virtual President about all those crimes prevented by guns. Up to 2 million per year, so says the NRA. So where do they get that figure? Well, some Florida criminologist apparently does phone surveys...I know, scientific, right? But there is a place that actually attempts to answer the question, and it is called the VPC, or Violence Policy Center. And their figure isn't 2 million. Not 1 million, either. Not even 100,000. Try 67,000. And as a NY Times column states, that isn't nothing, but it sure isn't 2 million either. They also point out that there are only about 230 justifiable homicides per year in the US. Compare that figure to the number of firearm homicides (8,275) and then think about the number of gun-related suicides per year (21,000+), number of deaths caused by accidental discharge (500+) and the number of nonfatal injuries caused by guns (84,000+)...kind of puts it all in perspective, yes? 

Think of it this way: Imagine America as if it never had a 2nd Amendment. Let's say no one is allowed a rifle or handgun, and where police don't even carry weapons except when called upon in special force teams. All those injuries, all those deaths by suicide and accidental discharge deaths...they go away. Even the deaths caused by police discharge of weapons, they go away. There is, of course, a nation with this precise regulation of firearms. It's called England. They had 0.23 firearm deaths per 100,000 people per year on average. But I could have used another nation, could have stuck a pin at random in a map and as long as it fell on what we call a developed nation and not a third world state then the figure would have been lower--by a lot--than the US.

The speech then takes a bit of a weird turn. Our "president" says that despite what his argument has stated thus far gun ownership isn't prevention of crime (maybe he is remembering that he was using made up figures) at all. Oh no. But to prevent tyranny. He brings out false history speaking of Communist China and the Soviet Union, of Pol Pot and the Cambodian genocide, of Nazi Germany. And all that would be fine except it never happened.

Hitler actually loosened gun regulations. [The often trotted out quote supposedly from 1935 to prove Hitler's gun regulations is false.] True, he ended up taking guns from minority groups, mostly Jews. His point was to make it easier to subjugate them. He allowed the German people to own guns and he made it easier for them (think of the modern day NRA and the GOP). Now, if you think owning some rifles and pistols would have protected the Jews from Hitler I have a bridge in Florida I'd love to sell you cheap. 

The story of the Soviets and Communist China is another false analogy. When the Bolsheviks and the Maoists came to power it was due to their having guns that allowed them to fight a civil war...let's be clear about this. They weren't so much fighting tyranny as replacing regimes with tyranny. [One could regard the Czars as tyranny...I get that, but Lenin wasn't some softy.]

As to Pol Pot there simply is zero evidence for this charge that weapons were taken away. Zero. This is made up "evidence" to pile on a point. People do that when they truly have nothing else to offer.

Our Virtual President is great with a video editor; not so great as an historian. Worse, he trots out only those statistics that bolster his point, and others he just makes up. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The New Christianity, La Iglesia Nueva

Much of what I have lately posted has to do with a general criticism of the current state of the Christian church. I have criticized it for its dogma and doctrinalism, its closed-mindedness, and its adherence to anti-scientific principles.

It's all well and good to point out the weaknesses within a movement or organization; but without a perspective on what might replace it or at least remedy it, then what good has been done?

If the Church is now dead or dying, if it is a mere matter of a generation or two from disappearing, it would be well to begin the work of the New Church, la iglesia nueva (I've recently begun to learn Spanish, and here I thought a different language might underline the near complete break with the past that I see as necessary: queria destacar una ruptura completa!).

Although I've only just begun to formulate these ideas, I think that the New Church must have within it certain descriptors:

1) "There is no religion higher than Truth." This, some will remember, is the motto on the emblem of the Theosophical Society. The watchword should be: Is it true?

2) Jesus is many things to many people: Doctrine does not inform, it limits.

3) The Bible is among the great books of the world and it should be read and studied, but it is not any different in kind than other great epics, such as the Odyssey, the Iliad, the Aeneid, or The Brothers Karamazov or Don Quixote for that matter. All works are equally to be studied, all religions can teach. The Bible is not The Holy Word.

4) Art and Science are the chief means for spiritual inquiry.

5) The New Christian Church tears down walls, it does not build them. If an idea of a Temple is desired, it can be thought that the Earth or the Universe is that temple.

6) The New Christian Church is not a church of miracles, but of community. Prayer is not to be thought of as somehow influencing a theistic God, but is useful for meditation and influencing those that pray.

7) Questions are more important than answers; poetry greater than creed. All language is metaphor and translation.