Monthly Archives: July 2012

Mr. Romney Fails to Impress

Mitt Romney has managed to make a fool of himself on a national stage. Ostensibly to demonstrate how he could be ‘presidential’, the Mittster is on a tour of Great Britain, Israel, and Poland. (Nice combination, huh?) But he has managed to cram his foot into his mouth at least three times, pushing it in deep.

Now you would think that a pol who was governor of Massachusetts and ran for president before would have an idea on how to behave. But you would be–wrong! Does he really not know he’s not supposed to mention any connection to Britain’s MI6? Is he that brain-dead that he can’t remember Ed Miliband’s name? Is his heart so shriveled that he couldn’t find a way not to criticize the Brits on the eve of their

English: Sarah Palin at the Time 100 Gala in M...

English: Sarah Palin at the Time 100 Gala in Manhattan on May 4, 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Olympic moment? He boggles the mind.

Anyone with a degree from Harvard and the know-how to put together a business like Bain Capital cannot be stupid. But they can lack emotional intelligence, be unable to connect with people not in their socioeconomic class, and not give a jot for how the ‘little people’ are doing. And that is Mr. Romney in a nutshell.

I fail to see how Republicans can feel heartened by Mitt’s performance. Charles Krauthammer, Fox News’s heaviest intellectual hitter, could only say,  “It’s unbelievable, it’s beyond human understanding, it’s incomprehensible. I’m out of adjectives.” And this tour de force was in a country that’s our friend. What will happen in Israel? or Poland?

Just between you and me, I can only feel gleeful. Every mistake, faux pas, or stupid, vacuous statement (a lá Sarah Palin) that is makes is music to my ears. Because it’s clear he is simply not presidential!

Mitt Romney in 2007 in Washington, DC at the V...

Mitt Romney in 2007 in Washington, DC at the Values Voters conference (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And I have to hope that independents, along with a healthy portion of Republicans, can see that, too.

The maddening part of this experience is how cheated Americans are when candidates are poor. We expect people who want to be president are tactful, briefed, and articulate. Romney is none of these. His statements are full of gobbledegook, and his positions change faster than the wind. The only thing he has going for him is his looks, which are presidential but not enough to lead the nation.

As the GOP encouraged Tea Party candidates to run for office and be elected, diminishing American government incredibly, so their months-long primary battle, with a line-up that looked more like a comedy audition, let the people down. None of the candidates running for president would be viable, but still the GOP supported them. It’s like the Republicans want the country to fail.

As for me, I just hope the Mittster keeps failing. I trust him to comply.

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The Devil is the Catholic Church

His Emptiness, Pope Benedict XVI, has named a new archbishop for San Francisco, Oakland Bishop Salvatore Cordileone. What makes this an unerringly unfit appointment is Cordileone’s militant homophobia. He was instrumental in orchestrating the Catholic Church’s opposition to gay marriage in California, and he is also one of only 18 prelates who have signed something called the Manhattan Declaration, a pledge to protect “the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty,” even if doing so means violating the law.

English: Pope Benedict XVI during general audition

English: Pope Benedict XVI during general audition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So what has Benedict done? Installed one of the most prominent anti-gay Catholic officials in the United States in one of the gayest cities in the 50 states. If that isn’t a slap in the fact to gays and lesbians, then it is one of the most ignorant actions a pope has taken in some time. It is clear the Church intends to continue to make life more difficult–if it can, and that’s questionable–for gays who still believe in the pablum the Church calls its magisterium, its teaching authority.

The Church hierarchy has, for centuries, declaimed same sex attraction as a sin. That is true even though homosexuality was rampant in the religious orders of both genders. They still cling to the damnable lie that gay sex is wrong. But they have let go of the other sins in the Old Testament, like killing witches (“A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.” Leviticus 20:27) or trimming your beard (“Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.” Leviticus 19:27).

The Catholic Church pursues this issue even though nothing in the New Testament indicates that Jesus had anything to say against gay men and women. That might be because the whole concept of sexuality was different in those times. The term ‘homosexuality’ was not even coined until the late 19th century. And still they persist.

While the Church avers that homosexual acts are the devil’s work, the truth is just the opposite. It is the Church that is the devil, pursuing what may be its final quarry because they have lost so much ground on the tenets of their faith. Very few Catholics in the US pay attention to the Church’s pronouncements. And why should they? The rantings of the old men in the Curia and an octogenarian pope who have never had sex (at least, that’s what they tell us!) have no relevance to the rest of us.

If you think about the issue of religion long and hard, and especially about Christianity, you will reach the point where you stop believing in god. And if there is no god, then all of the other crap churches, mosques, and synagogues have been broadcasting means absolutely nothing. The Catholic Church is now one of the enemies of progress, but unlike in the Middle Ages, when it had real power, it is a shadow of its former self. Benedict himself has proposed a smaller church with more hardcore believers, and the smaller the better.

For my brothers and sisters who still cling to the fantasy that is religion and are willing to suffer abuse and discrimination in this life in the hope of having an eternity of joy in heaven, I have two words for you: Stop It! It is bunk!

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On Cults-Part I: Mormonism

A 1893 engraving by Edward Stevenson of the An...

A 1893 engraving by Edward Stevenson of the Angel Moroni delivering the Golden Plates to Joseph Smith in 1827. From Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Stevenson, 1893), 21. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lately I’ve had occasion to consider the concept of cults more carefully after listening to a fascinating podcast from Reasonable Doubts (see http://www.doubtreligion.blogspot.com/2009/07/episode-48-cults.html) on that topic regarding Scientology and Mormonism. Wikipedia defines a cult as:

 a new religious movement or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre.[1] The word originally denoted a system of ritual practices.

Under that definition Scientology and Mormonism would definitely be called cults.

Mormonism began in the mind of Joseph Smith when, in 1820, he was trying to decide which religious sect to join when he received a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ. Wikipedia then states:

Sometimes called the “First Vision”, Smith’s vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ as two separate beings was reportedly the basis for the difference in doctrine between Mormonism’s view of the nature of God and that of orthodox Christianity. Smith’s 1838 written account of this vision is considered by some Mormon denominations to be scripture and is contained in a book called “The Pearl of Great Price.” Smith further claimed that in answer to his prayer: “I was answered [by Jesus] that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”[6] By 1830, Smith reported that he had been instructed that God would use him to re-establish the true Christian church and that the Book of Mormon would be the means of establishing correct doctrine for the restored church.

An angel named Moroni allegedly appeared to Smith a number of times, promising to reveal to him later on in time that Book of Mormon. Eventually, we are supposed to believe that Moroni finally came through on his promise and showed Smith where to dig. The results? A number of gold plates on which were inscribed the holy Mormon text! Smith set himself to translating these plates (with the help of a magic dictionary supplied by Moroni). He used his neighbor as the scrivener, hanging a blanket across the room and sitting behind it, calling out the translation. No one–repeat, no one–ever saw those

English: Joseph Smith translating the Book of ...

English: Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

plates. But this religion was build upon their existence.

So if I’ve got this straight, an angel appeared to Smith but to no other, and he told Smith where to find these gold plates that were seen by no one else, and the angel gave him a dictionary to do the translation, but no one saw that, either. And, presto! A new religion is born.

I must say I see little difference between that beginning and the three well-established monotheistic boondoggles. So in the historical first, we’re to believe that God strolled in the garden with our ur-parents and everything was copacetic until that wicked Eve believed what the serpent told her (!) and went and ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Then they got kicked out and she was punished by the pain of childbirth, not to mention the loss of Eden. The historical second faith begins with a virgin birth (!) in a barn. (Does anyone believe that any more?) and triumphs in a conquest of death, at least for the central character, who has morphed into God for some versions of the faith and a separate entity for others. Then, in the third historical belief, an illiterate shepherd who meditated in the mountains has a revelation from the Deity when he’s 40. For 3 years this continues, and the shepherd memorizes everything he is told and shares with his followers.

So, like I said, it’s hard to point the finger at Mormonism as a silly little cult when the big guys have been dealing in lies, fictions, and mumbo jumbo for far longer. But they’ve grown up and taken on the mantle of established religions, while Mormonism is only an infant comparatively. That means that Mormonism has to be labelled a cult because its beliefs and practices are, indeed, abnormal or bizarre.

I mean, their insistence on wearing special white underwear might almost be considered cute, but the prohibition against coffee, tea, or caffeinated beverages makes you wonder. And their cosmology, which holds that, if you are ‘sealed in the temple’ on your wedding (meaning you are married for eternity), then when you die you will be given your own planet in the universe to populate. Oh yes, you get to keep your wife but more women are to be supplied, too. (Can’t wear her out, you know.)

That latter belief kind of goes along with the earlier Mormon practice of plural marriage–one hubby and many (often under-aged, but who’s counting–) wives. And we haven’t even chatted about their penchant to baptize as many of the dead as possible, including victims of the Holocaust! I might give them a pass on this because the unintended consequence is to provide genealogical data that we would never have had.

I ask you. Is there any question this is not a cult?

Photograph of the Sacred Grove, where Joseph S...

Photograph of the Sacred Grove, where Joseph Smith, Jr. had his first vision in 1820 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Banish Them to the Wilderness!

If anyone has not yet caught on to what the Republican right is up to, it is time to open your eyes wide and take your hands away from your ears. They are working tirelessly to buy this election, seeking to put a man with no seeming convictions into the Oval Office, leading what, for the time being, is the most powerful nation in the world.

Oval Office, desk 1

Oval Office, desk 1 (Photo credit: Truthout.org)

They are not interested in the welfare of the middle class or the poor. They are obsessed with making sure the wealthy are more comfortable and protected.

It is impossible not to see they are attempting to develop an oligarchy.

Oligarchy (from Greek ὀλιγαρχία (oligarkhía); from ὀλίγος (olígos), meaning “a few”, and ἄρχω (archo), meaning “to rule or to command”)[1][2][3] is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people could be distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, education, corporate, or military control. Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who pass their influence from one generation to the next. –Wikipedia

English: Sheldon and Miriam Adelson recieve Wo...

English: Sheldon and Miriam Adelson recieve Woodrow Wilson Awards Español: Sheldon and Miriam Adelson reciben Woodrow Wilson Awards (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And they are doing this in plain sight. When a billionaire like Sheldon Adelson, CEO of the Las Vegas Sands corporation, can keep dropping $10M at a time into super pacs whose sole goal is political  (to make sure Obama has only one term), the situation has moved from dire to outrageous. Adelson, along with his wife Miriam, are super Israel supporters, to the point that they deny Palestinians are entitled to be treated as a people. This is one of the men trying to buy the election.

The Koch brothers are trying to do the same thing. David and Charles Koch control Koch Industries, the second largest privately controlled company in the United States. They are incredibly wealthy, yet want more.

What, do you think, are Sheldon, David, and Charles looking for? My bet is an astounding reduction in business regulations, a sweet tax structure that let’s them get even more rich than they are, and control of the presidency. No one–no one–gives millions and millions of dollars to a presidential campaign without expecting something in return. They want access to the Oval Office. I am sure Sheldon wants to manipulate Mitt Romney [I don’t have time in this post to talk about what a straw man this guy is.] into being even more of a defender of Israel. (I’ll leave to another post just how absurd the basis for the Jewish state is.) And David and Charles want even less interference from the US government as they go on their merry way expanding their oil business.

That’s why it’s time for the Republican party and conservatism to be banished to the wilderness again! It happened after the Watergate scandal in the 1970s. It should be happening again, now. The GOP has passed the tipping point, demonstrating time and again it is not concerned with the middle class or the poor. (See my post “Mitch McConnell Boxed In.”) Jobs should be the goal of our legislators, yet we see Republicans in the House pushing endless legislation on abortion (31 bills in the last 2 years.) And no bill on jobs. Won’t even consider the president’s jobs bill.

They must be defeated, so soundly that they slink away in fear. Listen to their talk. Everything they accuse Obama of, they are doing.

This government should not be run by the Adelsons of this world and the Koch brothers. That is not what America is, or what it should be.

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Kinde, Küche und Kirche, Teil Zwei

In the late 1890s, a travel writer by the name of Marie Remick, in a book called A Woman’s Travel-Notes on England, made the following observation:

After Germany, where women apparently take no interest in public affairs, and seem to obey to the letter the young emperor’s injunction “Let women devote themselves to the three K’s, — die Küche, die Kirche, die Kinder“(kitchen, church, and children), the active interest and influence of English women on all great questions were refreshing.

Liberal writers used the triple K phrase numerous times throughout the 1890s and it became fairly well-known in the English-speaking world. The Nazis never used the term officially, but by deed they demonstrated that it still held sway in the Reich. For example:

Adolf Hitler in Yugoslavia.

Adolf Hitler in Yugoslavia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Hitler came to power in 1933, he introduced a Law for the Encouragement of Marriage, which entitled newly married couples to a loan of 1000 marks (around 9 months’ average wages at that time). On their first child, they could keep 250 marks. On their second, they could keep another 250. They reclaimed all of the loan by their fourth child. –Wikipedia

The phrase is reminiscent of the American concept that women should be kept ‘barefoot and pregnant’, and suggests that the speaker/writer believes women should be minimalized into birthing machines.

Republican Party (United States)

Republican Party (United States) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The German phrase indicates a woman’s place is with children, the church, and the kitchen, and nothing more. Clearly, a woman is not expected to have a career and a life of her own, and if she did work she should not expect to make as much as a man for the same labor. (Republicans do not support the Lily Ledbetter Act, giving women equal pay for equal work.) Is that not the same philosophy that drives the Republican right to pass 31 bills restricting or outlawing abortion but not one bill on job creation to date? The conservatives seem obsessed with controlling women’s bodies, passing laws requiring women to have transvaginal probes inserted in their bodies so that they may confront the fetus they plan to abort face to face, as it were. (Virginia) And are they not possessed by the fear that their Christian churches might be damaged by some federal law? (They don’t care a fig about synagogues and mosques, because they have convinced themselves that Christianity is the only correct religion.) And what argument do they make against same-sex marriage? That gay people can’t have children. So they are fixated on children, too. (They’re really off on this argument, given how far science has come.)

Of course, they are frightened. Their way of life is changing, the nation is moving from white domination to a mixed bag, and they fear that. So they want to keep those white Christian children coming. And they seem to want the mom to stay home, out of the workforce, and take care of the kids. How different is that from Kinder, Küche, und Kirche?

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Loving Pets

English: It took this photo personally with a ...

English: It took this photo personally with a permission required. Waived now to Commons, free use to public no copyrights apply (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This weekend we purchased a fairly big (55″) 3D HD TV and a 3D BlueRay DVD player. This is a big thing for me, because I’m old enough to remember my parents’ first tv, a 10″ screen in a large wood console full of tubes that glowed and could be replaced by going to the hardware store! Our new television came with 12 pairs of passive 3D glasses (sans batteries) which are light, comfortable and really work. (By now I bet you’re wondering what this all has to do with the title of this post. Hang on!)

So last night we christened it by running the movie How to Train Your Dragon. The 3D worked beautifully, and if you have a 3D tv you should get a copy of this movie because it is a sweet, ultimately satisfying cinematic experience. When I finished viewing it, I wondered to myself, “Why does that movie touch me so?”

How to Train Your Dragon (film)

How to Train Your Dragon (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Based on one of a series of books by Cressida Cowell set in a fictional Viking world, the film  explores the relationship between a young Viking geek named Hiccup and the black Night Fury dragon he names Toothless. Hiccup uses a catapult to shoot a net of ropes into the night sky and brings Toothless crashing to the earth, breaking off one of his tail fins and making it impossible for him to fly away to safety.

Much of the poignant part of the cartoon deals with Hiccup’s attempts to befriend Toothless. He brings the dragon fish, which Toothless promptly swallows and brings up half the carcass to share with Hiccup. And then there is a moving moment when Hiccup stands next to Toothless, with his hand outstretched and his eyes averted, hoping to touch the dragon. A pause, and then Toothless moves his head into Hiccup’s hand. Contact!

Anyone who has ever had an animal would recognize that the first moment of voluntary contact is like a drug. And each time thereafter, when a beloved cat reaches out a paw to get your attention, or your faithful dog rests with her head on your feet, you get that same sensation. That connection between species, that feeling of love from one animal to another, is almost impossible to express in words. And that is whey I think this movie works so well. It shows you that connecting taking place, and you feel it deep in your heart.

Even now, as I try to type this post, one of my cats named Callie has crawled into my lap and is laying there purring. And I won’t disturb her, even though it would make typing infinitely easier. Because I really appreciate her desire to be next to me. Now that is love with capital letters!

(It could also be Toothless’s resemblance to my youngest cat, Boo!)

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On Being Wrong

Cover of "Being Wrong: Adventures in the ...

Cover via Amazon

I am currently reading a wonderful book by Kathryn Schulz called Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. Humans are not comfortable with making mistakes. But we do, and we do it pretty consistently. I have to assume, though, that some of you might have run into insufferable bosses or colleagues who insist that they rarely, if ever, err In fact, you might even find one in your family, perhaps Grandpa Hamid or Aunt Lucy, who never ever make mistakes. The skill they all have in common is the ability to blame an underling or other family member for their faults.

Schulz writes that;

A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about basically everything: about our political and intellectual convictions, our religious and moral beliefs, our assessment of other people, our memories, our grasp of facts. As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient.

You know, the only creatures I’ve ever found with omniscience were gods! My, my, aren’t we all pleased with ourselves.

Of course, with ordinary mortals one can just ignore them or, in extremes, tell them off. But then there is the politician, the bloviating, slobbering, pompous, condescending paradigm of this hubris just described.

Most of us, according to Schulz, believe that falling into error is “dangerous, humiliating, distasteful, and, un-fun in the extreme.” She refers to this belief as the pessimistic model of wrongdoing. Schulz explains:

[o]ur mistakes really can be irritating or humiliating or harmful, to ourselves as well as to others. To dismiss that fact would be disingenuous, but as an overall outlook on wrongness, the pessimistic one is radically incomplete. To begin with, it obscures the fact that whatever damage can arise from erring pales in comparison to the damage that arises from our fear, dislike, and denial of erring. This fear acts as a kind of omnipurpose coagulant, hardening heart and mind, chilling our relationships with other people, and cooling our curiosity about the world.

Is this not the ultimate truism about the political class? Are they not petrified of making any error, lest the electorate throw them out of the comfortable homes they have found in government? And is this not true in every land on the face of the planet?

I can only speak for my own country, but the denial of committing error is running rampant in my government, and I must be honest and say the Republicans/Conservatives are the biggest offenders. Take, for example, climate change. Business has denied the existence of climate change for a number of reasons, but one big one is that it is afraid of the regulations that would burden them should climate change be true. Over the years, more and more scientists have reviewed the evidence and undertaken new studies and, unfortunately, climate change is a reality. The long-term droughts, violent storms, huge flooding, and monster hurricanes are telling us that something is wrong. And still Republicans deny it is happening.

I saw Bill Maher‘s panel discussion on cable tv the other day. Some Republican Luddite was arguing that these climate catastrophes were nothing more than the regular cycle of events, like the hurricanes he remembered from his childhood. Luckily, there was another panel member, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, science

Dr. at the November 29, 2005 meeting of the NA...

Dr.Neil DeGrasse Tyson at the November 29, 2005 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council, in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

communicator, and director of the prestigious Hayden Planetarium in New York City. Of course he was asked for his views. His  first comment was on what scientists expect from laymen who are told some  information they don’t like to hear. First, he said, they deny it. Second, they say it conflicts with the Bible (or Torah or Quran). Third, they say they knew it all along. But when asked for evidence, he pointed to nature itself. Plants and animals are moving northward, because it is becoming warm enough for them to survive there. They know what global warming is and they’re feeling it.

But the Republican party cannot bring itself to say it was wrong, and so we continue to have battles about environmental regulations that shouldn’t be. Because they would find it humiliating to say that they missed the boat. I don’t think they will acknowledge their effort until that boat is foundering. And we’ll all lose.

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