The Return of Redlining

I found this article in today's Washington Post. It opens with this:

"Ours is by no means a tradition limited to respect for the bonds uniting the members of the nuclear family. The tradition of uncles, aunts, cousins, and especially grandparents sharing a household along with parents and children has roots equally venerable and equally deserving of constitutional recognition. Over the years millions of our citizens have grown up in just such an environment, and most, surely, have profited from it. "

-- Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., Moore v. City of East Cleveland, Ohio (1977)

WRITING FOR the Supreme Court, Justice Powell sensibly struck down a singularly ludicrous municipal attempt to define family living arrangements so strictly that it would criminalize a grandmother's choice to live with her grandson. Now comes the city of Manassas with an equally outrageous zoning ordinance. Under the guise of upholding standards in its pristine neighborhoods, it would outlaw households consisting of a family's cousins, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews. Quite aside from the law's probable unconstitutionality, it is patently bigoted.

It seems that Manassas's neighborhoods, until now valiantly attempting to present themselves as the shining vestiges of the antebellum South, have been attracting an increasing number of residents of Hispanic descent. The Republican Mayor, Douglas S. Waldron and a city council similarly controlled by the GOP, decided the best way to combat this "problem" was to address the living arrangements of many of these new immigrants to Manassas.

Many of the newer residents of Manassas lived in households that included extended family. This time honored method of stretching and saving money was made a crime by redefining the term 'cohabital family' in certain zoning laws. Again, from the Washington Post,

In an act of Big Brotherish government intrusion, they changed a zoning law to redefine family units suitable for cohabitation -- and to exclude uncles, aunts and others they deem as undesirables. To enforce their decree, Manassas authorities are sending inspectors into selected city households to interrogate hard-working people about the numbers and relationships of the inhabitants.

The most devious part of the new law is that the inspectors respond only to complaints. How many white people are going to get complaints filed against them? Exactly. The powers that be in Manassas don't even make an attempt to hide this. The city's Chief Building Official, Brian Smith, said that the purpose of the new legislation is "to make sure these peripheral people start to be winnowed out."

Peripheral people? This is America, we like to consider ourselves the land of equality. If nothing else, we should remember that our founders were "peripheral" bumpkins, farming lands thousands of miles from London. Our wars have been fought by people who immigrated to the United State. Our infastructure was built by immigrants to support industry manned by immigrants and our people are fed food farmed by immigrants. Peripheral people are the basis of our country!

On top of all this, the new ordinance is not a response to increased crime, rowdiness, litter, or noise. In fact, my landlord would probably be in violation of this law for renting his basement to me and my fiance. One of the households that was visited by inspectors was that of a Hispanic family who had a cousin living with them. Another was a five bedroom house with 8 people living there.

This is hardly overcrowding. This is old fashioned racism.

At its base, Conservatism is about reactionary resistance to the things that make this country great; immigration, diversity, increasing freedom and the concept that the rights of the individual transcend the predisposition of the group.

12.31.2005 Found this quote from the dispicable Roy Moore on another blog. Sorry, no link.

Roy Moore is being interviewed by Ali Velshi on CNN. They're talking about Moore's support for the push to require American drivers to understand English.

Moore leads with, "...If we have to start, uh, taking languages um as they come, then we'll never get all the languages anyway. Why-- What's to say we stop at 13; why not 53? It just doesn't make sense. English should be required, uh, to understand our driver's license and our road signs.

[Velshi starts to ask a question and they talk over each other for a second]

Are we going to start giving road signs in Hispanic, in ,uh, Greece, in whatever language--"

UPDATE: 1.5.2006

The Washington Post reports that the law has been suspended in the face of ACLU and grassroots pressure.



December 27's Washington Post had this op-ed piece about how the No Child Left Behind legislation championed by C+ student George W. Bush has had a big impact on the education of the other student that ends up left behind. Or at least left waiting for everyone else to catch up. The gifted student.

I was identified as a gifted student in elementary school and went through the 'gifted' track (as much as it existed) all through school. Elementary school was fine. I had good teachers who could make things interesting for students at any level. I never really studied. Well, I studied for my spelling tests. I hated spelling. I still do. I still spell check every one of these posts before posting it. Invariably, I've misspelled at least five to ten words in each one.

Middle School was worse. Most of my classes were grouped by ability, so I stayed engaged even if I still didn't do the homework. The ones that weren't were terrible. I'd just sit there, waiting. My notebooks were full of doodles and sketches, never notes. I never took notes. I still don't.

High school was finally challenging. AP and honors courses were wonderful. I figured college would be better, but I found that the discussion in my gen-ed classes was no better (and sometimes worse) than the discussion in my High School AP classes. My major, however, was great.

Enough about me.

The point here is that there is a strong anti-intellectual streak in today's Republican 'base' voter. They decry liberals as 'elites' based on a what they see in Harvard and Southern Cal. They think they know more about science than scientists who have spent 10 years getting an education, then 20 to 30 more years doing research in their field. They see no benefit in art. They're proud to be 'good ol' boys.'

It's so bad that even the consistently conservative editors at the Wall Street Journal have noticed. And they're not too happy about it. In this article, Jeffrey Hart has left these choice quotes for me to cherry pick:

"The most recent change occurred in 1964, when its center of gravity shifted to the South and the Sunbelt, now the solid base of "Republicanism." The consequences of that profound shift are evident, especially with respect to prudence, education, intellect and high culture."

"The Conservative Mind is a work in progress. Its deviations and lunges to ideology and utopianism have been self-corrected by prudence, reserved judgment as an operative principle, a healthy practical skepticism and the requirement of historical knowledge as a guide to prudent policy. Without a deep knowledge of history, policy analysis is feckless."

"It is not enough for conservatives to repeat formulae or party-line positions. The mind must possess the process that leads to conservative decisions. As a guide, the books, and the results of experience, may be the more difficult way--much more difficult in a given moment than pre-cooked dogma, which is always irresistible to the uneducated. Learning guards against having to reinvent the wheel in political theory from one generation to the next."

Not a ringing endorsement of a liberal world view, but a stinging observations about how intellectually lazy the 'base' of the right has become none the less.

The leaders on the right, of course, know their base and feed them the 'red meat' issues in rationed amounts to keep the base voting for them. The problem is that like any other group working (voting) for a much smaller group that grabs bigger rewards, the Republican 'base' demands every increasing appeasement to keep them happy.

The corporate princes who actually run the GOP actually like science, education, world renowned universities, genetic engineering, and all the advancements that go along with them. They're money makers. Unless educated people are making advances (read 'new products/services') the money dries up. Example: The GOP base hates evolution. The idea that they are descended from monkeys is abhorrent to them. (Plus it disagrees with an allegory they mistook for literal truth.) The elite in the conservative movement, however, don't really want evolution removed from science classrooms. All modern biology including $35.9 BILLION dollar per year pharmacology is based evolution. Yeah, their base wants that removed from our education system.

The same rule applies to the increasing theocratic nature of the Republican Party. The more Jerry Falwell becomes a leader of the 'right' the more our corpratists get worried. Think about the nations in the world under theocracies. How many have robust economies? Exactly.

This diary has rambled a bit but I'll get to the point. The conservative movement is increasingly beholden to a 'base' that doesn't know much about the world. This, by itself, isn't bad. The problem is that the same base doesn't want to know. For them it's a badge of honor not to know. "REAL AMERICANS are plain folk that don't worry about that kinda stuff." The 'base' doesn't even like people who do know. "They're elitists. They think they're so smart, telling us what to do." This rising anti-intellectualism is very dangerous, especially as we enter the 'knowledge based economy' of the 21st century.


And it begins...

With 2006 right around the corner, it feels like we're waiting for the starting gun.

In the next few weeks, the confirmation hearings for Judge Alito are going to begin. We can expect to have the abortion debate fought in the press again, this time with real implications. Now that we know that George W. Bush not only ordered the NSA to watch Americans without warrants, (and admitted to it on national TV!) we can expect questions about privacy and civil liberties. Alito's service to Saint Ronnie in the 80s will come to light, which he will explain away as 'services for a client' that have no bearing on his personal views. This is, of course, bullshit. You don't apply to work for Ronald Reagan if you don't agree with him on most things.

The Patriot Act will be up for consideration again in a little less than a month. We can expect doom and destruction to be forecasted by right-wing pundits, assuming they don't just go straight to accusations of anti-Americanism. The irony, of course, is that America was founded to establish a nation free of most of the things in the Patriot Act. (Well, if they had the internet in 1776, King George would have watched which websites Jefferson surfed let alone listening in on Ethan Allen's cell phone calls.)

And of course, 2006 sees the reelection campaigns of every member of the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate. Will growing unease with the ruling oligarchy bring about a Democratic House or Senate? I'm not getting my hopes up. If it does, however, things would move in a hurry. Can you imagine the exploding heads at the White House if there wasn't a rubber stamp legislature? Impeachment is the buzzword if the 2006 elections go well for Democrats. The rub is that impeachment would require a majority in both houses and perfect unity, even from the likes of Joe Lieberman, who has done everything but ask for a job in the Bush Administration. I don't think that, based on the evidence we've seen come to light so far, there will be an impeachment (though based on that evidence, there certainly SHOULD be.) Bush's admission that he broke the law on surveillance without warrants is proof he broke the law. It'll take something a lot more startling to get enough bipartisan support to impeach.

Actually, 2006 should see some action on that front as well. 2005 saw the Senate declare its independence from the tyranny of the current King George. I'm sure that next year won't be any easier for the President. Unless he picks up seats. That, however, is unlikely unless Diebold gets involved...

Iraq would be an exciting spectacle in emerging nations and revolutionary upheaval if it weren't for the fact that thousands will die, American and Iraqi. Prediction: Independent Kurdistan creates chaos in the region. Sunnis and Shiites won't exactly be getting along either, with Iran stepping in (openly or furtively) to assist their Shia brothers. The problem is that all three groups see advantages in fracture and loss of power/identity in unity. The more we turn over power to the Iraqi military, the less control we have in preventing the Iraqi army from breaking ranks and reforming (with good U.S. training) into ethno-religious militias. "Iraqification" isn't a solution. It's the problem.

And finally, we should see the end of the Plame-gate affair. (Maybe we'll finally know what happened with that Jeff Gannon fellow too.) My guess is that Rove is indicted. In the end, it won't change anything though. He'll be as effective an advisor over the phone as he is in the White House. And it's not like the guy's going to starve without his government pay check. The people who already don't trust Bush (65% of Americans) will continue to not trust him. The people who do trust Bush (35% of Americans) will continue to drink the koolaid.

By the time 2007 rolls around, I imagine we'll start to see a shift back to the left. The far-right has pushed too far too fast. The failure of 'intelligent design' in Dover, PA both in the courts and with voters is a harbinger for the Right. I won't speculate on the amount of the shift. It could be just an increasingly assertive legislature. It could be impeachment. My guess is somewhere in between.


Proud to be Pennsylvanian

or Smack Down in Dover

Well, the federal judge appointed by George W. Bush handed down his ruling on the Dover School Board evolution / intelligent design case today. I will now quote from his ruling.

"After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes opposition, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are:(1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and (3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community."

Of course 'Activist Judge' and 'Anti-Christian bias' and 'scientists want us to eat baby jesus' ranting will now begin in the right wing noise machine. Idiots will begin to parrot Rush Limbaugh in poorly written letters to the editor. Logical fallacies will be fruitful and multiply (the Christianists won't let them use condoms) and the Right's favorite person, Straw-Man, will be brought out again. Poor guy doesn't get the holidays (yeah, that's right, the HOLIDAYS) off. Anyway, it's good to know that some shred of reason still survives.


Under Penalty of Death

I came in to work today thinking about how I would write this post. Watching too much Law & Order with my fiance got me thinking about the death penalty and I realized I didn't have a solid position on the subject.

First reaction is revultion. I don't really like the idea of state sponsored killings. On top of that, the inequity with which the death penalty is applied brings me to the conclusion that there should be a moratorium on the death penalty.

That, of course, is the easy way out. I've come to a logical, moral, and defensible position without really making an evaluation on the absolutes of the issue. I'm uncomfortable with current state of the death penalty. Does that mean that in some other iteration, I'd be willing to accept it?

We've established that the poor, minorities, mentally disadvantaged and other societal 'outsiders' are disproportionately represented when it comes to prisoners on death row. What if there were a way to have the death penalty applied fairly?

First, I think that the idea of the death penalty as a deterrent has been sufficiently disproved. I will not argue that having the death penalty on the books discourages crime. That said, it's a useful tool for prosecutors. "Well take the death penalty off the table if you..." is an effective way to get confessions, information, whatever. Of course it's only useful if there's the real possibility that the person in question will be executed. This at least shows that capital punishment is effective in securing convictions, if not preventing crime.

Next, the question of application must be addressed. All murderers are eligible? Just multiple murderers? Rapists? Repeat Rapists? How do you determine which crimes deserve to be ones punishable by death? I think that just saying "you took a life, you lose your own" is a bad framework to set up. Does a drunk driver have the same culpability as someone who waits for a victim in hopes of killing them and taking their wallet? That said, does the person who kills his wife and her lover (a la Shawshank Redemption) in a fit of rage have the same culpability as the person who kills for the thrill? The serial killer who kills repeatedly? As a concrete example, the DC Sniper who killed for sport/shock? And this ignores the tricky issue of rape, especially for repeat offenders.

The greatest problem I have with capital punishment, however, is the shocking finality. As humans, can we ever be so sure of the guilt of any offender to deny him or her any recourse?

I don't have a resolution for this entry. I'm very conflicted. There are terrible crimes that deserve capital punishment. That said, I don't know that I'm comfortable allowing any humans, no matter how 'good' the system, to apply a punishment that is completely final, with no recourse. I don't know that it's good that a person, possibly innocent, is executed in my name.


The Greatest Nation in the History

I was listening to NPR on the way to work today. I was listening to a story about a researcher in South Korea named Hwang Woo-Suk whose groundbreaking research accused of being fraudulent. This is not the point of my story. The point is that the people of South Korea are shocked. Businesses closed to listen to the researcher's press conference. A few weeks earlier, there had been some controversy about the source of the (human) eggs used for the research. In response, hundreds of South Korean women donated eggs to keep his research going. The correspondent said something along the lines of "It's hard to describe his status here in South Korea. He's like a science rock star."

I was thinking about how America has no 'rock star scientists.' Ask the average American to name one researcher doing important work today, and they'd give you a blank stare. I'd give you a blank stare and I'm a reasonably well informed person who's interested in science. I don't know exactly what that means for America. I'm reasonably sure it isn't good. Even this, though, isn't the point of this diary.

Last night Bill Maher was the guest on Larry King Live. (In general, I don't like Larry King. His 'news' tends to be sensational, driven by how much emotional response he can get out of an audience, and his subject is too often mothers of children who suffered some tragedy that is infinitely unlikely to happen to anybody else.) I do like Bill Maher. I don't get HBO, so I don't get to see his show anymore, but I wish I did. Always witty, well-informed and willing to call a spade a spade. Anyway, Bill Maher put into words something I've left unexpressed for a while.

People who think that America is "the Greatest Nation in the World" are idiots.

This not to say that I'm planning on moving. I like America. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. (Spend a year? Yes. The rest of my life? No.) America is the greatest for me.

It's like saying "my mother is the greatest mother in the world." You're really only saying that because you don't really have the same relationship with any other mother in the world. It's the same with the morons claiming America's superiority in all things. They've never investigated Denmark's health system. Or England's land use councils. Or Italy's artistic heritage, or any other aspect of any other country. Hell, I bet a significant portion of the people claiming that "America's Number One!" haven't even visited another country, much less spent enough time in one to be anything other than a tourist.

Back to the mother illustration. I love my mother. I wouldn't trade my mother for any other mother in all the world. Period. That doesn't mean I think that my mother is perfect. She's human. She makes mistakes. Other people can criticize my mother for any number of things. She drives too fast. She makes her Mac & Cheese too runny. Whatever. I'll defend her when I think she's in the right. When she's not, I'm ready to admit that. (Yes, officer, she was speeding.) Now go through and substitute "country" for "mother."

People who think America is the best country in the world don't see things that way. Their mothers are perfect. You've met these people. They say things like "that's not the way I was taught to do it" or "No, lasagna is supposed to have ricotta and cottage cheese otherwise it's wrong." Or at least things to those affect.

These 'America above all others' people (let's call them Conservatives) won't accept criticism of their country without becoming angry, indignant, or combative. These people have the same relationship to their country that a 4 year old has to his or her mother. She's perfect. In every way. And anybody who says otherwise is attacking her and must be punished. This unquestioned support is compared to everybody else, who has a relationship with their country like an adult has with his or her mother, one where the mother is loved and respected but not necessarily unquestioned or thought to be without fault.

I wish that all the people who accuse others of being 'unpatriotic' when they have the audacity to say "That country over there handles this certain issue better than we do" would grow up. Seriously. Do they really think that unquestioned loyalty is the only proper way to be a citizen? My guess is only when the Republicans are in charge...

Teddy Roosevelt said, "Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official."

America would be a better place if we all stopped thinking we were God's gift to the world. (The alarming thing is that a lot of people believe we are literally God's gift to the world.) The problem is that not enough people get out of the US. Every student should be required to spend a semester in another country. Preferably not an English speaking one.


Words Positively Fail Me.

I had meant to leave religion alone for a while. I don't want this blog to become too focused on any one subject. Read an article in the (online) Witchita Eagle today though that I can't let go past. I will reproduce it here in its entirety only because it will eventually disappear from the Eagle's site (I'm not making any money from this site, hopefully they won't sue me.)

Professor Beaten; Attackers Cite KU Creationism Class

Associated Press

LAWRENCE - A professor whose planned course on creationism and intelligent design was canceled after he sent e-mails deriding Christian conservatives was hospitalized Monday after what appeared to be a roadside beating.

University of Kansas religious studies professor Paul Mirecki said that the two men who beat him made references to the class that was to be offered for the first time this spring.

Originally called "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies," the course was canceled last week at Mirecki's request.

The class was added after the Kansas State Board of Education decided to include more criticism of evolution in science standards for elementary and secondary students.

"I didn't know them," Mirecki said of his assailants, "but I'm sure they knew me."

One recent e-mail from Mirecki to members of a student organization referred to religious conservatives as "fundies," and said a course describing intelligent design as mythology would be a "nice slap in their big fat face." Mirecki has apologized for those comments.

Lt. Kari Wempe, a spokeswoman for the Douglas County Sheriff's Department, said a deputy was dispatched to Lawrence Memorial Hospital after receiving a call around 7 a.m. regarding a battery.

She said Mirecki reported he was attacked around 6:40 a.m. in rural Douglas County south of Lawrence. Mirecki told the Lawrence Journal-World that he was driving to breakfast when he noticed the men tailgating him in a pickup truck.

"I just pulled over hoping they would pass, and then they pulled up real close behind," he said. "They got out, and I made the mistake of getting out."

He said the men beat him on the head, shoulders and back with their fists, and possibly a metal object.

Wempe said Mirecki drove himself to the hospital after the attack.

Mirecki told the student newspaper, the University Daily Kansan, that he spent between three and four hours at the hospital. He said his injuries included a broken tooth.

"I'm mostly shaken up, and I got some bruises and sore spots," he told the Lawrence Journal-World.

Wempe said Mirecki described the suspects as two white men between 30 and 40 years of age. One of the men was described as wearing a red, visorlike ball cap and wool gloves. Mirecki said the men left in a large pickup.

Wempe said the department would investigate "every aspect," but couldn't discuss specifics.

Andrew Stangl, president of the Society for Open Minded Atheists and Agnostics at the university, described the attack as "bizarre and terrifying." He said Mirecki, who is the group's faculty adviser, was adamant that the beating was related to the recently canceled course.

"That absolutely shocked me," he said, "because people don't do that in a civilized society."

State Sen. Kay O'Connor, a Mirecki critic, said there is no excuse for someone physically assaulting the professor -- regardless of their politics.

"I have zero tolerance for thugs," she said. "There is never an excuse to behave in such a manner. This was just thugs. They used a flimsy excuse, if they had one, to behave as thugs. They can talk about the ID (intelligent design) course if they want to, but that's not an excuse."

When will the Christians in this country show as much strength and conviction as the ones working for peace in Iraq? This professor was beaten because he didn't toe the Christianist line. Christians better be careful. They're letting their more extreme elements give them a very bad name.

OK. No more religion posts for a while.


The Mall Generation

There is a great deal of debate about the name for the generation following Generation X. Generation Y is used, but has all the charm and descriptiveness of what it is, a place holder until something better comes along. As the title suggests, I propose "The Mall Generation."

First a bit of background. I don't know which generational label I fall under. Most 'authorities' have Generation X ending in 1981. It would, therefore, include me. I don't particularly feel a member of that generation. I was 9 when the eighties were over. I never owned and Atari. I am more a vanguard for Generation Y. I remember a time before the world wide web, VCRs, CDs, DVDs, cable, broadband, TiVo, and the personal computer but these things have become an integral part of my life. I bought most of them at the Mall.

As the children of the generation that abandoned the cities, we rarely heard our parents say "we're going down town to do some shopping." The suburbs left us without a 'corner market' and without street corners to hang out on. Our parents, in escaping from the dangers of the city, created a replacement for the commercial streetscape - the Mall. Our parents created them, but we lived them.

We'd go to the mall to hang out. We'd meet our friends there. We worked there. On occasion, we'd even shop there. The Mall, combined with the less glamorous but equally important 'Big Box Store' have defined our generation's architectural expectation.

Older generations 'went down town' to a department store or a selection of specialty shops for their shopping experience. The trip would involve a car, bus or train ride into an urban core. Walking would be done out doors on sidewalks. The department store itself would be from the 'general store' model, but built in walnut and marble. Men in tuxedos would play the piano in the atrium. Although large and largely separated from the community, the department store was still a part of it. Entering the department store involved walking on sidewalks with other people, taking a bus or a train or a subway. Having a bite to eat involved going down the street to a deli or restaurant.

Contrast this with The Mall. We arrive individually in our car. We park on acres of blacktop and walk to the entrance. Once inside, we enter a space that is entirely withdrawn from any community, let alone the one on whose outskirts The Mall was built. The Mall has its own food court. It has its own police force. It has its own streets - the indoor kind that aren't dangerous or full of 'unsavory' types of people. It has its own rules and laws. It has its own piped in music and public announcement system. It even has its own weather. Seventy degrees and artificially sunny everyday of the year. Victor Gruen, architect of the first shopping mall, would be proud.

We are a generation that has no concrete experiential connection with 'Main Street.' It is something we hear old people wax on about. Our attempts to recreate it, via New Urbanism or otherwise always feel a bit artificial. The Mall mentality is pervasive. We seek the familiar, with all its unused parking, to the detriment of our communities.


A disclaimer

The past two entries here could be construed as anti-religion. They're not. Or at least they're not anti-All Religion. I was raised in the Methodist Church. I have seen faith do wonders for people's lives. I have a profound respect for people who can live their lives by the ideals of any faith. I do not and will not mock, slight, or ridicule people for believing.

That said, I do not and will not accept somebody else's religion affecting the way I live my life. In many ways, religion dovetails with my own ethics and world view. For example, killing other people is bad. Stealing (and to some degree lying) also fall into that category. Others sit somewhere near the edges. Coveting your neighbor's wife is probably going to lead to problems. Adultery (being the end result of coveting your neighbor's wife) is tricky. I think it comes down to understanding. If both partners form an understanding of monogamy and one partner breaks it, the ethical problem lies in the betrayal. If a husband and wife have an understanding that they're in an open relationship, it's a different story. I digress.

Having only touched on a few of the commandments (which differ for each of the three Abrahamic religions) I've left many other Christian teachings out. Again, some work, some don't. The idea of a responsibility to help the poor and the disadvantaged is one that I think is paramount. Stoning people for being gay is one I think should be left in the past with prohibitions on cotton/poly blend socks.

The purpose of this diary was not to critique Christianity or any other religion. It was merely to state that I resent other people adjusting my life to fit with their religious beliefs. And to point out that Christians are not the persecuted population they imagine themselves to be. (Atheists are barred, by law, from holding office in a number of Southern states. That's a persecuted minority.) Basically, I'm tired of people trying to legislate morality, which, of course, is code for Christian Law.

I'm tired of seeing politicians spout Christian rhetoric to get elected. I'm tired of seeing public figures make spectacles of their religion to gain support (something that is expressly forbidden in Matthew 6) and divide people.

If God keeps hanging out with politicians, it's gonna hurt his reputation.

3 to 4 Inches

Overnight we got about 3-4 inches of snow here in the DC Metro area and I'm probably just as happy as the 8 year old that lives across the street. First, I just like snow. It's enchanting. It brightens and otherwise gray monotony that is Washington Winter. It keeps the locals off the roads and lets people who know how to drive in snow avoid the normal rush hour traffic.

It also finally feels like Christmas. It had been gray and rainy here for the last few weeks and not particularly cold. (At least until last week. Last week was cold.) Having been Pennsylvania born and bred, I'm used to doing my Christmas shopping in boots and gloves, with heavy sweaters and coats, wrapped in a scarf. It was disconcerting to be doing Christmas shopping with just a sweater. The experience just didn't have the same flavor.

Speaking of off flavors, Bill O'Reilly is an ignorant, no talent, narcissistic peacock with rancid falafel in his feathers. And now he's spouting off about Christmas.

Bill O'Reilly already had a strike against him for sharing a last name with my witch of a first grade teacher. (She gets the credit for my anti-establishment mentality, so I guess in a way I thank her.) But now he's trying to run a boycott of stores that use "Happy Holidays" in their advertising instead of "Merry Christmas."

Ignorant, bigoted, inflammatory, right-wing shill.

This "War on Christmas" rhetoric that he's spewing is wrong on so many levels. It makes me absolutely shake with anger. He's willfully disregarding the dignity of whole portions of the population. Retailers are trying to be as inclusive as possible. "Happy Holidays" allows for any number of traditions but still conveys festivity and joy. Seems like a winner to me. But O'Reilly would rather use Christmas as a crudgel to beat people who don't conform to O'Reilly's views on what an American should be.

So O'Reilly thinks Christmas is under attack by liberal secularists. Hmmm... Since O'Reilly whores himself for the rabid right-wingers, perhaps we should investigate his claims before accepting them as true. Take a trip to any mall, any Target Store. Hell, go to a grocery store and see how 'embattled' Christmas is.

Sure, the sign may say "Happy Holidays" but lets compare the number of Santas to the number of dreidels. Or perhaps the number of pine trees to the number of Mishumaa Saba and Kikombe cha Umoja. The Holly King and the Oak King don't get much shelf space either. I've only covered Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the Winter Solstice. Other Holidays that the liberal secularists are trying to use to destroy Christmas include Yalda (Iranian tradition) and Korochun (Slavic tradition). You hadn't heard of those? Strange, George Soros has been pouring gigatrillions of dollars into campaigns to have them replace Christmas.

And on top of all this, Bill O'Reilly has the gall to claim a Christian imperative to "put the Christ back in Christmas." And he does this by addressing advertising and commercialization? Pharisee. If you're going to advocate a Christmas that truly focuses on the birth of Jesus Christ, and eschew the plasticized, commercialized glut of consumerism that Christmas has become, fine. More power to you. Bill O'Reilly is claiming to be on a pious mission to combat anti-Christmas forces and has selflessly appointing himself general. As it turns out, he's only using Christmas as weapon of divisiveness and basking in the increased ratings this sort of manufactured controversy produces.

What an asshole.

UPDATE: 12.07.2005

Recent developments show that The News Corporation, the owners of O'Reilly's network, didn't get the memo. Neither did the White House.


The End of Faith

I'm currently reading (but haven't finished) The End of Faith by Sam Harris. The basic premise of the book is that institutionalized religion is no longer conducive to civilization. He makes the very reasoned argument that we are not, as a species, able to control our violent nature. This inborn need to kill those who disagree with us is exasperated by religion and, when combined with nuclear weapons, will eventually lead to the destruction of civilization, if not the species entirely.

Harris argues that codified beliefs are nearly guaranteed to incite violence. The basic premise is that if you believe, really believe, that the only way to please god is to obey the teachings a specific holy text, then you will see violent actions to suppress other beliefs and strengthen your own as not just acceptable, but holy, just, and necessary.


Let's say you believe that the only way to please god was to be a devout fan of the Florida Marlins baseball team. You must attend one game in person every year, watch all of the other games on TV, always be wearing some piece of licensed team apparel, and above all, root exclusively for the Florida Marlins. The community where you live is in Florida, so the majority of your neighbors are followers of Marlinism.

Somebody from New York moves in down the street doesn't wear a Marlins cap. They wear a Yankees cap. You distrust this person because they're unholy in the eyes of god. Your son starts to associate with the Yankee fan's son. More families from New York move into the area. They build a sports-bar with no Marlins jerseys on the walls. They don't show the Marlins game there -

(Stay with me here. Don't forget that you really believe that Marlinism is the only way to be acceptable in the eyes of god.)

- and worst of all they start attracting Floridians to their sports-bar. You are now, justifiably (in your own mind,) starting to become enraged. These Yankee people are starting to corrupt the precious youth of Marlinism. Their presence is beginning to anger god, who sends hurricanes crashing into your state as retribution for harboring fans who are wicked in his eyes. Not wanting your children to burn in the eternal fires of hell and wanting to avoid further retribution from a vengeful god, you throw stones at the windows of the Yankees sports-bar and assault people with pinstripe jerseys on the street.

Because you really believe that Marlinism is the path to god, your actions are internally consistent and justifiable. The fact that people are being beat up for supporting the wrong team does not concern you. These Yankees fans are abhorrent to god. You are serving god by punishing them. You will be rewarded for your anti-Yankee actions with better seats at the ballpark in paradise after you die. You will continue to hurl stones at windows until you die and can claim your seats right behind home plate at the ballpark in the hereafter.

Now substitute Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism (now technically known as Chinese traditional religion,) or Buddhism, for baseball teams, add nuclear weapons and shake... The results aren't pretty.

Harris, of course, uses the events of September 11th and the subsequent attention to fundamentalist Islam within the Western World as an 'in' to bring forward his assertation, that to survive as a species we must abandon religion as a rubric for guiding our actions. Harris spends a great deal of time examining the reasons why Islam as opposed to Christianity, Hinduism, or Buddhism is currently producing violent religious extremists. Basically, he says that Christianity did the same thing between 300 and 800 years ago. He has other reasons, I assume, for other major religions (I haven't read the whole thing yet.)

I agree with his basic premise, though I don't see religion disappearing from our world anytime soon. My only dissatisfaction with Harris' work is that while acknowledging that there are fundamentalist elements within all religions, he largely ignores it with respect to Christianity.

As an American, Harris is in a much better position to examine and confront the rising influence of home grown fundamentalists, such as the Christian Dominionists. These fundamental Christianists seek an America where Biblical law supersedes the Constitution, The State and certain fundamentalist churches are tightly intertwined, and 'Christianist' values are legislated. (See this site for more information on rising Christianist theocratic influence in America.)

Harris can, at times, seem a bit caustic. I would recommend this book to people who won't be offended by someone who goes beyond just questioning the validity of religion. There are people I know that I would like to expose to some of the ideas expressed within the book yet I wouldn't recommend The End of Faith to them. This is, in some ways, a great shame. Harris had to state his positions in the way that he did, strongly and unapologetically, but he's written off a large portion of the audience that needs to see his work. A less divisive version would be more palatable and at the same time, less effective.

For people of faith, it would take a very dedicated reader to go through Harris' book and be able to sift out the useful truths without being insulted or at least so disgusted with the author's critical positions as to give up entirely.