Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Crossroads with Abraham

We stand at a crossroads, some four thousand years from the day a man named Abraham gave up everything to follow a nameless god.

We don't know the exact date, of course. We don't even know if the story is true. Abraham isn't recorded by any other historian and he left no artifacts.

What we do know, is that this story, this tradition spawned three of the greatest cultures yet known to man: the Jews, the Gentile Christians, and the Muslims.

At this crossroads, many of us blindly reach back into the past in an attempt to refute the present, but many others question whether the tradition is even worth keeping any longer--if any faith is worth keeping any longer.

I propose a third path, one which preserves the wisdom of our ancestors, but recognizes their humanity and imperfection. A path which incorporates and embraces science and history and new learning--even when it conflicts with the ancient texts. God gave us the capacity to learn. It's foolish not to embrace it.

Further, I propose a reunification of all the children of Abraham.

A reunification that can only begin by setting aside the false prophesy of the apocalypse. We can only come together and live together if we abandon the fear that God will destroy the world and only by coming together and living together can we hope to prevent destroying the world ourselves.

If we don't do this, then the instinct for self-preservation will take over and more people will abandon their faith in order to survive and avoid any self imposed apocalypse.

Faith can be the future, but only if we recognize that it is human and imperfect and forgive ourselves for the mistakes of the past.

Monday, September 15, 2008

National Abortion Amendment

We require an amendment to the constitution describing precisely our national abortion policy.

Currently, we have left the issue up to the courts to decide, but that is insufficient. It's beyond the scope and design of the court to make these decisions.

Likewise, the issue is too sensitive and contains too many human rights' issues to govern on a state-to-state basis.

The reason we don't already have a constitutional amendment on abortion is because both extremes know they don't have the votes to get everything they want out of an amendment so they're satisfied trying to manipulate the courts instead.

This is not good government. The onus of good government is that we consciously decide what we think is best and right and proceed with it, not allowing ourselves to be controlled by special interest groups of either extreme.

The obvious solution is a compromise between both extremes.

Here is what I propose: A normal pregnancy can be divided into three trimesters.

For the first trimester: allow no state to enact a law that prohibits or limits a woman's right to a safe abortion for any reason. This way, the state doesn't force anyone to be pregnant who doesn't wish to be. Women may decide to abort and the state has no say in their decision.

There is some pressure for women to make their decision quickly, but that pressure exists anyway. This also prohibits states from trying to eliminate abortions by putting unreasonable restrictions on abortion providers.

For the second trimester: abortions are only allowed on the recommendation of a licensed physician based only on the mother's physical health. This addresses those cases where abortion is more of an issue of health than one of choice--and it puts the decision in the hand of those we entrust to make those health decisions in other matters.

At this stage, we begin to give the fetus some human rights, but the focus remains on the health of the mother if not her preferences. There will be some physicians who "rubber stamp" all abortion requests, but medical ethics is really more an issue of peer evaluation and licensing than one of statutory law.

For the third trimester: every effort must be made to deliver the fetus alive. No state may allow an abortion during this period unless proscribed by both a physician and a judge.

During the third trimester, the fetus has a growing chance of surviving premature birth, therefore the full focus of the law is on the civil rights of the fetus.

Certainly there is room for discussion on each of these stages, but with my proposal, neither side gets everything they want but we get everything we need to know we did our best to govern wisely.

Frantic Financial Chatter

Just like hurricanes, storms on Wall St. may seem like the end of the world, but they're not.

They're saying this is the worst financial crisis since the great depression, and I suppose in some ways it technically is, but, it's a long, long way from being as bad as the great depression.

This started twenty-five years ago with Ronald Reagan and Alan Greenspan when they de-regulated the financial sector and began artificially stimulating the economy by manipulating the fed funds rate. It's the primary reason I'll never agree with the people who call Reagan a great president.

The good news is, that like with hurricanes, we are strong enough to recover from this and we are wise enough to learn from these experiences and take measures to prevent them in the future.

You'll hear a lot of frantic chatter over the next several days, but don't lose heart. The basic economy is fundamentally sound, even if these ancillary financial groups are not.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Bad Shepherd

The bad shepherd lies to the sheep.

He tells them he saw wolves, when he didn't. He tells them the grass near the tall rocks is poison, when it isn't.

When you ask him, why he tells all these awful lies, he says: "It's my job to tend the sheep, and it's a lot easier to do that when they're afraid. Otherwise, they do what they want and get in all sorts of trouble."

I question whether we should have human shepherds at all. We call them pastors and give bishops gold plated shepherd's staffs with encrusted jewels. It's a very weak man who builds his ego by presuming to lead the sheep.

The bible says "The Lord is my Shepherd", not some priest.

Jesus asked Peter to feed his sheep. That's not the same as being a shepherd. That's a guy that helps the shepherd.

It would be ironic if the people we look to for getting us closer to God actually moved us further away.

Veronica by Elvis Costello

I suppose it says something about me, maybe not. The one song in the whole world that can always make me weep uncontrollably is Veronica, by Elvis Costello.

How many times I've held a frail old woman's hands while she struggled to capture the flame from the girl she once was.

In her heart, there was really no difference between a girl of sixteen and a woman of ninety-two. In my own heart, I don't suppose there really was.

If anything, as the years went by, it got harder to remember which was which.

Fay, Nanny, Bubba, Mother... this one's for you

Is it all in that pretty little head of yours?
What goes on in that place in the dark?
Well I used to know a girl and I could have sworn
that her name was Veronica
Well she used to have a carefree mind of her own
and a delicate look in her eye
These days I'm afraid she's not even sure if her
name is Veronica

Do you suppose, that waiting hands on eyes,
Veronica has gone to hide?
and all the time she laughs at those who shout
her name and steal her clothes.
Veronica, Veronica, Veronica

Did the days drag by? Did the favours wane?
Did he roam down the town all the while?
did you wake from your dream, with a wolf at
the door, reaching out for Veronica
Well it was all of sixty-five years ago
When the world was the street where she lived
And a young man sailed on a ship in the sea
With a picture of Veronica

On the "Empress of India"
And as she closed her eyes upon the world and
picked upon a plate of last week's news
She spoke his name out loud again

Do you suppose, that waiting hands on eyes,
Veronica has gone to hide?
and all the time she laughs at those who shout
her name and steal her clothes.
Veronica, Veronica, Veronica

Veronica sits in her favorite chair
She sits very quiet and still
And they call her a name that they never get
right and if they don't then nobody else will

But she always had a carefree mind of her own
with a devilish look in her eye
saying you can call me anything you like
but my name is Veronica

Do you suppose, that waiting hands on eyes,
Veronica has gone to hide?
and all the time she laughs at those who shout
her name and steal her clothes.
Veronica, Veronica, Veronica

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Palin Sideshow Dominates The Election

Palin bashing from the media and from the democrats shows no signs of diminishing. Just the opposite, it's growing to a furious din that's drowning out everything else.

Maybe she deserves it. Maybe she doesn't. This late in the election, it just doesn't matter.

I'm worried that the national discussion these first two weeks of September has been almost exclusively about Palin and almost nothing about McCain or Obama. Poor Joe Biden has just about completely fallen off the radar.

I don't think the republicans are smart enough to have done this on purpose, but I'm really worried that it's going to work in their favor if we make this election a question of "Do you think Palin is crazy?"

For the record: I think Palin probably is too crazy for my taste. Have you ever seen a moose? They're like a brontosaurus with horns and she hunts them for fun, food and profit.

As for the rest of it, who cares? She's Dan Qualye in a miniskirt and she's seriously distracting us from the real issues of this election.

Until August, this election cycle was so grand and so good and so made me proud to be an American in the way both parties confronted the real issues that face us, and now, we're seriously ruining it with all this Palin bullshit.

Very Short Fiction

I'm adding a new section to my blog. The first entry "Melanie eats an Orange" is below.

I'm calling it "Very Short Fiction" and the entries will be short written sketches from observations or fantasy or some combination of the two.

The idea is that it will be like textual Jazz.

Each piece is impromptu and completed in one sitting of thirty minutes or less. Each piece's structure is self-contained and my hope is that you'll be able to tell much more about the person I'm writing about than just the actual words of the piece.

Melanie eats an orange

Melanie eats an orange in three distinct steps.

Having chosen her orange based on its color, size and symmetry, she pierces the outer rind with her thumbnail near the spot where the stem previously connected the orange to the tree. She peels it in a clockwise manner, careful not to pierce the inner skin of the sections letting the juice escape. She monitors how much rind is removed in each movement so that the entire orange is peeled in only one complete revolution.

Then she separates the sections, one at a time, carefully removing any remaining pith or strings left from the peeling process. She lays each cleaned section in a row, in the order they were separated from the others and moves on to the next section.

With the cleaned and separated sections in a line, she eats them from left to right, beginning with the first section, dabbing away any excess juice from her lips with a napkin before moving on to the next section and again, and again, until she has eaten them all. She positions her teeth so that each bite makes a clean cut and can finish nearly any sized piece in only two bites.

It's important, once she begins the process, that she eats all the sections in one sitting because she doesn't like them once they've had a chance to sit out and become dry. She allows some conversation while she prepares and eats the orange, but not so much that it interferes with the process.

It's possible she enjoys her well-designed method for eating an orange more than its taste or smell. Any deviation from the closely regulated steps might diminish her enjoyment of the fruit considerably.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Expired Prophesy

There really should be an expiration date on prophesy. Something like 200 years. If it hasn't happened in eight generations, then it's time to consider whether you're interpreting the prophesy correctly or if it was even a true prophesy to begin with.

Holding on to old prophesies that you've either interpreted wrong or weren't true prophesies in the first place can lead to real problems. This is how Jesus died.

When the Jews were in exile in Babylon, a guy made a prophesy that God would send something called "The Messiah" who would defeat the Babylonians, lead the Jews back to their homeland, rebuild the temple and, oh yeah, put them in charge of the world for an incredibly long period of time, like a thousand years.

Illustration: 'The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem' mosaic
by the Master of the Cappella Palatina

(Click to see full size)

This was an very important prophesy to the Jews in that it gave them hope at a time when things weren't looking too good for them. The last big prophesy they had about being lead out of Egypt turned out ok so they figured this one was just a matter of time.

The thing is, a lot of it actually did happen. They did return to their homeland, but it wasn't a "Messiah" that made it possible, it was the king of Persia, and they did rebuild the temple, but then again, no messiah, just a guy named Herod.

The part about the Jews being in control of the world didn't happen though. Pretty soon after their return, the Romans came and messed that up.

It didn't take long for the people to take the old prophesy about the messiah and transfer it to the situation with the Romans.

The Messiah was gonna show up, chase out the Romans, make the temple even better than before and put the Jews in charge of the world. Or so they thought.

So, along comes Jesus and people are saying he's this messiah guy. The rumor gets around so much that when Jesus comes to Jerusalem for Passover, people sing hymns and lay palm branches at the feet of his donkey. In their minds, Jesus is God's own Superman and the kicking of the Romans' asses is about to commence.

The thing is, the Romans also get word that Superman has come to town and so has the Sanhedrin, an organization that has a lot invested in maintaining the status quo. It doesn't take Jesus long to run afoul of both when he chased the money changers out of the temple.

So, Jesus gets arrested and the people are thinking "All-Right! The Great Roman Butt Kick is about to begin!"

Only, it didn't happen that way. Pilate brings Jesus before the people and he's been beaten, terribly beaten, and humiliated, and the people see that Jesus isn't the fulfillment of what they saw as the prophesy and he isn't going to free them of the Romans or the Sanhedrin and they turn on him. Crucify Him! Crucify Him! They shout.

Illustraton: Ecce Homo ("Behold the Man")
by Antonio Ciseri
(Click to see full size)

So the Romans do crucify him to show the people not to hold out hope for their prophesy.

They do hold out hope though, and there are several serious Jewish uprisings before the Romans move in, destroy the temple and exile the Jews from their own land--forever.

Even today, there are many Jews who won't set foot in Israel because they are waiting for the Messiah to come and put them in charge of the world first. Fortunately, there were a lot more Jews who at the beginning of the last century, said "forget this, I'm not waiting anymore" and moved themselves back into their own homeland.

The Christians and the Muslims too have prophesies, nearly two thousand years old now, that says God himself will kill everybody else and put them in charge of the world--and many, well-meaning, god-fearing people are waiting for exactly that to happen.

Can you imagine that? Decent, earnest, kind people, seriously waiting for God himself to massacre billions of people and put them in charge. I don't mind telling you it boggles my mind. I know these people, they're not murderers, and yet, that's what they believe.

The thing is, we obviously either read the prophesy wrong or it wasn't a true prophesy in the first place. God isn't going to step in and straighten everything out--WE have to. God isn't going to pick amongst us his favorite and put them in control of the world, WE have do our best to share control of the world.

There's no shame in admitting we were wrong about a prophesy. It doesn't weaken the position of the religion as a whole. Everybody is wrong sometimes, and when you're talking about something as vastly complex as prophesy, being wrong sometimes has to be expected.

The belief in these Eschatological prophesies keep us from doing what we must, for ourselves, for our world and for God. It's much easier to believe God will step in and do it for us, but, at this point, it's very unlikely that he will, if he ever intended to in the first place. God has been leading us into taking more and more responsibility for ourselves since the beginning. Why would he suddenly decide to give up on that and fix it all himself?

I'm not just picking on Christians here. There are a lot of Jews and Muslims waiting for the same thing. Jesus, an innocent man, died because people held on to these prophesies. Two thousand people died on 9/11 because somebody thought it would bring about the end of the world and God would step in and straighten everything out.

Isn't that enough? Do you really think this is what God wants?

It's just not gonna happen that way folks. Isn't two-thousand years long enough to realize that? There's not going to be an "end of the world" or a "new paradise" or "rapture" and it's time for earnest people of faith to cast off this nonsense and begin doing what we must to repair the damage it's caused.

True faith makes us strong, but false hope and false prophesy makes us blind and weak and petty.

Illustration: The Revelation of St John: The Four Riders of the Apocalypse
By Albrecht Dürer
(click to see full size)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Obama and Reagan

In a strange way, the 2008 presidential election is a mirror image of the 1980 presidential election. By mirror image, I mean everything is the same but in reverse.

In 1980, the democrats (Carter) held the presidency, but were blamed for economic troubles including rampant inflation beginning with an uncontrolled rise in the price of oil and disturbing turmoil in the financial sector arising from troubles with the interest rate. Ditto 2008, except the republicans (Bush) held the presidency.

In 1980, the Republican Nominee (Reagan) was known as a populist and known for his ability to draw from the uncommitted. Ditto Obama.

Reagan was known for his remarkable speeches, Obama is known for his remarkable speeches.

In 1980, the democrats were blamed for an ongoing situation in the middle east (the Iranian hostage crisis). In 2008, the republicans are blamed for an on-going situation in the middle east (Iraq).

Reagan drew strong support from young republicans, the unions and baby boomers. Obama draws strong support from young democrats, the unions and baby boomers.

Reagan made it cool to be white again. Obama makes it cool to be black again.

In 1980, the republicans were one president away from one of their own who faced impeachment for something stupid (Nixon). In 2008, the democrats are one president away from one of their own who faced impeachment for something stupid (Clinton).

In 1980, Carter was known as a bellicose political outsider. In 2008, McCain is known as a bellicose political outsider.

Reagan was popular for his foreign policy ideas even though he had zero foreign policy experience. Obama is popular for his foreign policy ideas even though he has zero foreign policy experience.

In 1980, Reagan won by a landslide. Will the same hold true for Obama? Only time will tell.

For the record, although loved by millions, Reagan was not my favorite president of the 20th century. He wasn't even my favorite republican, Nixon was--but that's a story for another day.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Pick your Targets

A lot of times, it just doesn't pay to go after your political opponents on anything other than policy.

Remember, back in the day, when the Republicans used to go after Bill Clinton on everything they could think of? Remember how, no matter what, they never really could "get him" on anything?

There even came a time when the republicans had enough evidence to impeach Clinton, but then they couldn't get the votes to convict him, even though he had gone on national television and basically said "yeah, I did it".

Boy those were the days, huh? The Republicans looked like belligerent jerks, Clinton looked like a victim and MTV called Monica Lewenski the most powerful young person in America.

Even today, Ken Starr wanders around his garden in a dirty bathrobe saying: "I had him! He was soooo close! I had him!"

The Democrats are already getting dangerously close to this with Sarah Palin and they've only been aware of her existence for two weeks.

Although they hate her, Palin's popularity is growing by leaps and bounds. But what about all the crazy stuff she's done?

Let's look a the craziest thing she's accused of and follow it through logically. I mean this business of her supposedly saying she's the mother of her daughter's baby.

Let's suppose for a minute that it really is true, and the Democrats have absolute proof. What's she really guilty of? Was somebody hurt? somebody cheated?

The very last thing Democrats want is to force Palin to have to go on television and say "yeah, I did it---and I did it to help my daughter and my grandchild".

If she does that, then the Democrats will look like the biggest heels in the world. They successfully outed a mother protecting her child. It could even create a wave that pushes Mccain-Palin into office.

Nevermind that it's kind of creepy because Bree on Desperate Housewives tried to do the same thing. Stick to discussions of policy and everything will be fine, but if democrats keep pushing it on all this bullshit stuff with Palin, it could really backfire.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Who is The Great Advisory

They call him "the great advisory", but if you read the bible, there's no character more powerless than Satan.

Even the animals are capable of direct action once in a while, but not the devil, all he can do is try and talk people into things. That's it. He can't change the weather, he can't make or take life, he can't do anything but whisper in people's ears when nobody is looking.

He can't even use the one power he has to get people to do things for him, all he can do is try and talk them into things they themselves benefit from.

It's that quality that makes me wonder. Is the devil really just a metaphor for our own selfish action? Are we, or some part of us, Satan?

I've never liked the idea of some guy sitting down in hell rubbing his hands together, just waiting for the day that he might take over. Most of those ideas come from Milton and Dante rather than the bible anyway.

There is no evil in nature. Hurricanes hit the coast because that's how they're made, not because of evil. Evil comes from us. It comes from our own greed and lust and fear and selfishness.

When the bible talks about Eve eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, it means that, unlike all the rest of God's creation, we are responsible for our own acts--because we do know the difference between good and evil.

Even atheists believe this. But, I have to wonder if they would believe it, if religion hadn't thrashed out these ideas for thousands of years beforehand.

Illustration: Gustav Dore

The Muppets Without Their Puppets

When Jim Henson died in 1990, he had worked with the same band of puppeteers for over thirty years. In tribute to Henson, many of these performers participated in a funeral performance, but in a very special way, without their puppets.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three Big Bird

Frank Oz

Official Ted Lasso