February 27, 2012

Same People, Different Places

Our similarities are more numerous and important than our differences 

On a normal day most all of us climb the hill of our choosing. Something must be done and done well for us to feel satisfied and to sustain our living standard. We go to work, school, work at or from home or engage in a similar activity. We strive for goals daily, both large and small. Whatever our financial situation we know people who are less fortunate and people who are more, some are smarter, others not so much.

We can hope I suppose

Our governments are ineffective, inefficient and generally represented by power-hungry out-of-touch well-connected demigods whose primary concern is to retain their position of authority and influence. They don’t represent the people’s wishes or country’s best interests well or often enough. In many instances our governments are an embarrassment. We hope the rest of the world doesn’t judge our society from the actions of its government.

                                                                                                             

We appreciate art, music and nature. Our homes are located in a picturesque location or are a short distance from a scenic setting where we stand in awe of our mother earth’s majesty. Wherever we live is historic and interesting, its people friendly, honest and hard working. Our sports team is always superior and classier than the rivals.  We experience a range of the same emotions during similar circumstances. We all appreciate and at times must tolerate our friends and family.

Most assemble at places of worship on an assigned day to honor the religion their parents and society insists is the true one.  We’re all reasonably certain we walk the correct spiritual path and those who don’t are straying off the rightful road of virtue, some by more than others. We wonder why our ideology and customs makes so much sense to us but considered strange or evil by others.

Capitalism, drugs and transmissions

We all aspire to more, no matter how much or little we possess we want better, a better mind, body and spirit. First we want a roof then a roof that doesn’t leak. We then yearn for a roof on a bigger house, in a better location with better furnishings and better behaved children living in its rooms. Its human nature, we’re never satisfied, no one of us outside people who can’t pry the bottle or opium pipe from their lips. They seem content to allow their transmission to remain in neutral.

Everything is the same except what isn’t

We see the world through the same eyes but from different perspectives. This can be said about city and rural dwellers living just 50 km. apart or brothers who disagree politically. We all have close relationships with people of vastly differing points of view, our extended family probably the best example. We disagree with relatives at times though we share the same language, culture, ethnicity, religion and similar life experiences.  We agree with total strangers often though we share none of the above.

Endless similarities bind everyone on earth yet people tend to focus on the differences. The main difference involves history and culture; our most interesting facet. Otherwise, we’re all the same peoples living in different places.

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February 19, 2012

Islamic law in America

Sharia creeps into the fabric of American minds, not law

Tennessee lawmakers took the point recently in the patriotic crusade to safeguard the homeland against the forces of radical Islam. This is how politicians and many other well-intended Americans perceive the anti-Sharia law movement. The phenomenon currently spans 13 states across the south and mid-west. Critics of the movement including 2 courts say that the facts do not justify the fear.

Fears

The Islamic/Arab world differs vastly from western norms in shocking ways. It is a male dominated society governed by strict religious laws. Americans are appalled by the brutal treatment suffered by women who can be stoned to death for an accused adulterous affair or jailed for being raped. Islamic law allows for the creative removal of body parts for crimes that are considered misdemeanors in the west and has encouraged a culture of violence against women.

Westerners haven’t been controlled by ancient religious laws since the era of enlightenment (16-1700’s). Time cannot be reversed, the bell unrung, the egg unscrambled. Our society and Constitution won’t allow it.

Facts

Americans must abide by secular law regardless of religious belief. Christian Scientists cannot lawfully allow their child to die because they believe medical attention is contrary to God’s will. Rastafarians cannot legally smoke pot as part of their religious ritual. “The Constitution of the United States, and the constitution of every state already make it illegal to implement Islamic law,” said Noah Feldman, professor of law at Harvard University. “Just as Jewish law can’t be the law of the United States, and canon law can’t be the law of the United States, Sharia law can’t be the law of the United States.”

Consider the source

It’s the usual “red state” suspects engaged in this battle. Oklahoma voters approved the anti-Sharia measure 70-30 percent in has the most infamous case to date. My home state of Texas saved itself from a similar national embarrassment by killing the bill before it saw the light of day or national headline.
Leo Berman, the Texas State Rep. with a NY accent, introduced an anti-Sharia law last year. Berman caused those in the Lone Star State to bow their collective heads in shame when he was embarrassed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper for his vocal advocacy of a federal “Birther Bill.” Berman had tried to get state funding for the Institute for Creation Research. The Dallas-based group promotes biblical creationism and rejects mainstream science regarding evolution. Though his parents are from Eastern Europe he sponsored bills that would split up immigrant families and restrict illegal immigrants to certain geographical regions. Consider the source.

Irony alert

Tennessee legislators could have saved the state from humiliation by noticing that the 10th Circuit federal appeals court in Denver agreed last month with a lower court that blocked the Oklahoma anti-Sharia law. Anti-Sharia laws are unconstitutional. Further, Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders said the bill is so broadly written that it would make it illegal to be a Muslim and denounced the proposed state measure as an attack on religious freedom during a news conference in Nashville last week.

The people pushing preemptive measures against Sharia are simply worried about a religion other than their own taking over the legal system. America is a secular nation constructed by secular laws and is experiencing many real problems, too many to waste time debating phony issues. Allāhu Akbar

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February 1, 2012

We’re all agnostic

It’s true. Everyone is, by definition, an agnostic. A small percentage of us admit to it but it’s true for all. If you consider yourself religious and chances are great that you do, whether you like it or not, again, by definition you are agnostic. Great, now that it’s settled we can all get along.

Allow me to explain

Theism is the belief in one god. Atheism rejects the concept of god(s). Agnosticism follows the gospel of ‘I don’t know.’ It sees shades of gray. It is a nuanced term which requires a more complex explanation but can be summed up within three major categories of thought.
1) The Pragmatic or apathetic agnostic, as Bill Maher often describes his view: (a) there is no credible evidence that proves or disproves a deity and (b) if there is an omnipotent creator it is not affecting the natural order of life so the question is pointless. 2) Agnostic atheists do not believe in a deity but are not certain one does not exist. 3) The agnostic theist admits to a belief in a higher power but it’s not necessarily the God as defined in popular religious texts.

One thing binds us all

People have faith or belief in God but no matter how strong the faith, how certain the belief it’s not a knowledge of God. They do not know. The only difference in the agnostic theist and theist is one defines their views honestly. What’s so difficult in admitting you don’t know? You don’t, you know. Atheists don’t know either. All atheists will admit they don’t know for certain whether or not a very broadly defined alien entity beyond our comprehension (call it God) lives in the expansive universe. Lack of absolute certainty is universal and total.

The payoff

Theists receive the ultimate reward for their loyalty, an eternal afterlife in paradise. Some might reinforce their belief with Pascal’s Wager, the ‘what if you’re wrong’ argument aka hedging your spiritual bets, nothing to lose but everything to win. It’s a selfish reason to adopt a selfless philosophy but let’s not quibble about motive. What if non-believers are wrong? That we cannot say but we do understand the ill effects of faith.

The truth and its consequences

To properly embrace faith a person must suspend logic and rational thought. According to ancient texts of the Abrahamic religions the Sun revolves around a flat Earth. There are those who can do this and those who cannot. The two live in separate realities given what we perceive to be true is our reality, a circumstance that leads to misunderstandings and unintended consequences. Those who are comfortable with accepting the preposterous, unlikely and unverified to be true and indisputable make very poor decisions which ultimately affect us all.

I cannot know if a deity exists and neither can you

Is there a God and what role does He play if any? Is there an afterlife and what is the correct path to get there? If you answer this question honestly, that you are uncertain then you qualify as an agnostic theist at least. If you answered dishonestly and according to your faith then what good is your faith to you or society if it’s rooted in dishonesty? Agnostics distinguish themselves with three little words ‘I don’t know.’ It’s true of everyone. We are all agnostic.

Religion does three things quite effectively: divides people, controls people and deludes people.

~ Carlspie McKinney

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January 27, 2012

Conservative Credentials

Obama can go to the left and right on the hardwood too

The liberal, socialist President as he is portrayed by those who don’t understand the terms or are deliberately trying to mislead is far too conservative on many important issues to be accurately depicted as anything but a centrist. He’s not a conservative but he’s damn sure no liberal either. Ask any liberal.

Aka: Things liberals would not do

Obama has expanded gun rights by allowing concealed weapons in national parks and has done nothing to restrict these rights by word or action. He has deported more undocumented aliens than Bush and put 1200 National Guardsmen on the border. Former international villain Dick Cheney would be proud of the war hawkish Obama. He has escalated the unnecessary and unproductive war in Afghanistan and supports the intrusive PATRIOT Act in addition to several other Bush era policies that make liberals bristle.

Soon after taking office Obama decided to disallow Guantanamo inmates and other “enemy combatant’s” the right to legal representation or a speedy trial then explicitly authorized the CIA to continue its torture techniques (“extraordinary renditions”) on prisoners located in other countries. Obama has openly defended the cruel treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the alleged Wiki-Leaks whistleblower. Manning was held for 10 months in solitary confinement, submitted to nude daily inspections and could not exercise in his cell.

Last month Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act which allows the Government to arrest anyone anywhere in the world and imprison them without trial based solely on suspicion of terrorism-related activity. This includes American citizens. The electronic surveillance and data-mining activities of the Bush administration continue to this day. Obama has promised to veto any bill that subjects his surveillance activities to additional congressional oversight.

Ronald Wilson Hussein Obama

Obama has promoted and encouraged capitalism by implementing Obamacare and the GM bailout despite the loud objections of conservatives. Liberals want universal health care; the single payer (government) 100 percent socialized system. Obamacare doesn’t include the public option, the only socialist aspect of the original plan and the insurance mandate is a windfall for health insurance companies. GM has paid back most of the loan with interest and many thousands of good paying jobs were saved along with half of the U.S. auto industry. These are stellar examples of how government can encourage capitalist ventures which conservatives would likely be for if Obama were not.

Schwarzkopf wasn’t a tree-hugger either

Within one year Obama authorized twice the number of drone attacks than Bush did during his entire presidency. He gave the orders to kill Somali pirates along with U.S. enemy number one Osama bin Laden. Another Al Qaeda leader, Anwar al-Awlaki was killed recently joining a long list of other terrorist leaders. Obama repeatedly calls for more nuclear power plants and plans to open immense areas of the Gulf of Mexico and coastal Alaskan waters for oil and natural gas drilling. This plan expands drilling far beyond what Bush had attempted to do. The President gets high marks for foreign affairs and homeland security but a mediocre grade for the ecosystem. Not the change draft-dodging hippie environmentalists were looking for.

Obama was successful in angering the right wing even before he took office or implemented a policy and the left wing soon afterward. He is the adult in the room, the centrist. It is aggravating for both sides but is the best strategy for effective leadership especially given the deep political divide present in the country.

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January 16, 2012

Let Us Entertain Us — (any excuse to play Sir Paul)


Paul McCartney street performing in cognito – 1984 (44 sec.)

Compared to other societies Americans live a relatively sterile, insulated existence. Comparatively, we seem largely uninspired, our way of life cold and generic. Other cultures are longer established, more lively and colorful. Art and humanity is appreciated and celebrated in “old world” countries more so than here. America is a collection of ethnicities, communities and towns living under a common flag but enjoy few common cultural ties. We live together harmoniously for the most part yet we do so without much actual harmony involved.

A civilization designed for commerce

The American public education system was built to accommodate business as evidenced by its ‘one size fits all’ assembly line operation. Our learning process stifles creativity and individuality. It encourages the worker bee mentality by discouraging independent, analytical thought. American cities are planned for the movement of people and goods to accommodate business, not the co-mingling of its citizens. Art, music, food and ideas are shared on the streets of cities worldwide but less often in the cities of America.

We can adapt

Town squares and parks of America are ready to host cultural happenings. Seldom used downtown streets are blocked off for the occasional parade or street fest. Imagine one or several mini-festivals every day with artwork, food, music and people of the community interacting with one another; how European, Asian, Middle Eastern, African and South American! As fun and liberating as that sounds, it probably won’t happen. We’re too uptight. In this country, street performers, the heart of the outdoor festivals, are largely frowned upon rather than appreciated and encouraged. Just one performer draws a crowd, creates a happening and is a cultural event unto itself.

Busk this!

This society does not welcome busking, or street performance, in most circumstances. Police can and often do arrest buskers for disturbing the peace, blocking the sidewalk, and pan-handling. The term “street performer” is tied to misperceptions of homelessness, criminal activity and alcoholism. Americans act far more paranoid than other societies and unlike Europeans are built more for the structured, rigid business model rather than humanitarian interests.

The fool on Hill Street

Would most people spare a few minutes during their busy, busy day to listen as Paul McCartney performed his songs on the street corner? A person might even show their appreciation by pitching a quarter into his open guitar case. What memories, what a story! Imagine for a few short but forever ingrained minutes being taken on a magical mystery tour during lunchtime or while on the way to the bank. What was to be an ordinary, mundane workday became a memorable life event, a topic of later discussion and a time of joyful interaction with former strangers.

How many would pass by without noticing the living legend if he was in disguise

And what if the performer was not Sir Paul? The identity of the street minstrel is less important than the invigorating experience itself, taking a few minutes to put a day in the life on hold, finding a rose among the day’s thorns. If everyone stopped for one five-minute song each day the nation’s collective blood pressure would decrease while its citizen’s overall happiness index would increase. The acceptance and appreciation of random, spontaneous public entertainment is the remedy for a culturally bland society.

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January 4, 2012

Supreme Decisions in 2012

According to several sources a majority of Americans cannot name one Supreme Court Justice, not one, a disconcerting circumstance to be sure. Regardless, all Americans will be greatly affected by the decisions those anonymous Justices make in 2012. The three most important cases to follow in the year ahead involve the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare), the redistricting plan in Texas and the constitutional merit of the controversial Arizona immigration law.

The Court is divided along ideological lines, four conservative and four liberal. One Justice, Anthony Kennedy, is the lone swing vote but he sided with the conservative faction in several high profile cases in 2010. The most publicized case was the sex discrimination suit brought against Wal-Mart. The Court decided in a 5-4 vote that class action has its limits even when you prove your case. Same with a false advertising claim against AT&T. Yes, Ma Bell did deceive customers by charging $30 for a “free” phone but by 5-4 the High Court said, in essence, ‘go to small claims court. The expediency of a multi-person class action suit doesn’t make sense to us.’ In both of these cases the Fab Five grabbed at the thinnest of straws to accommodate large corporations.

Skeptical?

The Court also decided by a familiar margin in Janus Capital Group, Inc. v. First Deriv. Traders that an investment fund administrator could not be sued simply because he lied to investors. Due to the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision, corporations can now anonymously spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. Kennedy not only agreed with the 5-4 decision, he wrote the majority opinion.

Help us Obi Wan Kenn-edy, you’re our only hope

The individual mandate present in the Health Care Act will soon be before the Court. The “nobody gets a free ride” mandate was originally a Republican idea but after it received Obama’s support it became a tyrannical over-reach by a socialist government run amuck. A 5-4 vote against the mandate will cripple the Act which means health insurance for millions will be at risk. Politically, however, the demise of Obamacare might be good for Obama’s chance at reelection. Upholding the mandate, therefore validating the Act itself, will energize conservatives, the ones who know seem to understand it least.

Glad I have my boots on

Texas has a long history of redistricting fights. This time a court stepped in and drew the lines in a non-partisan way. Republicans threw a fit and asked the Court to intervene. Somewhat surprisingly the Court put a hold on the lower court’s ruling and decided to intervene in a state’s political squabble.  Not a good omen for objectiveness. We’ll see if Kennedy considers it the Court’s role to artificially pack the House of Representatives in favor of the Republican Party.

Papers please

The tough, some say racist, Arizona immigration law is also up for constitutional consideration. A 5-4 vote to uphold the law (SB 1070) may result in more states introducing laws that allow authorities to demand proof of citizenship of those who “appear” illegal. Brown skinned Americans, especially those with an exotic accent, could witness their civil liberties evaporate at a faster rate than they already are. As in the healthcare mandate, a loss for progressives may be politically advantageous for Obama. A high Hispanic voter turnout can only help the incumbent.

Will millions lose their health care, partisan gerrymandering decide elections and our law enforcement resemble a Gestapo-like organization? The odds are five-to-four.

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