Archive for the ‘What’s Happening’ Category

The Two Towers

June 28, 2015

Although The Lord of the Rings is almost always referred to as a trilogy, that was not Tolkien’s intent. Tolkien meant for The Lord of the Rings to be a novel composed of a single volume divided into six books. The publisher’s decision to divide the The Lord of the Rings into three volumes, each comprising two of Tolkien’s books was dictated by the economics and shortages in post war Britain and once established, Tolkien’s work has remained a trilogy even when there is no particular why it shouldn’t be published as a single volume.

The trilogy concept works well enough for The Fellowship of the Ring and the The Return of the King. Books one and two are in strict chronological order and there is only slight overlap in books five and six. The Two Towers chronicle the adventures of the scattered members of the fellowship with book four focusing on Frodo and Sam while book three deals with the other hobbits and their companions. Placing two books covering the same period of time with no interaction between the main characters of the two sections gives the impression that The Two Towers is really two novels somewhat arbitrarily placed in one volume.

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This impression is mistaken, however. Books three and four actually complement one another. Book three begins small with just the hobbits Merry and Pippin led captive by orcs across the plain of Rohan with Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli following in a seemingly vain hope of catching up and rescuing them. Both the hobbits and their would be rescuers encounter other peoples and forces, the Ents and the Rohirrim, and get drawn into the larger world as part of the war against the traitor Saruman. In book four, the plots remains focused on Frodo and Sam. They take Gollum as their guide, they meet Faramir son of the Steward Denethor, and they see the Morgul army as it marches out to destroy Gondor, but throughout it is simply Frodo and Sam. The first part keeping growing into the wider world while the second part narrows to two hobbits.

Morgul1

The Two Towers shares the themes found throughout the Lord of the Rings. Once again it is the small and the humble who get things moving. The two hobbits rouse Treebeard and the Ents into marching against Saruman. The seemingly insignificant Gandalf in a tattered gray cloak is revealed as the mighty Gandalf the White. And of course, Frodo and Sam accomplish the nearly impossible by traveling into Mordor.

The sense of loss found in the Fellowship of the Ring is even greater in the Two Towers. In this book, Men and Orcs are the actors. Except for Legolas and Gimli there is not an Elf or Dwarf to be seen. Their time is passing and Middle Earth will become a world of Men, whichever side wins. King Theoden is amazed to learn that Ents still exist but laments that much that is unknown to him will be ended by the war. Faramir admires the Elves but does not seek them out. Men and Elves have become estranged and each walks further down their separate path. His own people, the Dunedain, have declined over the centuries and are now hardly better than other Men. The Ents have lost the Entwives so no new Entings can be born. The old world is passing into a newer, and lesser world.

 

What Amazon Still Sells

June 24, 2015

Yesterday, Amazon announced that it would no longer sell items depicting the Confederate flag due to the controversy surrounding this symbol following the terrible crime committed in Charleston. I applaud Amazon for deciding to discontinue sales of an item that many find offensive and consider to be linked to racism and oppression. Yet, I cannot help noticing that Amazon continue to sells many other items linked to some of the worst regimes in history. If Amazon has a new policy of not selling offensive merchandise, then why do they continue to sell some of the following items.

You can still buy a Che Guevara t-shirt through Amazon.

Che Shirt

Che Guevara was an Argentine Marxist who helped Fidel Castro come to power in Cuba. He was also a psychopath and a murderer. He set up Castro’s secret police and ruthlessly crushed all opposition to Castro’s rule. He enjoyed his work, personally participating in the torture and execution of dissidents. Even a tyrant like Castro couldn’t stand him so he sent Che off to export the Revolution in Africa and mainland South America. In Africa, Che made amazingly racist observations about the guerrillas he was sent to train. Che was executed in Bolivia. For some unknown reason, this murderer and despot has become a pop culture symbol of freedom and resistance against tyranny.

The Confederate flag is banned but you can still get an old Soviet flag.

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Tens of millions of people were murdered by the evil and oppressive regime that this flag represents, yet somehow it is less offensive than the Confederate flag. Why?

You can also get the flag of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, AKA North Korea.

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This is the country with the worst civil rights record in the world, at present, yet its flag is less offensive than the Confederate’s. It’s true that they don’t have slaves in North Korea, unless you consider that everyone is a slave in that country.

You can still get an SS flag.

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You know, the fun-loving guys who just happened to murder something like ten millions people in the Holocaust.

You can get nice, inspirational posters of Communist mass murderers.

 

And a wonderful portrait of the Fuehrer himself.

Hitler

I believe that  each of these items to be far more offensive than the Confederate flag. So, when is Amazon going to end their sales? Not any time soon, I expect.

 

The Confederate Flag

June 22, 2015

Here is another petition from Moveon.org that I won’t be signing.

Dear MoveOn member,

I’m Karen Hunter, a fellow MoveOn member, and I started a petition to the South Carolina Legislature and Governor Nikki Haley.

On the heels of the brutal killing of nine black people in a South Carolina church, it’s time to put a symbol of rebellion and racism behind us and move toward healing and a better United States of America.1 Can you join me in telling South Carolina lawmakers:

Symbols of hate and division have no place in our government. It’s time to stand up for what’s right and take down the Confederate flag!

Sign Karen’s petition

The Confederate flag is not a symbol of southern pride but rather a symbol of rebellion and racism.

Tell South Carolina lawmakers: Symbols of hate have no place in our government.

Click here to add your name to this petition, and then pass it along to your friends.

Thanks!

–Karen

I have never been a fan of the Confederate States being a Yankee and a Unionist and I have no great attachment to the Confederate flag, seeing it as a symbol of treason and slavery. Nevertheless, I am not going to sign a petition telling the state of South Carolina that they cannot fly the Confederate flag in any official capacity. I do not live in South Carolina so it seems to me that it would be a little presumptuous to tell the people of South Carolina what they can’t do. I resent it when outsiders tell us what to do here in Indiana, and I imagine that the South Caroliners feel the same way. Besides, the killing at the South Carolina church was committed by a twisted individual, not a piece of cloth. This petition is a despicable attempt to make use of a terrible crime to promote a political agenda.

By the way, the flag that is most people think of as the Confederate flag:

Confederate Battle Flag

 

wasn’t actually the national flag of the Confederate States of America. That is the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee’s command. The battle flag eventually became the most popular symbol for the Confederacy, especially after the Civil War, but it was never the official national flag of the CSA. There were, in fact, three successive designs for the Confederate national flag approved by the Confederate Congress. It seems as if they had some difficulty creating a flag that pleased everyone.

The first design, the Stars and Bars, closely resembled the Stars and Stripes of the United States.

Stars and Bars

Many Southerners still felt some attachment to the old flag and still felt themselves to be Americans, though deserving their own nation and so this first flag of the Confederacy was deliberately designed to resemble the familiar Stars and Stripes. The Stars and Bars was created by Nicola Marschall and was adopted on March 4, 1861. It originally had seven stars to represent the first seven states to leave the Union and join the Confederacy. As more states seceded, more stars were added until at last there were thirteen, representing the eleven Southern states that made up the CSA along with the border states Kentucky and Missouri, which had not seceded but did have representatives in the Confederate Congress.

The problem with the Stars and Bars was that it too closely resembled the Stars and Stripes. As the Civil War got under way, attitudes in the South hardened and more people wanted a flag that was clearly distinct from the North’s flag, which was coming to be associated with abolitionism. Also, the two flags were similar enough that they caused confusion on the battle field. One solution, proposed by General P. G. T. Beauregard, was to have two flags, one, the Stars and Bars to be used for official purposes, and one battle flag for use for military purposes. This idea was adopted and a rejected design for the national flag by William Porcher Miles was adopted. This was the familiar rebel flag. Miles had thought to adopt the South Carolina “Secession Flag”.

 

South_Carolina_Sovereignty-Secession_Flag.svg

 

Miles simply removed the crescent and palmetto design and then changed the cross shape to a “saltire” shape on the advice of a Jewish friend who believed that a symbol associated with Christianity might cause offense to Jews and even some iconoclastic Protestant sects.

The Stars and Bars continued to be used until it was replaced on May 1, 1863 by a new flag referred to as the “Stainless Banner”, designed by William T. Thompson.

us-csa2

This flag placed the design of the battle flag in the upper left quarter on a white field. The Confederate Congress did not specify the meaning of the symbolism of the white field, but Thompson stated that it symbolized the South’s struggle to maintain the “Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race”.

This flag also had some problems. It was feared that the predominate white color could be mistaken for a flag of truce or surrender if the battle design or southern cross were hidden. Therefore a third design, the “blood stained banner” was adopted by the Confederate Congress on March 4, 1865.

Third Flag

Lee surrendered a month later on April 9 and the Confederate States of America was defeated before many of these flags could be manufactured or the Confederate Congress could adopt yet another design.

Of all these flags, only the Battle Flag or the Southern Cross has managed to capture the imagination of the people of the South and has become the symbol of the South. The Rebel flag wasn’t seen much in the decades after the Civil War, except as part of the general “Lost Cause” nostalgia that came to be associated with the Old South. This started to changed around the middle of the twentieth century. During World War II, some units associated with the South adopted the Confederate flag as their emblem and a Confederate flag was raised during the Battle of Okinawa. The Confederate flag began to be more prominently used during the Civil Rights era when it became a symbol of resistance against desegregation. White supremacist groups have continued to use this flag as a symbol, but then so have many Southerners who are not particularly racist and want to express pride in their region.

So, should the state of South Carolina fly the Confederate battle flag at its State House? As I said, as I do not live in South Carolina, I really don’t have any right to tell South Carolina what flag they can fly. If they were to ask my advice, however, I would tell them that they should not. A flag ought to symbolize the whole community and any Confederate flag simply cannot do this. Any African-American, the descendant of slaves, could not help but dislike a flag that is the symbol of a nation created for the express purpose of ensuring his ancestors remain in bondage. I know that many people in the South see the Confederate flag as a symbol of their heritage, but perhaps this is one part of their heritage they should not celebrate. There is a New South, prosperous and diverse, that has been emerging in recent decades. Maybe it’s time to leave the Old South of slavery and segregation behind.

 

Jeb Bush for President

June 16, 2015

Jeb Bush made his formal announcement of his candidacy for the presidency today adding one more name to the long list of Republican contenders for the office. I don’t think that there is a lot of excitement for the prospect of another president from the House of Bush among the rank and file of the Republican Party, but he seems to be popular with the big spending party elite who despise the rank and file, mostly because he is from the House of Bush. Jason Russell of the Washington Examiner believes that Jeb Bush will be the next president. Well, that makes one of us. He gives five reasons for this belief.

Please no.

Please no.

1. Bush is seeking to grow the Republican Party.

Rather than trying to expand his support among conservative voters, Bush is trying to make inroads with moderate, swing voters. For example, when I’ve heard Bush talk about his education reforms in Florida, he doesn’t just give conservative talking points about expanding families’ freedom to choose the school that’s best for them. He explains how successful the reforms have been in making Florida’s Hispanic, black and low-income students outscore students in other states.

Bush is a true Big Tent Republican. He generally doesn’t attack other Republicans, and when he attacks Democrats, he generally avoids the outraged tone that other GOP candidates employ. This will be an attractive feature to the growing share of voters who are fed up with the politics of perpetual outrage. Conservative voters likely won’t like his moderate approach to immigration or his support for Common Core. But Bush isn’t flip-flopping on those issues; instead, he is working to convince conservatives of his positions while taking his message to moderate voters.

Bush will win because he can appeal to moderate voters. It seems to me that I have heard this before, with McCain and Romney, not to mention Dole and the previous Bushes. The problem with this strategy is that alienating the conservative base in order to attract moderates simply doesn’t work. How many elections do the Republicans have to lose before their strategists understand this? And, it is not as if the mainstream media will ever describe any Republican as a centrist once the primaries are over. Any Republican will be blasted as a far right-wing wacko no matter how moderate and wishy-washy he may be. Any Democrat will be hailed as a responsible, pragmatic centrist no matter how much of a left-wing loon he may be. Since that will always be the case, we ought to nominate a conservative who at least will get the base out to vote.

2. He’s already in the lead.

Bush leads the RealClearPolitics polling average(although Scott Walker and Marco Rubio are very close behind). His drive to attract moderate voters will expand his base of support. Few others are competing for the same voters, leaving Bush nowhere to go but up.

After a shake-up in the management of his campaign even before it launches, many have suggested that Bush’s campaign is faltering. I’m reminded of July 2007, when John McCain’s campaign manager and chief strategist left. The entire campaign was downsized. In the end, McCain’s shake-up was worse than Bush’s, and things turned out okay for McCain. Surely Bush can do the same, if not better.

Except that John McCain lost to Barack Obama. McCain had support from the same sort of people who now support Bush and for much the same reason. John McCain was willing to take on the conservatives in his own party. The mainstream media loved him, until the primaries were over and he was running against Obama. I can foresee something similar happening with Jeb Bush.

3. Other Republicans are shifting to the right.

At one point in the last few months I thought Walker had the best chance of winning the nomination. Then he showed what kind of voters he was trying to attract by taking ultra-conservative positions on national policy issues. Very conservative voters were already impressed by Walker’s record of standing up to intense union opposition, and many would have supported him anyway. By shifting to the right on immigration, foreign policy and social issues, Walker has made himself look more conservative and less attractive to voters who weren’t already inclined to support him.

With other Republicans moving rightward, there’s a vacuum in the middle of the electorate — one that Bush is well-placed to fill.

And just who is inclined to support Jeb Bush? The people in the middle are the most likely to be apathetic, not caring about politics either way. The candidate who excites the people in his base to turn out and vote is the one who is going to win, and that candidate is generally the one who takes firm stands and is willing to fight. A candidate who stands in the mushy middle, trying to be all things to all people is not going to excite anyone.

4. Hillary Clinton is shifting to the left.

Clinton started the campaign with an unprecedented lead against her competitors. With the Democratic nomination all but sealed, it would only make sense for her to stay in the ideological center so as not to scare away moderate general election voters. Instead, Clinton has done the opposite, championing left-wing causes like debt-free college and automatic voter registration.

The New York Times’ David Brooks has called Clinton’s campaign strategy a “mistake” and bad for the country. Meanwhile, Brooks wrote, “Jeb Bush is trying to expand his party’s reach.” With Clinton abandoning independent voters, Bush’s reach into the middle will go uncontested from the left, leaving Bush an opportunity to gain support.

The mainstream media will never concede that Hilary Clinton, or any other Democratic candidate has moved to the left. As far as they are concerned, Bernie Sanders is firmly in the middle. In fact, I believe that Clinton is doing the right thing by trying to recapture some of the excitement that propelled Barack Obama into the White House. She is not likely to succeed because she is just not as exciting as Obama, but trying to stay in the ideological center wouldn’t help her all that much either.

5. No, Jeb doesn’t have a “Bush” problem.

George H.W. Bush failed to win re-election in 1992. I’m sure some pundits must have thought the Bush family name would be tainted forever due to his unpopularity. But Bush’s son won the presidency just eight years later, and was re-elected with more support than in his initial election. Today, George W. Bush’s favorable ratings are above 50 percent, which is more than President Obama and Hillary Clinton can say about theirs.

Hillary’s Obama problem is worse than Jeb’s Bush problem.

The Democratic candidate, no matter who it is, is going to be tied to Obama’s approval rating. Hillary Clinton will be especially tied to his foreign policy, having served as his secretary of state. The ongoing situation in Ukraine will cause her a lot of problems, given her “reset button” stunt.

None of this is an endorsement of Bush or his ideological positions — it’s a simple prediction based on research and the way campaign strategies seem to be developing. If Clinton changes her campaign strategy, or Rubio or Walker start to tailor their messages to moderate voters, Bush will have even more of a challenge.

Nobody knows for sure who will take the oath of office on Jan. 20th, 2017, but I’m getting my prediction in early: Expect John Ellis Bush to be standing on the inaugural stage.

Yes he does have a Bush problem. I have thought that George W. Bush was a better president than has been generally recognized. I wouldn’t number him among the best presidents but he certainly wasn’t the abject failure that his enemies have asserted. I think that over time, as the passions generated by his presidency recede into the past, Bush will be more favorably viewed by historians and the public, rather like Harry S. Truman who was very unpopular when he left the office but has steadily been viewed more favorably over time. That said, I think the main reason that George W. Bush looks better now, aside from the fact that Obama makes anyone look good, is that he has stayed out of the public eye. If Jeb Bush is the nominee, the Democratic candidate, probably Hilary Clinton, will be doing her best to remind voters why they disliked George W. Bush at the end of his administration. The media will be doing everything it canto help her while covering up everything unsavory voters remember about her husband’s administration. Aside from his Bush problem, Jeb Bush also has a Jeb problem. His last election was in 2002 and he hasn’t held any public office since his second term as governor of Florida ended in 2007. He just hasn’t been out there making headlines the way Scott Walker or Rand Paul has been doing. He seems to be reviving the theme of compassionate conservatism used by his brother back in 2000. Jeb is yesterday’s candidate and the Republican Party and especially the Tea Party faction have moved on, leaving him behind. I think that if Jeb is the Republican nominee, Hilary Clinton will be taking the oath of office in 2017.

First World Christianity

June 13, 2015

Joel Osteen is a televangelist, the pastor of the largest mega church in America, and a best selling Christian author. I don’t much care for him. Why not? Because he is a televangelist,  the pastor of the largest mega church in America, and a best selling Christian author who, to my mind, is not really preaching a message that has anything to do with the Christian faith. Here are some of his books.

Of course I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover so here are the publisher’s descriptions of some of  these books, beginning with Every Day a Friday.

The title comes from research that shows people are happiest on Fridays. Pastor Joel Osteen writes how we can generate this level of contentment and joy every day of the week.
Known as a man who maintains a constant positive outlook in spite of circumstances, Osteen has described this message as a core theme of his ministry. Combining his personal experiences with scriptural insights and principles for true happiness, he shows readers how every day can hold the same promise and opportunities for pure joy that they experience at five o’clock on Friday.

Here is Break Out!

We were not created to just get by with average, unrewarding or unfulfilling lives. God created us to leave our marks on our generations. Every person has seeds of greatness planted within by the Creator. When life weighs upon us, pushing us down, limiting our thinking, labeling us in negative ways, we have what it takes to overcome and rise above into the fullness of our destinies. In his dynamic, inspiring and faith-building new book, BREAK OUT: Five Ways To Go Beyond Your Barriers and Live an Extraordinary Life, best-selling author Joel Osteen provides practical steps and encouragement for creating a life without limitations. This book will help readers break out and break free so they can believe bigger, increase their productivity, improve their relationships and accomplish their dreams. Osteen’s uplifting message focuses on moving beyond barriers by:

  • Daring to believe that the best will happen for us
  • Adopting an irrepressible “break out” attitude
  • Making room for increase
  • Praying bold prayers
  • Following God’s plan beyond our circumstances

Filled with faith and inspiration, BREAK OUT challenges readers to have a new perspective, to let nothing hold them back, and to reject any labels that might limit them. Osteen inspires and encourages with the message that our first break outs must occur within our own minds: “When you break though in your mind, believing you can rise higher and overcome obstacles, then God will unleash the power within that will enable you to go beyond the ordinary into the extraordinary life you were designed to live.”

And Become a Better You.

In the #1 New York Times bestseller Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day, Joel Osteen, pastor of America’s largest church, will inspire and motivate you to live with more joy, hope, and peace. Joel’s practical insights will help you become a better spouse and parent, a bet­ter boss or employee, a better community leader, a better friend—in short, a better person! In his signature easy-to-understand style, Osteen explains key biblical values and offers personal testimonies that will enlighten and uplift you. Each of the seven keys has its own section, complete with a set of practical action points. Become a Better You will encourage you to reach your unique God-given potential and will help you to enjoy every day of your life, despite your circumstances. As you incorporate Joel’s easy-to-grasp principles into your life, you will be thrilled at how much more God has in store for you and how quickly you become a better you!

Joel Osteen reaches a huge audience in the United States and across the globe. Tens of millions of people in more than a hundred nations worldwide are inspired through his weekly television broadcasts, his New York Times bestselling books, his sold-out international speaking tours, and his weekly top-ten podcasts.

Such is the message of Joel Osteen. What about the message of Jesus Christ?

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:3-10)

He forgot to add anything about making every day a Friday. Jesus does not seem to be interested giving practical life advice in living an extraordinary life.

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

(Mark 8:24-37)

One might almost suppose that Christianity isn’t really about personal success and happiness. It is, of course, about becoming a better person, but not at all in the way that Mr. Osteen means. Osteen seems to teach that God wants you to be a better you. Christ teaches that you must give up being concerned about you and follow Him.

But I ought not to be too hard on Joel Osteen. He is only really preaching the message his congregation wants to hear, and he is not as bad as some. At any rate, he has not requested that every member of his congregation donate three hundred dollars so he can buy a new private jet. His message is not necessarily bad in itself. He probably does have some useful advice to impart. The trouble is that his message is not really Christianity. He would do better, perhaps, to retire from the ministry and become some sort of self-help guru.

The real problem is not Joel Osteen. The real problem is what might be called the prosperity gospel or first world Christianity. Perhaps you are familiar with the phrase “first world problem”.

Most people in the developed parts of the world are sufficiently prosperous that they no longer have to worry about basic problems of survival such as getting enough food to avoid starvation or finding shelter to avoid death by exposure. Indeed, many people in America and Europe live lives of material abundance greater that that of the greatest kings and emperors of antiquity. Since people in the first world do not have basic issues of life and death to worry about, they worry about matters that seem trivial to those not so fortunate to be born into a life of affluence.

You might think that since this is the case, the people in the first world would be utterly content with their lives, but it is not so. It is a peculiarity of human nature that people focus more on what they do not have than on what they do have and that the more most people have, the more they want. The prosperity gospel would never have appealed to the early Christians. These people did not aspire to prosperity, that was beyond their reach. This was a world where you stayed at the level you were born into and in which most people struggled to survive. They prayed for their daily bread, not to make every day a Friday. Having little in the material world, they wanted little and were ready to go into the next world. There is still much of this spirit in undeveloped countries in Africa and elsewhere.

We in the first world, by contrast, have much in the material world and want more. We are not ready to seek the next world. Why should we? We have it good here and now. Thus, we in the first world do not want to hear about taking up our cross. We want to hear about becoming a better you. We practice First World Christianity because we do not want to follow real Christianity. After all, Jesus may not have really approved of people like us.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:24-26)

He is talking about us. Remember we are the rich man in that story (Luke 16:19-31) not Lazarus.

Maybe Joel Osteen would be well advised to give up his ten million dollar home and his followers should worry less about becoming well off in this world and begin to store up their treasure in Heaven.

 

Patrick Stewart Channels Voltaire

June 11, 2015

Voltaire is supposed to have said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” He probably didn’t really say it but Patrick Stewart effectively did. I have read about this in various places, but here is the story at the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Actor Patrick Stewart is supporting the free speech rights of Christian bakers from northern Ireland who declined to decorate a cake with a pro-gay-marriage message.

An Irish court fined the owners of Ashers Bakery £500 for not writing the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” on a cake.

The bakery owners say they’re happy to bake a cake for anyone, but reserve the right to decline messages that are contrary to their religious beliefs.

Stewart, who is known for his roles in “Star Trek” and “X-Men,” told BBC “Newsnight” that no one should be forced to write things they disagree with.

Gay activists have been attacking Stewart for his comments.

Boldly going where few actors dare to go

Boldly going where few actors dare to go

Sadly, it has become increasingly rare in our politically correct world, with its microaggressions and trigger warnings, for anyone to adopt Voltaire’s view on permitting freedom of speech, even for those you don’t like and Patrick Stewart deserves some praise for doing so. Naturally, he was subjected to the usual criticism from the supporters of tolerance and diversity and he felt he had to clarify his position on his Facebook page.

As part of my advocacy for Amnesty International, I gave an interview on a number of subjects related to human rights, civil rights and freedom of speech. During the interview, I was asked about the Irish bakers who refused to put a message on a cake which supported marriage equality, because of their beliefs. In my view, this particular matter was not about discrimination, but rather personal freedoms and what constitutes them, including the freedom to object. Both equality and freedom of speech are fundamental rights— and this case underscores how we need to ensure one isn’t compromised in the pursuit of the other. I know many disagree with my sentiments, including the courts. I respect and understand their position, especially in this important climate where the tides of prejudices and inequality are (thankfully) turning. What I cannot respect is that some have conflated my position on this single matter to assume I’m anti-equality or that I share the personal beliefs of the bakers. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be further from the truth. I have long championed the rights of the LGBT community, because equality should not only be, as the people of Ireland powerfully showed the world, universally embraced, but treasured.

There are a couple of things about this statement that bother me. Why does Patrick Stewart feel the need to declare his fealty to politically correct orthodoxy. I feel as if he is saying that he supports the right of thought criminals to speak freely but he is certainly not a thought criminal himself, or that he is most offended by the idea that he might be one thought of as one of those ignorant mouth-breathers who are opposed to same-sex marriage. I understand that Stewart does not want his views on this issue to be misconstrued and that he probably doesn’t intend his statement to be taken this way, but this assurance that he is on the right side gives a somewhat begrudging feel to his defense of free speech, as if he is saying he supports their right to be wrong. But, maybe I am reading too much into it.

The other thing that bothers me about Patrick Stewart’s statement is that he had to make any clarifying statement at all. I do not know precisely what his critics have been saying, but it seems that their reasoning is that the only reason that Patrick Stewart would support the right of a baker to refuse to decorate a cake with a pro gay marriage message is that he must agree with the baker. The idea that one can support the free speech even of people one disagrees with seems not to have entered into their minds. Voltaire’s statement could be left untranslated in the original French for all the good it does people like this.

Is Voltaire’s concept really so hard to grasp? Does it not ever occur to these people that defending the free speech of others is the only way to protect one’s own free speech, or that once free speech is abridged, they might be next? Do they never consider that the other side might be right but if they shout them down, they will never learn any better, or that if the other side is wrong, compelling outward compliance to orthodoxy does not persuade anyone? Perhaps they don’t think much at all.

Patrick Stewart stated that freedom of speech and equality are fundamental rights. I would say that freedom of speech is far more important. If we have freedom of speech, we can speak out about whatever changes are needed to ensure equality. Without freedom of speech, we can do nothing. The real danger here in America and throughout the West is that there seems to be an increasing number of people who either believe freedom of speech is, at best, a secondary right inferior to the struggle for social justice and equality or that freedom of speech is not a right at all. I’m glad at least one person from Hollywood is willing to publicly support the right to dissent from liberal orthodoxy. I hope others follow Stewart’s lead.

Transcending Truth

June 8, 2015

Everyone seems to be talking about Bruce Jenner and his transformation into Caitlyn Jenner, so I might as well say what I think, although I am afraid that I have already committed a micro-aggression by referring to Bruce/Caitlyn as “he”, when he, I’m sorry, she, has always been a woman, even though she has had a man’s body most of her life. I may be an incorrigible micro-aggressor who will need to be sent to the diversity  camps since I posted this picture on Facebook last week.

B9SorakCcAAuuKI

 

I should explain that I do not have anything against Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner. Before this latest adventure, I barely knew he (there I go again) existed. Mr. Jenner’s choices in life are his own business. I don’t have anything in particular against the transgendered. It must be fairly unpleasant to be confused about which gender you are. I do not have any moral or religious objections to this sort of thing. My objections are based on epistemological and linguistic grounds.

We recognize and categorize objects and concepts based on the attributes we observed through our senses and the use of our reason. I know that a four-legged, furry animal that barks is a dog because it has the attributes of a dog. I know that a four-legged, furry animal that meows is not a dog but a cat, because while it shares some attributes (four legs, fur) with a dog it has an attribute, (meowing) that distinguishes it from a dog. I know that a larger four-legged animal that people ride, a two-legged animal with feathers, and a four-legged animal with scales are not dogs but a horse, a bird and a reptile because of the observed attributes that distinguish each kind of animal. All of the organisms I named have the shared attribute of being able to move about on their own. A tree cannot move on its own and since it lacks the attribute that animals share, a tree is not an animal but a plant. This is all a vast oversimplification of a subject that philosophers have debated over for centuries, but I hope you  understand what I am saying.

Now, Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner does not possess any of the attributes that distinguish a woman from a man. He has not had any gender reassignment surgery, as far as I know, and even if he has, it still would not really make him into a woman. The best that the most skillful surgeon in the world can to is to give someone something of the outward appearance of the opposite sex. There is not, at present, any medical procedure that can really change someone’s gender. Yet, I feel as though I am expected to say, and believe Jenner is really a woman, despite the evidence of my senses and reason on pain of being branded a bigot and ostracized from polite society. I really do not much care for being put into a position in which I have to say something that is simply not true.

But, there is something else that bothers me about this affair. We use language in order to communicate with one another. We use words to name and classify the objects we wish to talk about. In order for this to work, we have to agree on which words go with which objects and concepts. If you call an animal that barks a dog and I call it a cat, we are likely to become confused. I cannot say that I feel that it is a cat and if you do not agree, you must be some sort of bigot, yet if I say that Bruce Jenner is actually a man because he still fits the definition of a man, I am a hater and a bigot. The idea seems to be that the words we use do not describe or reflect reality but create reality. A woman is not a person with certain attributes that indicate the female gender, but whoever happens to feel like a woman.  A hairy, burly man with a long beard could declare himself a woman and we would have to agree because calling himself a woman really makes him a woman.

Surely, this is madness. If I were to state that I am really Napoleon Bonaparte, I don’t imagine that anyone would believe me since I am not a French Emperor and Napoleon has been dead for a long time. If I were to travel to Paris and demand to be reinstated to my rightful place, I don’t think the French authorities would pay much attention to me, except to send me back to America in the next plane. There would be no question in most people’s minds that I was suffering from a delusion. If I insisted that I was really a tiger and demanded surgery to reshape my body to conform to my true self, no surgeon would comply, at least not if he wanted to keep his license to practice medicine. It would be clear that I had some sort of mental illness.

His modifications were not done by an actual surgeon.  And no, that isn't a good idea.

His modifications were not done by an actual surgeon.
And no, that isn’t a good idea.

 

Yet, if I started to wear women’s clothing and insisted that I was really a woman, I could, after some counseling get a surgeon to make changes not much less drastic that the obviously not entirely sane person pictured above.

This is madness. The simple truth is that there is no way to really change someone’s gender. There is no difference, in principle between the man who wants his penis cut off and the man who wants to have his arm amputated because he feels as though he is really an amputee, except that the one is clearly recognized as suffering from a mental disorder and needs help, while the other has become the latest group of people being used by the loony left to fundamentally transform this country.

Bruce Jenner is not a fruit loop. He is a man with some issues regarding his gender and he deserves our help and sympathy. It is the the people who are enabling and encouraging this sort of madness for their own reasons who are the fruit loops.

Rise of the Nones.

June 5, 2015

There has been quite a lot already said about the results of the recent Pew poll on the religious affiliations of the American people, most of the sharp decline of the number of Americans identifying as Christians over the last decade with a corresponding increase in the number of people with no religious affiliation.

The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.

To be sure, the United States remains home to more Christians than any other country in the world, and a large majority of Americans – roughly seven-in-ten – continue to identify with some branch of the Christian faith.1 But the major new survey of more than 35,000 Americans by the Pew Research Center finds that the percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in an equally massive Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%. And the share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths also has inched up, rising 1.2 percentage points, from 4.7% in 2007 to 5.9% in 2014. Growth has been especially great among Muslims and Hindus, albeit from a very low base.

Here are the charts that came with the article

PF_15.05.05_RLS2_1_310px

PR_15.05.12_RLS-00

 

There is a lot more to the article which I cannot summarize in a way to do it justice. You really ought to read the whole thing, if you haven’t already.

So, what is going on here? In the past there has often been a large number of unaffiliated young people, nominally Christian but not attending any church or being particularly religious. Generally, as these young people grow older and start families, they join a church and become more active in religion. This does not seem to be happening now. The decline in the number of Christians affects all age groups, races, levels of education, etc.

Could it be that that large numbers of American Christians are finally seeing the light? Thanks to the Internet, information about science, history and religion is more available than ever before. Religions depend on the ignorance of their adherents and it could be that more and more former Christians have been learning the truth and converting to Reason by abandoning such archaic superstitions like belief in God. That is how many atheists might interpret these findings. I am not so sure. I think something more subtle but no less momentous is occurring.

For most of its history, the United States has been a Christian nation, despite what the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State might believe. By this, I do not say that the United States was ever a theocracy or that Christianity was ever an official state religion but rather that the great majority of Americans have been at least nominally Christians and America’s politics and culture has been shaped by Christianity. Christianity has been the default option for most Americans, even those who have been largely secular. It has required initiative and perhaps even courage for most Americans to identity as anything other than Christian, especially as an atheist, and most people at most times would prefer to go with the flow. Times are changing, however. America is a more secular and diverse nation than it has been in the past and it is becoming more acceptable to not be even a nominal Christian. What we are seeing, then, is not necessarily a large scale movement of Christians abandoning their faith, but an increasing number of people who no longer feel they have to identify themselves as Christians. Indeed, considering the way Christians are often portrayed by the entertainment industry these days, as hypocritical, hate-filled, small minded prudes and bigots, it is not clear why anyone would want to be known as a Christian, particularly as a member of one of the more conservative or fundamentalist denominations that our social elite holds in such contempt.

There is an exception to this general trend that perhaps proves the hypothesis, Evangelical Protestants, which show only a very slight decline in percentage and an actual increase in numbers. This may be because Evangelicals tend to stress personal conversion more than the Mainline Protestants and the Catholics. For the Mainline Protestants and the Catholics, religion is more a part of their cultural background. You are a Catholic or Methodist because you are born into a Catholic or Methodist family. Evangelicals stress the conversion experience. Evangelicals are saved or born again, not baptized into the faith as infants. It may be that because there is more of a feeling of a break with the past, Evangelicals are more committed to their religion.

What do these trends mean for the future? This may be good for the Church. I would rather have a small church full of people who really believe than a large church with people who are only there, going through the motions, because it is expected of them. I would prefer for people to be honest about their belief, or lack of belief than be a hypocritical believer. There will be challenges for the Christian, though. We have grown up in a country in which Christianity is considered the norm and has played a dominant role in the shaping of our culture. That will be less true in the future. Already, as I have noted, there is an increasing hostility towards all forms of “politically incorrect” Christianity in our entertainment media. That will only get worse. In the past, being a Christian has been considered a good and respectable thing to be. That is already changing. More often than not, in some places, being a Christian means being an ignorant bigot. In the not too distant future, it may well be that admitting to being a Christian will be considered the same as announcing your membership in the Ku Klux Klan. I hope people are ready for this.

No matter what happens, the Church will survive. Indeed, Christianity flourishes best when it is persecuted. The United States and the West generally may not do so well. For the last fifteen hundred years, Christianity has played the major role in making the West what it is. As the influence of Christianity declines can the principles that has distinguished the West from other civilizations survive? The more militant atheists believe that a world in which religion, by which they mean chiefly a world without Christianity, is abolished will be a world which will experience a golden age of rational behavior. History and human nature suggest otherwise. Abolishing religion will not make human beings more rational. It will only cause new superstitions and cruelties to emerge. The history of the twentieth century is largely the history of substitutes for religion in the form of ultra nationalism and militant socialism. That didn’t work out so well.

Stamping Out Freedom of Speech

May 26, 2015

Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream has a new project he’s been working on. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with ice cream but involves repealing or amending the first amendment to end our free speech protections. This might seem like a stretch and certainly Ben doesn’t believe that he is doing any such thing, but he may not have thought through what his efforts to get the money out of our politics might actually entail.

Hi, fellow MoveOn member!
This is Ben Cohen, the “Ben” of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. For the past few years, I’ve run a national, grassroots campaign to get Big Money out of politics.
It’s called Stamp Stampede. And the way it works is simple: activists around the country stamp—and then spend—dollar bills with a simple message, such as “Amend the Constitution—Stamp Money Out Of Politics.” Want a stamp?

Just click here, donate $10 or more to help MoveOn’s campaigns to stamp money out of politics, and I’ll send you a stamp!

Stamping dollar bills is one of the most fun—and subversive—ways you can demand a revolution in the way we fund campaigns. (And yes, it’s totally legal. Our lawyers have confirmed it.)

It’s also like a petition on steroids. The math is pretty incredible. Here’s how ordinary people can give billionaires a run for their money:

  • Every bill we stamp is seen by over 875 people.1
  • If just 5,000 MoveOn members (out of 8 million of us) get a stamp—and stamp one bill every day for one year—our message will be seen 1.6 billion times.
  • Each dollar bill that’s stamped directs people to a website where they can join the fight to overturn Citizens United.

Together, we can get our message in front of millions of Americans and bring in droves of new money-in-politics activists each year—which is what it’ll take to win this long-term fight.

Click here to get your stamp for a donation of $10 or more—and help build the movement.

Once you start stamping money, you’ll find it’s pretty addictive. You can spend your stamped money with pride. And let people know that this dollar is not to be used for bribing politicians (you’ll be surprised by how many new friends you’ll make!)

Thanks for all you do.

–Ben Cohen, Stamper-In-Chief

What does money have to do with free speech and why would getting the money out of politics threaten it? Well, to start with, it costs money to run for public office. Either an aspiring candidate may spend his own money to fund his campaign or he may solicit others to donate money. There are not many people wealthy enough to spend their own money to fund a political campaign on the national or even the state level and most people would consider a government made up of only the very wealthy to be undesirable, therefore there will always be a need for politicians to request donations from those who for various reasons are willing to give them money. No campaign finance legislation can change that simple reality. In fact, most proposals for getting the money out of politics seem to be aimed at getting the other side’s money out of politics. We are funded by small donations from ordinary people who wanted to make this country a better place. They are funded by millionaires and billionaires who want to protect their own greedy interests. Somehow, for all the fuss the progressives make about the nefarious Koch Brothers, they never seem to be bothered by the money George Soros spends on politics.

o-STAMP-STAMPEDE-facebook

 

The first amendment guarantees our freedom of speech. It does not require anyone to provide us a forum for our speech. If an individual or a group wishes to have some impact on the political process by speaking for or against a given policy, law, or candidate for office, they must spend money to get their message out. They must purchase advertisements in printed periodicals or on broadcast media. They must print pamphlets, create audio visual media, etc. They may have a staff of volunteers, but at some point, they may find it desirable to have people working full time on the cause. These people have to be compensated for their time and efforts. More recently the rise of the Internet and digital broadcasting and published has made the process of getting a message out cheaper and more democratic. You do not need to own a newspaper or television station to influence events anymore. Still, if you want to be really effective, you still need to spend some money.

Free speech is not free.

Yes it is. Free speech is not free.

 

Like the politician seeking office, an individual or group seeking to get a political message out can spend their own money or solicit donations from people who support the individual or group’s goals. If the government can control and limit the funding of any political advocacy organization, it can effectively control and limit its speech. It does little good to guarantee freedom of speech if you prevent people from using that freedom in any sort of really effective manner. Indeed, this is a far more effective method of controlling dissent than the gulag. What good does it do to have the freedom to speak out if the only audience you are permitted to reach is a small circle of acquaintances? A dissident in a gulag may still be somewhat dangerous since he gets some attention and can even be regarded as a hero. A dissident who no one ever hears of is no danger to anyone.

Ben is probably sincere in  his desire to limit the influence in our politics but there will be money in politics as long as their is politics simply because politics requires money. Attempting to control the flow of money in politics will always tend to benefit some factions and parties at the expense of others. Controlling the money used to publish speech can be used to control the speech. This is not to say that we should have no campaign finance laws, but, as in everything else good intentions do not justify bad results and you must be on the lookout for unintended (or intended) consequences. Ben should stick to making ice cream.

Memorial Day

May 25, 2015

Today is Memorial Day, the day we honor those who have fallen fighting for their country and for freedom.

Graves_at_Arlington_on_Memorial_Day

Memorial Day first started to be observed after the Civil War. That war was the bloodiest in American history and the casualties of that war were unprecedented. The number of killed and wounded in the three previous declared wars, the War of Independence, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War, were insignificant compared to the slaughter house that the Civil War became. After the war people in both the North and South began to commemorate the soldiers who died for their country. The date of this commemoration varied throughout the country until it settled on May 30.

In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill. This law moved the dates of four holidays, including Memorial Day, to the nearest Monday in order to create three-day weekends. This, I think, was unfortunate. I believe that converting the day on which we honor our fallen heroes into a long weekend tends to diminish the significance of this day. It becomes no more that day to take off work and for businesses to have sales. There should be more to Memorial Day.

 


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