Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Category: religion

Sharks and Cancer

quint

So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks took the rest…”  Quint, Jaws

It has been a very difficult year and a half. First, in November of 2014 my father died after a brief but excruciatingly painful fight with lung cancer which had spread to his bones. Almost one year later, last September, my wife died after a long fight with breast cancer which had spread to her lungs. And then only six months later, my dog died after a painful fight with a soft tissue cancer which had spread to his bones. One year, then only six months, part of me wonders what horror will befall us in three months. But I have to believe that the pain and suffering have ended now.  I can’t help but appropriate Quint’s quote to, “So, five of us went to Texas, three of us come home, cancer took the rest…”

Cancer has targeted my family for far too long now. I don’t want it to have any more power over us. My children have spent fully one-third of their lives living under the threat of cancer taking their mother and then their dog. Almost their entire teenage years, years difficult enough without cancer moving in to live with us, has been spent living under that dark cloud. They are 21 years old now and, in spite of these added pressures, will both graduate on-time from the University of Texas at Austin, each with over a 3.5 GPA. How they have been able to stay focused amazes me and is a testament to their strength of character.

I know people have had it harder than we have. I don’t claim to have a corner on suffering. And I am grateful for the seven years we were able to steal from cancer by moving to Texas and seeking treatment at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. I’ll never regret that decision. But if we could have a break from any additional pain for a short time, that would be great.

Each of us is dealing with these losses in our own individual manner. Certainly, grief counseling has helped, but we still face a world in which neither Lisa nor Delbow will walk with us any longer. We have had long discussions about faith, heaven, philosophy, and all of the accompanying topics. We disagree as much as we agree but the discussions are always lively and fascinating. I hope that we can each find some comfort in our positions.

Finally, there is the issue of moving forward. The house, already quiet from Lisa’s absence is now even quieter without Delbow’s rambling about. The kids are on spring break this week, so I have a respite before facing that still house alone. I now have six months of experience without Lisa and living alone. I hope this serves me well when the kids return to school. But before we know it, school will be over, graduations will have been concluded and we will be packing up for our trip back to Rhode Island. I hope it goes well and we can begin our new lives healthy. No sharks, no cancer.

Religious Freedumb

Orwell warningHaving been born in Rhode Island, perhaps I am biased against those whom I about to write. Rhode Island was founded as a colony in 1636, as Providence Plantations, by Roger Williams, a theologian, separatist, abolitionist, proponent of religious freedom and strong believer in “a hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.”

This past week, Indiana governor, Mike Pence, signed SB 101, a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Despite its innocuous sounding name, it has nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with discrimination. According to Jane Henegar, executive director of the ACLU of Indiana, “The timing of this legislation is important to understanding its intent: The bill was introduced as a backlash reaction to achieving marriage equality for same-sex couples in Indiana.”

The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, while it applied to all religions, was actually targeted to Native Americans who were felt to be unfairly burdened by government projects on their land. Essentially, this Act was designed to extend the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion to Native Americans following erosion of its use in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The bill was introduced by then-Congressman Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and passed unanimously by the House and by a 97-3 vote in the Senate before being signed by President Clinton. Ah, those were the days of bipartisanship.

Since that time, nineteen states have passed their own version of the RFRA, first because a federal lawsuit struck down part of the act in 1997, forcing states to augment the federal legislation but recently as a way for Christian fundamentalists to sandbag against the tide of same-sex marriage laws sweeping the country (as in Indiana). Eight states currently have such legislation working its way through the legislative process (AR, GA, HI, MI, MT, NC, NV, and TX). And this legislation does not count the seven states who have introduced legislation outright banning same-sex marriage (AL, AR, MO, NC, OK, SC, and TX).

Eight states have passed legislation banning sharia law. In fact, 34 states have considered such legislation in the past 5 years even though such laws have been found to be unconstitutional and there has never been any indication that any such laws have been considered anywhere at any time by any state. It is simply more fear-mongering and discrimination couched as religious freedom.

What happened to lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi (the rule of worship is the rule of belief is the rule of life)? Perhaps we should spend a little less time with orthodoxy and a little more time with orthopraxy.

Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Orwell would be proud. “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.” Perhaps with the appropriate branding, sponsorship, and uniforms we could add Pogrom is Sport. Hunger Games, anyone?

many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose-quills

A gun is not a religion. It is not a family member. It cannot vote. It is made, by humans, for humans, to kill (sometimes humans).

Yesterday, cloaked in the delusion that their special deity had his tender feelings bruised by a cartoon, three gunmen (sorry NRA, they are gunmen) slaughtered 12 other human beings for having the audacity to write and draw; for expressing an opinion with humor. A gun is not a religion.

bible-gun

Ceci n’est pas une religion.

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This is not a religion.

And yet, twelve people are now dead because they drew cartoons, poked fun at people (all people) and made people stop, think and laugh. Think about that.

And before you think, well, that’s militant European Islamic extremism for you! Remember that 282 people are shot every day in America in murders, assaults, suicides, suicide attempts, accidents and police actions. Eighty six die, including 8 children and teens. Every day.  If you’re curious what a typical day looks like, you can read about it here. Twelve were gunned down in Paris yesterday in a terrorist attack at a magazine and the world stopped.  Here in America, whether it is due to religion, domestic violence, depression, suicide, economic pressure or any other pressure, easy access to a firearm causes twelve deaths every 3 hours and 20 minutes.

Four years ago today, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others were shot in Tucson, AZ when a gunman opened fire. Six people were killed, including nine year old Christina Taylor Green, who had been born on September 11, 2001; a precious life bookended by tragedy.

FOX-christina-taylor-green-690

A gun is not a family member.

“But we must have guns because that socialist emperor Obummer is coming for our guns and we must be able to fight back a tyrannical government.” Yes, in the six years, Obama has been President, he has confiscated exactly zero guns while the paranoia machine that is the NRA, mouthpiece of the gun manufacturers has conjured up explosive gun sales growth based of this mythology. Who’s the sucker? And yet, there are still those, especially in the Texas open carry “movement” who, because they are “true patriots” and “love this country so much” are determined to overthrow their beloved country because democracy moves too slowly. I kid you not.

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A gun cannot vote.

So, keep your gun, in fact, keep your religion. Give me my family and friends; leave me to my paper and pens.

ConText

I have a confession. I was never exposed to most of the world’s best literature in high school.  Except for Mr. DeAngelis’s English class, where Shakespeare came alive, I have spent, much like disposable income, the personal time left over from life’s obligations, playing catch up with the rest of society by reading “the classics.”

Of course, no two lists of “Top 100 Books of All Time” are the same, but there is enough similarity between them all to create a market basket of tomes from which I feed. In fact, I was as condescending and derisive about Audible.com (“Nobody has read to me since I was a toddler. I can read by myself now!”) as I was about Toy Story‘s computer generated animation (“this is an abomination. Walt Disney must be rolling over in his grave!”). However, two things changed my mind. First, I loved Toy Story. Indeed, as always, it is the story that must first captivate us. The medium is secondary. (Also, Walt Disney was a pioneer in animation and, I think, would have embraced digital animation and become its greatest ambassador.) Second, my new job necessitates a one hour commute each way, five days a week. After several months, I found FM radio repetitive and AM radio repulsive. Enter Audible.com. For two hours a day I am able to immerse myself in another world, worlds created by the best authors humanity has ever known, allowing me to purge road rage and traffic jams from my thoughts as I move from one masterpiece to another. This “disposable time” is now my refuge.

I am also addicted to the internet and the instant access to information. As anyone who has read any article here knows, there are seldom entries made without various quotes or references from other sources. The smartest people know they are not smart and never stop learning. Who am I to think any different? I know I am not as smart as them!

So, it was with apprehension that I accepted the challenge posed to me by my son to write a post about a singular passage from the Bible “with this as your only inspiration. No quotes, research, other opinions. Just your reaction/thoughts.” Here, then, is my only source:

 “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died needlessly.” – Galatians 2:21

 My first task is to understand the quote, excised from context. With my only clue being that it came from the Bible, I can make certain assumptions. The first being that the writer is religious and therefore considers God’s law above man’s. This spawns several thoughts.

First, although all civilizations are manmade, the majority of them are based on a morality based in some religious teaching, whether Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or some other geographically concentrated religion. If this be so, then the quote is not altogether honest in its division of God’s law and man’s. Here in the United States, the religious right is always describing how this country was founded on Christian principles (Whether this has led to the systematic exclusion of “others” with different beliefs (here in the land of the free) is a discussion for another day). Therefore, if this country was founded on Christian beliefs, then the difference between God’s law and man’s is negligible and the argument moot.

Second, is this quote not a concatenation of two very different concepts? Whether righteousness comes from man’s law or God’s, that is not, as I understand it, the reason Christ died. Is not Christianity based on the concept that God sent his only son to earth with the expectation that he would be crucified for our sins? Again, as I understand it, repentance, even on one’s death bed after a life of debauchery and sin, grants one the proverbial “golden ticket” to everlasting paradise in heaven. If this be so, then neither God’s law nor man’s has any bearing on righteousness as long as one repents at the final hour. And if this be so, then why is there civilization at all? Why not selfish chaos all over the world? Is there a base level of kindness and compassion captured in no “law” other than our own desire to live, provide and thrive? Is compassion the “righteousness” referenced in the passage?

Finally, this quote, or the concept it attempts to convey, has been used (bastardized) countless times over the course of humanity’s time on this earth to disregard man’s law under the assumption one is doing “God’s will.” If one believes man’s law can be superseded by God’s, then the legal system of a civilization no longer carries any weight on the consciousness of the criminal. Think of the Crusades or the Nazis or any of the countless nitwits on Twitter calling for the execution of President Obama because he is some kind of  socialist usurper working to overthrow the republic in some Islamic globalization fantasy. Delusion (and a belief in a “higher law” as absolution) is the hallmark and calling card of the anarchist. But this does not make their actions righteous.

In summary, I think this quote is misguided and disingenuous. It attempts to assimilate the reason for Christ’s death with a link between God’s law and man’s that cannot be divided. Again, this is all taken out of context with no research or context, but too often, Bible quotes are taken out of context in order to “prove” a point. In what other book can one simply quote a chapter number and verse number in order to prove one’s superiority over another (less-read) human? I’ll keep reading.

Give The People What They Want

Give The People What They Want

I am many things.

Male

White

Short

Overweight

Middle aged

Married

College educated

New England raised

Living in Texas

A son

A husband

A father

An uncle

A nephew

A friend

An enemy

Blue-eyed

Left handed

Employed full-time

Middle class

Homeowner

Car owner

Non-smoker

Independent

I am all of these things and these are measurable demographics used by all manner of people and organizations in order to sell me things and, in politics, theoretically, represent me.

Having been raised in Rhode Island, I grew up thinking the majority of the country was just like me, white, Catholic, middle class. There were blacks and Jews in school with me, and while they were the minority, I did not treat them any differently, nor did they see me (I hope) as an oppressor. They were my friends and part of my world.

As I grew, I began to see the political landscape of Rhode Island as the basis for the fabric of America. At the same time, I joined the workforce and began to understand Churchill’s remark:

“Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.”

Rhode Island politics is dominated by trade unions. Democrats control the legislature and the state constitution essentially renders the Governor moot. As I began to bring home part-time, high school student paychecks with deductions to anagrams I did not understand, I began to think like a conservative (Republican). I worked for this money; don’t give it to somebody else. Business drives the economy. Without jobs there are no unions. Ayn Rand would have been very proud. But in retrospect, I think this reaction was more a rebellion against the Rhode Island Democrat mindset and less a political ethos. Taxes were too high, handouts too easy and I did not feel my hard work was being protected in the state house. I was a Conservative with no heart.

As with everybody, as we get older, the world gets smaller. College, just next door in neighboring Connecticut, opened my eyes to other religions. No longer was Catholicism the dominant religion. No longer did liberal tendencies dictate legislation. So, too, were these the days of Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economy. As a burgeoning economics major, this philosophy made sense and met with my understanding and expectation of things. However, as a college student trying to get loans and seeing my parents struggle to shoulder the weightiest financial burden for two college aged children with a third coming up through the ranks, coupled with the seemingly never ending string of corruption issues emanating from the Reagan administration, my conservative leanings were shaken. Was this a reaction to the financial situation I found myself in? Was it a reaction to the broadening of my understanding of the country and the world? Or was it simply another shift against the grain?

Careers, a marriage and parenthood quickly followed. Once again, I found myself trying to provide for my family and build a career in an economy growing under Clinton’s watch through economic structures established by his Republican predecessors. And once again, living in the Rhode Island Union, I saw the expansion of social programs as a long term detriment to the local economy, but those were heady times and we were all (relatively) happy living on the dotcom bubble. When that burst, and September 11, 2001 hit, Rhode Island was slow to respond to the economic crisis that ensued. Like the rest of the country, I was angry and wanted to strike back at somebody for the evil perpetrated on my neighbors (Boston, from where the flights originated and New York). Following the morally damaged presidency of Clinton, I fell into the political pit warned about by Bertrand Russell when I voted for W:

“Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man.”

I had ascribed FDR’s tenet, “I’m not the smartest fellow in the world, but I can sure pick smart colleagues” to W and assumed he would do the same. Unfortunately, I think Kurt Vonnegut put it best when he said:

“The last thing I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon.”

My wife’s diagnosis with an aggressive breast cancer in 2008 forced us to reevaluate our lives. Because family and her survival weighed so much more over career and home, we picked up stakes and moved to Texas to seek treatment at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

At first, this change of environment seemed to meet my expectations and stereotypes. Southerners were friendly and slower. Northerners were rude and always in a hurry. I ignored the conservative predispositions of Texas even though Texas-bred W took us to war in Iraq over bogus intelligence and OBL and the Taliban hid in the lawless Hindu Kush on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. And even though Rick Perry, W’s intellectual equal, continued to gut the education system and pilfer jobs from other states, it didn’t matter to me as long as my wife was receiving the best medical treatment. My once expanded understanding of the world didn’t matter to me when my family was suffering.

Then, on December 14th of 2012, while working on my laptop at the hospital while my wife was undergoing restaging tests, news broke of a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. I read with horror as first the casualty total rose and then it was reported that children were among the victims. That day, coupled with the local reaction in the following weeks caused a seismic shift in my perception and attitude. No longer was Texas the friendly, slow state with questionable education standards and a job-pilfering, slow-witted governor, now it showed itself to be a gun loving, religious zealot, paranoid, racist, American anachronism. Unfortunately, as time elapsed, I came to understand that this political/religious background was neither limited to Texas, nor the south. “Red” states throughout the country began to show their prejudices, paranoia, fear and hatred. The “Gun Control” debate had ripped the genteel mask of civility off of otherwise, (seemingly) generous people. I saw the people who attended the NRA’s Annual Paranoia Jamboree here in Houston. I argued with them. I argued with the dimwitted grandfather who brought his grandson to a gun control rally in Austin to argue for more gun rights. I was scheduled to debate a state senator, who had introduced a firearm protection act, on television, until he chickened out. I had become a liberal without a brain.

And then it hit me. The Kinks were right!

Why, I asked myself, was I always going against the grain? Why were my political positions always running counter to the culture in which I lived? How could I be represented by people so contrary to my positions? Lightbulb! Ted Cruz was elected by people who were pleased by what he claimed to represent. Louie Gohmert was elected by people who believe what he believes. Steve Stockman was elected by people as deranged as him. And so it is. Give the people what they want.

And so, the reason congress is in a perpetual state of paralysis is because America is in a perpetual state of paralysis. We seek to impose our ideal democratic notion on the rest of the world while ignoring fractures at home. Russian president Vladimir Putin wrote, warning America not to consider ourselves exceptional. George Bernard Shaw wrote,

“Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it….”

The fact I find most interesting is that Congress has a 19% approval rating, according to Gallup. If we elect representatives who represent our interests and convictions, why is our approval of the job they do so low? At heart, are we not happy with our own convictions? The devil is in the details and it is this process that divorces concept (patriotism and democracy) from reality (legislation and personal responsibility). We cannot give the people what they want because they are not prepared to work for that which they think they deserve.

Observations from a Recent Holiday

Orwell 1984

War is Peace

Freedom is Slavery

Ignorance is Strength

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

A change in my wife’s chemotherapy regimen recently opened up the opportunity for us to visit Paris and London. It was originally supposed to be an early 25th anniversary gift to my wife last September (our 23rd anniversary), but a sudden, nasty infection forced us to cancel the trip hours before we were to leave for the airport. Crestfallen doesn’t begin to cover our disappointment. When presented with this window of time (before she began a new phase II clinical trial), we decided to schedule a last minute trip and take our twins with us who were home from their freshman year at college.

Armed with my own agenda of sights and attractions I wished to see, I found that instead, I saw the trip through the eyes of my family. My daughter, studying fine art and enamored with art history, provided me with a different appreciation of the architecture, style, culture and art of these cities that I would otherwise have missed. My son, the philosopher, showed me the political and societal differences beyond language that I would otherwise have missed. My wife, showed me that while the Champs Elysses essentially looked like Fifth Avenue or Oxford Street or any chain-choked mall in suburban America, it was the small side streets two blocks removed from the tourist centers that offered the best food, flowers and shopping. And together, they all agreed that while it was important to tick-off as many items from our “bucket list” as possible, we all enjoyed and appreciated sitting at a sidewalk café eating tomato, basil and mozzarella sandwiches on the most amazing bread while watching the world go by the most. To a person, we all agreed that we wished it was our second trip to these wonderful cities so that we could immerse ourselves in the local culture and pace without the pressure of “seeing” everything. I was forcing us to run everywhere, to the detriment of my wife and the chagrin of my children.

Having never traveled outside the country before, it was also interesting to see both how other countries existed, but also how they perceived Americans.

My son noticed (and was not a little bothered by) the soldiers patrolling the Eiffel Tower armed with very large weapons. So too did he notice the constant government monitoring in London via video cameras. These were visible on motorway markers and Tube stations, as well as mentioned repeatedly on notices throughout the city. Ironic, that London (Airstrip 1), would spark this observation in my son. Although to be fair, the only mustachioed poster we saw was not of Big Brother but of Brad Pitt on a poster for World War Z. We neither saw Winston Smith, nor any IngSoc signs.

Rather, I had an interesting conversation (or perhaps only a glimpse of a conversation) with the taxi driver (who was an (East) German expat). Sitting in the passenger seat of the small minivan on the way to the apartment we were renting, he asked me where we were from.

Instinctively, I replied, over the whine of the small engine, “The States.”

“Not Canada?” he asked, shooting me a quick, knowing look.

I admit that it took me a few seconds to digest the meaning of his question. Full of ourselves for being the “world’s police,” United States citizens somehow have managed to believe that we can belittle the rest of the world’s population while assuming  we are both more civilized and, therefore, more entitled and have convinced ourselves that the rest of the world is somehow beholden to us. Apparently, more cautious travelers hide their US heritage beneath a more innocuous Canadian visage.  Surely an interesting question from an ex-East German citizen obviously more sensitive to European viewpoints of Americans than me!

Other, more obvious, observations include the size of the cars driven. Nowhere did we see the parade of Tahoe’s, Suburban’s or tricked-out F-150’s that I see on my way to work here in Houston on a daily basis. Rather, the number of Vespa’s, motorcycles and bicycles moving like fruit flies in and out of traffic in Paris showed that the sudden appearance of a Suburban near the Arc du Triomph would generate both a traffic jam and trigger an enormous number of iPhone photos. All of the cars were very small, and yet, we saw no horrific accidents (or even a fender bender). And while they drive aggressively, there is no animosity in their intentions. It is simply a matter of getting from point A to point B. Perhaps “Road Rage” is an American phenomenon (which, coupled with the number of guns in our population can only lead to more problems). Something else we noticed was the absence of bumper stickers on the cars. There were no French flags or Union Jacks on the rear windows, no stick figures of every family member, no honor roll declarations, no personalized high school football/basketball/baseball/swimming/band/dance stickers, no NRA stickers, no Molon Labe stickers, no Come and Take It stickers, no NASCAR stickers, not even stickers of universities or professional sports teams. Apparently, rear view windows are there to provide visual clearance and bumpers are there to absorb collisions rather than replace our Facebook pages.

Another observation was the amount of complaining we heard. Parisians are very animated in their discussions with those with whom they are dining. And yet, there was, again, no animosity in their demeanor. While I couldn’t possibly understand what they were discussing, the physical cues they exhibited showed them to be in stark difference on whatever subject they were discussing. And while voices were occasionally raised, never once (and this goes for London’s pubs as well) did I feel that a disagreement was about to escalate into a brawl. That cannot be said for most places I’ve been in America. Testosterone and bravado seem to flood the American male much quicker than their European counterparts. In fact, the only complaining we heard in all of the lines we stood in was from Americans.

The gardens at Versailles are enormous, dwarfing the colossal chateau itself. As my wife is saddled with the side effects of chemotherapy (and despite her Herculean spirit), we thought it was a wonderful idea to rent a golf cart to tour the gardens, rather than expend her energy walking the estate. The firm contracted to provide the carts could expand their supply a hundredfold to meet the demand, therefore, the line was long and did not move quickly. As we (finally) reached the front of the line, the young man working there, who spoke English and was of Indian decent) took me aside and said that his family was visiting him in France and he was going to give them the next cart. My first thought was, hey, those are the perks of working here! Good for you! However, the woman from Kansas two couples behind us was not so understanding and went on and on about how she would have done this and that to the kid, blah, blah, blah. Truly, the only complaining we heard was from Americans.

I am not naïve enough to think that everything we saw was perfect, nor that what we did see constituted the “average” life of a citizen of these cities. However, there were stark differences and while I continue to struggle with paralysis in Washington, the torpid national response to everyday gun violence in America, the wholesale abdication of personal responsibility, the vitriol of the Tea Party, the ongoing religious hypocrisy of the right wing, the adoration of celebrity, the acceptance of lower educational performance, the increasing fracturing of societal ethos, epistemic closure as an unintended consequence of the internet and the vapid, ossified acid spewed on AM radio, I am reminded that is up to us to make tomorrow better than today. Our children are watching, and so is the rest of the world, and like our children, they will not wait.

Jesus Shrugged

Jesus Shrugged

Six months ago today a young man with a history of mental illness, knowing his mother owned a legally obtained arsenal, shot and killed her, took these weapons designed to obliterate human flesh and proceeded to an elementary school where he shot his way in, murdered six dedicated educators and blew the faces off of 20 terrified six year old children with between 3 and 11 bullets each.

The fact that words could ever be arranged in this order, in one run-on sentence, capable of painting a scene of horror beyond Hollywood’s imagination (or sense of propriety) should have shocked us. Neither Edgar Allan Poe nor Stephen King could (nor would) conjure up a story with this plot, so sick is the premise. And yet, this sentence describes America in the 21st century. Worse yet is the reaction we had. We did nothing. “Pray,” our politicians told us. Any other solution is a knee-jerk reaction, anti-American, unpatriotic and unconstitutional. We allowed the seeds to be planted years ago by the NRA (and others) which today have blossomed into the paralysis we see in Washington, the evisceration of existing law and the flooding of America with firepower and an absence of responsibility.

While neither Hank Reardon, Dagney Taggert, Jim Taggert nor any other characters in Ayn Rand’s myopic, self-centered, Gold-is-the-new-God, dystopian, It’s-all-about-Me, fantasy have children, the rest of society seeks a balance between personal and societal advancement. Personal responsibility, the overriding theme of Atlas Shrugged, is rewarded in personal wealth. This shallow, simplistic idea only works in the abstract world of fiction. In reality, we are all part of an ant colony whose success or failure depends not only on our own participation and success, but on the participation and success of the other ants.

And in spite of this, the Tea Party (the new Republican party of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio) seeks to add Atlas Shrugged as the new, New Testament. The King Ted version of the Bible. Jesus Shrugged. God, guns and screw everybody else. I’ve got mine, you get yours. You’re on your own. Come and take it. Molon Labe.

181 days have passed since the (still incomprehensible) horror took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Spineless Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, afraid for their NRA rating (and the cash that accompanies it) and catering to the dullest, most simplistic but vociferous, absolutist, “patriotic” constituents, snubbed every attempt to clutch rationality from the jaws of paranoia and closeted racism, lied about imaginary gun registries, drove up gun sales with inflammatory rhetoric, ignored tear-stained relatives, friends or victims of gun violence declared “victory” for the Second Amendment and chuckled as “King Obama” lost. It is if any battle is worth political annihilation of the republic as long as this president loses, topic (or victims) be damned. How very patriotic.

Gun ownership in this country is down to less than one-third of households and yet gun sales continue to climb. If fewer people own guns, but guns continue to sell, it can only be surmised that the same people are buying more guns, which begs the question, how many guns can one shoot at once? It seems to me that the NRA needs to team up with doctors to develop an accelerated evolutionary path for these “patriots” so they can grow additional index fingers with which to pull triggers. Anything less is unconstitutional and against their God-given right as guaranteed under the Second Amendment and conferred upon them in the new, new testament.

America’s best days are ahead of it, but only if we stop trying to live in the past.

Six months with no action. Shame on Congress, shame on us.

GUEST POST: Modernity, Maternity and God

aa graphicAllāhu Akbar!

The phrase literally means, “Allah is greater”, but can be generalized to mean “God is Greater”. As a call to action, it is a consistent part of daily Muslim prayers.

When talking to CNN, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva had this to say about her sons’ deaths: “My oldest one is killed, I don’t care. I don’t care if my youngest one is going to be killed today. I want the world to hear this. And I don’t care if I am to get killed too, okay? And I will say Allāhu Akbar!”

The public condemned this statement. How could a mother be so callous about her children’s lives? Is she even human? Is this not proof that Islam is a religion of pieces, rather than a religion of peace? (This stupid pun follows in the grand intellectual footsteps of “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”) My problem with these questions is not their sentiment, but the hypocrisy that their context reveals. The vaguely racist, forced connections from immigration to religion that underscore this discussion are violent, and ignorant. Religion is the ally of child sacrifice. The religious doctrines of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all applaud child sacrifice.

Genesis, Chapter 22, beginning at Verse 1 (KJV): “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” Aside from that fact that God is said to be tempting, and not testing, (which makes him something less than perfect or good), this incitement of murder is pointless and evil. God recognizes Abraham’s love for his son before demanding the child’s death. This immoral mockery is wholly undeserving of praise. Abraham asks no questions, and Isaac’s only concern seems to be that he can’t seem to find the animal of sacrifice. His father ties him to the altar. Isaac offers no protest. Abraham shows no reservation. The most chilling line of Genesis, save for the floods and violently wicked exultations and bursts of anger from a ‘perfectly just and merciful’ God, is verse ten of the same chapter. “And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.” God chooses this moment to put down the popcorn and intervene. After egotistically claiming that his only desire was to ensure the fear of his subjects, (I can feel Job wincing), God kindly releases Abraham from the devout act of killing his only child. Unrealistically, the son in question abstains from flipping the capricious deity the bird. The Quran takes the story even further, claiming that the boy’s hands, (almost definitely referring to Isaac), did not need to be bound and that he chose sacrifice willingly. This version of the story is more toxic. The idea of child sacrifice ought to be abhorrent to both parent and child, but the willing sacrifice of a child that goes undisputed by his parent is evil. To advocate this view is to champion inhuman cruelty and vilify familial loyalty.

Temptation, fear, and apathy define the God of Genesis. Orwell taught us the perverseness of being forced to love someone that you fear. Child sacrifice is evil. Those who condone it are immoral. The Christians who claim that Abraham’s faith in God was so great that he believed that his son would be brought back from death are being impossibly revisionist. I default to Christopher Hitchens for the final word on the subject.  Speaking about his children, he says: “If I was told to sacrifice them to prove my devotion to God, if I was told to do what all monotheists are told to do, and admire the man who said, ‘Yes, I’ll gut my kid to show my love of God’, I’d say, ‘No, fuck you.’”

The proud outrage of the religious at Zubeidat Tsarnaeva’s pitiless piety is hollow. Her insistence that her sons are innocent and not terrorists is made irrelevant by her defiant exultation of “Allāhu Akbar!” Her ideas are loyal to a vile principle present in all three major monotheisms. As a human being and an American, I’ve had enough of à la Carte religion and the baseless moral condescension of the faithful. Allāhu Akbar is an abdication of responsibility. The final reminders given to the 9/11 hijackers included “Shout ‘Allāhu Akbar’ because this strikes fear in the hearts of the non-believers”. The Iranian flag has the phrase “Allāhu Akbar” written on it twenty-two times. Maryam Mohammad Yousif Farhat screamed “Allāhu Akbar!” and handed out candy upon hearing that her son had killed five people as a suicide bomber. Nidal Malik Hasan screamed “Allāhu Akbar!” before opening fire at Fort Hood. This deadly idiocy is the battle cry of piety. Their love of God is just as dangerous as their fear of him. It empowers disembodied tyrants while cheapening the lives and intellects of human beings. No mother should value her faith above her sons. God is not greater than family. God is not greater than humanity.

Soft Targets

The events in Boston today are still raw, the embers are still burning, the wounds are still being dressed and the limbs are still being amputated.

When did living in America become a balancing act between freedom and paranoia? When did we decide that churches, schools, movie theaters, grocery store parking lots and marathons should no longer be considered integral parts of our daily life but “soft targets?”

Politicians on both sides of the aisle will call for prayers now. The gun lobby will ignore compassion and state that if only a “good guy with a gun had been there” blah blah blah, and nothing will change. We will wring our hands and shake our heads, call for justice and ignore the facts, demand vengeance and persecute the innocent in misplaced bloodlust, run to Wal-Mart to purchase our assault weapons and hunker down in our bunker waiting for the end of times.

And then our fickle little minds will forget and move on to the next crisis where we will wind up our public outrage for a new group of victims.

What happened to compassion and empathy? Are they so anathema to the personal success and safety in America that we are doomed to suffer for our arrogance? When did celebrity and instant gratification replace intelligence and hard work?

I am heartsick to learn that the final mile of the Boston Marathon was dedicated to the families of Newtown affected by the evil events at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. Sickened to learn that there may have been another device under the very VIP viewing section in which they were seated.

I refuse to live in a society where we gauge our potential activities by some weighted average based on their “soft target” quotient.  I should not have to sit in a movie theater with an eye on the best route of egress, or view the pole obstructing my view as “cover”, or worry if I need to use the restroom whether my children will be attacked while I’m gone. I should not have to worry at a sporting event that I am in a large group and therefore a great target for mass casualties. I should not have to worry that when some student who did not prepare for an exam in college calls in a bomb threat and when my children congregate with a large group of students waiting for the “all clear” that they represent a soft target.

America used to be the land of the free, now we are the land of the paranoid, where 300 million guns exist to “protect” us from our own government and fertilizer is no longer used exclusively to feed the world, but to detonate and kill, where politicians disgorge vitriol and fabrications in order to make the evening news and Congress enjoys a 13% approval rating. We blame the President, Congress, the education system, parents, the environment, the weather, any other country and everyone else with certainty, but we never look in the mirror. The golden rule has been bastardized to be “Do unto others before they do unto you.” We harden ourselves and avoid soft targets. Can’t we do better? Don’t we want better? Shouldn’t we demand better? We continue to burn holes in the calendar. Am I whistling alone in the hurricane?

Texas George (or Administering Medicine to the Dead)

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Speaker John Woods, whose girlfriend was murdered at the Virginia Tech massacre listens to John MacLean perform his incredibly moving tribute to the children of Sandy Hook Elementary called Six. Photo credit: Austin Dowling

To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture. Enjoy, sir, your insensibility of feeling and reflecting. It is the prerogative of animals. And no man will envy you these honors, in which a savage only can be your rival and a bear your master.       

Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, March 21, 1778

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

                                                Joseph Heller, Catch-22, Chapter 3, 1961

The gun “debate” in the United States pits two sides against one another which could not be more different had they hailed from different edges of the ever expanding universe.  One side uses rationality, compassion and fact, believing that life is paramount and government’s supreme priority is the defense of its citizens. The other side uses paranoia, fear and hyperbole, gets exorcised at the words “tyranny,” “Obama,” and “confiscation,” and is armed to the teeth to defend themselves against the very republic which they claim to love. Logic would tell you that the fight is not fair. Logic would suggest that reason and compassion would reign over hysteria and fear. Logic would be wrong.

This country finds itself at a moral crossroad at a time when it also intersects with a political movement bent on a systemic abdication of empathy in favor of some financial utopia; an Ayn Randian egoism on steroids. Let us assume that the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party was formed with the intention of restoring the federal government’s financial ledger. Let’s also ignore that the ledger wasn’t upended in the first place by Republicans plunging us into two wars based on specious arguments and bloodlust following 9/11. Place into that caustic mixture a society where the internet has led to more granularization of beliefs and less debate and compassion, a youth with the responsibility memory of a fruit fly and the belief that there is a cosmic “reset” button on life, a proliferation of 300,000,000 guns with no oversight because of a lobbying group with rabid members who salivate at the concepts of “tyranny” or “confiscation” and cannot hide their racial/political hatred for our sitting president and would burn the country down to see him fail and you have a toxic environment where compassion and logic are trounced by hysteria and hyperbole.

Nowhere is this confluence of concepts more evident than in Texas, a state being torn from the safety of republican clutches and turning purple before our eyes. While the cities are democratic strongholds, the rural areas are staunchly red.  Unfortunately for Republicans, the urbanization of the country, combined with the influx of citizens relocating from democratic northern states and the burgeoning immigrant population arriving from the south clash in a cultural maelstrom which will result in a blue Texas. Once that happens (and assuming California and New York remain blue), there is no mathematical formula that wins Republicans the White House. The only question is when Texas turns blue, not if.

In the gun debate the lines are equally color coded. Red states love their guns. Blue states don’t.  Which leaves Texas in the unenviable position of being the stage from which we all get to watch Republicans pander to the NRA and their rabid, and predominantly white constituency, who ignore the impending tsunami in hopes of returning to the “glory” days of the wild west where guns were plenty and white men ruled the world. Everywhere there can be seen the angry clamoring for this return to Mitt Romney’s 1950’s America. “Secede” bumper stickers jockey for placement on pickup trucks already adorned with Browning logos, Keep Christ in Christmas clings, and that little imp peeing on the words “Gun Control” next to a picture of a cannon and the Greek words Molon Labe (Come and Take It).

Lawmakers, both on the local, state and national level from Texas enrobe themselves in the American flag in order to conceal the Texas flag they truly wear, as if one is not part of the other. They are increasingly suspicious of the United States Constitution and make legislative overtures ignorant of the Supremacy Clause in feel-good measures enabled to allow Texas to enjoy the fruits of the US Constitution a la carte while simultaneously ignoring the burden borne equally by the 50 states to uphold the union.

Beyond the Ted Nugent’s and Alex Jonses’ of the Loon Star State, it is also home to other less colorful, but potentially more damaging (and entertaining, were it not people’s lives hanging in the balance) due to their lawmaking potential. These include:

  • Governor Rick Perry whose solution to gun violence following the sickening murder of 20 first graders in Newtown Connecticut was to pray and who is wooing gun manufacturers to relocate to good-ole-boy Texas.
  • Attorney General Greg Abbott who has advertised in New York newspapers for New Yorkers upset at the impending sensible gun legislation to relocate to good-ole-boy Texas where EVERYBODY has at least one gun and “gun control is when you use both hands.”
  • US Rep Steve Stockman who invited twisted has-been rocker Ted Nugent to the State of the Union speech in violation of all common decency and decorum in front of the families of Newtown in attendance, and who is also pursuing the “persecuted” gun manufacturers to relocate to good-ole-boy Texas. As a member of the House, he has pledged to prevent any gun legislation from being voted on. A true patriot.
  • State Rep. Steve Toth, (a minister) and Tea Party sycophant who in the weeks following Newtown held a “Gun Appreciation Day” on the steps of the state capital in Austin and has introduced his version of cafeteria style US Constitution adherence legislation called the “Firearm Protection Act” prohibiting local law enforcement from implementing federal gun laws. He appreciates guns and protects firearms. Did I mention he’s a minister? To bastardize the murdered John Lennon’s quip “Guns are bigger than Jesus.” Welcome to the Church of Glock. This is also the same “representative of the people” who cancelled his appearance on a local PBS television show when he found out he had to debate me, a “far left wing radical!” You see, he wants to represent the people, just not talk with them.
  • US Senator Ted Cruz, another Tea Party twit who joined Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee (and 11 other senators) in a ridiculous filibuster designed to prevent any gun legislation from being voted on by the senate. He claims he will do whatever is necessary to defend the Second Amendment, which is Tin Foil Hat language for “I’m going to do everything I can to prevent the “libtards” from starting down the path toward registration and confiscation.” Again, they defend the gun and every nutjob’s right to them with callous disregard to the carnage caused by these “good, honest, law abiding Americans.”

Here is a breakdown of the campaign funding various Texas legislators have received from the NRA since 1990:

Legislator

District

Party

Amount

NRA Grade

Ted Cruz

Junior

Republican

$      9,900

A+

John Cornyn

Senior

Republican

$    17,850

A

Louie Gohmert

1

Republican

$    11,450

A

Ted Poe

2

Republican

$      9,500

A+

Sam Johnson

3

Republican

$    23,450

A

Ralph Hall

4

Republican

$    25,450

A

Jeb Hensarling

5

Republican

$    20,900

A

Joe Barton

6

Republican

$    47,948

A

John Culberson

7

Republican

$    22,550

A

Kevin Brady

8

Republican

$    17,500

A

Al Green

9

Democrat

$             –

F

Michael McCaul

10

Republican

$    19,500

A

K. Michael Conaway

11

Republican

$    11,000

A

Kay Granger

12

Republican

$    13,950

A

Mac Thornberry

13

Republican

$    27,450

A

Randy Weber

14

Republican

$             –

A

Ruben Hinojosa

15

Democrat

$             –

D

Beto O’Rourke

16

Democrat

$             –

N/A

Bill Flores

17

Republican

$      7,000

A

Sheila Jackson Lee

18

Democrat

$             –

F

Randy Neugebauer

19

Republican

$    16,950

A

Joaquin Castro

20

Democrat

$             –

C

Lamar Smith

21

Republican

$    30,750

A+

Pete Olson

22

Republican

$    12,450

A

Pete Gallego

23

Democrat

$      1,000

A-

Kenny Marchant

24

Republican

$    10,750

A

Roger Williams

25

Republican

$      2,000

AQ

Michael Burgess

26

Republican

$    13,150

A

Blake Farenthold

27

Republican

$      4,500

A

Henry Cuellar

28

Democrat

$    18,350

A-

Gene Green

29

Democrat

$    12,950

A-

Eddie Johnson

30

Democrat

$             –

F

John Carter

31

Republican

$    22,450

A+

Pete Sessions

32

Republican

$    64,000

A+

Marc Veasey

33

Democrat

$             –

B

Filemon Vela

34

Democrat

$      1,000

AQ

Lloyd Doggett

35

Democrat

$             –

F

Steve Stockman

36

Republican

$      1,000

A

The total here is almost $500,000, and this counts only the contributions made to those currently holding office. It does not count the amounts contributed to unsuccessful candidates or those who previously held office. It does make me wonder why the NRA would spend so much money in a state so gun hungry as Texas.

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Former Virginia Tech student and EMT Kathy Staats who responded to the shooting there on April 16, 2007. Photo credit: Austin Dowling

Which brings me to Texas George. You see, there was a Gun Sense rally sponsored by Moms Demand Action at the Texas capital in Austin last weekend. Hundreds of people attended to listen to the reasoned and compassionate speeches of victims, family member, first responders and legislators. While one young woman, a volunteer EMT at Virginia Tech who responded to the mass shooting on the morning of April 16, 2007, relayed to us her attempts to secure an oxygen mask to a student whose jaw had been blown off by a bullet and who later died, a local genius who called himself Texas George walked up to the front of the crowd holding a sign with the nonsensical message “Stop Gun Ban.” As other people in the crowd tried to get in front of him to block his asinine, attention seeking stunt, I noticed the sickest part of this display. While he held the nonsensical sign in his right hand, he held the hand of his no more than 6 year old grandson in his left. Two thoughts rang through my head. First, how insensitive and callous to bring your grandson to such an event where his grandfather was being berated and shouted down (by me in addition to others), but that his grandson was roughly the same age as the 20 children blown apart in Newtown, Connecticut. And while that juxtaposition played around inside my head, the most poignant image of that day would have to wait for me to see it the following day.

Texas George

Texas George and his inane sign. There are 300,000,000 guns in America. What gun ban?

The image below shows my child standing behind a woman holding a sign denouncing the murder of 8 children a day in America.  My initial (and eternal) pride in seeing my son stand up for something he believes in and which saves lives gave way to the sick feeling that slammed into my stomach when I linked the message about children to the sight of my child. Something I will never forget and something Texas George, Ted Cruz, Steve Stockman, Steve Toth, Rick Perry, Greg Abbott and any other defender of our “God given” right to blow away any of His creatures will never understand. Joseph Heller’s protagonist would question everybody’s sanity in this drama. Logical discourse with these people is like administering medicine to the victims of Newtown.

My son, Cameron (left) and his friend Austin listen to speeches while a woman holds a poignant sign.

My son, Cameron (left) and his friend Austin listen to speeches while a woman holds a poignant sign.