Friday, March 23, 2007

The Jersey Boys Illegal Immigrant Campaign

A New Jersey shock radio station in South Jersey is causing some ripples as two disc jockeys, known as the Jersey Boys, have started a campaign encouraging people to report suspected illegal immigrants either to the radio station or immigration authorities.

Some Hispanic groups are upset with the campaign, which the disc jockeys have named “La Cuca Gotcha,” calling it racist and threatening a boycott of the show’s sponsors if the disc jockeys don’t stop the campaign. The disc jockeys themselves poo-poo the charges of racism and say that illegal immigrants are breaking the law, the campaign is not targeted at Hispanics since not all illegals are Hispanic, and that they’re providing a public service.

Yeah right. I think the name for the campaign, “La Cuca Gotcha,” a take-off on la cucaracha, Spanish for cockroach, gives the lie to the claim that the campaign isn’t aimed at Hispanics. But they are right that illegal immigrants are breaking the law and it’s unclear how one can seriously criticize a call to report lawbreakers.

Certainly the two disc jockeys have the right to encourage the reporting of illegal immigrants if, in their opinion, it’s the proper thing to do. On the other hand, folks that think the notion stinks to high heaven, have the right to criticize what’s being done and not buy the products of those whose money makes such a campaign possible. That’s called democracy in action.

So what’s my opinion? I’m not really sure. Illegal immigration is one of those topics where the abstract theory can clash with practical day to day reality. In the abstract, the laws of the nation should be respected, the borders should be secured and those here illegally should be summarily shipped back to where they came from. The day to day reality says that might be a really dumb idea.

This is not a one size fits all category. Some of the illegal immigrants have set down permanent roots, pay taxes and are an asset to their communities. Other are just so much trash and not worth worrying about. Then again, one could say that for citizens also.

I think I would be in favor of a limited amnesty plan. If you meet a certain set of criteria, you can get temporary resident status with a time limit, by the expiration of the time limit you either became a citizen or lost your temporary resident status. I would include such things as having a permanent job, a permanent residence and no criminal record as part of the amnesty criteria. I would include learning English as part of the citizenship requirement but not as a prerequisite for obtaining temporary resident status. Anyone that couldn’t meet the temporary resident criteria, or failed to complete the citizenship process, would be liable for summary deportation.

This seems like a reasonable approach to me. I am totally opposed to a blanket amnesty and deporting people that are industrious, hard working and effectively de facto Americans offends my sense of decency. Besides, who would cut my lawn? I don’t know for certain but I’m willing to bet that the guys working for my current lawn service are illegal. They’re nice guys that work hard and I wouldn’t want to deport them. See what I mean about abstract theory and practical day to day reality?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

HBO’s Rome - Episode 21

Several years have passed between episode 20 and episode 21. Antony has gone a bit native, sporting both Egyptian eye make-up and tattoos, and has two children by Cleopatra. In the opening scenes, he is using a slave dressed in a deer outfit to instruct Cleopatra in the finer points of hunting while emissaries from Rome try to negotiate a resumption of the grain shipments from Egypt as there is an impending famine in Rome. Antony purposely pushes the negotiations to fail and Cleopatra, when the padded mock arrows run out, switches to a real arrow and kills the slave. The Romans are aghast at the callousness but Cleopatra and Antony walk out totally unconcerned. We then find out that Antony is trying to goad Octavian into war. He doesn’t want to start the war himself because he’s afraid that will cost the good will of the Roman people.

On the domestic front, Vorenus is still the Roman Prefect and appears to be the companion of Caeserion who is pressing for information about his father. Vorenus describes Pullo in terms that could also apply to Caesar but slips up slightly when describing Pullo’s appetite. Caeserion had heard that Caesar was a modest eater.

Back in Rome, Pullo has become a leader of men and, as leader of the Aventine, is struggling with the grain shortage. He appeals to Octavian, but the rest of the city granaries are in as bad or worse shape. Only the army has grain. After a quick consultation with Agrippa and Maecenas, Octavian decides to send three legions to Africa in order to free up some grain, but this is only a very temporary measure.

It’s becoming clear that only a war will convince Antony to restore the grain shipments, but Octavian is worried that Antony’s popularity with the people is still too strong for him to move openly against the east.

At home, Octavia now has a daughter named Antonia and Atia is still waiting, and still expects, Antony to send for her. Octavian suddenly decides to send Octavia and Atia to Egypt. After a prolonged sex scene, in which the nudity was maximized but the S&M limited to a jump start slap from Livia, Livia asks why Octavian sent Octavia and Atia to Egypt, but before he answers, she works it out for herself. Either Antony rejects them in which case the people will turn against him for humiliating his Roman wife Octavia for Cleopatra or, if he still has feelings for Atia, he will return to her and, at her entreaty, restore the grain shipments. Either way Octavian has solved his problem. Either the grain shipments are resumed or Octavian can now wage war against Antony with the support of the people. Livia acknowledges Octavian’s move with the compliment “Cleaver Boy.” She’s been living with him for four or five years and she just noticed?

The trip to Egypt is, as Octavian figured it would be, a disaster. Antony refuses to even see Octavia and Atia. Only Jocasta, much to the distress of Posca, comes out to greet them in the sweltering heat while they’re waiting outside the front door to the palace. Finally Antony sends Vorenus to send them home. Atia takes it out on Vorenus, first slapping him, then pushing him and finally asking him if he would dare use force on women of the Julii. Vorenus admits that he wouldn’t dare but points out that the men Antony sent with him would have no such hesitations. As they’re leaving Octavia says to Vorenus, "You tell my husband he's cowardly scum."

On his return to the palace Vorenus finds Posca and Jocasta planning to leave with Octavia and Atia. Vorenus allows them to leave but turns down Posca’s entreaties that he come with them. He asks Posca to tell Pullo to kiss his children for him.

Upon arriving back in Rome Atia has figured out that Octavian used her and greets him with a slap across the face. So Octavian gets whacked twice this episode, once each from his wife and mother, and Atia has the distinction of, through the course of the show, smacking Antony, Vorenus and Octavian. But it’s Posca who provides the real prize, the last will and testament of Antony and Cleopatra which, among other things, they direct that Antony be buried in Egypt and bequeath the western empire to Caesarion. That, plus Antony’s spurning of Octavia, is more than enough ammunition for Octavian to turn the Roman people against Antony and he begins planning for war.

As part of that preparation he asks Pullo to come with him to Egypt in the hopes that his friendship with Vorenus, who remains loyal to Antony, can be used to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. Octavian indicates that Antony and Caesarion must die but hopefully very few other than them. Pullo is clearly uncomfortable with the idea of killing Caesarion especially considering that Caesarion may in fact be his son. Octavian calls Pullo his “old friend” and says that it will be like old times, “another adventure.” I figure the chumming up is a sure sign that a falling out is coming, most likely over Caeserion.

Back at the collegium, Pullo keeps a tongueless Memmio, who clearly wasn’t killed in the fighting at the end of the last episode, in a cage and has taken up with Gaia. Late one night Memmio escapes his cage and ambushes Pullo, knocking him unconscious, but before he can finish the job with a rather large knife, Gaia intervenes and kills Memmio, but gets stabbed twice. As she’s lying in bed dying from the knife wounds she admits to Pullo that she poisoned Eirene (aha, she did do it!). Pullo goes from grief over Gaia’s fate to cold rage and strangles her. He then dumps her body, like so much trash, into some stagnant muddy water.

When Antony comes looking for Posca, Vorenus delivers Octavia’s message. Antony challenges Vorenus to tell him what he thinks of Octavia’s assessment. Vorenus tells Antony that he’s no coward but that he has a disease of the soul that will eat away at him until he dies. When Antony asks him how he can be so sure of his diagnosis, Vorenus tells him it’s because he recognizes the symptoms, because he has the same disease. That’s probably a dead giveaway that Vorenus will not survive the series.

No sign of Timon this episode, I can only assume he and his family are now in Jerusalem.

So we’re coming to something of a conclusion here. It looks like either a Pullo vs. Vorenus or Pullo vs. Octavian confrontation or both. Like I said the sudden acknowledgement by Octavian of his friendship with Pullo strikes me as a sure sign that a fracture is coming, and the whole disease of the soul thing strikes me as a sign that Vorenus is as doomed as the friendship between Pullo and Octavian. Caesarion may well be the focal point around which the climax of the series occurs. And how does Timon fit in I wonder? My best guess is somehow Pullo manages to rescue Caesarion and they escape to Judea. There they encounter Timon, who has established himself in the sheep business, and who offers them a sanctuary of sorts. Then we can have a final scene some 25 years later with an elderly Pullo and an adult Caesarion as shepherds witnessing the birth of Jesus.

You do realize, that if this is in fact the way it ends, I’ll be impossible to live with for months.

Historically Cleopatra sent Caeserion to the port of Berenice for safety but his escorts either betrayed him to Octavian or were lured into bringing him back to Alexandria. In either event, Octavian had him eliminated for reasons of state. Neither Pullo nor Vorenus would be that dumb, so this doesn't strike me as a viable choice. I guess that we shall see what we shall see.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The U.S. Attorney Firings

If you’re not outraged at this one, you’re either not paying attention or don’t understand what appears to have occurred.

This is so incredible it’s almost difficult to believe that even the Bush administration could be this freaking stupid.

Let’s see, how to explain this one. It appears that the Bush administration is using an obscure provision in the Patriot Act, intended to allow for the rapid replacement of U.S. Attorneys killed by terrorist action, to replace attorneys that haven’t co-operated politically with the Republican Party. Oh yeah, and to do so without the approval of the nominee by the Senate. In other words, they’re stepping around the advise and consent provision of the U.S. Constitution!

By co-operating politically I mean prosecuting Democrats on corruption charges, whether it is justified or not, and not prosecuting republicans on corruption charges, whether it is justified or not, in order to influence the outcome of elections!

The stupidity factor comes in from the literal avalanche of e-mails floating around showing (a) this was precisely what they were doing and (b) that the White House, including the ever popular Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, and probably Georgie himself, were in this up to their necks.

Then Gonzales gets up in front of Congress and lies about it so blatantly that only a complete idiot could have believed him.

The first prime example is the U.S. Attorney from New Mexico who appears to have been fired because he resisted pressure from Senator Pete Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, applied in a phone call before last year's election, to indict Democrats in a high-profile corruption scandal! The second prime example is the U.S. Attorney from San Diego, who was apparently fired because she successfully prosecuted a Republican Congressman!

On the flip side, a U.S. Attorney from New Jersey appears to have retained his job because he gave in to pressure to open an investigation against Bob Menendez just prior to last year’s election, an investigation that the Republicans used as the only basis for their barrage of negative ads about Menendez. Luckily the people of New Jersey weren’t taken in by that nonsense.

Hey, it could have been worse, Ms. Miers, First Admirer of Bush the Unhinged, wanted to replace ALL 93 U.S. Attorneys with loyal Republican appointees that would toe the party line and follow orders. This is the kind of person that Bush felt was appropriate to nominate for the Supreme Court? Now, more than ever, I’m convinced I was right about her. At least Alito, conservative as he may be, is a man of integrity and not just a political hack.

Gonzalez definitely has to go. Twisting the law and trying an end run around Congress for political reasons is bad, but lying to Congress about it is unforgivable. In the meantime what about Bush and his gang of incompetents? Nixon got found out by accident, but these yahoos held Congress and the rest of us in such contempt that they didn’t even try to hide what they were doing!

It’s important to note the difference between this incident and the not unusual step of replacing all U.S. Attorneys when a new president enters office. First of all, those replacements are all reviewed and approved by Congress in compliance with the advise and consent clause. These appointees are on an “interim basis” and it appears the administration can delay putting them before Congress indefinitely. This brings me a side issue, how the hell could such a provision get by the goddamned Congress? Are those assholes all asleep down there? I guess the ACLU, which I thought at the time was being a little hysterical about the Patriot Act, was right after all.

Second, what’s unusual here is the replacement of the president’s own appointees. One has to ask why? Rarely is a U.S. Attorney replaced after a second term election other than for gross incompetence. The White House line is they were replaced because they didn’t aggressively address “Voter Fraud.” The problem is no one seems to be aware of any fraud in the districts where the firings occurred. Yes, “Voter Fraud,” that’s Republicanese for locking out Blacks and other minorities who tend to vote Democrat.

Please explain to me why this administration, with its disdain for the constitution and its penchant for bald faced lying, should not be impeached? How much is enough? They’ve been lying and trying to run around the law since day one! And yes I mean the whole administration. Bush and Cheney should both be booted out and Pelosi (heaven help us) should be installed as interim president until the next election.

Hein vs. Freedom from Religion Foundation

This is a case before the Supreme Court which asks whether or not taxpayers have the legal standing to bring a case against spending by the executive branch of the government, which they claim violates the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment, simply because they are taxpayers.

Normally, one cannot make a legal claim unless one can show a direct injury. The government spending money on a program you disapprove of is not considered a direct injury and you can’t sue simply because a minuscule portion of that money came from your tax dollars. It’s a good rule because otherwise we’d have total chaos. However there is one exception on the books at the moment and that’s related to congressional spending in violation of the Establishment Clause.

In Flast v. Cohen (1968) the Supreme Court held that a taxpayer had standing to challenge congressional assistance to religious schools and in Bowen v. Kendrick (1988) the court held that a taxpayer had standing to challenge grants to religious institutions.

The question here is whether simply being a taxpayer is enough to confer the legal standing to challenge aspects of Bush the Unhinged’s Faith Based Initiatives program.

This is a non-trivial question and 11 states, led by Indiana but including states such as Michigan and Washington, have filed Amicus Briefs supporting the government (Hein) concerned that widening the exception to the executive branch could open the floodgates for a host of lawsuits. The state’s Amicus Brief actually calls for the overruling of Flast as a doctrinal aberration.

Beyond the Amicus Brief by the states you have the usual Christian Oriented suspects supporting the government and the usual Liberal suspects supporting the FfRF with Amicus Briefs. The Thomas More Center, ACLJ and Christian Legal Society support the government while the ACLU, The Center for Secular Humanism and The American Atheists support the FfRF.

I had to raise an eyebrow at the ACLJ saying that’s its time to stop extending special privileges to taxpayers trying to maintain the separation of church and state! Or, as the ACLJ puts it, stop extending special privileges to those “separatists.” Err, isn’t the separation of church and state a fundamental American principal that we should all be fighting to maintain? Aren’t all good Americans supposed to be separatists? That whirring sound you hear is Thomas Jefferson and James Madison spinning in their graves.

On the serious side, the Anti-defamation League, the Joint Baptist Congress and the American Jewish Congress all support the FfRF.

I guess the question becomes is the executive branch obligated to abide by the Establishment Clause? To my mind, since the executive branch is dependent upon funds appropriated by Congress and the Establishment Clause restricts Congress with respect to religion, then the executive branch is clearly obligated to respect the 1st Amendment. Although I’m pretty there are people in this country that would debate this one or at least argue that Christianity is an exception.

If that’s the case, who has the standing to challenge an action of the executive branch with respect to the Establishment Clause if not citizens and taxpayers of the United States? Allow me to suggest that any action of the Federal Government, be it the Legislative, Executive or Judicial branch, which violates the Constitution of the United States, is a direct injury to a citizen of the United States and therefore any citizen of the United States has legal standing to challenge that action in a Federal Court.

Ain’t that a wonderful, theoretical, high morality stand? The problem is how practical is it? Even a cursory glance through the news will tell you that there are far too many people in this country with too much money, too much time on their hands and ideas that are just too strange for prime time.

So how does one protect the legitimate rights of citizens of the United States while avoiding a chaotic avalanche of absurd lawsuits? That’s the question the court will be wrestling with.

In this particular case I think the court should leave the Flast decision alone. It’s been around for almost 40 years and no avalanche has occurred so far. So, unless there is reason to believe a significant change in government policy is about to occur which would lead to that avalanche, in which case you DEFINITELY do not want to gut Flast, there’s no reason to fix it if it ain’t broke.

While I would love to see the court reign in the executive branch’s tendency to be a Christian enclave, I think that is an aberration of this administration and the proper path for fixing it is the political process. If the majority of the American people truly don’t have a problem with an “Office of Faith-based Initiatives” in federal and state governments, then so be it. Those of us that do, always have the option of moving to a non-theocracy such as Holland. I really need to get over there and do some apartment hunting just in case. Maybe I should buy a summer home there?

What do I think will happen? It’s hard to say. It’s still too early to know with any degree of certainty the kind of position Roberts and Alito will take on this type of question. I can almost guarantee that this court will not extend Flast to the executive branch and will therefore deny standing in this particular case. I can only hope that they will leave Flast alone and not narrow it, or worse yet, overrule it totally. Like I said before, if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it, and I see no evidence that this particular area of the law is broke.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

HBO’s Rome – Episode 20

Oh boy, only four episodes left, so little time and so many characters to kill off. Well they made a good start this episode. Eirene dies after what appears to have been a miscarriage. Was this the result of a concoction given to her by Gaia in her tea? Only time will tell since they didn’t make this obvious. They hinted at it, but hey, you never know.

Elsewhere on the domestic front, while Pullo is in mourning, Vorenus has Octavian and Antony’s gold stolen out from under him. It’s obvious that inside information was required, and Pullo and Vorenus initially suspect Mascius, until Vorenus retrieves a straw figure that Lucius is playing with and remembers seeing a similar figure being offered a scantily clad girl by one of Memmio’s men. This leads Vorenus to discover his daughter’s treachery, which in turns leads to a knock down drag out fight with Vorena the Elder, during which she accuses him of murdering Niobe. Vorenus walks out infuriated.

In the meantime, on the historic front, after making a speech about Roman wifely virtues, Octavian cavalierly selects a wife for himself with about the same emotion as picking out a new toga. He gets introduced and immediately asks the girl to marry him. The girl is Livia of course and with her comes her son Tiberius. The fact that Livia had to divorce Tiberius’s father in order to marry Octavian doesn’t seem to bother either of them. Later, Octavian asks Livia if her husband or father ever beat her. A little surprised she answers that she never gave them cause. Octavian says that he will beat her on occasion, not because she will give him cause, but because it gives him sexual pleasure. Livia accepts that without blinking an eye. Well, looks like we’re heading for S&M in some future episode. Is there any detestable activity we’ve missed? Lying, murder, thievery, drugs, adultery, voluntary homosexuality, incest, S&M, no, I think we’ve got them all covered.

In the meantime, Octavian gets an earful about the sham Antony and Octavia’s marriage has turned into. This leads to a confrontation with Antony, who is still bedding Atia and ignoring Octavia, and Agrippa, who is bedding Octavia. Octavian threatens to make Antony a laughing stock by revealing Octavia’s infidelity unless Antony heads for his Provinces in the east. Antony, deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, decides to go east but before he leaves, promises Atia that he will send for her. Agrippa apologizes to Octavian, receives his forgiveness and then breaks it off with Octavia. Octavia calls him a coward to his face and then announces she’s having a baby, father unknown. Agrippa is not being portrayed very well is he? And he's the most admirable character on the show at the moment.

Vorenus, upset over the scene with his daughter, decides to hook back up with Antony. Back in a Prefect’s uniform he arrives with Antony in Alexandria to find a gauze dress clad Cleopatra ready to get down to business. Why do I suspect that Antony has already forgotten his promise to Atia?

Back in Rome, we have a brief scene of Timon and his family leaving for Jerusalem. Jerusalem? Now what?

Pullo takes over at the collegium from Vorenus and begins “negotiation” with Memmio and the gangs Memmio has talked into backing him. This “negotiation” consists of a pitched battle in which Memmio gets his tongue bit out by Pullo and the gigolo that seduced Vorenus’s daughter gets an axe in his chest. The episode ends with Pullo, Mascius, and even Gaia, mowing down rival gang members.

I’m not even going to speculate any more. With Vorenus in Egypt and Pullo in Rome, who knows? I doubt Pullo is going to have much patience for being a gang Captain, bet you he leaves Mascius the Aventine and marches with Octavian (Ok, ok, I can’t resist speculating). Pullo yelling “thirteenth” while he mops up the opposition I consider to be something of a tip-off. Historically Octavian reformed the 13th Legion for Actium. Pullo marches with a reformed 13th under the command of Agrippa? Are they setting up a battlefield confrontation between Pullo and Vorenus? Will we really have an S&M scene with Octavian and Livia? Will Antony dress up in Egyptian eye make-up? Just how pissed is Atia going to get? Why is Timon going to Jerusalem? Who are they going to kill off next? So many questions, so few episodes.

As far as who gets killed off next, the historical characters, with the exceptions of Cleopatra and Antony of course, are pretty safe. The historical deaths were Agrippa 12 BCE, Octavia 11 BCE, Maecenas 8 BCE, Octavian 14 CE and Livia 29 CE. Atia, who historically was reported to be an exceptionally moral woman, would already be dead as she died in 43 BCE so I guess she’s vulnerable as is just about anyone on the domestic front. Why do I have this feeling that Pullo kills Vorenus or vice versa and why do I continue to be confused about Timon heading for Jerusalem? Maybe Timon is going to be the only domestic survivor.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I Want Me one of Them!

Damn, its 7 months until my birthday and 9 months until Christmas and the perfect gift, the PERFECT gift appears! I want me one of them Godless Dollars! Apparently several thousand of the new Washington Dollars from the Philadelphia mint were struck without the motto “In God we Trust.”

The idea of “edge inscripting” the coins, in other words printing along the edge rather than on the obverse or reverse of the coin, always struck me as a bit iffy. I guess the initial screw up sort of proves my concerns were well founded.

You have to love it. Initial rumors that the motto was going to be left off the coins got Christians all bent out of shape. The rumors emerged because the motto was indeed missing if you looked at only head and tail pictures. Then the mint explained about the edge inscription which sort of mollified Christians. Now the first run of coins has thousand upon thousands of reported errors where the motto has in fact been left off!

Like I said, you have to love it! What do you think? Maybe God is trying to tell us something? This is clearly the fault of the Bush administration and Anne Coulter. Quick, vote out the Republicans and sew Coulter’s mouth shut in order to get the country back into God’s good graces!

Bill Maher and James Cameron

On the last Bill Maher show the panel got into a discussion on the James Cameron film claiming that the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth had been located. I’ve already addressed that notion as being totally unconvincing. What I want to talk about here are some of the comments made by Joe Scarborough.

Scarborough, as a devout Christian, naturally takes offense at anyone who questions his beliefs.

Scarborough - “But, you know, the thing is, whether you’re talking about ‘The DaVinci Code,’ or whether you’re talking about James Cameron, of whether you’re talking about the Judas Gospels, you have a lot of people that are making a lot of money right now, irritating Christians.”

Perhaps, but the question I have to ask is whether they are doing it for the purpose of “irritating Christians” or for some other motive that just happens to irritate Christians. The Judas Gospel, regardless of what you think about its validity, is clearly a document of great historical significance. In the case of Brown and “The DaVinci Code,” the man is simply trying to make a living. If these things happen to irritate Christians, so what? Are we to ignore historical or archeological discoveries and censor creative fiction because they happen to irritate Christians?

Speaking of The Judas Gospel, one of the most shocking things I ever read was a Christian clergyman’s reaction to the discovery of the Nag Hammadi documents, including The Gospel of Thomas and The Gospel Of Philip. He expressed the opinion that you might as well toss them into the ocean because they’re non-canonical and therefore of no interest! Of course! Everything that was worth knowing was known at the completion of the Book of Revelations right?

Scarborough - “Talking about everything that you believed your entire life is false. That Jesus didn’t die and didn’t rise from the grave, and ascend into Heaven. So, you know again, it’s a big money maker, but it does offend a lot of Christians, because it goes against 2,000 years of Christian doctrine.”

So what? If it happens to be the facts, or even simply someone’s opinion, why is it forbidden to publish those facts or to express that opinion? This is the old pitch that one should be “respectful” of religion and not criticize religious beliefs. That’s a lot of nonsense. Christianity in general, and Evangelical Christianity in particular, has always claimed the prerogative to criticize and condemn anything that didn’t line up with its narrow view of the world or its slant on morality. Preachers from the evangelical pulpit have condemned abortion access, stem cell research, homosexuality, evolution, rock and roll, racial integration, hippies with long hair, Catcher in the Rye and even freaking Harry Potter.

Not content with mere verbal condemnation, Christian groups have demonstrated against gays carrying signs saying things like “AIDS cures homosexuality,” blocked access to abortion clinics and even murdered abortion doctors. You see, the problem is that people of religion confuse “knowledge” and “belief.” They think that their “belief” represents fact when it merely represents an opinion and, the last time I looked, in this country at least, one opinion was as good as another, and no opinion was immune from criticism.

Therefore, as I’ve said before, I utterly reject the notion that religious beliefs should be “respected” and be kept immune from criticism.

Scarborough - “…go to Amazon and look at the top 100 non-fiction books right now, you’ve got books out there that are called American Fascists: Why Evangelicals Are So Evil, The God Delusion.”

I’ve read Dawkins “The God Delusion” and I found it so-so. I thought the most interesting part was his theory that religion is a side effect of evolution. Dawkins speculates that the trait of accepting direction unquestioningly from parents and other authority figures during one's early years leads, indirectly, to a tendency to accept religion. This trait, while enhancing one’s survival chances by uncritically allowing the acceptance of advice like “don’t play near the crocodiles” and “don’t eat the berries with the green sap leaking out,” doesn’t allow us to differentiate between good advice and bad advice. So, paraphrasing Dawkins, while the advice about the crocodiles and berries is good, the advice to sacrifice a goat at the full moon so the gods continue to send the rains is merely a waste of goats.

Scarborough - “Let me believe what I want to believe. I’m not going to call you a fascist because you don’t believe that Jesus Christ ascended into Heaven after three days. Don’t call me a fascist because I do.”

I don’t think Evangelical Christians are being called fascists because they believe Jesus ascended into Heaven, but rather because of their imperative to force their beliefs and their notions of morality on everyone else. I’m not certain I’ve ever used the term “fascist,” but I’ve certainly expressed similar sentiments. I have called Evangelical Christians the greatest danger to Western Democracy that exists today. Even the use of the title “Christ” is a minor attempt to enforce their beliefs on non-believers. You will notice that, unlike Scarborough, I never use “Christ” because simply to call Jesus of Nazareth, or more properly Yeshua bar Joseph, “the anointed one” is an acknowledgement that he was something above all other men.

Tell you what Joe, I’ll make you a deal, get Evangelical Christians to stop trying to get their creation myth taught as science in public classrooms, to stop trying to enforce their concept of morality with respect to abortion access and stem cell research on the rest of us, to stop trying to get their ten commandments displayed in public buildings using my tax dollars, to stop fighting against giving gay couples equal rights with heterosexual couples, to stop insisting that its good to give public tax dollars to faith based charities which invariably mix religious proselytizing with charity and to stop trying to get Harry Potter banned from the public library and I’ll stop calling them a danger to Western Democracy. As a matter of fact, that would just about eliminate any need for me to criticize them at all.

In other words, get them to recognize that this country was designed as, and is much better off as, a secular democracy than a Christian theocracy and I’ll stop caring about what they believe and how they choose to spend their Sunday mornings.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

HBO’s Rome – Episode 19

This show is pretty good at surprising me. Either that or I’m just not all that good at predicting how plots will be developed.

On the historical front, Octavian and Antony divide the empire, with Antony taking the east and Octavian the west, but Octavian only accepts this arrangement after an agreement is put into place that all revenues are to be shared. This was a good move considering that most of the wealth of the empire came from the east. Lepidus, almost contemptuously, gets thrown Africa, minus Egypt of course which was the single richest province in the empire. As an interesting side note, in the first century CE there were two third class provinces in the empire. Judea, because it was such as dump as to be below the dignity of the Roman upper nobility to govern, and Egypt, because it was so rich that no one of the upper nobility could be trusted to govern it.

On the domestic front, the writers seem to be aiming for the elimination of any character than had any significant role in the show. Servilia and her loyal slave exited stage left by gutting themselves in front of Atia’s house. Talk about employee loyalty!

Memmio’s gigolo based plot has reached fruition and he now has Vorenus’s oldest daughter as a spy. The slave girl Gaia, and Pullo’s wife Eirene, are on the outs and Eirene insisted that Pullo beat Gaia for insubordination. Do I have to tell you what the “beating” evolves into? In the final scene Gaia is buying a concoction clearly intended to abort a pregnancy. The open question is whether the potion is for her or intended as poison for Eirene to terminate her pregnancy. My bet is it’s intended for Eirene because everybody on this show seems to be a total louse. The one admirable individual was Brutus and he died at Philippi in the last episode.

But the real surprises were the wedding bells, two sets of wedding bells as a matter of fact. In the first Atia, adding insult to injury, arranges a marriage between Octavia’s now destitute friend Jocasta and Caesar’s ex-slave Posca.

Then, the topper of them all, after a falling out over a bribe from King Herod to Antony that Antony, in violation of the agreement to share all revenues, tries to hide from Octavian, Atia suggests that a wedding between the two families would sound the right note of reconciliation. Of course what Atia means is her and Antony, but what Octavian and Antony negotiate is a marriage between Antony and Octavia.

Well, that’s certainly historically accurate. Antony and Octavia were married so apparently my thought that they were going to skip that whole bit as too complex, and substitute Atia for Octavia, was wrong. If you’re keeping score you’ll notice that I’m wrong an awful lot in my predictions on this show.

It’s the wedding that brings the most confusing of the side plots, that of Timon and his brother, to something of a crisis. Herod is one of the wedding guests and Timon’s brother insists that this would be a good opportunity to assassinate Herod. Timon tentatively agrees but then realizes that he has a wife and children to worry about, and the chances of surviving an assassination attempt are about zero, so he backs out. This leads to a scuffle over a knife and Timon’s brother is accidentally, and it appears fatally, stabbed. Was it that they had some time to kill or what? This subplot appears to have gone nowhere.

Things don’t look good on the domestic front. Vorenus, Pullo, Eirene and Vorenus’s offspring don’t appear to have much of a happy future ahead of them. On the historical front the rough outline is Antony leaves for Egypt and dumps both his wife Octavia and his mistress Atia for Cleopatra.

Poor Octavia hasn’t fared well in the show. From her portrayal you’d never know that this was a woman that was highly respected during her lifetime for her nobility, her humanity and for upholding the traditional Roman feminine virtues. This is no knock on Kerry Condon who plays Octavia, but rather a criticism of the character Kerry is asked to portray. Now we’ll have Octavia in a loveless marriage ensnared in the growing hostility between her brother and her husband. If the writers give her a chance, Octavia might be able to exhibit some of the those virtues noticeable absent up till now.